Are psychedelics the new prozac?
“…somewhere between This Is Your Brain on Drugs and legal marijuana, the narrative on psychedelics got flipped on its head. Instead of being a middle finger to an orderly society, as they were in the sixties, psychedelics have become this generation’s silver bullet of mental health and mindfulness.”
After Timothy Leary was fired from Harvard in 1963 for his psilocybin research, and especially after the CSA was enacted, psychedelics became a third rail in academic research. “In addition to the failure to get institutional approval or FDA approval, the ability to get any funding also dried up completely,” says Griffiths, who received approval for his first psilocybin study in 1999. “It was thought culturally to be too dangerous.”… What’s changed, in part, is a strange symbiosis between academic and recreational use—there now exist enough well-heeled people who have had transformative experiences with psychedelics (and private groups that see the promise of medical benefits) to bankroll research. These studies, in turn, give psychedelics the imprimatur of safety. But Griffiths cautions that psilocybin can be hazardous to certain people, like those with family histories of mental illness, and he advises against taking mushrooms outside of a controlled setting. “There are dangers,” he says, “and we certainly don’t want to be encouraging people who shouldn’t take these compounds.”…Extremely few of the more than 250 volunteers at Johns Hopkins have had serious adverse effects after oral doses of psilocybin. About a third did have bad trips. And in a separate Internet survey Griffiths conducted last year, 1,993 people said they’d had bad trips after taking a median dose of four grams. “Of the 1,993 respondents,” the study found, “10.7 percent reported putting themselves or others at risk of physical harm, 2.6 percent reported behaving in a physically aggressive or violent manner toward themselves or others, and 2.7 percent reported getting help at a hospital or emergency department.”… In the case of ayahuasca, participants follow a cleansing protocol designed to mitigate bad trips, avoiding red meat, spicy and fermented foods, alcohol, sex, and especially other psychedelics, hard drugs, and SSRI-type antidepressants that can interact badly with the drug. Surprisingly, children in some South American communities may drink the brew, and pregnant women are not discouraged by many practitioners from taking part in ayahuasca ceremonies. In fact, there was a pregnant participant at one of the ceremonies I attended. (Western medicine hasn’t weighed in on the subject, though there are heated debates over it in Brazil.)…Mark Kleiman, a New York University professor of public policy who served as an expert witness in the Supreme Court case, thinks that religious exemptions for psychedelics could grow even more lenient. “The Johns Hopkins groups have shown that a fairly heavy dose of psilocybin with a little bit of spiritual preparation has a very high chance of leading to a full mystical experience, which is in some viewpoints the direct form of religious experience,” he says. “There’s an argument to be made that the freedom of religion should include the free practice of spirituality even outside of congregations.” The takeaway I got was that ayahuasca isn’t legal in the U.S. but it might as well be.