In 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann made a discovery that would forever change the field of psychiatry: lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann’s invention sparked immense interest from psychiatrists and psychotherapists, who explored the potential therapeutic benefits of this new class of substances.
Despite promising results, the use of these substances was associated with countercultural movements, anti-authority ideas, and negative press. In 1968, the US government cracked down on the scientific use of psychedelics, leading to a decline in research interest.
However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest and investment in psychedelic research. The once-trickling stream of research has turned into a torrent of clinical studies and publications demonstrating the potential of psychedelic medicines for a variety of psychiatric conditions.
In the 1960s, there was a counterculture revolution where people experimented with psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin. Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard, was a key figure in this movement. He started the Harvard Psilocybin Project and invited artists and writers like Allen Ginsberg to participate in his studies. The letters exchanged between Leary and Ginsberg, along with trip reports from other participants, are now compiled in a book called “The Timothy Leary Project: Inside the Great Counterculture Experiment.” These reports share accounts of wonder, awe, and love experienced while under the influence of these drugs.
If Leary had conducted his drug studies quietly and under controlled medical supervision at Harvard, his story and that of the counterculture might have looked very different today. However, the recreational use of LSD started to spread, and Dr. Sidney Cohen published an article in 1962 warning of the dangerous side effects that could result from improper use of LSD. This report coincided with the breaking thalidomide crisis, which forced the government to reassess the laws involving “Investigational Drugs.” These regulations were tightened by Congress with the introduction of the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments in October 1962.
As the popularity of LSD spread to the sixties counterculture, the government introduced further regulations. In 1965, the Drug Control Amendments forbade the manufacture and sale of psychedelic drugs, and the year after, Sandoz stopped supplying LSD altogether, and almost all LSD research was stopped.
In the 1990s, researchers started to study the effects of psychedelics on humans again, after a long break. They found that psychedelics work by activating certain receptors in the brain and may be helpful in treating conditions like depression, anxiety related to serious illnesses, and addiction to drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Some studies have even found that the effects of these drugs can last for several months. The resurgence of interest in psychedelics has been called a “Psychedelic renaissance” and has been noted in publications such as Vice, The New Yorker, and Psychology Today.
The lack of treatment methods in Psychiatry
Unfortunately, the last major advance in the treatment of depression occurred approximately 30 years ago with the clinical approval of the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
The state of addiction treatment is also problematic. While approved medications are available for many, but not all, substances of addiction, relapse rates are substantial and in dire need of improvement
Psychiatry hasn’t made a lot of progress in understanding the causes of different disorders, which may be why treatments aren’t always effective. Psychedelics have the potential to be a breakthrough tool for psychiatry, helping to treat multiple disorders and giving us a better understanding of what’s going on in the brain.
This could be due to both biological and psychological factors. Even though people have used terms like “ego death” to describe what happens on psychedelics, recent research suggests that there is actually a scientific explanation for these effects. (1)
Here’s what researchers are learning about the most commonly studied psychedelic drugs and their potential benefits.
Psilocybin, the active chemical in magic mushrooms, is the most researched psychedelic chemical found in plants and fungi. Studies suggest that psilocybin may be able to treat substance use disorders, including alcoholism and nicotine addiction, as well as depression. In these trials, patients attend appointments to prepare for and process their psychedelic trip with a professional in an environment where any side effects can be managed. You can find professional retreats based on psilocybin around the globe in the Netherlands or the famous Maria Sabina practice in Mexico.
Unlike other psychedelics, ketamine has never been illegal, allowing researchers to explore its potential as a mental health treatment. Ketamine has shown promise for treating many brain disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, by promoting neuron regrowth in the prefrontal cortex, an area that atrophies in people with these disorders
LSD has shown promise for treating alcohol addiction and has been studied for other conditions like depression. As with psilocybin, some new LSD adherents microdose to achieve mental health benefits without the trip.
MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, has been researched on and off for decades for potential mental health benefits. The FDA allows its use in research and treatment for life-threatening illness. Results from a 2010 study on treatment-resistant PTSD renewed interest in MDMA research. Since then, it has also been explored as a treatment for other conditions, like substance use disorder or social anxiety in autistic adults, although it has more potential to cause damage than some other psychedelics.
In conclusion, the field of psychology is diverse and multifaceted, covering a wide range of topics and sub-disciplines such as clinical, developmental, social, cognitive, and neuroscience. The study of psychology has led to significant advances in our understanding of human behavior, cognition, emotions, and mental health. It has also contributed to the development of various therapeutic interventions and treatments for psychological disorders. Psychology continues to be a vital and evolving field, with ongoing research aimed at addressing new challenges and improving the lives of individuals and society as a whole. (2)
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