As far back as the 1950s, researchers have believed psychedelic drugs may have therapeutic potential. Throughout the 1960s, research on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics was picking up; although it was halted in 1971 when President Nixon declared the War on Drugs.
Throughout the late 60s, hippie subculture emerged in the United States. In addition to long hair and bell-bottom jeans, hippies were well known for expressing anti-government sentiments.
The government perceived this as a threat to the well-being of the country. Hippies commonly took psychedelic drugs and the government suspected that drugs may be fueling the rebellion. In response, the War on Drugs was enacted.
Unfortunately for researchers, the War on Drugs extended past recreational use. The legislation effectively banned all research on psychedelic substances. Experiments were stopped immediately.
For the next two decades (the 1970s and 1980s), not a single human study involving psychedelics was performed. Although, due to advancements in technology and shifting political attitudes, studies resumed in the 1990s.
Technologically, the development of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allowed researchers to gain much more meaningful insights about psychedelic drugs than was ever possible in the 60s.
Politically, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) challenged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its strict policy regarding psychedelic drugs. After much consideration, the FDA decided to change its policy and loosened restrictions on some psychedelic drugs to match the restrictions of any other research drug.
Since loosening this restriction, research on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs has gradually accelerated. Research has primarily centered around ketamine and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).
Phil Wolfson, M.D. describes ketamine as follows, “it may be that the ability to occasion a shift in consciousness while under ketamine’s influence and its aftermath contributes to optimistic neuroplasticity among the challenging mind states such as depression, PTSD, and addiction. Ketamine seems to allow these uncomfortable diseases to be felt in their origins and subsequently relaxed and re-contextualized.”
Similar findings have surfaced in regards to MDMA. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is currently wrapping up a three-phase study on MDMA’s potential to help those with PTSD. The results of phase II are reported as follows, “clinical trials have shown that MDMA can reduce fear and defensiveness, enhance communication and introspection, and increase empathy and compassion, enhancing the therapeutic process for people suffering from PTSD.” Phase III is being conducted currently, and updates can be found here.
Only time will tell what new developments await, and the future of psychedelic research is exciting. Research on the medical potential of psilocybin is still in its infancy. It’s been largely untapped relative to ketamine and MDMA. It is coming though, the needle is moving and experiments have begun. Currently, in the scientific community, there is strong hope and conviction that psilocybin Xwill be able to help those suffering from mental illnesses.