Science Is Welcoming Back Psychedelics, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 09/10/15

Could scientists finally be able to research the mental health benefits of psychedelics?

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Doors could be reopening for psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy after a many decades-long ban, new research suggests.

It’s no secret that psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms could have medical and mental health benefits. A 2013 study concluded that these drugs could have “lasting” mental health benefits. Past research found a reduction in suicidal thoughts and psychological distress among mentally ill patients who used these substances.

But psychedelic drugs have been illegal and banned from scientific research since 1967, creating barriers for scientists wanting to explore their potential health benefits. The drugs got a reputation as dangerous and inciting rebellion ever since their popularity among the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s.

However, they could soon re-enter the medical sphere, according to an analysis of several small studies from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). The research suggests that psychiatrists’ attitudes towards these drugs are changing, and that they should be brought back into the spotlight in the field of psychotherapy.

“The re-emerging paradigm of psychedelic medicine may open clinical doors and therapeutic doors long closed,” said Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, in a press release.

One trial featured in the report found that doses of LSD, when combined with psychotherapy, could reduce anxiety brought on by terminal illness. The researchers also looked at a study that found a specific active molecule in mushrooms could effectively treat alcohol addiction. A third study suggested that MDMA reduced symptoms related to chronic PTSD.

“Continued medical research and scientific inquiry into psychedelic drugs may offer new ways to treat mental illness and addiction in patients who do not benefit from currently available treatments,” the authors wrote. Even the American Psychological Association agrees, having stated that the potential benefits of these illegal drugs “may outweigh the risks in certain scenarios.”

But there remains a lot of barriers to get through, as these drugs are still illegal, and heavily stigmatized in mainstream society. However, the authors of the study are optimistic.

“Although methodological and political challenges remain to some degree, recent clinical studies have shown that studies on psychedelics as therapeutic agents can conform to the rigorous scientific, ethical, and safety standards expected of contemporary medical research,” they wrote.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.