Tuesday, August 12, 2008
“Psychedelic psychotherapy” makes a comeback.
“Take a tab of Sunshine and call me in the morning.”
No, we haven’t reached that point yet. But there is a growing movement among research scientists to take another look at powerfully psychoactive drugs like LSD, psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine as treatments for a variety of illnesses.
In June, the first clinical trial of LSD since the 1970s began in Switzerland, according to the U.K. Guardian. While LSD has sparked renewed interest as a potential treatment for everything from depression to cluster headaches to post-traumatic stress disorder, the Swiss trial will focus on administering LSD in varying doses to eight terminally ill subjects. “During the course of therapy,” the Guardian reported, “researchers will assess the patients’ anxiety levels, quality of life and pain levels.”
“The working hypothesis is that if psilocybin or LSD can occasion these experiences of great personal meaning and spiritual significance,” said Professor Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, “then it would allow [terminal patients] hopefully to face their own demise completely differently—to restructure some of the psychological angst that so often occurs concurrently with severe disease.”
Griffiths recently conducted a study of the effects of psilocybin on 36 health adult volunteers, the results of which were published in the British Journal of Psychopharmacology. “When administered under supportive conditions,” Griffiths concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences that, at 14-month follow-up, were considered by volunteers to be among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives.”
Griffiths told the Guardian that drugs classed as hallucinogenic had become thoroughly demonized after the excesses of the 1960s. “As a culture we just decided clinical research shouldn’t be done with this class of compounds,” he commented. “This was partly the federal regulatory authorities, it was partly the funding agencies and it was partly the academics themselves—Leary had so discredited a scientific approach to studying these compounds that anyone who expressed an interest in doing so was automatically discredited.”
The Journal of Psychopharmacology recently published a training manual for the use of investigators who are currently studying the effects of such drugs. According to the manual, psychedelic drugs are relatively safe when administered at the proper dose by a trained medical professional. The drugs are non-toxic, non-addictive, and, except in rare cases, do not cause long-lasting psychoses.
A paper in the same journal by B. Sessa of the Psychopharmacology Unit, Bristol University, concluded:
“There are similarities between the typical traits of creative people and the subjective psychological characteristics of the psychedelic (hallucinogenic) drug experience. This phenomenon was studied in a number of small trials and case studies in the 1960s. Results were inconclusive, and the quality of these studies – by modern research standards – was merely anecdotal. Nevertheless, with today’s current renaissance in psychedelic drug research and the growing interest in cognitive enhancing drugs, now may be the time to re-visit these studies with contemporary research methods.”
In the U.S., psychology professor Charles Grob of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre also recently completed a clinical trial using psilocybin to treat terminally ill cancer patients.
Graphics Credit: www.rsc.org