What is the psychedelic worldview

Psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy

In February 2014, Scientific American, the US edition of Spectrum of Science, called for the ban on psychoactive drugs such as MDMA and LSD to be relaxed. Although some of the substances were originally developed specifically for pharmaceutical use, the US government had denied them their medicinal effect in 1970 - and therefore banned them in "Appendix I", the strictest category of the American Narcotics Act. Intoxicants are regulated in a similarly strict manner in Germany and most other countries around the world: trade and distribution are punishable. However, this not only prevents misuse of the substances, but also their further medical research. Something that could hardly be afforded, the Scientific American editorial department warned. Especially with regard to the increase in numerous mental illnesses, which the psychotropic drugs available on the market today are just as unable to cure in many cases as they were 70 years ago.

Four years after this call, all signs point to change. At the end of November 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the Californian research funding association the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) the green light to carry out so-called Phase III studies with MDMA. The chemical, which is best known as an ingredient in the party drug ecstasy, is said to support the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In its final assessment at the end of August 2017, the agency awarded the therapy the status of “Breakthrough Therapy”, thereby signaling that it could offer significant advantages over all previously available methods. This means that nothing stands in the way of the clinical drug tests that MAPS plans to start with around 300 test subjects in 2018.

Intoxicants in psychotherapy
  1. Researchers are increasingly finding evidence that psychoactive substances such as LSD could aid the treatment of individual mental disorders.

  2. MDMA, better known as the active ingredient in the party drug ecstasy, seems to help with post-traumatic stress disorders, while psilocybin from hallucinogenic mushrooms may alleviate anxiety and depression.

  3. So far, however, most scientific studies on the active ingredients have only been based on small samples and have various methodological deficiencies. Doctors generally advise against self-medication.

This article is featured in Spectrum Compact, Hallucinogens - Drugs That Change Perception

In addition to MDMA, psychedelic substances such as chemically synthesized LSD or psilocybin, the ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, could also enrich psychotherapy. Here, too, research has picked up speed in recent years. In June 2017, the psychologist William Richards from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore announced at a press conference that he also wanted to test psilocybin-assisted therapy in larger studies. For this purpose, 100 cancer patients and 100 physically healthy test persons with anxiety and depression will receive the active ingredient.

A look back

The term »psychedelic« is made up of the Greek words »psȳchḗ« (psyche) and »dēloũn« (to reveal, to make clear) and is a creation of the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond and the writer Aldous Huxley. Psychedelics change perception, blurring the boundaries between the inner and outer world. In most cases, their ingestion is accompanied by hallucinations, for which LSD in particular is notorious. In June 2017 it was the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love", in which the hippie movement in the USA reached its peak. To this day, the colorful patterns that the synthetic drug brought to the flower power generation haunt the public's consciousness. But natural hallucinogens such as dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in ayahuasca tea from plants of the Amazon basin have been used in indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years - partly to create spiritual experiences, partly to help cope with illnesses or internal conflicts. So it is hardly surprising that scientists soon began to wonder whether such substances could be used in modern medicine.

In 1886 the German pharmacist Louis Lewin published the first systematic study of the peyote cactus. One of its components: the hallucinogen mescaline, which around 80 years later, along with LSD, also enjoyed great popularity in the drug scene. In 1958, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who had discovered the intoxicating effects of lysergic acid diethylamide 15 years earlier by chance, isolated the active ingredient from hallucinogenic mushrooms. In this early wave of research, more than 700 scientific studies dealt with the healing potential of psilocybin and Co. - and found indications that they could primarily help in the treatment of mental illnesses. Instead of focusing on research, however, gurus like Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary soon promoted psychedelic-based enlightenment for society. The uncontrolled spread of the substances eventually led to a ban in most countries around the world.

In the meantime, doctors and pharmacologists have resumed medical research into drugs on almost every continent. They test psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin, but also the empathogen MDMA for their use in anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism and schizophrenia or alcohol, nicotine and drug addiction. Some studies are based on the testimonials of test persons who consume the substances illegally or on statistical analyzes. But more and more scientists are also receiving special permits to administer the intoxicants to those affected under controlled conditions. Animal experiments and initial studies provided evidence as early as the mid-1990s that at least psychedelics in medically effective doses are non-toxic and generally do not cause addiction. Some experts therefore consider them to be less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, for example.