LSD could make you smarter, happier and healthier. Should we all try it?
Congress included psychedelics into the drug fight in 1970. The federal authorities concluded that the chemicals had no medical purpose and a high potential for misuse after a decade of Timothy Leary, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” and news accounts of horrific deaths. LSD has been dubbed “the biggest menace confronting the country today, more deadly than the Vietnam War,” according to the head of New Jersey’s Narcotic Drug Study Commission.
But during the past ten years, several scientists have started to question that finding. They discovered that, far from being detrimental, hallucinogens may benefit the sick: They helped alcoholics drink less, and they made it easier for patients to die of their illnesses. And the medications assist more people than just the sick. The healthy can also get healthier thanks to psychedelics.
There are very few peer-reviewed research on this topic, and sample sizes are small. Researchers still don’t fully understand a lot of things. However, preliminary research indicates that psychedelics may improve our ability to be compassionate, calm, and effective at work when used by those without a history of mental health issues or a high risk of developing them. They can foster greater creativity in our problem-solving and increase our openness and generosity. Some studies even contend that a single dosage has the power to permanently alter our personalities.
Is it conceivable that a substance classified as among the most harmful and deadly might actually improve everyone’s lives?
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The use of psychedelic drugs in America, such as LSD, magic mushrooms, and peyote, has a troubled past. Researchers started looking at the possibility of using psychedelics to treat addiction and mental illnesses in the 1950s. The federal government supported 116 research on the topic between 1953 and 1973, having an impact on thousands of individuals.
Thousands of Americans began using these narcotics recreationally at the same period. By 1970, as many as 2 million people had used acid. Press accounts of “bad trips” and psychotic breakdowns surfaced. In one well reported incidence, a 5-year-old mistakenly ingested her uncle’s medication, which alarmed everyone. Soldiers returning from Vietnam addicted to heroin gave the impression that the nation was at war with illegal drug usage. President Richard Nixon had branded narcotics as “public enemy number one” by 1968. Congress outlawed the use of psychedelics altogether in 1970, making study practically impossible.
Then, in the early 2000s, a few experts started researching psychedelics as a means of treating addiction and anxiety. (They were attracted to the medications after reading the 1950s and 1960s academics’ work.) These tests were productive. In one trial, psilocybin, an ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, was administered to cancer patients. Each subject received one dosage before being given the all-clear to pass out in a hospital room decorated to resemble a home space. Two medical experts remained nearby.
Following, anxiety and sadness significantly decreased for virtually all of the patients. Six months later, when researchers followed up with the patients, everyone said they were still happy and more at ease. Gail Thomas, a volunteer, told me that the therapy assisted her in overcoming a profound sense of loneliness. We are all connected, she continued, and that was the trip’s key takeaway. We’re not on our own.
“The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding,” NYU psychiatrist Stephen Ross told the New Yorker. “We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”
Other researchers have tested the drug as a treatment for depression, addiction and other mental problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Remarkably, in each small trial, scientists saw incredible results.
In a research on quitting smoking that was released in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2014, 15 volunteers received three doses of psilocybin while being closely monitored by medical professionals. The subjects had all been heavy smokers for an average of 31 years, at around a pack per day. Eighty percent of smokers had quit after six months; most attempts to stop smoking are only approximately 35 percent successful. Many of the 10 participants in a 2015 alcoholism research experienced a significant drop in drinking for at least nine months following one or two psilocybin experiences, which was also peer-reviewed and published in Psychopharmacology. The psilocybin dosages were used with treatment in both investigations.
Here’s why researchers believe it functions: Blood flow and electrical activity in the brain’s “default mode network,” a collection of brain regions located in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex, are reduced when a person uses a psychedelic. Our sense of self is principally controlled by the default mode network, which “lights up” when we daydream or reflect on our own behavior.
Our network’s default mode slows down when we journey. The distinctions between self and world, subject and object, vanish when the ego is incapacitated. The “primary mystical experience,” a phenomenon closely associated with successful treatment outcomes, may be connected to these processes. These experiences include a “transcendence of time and space,” a feeling of harmony and holiness, and a profoundly felt pleasant mood, according to Matthew Johnson, a lead investigator in Johns Hopkins’s psilocybin investigations.
A lot of our inflexible, ingrained thinking and obsessions are caused by the default mode network, according to Robin Carhart-Harris, a neurologist at Imperial College London. Psychedelics calm us down by calming the area of the brain that causes us to obsess. Additionally, they can assist in “loosening, if not breaking,” the ingrained bodily circuits that underlie addictive behavior.
Additionally, there is an increase in “cross-talk” across various brain regions that ordinarily don’t interact with one another. The brain’s visual processing centers are interacting strangely with the areas of the brain that regulate our thoughts and emotions, which might be why taking psychedelics causes us to experience hallucinations.
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Of course, everyone needs to experience greater fulfillment and creativity, as well as less loneliness and obsession. According to research, psychedelics’ ability to alter the brain can also be helpful to healthy individuals. Even one dose of the medication has the power to dramatically alter our life, making us nicer and happier, more successful at work, and more open-minded. These results are among the factors that led me to support psychedelics.
Ten divinity school students were administered psilocybin immediately before a Good Friday service in one study (albeit one that didn’t adhere to today’s strict research guidelines) carried out at Harvard in 1962. Eight people said they had a supernatural encounter. Rick Doblin, a researcher and supporter of psychedelic drugs, spoke with seven of the students who had used the substance in the late 1980s. All of them claimed that event had profoundly influenced their lives and work. However, Doblin also discovered that a few participants reported having severe anxiety throughout their encounters. One participant had to get a severe antipsychotic dosage after he fled the church after becoming persuaded that he had been chosen to herald the coming of the Messiah.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins examined whether psychedelics may produce a mystical experience in healthy individuals in 2006. At one session, 36 volunteers received either a hallucinogen or a placebo. The medications were switched during the second session. According to a main researcher, six months later, the study participants reported feeling “more sensitive, compassionate, tolerant, to have greater positive interactions, an increased motivation to help others.” The research participants had improved their demeanor, according to the family members, friends, and coworkers who were questioned by the doctors.
The beneficial modifications seen in this study lasted for at least 14 months. In the Hopkins research, a third of the individuals regarded their psilocybin experience as the most spiritually significant event of their life, ranking it higher than the birth of a child or the passing of a parent.
The Journal of Psychopharmacology published the study from 2006 at that time. Several eminent drug researchers were invited to remark in that issue; all of them commended the discovery and advocated for more study. Professor Herbert Kleber of Columbia University claimed to have observed “significant therapeutic prospects.”
In a 2011 research, psilocybin was administered four times to 18 healthy individuals. Most participants reported long-lasting improvements in attitude and mood that persisted for at least 14 months. Many of the participants from both trials had undergone a change in personality, which is something that is expected to remain largely permanent until the age of 30, according to results of follow-up study. The participants had grown more tolerant, open-minded, and engaged in imagination and fantasy.
According to Katherine MacLean, who oversaw the personality research at Johns Hopkins, “people have certain phobias and inflexible viewpoints and ways of perceiving the world that frequently restrict what they can achieve.” “Many of the participants I observed participating in the research as healthy individuals desired to make specific changes in their lives. And psilocybin assisted them in making these adjustments.
Though on a much shorter time span, a new research from Imperial College London seems to support Hopkins’ findings. A comparatively little amount of LSD was provided to 20 healthy participants. They were invited to complete personality questionnaires two weeks later. The participants reported feeling more upbeat, receptive, and inquisitive.
Beyond the research, there is a small subculture of persons who self-medicate with LSD by microdosing, or taking very little amounts of the drug. Their work lacks any degree of scientific rigor. However, some individuals assert that they have had some success taking LSD to enhance attention, concentration, memory, and creativity in articles and on online discussion boards. Regular users of acid said that little doses made them work harder and smarter in James Fadiman’s “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.” Some employees in Silicon Valley are using the medication to boost productivity.
Even well-known Americans have connected their psychedelic usage to significant creative breakthroughs. LSD use was, in the words of Steve Jobs, “one of the most important things in my life.” “The millionaires I know, almost without exception, utilize hallucinogens on a daily basis,” remarked businessman Tim Ferriss. And the renowned and sadly deceased neurologist Oliver Sacks connected his usage of LSD to his improvement in patient empathy.
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About 500 people have taken part in official psilocybin tests thus far, and no harmful side effects have been discovered. But of course, these volunteers are chosen by themselves, thoroughly examined, and counseled by therapists who are skilled in handling bouts of dread and anxiety that may arise while traveling.
Major issues can arise when psychedelics are utilized outside of these strictly regulated environments. These might manifest as unpleasant trips that leave users feeling incredibly nervous and sad. While under the influence, harmful actions can be done sometimes. Additionally, hallucinogens can bring dormant psychiatric issues like schizophrenia to the forefront. Flashbacks that are horrifying can occasionally occur with recreational usage. (However, studies have shown that psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms are much less harmful than many prescription medications, including alcohol.)
Many scientists find it challenging to envision a day when psychedelics are extensively utilized because of this fact. They are concerned that it will be challenging to restrict drug usage. The major issue we have, according to Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Substance Abuse, who spoke to the New Yorker, “is that the public will walk away with the notion that psilocybin is a safe drug.”
There are also legal factors to consider. The lengthy and complicated process of seeking the FDA to reschedule the medication as a therapy for end-of-life anxiety is already underway. It will probably take decades for wider use to be approved.
What is the next step, then?
The research that have been conducted may provide a direction. Patients could be advised to seek treatment by their doctors, have serious mental illness and certain heart conditions checked for, be prepared for what to expect, and be watched over for six to eight hours by a medical professional (with whom they had developed a rapport) in case of anxiety or fear. Through some kind of post-psychedelic treatment, the participant’s psychedelic experience should also be incorporated into their daily lives. According to NYU professor and drug policy specialist Mark Kleiman, it’s crucial to keep the experience under control both during the trip for safety reasons and thereafter, “so it’s not just a one-off mystical experience, but truly something you might build a life around.”
These medications would need to be subject to strict regulation. Simply put, they are too strong to be left to the free market. But that doesn’t justify being inert. Psychedelics may give you a lifetime of perspective in an afternoon under the appropriate circumstances. “The guy who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be precisely the same as the man who went out,” wrote author and psychedelics proponent Aldous Huxley. He will be more knowledgeable but less confident, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in admitting his ignorance, and better able to appreciate how words relate to objects and how systematic thinking relates to the unfathomable mystery that it attempts, endlessly fruitlessly, to explain.