There is evidence that certain psychedelic drugs can ‘reset’ irregular functioning of the brain if administered in a safe and controlled method, thus leading to ground-breaking revelations in medicine. This is perhaps contrary to what you may believe if you have been reading this column for the past few weeks.
Some may have the ingrained belief that magic mushrooms and LSD release uncontrolled demons from within, viciously addicting users in minutes. If this is you, then the idea that these banned substances could cure disorders of the brain should be fascinating.
Professor David Nutt and Dr Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London (woooooo!) believe it is time to end the stigma surrounding the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs. They believe ending the prejudice could prove beneficial to millions of people, especially those who have failed to respond to conventional treatment.
In the 50s and 60s it was almost impossible to open a psychiatric journal without coming across some form of research into the effects of LSD. At the time, LSD was the newest wonder substance, with the potential to treat any mental ailment thrown at it. However, by the late 60s, the political will of worldwide governments (particularly the United States) stepped up their anti-psychedelic stance. With LSD increasingly linked to the anti-Vietnam war protests and counter-cultural revolution, it received an almost universal ban in Western countries. With the ban came an unprecedented lull in research, with some experts claiming the study of psychedelic drugs in medicine to have been set back by over 50 years.
Today, governments are still not open to the idea of increasing the availability of psychoactive substances, even for research. Famously, Professor David Nutt was sacked as chair of the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 by the then Labour administration of Gordon Brown. To be clear, he was dismissed for claiming that horse-riding was more dangerous than ecstasy. Professor Nutt wrote that horse-riding caused ten deaths and more than 100 road accidents each year. Additionally, through hunting, horse-riding also led to “gatherings of users that often are associated with these groups engaging in violent conduct”. He also described other risky activities such as “base jumping, climbing, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, motorcycling” which were much worse than “many illicit drugs”. The point of these quotes was to compare the risks between horse-riding and ecstasy. It was necessary to create a debate about drug abuse and risk taking. Often people unfairly assign risk to drugs because they are called ‘drugs’. Other parts of life frequently carry similar danger yet people appear unaware.
In order to use a substance such as LSD in research, UK researches require a £3,000 license from the Home Office, in addition to what I have heard described as “years of paperwork”. Furthermore they must source a legal supply of the drug in question. This is complicated; you can imagine the difficulty in trying to legally source an illegal drug. It is almost as if the government is actively trying to suppress research. LSD is classified as something called a ‘Schedule 1’ substance, which means the drug is extremely hard to get hold of. Schedule 1 also means that the drug is believed to have no medicinal use. How is research supposed to be conducted within this ridiculous system? If we are unable to perform research then of course there will be no medicinal use. Until this classification is reformed it appears that psychoactive substances such as LSD will never be able to achieve the great potential which was foreseen for them in the 50s and 60s.
Psychedelic drugs may yet hold the key to untapped medical potential that we are unable to reach with conventional treatments. However, with the current stance of governments worldwide, we are unable to acquire these substances, let alone research them. Hopefully, with increasing demand from academics, we will able to undertake research into what could be ground-breaking and life-saving medicinal care.