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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

Eliminating the Bias: How Psychedelics Got a Bad Rap

Originally posted October 11, 2016

Before psychedelics were deemed dangerous and illegal for use in the late 1960s, they’d already been used for thousands of years by different cultures around the world. Before the heyday of the 1960s and 70s where free love reigned and people were dropping acid like it was candy, psychedelic substances played an integral part of accessing different realms of consciousness and were used primarily for healing purposes.

For centuries there have been various people worldwide that have used psychedelics, and it’s only been within the last fifty years that such a backlash against these substances has been so prominent. After LSD was synthesized in the late 1930s, it was used widely throughout the 40s and 50s as a treatment for addiction (namely to alcohol), depression, and a number of other psychiatric conditions.

There were, however, others that were using LSD and it wasn’t for the deep psychological healing it was first used for. LSD and other psychedelics, like psilocybin mushrooms, were used widely throughout the counterculture of the time and soon became a symbol of rebellious youth and social disruption.

There are many different opinions on why exactly psychedelics were banned, some highlighting the dangers of psychedelics while others saw them as nothing more than recreational drugs with no intrinsic value. Pay no mind that between 1950 and 1965 over 40,000 people were treated with LSD, many with extremely promising results.

Before psychedelics were banned, they were being researched for the auspicious qualities they were known to contain. In 1960, Dr. Timothy Leary began to study the effect of psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms under the Harvard Psilocybin Project. This lasted only two years as it was discovered Leary was giving psychedelics to his students. After he was fired, Leary began a movement in which he urged the youth of America to take LSD…and acid became a mainstay of the culture at the time.

As one of the most radically political times of history, there was more social upheaval than anyone had experienced in quite some time. LSD became the “anti-society” agent that led many a curious mind to blatantly disregard the conservative ideals of an outdated American society. Many speculate that by making psychedelics illegal, the government could somehow control them. Fast forward quickly to 1966 and LSD was banned…and by 1970 was also deemed as one of the most dangerous drugs available. The rest of known psychedelic substances quickly followed.

Schedule 1 Drugs

According to the DEA, Schedule Class I drugs “are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence”. They are not only considered the most dangerous, but are the most illegal drugs to have in one’s possession. This is a far cry from the many benefits they’ve found to comprise when it comes to their use before they were suddenly banned.

The propaganda against LSD and other psychedelic substances sequentially followed. While most everyone is familiar with films like Reefer Madness that highlighted the psychosis that would surely follow after using marijuana, there were others that negatively portrayed the use of LSD. In 1967 the film, The Weird World of LSD, proclaimed that “LSD has hit the US with the force of a medieval plague” and that it is also capable of “destroying an entire city”. The film portrays various people taking LSD in different scenes, a few ending in bloody violence apparently brought on by the acid itself.

There were of course, many other anti-psychedelic films made at the time, with the most negative messages being sent out by the US government. Before they began an aggressive campaign to cease the use of psychedelics, they were using them as powerful interrogation instruments and experimenting with them in some of the most irresponsible ways possible. Through these experiments came the knowledge of how LSD could affect one’s mind, and exactly what someone was going to experience when taking the substance.

Once they were banned and the population at large believed they were as dangerous as substances like heroin and cocaine, psychedelics were no longer looked at as an agent for positive psychological change. Where they had once been used to heal the mind, they were now assumed to destroy it.

After the ban, and subsequently being labeled as the “bad drugs”, almost all research on psychedelic substances ceased. No matter that before they were banned, substances like LSD and psilocybin were actually respected amongst many in the medical community. The US government had made a claim…and the population at large believed it.

Psychedelics for Today

We are in a new day and age. And, while the ban on psychedelics hasn’t yet been lifted, there has been a recent resurgence in the use of psychedelics for the medicinal benefits many contain. Ayahuasca has become one of the most popular alternative healing methods known, with countless people travelling to receive this unprecedented healing. Ibogaine is quickly becoming one of the most preferred treatments for addiction, and mushrooms and LSD are again appearing as excellent conduits to heal depression, anxiety, and more.

The bias against psychedelics is experiencing a backlash by those who see the inherent power they hold as powerful medicinal substances. While they continue to be used recreationally, psychedelics have proven that they do not to hold the potential for abuse like the other drugs they are classified with. The time has come where more people are looking at psychedelics for the benefits they contain rather than outdated ideals placed upon them over five decades ago.

As more people begin to realize the potential they hold to revolutionize both mental and physical trauma, psychedelics are beginning to (slowly) be seen in an entirely new light. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before more people embrace the idea of psychedelic medicine and we see them portrayed for the potential they truly contain.

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