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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

The New History of Psychedelic Medicine

Originally posted January 6, 2019

Psychedelic medicine has made huge advances in the past decade. Psilocybin treats anxiety and depression, and MDMA is making amazing progress treating PTSD. Ayahuasca is something almost everyone’s heard of, and ibogaine’s becoming one of the most sought after addiction treatments. As we move steadily into the new millennium we’re starting to see a lot more people take notice of this. The Early History of Psychedelic Medicine Research on psychedelics isn’t anything new. Before the 1960s, psychedelics weren’t just studied, they were respected. LSD showed great promise in treating addiction and was studied for its efficacy against many different psychological disorders. Long before this, however, psychedelic plants were being used in various ritual ceremonies and among various native tribes around the world. There’s also strong evidence that cultural use of psychotropic plants has been happening for centuries. Peyote has been used ceremonially since 1000BC and is an integral part of Native American culture. Psilocybin is central to Aztec tribes. How long psychedelic mushrooms were used by them is unknown because Roman Catholic missionaries destroyed most records in Mexico. Rock paintings of mushrooms and temples dedicated to mushroom gods go back to 7000BC, however. The history of psychedelics is long. And if those stand behind the medicinal benefits they offer can continue to research these beneficial effects, their history is far from over. The “Recent” History of Psychedelic Medicine During the mid-20th century, chemists and other scientists started taking more interest in natural psychedelic substances and began to make new synthetic compounds that imitated what was found in nature. They then gave them to their friends. The very early days of modern psychedelic research was done with private patients and friends of scientists, researchers, and chemists. It was these friends and private patients who first dipped their toes into the strange waters of psychedelic drugs. These pioneers of psychedelic research included academics, intellectuals, research scientists, artists, writers, anthropologists, and others. The changes they experienced in consciousness sparked a revolution that is still going strong today. The early days of psychedelics included studies on LSD in anticipation of its effectiveness to treat a list of psychological disorders. The US Navy experimented with mescaline in the late 1940s as a truth serum and mescaline was studied in the early 1950s to see how good it was at replicating adrenaline. During the 1950s and 1960s, most of the research conducted on psychedelic medicine was done on LSD. It was made available for research based on the premise that it was helpful “to elicit the release of repressed material and provide mental relaxation, particularly in anxiety states and obsessional neuroses.” There were also a lot of psychiatrists at the time personally experimenting with LSD so they could “gain insight into the world and ideas and sensations of mental patients.” By the time the mid-60s rolled around, over 40,000 patients had taken LSD. The vast amount of psychedelic research that took place during the some 15 years it was studied, generated over 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, several books and manuscripts, and six international conferences. What Early Psychedelic Research Revealed Of the many studies conducted on LSD during this time, the positive effects it showed on alcoholism were perhaps the most remarkable out of them all. In 1951, a study was performed on the most severe cases of alcoholism that could be found. Twenty-four patients who had been drinking uncontrollably for some 12 years and not responded to other treatments partook in the study. One single dose of LSD was given to each patient. Long-term results of this single dose found 25% of patients recovered completely and another 25% who had considerably improved. This was compared to the some 10% who responded favorably to traditional treatments of the time. Psychedelics weren’t just used to treat alcoholism. They were also studied for their effects regarding pain management. One study tested 50 patients who were critically ill and in a great deal of pain. Each patient was given Dilaudid, Demerol, and a dose of LSD so their pain-relieving properties could be measured. Results showed that the LSD not only provided better analgesic properties, but the effects lasted longer as well. This study was at the forefront of the effects LSD had on pain and inspired many further studies that all showed promising results as well. It was because of these first studies that LSD went on to show it provided superior pain relief to opiates and was used on patients to control extreme pain. These early studies on pain management with the critically ill also showed something else–LSD made them better accept (and even welcome) the impending fate that awaited them. The Ban of Psychedelic Research With as much promise LSD and other psychedelics held during the mid-20th century, nothing could stop the backlash against these substances that took place in the late 1960s. As more people discovered the effects of LSD (and they were made widely available by the pioneers that experimented with them) and other psychedelics, they were used recreationally…and became a symbol of the counterculture of that time. All psychedelics were banned by the DEA in 1970, and all research on them subsequently stopped. Suddenly, the very substances that showed so much medical promise now contained no medical benefits at all. Psychedelics were instead deemed dangerous and listed as illegal Schedule I substances. Not only were they now considered to be some of the most dangerous drugs of all, but were considered to hold high potential for abuse and had no medical use whatsoever. Although many people held onto the false notion that psychedelics were dangerous for decades, things are beginning to change. There’s a resurgence in psychedelic research, with well-respected institutions and scientists again studying the beneficial effects of psychedelic medicine. For the past two decades, people have been performing new research on psychedelics and the results are showing what many people have known for years–psychedelics make great medicine. The New Psychedelic History The new wave of psychedelic study began in 1990 when the FDA approved research on DMT (dimethyltryptamine). Four years earlier, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was created so that MDMA could be further studied. In 1993, the Heffter Research Institute was formed, pumping some $1 million into the research of the medical benefits of psychedelics. The wave of new psychedelic research had begun, and hasn’t stopped for over 20 years. There are numerous different studies being performed around the world, and the medical benefits they offer continue to pour in. The results are coming from places like Stanford, John Hopkins University, UCLA, and NYU. People devoted to psychedelic research have revived what once showed such great promise. Psychedelics have shown to be very promising for their medical benefits, and as more people turn away from conventional treatment, they’re looking for alternatives that can help–such as ibogaine treatment. The need for medical treatments that work largely prevails over outdated (and false) claims. We’ve seen it happen with medical marijuana, and can hope that this resurgence in research is just the beginning of a revolution of healing assisted through the many benefits of psychedelic medicine.

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