News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

5 Fascinating New Uses For Psychedelics

Scientists are looking into various medical and psychiatric uses for psychedelics. Could the taboo be ending?

On last week's episode of the drama "Mad Men," set in 1966, Roger Sterling, the embodiment of the classic old-boys club figure, accompanies his younger wife to a dinner party where the guests "turn on" to LSD. After a night of laughing fits, tears, dancing and hallucinations, the couple have a profound conversation about their marriage's failure. Sterling wakes up the next morning feeling that he's been given an entry into "the truth" and in a shockingly sincere tone, declares that it's going "to be a beautiful day."

The sequence represents a surprisingly positive portrayal of acid, staying away from cliches and demonstrating how a stuck-in-the-mud character might actually, at least temporarily, be jolted out of despair and complacency by an experience on drugs. 

In some ways, Roger's fictional night embodies the quintessential mid-'60s "long, strange, trip." For a brief period before LSD became synonymous with the youth-led counterculture, hippies and burnout, it was taken seriously among elites--it was even legal. The drug, originally being tested for various physical and psychological institutions, began to be recreationally used by professionals like the therapist who encourages the Sterlings to "turn on" as a method for aiding personal development and enhancing insight.

But when LSD became a street drug and was criminalized, it moved out of laboratories, and the stigma carried over through the end of the century.

Hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin were added to the 1970 Controlled Substance Act as Schedule I substances, which defines them as "having no medicinal value" and makes getting federal funding (or the actual drugs necessary) for research nearly impossible. That is why, even now, many studies of pot and hallucinogens are conducted in other countries. Scientists may have wanted to conduct the research, but they couldn't, and for the most part, it's still very difficult.

It's taken decades for American scientists, doctors and patients to have the chance to take a closer look at the uses of psychedelic drugs, not just recreational but medical, personal and therapeutic. Even now, doctors who do this work are eager to distance themselves from Timothy Leary and his ilk.

And yet the shift has happened. The profession is back to exploring the various positive effects of these drugs, and their work is being covered by the mainstream media.

Here are some examples of ways psychedelics are being explored in medicine today:

1. Alcoholism. This year, a group of Norwegian scientists went back into medical archives to reexamine previous LSD studies to help recovering alcoholics. When they crunched the data, what they found was not only evidence that LSD is useful in treating addiction, but also circumstantial evidence that the culture wars may have derailed the progress of this line of inquiry.  From HealthDay's story last month:

In a new analysis, Norwegian researchers examined six studies of LSD and alcoholism that were conducted in the United States and Canada between 1966 and 1970.

The analysis of data from the 536 patients in the studies showed that a single dose of LSD helped heavy alcoholics quit and reduced their risk of resuming drinking, according to the meta-analysis appearing online March 8 in the  Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Patients who received a full dose of the controversial drug did the best. On average, 59 percent of those patients showed a clear improvement, compared with 38 percent of patients in other groups, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology researchers said.

Kristen Gwynne has  pointed out on AlterNet that this study is particularly promising as there are currently very limited options for those who suffer from alcoholism, and 12-step programs, which rely on a loosely religious framework, can be discriminatory and leave people out.

See more stories tagged with: