Breaking the Stigma: Psychedelic Drugs

Article by Lin Shen, Cannabis Life Network

BREAKING THE STIGMA: PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS LIN SHENAUGUST 22, 2020 EDUCATIONFEATUREDPSYCHEDELICS NEWSSERIES128 VIEWS There are a lot of negative stigma surrounding psychedelic drugs. A large portion of the population and the government condemn these substances to be dangerous, addictive, and illegal. Although, that may be true when it comes to opiates or stimulants (such as heroin or cocaine). As they are, indeed, physiologically toxic and addictive. Psychedelics, on the other hand, have been mistaken to have the same, or even worse detrimental effects to one’s health.

There are a lot of negative stigma surrounding psychedelic drugs. A large portion of the population and the government condemn these substances to be dangerous, addictive, and illegal. Although, that may be true when it comes to opiates or stimulants (such as heroin or cocaine). As they are, indeed, physiologically toxic and addictive. Psychedelics, on the other hand, have been mistaken to have the same, or even worse detrimental effects to one’s health.

The negative stigma created against psychedelic drugs

This is because for decades, the media have been portraying psychedelics as extremely dangerous drugs. When, in fact, the classic serotonergic psychedelics are one of the most physiologically safe drugs out there. The negative stigma surrounding psychedelics drugs needs to be broken. These substances have the potential to revolutionize psychiatric research and treatment.

Numerous studies and research throughout history have identified the many positive therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs.

They are the oldest known group of drugs to mankind and have been used by several ancient civilizations. However, since 1970, psychedelics have been classified as Schedule I substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The criminalization of psychedelics made it extremely difficult to continue scientific studies on these substances. This futher allowed the unobstructed spread of a large amount of misinformation by the media that highlighted and exaggerated the negative effects of psychedelics. Thus, stigma surrounding psychedelics was created by cultural and political forces, rather than actual scientific evidence.

What are psychedelics?

Psychedelics are hallucinogenic drugs that put you in a different state of consciousness. They bind with your serotonin receptors and change your sensory perceptions, energy levels, and thought processes. They are unique from other drugs because they can “induce states of altered perception, thought, and feeling that are not experienced otherwise except in dreams or at times of religious exaltation” says David E. Nichols, Ph.D, in the Journal of Pharmacological Reviews on psychedelics.

Classic serotonergic psychedelics include:

  • LSD
  • Psilocybin
  • DMT
  • And Mescaline

These drugs have been extensively studied and “considered physiologically safe and do not lead to dependence or addiction”. The use of psychedelics has been spiritual and therapeutic throughout history.

Psychedelics Throughout History

Centuries before the discovery of LSD, the other classic psychedelics such as

  • Psilocybin– the active ingredient in Magic Mushrooms
  • Mescaline– found in the Peyote Cactus
  • And DMT– from Ayahuasca

They all have been used in religious and divinatory rituals by indigenous people and ancient cultures. For example, psilocybin mushrooms were commonly used in “healing rituals” by shamans from the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies, including the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec cultures. Additionally, the use of the peyote cactus containing mescaline by Native North Americans dates back to as long ago as 5700 years. Furthermore, the Brazilian churches União do Vegetal (UDV) and the Santo Daim still use ayahuasca, containing DMT, as a religious sacrament to this day.

There is not much scientific knowledge on these religious ceremonies; though, the consensus is that after consuming these drugs,

“profound insights about life could be achieved, and it was apparently a treasured once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” – David E. Nichols, Ph.D

This aligns with many of the findings by scientists, later on, who started conducting experiments and studies to explore the mind-altering effects of these psychedelic substances.

Preliminary research on psychedelic substances   

During the 40’s and 50’ there was an explosion of studies and research done on LSD and other psychedelics. There are more than a thousand clinical papers discussing 40,000 patients, several dozen books, and six international conferences on psychedelic drug therapy. One of the primary focuses of these studies was to observe the effects of psychedelics on treatment of mental health disorders. In that period, tens of thousands of patients took LSD and other psychedelics to study their effects on-

  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Alcoholism
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Depression
  • And PTSD

The results of these early studies were remarkably positive.

A research psychologist, William Richards, who has been studying psychedelics for over 50 years states that “they’re not toxic. They’re not addictive”; and they show promise to effectively treat mental illnesses. However, despite all the generally positive contributions of psychedelics throughout history. These substances are currently classified under the most restrictive legal category – Schedule I drugs. This category is reserved for substances with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” (NIDA). This classification is amiss, dismaying many psychologists and hindering the progression of psychiatric research.

The end of an era

The effects of psychedelics are highly dependent on the set (mental expectation) of the user and the setting (environment). When used in a comfortable setting with a proper mindset, such as in a therapist’s office or with a religious shaman, the user will most likely have a positive and beneficial experience. On the contrary, the chances of having a negative experience is significantly increased if administered in an unstructured setting such as a party or concert with many unpredictable variables.

In the 1960’s, before its criminalization, psychedelics became a popularized street drug adopted by college students and the hippie counterculture in the United States. No longer administered in the relative safety of a lab or psychiatrist’s office, horror stories of bad “acid” trips at colleges and concerts shared headlines with images of anti-Vietnam protests and unclothed Woodstock attendees. This began the end of the “golden era” of psychedelic research.

What lead to criminalization 

Timothy Leary, a discredited Harvard psychology professor encouraged young people to take LSD recreationally and to “drop out of school, because school education today is the worst narcotic drug of all…Don’t politic, don’t vote, these are old men’s games”. Leary’s message fulminated against mainstream culture, undoubtedly, causing public outrage. Several other countercultural movements such as the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, contemporary feminism, and the antiwar movement were also catalyzed by psychedelics.

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