photo credits: Alex Grey
As a collective society, and ultimately conscious, it would behoove the individual to have the right to partake responsibly in mind altering substances. There is new information and neurological testing we have now showing the benefits of using medical psychedelic use. Under proper environment we can start to claw back the growing amount of mental health issues in America. According to a 2018 study by Mental Health in America 76% of youth, or 1.7 Million kids, with depression in America are not getting treated. 18% of adults have a mental health condition and 9.6 Million adults experience suicidal tendencies (Nguyen 5).
They say that during the paleolithic era we had a massive increase in cognitive development. Scientists have multiple theories on what could have caused such an increase. Terence and Dennis McKenna wrote their hypothesis that suggests our ancestors evolved into intelligent species due to psilocybin use. Their theory is widely criticized for lacking scientific evidence however, the discussion on a solidified theory is almost impossible. Britannica online states, “Moreover, in many instances it is impossible to identify assuredly the hominin species that commanded a Paleolithic industry, even when there are associated skeletal remains at the site” (Tuttle). Our brain sizes grew rapidly starting with Australopithecus at 440 grams to Homo Sapiens at 1,350 grams. The major cause of this expansion is a widely ongoing debate due to limited supply of fossil evidence.
Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna were both unfairly given a stigma during to the war on drugs. Nixon viewed the war on drugs as “public enemy number 1”. We may never know if the McKenna brother’s stoned ape hypothesis may prove true, however I hope to convince you that psychedelics may still evolve us as a society.
The human body develops mental calluses that prevent us from feeling trauma, but it does not get rid of the trauma. On psychedelics that trauma becomes real again and you are faced with battling it. The information in this paper is a mixture between using legitimate academic evidence and my personal opinion based on subjective experience. After the first 3 months I noticed significant improvements in my mood. My biggest improvement was an overwhelming increase in compassion. I felt intimately connected to everyone and everything I did. Having a burst of passion has allowed me to break through depressive episodes that previously would hinder me.
In order to sequester bias I believe it is important to start by describing the properties of psychedelics. There is a lot of myth that has been pushed by hollywood. Movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and video games like Grand Theft Auto all teach kids what drugs feel like without actually having to be specific. I understand the need for creativity, but it paints a false picture. These apples of sodom do have their consequences so dispelling myths can allow for future responsible and ethical use. The psychedelics binds to the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor. This receptor in the brain is responsible for multiple mental illnesses. According to the National Institute for Biotechnology Information “Disorders in which the 5-HT2A receptor seems to be involved range from schizophrenia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, to autism spectrum disorders” (Raote). This receptor is important because psychoactive drugs work as agonists for the receptor and allow serotonin to flood in. Chemicals such as lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD, have crystals that jam these receptors open and causes abnormal states of psychosis before the protein folds around the crystal and absorbs it into the spinal fluid. This psychotic state if handled correctly can allow the user to experience events using different parts of their brain instead of the normal mental pathways that were developed.
We are currently studying the effects of psychedelics for the potential use to create medications. This could help treat depression and attention deficit disorder. “The development of selective receptor antagonists is at an advanced stage but there is a need for selective agonists” (Barnes 1102). What this translates into is we are able to turn off this group of receptors very well but we don’t have much knowledge on drugs that would activate them. This is important for treating illnesses such as schizophrenia, chronic anxiety, and other panic related disorders which is caused by an abnormal amount of serotonin going through the receptors. This feeling may distort emotions and create a disconnection from reality.
We need to have an open and honest discussion about how we want to handle psychedelics in the community. Research for depression, PTSD, addiction, and many others could all make breakthroughs in our healthcare system. Unfortunately, as our healthcare system continues to worsen more and more people are turning to self medication as a way to treat their mental illness. In a journal published by Plos One “Psychedelics have been used in the Americas for thousands of years. Over 30 million people currently living in the US have used LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline” (Krebs).
There is a common belief that using psychedelics may lead to heavier drug use, but this is just a myth. Using psychedelics under proper supervision does the opposite. I believe this myth was created by our politicians as a way to promote fear and stifle innovation. The war on drugs have inhibited us from pursuing the development of alternative medications.
“There were no significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics, lifetime use of specific psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, peyote), or past year use of LSD and increased rate of any of the mental health outcomes. Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems” (Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study).
This is not to say that improper use of psychoactive substances don’t have adverse consequences. A common occurrence in reckless psychedelic use is ego death. This event can be both destructive, yet therapeutic. When it comes to the mind you have to destroy your previous conceptions in order to allow new ones to form. People who have faced near ego death experiences often have a renewed outlook on life. According to a study on patients who go through near death experience “Some individuals when they come close to death report having experiences that they interpret as spiritual or religious” (Greyson). The leading cause of death in psychoactive drug use is suicide. On the surface this may sound like the psychedelics are creating insanity, but what’s actually being experienced is the brains need to detach from ego. Thus why some individuals experience the spiritual like event ego death.
Syd Barrett was one of the original member of Pink Floyd from the years 1963 to 1972 before having to leave due to increasing personal issues and developing early onset schizophrenia. A documentary of his experiences by Kris DiLorenzo states “Someone who’s almost grokked the universe and then lost the definition on the tip of their tongue knows what it’s like to be a crazy diamond” (DiLorenzo). It can be hard to really put into words how psychedelics make you feel so art and music is a prefered form of expression. Often his band mates would put acid in his coffee to allow him to channel his inner creativity on stage. During the time that the band was experimenting with psychedelics little was known about the true dangers of reckless acid use. Constant psychedelic experiences may trigger early onset schizophrenia in some people much like trauma does. It is important to consider all possible options when seeking mental health treatment so you don’t create more problems than you solve.
Little is known about the full effects of psychedelics, but we are studying the effects in more detail thanks to advancement in technology. In a recent study from done by the psychiatric department at New York University School of Medicine it has been shown that acute psychedelic experience mixed into a therapy session decreased the relapse rate among addicts. “The participants discussed in this paper experienced acute and lasting alterations in their perceptions of self, in the quality of their baseline consciousness, and in their relationship with alcohol and drinking” (Bogenschutz). The experience these participants went through helped them see their addiction from a different perspective and started to promote healing.
Similar to addiction we have also found better ways to help treat our troops when they return from war. We have evidence suggesting using low dosage of psychedelics can help treat PTSD by reducing trace fear-conditioning. The psychedelic experience clears out the cobwebs of our brain. Our brain creates connections like a circuit board and the psychedelic experience prevents that circuit board from working correctly so the brain has to take new paths which can help erase triggers in patients. This should be done under the supervision of a licensed medical professional that can interact with the patient and help guide the trip. A study with Experimental Brain Research states “PSOP facilitates extinction of the classically conditioned fear response, and this, and similar agents, should be explored as potential treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions” (Catlow). This test showed positive outcomes in the trial on mice. The next step would be testing on humans.
It has been proven that patients who use psychedelics often have lower chances of being diagnosed with depression even after they stopped using. The reason for this is similar to treating PTSD. Psychedelics promoted brain growth and allows the brain to create connections not available previously. The effects of psychedelics is similar to our current SSRI medication which we use to treat clinical depression. A study by Frontier Pharmacology found that there was very positive results from test patients. “Future therapeutic work with psychedelics should recognize the essential importance of quality of experience in determining treatment efficacy and consider ways of enhancing mystical-type experiences and reducing anxiety” (Roseman).
We have a lot of evidence to show that using psychedelics properly can lead to beneficial results. I have to ask the question “so why do we fear it so much?” Charles Manson, MKUltra tests, and Unabomber are all great examples of unbridled drug use. Psychedelics are very dangerous if used incorrectly. During the war on drugs these characters have been leveraged to create propaganda which has crippled the psychedelic community while more harmful substitutes are taking more lives. Opioids and synthetic opioids are becoming a crisis. A study done by the Center for Disease control stated “Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013” (Vital Signs).
With our recent surge in marijuana studies I think we should continue moving forward with studies on psychedelic use. We can have a lot of breakthroughs in both society and among our community if we start to throw away prejudice. There is a lot of studies currently being done that will hopefully allow medical breakthroughs to happen which will loosen up opiums hold on the world. This concern is not a matter of science as much as it is a discussion on ethics. If we have the ability to do better than I personally believe it is not a concern of possibility but a concern of conviction. We must continue to innovate.
Barnes, Nicholas M. “A Review of Central 5-HT Receptors and Their Function.” A Review of Central 5-HT Receptors and Their Function, edited by Trevor Sharp, Neuropharmacology, 1999, pp. 1083–1152.
Bogenschutz, Michael P., et al. “Clinical Interpretations of Patient Experience in a Trial of Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy for Alcohol Use Disorder.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 9, 2018, doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00100.
Catlow, Briony J., et al. “Effects of Psilocybin on Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Extinction of Trace Fear Conditioning.” Experimental Brain Research, vol. 228, no. 4, 2013, pp. 481–491., doi:10.1007/s00221-013-3579-0.
DiLorenzo, Kris. “Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd and Mental Illness.” Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd and Mental Illness, Feb. 1978, pp. 26–32.
Greyson, Bruce. “Near-Death Experiences and Spirituality.” Near-Death Experiences and Spirituality, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, 2006, pp. 393–414.
Krebs, Teri S., and PÃ¥l-Ãrjan Johansen. “Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063972.
Nguyen, Theresa, et al. “Mental Health in America – Printed Reports.” Mental Health America, 20 Dec. 2017, www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/mental-health-america-printed-reports.
Raote, Ishier, et al. “Serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) Receptor Function: Ligand-Dependent Mechanisms and Pathways.” Serotonin Receptors in Neurobiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1853/.
Roseman, Leor, et al. “Quality of Acute Psychedelic Experience Predicts Therapeutic Efficacy of Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 8, 2018, p. 974., doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00974.
Tuttle, Russell Howard. “Human Evolution.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Feb. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/science/human-evolution/Increasing-brain-size.“Vital Signs.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 July 2015, www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/index.html.