The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem met in New York from April 19 to 21, 2016, to discuss drug policy. Protestors stood outside the UNGASS this year, most of whom were against the “war on drugs.” Others demanded “freedom of consciousness” through access to psychedelic drugs without prosecution.
The word psychedelic comes from the ancient Greek words psukhḗ, meaning mind or soul, and dloun, meaning revealing. Advocates for the free use of psychedelics believe that certain such substances are necessary for spiritual well-being and mental freedom. They cite research showing that psychedelics do not cause psychosis or physical addiction, but rather are actually effective cures for mental illness and substance use disorders. The reputation that these substances have for being mentally liberating has led some to question the motivation behind the strict governmental restrictions on their use.
About half a century ago, psychedelics emerged as a revolutionary treatment for mental illness and apparent cure for addiction. Curiously, that body of research was suppressed and nullified with the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA cited lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin as dangerous with no therapeutic value, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
More recently, the formal study of therapeutic psychedelics has made a resurgence, and once again they appear to be safe and effective. In addition, scientists are gaining a better understanding of the mechanism of action in the brain. The ability of psychedelics to provide prolonged therapeutic effects may be due to the generation of new neuropathways disrupting negative feedback loops. Images of the human brain on LSD were recently reported, showing the visual cortex communicating with parts of the brain it normally wouldn’t, explaining some of the visual hallucinations and other effects that psychedelics sometimes cause.
Natural or synthetic?
Psychedelics can grow naturally or be synthesized in a laboratory. Natural psychedelics include magic mushrooms containing psilocybin, cactus containing peyote/mescaline and root bark containing ayahuasca. Synthetic psychedelics can be grown from biological sources then isolated and concentrated — as dimethyltryptamine (DMT) often is — or produced chemically, such as phencyclidine (PCP). Unregulated drug manufacturing practices can produce synthetic drugs that are more dangerous than those in natural plants.
Even regulated drug manufacturing can be dangerous, particularly when profits take precedence over consumer well-being. In March 2014, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published a memorandum stating that abstract ideas, laws of nature/natural principles, natural phenomena and natural products cannot be patented or trademarked. Without a patent or trademark, products are not profitable, so research and development costs for natural medicines are difficult to obtain. Subsequently, commercial promotion of chemical pharmaceuticals causes a pervasive belief that the chemicals are safer and more effective than natural medicines.
Problem or solution?
From an energetic point of view (see part 1 of this series), consumption of any mind or mood-altering substance alters the transmission and reception of consciousness to and from the brain. While alcoholics might describe their experience with alcohol as disempowering, many proponents of judicial psychedelic use might describe their experience as empowering. The decision to enter or refrain from such an altered state should be an informed one.
Frequent use of psychedelics, especially synthetics like LSD, can result in tolerance, requiring higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect. In addition, psychological dependence has been reported, primarily with synthetic formulations of street drugs, in which ingredients vary widely. Those who are unable to stop on their own may benefit from detoxification and treatment to explore the root cause of the problem.
Sovereign Health of California treats individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders and dual diagnosis. We combine the most accurate and effective approaches to diagnostic assessment and treatment, providing optimal long-term outcomes. Comprehensive treatment includes novel, conventional, and holistic therapies tailored for each individual. Our ongoing continuing care program provides the support patients need to remain free from addiction and recover from all of its consequences. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.