Health, Hypothesis, Psychology, recent, Recommended, Social Science

On the Eve of the Great Psychedelic Debate

Trippy “Medicine”

Listening to some of the opponents of medical marijuana over the last few years, one could be forgiven for thinking that they have never heard of a psychoactive substance being used in medicine before. These people might be surprised to learn that in England the doctor can send you home with a prescription for pain called diamorphine, a fancy word for heroin. They might be equally surprised to learn that the anti-obesity prescription Desoxyn is nothing more than methamphetamine in a pill, or that the popular ADHD medication Adderall is very similar to methamphetamine chemically and physiologically. If you’ve had throat, dental or nose surgery there’s a chance the anesthetist used cocaine to numb your senses as it restricts the flow of blood more than any other local anesthetic (the cocaine alkaloid is extracted from coca leaves for medical use and the leftover de-cocainized extract sent to Coca Cola for flavoring). You won’t hear it put this way. No doctor says to the cancer patient, “I suggest you use smack from here on out,” and no weight loss specialist asks whether you’ve tried meth yet. Imagine a dentist telling their patient to open wide so they can inject some blow into their gum line. Of course, medical vernacular replaces street names for drugs to provide a line of demarcation between highly stigmatized illicit activities and their pharmacological corollary under medical settings. In its online guide for safe diamorphine use for cancer sufferers, Cancer Research UK chooses to omit the word heroin completely, to obfuscate any connection with its recreational use. 

Unfortunately, a consequence of hiding normally illegal drugs in plain sight in the medical world is to make them seem especially fringe and troubling when used in other contexts. It should come as no surprise then that a recent Vox poll found that most people are overwhelmingly opposed to legalizing psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms for both recreational and medical use, despite a majority in the poll supporting marijuana legalization. This is unsurprising given that the same poll finds most people do not want cocaine, heroin, or meth to be used medically either. Presumably, most people polled had no idea that these drugs have already been in medical use for decades and therefore can’t be expected to look favorably at the medical use of other drugs. But as the marijuana legalization debate is slowly being fought and won, in its footprints will emerge the great new legalization debate about psychedelics. Already in Oregon and Denver, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use, measures are being put on the ballot to decriminalize magic mushrooms, two hundred species of fungi containing the hallucinogenic alkaloids psilocin and psilocybin. 

There’s no clear line separating drugs that make it into club psychedelic from those that do not—marijuana, ketamine, ecstasy and all sorts of substances can at times produce the hallucinogenic effects commensurate with a psychedelic experience. But normally when we talk about the classical psychedelics we refer to a narrow class of fungi and plants—or the substances derived from them in a laboratory—that change levels of serotonin in the brain and produce vivid hallucinations and shifts in consciousness. Not all of these substances are illegal. The mint plant salvia divinorum exhibits powerful and unusual psychedelic effects and remains legal in most countries outside the British Commonwealth, while magic mushrooms can be legally bought in some countries like Jamaica and Brazil. A special exemption even exists in the United States to allow members of the Native American Church to consume the hallucinogenic cacti known as peyote after the Drug Enforcement Administration was sued by the church for trying to prohibit a plant that had been used for four thousand years by Native Americans.   

Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)

Perhaps this last drug, though one of the more rarely encountered of the psychedelics, has done more to popularize their use than anything else in the long run. In the 1950s, the literary genius Aldous Huxley took four tenths of a gram of the active alkaloid in peyote called mescaline and described his experience in The Doors of Perception, a book that influenced Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, the person more responsible than anyone else for popularizing psychedelics in the 1960s. Both Leary and Huxley went on to experiment with an even stronger psychedelic, lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD or acid, a chemical derived in the laboratory from the ergot fungus. Huxley believed in a “mind at large”—the idea that our mind is greater than what appears in ordinary consciousness, and believed that brain processes filter out most of the mind’s content given that so much information would be unbearable and unconducive to normal human behavior. “In so far as we are animals,” he wrote, “our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, mind at large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly tickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.” Huxley believed that psychedelics break down the filtering processes of the mind, widening the doors of perception and thereby allowing more perceptual data into our consciousness. As a result of being shown that there is more to the world than we think and that we aren’t always privy to that world, Huxley thought the psychedelic experience could at least teach us humility.

Humility is the handmaiden to liberty, and some people don’t like to walk in the company of either. From the late 1960s onwards, most psychedelics were banned owing to fears about their harmful potential, and anti-drug polemicists are always on hand to remind us that we aren’t missing out on anything by being denied their usage. Athol Moffitt’s 1998 prohibitionist tract Drug Precipice tells us that, aside from the narcotics already used for medical purposes, other illegal drugs have “no benefit to mankind whatsoever.” And yet, research carried out before psychedelics were prohibited casts serious doubts on that claim. In the 1950s, it was thought that LSD produced something similar to delirium tremens, the disorientation and agitation that some alcoholics face in withdrawal. Like The Simpsons episode in which Homer wanted to force Bart to smoke a whole room full of cigarettes as punishment for being caught with them, a group of psychologists in Saskatchewan thought they could frighten alcoholics away from alcohol by providing them with LSD and its terrible but similar disorientating effects. The LSD experiments actually seemed to work much better than other treatments for alcoholism, with many of the alcoholics refraining from drinking months later, but for reasons entirely unrelated to those hypothesized. The alcoholics in Saskatchewan reported that their LSD experience was profound and spiritual, nothing like the negative experience that was intended, and that it allowed them to see how their alcohol abuse was affecting those they loved. Something about these experiments reminds me of the story of Gustav III of Sweden, who believed that coffee was so destructive to health that he commuted a criminal’s death sentence to a life sentence drinking coffee just to see what would happen. Instead of providing the alcoholics with a hellish LSD experience, the psychologists had provided them with the ultimate gift of renewing their view of the world.

While some psychologists in Toronto disputed the Saskatchewan psychologists’ theory that LSD might be useful for reversing alcoholism, research into the connection virtually ceased after the government banned LSD research on humans in 1966. Around the same time, most research into psychedelics turned into a trickle owing to burdensome government regulations. But, four decades later, scientists are finally fighting back with renewed vigor to overcome the bureaucratic bottlenecks stifling psychedelic research. After three years of negotiating permission with the British government, one team of scientists at Imperial College London recently began studying the psilocybin of magic mushrooms again to understand its effects on symptoms of depression. The regulations imposed on the team were excessive: each dose of psilocybin cost thousands of pounds and had to be kept in a safe, as if it were radioactive material that could be sold to Iran. During the experiment, two doses of psilocybin were given to 20 people who suffered from treatment-resistant depression and who had already attempted two or more failed treatments. Almost immediately and in a follow up six months later it was found that the depressive symptoms had markedly diminished in the group. “There simply aren’t words to describe the experience but I can say that the usual negative self-narration that I have had vanished completely,” one of the patients dosed with psilocybin said, “It was replaced by a sense of beautiful chaos, a landscape of unimaginable color and beauty.”

The spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle often echoes Zen Buddhists in encouraging us to turn away from the inward focus on our own emotions and towards a larger project or sense of being by overcoming the stream of thoughts that make up our ego. In The Psychedelic Experience, Timothy Leary held that psychedelic trips lead to “ego death,” the collapse of the stream of thought that identifies a person as being separate from everything else, and replaces it with a sense of cosmic oneness. This probably sounds like spiritual mumbo jumbo, but it closely resembles what people report about their experiences. In another recent randomized, double blind study conducted by John Hopkins University, 51 patients with a life threatening cancer diagnosis suffering from depression or anxiety about fear of death were given one large dose of psilocybin. Two-thirds of the patients reported the experience as among the most important in their entire lives. “Somehow, I was able to comprehend what oneness is,” said one of the patients a year after the trial, while another reported that he had gained metaphysical insights into the nature of reality, “The sense that all is One. I experienced the essence of the universe.” Eighty percent of the patients reported substantial decreases in depression and anxiety, with one of the study’s authors, Stephen Ross, telling Scientific American, “It is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results.” 

I have to say I have misgivings about the medicalization of the psychedelic experience exemplified by Ross’s statement. If you look at opioids or, say, medical cannabis for epilepsy or pain, the drugs work on a level that doesn’t necessarily require the patient to experience psychoactive effects, which are mere epiphenomena to its medical efficacy. But, as one study reveals, for the psychedelics it’s a different story: “The therapeutic effects of psilocybin are not a simple product of isolated pharmacological action but rather are experience dependent.” In the studies conducted, some people failed to experience a profound psychedelic trip from their issued dosage, and these people didn’t experience improvements in their symptoms. This signals that it is the overwhelming shift in consciousness and the renewed way a person looks at life that bring about profound positive emotional states, rather than the drug working in some other pharmacocentric fashion. But just as it would be improper to say that an uplifting visit from the archangel Gabriel would be a “medicine,” it makes little sense to call a profound experience that irrevocably changes your worldview or tacit metaphysical assumptions about the universe a “medicine.” It would be more accurate to call psychedelic treatments a “particularly profound and wonderful soul-shifting experience,” that perhaps frees one from the chains of anxiety and depression. However, if the government were to legalize psilocybin for conditions like depression and anxiety while denying others the opportunity to take it then this amounts to saying, “Only people with depression and anxiety are allowed to have particularly profound and wonderful soul-shifting experiences.” Better to call psychedelic treatments “medicine” only applicable to a designated group called “the sick” than to admit that the mechanism of its efficacy may be just as positive for other people in society as well.

If Leary’s claim about the dissolution of the ego seems to be true about psychedelics, what about Huxley’s assertion of a higher state of consciousness? This is not a straightforward question to answer because it’s not clear from a scientific point of view what it means to have a higher state of consciousness. But scientists can measure neural signal diversity through magnetic imaging, a mathematical gauge of the complexity of the firing of neurons, which decreases during sleep and increases during conscious activity. In the only study of its kind, it was found that doses of psilocybin and LSD increase neural signal diversity, suggesting “elevated awareness.” But it is difficult to specify exactly what this increased neural signal diversity means for our lives.

Obviously those undergoing the psychedelic trip are not going to do well by ordinary means of measuring intelligence. As psychologist Arthur Kleps said during congressional testimony in 1966, “…if I were to give you an IQ test and during the administration one of the walls of the room opened up giving you a vision of the blazing glories of the central galactic suns, and at the same time your childhood began to unreel before your inner eye like a three-dimensional colour movie, you would not do well on the test.” And yet, the problem solving or creative insights inspired particularly by LSD are well known. One user of LSD was the Nobel Prize winning chemist Kary Mullis, inventor of polymerase chain reactions, the process whereby scientists rapidly reproduce new copies of DNA. “It was certainly much more important than any courses I ever took,” Mullis said, crediting an LSD trip with his discovery, “I could sit on a DNA molecule and watch the polymers go by.” Richard Kemp claims that even Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, had confided in him that he had envisioned its structure under the influence of LSD. A range of inventors, architects, musicians and artists credit psychedelic drug use for their imagination.1 Steve Jobs, founder of Apple said of his early LSD use, “It is the most profound thing I’ve ever done.”

Ninety percent of the world’s cultures institutionalize an altered state of consciousness, recognizing and even promoting an altered state of consciousness. In Africa, the roots of the iboga tree produce a powerful psychedelic substance called ibogaine that researchers credit2 with the ability to wean people off opioid addiction. But the indigenous hallucinogenic that has received the most attention in recent years belongs to the upper Amazon Rainforest. Ayahuasca is made from a vine containing DMT, a naturally occurring chemical found in the brain in tiny amounts. Mixed with the leaves of another plant, the ayahuasca brew produces an overwhelmingly powerful psychedelic trip. As with magic mushrooms, a number of small trials have found ayahuasca to produce experiences considered so profound it that leads to diminished signs of depression in Westerners3 and reports of a renewed life outlook, spawning a psychedelic tourism industry in South America.

Unfortunately, although spiritual gurus advocate ayahuasca, they can’t seem to agree on where one should take it. Deepak Chopra has warned people not to use ayahuasca in their home countries, “If you really want to try it then go to South America, go to Peru, look for a really authentic Shaman who does these rituals,” while ayahuasca researcher Rachel Harris writes in Listening to Ayahuasca, “My strongest advice [is]…Don’t go the Amazon…Too many known unknowns in Peru.” Harris explains that romantic visions of a genuine ayahuasca experience in Peru turn into cases of sexual assault by shamans, or at the very least a nightmarish hell of explosive diarrhea and vomiting in rainforests far from hospitals.

To Fall in Hell or Soar Angelic

Albert Hoffman (1906–2008)

The ayahuasca experience also leaves users open to something that all psychedelic drugs can produce: extremely frightening and psychologically stressful states of consciousness known as bad trips. The first bad LSD trip ever experienced was by its inventor, chemist Albert Hoffman, who also happened to be the first scientist to isolate and name psilocybin. In 1943, three days after he accidently fell into the world’s first LSD trip, he purposefully dosed himself with 250 micrograms of LSD. Hoffman felt like he was suffocating, like he could taste metal in his mouth, and that his limbs were heavier than metal. The faces around him appeared grimacing and his visual field warped, “I half-crazily cried or muttered indistinctly.” In another experiment Hoffman recounted seeing “a crazy mutilated woman with her arms cut off and burned out eyes.” Other people have reported even worse things while tripping, “there are some worms. They’re nodding at me. Am I dying? I must be dying because they’re eating my flesh.”

The unpredictability these psychedelic trips bring strikes fear into the hearts of many people including hard drug users. With drugs like alcohol and heroin there is at least some predictability and regularity involved in their use. Timothy Leary warned that because the “set” of a person can change from day to day, the emotional and psychological state someone is in, and because the “setting” is always different, the environment where the experience takes place, we never know what the psychedelic trip will draw up from the deep nether-regions of the mind. Owing to their unpredictability, Humphrey Osmond, the psychiatrist who coined the term “psychedelic” and first provided Huxley with mescaline, said, “To fall in hell or soar angelic, you’ll need a pinch of psychedelic.”

Describing the history of LSD from the moment he invented it up until 1979 in his book LSD: My Problem Child, Hoffman described deep reservations about the way people have abused LSD interspersed with optimistic visions for its potential. Hoffman wanted people to know that LSD is a deeply consciousness, and therefore soul-altering drug, not a party drug to be used at raves and discos. “The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug,” warned Hoffman, “Special internal and external advance preparations are required; with them, an LSD experiment can become a meaningful experience. Wrong and inappropriate use has caused LSD to become my problem child.”4

Do Psychedelics Fuck You Up?

In 2010 and 2015, two different teams of scientists (one of which had forty members) met to carry out a “multi-criteria decision analysis” to rank the most common drugs by the harm their consumption causes to users and those around them. The reports called on the scientists to consider the harmfulness of drugs across sixteen different measurements, including mortality due to toxicity, mortality due to injury, drug specific bodily damage, drug-related bodily damage, degree of addictiveness, mental impairment due to intoxication, mental impairment due to secondary causes related to drug, effects on tangible life outcomes (e.g. job losses, academic achievement), and loss of personal relationships due to drug use. Both teams of scientists came up with almost identical findings: psychedelic drugs are some of the least harmful drugs used in society, considerably less harmful than even cannabis, with magic mushrooms given the lowest harm ranking of all drugs. On the other side of the spectrum the 2015 multi-criteria analysis concludes, “The evidence clearly confirms that alcohol should be considered to be the most harmful of all drugs”5 (explaining why alcohol is considered so harmful would require a separate article).

Don’t be surprised by the absurdly low harm score attributed to LSD and mushrooms. David Nutt, neuroscientist and former chief drugs advisor to the British government, reports that, “Psychedelics are among the safest drugs we know of. It’s virtually impossible to die of an overdose of them; they cause no physical harm; and if anything they are anti-addictive.”6 There are three reasons why psychedelics are considered one of the few types of drugs that are not addictive. In his classic work Drugs, Set, and Setting, the drug research pioneer Norman Zinburg describes the boredom quickly entailed by psychedelic use. Unlike other drugs that entail intrinsically pleasurable sensations, the psychedelic trip can only be said to be profound and pleasurable for most people in the sense that it is a highly novel experience.  And yet novelty wears away: if you stare into a kaleidoscope for the first time you might be momentarily fascinated by the array of colors, but few people will want to spend the rest of their lives staring into a kaleidoscope on a daily basis. Secondly, psychedelics exhibit no withdrawal effects. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the brain rapidly builds tolerance to psychedelic substances, preventing the drugs from having a psychedelic effect if they are used too frequently.

If we’re going to compare psychedelics to the health risks of obesity they might be less harmful than eating a deep-fried hamburger, but what of the mental health consequences? There is only the tiniest kernel of truth in the claim that someone can be stuck in a psychedelic trip. Nobody experiences an ongoing trip anything like the psychedelic experience after the substance has left the body, but there is a rare condition called “Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder” (HPPD) in which it is said that some people experience an annoying visual noise such as seeing specks of light or changing hues, or experiencing flashbacks, weeks or months after their psychedelic experience. According to the Vice article “When Drugs Fuck You Up Forever,” some people even report having these visual problems for years. However, Vice jumps the gun when it describes HPPD as “a poorly understood condition that you can only get if you’ve taken hallucinogenic drugs.” Multiple studies have found that the same symptoms as HPPD spontaneously occur in non-psychedelic users, in fact at the same rate as in psychedelic users, suggesting that the entire phenomenon might be a misdiagnosis attributed to psychedelics of a more common condition. A pooled analysis of eight double blind placebo-controlled studies found that clinical doses of psilocybin in 110 people led to no evidence of any mental health problems including HPPD.

Some case reports suggest adverse reactions in some individuals such as panic attacks or other anxiety disorders after using LSD. As ten percent of the American population will try LSD in their lifetime and three percent of the population will experience mental health issues, some researchers believe that most case study reports citing LSD are also likely to be chance overlaps between using the drug and having a psychotic incident. A 2017 study dosed sixteen people with LSD for the first time in their lives. Twelve months later the test subjects were asked how they felt the experience had influenced them. None reported negative results, and fifteen of the test subjects described the experience as among the most positive and meaningful experiences of their lives. In line with other research, the investigators concluded that LSD use precedes mid- to long-term improvement in psychological health. A much larger study funded by the Norwegian Research Council of 21,979 LSD, magic mushroom, and mescaline users found psychedelic use correlated with no increased risk of symptoms of HPPD, and a somewhat lower incidence of mental health issues, the same finding made elsewhere among Navajo using peyote.

These findings don’t fit very well with the psychedelics-rot-your-brain theory, which again seems to be grounded in urban myth. In fact, according to a fascinating neuroanatomical study in Cell Reports in 2018, exposing the neurons of rats in vitro and flies in vivo to LSD, DMT, and other psychedelics leads to increased synaptogenesis and neuritogenesis in the prefrontal cortex. In layman’s terms, it was found that psychedelics produced the type of growth in brain cells that prevents them degenerating as they do in people suffering from depression and neuropsychiatric disease. Perhaps in the future we will use psychedelics on a daily basis for brain health as we use vitamins today. 

Ibogaine, LSD, DMT and DOI amphetamine-type psychedelics lead to neurite growth in rats and flies. From Ly C, Greb AC, Cameron LP, et al. Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity. Cell Rep. 2018;23(11):3170-3182.

Okay, but what about the panic attacks and accidents that can happen when someone has a bad trip? After all, bad trips can be so terrifying that people run down highways naked and end up in hospital. Scandalously, the scientist Frank Olson was unknowingly dosed with LSD in a gifted bottle of Cointreau during a CIA experiment in 1953 and became deeply despondent in the days afterwards, allegedly throwing himself out of a tenth story New York window. In 2015, the musician Nick Cave’s son Arthur Cave fell to his death off a cliff while hallucinating on LSD. It should go without saying that dosing people without their knowledge or wandering around cliff edges while tripping is not advisable. But despite alcohol-fuelled plunges from balconies and windows occurring every day, researchers have actually struggled to find more than a few concrete historical cases in which psychedelics consumed alone, without alcohol and other drugs, are the cause of incidents of this nature. Even in the widely reported case of Arthur Cave, no LSD was actually found in his body, although the coroner classed the death as LSD-related due to the testimony of one of his friends claiming Arthur had tried to buy LSD over the Internet (whether it was LSD that he received nobody knows). 

Most people won’t have a bad trip on psychedelics, but even among those who do it can’t always be said to be truly bad. One study recruited 2000 people who had specifically suffered a bad trip while using magic mushrooms to find out what sort of longer-term effect the bad trip can produce. Three people out of the 2000 had suffered psychotic symptoms, and three people had attempted suicide, with two percent of respondents reporting that the bad trip had produced a very negative effect on their lives. 84 percent of the bad trip sufferers reported that the experience had improved their wellbeing. “The incidence of risky behavior or enduring psychological distress is extremely low,” concluded the study, with its head researcher Roland Griffiths theorizing, “Resolution of a difficult experience, sometimes described as catharsis, often results in positive personal meaning or spiritual significance.” Put simply, most bad trips end up being good, though in an extremely low number of cases some bad trips can be detrimental.

Psychedelics In an Unfair World

In Australia, the Pennington Institute’s Annual Overdose Report for 2018 doesn’t even mention the words LSD, mushroom, or psychedelic in its 53 pages, not even to inform us that no psychedelic related deaths occurred in Australia in 2018. During a 2006 dialogue between the Science and Technology Select Committee of the British House of Commons and the British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), it was found that only one person had ever died in the history of government records of a death attributed to magic mushrooms, a finding that astonished the committee given that they are a Class A drug in Britain with a “high abuse potential” alongside crack and heroin. Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the ACMD said, “I have no idea what was going through the minds of the group who put it in Class A in 1970 and 1971.”7 Still, no change in the law took place to reclassify mushrooms. In 2008, the government of the Netherlands commissioned its own scientists at its Coordination Point Assessment and Monitoring New Drugs unit (CAM) to conduct an investigation into the harms of psilocybic mushrooms. Up until this point, mushrooms were legal in the Netherlands, which through its findings CAM insisted on maintaining:

It is concluded, that the use of magic mushrooms rarely (if ever) leads to physical or psychological dependence, that acute and chronic adverse effects are relatively infrequent and generally mild, that public health and public order effects are very limited and that criminality related to the use, production and trafficking of magic mushrooms is almost non-existent […] the overall risk potential of magic mushrooms use was judged to be very low and the CAM advised the Minister of Health to maintain the legal status of magic mushrooms.8

The Minister of Health responded to the report by doing the opposite, prohibiting magic mushrooms in 2008. The prohibition on psychedelics is microcosmic of the larger war on drugs: moral exhibitionism on the part of the politician caught in a competition to be holier than their rivals. It is not an exercise in protecting freedom nor an attempt to promote human welfare. With this invasion of liberty we are now 40 years behind where we otherwise could have been in treating depression, anxiety, and perhaps a whole range of other medical and even social-spiritual malaise.

In this article, I have focused on empirically verifiable benefits of psychedelics and haven’t even explored the emerging phenomenon of micro-dosing, consuming psychedelic substances in minute amounts below the threshold of the psychoactive experience in order to relieve stress and find focus and imagination, nor did I describe other beneficial possibilities that we are yet to fully test or grasp. F.A. Hayek stated in The Constitution of Liberty, “In each particular instance it will be possible to promise concrete and tangible advantages as the result of a curtailment of freedom, while the benefits sacrificed will in their nature always be unknown and uncertain.” In the psychedelic drug debate to come, remember that promises of harm prevention via prohibitions must be balanced against the good these substances can entail, known and unknown.


Matthew Blackwell is an Australian writer and graduate of the University of Queensland where he studied economics and anthropology. Follow him on Twitter @MBlackwell27

Feautre animation by Ben Weeks. 


1 Stafford B.H. & Glightly, P.G. (1967). LSD – The Problem Solving Psychedelic. Award Books.

2 Thomas Kingsley Brown, & Kenneth Alper. (2017). Treatment of opioid use disorder with ibogaine: detoxification and drug use outcomes. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 44(1): 24-36.

3 Sanches RF, de Lima Osório F, Dos Santos RG, Macedo LR, Maia-de-Oliveira JP, Wichert-Ana L, de Araujo DB, Riba J, Crippa JA, Hallak JE. Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a SPECT study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2016;36:77–81.

4 Albert Hoffman (1979). LSD: My Problem Child. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

5 van Amsterdam, J.,  Nutt, D., Phillips, L., Brink, W. (2015) European rating of drug harms. Journal of Pharmacology, 29(6), 655–660.
6 Nutt, D. (2012). Drugs Without the Hot Air, UIT Cambridge.

7 Drug Classification: Making a Hash of it? Fifth Report of Session 2005-2006, Great Britian Parliament, House of Commons.

8 van Amsterdam, J., Opperhuizen, A., van den Brink, W. (2010). Harm Potential of magic mushroom use: A review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 59:423-429.


  1. Paulo says

    Nice article. Those drugs surely deserve more study and less hysteria. But don’t expect a panacea. I tried psilocybin for my chronic depression. After the first use I got relief for a few weeks and then no more benefit. I tried it later: same dose, higher doses and micro dosing. Good trips, but no therapeutic effect.

    • The Evil Has Landed says

      What RC did you take? I assume you built a tolerance for it, yes?

    • David of Kirkland says

      While illegal, you likely had no idea what dose you were taking, what other things you were taking at the same time (sometimes one substance harms the effectiveness of another, like how even a grapefruit can mess with some medications), etc.
      There are few studies on the effectiveness, and to claim that a drug didn’t work for you means it does not work for others is absurd.
      Tyranny never leads to a better world, just ignorance and a criminal enterprise to fulfill demand.

    • Mark says

      In a desperate attempt to fix my survive depression when nothing touched it I tried DMT, 4-aco-dmt (psilocybin, largely), LSD all multiple times with the same results as you.

      Eventually I found rTMS (repetitive trans-cranial stimulation) which fixed it after decades. Depression is a complex beast, there doesn’t seem to be one cause.

    • Thomas A. Groover says

      Proper preparation and reverent attitude (including a ceremonial setting) are important. I’ll give an short account of my experience. Began a regular ceremonial mushroom usage age 32 because of borderline personality, depression and difficult social adjustment including an occasional propensity to stutter. Fear of women increased all throughout my 20’s. After at least 250 solo sessions, in the woods at night, cocoon-like in sleeping bag or equivalent I can say that I am lucky to be enjoying life. Overcame all of the terrible problems of my early days. Am still very occasionally dosing (ceremonially of course) now relying on dreams more for help with some ego issues but the nature of my dreams has dramatically changed over the last 30 years with no nightmares like I had in youth. There is no better indication of the spiritual power of psychedelics than Grof’s first book which sent me on my way and which I review here:

  2. E. Olson says

    This article was a good trip. Given human ingenuity in finding ways to misuse or overuse every type of substance, I have no doubt that some groups would find ways to abuse psychedelics, but the evidence presented certainly suggests some potential good uses that should get some clinical trials and other research.

    • David of Kirkland says

      There’s no ban on food (yet) despite it being over-consumed and over-wasted.
      It’s only “misuse” if you pretend to know the only valid uses.

      • E. Olson says

        David – I think you are forgetting about the bans (or proposed bans) on super-size drinks, trans fats, and sugar taxes designed to stop people from eating too much of the “wrong” foods. The big difference with drug regulation is that eating too many donuts doesn’t typically have the same negative effects on driving as mind-altering drugs.

        • Taylor says

          White sugar is probably more addictive and dangerous than any other drug

  3. Blue Lobster says

    My own experience with psychedelics (psilocybin/psilocin, LSD, MDMA) leads me to believe that, when used in a properly controlled setting, they almost certainly have wide therapeutic potential with regard to certain conditions affecting the mental well-being of sufferers. However, therein lies the rub: in order to reliably create the properly controlled setting, mountains of research will be required due to the potential of these substances to produce unpleasant or deleterious effects in patients when used inappropriately with regard to the condition being treated, dosage, set and setting. A particular aspect of a truly therapeutic setting that I imagine might be especially challenging to institute and regulate is the necessity (in my opinion) of a “trip sitter” or guide/therapist/helper to the patient who acts in a sort of shamanistic role in aiding to channel the experience in a maximally beneficial direction without interfering unduly in the process.

    For what it’s worth, I have used psychedelics to both unqualifiedly therapeutic and beneficial effect as well as abusing such substances to my acute detriment. It has been many years since I used any of the “traditional psychedelics” of the tryptamine class (LSD, psilocybin/psilocin, etc) which tend to produce more profound, spiritual experiences in users, though I do occasionally (1 – 4 times annually) indulge in phenethylamines (MDMA, etc) which tend to be more recreational though not in a particularly addictive manner (frequent usage of MDMA produces rapid tolerance which essentially negates this kind of abuse rendering it pointless as the drug no longer produces the desired effect).

    I do hope that future generations are better able to shed the yoke of puritanism which has historically and obviously continues to shackle the U.S. from exploring and taking advantage of the unarguable benefits that these medicines have to offer. This, of course, starts with education which the article points out as seriously deficient due to the taboo nature of the subject. Though very little of the piece was news to me, the knowledge in the area that I possess was gained via illicit means and was punctuated with mistakes due to my own ignorance and exposure to categorical misinformation via anti-drug education in public school as well as ignorance on the part of my parents. Just about the worst thing that can be done to prepare children for their inevitable encounters with drugs is to inculcate the belief that “drugs are bad, mmkay?”.

    When you teach kids that all drugs are the same and that all drugs are bad and that only bad people use drugs, you set them up for a possibly very rude awakening when they realize first hand that not only are many drugs extremely enjoyable to use, they are also all quite distinct from one another in their effects and potential to cause harm as well as being widely taken by people who are obviously no worse than anyone else. This awakening leads first and foremost to the erosion of trust in parents and institutions that discourage drug use via scaremongering, ignorance and outright deception because the newly awakened user now simply believes that everything they’d previously learned about drugs was a lie and that drugs are in fact mostly harmless (also a lie, albeit born of continuing ignorance).

    Sensible, fact-based drug education which starts in the home and continues in school is the silver bullet in this case as children are now armed with truth rather than fear and are thus able to make informed decisions about how they choose to manipulate their chemistry.

    I will be interested to see what kind of response this article receives in the comment section as my experience as a Quillette fan leads me to believe that the typical commenter has little if any first-hand experience with drugs.

    P.S. I’m a responsible, educated adult with a loving family; gainfully employed, married, a property owner and a fully functioning contributor to our society and economic system in case what I’ve said gives any prudes who read this comment the impression that I’m some loser, ne’re-do-well. I’m far from perfect but I most certainly have my shit together.

        • David of Kirkland says

          Still interested in the wise responses? Liberty and equal protection are hard. Most prefer to stigmatize, hate, blame and pretend that they know better than nature and those people of the “other tribe.”

          • Blue Lobster says

            I would have been flabbergasted had any responses exhibited any particular wisdom of note and they generally have not, so I’m glad that my expectations were well calibrated but thanks for your very “Quillette comment section” response. Glad you put so much thought into it. The light of your wisdom shines through blindingly despite the consummately obscuring opacity of the lens of social media.

      • Ari says

        You remind me of something Tim Leary once said: “LSD is a psychedelic drug which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have NOT taken it.”

  4. The Evil Has Landed says

    Good article. Ive been microdosing with an analog of psilocybin for the last few months and it’s made a huge difference for the better. And I’m a social conservative who opposes pot legalization(!). I bless the day I first heard about microdosing.

  5. Olaf says

    Good article. However, I would like to point out that there are some people who find psychedelics addictive, myself included. That is one (though not the only one) of the reasons why I no longer use them.

    When I was growing psilocybe mushrooms, I found it very hard to regulate their use. They were also the only drug or intoxicant that I was using, sometimes 3-4 times per week over a period of a few months. The dosages were generally at least a few grams, although it has to be said that my tolerance was, of course, relatively high.

    I did not suffer any lasting effects, but they made me somewhat magical in my own thinking — or perhaps you could call it withdrawal into a slightly delusional bubble. Other people may not have noticed that, though. Almost every time I tripped alone, turned the lights off and listened to music in the solitude of my apartment.

    One time I “overdosed” on 10 grams of dried mushrooms, and the peak was the second worst bad trip I’ve ever had: as if all of my neurons were firing ten thousand times per second to all directions in an interminable loop around my brain. Considering how serotonergic psychedelics work, this may not be a far-fetched interpretation of what actually happened. I ended up curling in a fetal position on the floor, but since I knew that the effects would eventually wear off, I knew that I would just have to forbear (for what seemed like an eternity, of course.)

    Retrospectively, after getting out of my mushroom binge, I reflected on why I find psychedelics so addictive. I have some traits of high-functioning autism (my IQ is also quite high), and psychedelics open up the world to me in a way that is highly pleasing. In a normal state of consciousness, my mind can be very focused or “zoned in”, and I miss out on some sensory information that other people might normally be able to access. In other words, I tend to fall into my own thought bubbles and become a bit unreceptive to the external world.

    The psychedelic experience makes me acutely aware of nature’s beauty, of every tree’s every leaf and branch, and of the magnificent views from high places like hillsides. They help me dive deep into polyphonic music, visualize the tonal architecture of Bach’s fugues and chorals, and experience transcendental exhilaration as the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony builds up to its climax. And then there’s the music of the Grateful Dead, of course. These peak experiences can be addictive, and you can never have them in the same capacity if you are not under the influence of a psychedelic drug.

    However, I understand that this may be a psychological peculiarity that only applies to a small minority of people. But I do want to bring this up, since the addiction potential does exist. Of course, it is not a physical addiction; regardless, for some people, the psychedelic amplification of everyday things and high art can become almost like a craving. That is one of the reasons why I have abstained for many years now. If I trip, I will want to do it again way too soon, and it will have negative consequences to the ordinary priorities in my life.

    • Olaf, thank you for sharing your experience with us. Your approach to psychedelics seems to be thoughtful and refined—what a great example to those of us who are now just looking into mind-altering substances.

  6. John Dutchman says

    tsk … that gif at the top triggered me .. now I gotta go out and look for cow patties.

  7. Stephanie says

    Good article and I agree very much with the thrust of the argument. However, I am highly skeptical of the study that claims alcohol is the worst drug. Am I to believe that if someone offers me a beer or heroine at a party, the responsible choice would be the heroine?

    I am also skepical of weed being more detrimental than ketamine or magic mushrooms. My personal experience has been that magic mushrooms close my throat, swell my face, and drain my energy (if I’m indoors). I couldn’t possibly be functional on them, let alone interact with sober people normally.

    I used to frequent a dive bar where drugs were shared outside regularly. Weed was onmipresent and seldom caused problems (although shatter did in fact once shatter me), but once someone came around with ketamine. My then-boyfriend, now my husband, came back from a smoke messed up on it. He wasn’t capable of staying any longer, so after we finished our pool game, where he somehow still beat me, we left. In the gutter outside we found the friend who brought the ketamine. I couldn’t leave him there so brought him home. He freaked out every time sirens went by, and when I tried to calm him he ran his fingers through my hair and tightened his grip with a crazed look in his eyes. We babysat him until he managed to fall asleep (not on the couch, only in our bed). Nothing like this ever happened when we were just smoking weed, and we were always smoking weed.

    All this to say the results of that study lack realism to me. The metrics employed must not be properly weighted.

    • Blue Lobster says

      Another variable to be taken into consideration is the source of the drugs. Unless you have a trusted hookup or are experienced in cultivating or synthesizing drugs yourself, drugs are almost always suspect to some degree – especially those acquired in street corner transactions from complete strangers; even more especially if they are in powdered form. And, finally, everyone’s chemistry is different. “Stereotypical” reactions are a slightly ironic concept.

    • Farris says


      “However, I am highly skeptical of the study that claims alcohol is the worst drug.”

      I once had this argument about marijuana many years ago. This was during the angel dust years. A gentleman was explaining to me how beer was more detrimental to health than marijuana. I explained to him about the doctrine of caveat emptor (buyer beware). If I end up in the hospital due to the negligence of Budweiser’s brewing techniques, I or my estate will have a valuable lawsuit. If I end up in the hospital due to the pharmaceutical ineptitude of a narcotics street dealer, I or my estate have nothing.
      Now that marijuana is becoming legal and regulated this argument may no longer apply but it would still apply to psychedelics.

    • S. Cheung says

      Here is the source article that tried to quantify relative harms.

      You may or may not agree with how they quantify harm, with heavier weighting to hard outcomes like mortality. And the majority of harm from alcohol accrues from effects on others, rather than on the user.

      Also, the study seeks to analyze effects of chronic misuse. I don’t think it can be used to inform decisions at the bar on Friday night.

      • Stephanie says

        Thank you Blue Lobster and S. Cheung for the links. Giving the study in question a quick look, I think my problem with the results can be traced back to methodology. An unspecified number of experts decided the degree of harm by consensus. Why such scores were given is not explained, and seems quite dubious to me.

        As S. Cheung points out with regards to Geo’s point below, the study purports to address individual harm (and harm done to the individual’s immediate surroundings).

        The greatest contributor to alcohol’s high score is injury, family adversity, and economic costs. The high injury factor might make sense given the prevalence of drunk driving, but if we are looking at this from an individual level, we would need to justify that someone high on crack would be a better driver or at least less likely to drive.

        It’s hard to imagine alcohol consumption causes more family adversity than crack cocaine consumption. There are millions of families where the parents drink wine with dinner, or Dad drinks beer while watching the hockey game. Are these families considered in the experts’ evaluation, or only the tiny proportion of people who beat their spouse/kids when they’re drunk and skip work to drink all day? The methodology is not sufficiently explained to know. If the metrics on harm aren’t based on the actual proportion of a drug’s users that pertetrate that harm, the results will be untethered from reality. I think that’s likely what’s happened here.

        This study was meant to inform a UK regulatory body, so the results should be applicable to policy, and in turn to public advisory. If the results suggest you’re better off doing crack or heroine than alcohol, that not only doesn’t pass the sniff test, but also can cause active harm to young people if the policy or public outreach comes to reflect the research finding.

        • Blue Lobster says

          I think it’s hard to justify a hierarchy of “family adversity” with regard to drugs of abuse. The “adversity” resultant from medically significant, possibly life-threatening addiction of a family member is rather difficult to distinguish, aside from questionably relevant minutia, on the basis of the particular substance in question.

          It seems unreasonable to suspect that the studies would include data from individuals whose consumption of a particular substance falls within medically accepted safe parameters and for whom no “family adversity” has been reported.

          I agree that a higher percentage of the families of crack users probably experience “adversity” as a result compared to families of alcohol users as a whole. And, moreover, that essentially any usage of crack is more likely to lead to familial adversity than any individual usage of alcohol. However, the number of families which include members who use alcohol is so much greater than the number of families which include members who use crack that it’s hard to imagine that the number of families adversely affected by alcohol use is less than the number of families adversely affected by crack use.

          Even if every family including a crack user is adversely affected by that members drug use, the number of families adversely affected by alcohol use seems as though it would be greater simply due to the fact that alcohol is legally available and immeasurably more widely consumed than crack despite the fact that the average alcohol user produces no adverse effect on their family.

          Alcohol and crack are very different drugs and if both were equally consumed that crack would surely be deserving of greater regulatory attention but the reality of the situation is quite different from such a hypothetical situation which would seem to suggest the studies may be rather firmly tethered to reality if they weight the adversity scale in a manner which most closely resembles the real world situation.

          • Stephanie says

            Blue Lobster, it may seem unreasonable that the study include “healthy” drug consumption, but as far as I can tell the study does not specify whether only addicts are considered. It seems to imply throughout that it is consumers of these drugs in general that are considered.

            The study also implies that it is the effect of the drug on individuals (and their families, and the individual’s effect on the broader society) that is considered. That means the fact alcohol is more abundantly used than crack would be irrelevant as far as this frame of analysis goes.

            That there is so much ambiguity about what the study purports to be measuring and how it comes up with these results is exactly the failure that I’m trying to highlight. As a study that is supposed to inform public policy, it implies crack is preferable to alcohol, meaning it fails on both an academic and a policy level.

    • Geofiz51 says

      This is not a study. It is the opinion of a non-STEM, untrained undergrad who likes getting high and wants to justify it. I doubt he has even taken biology 101 Alcohol causes more deaths because it is far more widely abused. Orders of magnitude more people drink than take acid trips.

      Don’;t mistake one untrained child’s opinion with science

      • S. Cheung says

        ” Alcohol causes more deaths because it is far more widely abused. Orders of magnitude more people drink than take acid trips.”
        That’s true. But in terms of the study itself, based on its methods, it is seeking to quantify the effect size of each drug as manifested by individual use. It does not seek to compare societal effects based on the relative size of their user cohorts. Which is to say that an objectively “mildly harmful” drug, if used by 100X more people than is currently the case (just as an example), may well have differing implications on a POLICY level. But that shouldn’t prevent society from first seeking answers on a foundational MEDICAL/SCIENTIFIC level.

      • Blue Lobster says

        There’s no need to be an asshole just because you disagree with the thrust of the article, Geo, and you wouldn’t feel the need to stoop to argumentum ad hominem if you had a cogent argument to offer in counterpoint.

        The author did not present this piece as a study and, regardless, his training, STEM or otherwise, does not preclude him from producing a “study” if he were so inclined. He may or may not be a child or have taken “biology 101”, neither of which are necessarily relevant to his competence.

        Don’t mistake anonymous bile in the comments section for anything reasonable or worthwhile.

  8. Sydney says

    It’s crystal (no pun intended) clear from loads of credible research, studies, books, and anecdotal information that high-quality ‘psychedelics’ delivered in safe settings by properly trained people will be a fabulous alternative to other therapies. Taking it in the presence of someone trained (not simply in its chemistry but in its spiritual aspects) will be the key to its therapeutic value.

    No doubt it can be the future of psychological/emotional/spiritual well-being. But of course greedy and stupid pharma manufacturers; and professional guilds of idiot psychiatrists and psychologists will somehow make a mess of it and ruin it for everyone.

    • Sydney says

      Whoops, I messed up my comment. Haha, I must have been high (joke). Meant to say that the critical part really appears to be that it needs to be taken with a someone trained in its effects, not just on brain chemistry but on a person’s whole psycho-spiritual being (I assume, from what I’ve heard and read). A good guide appears to be as important as the drug or plant itself.

      • David of Kirkland says

        Because we always need an authority figure to do it right, right?

        • Sydney says


          I hear you. No, not my position at all. People should be free to use this stuff however they want within reason. As with any drug – I don’t want people driving cars on psychedelics, thanks. I took all sorts of junk like an idiot when I was a kid, which is why my experience was utterly pointless.

          From my reading over the past couple of years, people can make significant steps to shift the ‘self’ (define that how you wish) through purposeful use of psychedelics. An experienced guide facilitates your experience and keeps you safe at the same time. It’s certainly the way it was done traditionally, and it makes common sense.

        • Blue Lobster says

          If by “authority figure”, you mean an individual with knowledge and expertise greater than your own which could provide a means toward reaching a specific, therapeutic goal that might otherwise be of limited availability, then, yes. However, the “authority figure” is in no way a focus of power and control. Their purpose is to act as a guide and fixed point of reference should the need arise. Perhaps you quite misunderstand the function of the “trip sitter”/”authority figure” or perhaps your comment indicates an ideological rather than empirical approach to understanding. Your interpretation of the comment certainly seems to indicate considerable subjective baggage.

          Do you typically recommend eschewal of medical attention for the sick or injured so as to avoid becoming thrall to “authority figures” with MDs? My guess is: probably.

  9. X. Citoyen says

    I have no objection to studying such things (or even legalizing them), but you tipped your hand here:

    With this invasion of liberty we are now 40 years behind where we otherwise could have been in treating depression, anxiety, and perhaps a whole range of other medical and even social-spiritual malaise.

    The handful of studies you cited do not justify the conclusion that psychedelics could treat any of these things, so we have no idea whether we’re behind or not. Moreover, every advocate of legalizing weed has used this same question-begging line.

    • Blue Lobster says

      My interpretation of the quote you cited is that the author is simply saying that had the opportunity to freely study the possible medical applications of certain psychedelics in treating various mental health disorders not been so heavily restricted, we would at least possess knowledge that we do not currently have regarding their potential efficacy as a treatment option. Which is to say our knowledge is decades behind, not that we have known or do know with certainty that a viable treatment option has been denied. From that perspective we are most certainly behind where we might be otherwise.

    • Sydney says

      Seems very promising that psychedelics can and will help a variety of disorders that we now call psycho-spiritual, emotional, mental, and/or psychological. Does the author mention the work of Canadian psychiatrist Gabor Maté? He’s just one of many professionals who has been working with it.

      Used carefully, psychedelics are certain to become a better treatment alternative for ‘mental’ ills than neurotoxic psychiatric pharma ever have been, or ever will be.

      Weed is now legal in Canada, so we’ll see what happens as we move into the future with it.

    • Lightning Rose says

      “Social-spiritual malaise” in my opinion arises because modern affluent and educated people have developed completely unreasonable expectations about what life should be–mostly induced by advertising and today, social media. Idealized imagery makes you feel that if you’re not beautiful, fit, artistically talented, fabulously witty, and continuously engaged with glittering activities and people, you’re missing out. Advertising shows us life as continuous “peak experience.” This has been normalized for two generations now. It works subliminally, exactly as the Mad Men designed it to do. The Instagram curators of My Way Too Perfect Life have merely intensified same.

      My grandparents were happy to have enough food, a roof that didn’t leak, and a beer on Saturday night. Work was survival. They had a front-row seat to the Great Depression and WWII.

      My parents were happy with building a modest home, paying their bills, keeping a pretty yard, and raising healthy children. Work was a means to that end. My father survived the Korean War.

      I was raised by them to value a work ethic that would allow self-support for life. Only later came ideas like self-actualization and fulfilling one’s potential or that work is synonymous with meaning in life. Because I listened to the stories of my elders, I never really bought into notions that you are what you do for a living or that life should be a never-ending orgasm or you’re doing it wrong. Or, especially, that life can be all things to all people–“having it all” without having to pick and choose.

      I find that the older I get, the happier I am with “simple gifts,” as the Shakers used to say.

      Which is a roundabout way of getting to the point that no drug, however compelling its experience, is a substitute for satisfaction with who you are, enjoying your way of life, or having a deeply held spiritual or faith belief for context and framing. That many people today (most?) lack those very things, combined with ultra-high bars set for youthful expectations, may be the real origin of the relatively high numbers of depressed, anxious, or self-medicating people we’re seeing today.

      You might “find yourself” through psychedelics, but you need to like that person when you land.
      Also, many people just aren’t prepared for a “trip” through what the ancients considered the Mind of God!

      • Chris says

        Lightning Rose, That was a lovely comment. Thanks.

      • Blue Lobster says

        Stop living in the past and get with the program.

        And count your blessings that you spent the prime of your adulthood living in a far less complex and competitive world than people the author’s age are forced to content with. Simplicity is, quite simply, a luxury that few can afford in 2019.

      • 11bravo says

        I agree with the bombardment of media (in all its forms) is affecting our collective, and personal psyche to a level not understood. Brainwashing if you will on a subliminal level. This may be “causing” a lot of depressive disorders as opposed to someone who has a true “mental” illness.
        If either is the case, I support more research into these compounds. It can’t hurt if done properly.

  10. Spencer Jay Case says

    Recreational marijuana is legal throughout Colorado, not just in Denver.

  11. Eurocrat says

    I think all drugs should be legal. It wil be a blow for the criminals all around the world. But medical reasons are just an excuse. Yes, some use it for medical reasons, but it is just a subgroup of those using drugs to make life bearable. We use drugs for three reasons: to entertain ourselves, to make life bearable and to inflict self-harm. All three reasons are valid. People should be allowed to inflict self-harm. After all, that is why most of us stay married.

    The use of drugs is prohibited in order to prevent stupid people doing extreme self-harm to themselves. Because it is costly for the society. However, here USA failed. The best protection from such use of drugs is, who would have guessed, functional, loving families with no serious financial issues that raise children with high level of self-respect.

  12. “Scandalously, the scientist Frank Olson was unknowingly dosed with LSD in a gifted bottle of Cointreau during a CIA experiment in 1953 and became deeply despondent in the days afterwards, allegedly throwing himself out of a tenth story New York window.”

    The author needs to watch the Errol Morris documentary. Olson was pushed.

  13. Great article, but I’m curious why MDMA wasn’t mentioned. It was developed for therapeutic purposes. I’ve often thought that if the whole world took it together, we might actually be able to give peace a chance. You can’t take it and not love.

    • Blue Lobster says

      The author excluded MDMA from the “psychedelic club” due to his contention that it, among other substances which might be colloquially referred to as psychedelics, “can at times produce the hallucinogenic effects commensurate with a psychedelic experience” while being distinct from the “classical psychedelics “: “a narrow class of fungi and plants—or the substances derived from them in a laboratory—that change levels of serotonin in the brain and produce vivid hallucinations and shifts in consciousness.” While MDMA has powerful serotonergic effects, the “classical psychedelics”, LSD, psilocybin/psilocin and mescaline, have little if any efficacy with regard to release and reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine unlike MDMA.

      I would tend to agree with the scheme of his categorization based on my personal experience, as the effect of MDMA, I think, would best be described as those of a “psychedelic amphetamine” meaning that the psychedelic effects of MDMA modify the typical stimulant effects associated with substituted amphetamines rather than the other way around.

      MDMA = methylenedioxymethamphetamine

  14. johno says

    I’m no scientist, but having seen the effects that the psychedelics like LSD have in my college days, my opinion is that people needing therapy are the last people who should be taking those. If a person already has a weak hold on reality, it’s probably not a good idea to loosen that grip even further.

    • Sydney says


      Actual psychedelics researchers disagree with your lay, anecdotal opinion entirely. Many people suffering very serious issues can be helped enormously by psychedelics. But it’s not by them dropping shit like you did in your ‘college days’ at all.

  15. kuril says

    The fields of psychiatry/psychology are in an abysmal state. I speak from years of experience involving myself and my daughter, both of us treatment resistant. Many practitioners don’t investigate potential medical issues, ie vitamin deficiencies or thyroid issues, and they push pharmaceutical solutions that don’t work for the majority of people. For instance, first line medication is a SSRI which takes weeks to take effect and only is beneficial for 25-33% of patients. Then after you fail that, they push a different one which takes weeks to determine efficacy. You lose many months trying to get relief. For people in crisis, this is not acceptable, particularly when there are other medications that work very quickly(minutes/hours) like stimulants, ketamine, and these currently outlawed psychedelics. The current extraordinarily dogmatic approach towards patients is very harmful and smacks of collusion with Big Pharma. Practitioners should be allowed to be much more flexible in treatment options. Yes, there is abuse potential but practitioners should be able to identify who falls in that category.

  16. Geofiz says

    Far Out…Like Wow man Cooool!!! Pretty Colors.

    You gotta love it when an undergrad in anthropology claims to be an expert on psychedelic drugs. New flash, A research study involving two people is not a study. And contrary our eminent scientist’s pronunciation from on high, people did get addicted to LSD. I personally knew two of them. One went into treatment and got clean. the other disappeared. All drugs can be psychologically addictive and addiction to psychedelics was widely documented in the 70’s. There actually was a flurry of research on LSD during the “hippie year”. Unlike opiates and marijuana, there is no therapeutic use.

    Sorry Matt in the word of the Moody Blues: Timothy Leary is dead

    Peace Out

  17. S. Cheung says

    There is an unmet (and increasing) need for more effective treatments for mental health conditions like chronic depression.

    “The regulations imposed on the team were excessive: each dose of psilocybin cost thousands of pounds and had to be kept in a safe, as if it were radioactive material that could be sold to Iran.”

    Hopefully research regulatory bodies will consider the merits of further study, rather than simply accepting the whims of those with a social prohibitionist bent.

  18. John says

    “Already in Oregon and Denver, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use, measures are being put on the ballot to decriminalize magic mushrooms, two hundred species of fungi containing the hallucinogenic alkaloids psilocin and psilocybin. ”
    Marijuana NOT a gateway drug eh?
    I think we should be of suspicious of “spirituality” gained “on the cheap”.

    • CRC says

      Why do you conflate lawful efforts to repeal laws criminalizing psilocybin mushrooms with the questionable “Gateway Drug” hypothesis that claims marijuana use leads to use of “harder” drugs (which psilocybin isn’t)?
      Furthermore, do you understand that illegal use of marijuana might have a “gateway” effect because in order to procure illegal marijuana, one must obtain it from a criminal black market?
      Can you see then that an equally plausible hypothesis is that marijuana criminalization itself leads people to use harder drugs, not marijuana itself?
      Which one do you think is correct? Which one is better supported by evidence?
      If we recognize that criminalization itself is a parameter which affects outcomes independent of the drugs themselves, how does this apply to the “societal costs/harm” ascribed to heroin or other hard drug addictions?
      Could it even be possible that the vast majority of these costs are self-imposed, due mostly to criminalization?
      What would we do if this were the case? End drug prohibition, or stupidly “double-down?”

    • Blue Lobster says


      In order to leave better informed comments why not actually try cannabis and mushrooms of the Psilocybe genus? Unless you have certain mental health issues or a family history thereof in which case abstinence would be advisable.

  19. Robert Mitchell says

    Freedom is real basic for me. I don’t need government to act as a guardian or a parent.

  20. augustine says

    Enjoyable and informative article. I noted that the author made reference to the fact that the constituent drug in ayahuasca is present naturally in the brain. Some have hypothesized that forms of intensive meditation may help to concentrate this chemical/s and bring about a “trip” without the introduction of psychedelics. “Natural” breakthroughs in consciousness sometimes occur, and this is a gripping personal account of one man who experienced just this, albeit unintentionally:

    His trip was a bad one. Still it invites thought about what is natural and unnatural in our psyche, and what could be helpful or unhelpful in the future.

  21. SinuousGrace says

    My psychedelic of choice is 4-AcO-DMT.

    Or any of the 4-x-x variants, like 4-HO-MiPT.

    Individuals own their own bodies and minds, and should be free to use substances by default. If we have to criminalize and prohibit certain ones, it should only be following a demonstrated high risk of individual harm.

    Would be interested in any thoughts on this:

    That’s not to say there isn’t a need for very good, commonly available information. There is an intelligent way to go about these things and a whole wide range of dumb ways to do so. As an example, the synthetic cannabinoids such as jwh-081 and jwh-018 are potentially far more effective than naturally-occurring cannabis at certain medicinal treatments. But because of Spice, K2, Dragon, etc., we’ll never know, either clinically or empirically. K2 and the like are wretched routes of administration — unknown amounts of unknown chemicals sprayed haphazardly on unknown adjuncts with unknown (and some known and very harmful) binding agents and then combusted = no wonder it sent so many to the Urgent Care. But it wasn’t the fault of the synthetic cannabinoids per se.

    Finally, I’ve realized that some leftists are for cannabis legalization not because they share my liberty-based appeal to individual sovereignty and the right to own your body and mind, but because a) it’s something they like to do and that is part of their tribe or culture, b) it’s something traditional conservatives frown on and so is a way to score points (more tribalism), and c) it’s not that they’re for individual liberty and the state leaving free people alone, it’s that they’re for the state specifically allowing or even pushing this particular thing.

  22. My parents said that LSD was responsible for countless young people jumping from apartment balconies, “expecting to fly” as Buffalo Springfield sang. That certainly scared the shit from my 12 year old self (to this very day), but I have often wondered if it’s true or not or yet another vast conspiracy foisted upon us by the Freemasons and going off the gold standard.

  23. Cactus Ed says

    “Humility is the handmaiden to liberty, and some people don’t like to walk in the company of either. ”
    Phenomenal point. Thanks for that, and thanks for the article. I kid you not.

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