From Sacred Plants to Psychotherapy: The History and Re-Emergence of Psychedelics in Medicine

What exactly is it that fascinates people about the psychedelic drugs? And how can we best define them?
1. Most psychiatrists will define psychedelics as those drugs that cause an acute confusional state. They bring about profound alterations in consciousness and may induce perceptual distortions as part of an organic psychosis.
2. Another definition for these substances may come from the cross-cultural dimension. In this context psychedelic drugs may be recognised as ceremonial religious tools, used by some non-Western cultures in order to communicate with the spiritual world.
3. For many lay people the psychedelic drugs are little more than illegal and dangerous drugs of abuse – addictive compounds, not to be distinguished from cocaine and heroin, which are only understood to be destructive – the cause of an individual, if not society’s, destruction.
4. But two final definitions for psychedelic drugs – and those that I would like the reader to have considered by the end of this article – is that the class of drugs defined as psychedelic, can be: a) Useful and safe medical treatments. Tools that as adjuncts to psychotherapy can be used to alleviate the symptoms and course of many mental illnesses, and b) Vital research tools with which to better our understanding of the brain and the nature of consciousness.


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