Psychiatric Research With Hallucinogens: What Have We Learned?

After a twenty-five year period of virtual prohibition, formal psychiatric research with hallucinogenic drugs has resumed. This article reviews the process by which hallucinogens came to be viewed as beyond the pale of respected and sanctioned clinical investigation, and directs attention to the importance of fully understanding the lessons of the past so as to avoid a similar fate for recently approved research endeavors. The shamanistic use of hallucinogenic plants as agents designed to facilitate healing, acquire knowledge and enhance societal cohesion were brutally repressed in both the Old and New Worlds by the progenitors of our own contemporary Euro-American culture, often with complicity of the medical professions. Knowledge of the properties and potentials of these consciousness altering plants was forgotten or driven deeply underground for centuries. It was not until the late 1800s that German pharmaceutical researchers investigating the properties of peyote re-discovered the profound and highly unusual effects of these substances. A dispute anticipating the virulent controversies of the 1960s ensued, however, pitting proponents of this new model of consciousness exploration against those who questioned the propriety of their colleagues’ enthusiasm for self experimentation and penchant for sweeping proclamations. The history of hallucinogen research in the 20th century has revolved around this regrettable polarization, and as such has impeded the evolution of the field.

Developments in the second half of the 20th century were catalyzed by the remarkable discoveries of the Swiss research chemist, ALBERT HOFMANN. In the wake of his synthesis of the extraordinarily potent psychoactive substance, Iysergic acid diethylamide, a period of active investigation ensued. Notable gains were accomplished utilizing the psychotomimetic model for understanding mental illness and the low dose psycholytic approach for the treatment of a variety of psychiatric conditions. However, it soon became apparent that these models possessed inherent limitations when applied to the orthodox psychiatric constructs then in vogue. The implementation of the high dose psychedelic model, in spite of its apparent utility in treating resistant conditions such as refractory alcoholism, presented even greater difficulties in conforming to the boundaries of conventional theory and practice. Acceptance of hallucinogens as reputable tools for investigation and agents for treatment were dealt a further and near fatal blow when they became embroiled in the cultural wars of the 1960s. Together with revelations of unethical activities of psychiatric researchers under contract to military intelligence and the CIA, the highly publicized and controversial behaviors of hallucinogen enthusiasts led to the repression of efforts to formally investigate these substances. For the next twenty-five years research with hallucinogens assumed pariah status within academic psychiatry, virtually putting an end to formal dialogue and debate.

We now have before us the opportunity to resurrect the long dormant field of hallucinogen research. However, if we are to avoid replicating the debacle of the past it is imperative that we learn from the lessons of prior generations of researchers who saw their hopes and accomplishments dissipate under the pressures of cultural apprehension and the threat of professional ostracism. It is essential that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We are now beginning to take definitive steps to end the protracted period of silence and inactivity, but we must be ever mindful to do so tactfully and with respect for the anxieties that will inevitably be provoked in our colleagues. We must strive to facilitate dialogue and even active collaboration with those who in the past may have been loathe to even acknowledge that this might be a field worthy of study. We must also adhere to current and accepted models of research design, for to disregard the state of contemporary scientific investigation would ultimately undermine our goals of fully exploring the rich potentials of these substances. It will also be critical to learn from the wisdom accrued over the ages by the aboriginal practitioners of shamanic healing, for therein lies the benefits of thousands of years of experience with hallucinogenic plants. For more than two decades now the topic of hallucinogens as tools of clinical investigation and models for healing within has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

“Legalize Spiritual Discovery: The Trials of Dr. Timothy Leary”

Beginning with his arrest for possession of marijuana December 24, 1965, Dr. Timothy Leary became embroiled in a very public series of court cases that sought initially to utilize the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution to challenge established United States drug laws regarding marijuana. Though Leary’s attempts at using the Free Exercise Clause were unsuccessful, his case was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court, who, in 1969, found major elements of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Law unconstitutional and overturned Leary’s conviction. This chapter will trace evolution of Leary’s defense argument from one based on religious freedom to one based on due process and the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Leary’s initial freedom of religion defense was based on the success of the Native American Church’s 1964 California State Supreme Court ruling that protected that group’s sacramental use of peyote within its religious ceremonies. This chapter will also describe how the success of Native American Church case led Leary to popularize and speak out in favor of small groups of psychedelic users establishing their own “official” religions. Leary followed his own advice by creating the League for Spiritual Discovery in 1966 and was seen as a religious leader by the founder of the Neo-American Church (another psychedelic quasi-religion) as well. Seeing themselves as a persecuted people under legal attack for their spiritual and experimental practices, both the Neo-American Church and the League for Spiritual Discovery sought to emulate the Native American Church and establish legal protections for the use of illegal substances.

Psychedelics Not Linked To Mental Health Problems Or Suicidal Behavior: A Population Study

A recent large population study of 130,000 adults in the United States failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use (lysergic acid diethylamide, psilocybin or mescaline) and mental health problems. Using a new data set consisting of 135,095 randomly selected United States adults, including 19,299 psychedelic users, we examine the associations between psychedelic use and mental health. After adjusting for sociodemographics, other drug use and childhood depression, we found no significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and increased likelihood of past year serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempt, depression and anxiety. We failed to find evidence that psychedelic use is an independent risk factor for mental health problems. Psychedelics are not known to harm the brain or other body organs or to cause addiction or compulsive use; serious adverse events involving psychedelics are extremely rare. Overall, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.

Over 30 Million Psychedelic Users in the United States

We estimated lifetime prevalence of psychedelic use (lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline, and peyote) by age category using data from a 2010 US population survey of 57,873 individuals aged 12 years and older. There were approximately 32 million lifetime psychedelic users in the US in 2010; including 17% of people aged 21 to 64 years (22% of males and 12% of females). Rate of lifetime psychedelic use was greatest among people aged 30 to 34 (total 20%, including 26% of males and 15% of females).

Higher Ground

From article, In a world of prayer-hands emoji and lite spirituality, it is easy to feel distant from the sacred. It may even be hard to recognize what is sacred. For members of the Native American Church, however, this is not an issue. To its estimated 500,000 followers, peyote (Lophophora williamsii) — a diminutive, spineless cactus that grows exclusively in southern Texas and northern Mexico — is not only sacred, it is essential to their religious experience. In fact, “Peyotism” is another name for the religion itself, the most widespread movement among North American indigenous tribes.

A tale of two cacti: studies in Astrophytum asterias and Lophophora williamsii

Astrophytum asterias (star cactus) and Lophophora williamsii (peyote) are sympatric species in the Tamaulipecan thornscrub of South Texas and adjacent Mexico. Peyote has been excavated from two archaeological sites: Shumla Caves, Texas, and CM-79 in Coahuila. We report new radiocarbon dates: a mean of 5195 ± 20 14C years BP for the Shumla Caves specimens, and 835 ± 35 14C years BP for the CM-79 specimen. The Shumla Caves specimens were not intact peyote tops, but manufactured effigies thereof. Published data on the geographic ranges of L. williamsii and A. asterias are of varying quality and accuracy. We report the results of extensive research to document extant U.S. populations by county, drawing specific conclusions about where each species currently occurs, where its occurrence is uncertain and where it is unlikely, based on herbarium specimens, verifiable reports in the primary literature and interviews with knowledgeable individuals. Dwindling of populations of peyote is partly due to improper harvesting, namely cutting off the top of the plant so deeply below ground level that the plant is unable to regenerate new stems, and consequently dies. We describe the anatomy of the cactus shoot (stem) and root, and suggest how this new knowledge can be utilized to determine “how deep is too deep” to cut if harvesting of peyote is to be done sustainably. We report the first population genetics study on endangered A. asterias, with five microsatellite markers in populations sampled at four locations in South Texas. A battery of tests and measurements indicated that in most populations heterozygosity was high, F-statistics were low, and Nm was >1. With one exception, these populations appear not to be undergoing excessive inbreeding, despite small population sizes. Data from two L. williamsii microsatellite loci are presented. L. williamsii, which reproduces autogamously, exhibits a single homozygous genotype within a given population. West Texas L. williamsii plants differ from South Texas plants in the identity of the single allele (or single genotype) at each locus. The ability of microsatellite markers to separate West Texas from South Texas plants suggests utility of microsatellites for infraspecific taxonomic studies in Lophophora.

Transient reinforcing effects of phenylisopropylamine andindolealkylamine hallucinogens in rhesus monkeys

Relatively few studies have assessed the reinforcing effects of hallucinogenic compounds, and no such studies have attempted to engender contingent responding for these compounds in animals with behavioral histories that include experience with serotonergically mediated reinforcing effects. The objectives of the present study were to investigate the capacity of several hallucinogenic compounds to maintain self-administration behavior in rhesus monkeys with a previous history of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) self-administration, and to compare these effects across a range of doses of drugs from two structural classes (indolealkylamines and phenylisopropylamines). The results indicate that no compound generated reliable responding and that no subject ever self-administered 4-iodo-2,5-dimethoxyphenylisopropylamine (DOI) at rates above those engendered by contingent saline. However, 3 out of 4 subjects did respond at rates between 0.75 and 3.0 responses/s in one or more sessions where N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline or psilocybin were available. During some of these sessions in which self-administration was maintained, animals earned a majority of all available infusions and appeared intoxicated by the end of the session. This pattern of transient self-administration may indicate that these compounds have weak reinforcing effects, or mixed reinforcing and aversive effects.

Classic Psychedelic Use and Mechanisms of Mental Health: Exploring the Mediating Roles of Spirituality and Emotion Processing on Symptoms of Anxiety, Depressed Mood, and Disordered Eating in a Community Sample

A resurgence of research has begun to systematically examine the relationship between psychedelic use and mental health and well-being. Although preliminary findings examining the therapeutic value of these substances show promise, the mechanisms through which psychedelic use may predict reduced mental distress remain poorly understood. To this end, we surveyed a community sample of individuals (n = 159) who endorsed lifetime psychedelic use to examine relationships among psychedelic use and self-reported spirituality, difficulties in emotion regulation, and symptoms of mental health issues. Results revealed a pathway through which classic psychedelic use predicted greater spirituality, which in turn predicted better emotion regulation, ultimately predicting lower levels of anxiety, depressed mood, and disordered eating. These results contribute to our understanding of potential mechanisms of change with respect to psychedelics and mental health. They also add to the growing body of literature pointing to the healing effects of the cultivation of spirituality and emotion regulation as separate and related constructs.