Psychedelics: A New ‘Trip’ to Modern Medicine

Psychedelics, also known as Hallucinogens are drugs or chemical substances that induce hallucinations- vivid images, intense sounds, and much greater self-awareness. People claim that these drugs are very powerful and can take one on a breathtaking ride that can ‘open-up’ senses and apparently deepen connections to the ‘spirit world’. These feelings might include an increased awareness of an inner world or get under the impression of transcending time and space. According to research by Samuli Kangaslampi, member of the Finnish Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science, there’s some evidence that drug highs and spiritual highs can produce the same type of feelings and moods in people. This scientific validation opens up more areas for future research, including the lasting effects of these drugs. There are some points to note: the study participants were self-reporting on their experiences, which can lead to inaccuracies and misremembering.

"Even when taken for the first time, psychedelics may occasion powerful subjective experiences that share many features with those described by mystics, dedicated meditators, and religious practitioners," psychologist Samuli Kangaslapi from Tampere University in Finland.

Psychedelics do not fall under the category of highly addictive and life-threatening drugs like meth, heroin, opioids, or cocaine. These are safer and not very addictive when used properly. Most of the drugs have little to no addictive properties but the experiences of “tripping” on the drugs are often reported as being extremely potent for a few people. The risk of addiction and abuse lies in the psychological aspect of addiction. While hallucinogens are risky for anyone, people with a personal or family history of psychosis, depression, or anxiety disorder are at higher risk of developing these long-term effects and should avoid taking hallucinogens.

Many current laws authorize the use of various poisons like alcohol and cigarettes which are some of the substances that destroy lives and feed addictions, and yet one of the most striking things about the recent psychedelic research is that the drugs do not appear to be addictive or have adverse side effects when used safely. Many researchers believe that these drugs, when used under the supervision of trained professionals, could revolutionize mental health care. At the same time, psychedelics may also play a role in addressing newer health threats like the opioid crisis.

Some of the most common psychedelic drugs are Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also known as acid, Methyl​enedioxy​ methamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as ecstasy or molly, Psilocybin, known as magic mushrooms or psychedelic mushrooms, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and Peyote. Substances like LSD happen to be very prevalent. Many influential figures; Scientists, inventors, writers, business figures, musicians, etc., have either experimented with or regularly used psychedelics. (The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman, and Bill Gates are some users, to name a few).

There is no doubt that the statement- anything in excess does harm, holds great truth. Likewise, unregulated and unprescribed heavy use of psychedelics could lead to complications. They can sometimes cause physical side effects such as dizziness, dehydration, shaking of the body, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and insomnia. A bad experience or ‘trip’ has the potential of ruining a person’s life which can cause serious depression and anxiety. An unfavorable environment increases the risk of having severe panic attacks, irrational thoughts, anxiety, and even cause suicidal thoughts. There is also the possibility of the user to face their death or severe injuries due to impaired judgment while intoxicated. Studies have shown that long term use and abusing psychedelics can cause Persistent Psychosis, Recurrent hallucinations, and delusions. Heavy use of Psychedelics can also cause hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD)

But what would a world with legal supply and safe consumption of psychedelics look like?

Psychedelics fall under the category of schedule 1 drugs. The U.S.A. was the first country to ever ban the consumption of psychedelics; the NSA placed psychedelics on Schedule 1 which resulted in most of the countries banning psychedelics. Psychedelics are currently legal in countries like Brazil, Jamaica, Netherlands, Peru, etc. While some other countries allow the cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms.

Scientists and Researchers are currently working on the extraordinary therapeutic potential of how psychedelic drugs can be used to help people with mental illnesses. The psychological benefits have led researchers to believe that psychedelics could be effective in treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, etc. As psychedelics open-up a person’s mind, people under the influence of psychedelics can confront their painful pasts, addictions or self-destructive behavior without any shame or fear. It doesn’t make them emotionally numb. Instead, they tend to be far more objective.

The same person would probably have very different experiences on a hallucinogenic drug depending on their internal and external environment. Much of the perceived effect of hallucinogenic drugs is dependent on the person's expectations, known as set and setting. In a 2014 Johns Hopkins study, 80 percent of the smokers who participated in psilocybin-assisted therapy remained fully abstinent six months after the trial. By way of comparison, smoking cessation trials using varenicline (prescription medication for smoking addiction) have success rates around 35 percent.

FDA approval of MDMA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could arrive by 2021. In 2018, psilocybin got Breakthrough Therapy designation from the FDA, and the clinical trials for psilocybin depression treatment are in phase two of three.

Last month, the Canadian government allowed four patients with incurable cancer to use psychedelic mushrooms as part of Psilocybin Therapy to help ease their end of life anxiety. In April, four Canadians suffering from terminal illness asked the government’s health ministry for a legal exemption for them to use magic mushrooms, which studies have shown help alleviate anxiety and depression.

One of the patients, Thomas Hartle who has stage four colon cancer, said in a video pleading with the government “there isn’t anything available that can treat existential dread,” adding that the hallucinogenic would help ease his anxieties. Some U.S. cities, including Denver and Oakland have decriminalized the possession of mushrooms.

Day by day, the acceptance of legalising Mariajana is continuing to grow. It is possible that in a few years, the legalization of psychedelics will also gain popularity as many research findings about its therapeutic potential will enter the mainstream media. This is just the beginning and there’s hope that soon people all over the world will be able to access psilocybin for therapeutic use to help with the pain they are experiencing.

Author: Mayank Maurya

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