Psychedelics and the F-Word


A front-page story in today's New York Times, tied to this week's Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century Conference, reports that "scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens," having received government permission in recent years to study their usefulness "for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness." Science writer John Tierney (who has a strong, libertarian-leaning interest in drug policy) notes that psilocybin and other psychedelics show promise "for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol." He also mentions the 2006 Johns Hopkins study in which healthy subjects who had never used psychedelics reported "a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects" after taking psilocybin. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), sponsor of this week's conference, seeks to gain approval for such life-improving uses of these drugs by jumping through the government's regulatory hoops. MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin tells Tierney:

There's this coming together of science and spirituality. We're hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we're showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can't.

As with medical use of marijuana or religious use of psychedelics, this is an attempt to win limited pharmacological freedom by squeezing it into a socially approved category. If medical, psychotherapeutic, and spiritual uses of otherwise illegal drugs are ultimately blessed by the government, the exceptions will cover a lot of ground. But taking shrooms or acid just for fun—the most common reason people do it—will still be strictly prohibited.

Playing up serious, scientifically grounded uses of psychedelics, Tierney takes the obligatory shot at Timothy Leary, saying the drugs "became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan 'Turn on, tune in, drop out.'" But was this Leary's fault, or the regulators'? Leary's real mistake was not taking psychedelics too lightly but taking them too seriously, promising world-changing effects that the chemicals could not deliver. The government, in turn, took Leary too seriously, foreclosing research that could have demonstrated the drugs' genuine benefits. Salvia divinorum researcher Bryan Roth, no one's idea of a Leary-esque figure, says he worries that banning the psychedelic herb (which is currently legal is most states) will

make it more difficult to do research on it and investigate the potential therapeutic utility of derivatives. By definition, a Schedule I drug is devoid of any medical benefit. That makes it next to impossible to demonstrate any medical benefit. They made LSD Schedule I in the '60s, and they're only now getting around to looking at potential medical benefits. It really slows things down.

As Leary observed, "psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them."


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  1. Science writer John Tierney (who has a strong, libertarian-leaning interest in drug policy)

    Translation? Hard-core addict.

    1. And how would you describe Jacob Sullum?

  2. “There’s this coming together of science and spirituality.”

    But it was bad when I did it.

  3. I’d ask where the alt-text was on the pic, but it seems superfluous in this case …

  4. Leary’s real mistake was not taking psychedelics too lightly but taking them too seriously, promising world-changing effects that the chemicals could not deliver.

    Is that due to the chemical or to the user of said chemical?

    1. What an odd question.

      1. Really? Why is that?

    2. Leary was correct in some aspects – LSD, MDMA, Mushrooms, etc. really have changed the world – from influencing early silicon valley/tech folks to music, society, culture, art in thousands of little ways at least in America and Europe –

  5. Why does the IRS commissioner need bodyguards in order to go out to lunch?…..-to-lunch/

    1. So he can write off the cost of his meals.

  6. Is the “F-word” here ‘Fun’?

    1. I’m not sure, but I think it’s “freedom.”

      1. I think it’s “fun”, since the gist of the article appears to be that all sorts of drug war policy exemptions seem to be on the horizon, as long as everyone agrees to pretend that no one is taking drugs for fun.

        Because the fun is the problem.

        Just like you can take steroids if you have arthritis, but not if you just want to be stronger, or you can take ritalin if you can convince your doctor you’re nuts, but not if you just want to be smarter.

        You can smoke pot if you’re dying and it will help you get your appetite back for one last meal of gruel, but you can’t smoke it if you just want a laugh. And you can take hallucinogenics if you convince someone that you’re trying to reach spiritual peace about your own impending death, but not if you just want to see freaky shit.

        1. +10. You pretty much distilled about 70 years of US drug policy into one quick post.

        2. But that oversimplifies. What about contraceptives? They’re legal no matter why you don’t want children, no questions asked. Anesthetics are allowed for cosmetic surgery that’s not reconstructive but just for enhancement. Antiperspirants are allowed even for normally sweaty people, not just the abnormally sweaty. Amphetamines are allowed if you just want to stay awake on military missions.

          1. No it doesn’t Robert.

            Fluffy’s argument is consistent. Oral contraceptives have more than one indication, most notably for regulation and treamtent of dysmenorrhagia. I wouldn’t suggest incisional or invasive cosmetic surgical procedures without anesthetics, local or general. Botox was originally indicated for hyperhidrosis, but the paralytic action of the botulin toxin is useful for the treatment of wrinkles.

            These don’t present the sense of euphoria associated with recreational drug use.

            Amphetamines are different in that they can produce a sense of euphoria in some, but generally the effects of alertness and mental clarity are what are sought. There are other off label uses for amphetamines, such as adjuvant depression commitant with SSRI’s.

            Point is, there are multiple applications for pharma, but if the powers that be don’t sanction them for specific uses then somehow they are evil or immoral.

            Oh, and teh Blue Pill (sildanefil) was stumbled upon as a direct result of anti-hypertension pharma research.

            1. I dunno, man, I really liked demerol when I had it in the hospital. XD Then again, maybe just being out of pain was the euphoric part.

              1. Possibly. Meperidine isn’t really associated with euphoria. Light headedness, drowsiness and CNS depression are the most common side effects. I would venture to say these with a sudden onset of pain relief precipitated the feeling of well being.

                1. Relief from distress does seem euphoric.

        3. The steroids you take for arthritis are cortico-steroids, not anabolic steroids. Cortico-steroids will make you a fat ass, not pump you up.

    2. farmacological

  7. “There’s this coming together of science and spirituality.”

    Oh, how I hate that statement. This is science trying to understand objectively the subjective phenomenon of spirituality, not getting muddled with it.

  8. By definition, a Schedule I drug is devoid of any medical benefit. That makes it next to impossible to demonstrate any medical benefit.

    Pretty stupid circular logic the government set up, non-medical people declare it has no use, then it never will.

  9. Running down the truth behind the “LSD burnout” stories would be a good project for Reason. The government will tell you that LSD has sent hundreds of young people to mental institutions. I have always heard that is a myth. And that LSD never harmed anyone. And the few cases where drugs did fry someone’s mind it was PCP not LSD. I would love to see an article giving the no shit truth about that.

    1. The impression I have gotten over the years is that people that already have mental issues. Should stay away from powerful chemicals that alter the way the brain works. Otherwise, it has the potential to send them over the edge like Syd Barret & Brian Wilson.

      1. Screw you for beating me to it, cow head!

        1. Sorry, portal opening shaggy quadruped.

          1. That’s better!

      2. Barret is an interesting case. He did have some issues. But, the members of Pink Floyd say that he completely changed in a relatively short period of time. And that they were told by doctors it was due to a one time massive overdose of LSD. There was a documentary on the band on VH1 Classic a few months back. And both Rick Wright and Mason gave the same story. It does appear to be possible to overdose on the stuff. Of course, John Lennon is reputed to have taken 1000s of doses and come out none the worse for wear. So, it still probably depends on the person. But, Barrett was not nearly the headcase, pre-LSD, as people make him out to be.

        1. I remember reading a interview were David Gilmour talked about how he thought that Syd would have gone crazy anyway. He said there were signs even when they were little kids that Syd was a little off, but acid pushed him over the edge.

          1. His family claims that he was never mentally ill at all. That he lived a quiet life in Cambridge and just wanted to be a painter and not a musician.

            1. When it comes to diagnosis John, I tend to take second-hand anecdotes with a big grain of salt. Families, particularly regarding mental illness DX, tend to project how they want their family members to be and not how they actually present. It’s a coping mechanism.

    2. Bad trips suck monkey balls, but they don’t put you in the looney bin…unless you were already headed there anyway.

    3. LSD fucked me up some as a kid in junior high.

      1. IMHO, no one should take it unitl their brain is fully developed.

        1. Yeah acid in junior high is probably a pretty bad idea.

      2. Maybe it had something to do with the junior high. That messes up a lot of people.

    4. I am willing to attempt to write the article that you seek. For me who has used LSD personally and clinically over many years I believe that LSD is a marvellous truth serum that opens our archetypal consciousness. I am an American who lives in peaceful retirement in Switzerland.

  10. “coming together of science of spirituality”? If anything, having a “spiritual” response to chemical stimuli ought to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no spiritual substance. If a chemical can make your brain think you’re talking to god, then maybe “god” is just a bunch of chemicals in your head in the first place.

    1. “If a chemical can make your brain think you’re talking to god, then maybe “god” is just a bunch of chemicals in your head in the first place.”

      That doesn’t follow at all. It just means that it is possible for chemicals to create what appears o be a spiritual experience. It says nothing about the possibility of there being other ways of having such an experience; i.e. actually talking to a deity.

    2. Captain S, absolutely every experience you can possibly have is just (the product of) a bunch of chemicals in your head.

      Just sayin’, is all.

      1. I just want to pop in and suggest that there is no necessary dichotomy between the material and the spiritual. I can’t believe I’m saying this, actually, but whenever people try to act like the fact the brain is effected by material things is proof we’re just automatons executing our programming it gets me up the wall. Consider the possibility that we are entirely material, and yet possess free will and all the other attributes our inner experience would indicate we have. Is that a paradox, or is your premise wrong?

        The reason I hate you, Captain SmartAss, is that you went and made me side with the freaking hippies. Not because my brain happens to be releasing hateamine.

      2. absolutely every experience you can possibly have is just (the product of) a bunch of chemicals in your head.

        I do really great work, don’t I?

    3. If psychedelics make you think that you are a turkey, does that mean that turkeys are nothing but “a bunch of chemicals in your head”?

      What if it makes you think that you are your mother? Does this mean that your mother is just chemicals in your head? This means that you were never born, and damn, now you have REAL problems.

  11. Just had a brief flashback to freshman year of college. I had to read some Carlos Castaneda book for some sociology class or something. Something about being in the desert southwest and taking mushrooms and thinking he transformed into a wolf or an eagle or something. Gawd, that book was slow, dull and awful. Having to slog through the whole thing made me feel like I was on some kind of drug trip.

    1. My very clever and hip anthro prof in college used Castaneda to teach me not to believe everything I read.

      Thinking back on it, unless that guy had the morals of a saint, he must have scored some major undergrad tail.

      1. I’m going back to school at the moment, and I plan on becoming a Prof one day. So, how exactly did he get all of this undergrad tail?

    2. I enjoyed Castaneda’s work, but I also didn’t believe that all that shit happened. So it was more like reading some fiction.

      1. Have you ever taken mushrooms? They are not LSD. They are some very strange shit.

        1. I’ve taken both, and yes, they are different. But not that different.

          What really matters is that you have really clean, unadulterated acid. If it’s been cut with speed…look out.

          1. Agreed, last time I dropped it was dirty. I ended up with a migraine headache that lasted for 4 days. Not fun at all.

          2. I have never turned into an eagle. But, hey, who am I to doubt someone else’s experience?

            1. I turned into a gazelle for a second once. Then the running crowd turned around really fast and I was a fish in a school. It was only a momentary flash but still a powerful experience. I also saw a dragon fly around my room and leave by flying through the wall. Unfortunately, when I got up to look for it in the other room, it wasn’t there.

              Acid and shrooms are different but if its clean the hallucinations can be very similar. I think the difference is generally dosage. You need to eat a pretty big dose of shrooms to get major hallucinations beyond stuff moving and being pretty colors. Also, if you don’t make tea, it is more like a time release capsule. Acid, not so much. You could take 2 microdots and be on your way to the moon.

              The main thing I didn’t like about acid was the amount of time you have to dedicate to the experience. Who has 12 hours to give up to a drug? 8 is much easier to work into a schedule.

            2. To be clear, I think the differences between shrooms and acid are most noticeable at low dosages. When you take enough to melt your ego either one is going to be fucking weird. Also, if you think they are different then your experiences are going to be different since the whole thing is in your head anyway.

  12. All I want is to smoke my weed in peace without fear that I can be forcefully and violently arrested and all of my belongings seized to the state for a “job well done”.

  13. Pardon me for barging in, but doesn’t it seem like the only things the mental health industry has to offer patients, generally, are noble lies and medication?

    Exhibit A? Treatment for “end-of-life anxiety”.

    If you’re trying to treat “end-of-life anxiety”, you’re not trying to cure someone’s false perception of reality, are you? Aren’t you trying to induce some kind of delusion? ’cause if the idea is to render people okay with non-existence? Being okay with that’s kinda my nightmare.

    I mean “end-of-life anxiety” to me seems like a pretty reasonable response to…um…the end of your life. A lot of people get a dose of religious delusion on the way out. I’ll be interested to see how effective LSD is comparatively speaking.

    …but I’m already questioning methodology, what do you do? An EEG on a control group of atheists as they die?

    1. Well, the problem here is that end-of-life at this point in the game is pretty much inevitable. Until our docs get a lot better, you’re going to die. Freaking out about it to the extent that you can’t function is counter-productive and robs you of the time you have left. So some treatment to make you calm down a bit is not a bad thing.

      1. You get the suggestion that humanity seems to have evolved itself an adaptation to deal with that already, right?

        It’s called religion.

        Don’t you think it’s interesting that so many people seem to be doing away with God only to find themselves trying to replace what scratched those itches with something else late in life?

        We get rid of God because the belief is irrational, but we still have to deal with end-of-life anxiety, so we’re gonna help people deal with reality by giving them acid?

        1. Medicine is tangible Ken.

          It could be argued that there is some “placebo effect” or perception based on power of suggestion that may or may not enhance the psychoactive experience.

          But for some people, having a tangible substance with reproducible effects that ally such fears and anxiety is what they need as opposed to or even in conjunction with other spiritual coping means.

          1. Again, we’re not talking about taking irrational people and calming them with reality–we’re talking about taking rational people who are probably clearer about what non-existence means than most of us. …and I think that’s their problem.

            I used to have a girlfriend that was afraid of flying. And the more I talked to her about it, the more I realized that she wasn’t irrational about flying–being afraid of hurling through the air at 35,000 feet isn’t irrational.

            Her problem was that she couldn’t turn her reasoning function off during flight like everyone else does. All of us on that flight would have been screaming our heads off on a roller coaster going a fraction of that speed!

            There isn’t anything irrational about being anxious about death either, especially if you’re old and staring into the abyss. And the point of giving people a pharmaceutical at that point wouldn’t be to help them adjust to the reality.

            …it’s too escape reality.

            “But for some people, having a tangible substance with reproducible effects that ally such fears and anxiety is what they need as opposed to or even in conjunction with other spiritual coping means.”

            I think you’re conflating “tangible” with “rational” and the two aren’t necessarily the same thing.

            You know, Fallibilism arises naturally from the evolutionary process, and one of its best conceits, I think, is the observation that the things that are most likely to work best (in this case) are the solutions that have been most heavily tested…

            And if they ever do get some EEGs (or whatever they need to use) on a control group of atheists as they die? My money’s gonna be on the evolutionary adaptation for that reason.

            Remember, there’s a fundamental difference between a believer, who thinks the empty variables were an illusion and he’s going to see the truth, on the one hand, and an atheist on the other hand, who thinks he knows the reality and is taking something to induce an illusion.

            1. I think you’re conflating “tangible” with “rational” and the two aren’t necessarily the same thing.

              Not intentionally, but for someone with the the certainty of an atheistic bent then tangible is rational. Pain and death are also rational concepts. It would follow that fear of a natural processes like pain and death is irrational.

              But humans are hard wired for survival and avoidance of unpleasant thing like physical pain (for the most part) and death. Even the the most militant atheist has a healthy respect for death, a rational but intangible concept until faced with the reality of it. And even the most rational of minds may require the tangible (medication) to induce whatever state of mind to effectively deal with impending death. Even if avoidance of the emotional aspects through “illusion” is viewed as the most rational course of action.

              EEG wouldn’t really tell us alot, but a functional MRI mapping the brain during death of believers and atheists alike would be fascinating. Good luck getting a grant for that though.

  14. You would be surprised how many self-proclaimed atheists deny my existence until right before death.

    1. I don’t trust your sources god. actually most atheists I’ve known that have died never flipflopped on their deathbed. I can’t see myself changing opinion either, I don’t believe in god, thats not to say a god could not exist, just that I’ve never seen any evidence.
      I believe even atheists could benefit from psychedelics, especially if they do not react positively to traditional anxiolytics. psychedelics are not my favorite type of drug, but they have changed my perception of events in a positive way a few times. it didn’t make me believe in gods but for me it has in the past changed a negative perspective into something positive. thats not to say everyone would benefit from psychedelic therapy, but with end of life anxiety it may well relieve unnecessary suffering for the dying.

      1. Holy freakin crap! An atheist that actually admits to the possibility (but probability ) of a god. It’s a miracle.

        You, my friend, are the definition of a true scientist. You question everything because anything is possible. Congratulations on not being as ignorant as the pure, unadulterated believers, or the pure, unadulterated non-believers.

        1. Sorry, I meant “(but NOT THE probability)”.

        2. Rebel, I agree with your definition of “true scientist”. Science is agnostic, not just on God, but on Matter. Actually an ideal scientist don’t do public ontological commitment. I think also that being an Atheist is a variant of of being a Christians: same obsession with the same “God”, same implicit or explicit belief in a primary Matter. As a non confessional theologian, I can see that both Atheists and Christians are objective ally against the coming back of a scientific theology in the academical realm. By “scientific” I a mean mainly modest and ready to be corrected, improved or refuted.
          If you are interested, you can click on my username, to see papers showing that mechanism (no magic) and weak materialism (Primary Matter exists) are incompatible. Scientific theology has disappeared the day the Roman closed Athene Plato Academy, that is, in 527 after JC. Science has not yet decide between Aristotle theology (beliefs in matter, shared by Atheists and Christians) and (neo)-Platonist theology, where the the physical worlds is an illusion, or border, or shadow, or projection of a vaster and immaterial reality. This is actually the case if we adopt the digital mechanist hypothesis. There are only natural numbers, all the rest are gluing dreams by numbers. Got this in the seventies (last century). And then recently I discovered that Salvia divinorum can help people to enlarge their fundamental doubts, and realize their fundamental ignorance, and be more open minded for the theology of numbers. Maybe that little plant will be able to end about 1500 years of dogma and authoritative (pseudo)-arguments. Reason will come back, and there is no reason to belief it is opposed to mysticism. It is opposed only to dogma and certainties.
          Of course, when you see that cannabis and now salvia can be made illegal with the same perpertual rather common, and even systematic (in the drugs/health domain) confusion between (a implies b) and (b implies a), you may realize such a coming back may take time.

    2. And you god would be surprised by how many are turning away from you for over and over being a no show when they really need you. I am an atheist when it comes to the Abrahamic god of the desert.I will not flip when I face the last wouldn’t hear me if I did.

  15. yeah besides the medical effects of Salvia and the salvinorins alone, there is a whole slew of salvinorin analogs that show some very promising effects. one drug called herkinorin is synthesized from salvinorin b and its an mu agonist like morphine but some research shows it doesn’t produce tolerance at all, or at least not to the same extent, like traditional narcotics. this may also mean one that does not produce withdrawal. banning psychedelic drugs as CI doesn’t just fuck up research on that particular substance, but also fucks up research on many substances and analogs directly related to the CI substance.

  16. Eh, I prefer the Ganzfeld effect (wiki it). No chemicals, no problem. I do wonder what it would be like to try LSD and Ganzfeld at the SAME time. Maybe I’ll try that in college

    1. ganzfeld, sensory deprivation, CES, TMS, dreammachines, binaural beats are similarly interesting.

      1. I concur. In fact, I’m inspired!

      2. binaural beats can have strange physical effects. Once, I had my eyes closed listening to a program and my GF freaked out because my eyes were twitching (I guess like REM sleep even though I wasn’t asleep).

      3. I find dream-machines particularly interesting, just because of the pedigree.

        It’s funny how my views on Burroughs have changed over the years. When I was younger, I used to think he was cheating with this cut-up technique and that dream-machine, etc. …but inspiration can be harder to come by as you get older, and anything that gets that creative stuff flowing again can’t be all bad. I guess?

        Maybe not.

  17. Is LSD still readily available? (The real thing not some substitute phenethylamine analog crap)

    1. Sure, you just have to find this one old desert hippie. He is usually at the big parties out in the desert. He drives and RV and has a cat. He has gallons of the stuff.

  18. I found some really interesting info on Salvia divinorum here.

    Seems Salvia divinorum is a wonder plant with tons of potential medicinal uses!

  19. I dropped six hits of LSD once and everything disappeared, my body, the world, everything. All that was left was light and intense bliss.

    LSD is a good thing.

  20. This is really a very nice blog i would like to have some more details about it so can you send me the details.

  21. Unlike most other “recreational” drugs, pscilocybin is non-neurotoxic, and has few, if any side- or after- effects.

    Full disclosure: I’m neither an addict nor a user of pscilocybin.

  22. I have found that in my personal use of the Q-link has increased my mental focus, and concentration naturally!

  23. I tried Dimethocaine recently. Some elements are definetly cocaine like, a certain mental clarity, crispness, fatigue relief, rebound stimulant. To me it seems just slightly less potent or about the same as street cocaine but it lasts like 3 hours. It works pretty good for my toothaches which are pretty severe.

  24. I tried Dimethocaine recently. Some elements are definetly cocaine like, a certain mental clarity, crispness, fatigue relief, rebound stimulant. To me it seems just slightly less potent or about the same as street cocaine but it lasts like 3 hours. It works pretty good for my toothaches which are pretty severe.

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