Psychedelic Science: Still Hassled by the Man


Wired reports from the meeting last weekend of various scientists and researchers interested in the possibilities of illegal psychedelic drugs.

Truckers Getting LSD for the Road
Photo credit: The Rocketeer / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

After a predictable swipe at Timothy Leary (who to my mind deserves praise for taking, mostly, the non-Mandarin road toward the public discussion of these drugs' possibilities and not keeping them the secret plaything of an elite, but who the serious science folk see as ruining it for the rest of them by taking things too far too fast and too public in the 60s years leading up to the 1966 national banning of LSD), the story notes that psychedelic research remains a fringe thing, but not one that's going away.


From its inception in 2010, the Psychedelic Science meeting has brought together an interesting mix of people. A record 1,800 of them attended this year. Brad Burge, the communication director for MAPS [Multidiscipinary Association for Psychedelic Studies]….acknowledges there's a tricky balancing act involved in hosting a forum for scientists who want their work to be taken seriously without excluding those who use psychedelic drugs recreationally. Even so, "we're trying to get around the idea that there has to be a separation," he said.

After all, this latter group helps fund much of the research through their donations to MAPS and other private organizations like the Heffter Research Institute and Beckley Foundation. Government funders like the National Institutes of Health are still skittish about psychedelic research.

The article discusses various recent attempts to link ayahuasca and mushroom use to specific brain activities as measured by fMRIs and the like and notes the seem to dampen something brain scientists call the "default mode network" in ways that may make them relevant to curbing depression. It also notes a survey of "1,600 recreational psilocybin [users that] found that 40 percent ranked the experience in their top five most personally meaningful."

As one scientist quoted in the story says, "The illegality of these drugs has profoundly distorted research and continues to do so….It's one of the greatest scandals in modern research."

I review a bio of Leary; Reason interviews him in the swingin' 70s.

A list of recent clinical trials of psychedelics and related illegal drugs:

? Ayahuasca Depression: Brazil (upcoming)

  • Psilocybin Depression: UK (pending),Smoking cessation: US (ongoing)
  • MDMA PTSD: Switzerland (completed), Spain (completed), Israel (ongoing), US (ongoing), Canada (upcoming)
  • LSD End of life anxiety: Switzerland (completed)
  • Ibogaine Addiction: Mexico, New Zealand (ongoing)
  • Source: MAPS/Psychedelic Science conference