The promise of psychedelic drugs

19 Feb

An important article in The New Yorker about the renewed research into psychedelic drugs:

“Between 1953 and 1973, the federal government spent four million dollars to fund a hundred and sixteen studies of LSD, involving more than seventeen hundred subjects. (These figures don’t include classified research.) Through the mid-nineteen-sixties, psilocybin and LSD were legal and remarkably easy to obtain. Sandoz, the Swiss chemical company where, in 1938, Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, gave away large quantities of Delysid—LSD—to any researcher who requested it, in the hope that someone would discover a marketable application. Psychedelics were tested on alcoholics, people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressives, autistic children, schizophrenics, terminal cancer patients, and convicts, as well as on perfectly healthy artists and scientists (to study creativity) and divinity students (to study spirituality). The results reported were frequently positive. But many of the studies were, by modern standards, poorly designed and seldom well controlled, if at all. When there were controls, it was difficult to blind the researchers—that is, hide from them which volunteers had taken the actual drug. (This remains a problem.)”

Finally, in the last few years researchers have been allowed to explore the therapeutic value of these drugs. Here is the abstract of a recent paper on psilocybin as a treatment for smoking addiction:

“Despite suggestive early findings on the therapeutic use of hallucinogens in the treatment of substance use disorders, rigorous follow-up has not been conducted. To determine the safety and feasibility of psilocybin as an adjunct to tobacco smoking cessation treatment we conducted an open-label pilot study administering moderate (20 mg/70 kg) and high (30 mg/70 kg) doses of psilocybin within a structured 15-week smoking cessation treatment protocol. Participants were 15 psychiatrically healthy nicotine-dependent smokers (10 males; mean age of 51 years), with a mean of six previous lifetime quit attempts, and smoking a mean of 19 cigarettes per day for a mean of 31 years at intake. Biomarkers assessing smoking status, and self-report measures of smoking behavior demonstrated that 12 of 15 participants (80%) showed seven-day point prevalence abstinence at 6-month follow-up. The observed smoking cessation rate substantially exceeds rates commonly reported for other behavioral and/or pharmacological therapies (typically <35%). Although the open-label design does not allow for definitive conclusions regarding the efficacy of psilocybin, these findings suggest psilocybin may be a potentially efficacious adjunct to current smoking cessation treatment models. The present study illustrates a framework for future research on the efficacy and mechanisms of hallucinogen-facilitated treatment of addiction.”

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