Treating offenders with hallucinogenic drugs.

30 Mar

This article, about the use of the psychedelic drug ayahuasca on Brazilian prisoners, appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.

In the early 1960s Timothy Leary conducted research on the effects of psilocybin on inmates at the Concord Prison in Massachusetts. Here is the abstract on a thirty four year follow up to the original research:

“This study is a long-term follow-up to the Concord Prison Experiment, one of the best known studies in the psychedelic psychotherapy literature. The Concord Prison Experiment was conducted from 1961-1963 by a team of researchers at Harvard University under the direction of Timothy Leary. The original study involved the administration of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy to 32 prisoners in an effort to reduce recidivism rates. This follow-up study involved a search through the state and federal criminal justice system records of 21 of the original 32 subjects, as well as personal interviews with two of the subjects and three of the researchers, Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Gunther Weil. The results of the follow-up study indicate that published claims of a treatment effect were erroneous. This follow-up study supports the emphasis in the original reports on the necessity of embedding psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy with inmates within a comprehensive treatment plan that includes post-release non-drug group support programs. Despite substantial efforts by the experimental team to provide post-release support, these services were not made sufficiently available to the subjects in this study. Whether a new program of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy and post-release programs would significantly reduce recidivism rates is an empirical question that deserves to be addressed within the context of a new experiment.”

On the other hand, here is a paper that reports a benefit from psychedelics for substance abuse populations:

“Hallucinogen-based interventions may benefit substance use populations, but contemporary data informing the impact of hallucinogens on addictive behavior are scarce. Given that many individuals in the criminal justice system engage in problematic patterns of substance use, hallucinogen treatments also may benefit criminal justice populations. However, the relationship between hallucinogen use and criminal recidivism is unknown. In this longitudinal study, we examined the relationship between naturalistic hallucinogen use and recidivism among individuals under community corrections supervision with a history of substance involvement (n=25,622). We found that hallucinogen use predicted a reduced likelihood of supervision failure (e.g. noncompliance with legal requirements including alcohol and other drug use) while controlling for an array of potential confounding factors (odds ratio (OR)=0.60 (0.46, 0.79)). Our results suggest that hallucinogens may promote alcohol and other drug abstinence and prosocial behavior in a population with high rates of recidivism.”

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the Concord Prison Experiment.

Only research will answer the many important questions raised by psychedelics.

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