After thirty years in the deep freeze, research into the medicinal use of psychedelic drugs, ranging from psilocybin to Ketamine, and from MDMA to LSD, has begun to accelerate. FDA-approved pilot studies and clinical trials using the drugs under controlled conditions and in combination with talk therapy have shown they could be used safely, delivering promising results in a wide range of tough-to-treat maladies, including opiate and tobacco addiction, alcoholism, autism, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But the powerful drug that was proving surprisingly safe to use in the clinic was creating a panic (in the eyes of the Media & the PTB) when used on the streets. The mushrooming (no pun intended) popular use of psychedelics in the late ’60s, particularly by young people taking it in uncontrolled environments, struck such a sensitive cultural and political nerve that it left the drugs, and the scientists who worked with them, severely stigmatized for more than a generation.
Ironically, the criminalization of the possession of psychedelic drugs in 1970 and the attendant passion of the PTB’ anti-drug crusade did little to slow the spread of recreational use, but effectively shut all research into possible beneficial uses down cold.
In the three decades that followed, an underground network of therapists continued to use the now illegal compounds in treatment of psychological maladies. In the late 1970s, with the rediscovery of the psychoactive effects of the synthetic psychedelic 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, or MDMA, these underground therapists found a compound many felt was even more useful in combination with therapy than the classic psychedelics –– avoiding the unpredictable effects and anxiety-provoking visions that sometimes arose, as well as creating an almost instant bond with the therapist. MDMA also had the advantage of not yet being illegal.
As the government (in its pomposity) prepared to rectify that in 1985, a coalition of credentialed doctors and scientists allied with those in the psychedelic underground to take the attempt to rehabilitate the drugs and bring back the hope of the ’50s and ’60s that they could become a powerful tool in psychotherapy. They sued the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to prevent them from placing MDMA on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive category reserved for highly dangerous drugs with no medical benefit.
After months of hearings and volumes of testimony, the presiding judge ruled dramatically in the plaintiffs’ favor –– MDMA he declared, was neither particularly dangerous when used in a clinical setting nor without medical value. The DEA simply ignored the ruling, which was not legally binding, and MDMA therapy went back underground.
But some of those behind the challenge refused to surrender. If they couldn’t prove their case in court, they would do it in the lab. It took more than a decade and a slowly changing culture, but as the 20th Century came to a close, the Food and Drug Administration began to once again approve clinical trials of psychedelics on humans. At a time when half a million veterans have returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD, contributing tragically to the average of 22 veterans each day who commit suicide, the clinical use of such agents couldn’t come too soon.
The cost to the American taxpayer of giving these vets the medical care they’ve earned will be in the range of a trillion dollars over the next 30 or 40 years. If PTSD could be reliably cured with a short-term treatment using an inexpensive drug like MDMA, those costs could be slashed dramatically. And yet, though the Department of Defense is spending lavishly on speculative development all sorts of untested therapies –– including planting microchips in veterans’ brains –– it has yet to budget a dime for MDMA research, in part, clearly, because the cultural wars of 1970 continue to hold the image of psychedelics hostage.
- The above excerpts are from an article written by Tom Shroder based on his new book: Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal