Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Psychedelic Drugs: Harmful or Therapeutic? (Al Jazeera English)

On Al Jazeera's The Stream, there was a recent conversation on the risks and/or benefits of using psychedelic drugs (entheogens or hallucinogens) as therapeutics for mental health issues. Among the guests was Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Also included was Dr. David Nutt, the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in England (a position from which he was dismissed due to his support of medicinal use of some "recreational" drugs) and current Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

For most thinking people, especially those who have experienced entheogens, these are drugs that offer much more benefit than harm - but the government has a vested interest in rejecting the freedom to experience alternate states of consciousness, especially when those states can wake people up from the consensus trance.

Psychedelic drugs: harmful or therapeutic?

The Stream looks at the risks and benefits of these drugs on mental health.

Ecstasy pills in hand. (UIG via GETTY)

Have we lost decades of research on mental health disease because of legal controls on psychedelic drugs? Some scientists claim LSD and MDMA hold the key to treating illnesses like schizophrenia and depression, and are calling for an end to the restrictions on working with them. Others though, say they are too risky to experiment with and the long term dangers are not known. We will speak to experts who argue both sides. Join us at 19:30 GMT.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Bertha Madras @harvardmed
Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School

David Nutt @ProfDavidNutt
Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs

Rick Doblin @RickDoblin
Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Rachel Hope

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
* * * * *

Here is some of the background information provided at the Al Jazeera site.
From LSD to MDMA, a recent editorial published by Scientific American has ignited a heated discussion regarding the research of psychoactive drugs. The article calls on the US government to "end the ban on psychoactive drug research". It goes on to say:
New thinking is desperately needed to aid the estimated 14 million American adults who suffer from severe mental illness. Innovation would likely accelerate if pharmacologists did not have to confront an antiquated legal framework that, in effect, declares off-limits a set of familiar compounds that could potentially serve as the chemical basis for entire new classes of drugs.
The editors believe that by making it easier to do research on drugs like MDMA (a compound found in ecstasy) and LSD, scientists can explore whether these drugs can help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cluster headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia.

Netizens had a mixed response to Scientific American's article:
Jordan Ray Johnston
It's great to see a mainstream scientific journal getting behind this. The research of the 60's should never have been stopped. However.... dope is a term originally used to talk about heroin. Tis sad that it's used so indiscriminately now.
18 days ago

while I earnestly believe the FDA is much too conservative with their rulings, I stand behind them when they ban psychoactive drugs from being medicinal. I used to pride myself on my above average mental constitution and ability to handle psychedelic drugs, but I can tell you from personal experience, and from the experience of witnessing other users, that those drugs are bound to make psychiatric disorders much worse (even if the response is delayed).
5 days ago
Many scientists agree that more research needs to be done on these drugs, but some argue that Scientific American's article is misleading. "While the stigma that comes from Schedule I placement of these substances makes scientific research clearance and fundraising difficult, research itself is not prohibited", writes April Short on AlterNet.org.

In 1970, the US government passed the Controlled Substances Act. The legislation classifies drugs into one of three categories, Schedules I, II, III. Schedule I includes drugs that meet the following criteria:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
5 days ago

The Controlled Substances Act does not explicitly prohibit the research of Schedule I drugs, but there are several guidelines for gaining approval to do research. The United Nations also has three treaties, including the The Convention of Psychotropic Substances that similarly classify these types of drugs.

A blog by David Nutt, a psychopharmacologist at the Imperial College London, echos Scientific American's call to end the restrictions on the research of Schedule I drugs:
Drugs get sucked into the black hole of Schedule 1 all too easily, but no evidence of medical value seems enough to get them out. We need to resist the scary fairy-tale that removing drugs such as cannabis from Schedule 1, or reforming the Regulations, will open a Pandora’s box. There’s much more reason to believe that we’ll unleash a Neuroscientific Enlightenment, making new discoveries about the brain and consciousness, developing new treatments for debilitating disorders like PTSD, depression and chronic pain, and giving a boost to our economy along the way.
5 days ago
Some online agree:
The ban on psychedelic drugs makes research into the therapeutic benefits virtually impossible. This is effectively one of the biggest cases on science ever. Many diseases can be cured and many lives can be saved if we abolish drug prohibition and introduce sendible regulation
4 days ago
A few recent studies have examined the use of these types of drugs. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is currently studying the effect of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on healing psychological and emotional damage from war, violent crimes and other traumas. In the video below, participants and therapists describe the MAPS study:
Healing Trauma in Veterans with MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy
3 months ago
Online, some said they would take psychoactive drugs to treat disorders like PTSD and schizophrenia:
@AJStream Cannabis is essential for my and others' PTSD and safe. Risks of this and other needed drugs are introduced by criminalization...
Mohammed A. Elshafie
@AJStream Yes, but with a good understanding of the risks and excellence analysis on how to minimize it.

Jennifer Huizen
@AJStream The extent these type of disorders disrupt the lives of those affected makes chances, maybe even risky ones, worth taking.
Others, however, feel it may be too risky:
@AJStream you cant take a psychoactive drug to treat a disorder like because the potential wont outweigh the potential risks but

@AJStream it will rather increase the risks of the decease eg like

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