Popular culture has had a strong stigma against psychedelics since the 1960s, but if contemporary psychedelic research has any say about it, all of that is about to change. Pioneering scientists and researchers have pushed for continued research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, and they have made great headway in recent years.
Where only a few decades ago all possession of psychedelic substances was outlawed and psychedelic research was banned, we now live in a day where marijuana (considered a mild psychedelic) is legal in many states, and research into psychedelic substances from top level institutions and private organizations is pouring in at an incredible rate. This is not just good news for those that oppose the War on Drugs or advocate for freedom of consciousness, but more so for the millions of people suffering from afflictions that psychedelic therapy can help treat with incredible efficacy.
Returning to the Roots of Research
What many may not know is that psychedelics have been used throughout history primarily in a healing rather than hedonistic manner. Indigenous cultures who used psychedelic plants throughout the ages always treated them with great respect and reverence, seeing them as powerful medicines for the mind, body, and soul alike. Similarly in the West, when substances like LSD (acid) and MDMA (ecstasy) were first discovered, their first applications were in the realm of psychotherapy and treatment for mental disorders like addiction. Psychiatrist Dr. Humphry Osmond who coined the term “psychedelic” used LSD and mescaline in the 1950s to treat alcoholism and study schizophrenia, while other researchers like Dr. Stanislav Grof explored the clinical applications that LSD could provide in psychology and psychotherapy.
Unfortunately, as the cultural revolution of the 60s occurred and young people took LSD on a large scale, the backlash against psychedelics and other drugs caused laws to be passed that strictly forbade further research into the benefits that psychedelics could provide. This was the case for nearly two decades, and it was not until the early 1990s that approval for more research was granted once again.
After this gap in research, the first FDA-approved psychedelic research involving human subjects began in 1990 and was headed by Dr. Rick Strassman who researched the effects of dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. This opened the floodgates to a handful of other researchers and institutions that were putting psychedelic research at the forefront of their work. In 1986, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was founded by Rick Doblin to advocate for continued investigation into the therapeutic benefits of MDMA; since the 1990s, MAPS has helped to fund over $20 million in psychedelic research. In 1993, another organization called the Heffter Research Institute, founded by David E. Nichols, funded over $1 million in research to investigate the medical uses of psychedelics.
Today, scores of new studies into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics are appearing every year from lauded institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, University of New Mexico, UCLA, NYU, and Stanford, and are being published in respected peer-reviewed publications such as Current Drug Abuse Reviews, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, and the Journal of Psychopharmacology. This revival in research is due to the efforts of dedicated scientists and organizations like the ones mentioned above who have highlighted the powerful healing properties that psychedelics offer to treat conditions that often defy conventional treatment, often with far less negative side effects compared to conventional prescription treatments. The need for effective treatments has outweighed the burden of decades-old stigmas, and hopefully the psychedelic research we see today is just the beginning of a psychedelic-assisted evolution of medicine, psychology, and psychotherapy, aligning our Western medicine with the ages-old psychedelic healing technology carried in the wisdom of ancient and indigenous cultures.