Psyched up: a visionary therapy or a trip into the unknown

LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are still listed in Class A of the Misuse of Drugs Act, their supply punishable by life imprisonment. And yet, the ...

Psyched up: a visionary therapy or a trip into the unknown

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Psyched up: a visionary therapy or a trip into the unknown

The idea of administering these psychedelic drugs as a therapy for drug dependence, intractable depression and crippling grief is teetering on the edge of respectability. No one has done more to reintroduce psychedelics to polite conversation than the American journalist Michael Pollan, whose book published this year, How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, describes a wave of formal studies that seem to be showing a potentially powerful new approach to very difficult problems. One particular set of studies described by Pollan, marshalled by British researcher Robin Carhart-Harris, has led to a relatively new theory about why psychedelics work as they do

The forgotten history of psychedelic research also includes the research at Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, where doctors gave LSD to more than 700 chronic alcoholics - half of whom duly became sober. It’s the nature of the work that he maintains contact with the informal psychedelics community and he has a cordial relationship with “Amadeus”, who maintains the Psychedelics New Zealand Facebook group. “Personally, it’s been really transformative in my life

Therapeutically as well as spiritually. Psychedelics have had a very big impact on that, but also that’s not necessarily the way to help change the world.“I’ve spent enough time on the subject to be sort of a lightning rod of information for people. “Through a period of about two and half a years where I for various reasons didn’t need to be working, I was able to immerse myself fully in the psychedelic community internationally

One fashionable psychedelic that has no role in the party world is ayahuasca, a brew of several plants - but typically containing the psychedelic DMT and harmala alkaloids - traditionally used by indigenous people in South America. She discovered one uncomfortable truth about the psychedelic therapy world: it can be a dude zone. The trial saw the entry of perhaps the key organisation in the psychedelic therapy revival: the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

If a subject receives the psychedelic rather than a placebo, everyone knows soon enough who’s got what. Not every psychedelic experience is a full-scale one: microdosing, the administration of a dose too low to produce psychedelic effects, has been claimed to enhance intellectual agility and creativity. Some Silicon Valley companies have gone so far as to ordain “Microdosing Fridays” and a recent Dutch study found results “Consistent with the idea that microdosing psychedelic substances improves both divergent and convergent thinking.” Even to study conditions like depression, psychedelic therapy does not get public funding

Noller believes strongly that “there are possibilities here” with psychedelic therapy “and we need to manage them appropriately.