Turn on, Tune in, Drop out — Psychiatrists Reconsider the use of Psychedelics

in Uncategorized
July 14th, 2010

“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.”

With this snappy catchphrase, and an eponymous book, Dr. Timothy Leary boldly endorsed the use of hallucinogens to the American public five decades ago. Citing potential medical benefits, Leary believed that psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin could help patients overcome psychiatric illness and facilitate a higher stage of consciousness. Dr. Timothy Leary

While his divisive stance and strident attitude made him a symbol of the counterculture movement in the 1960’s, his ideas have been largely regarded by the scientific community as radical and medically insignificant.  But recently, some researchers have begun to rethink those conclusions.

In April, the New York Times reported on the case of Clark Martin, a former psychologist who participated in a psilocybin study at Johns Hopkins Medical School.  Suffering from depression, Martin opted to participate in the program after finding no solace in traditional treatments.  In the study, Martin was given psilocybin and spent the next five hours listening to classical music in private reflection.

A year later, he reported that the psilocybin treatment had helped him largely overcome his depression, and considers the experience one of the most meaningful of his life.  He wasn’t alone.  Most of the patients in the study said the treatment yielded positive, long-lasting benefits.

Encouraged by these results, scientists are also considering studying the effects of psychedelics in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and addiction.

The Johns Hopkins study largely corroborates the data Leary had collected decades earlier in a 1960 study on psilocybin conducted at Harvard University, in which he saw significant positive results in his patients.

The use of psychoactive drugs in medicine is still relatively new.  Not until the middle of the 20th century, with the introduction of the anti-psychotic drug Chlorpromazine, have physicians turned to pharmaceuticals to treat psychiatric illness.  They largely displaced older, more invasive treatment options such as insulin shock therapy, psychosurgery, and electroconvulsive therapy.

Perhaps because of their initial success, pharmaceutical companies have recently embraced psychotropic medications, finding massive markets for the treatment of conditions like depression and anxiety.

But while drugs like Prozac and Valium have made fortunes, research for experimental treatments like psychedelics has garnered little attention.  Without the profit making potential of less radical options, pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to allocate time and money to developing these equivocal treatments.

Still, a one-time session that produces lasting results could potentially provide a cheaper and less disruptive alternative to a daily pill.  And the treatment, an interesting middle ground between therapy and medication, perhaps provides a more complete approach.

Now, 50 years removed from the counterculture movement that defined Leary’s research, his stigma is beginning fading, but maybe his science will remain.

6 Comments on Turn on, Tune in, Drop out — Psychiatrists Reconsider the use of Psychedelics

  • I think a renewed and comprehensive study of these pyschoactive drug treatment options are certainly warranted. Unbiased and closely scrutinized studies by the Psychiatric community should be revisited on a larger scale. In light of the oncoming freight train of increasing medical costs of the aging babyboomers and the dwindling economic resources coupled with the massive hidden cost of alcohol and drug ABUSE and the behavioural havoc they incur, these treatment options should be objectively pursued.

  • Agreed. Unfortunately, since the psychedelic wave of the 1960s these drugs have been associated with the counterculture movement and its less than genuine proponents, and thus discredited as a legitimate focus of scientific study. In all actuality, these compounds are some of the most intesting things in nature, and they have the potential to reveal a lot about the brain itself and how structure and function relates to consciousness and perception. In order to fully understand perception and consciousness in the brain, we must also understand how it can be altered and manipulated just as we understand pathophysiology in other organ systems. Having said that, the sad thing is that these drugs can help people, yet they are kept in chains. Dangerous opiate drugs such as morphine, xanax and oxycodone are commonplace in clinical settings, and the same can be true for some psychoactives that in fact have less severe side effects than their opiate analogs, depending on the compound. I am in now way advocating for full fledged clinical use of psychedelic drugs – this is ridiculous, as some are very dangerous. Obviously, administering LSD to patients is outlandish but it and other milder and more intense compounds should be studied so synthesis of new, clinically “safe” compounds can be used to treat a whole realm of patients in a whole new way. There are small steps being taken in the legalization of medicinal marijuana/THC compounds for pain, but this is just the beginning. Hopefully, the scientific community can remove the psychedelic stigma through legitimate research and open a door to perception therapy that we have been bolting shut for a very long time.

  • hmmm this is very interesting to know…psychedelics can cure psychological defects…please keep us update on this. this is a very important innovation if ever.

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