The History of Psychedelics in 7 Minutes (video)


The History of Psychedelics in 15-20 Minutes

On November 16, 1938, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist working at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, was attempting to create a stimulant when he synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) instead. The substance excited test animals, but it wasn’t the circulatory system stimulant Sandoz had hoped for. Hofmann set LSD aside until five years later when he took another look and accidentally absorbed a small dose through his fingertips and experienced a radical shift in consciousness.

After experimenting further Hofmann concluded the drug would be ideal for psychotherapeutic use, and Sandoz began sending doses of LSD and another psychedelic, psilocybin, to clinics and universities across the world. A promising decade of research began, leading to breakthroughs in understanding the brain’s neurochemistry and how therapists might effectively treat mental illness. In 1960 Sandoz sent psychedelics to a charismatic Harvard psychologist named Timothy Leary.

The rest is history. Within a decade, LSD was illegal in most parts of the world, and psychedelic research, despite its early promising results, was shut down altogether.

However, now, 50 years after LSD was first banned, psychedelics are making a comeback.

Across the country, people are turning on, their neurons firing the opening salvos of a psychedelic renaissance. Silicon Valley engineers are taking microdoses of LSD at work as an alternative to Adderall. Religious organizations are having their use of psychedelics validated in the court of law.

Most importantly, the FDA and DEA are approving psychedelic studies for the first time in decades, enabling researchers to examine the efficacy of psychedelics in treating a host of mental illnesses, from anxiety and depression to PTSD and addiction. The findings are, as one researcher put it, “mind-blowing.”

Same as it ever was.

Tripping through time

The years immediately following Hofmann’s accidental discovery, are often referred to as the “golden age” of psychedelic research. More than 40,000 patients were administered LSD alongside therapy between 1950 and 1965, and more than a thousand scientific papers were published.

Though many of the early psychiatric studies of LSD wouldn’t meet modern standards of methodology, they nonetheless produced promising results. In study after study treating depression, addiction, emotional and physical trauma, and terminal illness, researchers found that LSD proved effective in cases where other drugs and therapy alone were not.

Humans have consumed mind-altering substances throughout history. Many produce an altered state of consciousness that is often termed the “psychedelic experience.” It can include heightened senses and emotions; awe or terror; the feeling of experiencing birth, death or repressed memories; or a sense of profound insight into the nature of existence.

Many researchers feel the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics are undeniable. However, the unpredictable nature of the psychedelic experience and the stigma of recreational drug use have made incorporating them into Western medicine problematic.

Dr. Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary’s right-hand man at Harvard, discussing the effects of LSD on the psyche. Alpert was fired along with Leary in 1963 for giving psychedelics to undergraduates.

In 1960, Dr. Timothy Leary started the Harvard Psilocybin Project to study the effects of psilocybin, a psychedelic found in magic mushrooms. He was fired in 1962 after it was discovered he’d been giving psychedelics to his students.

Leary began urging young Americans to use LSD. At a time of great social unrest, “acid” escaped from the lab and found its way into unpredictable environments like college campuses and rock concerts. Horror stories emerged of psychosis and murder brought on by “bad trips.” Young people told their parents they no longer believed in the central institutions undergirding American society, and certainly did not want to fight in Vietnam.

LSD was made illegal in the US in 1966. The Food and Drug Administration shut down all research, Sandoz stopped distributing it, and psychedelic therapy was forced underground.

Some psychedelic therapists still provided LSD to their patients, maintaining illegal practices. Others, like Stanislav Grof, sought alternative methods that could bring about the psychedelic experience, like holotropic breathwork.

MDMA’s therapeutic potential

MDMA was first synthesized by Germany’s Merck at the start of the 20th century, but it would be decades before a human tried a dose. In 1976, Dow Pharmaceuticals chemist Alexander Shulgin discovered MDMA’s effects after synthesizing a batch and testing 120 milligrams on himself.

“I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great or believed this to be possible.”

— Alexander Shulgin

Shulgin shared it with San Francisco therapist Leo Zeff, who was conducting psychedelic therapy despite the ban. Zeff served as the Johnny Appleseed of MDMA, sending doses to an estimated 4,000 therapists who gave it to as many as 200,000 patients in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Shulgin at The Farm in 2009, his home-based lab in San Francisco. © JonRHanna/CC

Like LSD before it, MDMA would not stay a secret for long. Its euphoric and stimulating effects made it the ideal party drug. The burgeoning rave music scene embraced it, and soon stories emerged of overheated partiers winding up in the hospital. Then came the first scientific studies reporting on MDMA’s neurotoxic effects.

The FDA and DEA were not fans of an increasingly popular drug that supposedly rotted the brains of America’s youth. Despite the protests of therapists who provided substantial documentation of MDMA’s therapeutic benefits, it was banned. Classified as a Schedule I drug, it was considered to have no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

Promising results

Today, researchers must clear a number of hurdles to acquire official approval for psychedelic studies, but over the past decade, the DEA and FDA have increasingly been saying yes.

A 2006 study at Johns Hopkins found that magic mushrooms can induce mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. A 2008 study found that 80% of sufferers no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis after MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. The first LSD studies in decades are finding no link between the drug and mental illness, and that patients report benefits from treatment.

In March 2015, Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said he hoped MDMA would be available by prescription by 2021. Doblin has been at the forefront of establishing MDMA, LSD, and other psychedelics as legitimate and effective tools in psychotherapy.

MAPS produced studies demonstrating that at low doses, MDMA is “sufficiently safe.” It has secured FDA-approved studies to use MDMA to treat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, cancer patients, and people struggling with addiction and PTSD.

Ready or not, psychedelics are coming to the people.


Written by Ahmed Kabil
Source Medium: Timeline

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