Senator Gillibrand: “This is clearly a case of ideology getting in the way of scientific progress. I dare any senator to speak to the patients here and say they don’t deserve the medicine their doctors have prescribed."
As a potential first step that could influence strict United States drug policy, a non-partisan coalition of Senators announced a bill that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug. It is currently classified as Schedule I, defined by the DEA as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." Change in marijuana drug law is not only supported by the Senate. Bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives include the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act.
Schedule I classification prevents more widespread research on marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin, drugs that show benefit in treating a myriad of illnesses. A 2010 Lancet study by former UK chief drug advisor, David Nutt, ranked the risk of harm from marijuana well below commonly-used legal intoxicants alcohol and tobacco. Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD, both classic hallucinogens/psychedelics were ranked as the least and third-least harmful, respectively. Not listed Nutt's chart below was ayahuasca, the South American sacramental tea that contains classic hallucinogen DMT (dimethyltryptamine). Watch addiction specialist Gabor Maté discuss ayahuasca and addiction.
In addition, two large population studies by Peter Hendricks of UAB have shown that the use of classic hallucinogens reduce psychological distress and suicidality in adults as well as prisoner recidivism. Hendricks writes, "Given the regulatory difficulty associated with administering classic psychedelics to humans, population-based survey studies represent one means for examining the relationships of classic psychedelic use with mental health and suicidality."
Given our poor understanding of the brain, lack of effective drugs to treat brain disorders and addictions, and the lack of access and affordability of mental healthcare, removing barriers to researching classical hallucinogens is essential to recognizing their true potential. Removing them from the Schedule I tier of drug classification is a crucial first step.
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Primary funding of psilocybin research in the United States and Switzerland is provided by the Heffter Research Institute and Multidiscliplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. An important ongoing study by Dr. Franz Vollenweider's Heffter lab in Switzerland is Beyond the Self and Back: Neuropharmacological Mechanism Underlying the Dissolution of the Self, a neuroimaging study that will examine psilocybin's effect on consciousness and the default mode network brain region. Classic hallucinogens have the unique and profound effect of altering–or increasing–consciousness by reducing activity in the highest energy-consuming brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). The PCC is an important hub region of the default mode network. Very recent studies show that classic psychedelics cause the same effect on the brain across the entire drug class.
Dr. Roland Griffith's lab at Johns Hopkins University is currently conducting a receptor pharmacology study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that will compare the effects of receptor antagonists on salvinorin A (kappa-opioid receptor agonist), dimethyltryptamine-DMT (short duration serotonin 2a receptor agonist), psilocybin (longer duration serotonin 2a receptor agonist), and dextromethorphan (NMDA receptor antagonist). Psilocybin and DMT are both considered classical hallucinogens. Salvinorin A is a naturally occurring consciousness-altering plant in the mint family that is currently being studied to treat addiction in New Zealand. Dextromethorphan is a cold & cough medicine that alters consciousness at higher doses. Information about Griffith's study can be found here.
Full-text PDFs of psilocybin studies can be found at http://csp.org/psilocybin/. A recent study using psilocybin to treat alcoholism can be found here.
For more on classic hallucinogens and spirituality, visit The Council of Spiritual Practices website:
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HOFMANN'S POTION, a documentary about the discovery of LSD and psychedelics research in the 50s and 60s.