Psychedelic Drugs Research Paper

LSD Alters Perception Via Serotonin Receptors

Jan. 26, 2017 — Researchers have discovered how the perception of meaning changes in the brain under the influence of LSD. The serotonin 2A receptors are responsible for altered perception. This finding will help ... read more

Researchers Urge Caution Around Psilocybin Use

Dec. 30, 2016 — In a survey of almost 2,000 people who said they had had a past negative experience when taking psilocybin-containing 'magic mushrooms,' a researchers say that more than 10 percent believed ... read more

Nightclub Goers More Likely to Use New Designer Drugs

Sep. 15, 2016 — Novel Psychoactive Substances are synthetic or “designer” drugs which have increased in popularity in recent years. Few studies in the U.S. have focused on use among one of the highest-risk ... read more

First Study to Explore Language and LSD Since the 1960s: New Study Shows LSD's Effects on Language

Aug. 18, 2016 — The consumption of LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide, can produce altered states of consciousness. This can lead to a loss of boundaries between the self and the environment, as might occur ... read more

Magic Mushroom Compound Psilocybin Could Provide New Avenue for Antidepressant Research

May 17, 2016 — Psilocybin -- a hallucinogenic compound derived from magic mushrooms -- may offer a possible new avenue for antidepressant research, according to a new ... read more

Psychedelic Drugs May Reduce Domestic Violence

Apr. 26, 2016 — Psychedelic drugs may help curb domestic violence committed by men with substance abuse problems, according to a new study. The study found that 42 percent of US adult male inmates who did not take ... read more

Apr. 18, 2016 — Social problems are key characteristics in psychiatric disorders and are insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches. By applying brain imaging methods, researchers now show that a small ... read more

Apr. 13, 2016 — When people take the psychedelic drug LSD, they sometimes feel as though the boundary that separates them from the rest of the world has dissolved. Now, the first functional magnetic resonance images ... read more

Apr. 11, 2016 — For the first time, researchers have visualized the effects of LSD on the human brain. In a series of experiments, scientists have gained a glimpse into how the psychedelic compound affects brain ... read more

Hallucinogen May Protect Against Intimate Partner Violence, Researcher Suggests

Feb. 5, 2016 — Hallucinogen research gains traction, suggests class of substance could be therapeutic for problem behaviors, including intimate partner violence, according to one ... read more

Active Ingredient in Magic Mushrooms Reduces Anxiety, Depression in Cancer Patients

Dec. 10, 2015 — Psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, decreased anxiety and depression in patients diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. New research shows that patients who received a psilocybin dose that altered ... read more

LSD Changes Consciousness by Reorganizing Human Brain Networks

Dec. 10, 2015 — LSD alters consciousness, but the mechanism of how this happens has been elusive. Now researchers report that LSD interferes with the patterns of activation in brain networks that underlie human ... read more

Researchers Document Self-Reported Use of New, Uncommon Synthetic Drugs by Teens, Young Adults

Sep. 15, 2015 — This is the first study reporting on use of a variety of new drugs in a nationally representative U.S. sample. Researchers are confident that use was severely underreported, as the subjects were not ... read more

Psychedelic Therapy Re-Emerging for Anxiety, PTSD and Addiction

Sep. 8, 2015 — Renewed medical interest in the use of psychedelic drugs for anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and addiction has resulted in small research studies that show some success with the controlled use ... read more

Daily Marijuana Use Among U.S. College Students Highest Since 1980

Sep. 1, 2015 — Daily marijuana use among the nation's college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in ... read more

Getting High in Senior Year: Researchers Examine Whether Reasons for Smoking Pot Are Associated

June 29, 2015 — A new study examines how reasons for illicit marijuana use relates to the use of other drugs individually, rather than grouping them into a single “illicit drug” ... read more

Psychedelic Drugs Should Be Legally Reclassified as They May Benefit Patients, Experts Say

May 26, 2015 — Legal restrictions imposed on medical use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin (the compound found in 'magic' mushrooms), are making trials almost impossible and authorities ... read more

What's the Forecast? Cutting Off the Supply of Psychoactive Substances

May 13, 2015 — The use of novel psychoactive substances -- synthetic compounds with stimulant or hallucinogenic effects -- is on the rise. The diversity and breadth of these substances has led policymakers, law ... read more

Synthetic Drugs: Evidence That They Can Cause Cancer

Apr. 16, 2015 — Almost weekly, a new synthetic psychoactive drug comes onto the market that can be ordered legally and easily, for example as an incense blend, via the Internet. Synthetic cannabinoids are difficult ... read more

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In the fall of 1965, a 33-year-old father of three named Arthur King—a patient on the alcoholics ward at Baltimore’s Spring Grove Hospital—swallowed an LSD pill and laid back on his bed in a special unit called “Cottage Thirteen.” Sanford Unger, the chief of psychosocial research at the Maryland State Psychiatric Research Center, knelt beside King’s bed, holding his hand and reassuring the patient as he started to feel the drug’s mind-altering effects.*

This was not a normal psychotherapy session. During his 12-hour experience, designed to help stop his destructive drinking habit, King sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the photo of his son that he’d brought. Suddenly, the child became alive in the picture, which initially frightened him. Then King noticed that a lick of his son’s hair was out of place, so he stroked the photo, putting the errant strands back in place. His fear vanished. Later, Unger held out a small vase with a single red rose. King looked at the flower, which seemed to be opening and closing, as though it were breathing. At one point, Unger asked him whether he’d like to go out to a bar and have a few drinks. King didn’t say anything but was shocked when the rose suddenly turned black and dropped dead before his eyes. He never picked up another drink.

Arthur King was one of thousands of research subjects who were given LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline as therapeutic tools in the 1950s and 1960s, often with government support and with promising results. But by the time King was enjoying his sobriety, the backlash against psychedelic testing had already begun. By the mid-1970s, the legal exploration of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs was over.

This research is only now gathering momentum again in a new wave of U.S. clinical trials into other drugs with psychedelic properties. In recent years, university administrators, government regulatory agencies, and private donors have begun giving the stamp of approval and the money needed for new and expanding research into the use of MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. In 2017, for instance, the Heffter Research Institute and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, two organizations leading the psychedelic psychotherapy revolution, will begin a final round of government-approved clinical trials in which hundreds of new patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and severe anxiety will undergo therapy sessions fueled by MDMA and psilocybin. Now, as we enter into a new age of experimentation, it’s worth looking back at the route that got us here.

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LSD’s effects were discovered in 1943 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who accidentally dosed himself and was amazed by the powerful psychoactive effects of a drug he had labeled LSD-25. Hofmann had been working with ergot, a rye fungus, hoping to develop a new and improved cardiovascular stimulant. His employer, Sandoz Laboratories, soon made the drug available to doctors and researchers, advertising it as a tool to better understand psychosis and the possibly help patients in psychotherapy. The first wave of American psychedelic drug research—secretly funded by the CIA and the U.S. Army—began in Boston in 1949. By 1951, U.S. intelligence reports revealed that the Soviets had purchased 50 million doses of LSD from Sandoz. That discovery kicked off a decade of bizarre and sometimes-horrific U.S.-sponsored research into the use of psychedelics as chemical weapons. There were tests to see whether LSD could be used as a truth serum or possibly be sprayed on enemy troops as a kind of weapon of mass distraction.

Meanwhile, brain scientists and psychotherapists were conducting more socially beneficial experiments in laboratories and medical offices around the world. Through the 1950s and 1960s, more than 1,000 research papers were written about LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelic drugs. Some 40,000 subjects were given these mind-expanding agents, and great progress was made in the understanding of how they might help people suffering from depression, alcoholism, and the psychospiritual distress that often comes with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Researchers in Canada and the U.S. showed that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy could be more effective in treating alcoholism than existing treatments, including the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the late 1950s and 1960s, even AA co-founder Bill Wilson advocated the cautious use of LSD, experimenting on himself and a small circle of friends. Theologians and psychologists studied how psychedelic drugs could inspire creativity and evoke life-changing mystical experiences in healthy volunteers. On the East Coast, a Harvard University researcher dosed seminary students with psilocybin to show that the active ingredient in magic mushrooms could inspire an authentic religious experience. On the West Coast, the International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, California, did research indicating that LSD could be used to improve cognitive functioning and problem solving.

By 1963, however, these drugs had escaped from the carefully controlled domain of the researcher’s laboratory and psychotherapist’s office. Millions of baby boomers were coming of age and starting to experiment on their own with LSD, magic mushrooms, peyote, and other hallucinogens. A charismatic Harvard University psychologist named Timothy Leary reinvented himself as the “high priest” of the psychedelic counterculture. In California, a promising novelist named Ken Kesey gathered a Dionysian troupe of Merry Pranksters and put on a series of huge parties called acid tests, where revelers dosed themselves and danced to a new band called the Grateful Dead.

By the end of the decade, LSD and other psychedelic drugs, along with marijuana, were linked in the public imagination with the 1960s counterculture, the antiwar movement, the crusade for sexual liberation, and the rising popularity of Eastern mysticism, yoga, and meditation. It was the decade of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. President Richard Nixon called Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” His administration’s crackdown on psychoactive drugs became part of a broader political reaction against the liberation movements on the 1960s. Leary’s mantra of “turn on, tune in, drop out” was seen as a direct threat to the corporate establishment and the consumerist, materialist mindset.

In the 1970s news of the destructive, sinister research conducted in secret by the Army and the CIA began to get out. Back then, one of my first major stories as a young San Francisco journalist detailed how one of these tests, dubbed Operation Third Chance, destroyed the life of a U.S. solider who was falsely accused by being a spy, given massive doses of LSD, and “interrogated in a hostile environment.” One Army scientist who specialized in biological warfare, Frank Olson, killed himself (or according to some conspiracy theorists, was murdered) following a psychotic incident that may have been exacerbated by LSD.

The crackdown on both recreational and therapeutic use of psychedelics was not simply a political reaction. It was part of a broader re-examination of the loose standards applied to all kinds of drug research in the 1950s and early 1960s. Today, there is a greater appreciation for the rights of patients and research subjects to be fully informed of the potential dangers and side effects of these compounds. LSD was and is an unpredictable tool when used carelessly—a fact that was discovered by both CIA operatives and counterculture crusaders.

These consciousness-raising substances are finally coming out of the drug culture and into the mainstream laboratories of universities and medical centers. Researchers are building on the findings from the first wave of research. Today, scientists and therapists are more cautious in their screening of patients and the use of double-blind, placebo-controlled research to try to separate the effects of the psychedelic experience from other therapies patients get. More emphasis is placed on follow-up work to integrate the insights from psychedelic drugs into one’s everyday life.

LSD was and is an unpredictable tool when used carelessly—a fact that was discovered by both CIA operatives and counterculture crusaders.

Over the last several years, I’ve interviewed scientists, therapists, and patients involved in this new wave of research into psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. There was Nigel, a U.S. Marine and MDMA patient who’d struggled with psychological demons since returning from the war in Iraq; Carroll, a hardcore drunk who got her life back following treatment with psilocybin; and Richard, a cancer patient who was treated for depression at Johns Hopkins.* Their stories illustrate how the powerful mind-altering effects of these drugs—along with the gentle guidance of trained therapists—can lead to real psychological healing, often accompanied by experiences of oneness, awe, and wonder that are traditionally associated with dreams or religious excitation. Exactly how these substances work remains a mystery, but to my unscientific mind, it has something to do with the loosening of the ego and the opening of the heart.

What’s happening in many of these experimental circles is the coming together of psychology and spirituality. Even the self-proclaimed secularists in the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy movement employ rituals that draw from Native American shamanism and the sacramental rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Atheists pound on drums and ring Tibetan Buddhist bells. Medical doctors with priestly decorum present MDMA and psilocybin pills to patients in special chalices.

Advocates of both the therapeutic and the spiritual use of psychedelics are already celebrating the start of the “post-prohibition era.” That party may be a bit premature, but the government crackdown in the 1970s and 1980s on scientific research and personal use of psychedelic drugs has certainly declined. Marijuana may be the model for changing attitudes and public policies about LSD, magic mushrooms, ecstasy, and other psychedelic drugs. But much will depend on how all this will play out in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. It’s not hard to see how the psychedelic research could, once again, be slowed by a renewed “war on drugs” by such hard-liners as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the man Trump wants to serve as the attorney general. On the other hand, decisions about the medical use of these compounds by the Food and Drug Administration are supposed to be based on science, not politics, and the Veterans Administration is desperately seeking new treatments for returning soldiers suffering from PTSD.

For Arthur King, the positive effects of LSD-assisted therapy are undeniable. King, whose story was first told in a 1966 television documentary produced by CBS News, was tracked down decades later by filmmaker Dennis McDougal. In 2009, Arthur was still sober and married to same woman who helped him through his battles with the bottle. King was asked to look back and assess the long-term impact of psychedelic psychotherapy. He didn’t mince words.

“It saved my life,” he said.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.

*Correction, Jan. 4, 2017: This article originally misidentified the affiliations of psychedelic researcher Sanford Unger. He was the chief of psychosocial research at the Maryland State Psychiatric Research Center, not the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Unger was an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins. (Return.)

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