Scientists have begun experimenting with the therapeutic effects of LSD drugs again, years after the government declared a “war on drugs” and dissuaded the medical community from studying them.
Researchers have found that despite the prevalent misconception that LSD is “dangerous” they have had success at healing various ailments with the hallucinogen.
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They helped alcoholics drink less; terminal patients eased more gently into death. And it’s not just the infirm who are helped by the drugs. Psychedelics can make the healthy healthier, too.
On this subject, only a handful of peer-reviewed studies have been conducted; sample sizes are tiny. There’s still a great deal researchers don’t know.
But early results suggest that, when used by people without a family history or risk of psychological problems, psychedelics can make us kinder, calmer and better at our jobs.
They can help us solve problems more creatively and make us more open-minded and generous. Some experiments even suggest that a single dose can change our personalities forever.
Is it possible that a drug labeled as one of the most destructive and dangerous could make everyone’s lives better?
Other researchers have tested the drug as a treatment for depression, addiction and other mental problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Remarkably, in each small trial, scientists saw incredible results.
In a 2014 smoking-cessation study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, 15 participants were given three doses of psilocybin under careful supervision by doctors. The participants were all heavy nicotine users, consuming about a pack a day for an average of 31 years. Six months later, 80 percent were cigarette-free — most smoking-cessation efforts are about 35 percent effective. In a 2015 alcoholism study, also peer-reviewed and published in Psychopharmacology, many of the 10 participants saw a significant decrease in drinking for at least nine months after one or two psilocybin experiences. In both studies, the psilocybin doses were coupled with therapy.
Here’s why scientists think it works: When someone takes a psychedelic, there is a decrease in blood flow and electrical activity in the brain’s “default mode network,” a group of brain structures found in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex. The default mode network is primarily responsible for our ego or sense of self; it “lights up” when we daydream or self-reflect.
When we trip, our default mode network slows down. With the ego out of commission, the boundaries between self and world, subject and object dissolve. These processes may be related to something called the “primary mystical experience,” a phenomena highly correlated with therapeutic outcomes. As Matthew Johnson, a principal investigator in Johns Hopkins’s psilocybin studies, explains, these experiences include a “transcendence of time and space,” a sense of unity and sacredness and a deeply felt positive mood.