In the 1950s and early 1960s, psychedelic drugs such as LSD were considered promising treatments for a broad range of psychological and psychiatric conditions. Tens of thousands of people were introduced to them in clinical studies, as an adjunct to psychotherapy, or as part of a religious or spiritual practice. By the late 1960s, however, as millions of people experimented with them, psychedelics became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent.
By the early 1970s, the government had halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy. The ban persisted for decades, but has gradually been lifted over the past decade. Today, there are dozens of studies taking place to evaluate the medical safety and efficacy of psychedelics, and the Supreme Court has ruled that psychedelics can be used as part of the practices of certain organized religions.
We are now in the midst of a psychedelic research renaissance, with clinical studies under way at top medical schools and research institutes worldwide. These studies are using psychedelics as an adjunct to traditional psychotherapy for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, individuals addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and a range of other medical issues.
The harsh laws being enforced to punish users and traffickers seem highly unrepresentative of the dangers that these substances pose – there are no recorded overdose deaths from LSD, DMT, psilocybin mushrooms or marijuana. In the United States, LSD, DMT, psilocybin ‘magic’ mushrooms, MDMA (‘molly’ or ‘ecstasy’) and marijuana remain Schedule I drugs, which means that they have “no medical value” and “high potential for abuse.” People arrested for psychedelics can receive huge sentences. A 23-year-old Connecticut man, Timothy Tyler, received two life sentences – without the possibility of parole – for selling LSD to a police informant in 1992. He remains in prison today.
At the Drug Policy Alliance, we believe that the law and the media often present an unfairly negative image of psychedelic drugs, and fail to address their cultural roots, spiritual benefits, or medical and therapeutic applications. Fortunately, there is now a growing like-minded consensus.
During the next two weekends, New Yorkers have the opportunity to attend exciting events on the subject of psychedelic drugs. Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics is an annual forum held in New York City to stimulate a “fresh dialogue” on the role of psychedelics “in medicine, culture, history, spirituality and creativity”. DPA is co-sponsoring the conference along with MAPS, SSDP, Erowid.org and other organizations. The Horizons conference is entering its seventh consecutive year of existence and is the only major annual psychedelics conference on the east coast. This year’s event is scheduled for October 11-13 in Greenwich Village, and tickets are available for purchase online.
The subsequent weekend will see the premiere of the ‘mind-blowing’ documentary Neurons to Nirvana at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, which will be followed by a panel discussion with a number of notable psychedelic luminaries, including Rick Doblin, Gabor Maté, Julie Holland, and the Drug Policy Alliance’s very own Jag Davies.
We urge our supporters to sign up for tickets, attend the events, and further open their minds.
Photo from Horizons.
Avinash Tharoor is a freelance journalist.