Tuning in, not out

Our view : Research with hallucinogens, a trip with a new destination

July 06, 2008

Timothy Leary is smiling somewhere. More than 40 years after the U.S. government banned hallucinogens - those dangerous hippie indulgences - and scoffed at the Harvard psychologist and anyone else who suggested they might have a legitimate use, federal officials have become enlightened. The Food and Drug Administration has rightfully changed its stance on the research of psychedelic drugs.

Instead of continuing a policy of fear and loathing, the government is now open to the possibility that this class of drugs may have uses that don't involve turning on, tuning in and dropping out.

A new Johns Hopkins University study suggests that wild mushrooms or LSD may be helpful for victims of trauma or other psychological problems. The idea that psychotropic drugs may assist in psychotherapy is not new. In the late 1970s, several psychiatrists found that a new hallucinogen, Ecstasy, was useful in couples therapy, improving communication between partners. Although some of the methodology in these early studies has since been considered unreliable, more scientifically sound research has shown benefits of hallucinogens. Ecstasy wasn't banned until 1985.

Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a South Carolina psychiatrist, has been studying the effect of Ecstasy on victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. So far, all his test participants have reported that the therapy helped them in some way.

These studies are just the start of a long process to establish the efficacy of the drugs. Hopkins researchers would like to see how distressed cancer patients respond. If victims of PTSD could benefit, afflicted veterans from the Iraq war could help with the research. Those are two worthwhile recipients and reasons to support this research.

Instead of banning drugs that are perceived as bad simply because of their recreational use, scientists should be encouraged to pursue legitimate study - lest we miss out on a valuable medicinal tool.

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