At the Department of Public Health in Springfield, Illinois, officials are still sorting through medical marijuana applications that have arrived since Nov. 1, the first day to apply for all Illinois residents with last names beginning with M through Z. Illinois has joined 22 other states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, making it evident that public opinion has greatly shifted over the years.
Gallup Inc. showed that in November of 2003, only 34% of Americans thought that cannabis should be legalized. By October of 2013, that number had risen to 58%—over half of those polled. What we’ve seen is nothing short of a public opinion renaissance for cannabis, but should we begin to reconsider the public policies for other drugs as well?
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms,” are historical opposites. Psilocybin has a long, historical relation with Mayan, Aztec, and Native American cultures. Documented use of these mushrooms can be dated back for centuries, ranging anywhere from 5000 BCE to 200 CE.
LSD, however, enjoyed a very brief period of experimentation prior to the current period of governmental prohibition of hallucinogenic drugs. First synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, its hallucinogenic properties weren’t discovered until Dr. Hofmann accidentally ingested it five years later. It was very briefly available for scientific experiments until the histories of these two drugs became intertwined in 1970.
In October of 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law. This added LSD and psilocybin to a comprehensive list of Schedule I drugs that met three criteria. According to the act, Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in the United States, and include a lack of safety even under medical supervision.
Governmental drug policy has proven to not be the final word governing the lives of Americans, as both LSD and psilocybin share the Schedule I declaration with the aforementioned cannabis—now legally obtainable in 23 states. If public policy was wrong about marijuana, is it possible that the same is true for other substances?
It’s difficult to say whether LSD and psilocybin have definitive medical benefits. For a long time after the Controlled Substances Act, research on these drugs was near completely halted. In fact, the first FDA approved clinical study involving psilocybin was just published in 2006 and another study, published in July of 2014, was one of the first government approved studies on therapeutic properties of LSD.
Research on these drugs has only begun to return to its infancy in the last decade. However, despite such a long drought of scientific study, recent experiments show significant promise for medical uses.
One experiment by Dr. Francisco A Moreno at the University of Arizona Medical Center attempted to observe the effects of psilocybin on patients with severe symptoms of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD). The results of Moreno’s research were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
The effects of psilocybin seemed to be both immediate and effective in Moreno’s study. He claimed that psilocybin completely removed symptoms of severe OCD for a period of four to 24 hours with some patients experiencing a loss of symptoms for days. He also claims that no other drug reacts as immediately as psilocybin, stating that most other drugs take weeks to show an effect.
Psilocybin has also shown effectiveness in treating cluster headaches, a neurological disorder which causes an invididual to feel severe headaches on one side of the head. Described by Marc S. Husid in “Current Pain and Headache Reports,” cluster headaches are “one of the worst pain syndromes known to mankind.” Others have likened the pain to amputation without anesthetic, but any curious individual can find real-life examples of this horrifying disorder by searching for “cluster headache” on YouTube or similar websites.
In a study performed at the McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School, 22 of 26 psilocybin users reported that the drug completely aborted a cluster headache attack. Users of both psilocybin and LSD reported a termination of the entire cluster period—a length of time when the cluster headaches occur more frequently, more intensely, and more rapidly. In addition, some patients even reported that they were able to achieve these results with doses that were too small to produce hallucinogenic experiences.
LSD has also shown to be a prospective treatment for alcoholism in recent years. A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology took an extensive look at data sets and information originally published prior to the Controlled Substances Act, spanning six trials and more than 500 patients.
The researches from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology claimed that there was a 21% increase in patients who exhibited reduced alcohol misuse when compared to the control group. According to the study, the effects of a single dose could last from six months to one year.
“It was rather common for patients to claim significant insights into their problems, to feel that they had been given a new lease on life, and to make a strong resolution to discontinue their drinking” one researcher elaborated.
These studies, among few others, should bring cause to question the current governmental policy. Schedule I drugs are supposed to have no recognized medical benefits, but the previously mentioned studies, and 23 U.S. states, seem to agree that this categorization isn’t indisputable. So does this mean we should legalize, regulate, and tax these substances as has been done with cannabis in Colorado?
The answer is almost assuredly “No.” At least not yet. These studies mentioned have only scratched the surface of understanding drugs like psilocybin and LSD. These current observations portray these substances as serious medical drugs with serious medical potential. There’s no indication that these drugs should be taken any more lightly than other prescription medicines.
While it may not be necessary to change public policy just yet, now is the perfect time to start changing public opinion. These substances shouldn’t be disregarded if there are individuals suffering from alcoholism, OCD, cluster headaches, or any other medical disabilities yet unknown. Let compassion and empathy reign over fearful judgment so that science can continue to uncover what there is to be known.