When one thinks of psychedelics there are a few stereotypes that we associate it with. However, the benefits of psychedelics go beyond hippie culture and dancing around a campfire. At the Prohibition Partners Conference, The Green Fund had a front-row seat into how. Let's take a closer look.
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
June 22 – 23, 2020, marked the third Prohibition Partners conference to discuss the logistics, legalisation, and legislation of the cannabis and psychedelics industry.
The Green Fund, among other industry professionals, investors, and advocates of the cannabis community, dedicated two days to watch, listen, and learn about cannabis. Experts gathered around their computers across the world to engage in online panels, discussions, and debates regarding the future of the ever-evolving, plant-based industry.
The emergence of psychedelics within a medical and interpersonal framework raises several questions and concerns. Before we judge a book by its cover, we need to understand its compounds outside of the stigmatised past. Subsequently, we can unravel the parallels between these compounds and their cannabis cousins.
First things first: what are psychedelics and how can they help?
Psychedelics: Scientific Origins
Psychedelics are a class of substances that alters perception, mood, and cognitive function. They create a psychoactive experience and cause individuals to hallucinate. Types of psychedelics include:
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide): A synthetic chemical deriving from the psychedelic class.
- Psilocybin: the naturally occurring compound in magic mushrooms.
- MDMA: an empathogen that, if taken, can increase feelings of empathy and compassion.
- Ayahuasca: a plant-based psychedelic that is commonly used in the form of a tea.
According to Dr. Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., psychedelic research began in the mid-1950s. Its therapeutic potential emerged within its ability to assist in the recovery of alcoholism and end-of-life PTSD, or "existential distress" in cancer patients.
In his seminar, Psychedelics as Medicine, Dr. Johnson describes that credible human research came to a halt during the 1960s as an "over-reaction" to the negative connotations of psychedelics. During this time, psychedelics -particularly LSD- became a catalyst behind the hippie counterculture.
Furthermore, dosage recklessness within the research field resulted in psychedelic-related casualties. Meanwhile, general misuse of psychedelics led to severe mental health problems and further casualties in those who were either uneducated to dosage restrictions or had psychological vulnerabilities.
The research towards medicinal benefits of psychedelics continued throughout the 80s and 90s, however, it remained restricted and expensive. The support for psychedelics became confined to a protest and activist-driven conversation.
It wasn't until the early 2000s that interest sparked a need for further education into plant-based medicines. Dr. Johnson refers to this emergence as the "Age of Enlightenment" in terms of psychedelic interest and research.
What is the Mystical Experience?
As the research into psychedelics began to progress, its implications on mental health began to surface. One study in 2008 concluded that psilocybin had long-lasting effects on one's overall mental health in healthy individuals. Furthermore, these feelings were maintained over a year after the conclusion of the study.
According to Dr. Johnson, when an individual consumes psychedelics, a majority of participants (around 60%) enter a state of "transcendence".
The effects of even a single dosage of psychedelics such as psilocybin inhibits a "psychological construct" known as the mystical experience. This state of awareness, as Dr. Johnson states, is mentioned over centuries, culture, and languages throughout religious and non-religious literature in which individuals feel a sense of "unity" and overall mood elevation.
On the opposing end, when one experiences a "bad trip" this is also known as a "challenging experience". This state of awareness can occur when one consumes too much psychedelics or if they are predisposed to psychiatric disorders, similar to the effects of cannabis. A bad trip is likely to cause severe levels of anxiety and paranoia. In these cases, psychedelic use can amalgamate long-term distress and harm.
How Can Psychedelics Help?
Firstly, it's important to note that the use of psychedelics, like cannabis, are not for everyone. There are risks. These risks are associated with a lack of cautious care, dosage recklessness, or if the user is in an unsafe or uncomfortable environment.
Interestingly, however, contrary to other harmful substances, the use of LSD and psilocybin are not associated with a risk of addiction. In fact, psychedelics are a credible treatment for depression, anxiety and substance abuse -including alcohol, heroin, opioid, and tobacco addiction.
In 2014, a pilot study investigated the use of psilocybin as a treatment for smoking addiction. Heavy, long-term smokers participated in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions and 3 sessions of psilocybin administrations over an eight-week period.
The results were nothing less than staggering.
After the first dosage of psilocybin, smoking habits decreased drastically. Furthermore, after six months, 80% of participants were "biologically declared smoke-free". Although this rate dropped over time, even after a 30 month follow-up, 60% of participants remained completely smoke free.
As with the other [studies], it was the mystical experience and the nature of those sessions that was predictive of long-term success.Dr. Matthew W. Johnson – Prohibitions Partners Conference: 'Psychedelics as Medicine'
The results of this pilot study has led to further follow-up research into psilocybin as a treatment option for tobacco addiction. This research is currently being investigated within a clinical and qualitative setting.
In 2018, researchers interviewed the pilot-study participants regarding the implications of the psilocybin treatment on the maintenance of cessation. Participants associated psilocybin to a "sense of inter-connectedness, awe, and curiosity. . . and reduced smoking withdrawal symptoms."
Participants also felt a heightened sense of moral regard, empathy, and happiness towards others and an increased "appreciation for aesthetics". Furthermore, participants reported heightened insights into their own identity and reasoning for smoking in the first place.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It's clear that psychedelics can do a world of good. However, while the research is catching up, more work and support is needed.
The Prohibition Partners 2020 Psychedelics & Medicine report stated that 51% of people are in favour of psychedelics for medicinal use. However, there is still a lack of education among the medical community and the general population.
The report stipulates that 37% of the population are still apprehensive towards psychedelics because of instilled dogmatic attitudes. This attitude is parallel with the 'war on drugs' within the cannabis industry throughout the 20th century.
In order to break this stigma, more research and support into the education and benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapies. In doing so, this will create pathways for the decriminalisation and legalisation for safe medicinal use.
This pathway seems to be unravelling as we speak, and we're 'psych-ed' to see what's around the corner.
Dr. Johnson's psychedelic research has led to the opening of the Center of Psychedelic & Consciousness Research at John Hopkins University. To learn more about Dr. Johnson's work in the psychedelic research community, please click here.
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