The Past and Future of Psychedelic Science : An Introduction to This Issue
Richard E. Doblin, Merete Christiansen, Lisa Jerome, Brad Burge
JOURNAL OF PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS, 2019, VOL. 51, NO. 2, 93–97
Psychedelic plants and fungi have been used in indigenous medicinal traditions for millennia. Modern psychedelic research began when Albert Hofmann first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25) in 1938. Five years later, became the first person to ingest LSD. Hofmann was unaware of the significance of his actions, and the effects they would set in motion. After a burgeoning period of scientific and cultural exploration in the1950s and ‘60s, psychedelic research was slowed to a near halt. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s governmental interventions severely hampered global psychedelic research, despite evidence of the limited medical risks and therapeutic potential of psychedelics. After decades of persistent education and advocacy, rigorous research employing psychedelics as tools of discovery and healing are abundant today. Studies are taking place in research institutions and in private practice sites supported by nonprofit and for-profit organizations, as well as individual investigators. This research includes clinical trials with MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of PTSD, alcoholism, and social anxiety, and psilocybin clinical studies for depression and addiction, as well as the ability of psychedelics to catalyze spiritual or mystical experiences and inspire creativity, and into the neuroscientific understanding the effects of psychedelic substances on our nervous system.
KEYWORDS : Psychedelics; MDMA; psilocybin; history; medicine; spirituality
There are more clinical trials in psychedelics happening today, both for basic effects and therapeutic purposes, than at any time in history. In the United States (US) specifically, the past two years have brought about swift and directed progress in the development and advancement of clinical
psychedelic research. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated both MDMA-assisted
psychotherapy for PTSD and psilocybin for treatmentresistant depression as Breakthrough Therapies, meaning that these are some of the most promising drugs currently in development. As recently as March 2019, the FDA approved esketamine, a dissociative anesthetic which is psychedelic in lower doses, as a treatment for depression.
The worldwide explosion of psychedelic studies is comprehensive, promising, and multidisciplinary. Findings from these studies may, in turn, lead to a world in which therapeutic use of psychedelics is accepted and supported. The findings may also open the door to a world of previously under-explored uses. As stated by Dr. Stanislav Grof, pioneer of transpersonal psychology and psychedelic research, “the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology [is] comparable to the value the microscope has for biology or the telescope has for astronomy” (Stolaroff 2004). Modern neuroimaging studies of the effects of psychedelic compounds can potentially enable us to better understand brain function. The discovery of LSD contributed to the discovery of serotonin. There is much to be understood about the mind and body that psychedelic research has the direct capacity to inform and affect (Nichols 2016). The potential is great, and the work that is being done today is just the tip of the iceberg.
How did we get here?
Albert Hofmann’s legendary bicycle ride catalyzed the “second wave” of psychedelics (Smith 2019). To catalog and record this wave, the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs – now called the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs – was founded in 1967 (Smith 2019).
[T]he Journal’s founding purpose was to act as a pioneering tool of information dissemination for
the psychedelic revolution, presenting never before published observations and studies on the whole
range of psychedelics, not just LSD, thus creating a viable platform from which these complex drugs could be comprehended.
The Journal acted as a reliable resource for key actors in psychedelic research to contribute and for enthusiasts to reference during the second wave. It also contributed to the legitimization of the role and potential of psychedelics in psychological and psychiatric research.
In response to the virtual elimination of psychedelic research and the stigma associated with psychedelics, the Journal changed its name to the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. In this 50th anniversary issue, JPD returns to its roots. This issue reflects the breadth of psychedelic research today, including assessments of group psychotherapy with psychedelics and the use of very small doses (microdoses) of psychedelics, examining the effects of drugs in specific populations, re-examining older compounds with newer tools, and accounts of individuals undergoing psychedelic psychotherapy.
There is more psychedelic research happening today, both for neuroscience and therapeutic purposes, than at any time in history. Major universities, research hospitals, and medical practices all over the world are participating in studies designed to learn more about the brain and how it works and assess the therapeutic safety and efficacy of psychedelics in a modern, clinical context. Preliminary Phase 2 research suggests that psychedelic- assisted psychotherapy produces lasting benefits, and can change facets of personality in the domain of openness.
Authors in this special issue found that “MDMA-assisted therapy may be an effective catalyst in autistic
adults for intra and interpersonal change” (Danforth 2019), and that the “respectful and controlled use of hallucinogenic/psychedelic drugs taken in communitarian settings can be incorporated into modern society with potential benefits for public health” (Ona et al. 2019).
Also included in this issue are the findings from a study into the effects of the psychedelic amphetamine MDA. This study highlights the value of applying modern research techniques to revisit older psychedelic compounds that have been neglected from clinical trials thus far, in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of these substances (Baggott et al. 2019). The new crop of psychedelic research offers benefits outside of psychiatric research (Baggott et al. 2019)