Last month, a modified form of the illegal psychedelic drug MDMA, or “ecstasy” as it is commonly known, was shown to have effects that offer hope as a possible treatment for certain types of blood cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Back in 2006, researchers at the University of Birmingham discovered that MDMA can stop some types of cancer cells from growing, but that the dosages needed to have a therapeutic effect would be dangerously toxic for a human being.
However, when researchers at the University of Western Australia collaborated with the researchers in Birmingham, they found a way to increase the cancer-fighting effectiveness of the MDMA molecule a hundred times, producing new, more powerful versions of the drug that are far less toxic and far more potent.
This means that if a hundred grams of MDMA was needed to halt the cancer from growing in a patient, then these new, modified forms of MDMA could achieve the same results with just a single gram.
Leading researcher John Gordon, a professor of Cellular Immunology at the University of Birmingham, said that in some cases, this new modified form of MDMA can kill 100 percent of the cancer cells. The researchers are trying to tweak the modified molecules further, to make them even safer and more potent, before beginning animal studies and human trials.
While cancer treatments from this research may still be years away, this exciting new study adds increasing height to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that psychedelic drugs can have valuable medical use—and that they should not be categorized as Schedule 1 substances, which makes them difficult to research, because of strict government regulations.
More and more, it seems that many of the drugs that the U.S. government has fervently banned—and harshly criminalized the use of—are being discovered to have safe and valuable medical uses.
If one looks at the list of what are legally classified as “Schedule 1 drugs,” besides heroin, you’ll see some obscure, little-known opiates, and a few stimulants and depressants that you’ve probably never heard of—but the lion’s share of the psychoactive substances on this list are, by far, psychedelic drugs.
To be a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. means that government authorities have determined that the drug has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and is so potentially dangerous that it can never be safely administered, even under the best medical supervision.
This category of drugs —which carries the harshest legal penalties for manufacture, sale or possession—is also the category that all of the well-known psychedelic drugs fall into: cannabis, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA, etc.
Schedule 2 drugs, determined to have a high potential for abuse but which additionally offer some type of government-approved medical use—for instance, methamphetamine or cocaine—have legal penalties for manufacture, sale and possession that are significantly less severe. That's despite the fact that these substances are actually far more physically dangerous that cannabis or most psychedelic drugs.
Somehow, through some kind of truly astonishing administrative magic, alcohol and tobacco escape all drug regulation categorizations entirely—even though they seem to me like what is generally meant by the definition of a Schedule 1 drug. With some kind of bizarre, lingering Loony Tune status from the Old West, these powerful and addictive drugs are legally classified in their own category, along with “firearms and explosives.” Go figure.
Equally astonishing is the placement of psychedelic drugs in this category—which are scientifically known to have many valuable medical uses, can be safely administered and are not addictive. In fact, psychedelic drugs, such as ibogaine and LSD, are known to help people break addictive patterns with habit-forming drugs.
These and other psychedelic drugs have been found to not only be safe when administered properly, but they can be helpful in treating some common medical conditions that have puzzled physicians since they first began practicing medicine.
Obviously, the reasons lurking behind this strange and irrational scheduling are political, not scientific, and an exploration of the nefarious intentions that lie behind cannabis and psychedelic drug prohibition will have to be saved for a future column.
To learn more about about the modified MDMA/blood cancer study see: birmingham.ac.uk/research/our/news/items/cancer.aspx
To learn more about how you can help support medical psychedelic drug research see: maps.org