As regular readers of my column are aware, I strongly support scientific research into the medical benefits of cannabis and psychedelic drugs. I think that these studies will create a wealth of new medical treatments, and I recently wrote an article about all of the nonmedical scientific research that I would like to see done with psychedelics in the future. (www.acceler8or.com/2011/07/transcending-the-medical-frontiers-exploring-the-future-of-psychedelic-drug-research/)
My training in psychobiology, and my years of working in neuroscience labs, have given me great respect for scientific research. I believe that the systematic scientific study of unexplained phenomena is the most effective way to explore and discover the nature of the universe.
However, if I hadn’t personally (and illegally) experimented with psychedelic drugs when I was younger, I would be far much less informed and aware than I am today about their effects and benefits.
Thanks to extraordinary experimental chemists, like PIHKAL author Alexander Shulgin and Purdue pharmacologist David E. Nichols, hundreds of new analogs of psilocybin, DMT, LSD, THC, and MDMA have been developed, with a whole range of fascinating effects that deserve further study. Many of these novel drugs are readily available over the Internet from chemical supply houses, legally sold as research materials and, of course, not for human consumption.
Although most of these drugs have hardly been studied at all, many of them are closely related to chemical compounds known to be fairly safe. However, no one really knows what dangers, health risks, or benefits they may carry.
The new designer psychedelics have names like “4-Acetoxy-DMT,” “4-HO-MET,” “2C-I,” and “TMA-2.” Alexander Shulgin’s books PIHKAL and TIHKAL are treasure-filled encyclopedias of reports on hundreds of these compounds--largely derived from two primary classes of chemicals called “tryptamines” and “phenethylamines.”
Shulgin’s books also include the chemical instructions for how to synthesize them. On websites like Erowid and Bluelight, a sophisticated community of users of these substances--self-described as “psychonauts”--discuss their reactions, experiments, mistakes, dosages, and success stories in great detail online.
A recent article on WebMD (“New Black Market Designer Drugs: Why Now?”) warned against the potential health dangers of these new designer psychedelics, as well as their potential political threat to FDA-approved, medical psychedelic drug research.
Prominent psychedelic drug researchers quoted in the article agreed that the wide use of these novelly-crafted molecules could damage the warming political climate towards the medical use of psychedelics.
After 18 years of a worldwide ban on clinical psychedelic drug research, there is now a scientific renaissance occurring--with LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin studies--and some people are concerned that this rise in nonclinical, unauthorized psychedelic experimentation could shift the political climate away from approving the studies and reinforcing the ban.
The author of the WebMD article, Daniel J. DeNoon, stated, “Society's reaction to rampant illicit use of psychedelic drugs derailed research from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s. It remains to be seen whether the current surge in illicit designer drugs once again creates a backlash that makes legitimate research impossible.” [Actually, human psychedelic research began again in 1990, with Rick Strassman’s DMT study at the University of New Mexico.]
While I certainly won’t downplay the potential dangers of taking an unstudied drug, or in any way condone any illegal activity--and I understand very well that clinical psychedelic research was banned for many years as a political backlash against their use by the counterculture--I couldn’t disagree with DeNoon more.
I believe that psychedelic drugs are catalyzing the evolution of consciousness on this planet in a profound, dramatic, necessary, and extremely positive way. It’s simply a force of nature that governments are powerless to stop, and I wouldn’t rely on FDA-approved, academic scientists to lead the way.
I think that psychedelic drugs and plants are our best hope for raising ecological awareness, for dissolving the cultural boundaries that separate us, for enhancing our creative potential, and spiritually realigning our largely parasitic species with the rest of the biosphere, before its too late.
I think that the brave individuals who have courageously experimented with these novel psychedelic drugs should be considered heroic explorers, like Sir Francis Drake or Ferdinand Magellan, charting the unknown topography of these new states of consciousness, and helping us to establish a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the biosphere.
Arguably, most sports are more physically dangerous than psychedelic drugs, and there are more hospital visits every year from high school cheerleading injuries than from dangerous reactions to psychedelic drugs.
People seem to forget that all of the medical studies with psychedelics that are currently going on today largely resulted from reports that came from brave explorers who engaged in illegal, forbidden, and unauthorized forms of self-exploration with these remarkable substances.
I don’t think that there would even be any scientific studies going on today, had it not been for all the people who used it illegally, in nonclinical settings, and reported positive benefits that they thought could help others. How else would we even know that LSD can help with cluster headaches or MDMA with PTSD?
Also, it’s not unusual for some chemists to experiment on themselves, and there is a long historical tradition of chemists doing so. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, tried it on himself first.
All of the different phenethylamines and tryptamines that are discussed in Shulgin’s books were personally tested by himself and a small group of his friends first. The first psychedelic plants were likely discovered by accidental ingestion before we were even human, and this lead to deliberate ingestions long before any scientific studies.
Sure, doing unstudied psychedelic drugs--especially in the wrong dosages or in improper settings--can be risky and dangerous; no one will argue with that. But not doing psychedelic drugs can also be dangerous, as the ecological blindness, psychological imprints, and cultural conditioning that psychedelics tend to dissolve can cause us to feel, think, and act mechanically in unhealthy ways.
I think that people who haven’t had a psychedelic experience tend to be more vulnerable to rigid, dogmatic ways of thinking, and psychedelics, by their very nature, cause people to question cultural values. Governments and organized religious institutions are acutely aware of this and I think that’s primarily why they’re illegal.
The unhealthy psychological and cultural belief systems that we learn as children, without our consent, are contributing to the destruction of our global biosphere, which sustains us and all life on the planet. Psychedelics give us a valuable opportunity to temporarily transcend our selfish, individual viewpoints, see the bigger picture, and recognize our true interconnection with the web of life.
To learn more about psychedelic research chemicals see:
To find out what future research into psychedelic drugs may hold in store for us, see my recent article ‘Transcending the Medical Frontiers: Exploring the Future of Psychedelic Drug Research”:
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