Scientists around the globe are revisiting the healing properties of psychedelic drugs such as LSD (known on the street as acid), MDMA (ecstasy), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and DMT (or the Amazonian shamanic elixir, ayahuasca).
Scientists have been sheepish in researching these sorts of psychedelic drugs ever since Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary unintentionally minimized their medicinal value with 'far out' talk about using them as a gateway to spiritual enlightenment. But in the Nineties, John Halpern, associate director of substance abuse research at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, was compelled to learn more about hallucinogens after overhearing a psychiatrist tout the powers of LSD in treating addiction.
Recently, Halpern celebrated the FDA's approval of MDMA as a way to treat terminally ill cancer patients who are trying to come to terms with impending death. And he hopes LSD will soon be approved as a pain reliever for cluster headaches, which have the same pain level as passing a kidney stone or giving birth.
Halpern, who is currently testing the risks associated with the
use of peyote and MDMA, emphasizes that his first goal is to
evaluate the safety of psychedelics. He is also studying the use of
psilocybin to alleviate distress associated with terminal illness
and to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.
-- Marca Bradt
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Dr. John H. Hapern responds
Just a brief note about 'Psychedelic Medicine' in your March 3, 2005 issue. Marca Bradt wrote a lovely summary of John Horgan's article on hallucinogen research, however she misstated things, as well. She wrote, 'And he [me-Halpern] hopes LSD will soon be approved as a pain reliever for cluster headaches, which have the same pain level as passing a kidney stone or giving birth.'
I do not so hope (yet). I am preparing a case series for publication in the peer-reviewed literature on Cluster Headache sufferers finding relief with LSD or psilocybin. After publication, I hope to submit for approval a protocol to study whether or not these are effective treatments for this serious condition. That is quite different from the misstatement that I hope for approval of LSD as a medicine. We've got to do the research first, you know!
Second up: She writes, 'He is also studying the use of psilocybin to alleviate distress associated with terminal illness and to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.'
No, I sadly can't attempt to do every cool study in America involving these compounds. Dr. Charles Grob of Harbor-UCLA is studying the use of psilocybin to treat the anxiety of advanced-stage cancer patients. Dr. Francisco Moreno of Univeristy of Arizona is the principal investigator on the psilocybin/OCD project.
I hope this information is worthy of a clarification for your many wonderful readers.
Thanks for your interest in reporting on these important efforts!
John H. Halpern, M.D.
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