Psychedelic Medicine

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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Psychedelic Medicine: Mind Bending, Health Giving

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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!

Yours sincerely,
John H. Halpern, M.D.

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