The 21st Century Psychedelic Renaissance
In December 2000, Dr Rick Strassman of the University of New Mexico published DMT: The Spirit Molecule after conducting a five year government funded study examining the toxicity of the psychedelic DMT. The book, however, was not a summary of his dosage and response studies. Instead Dr. Strassman focused on the experiences of the study participants which included near death, mystical experiences, religious experiences, and interactions with non-human “presences”. Many of his study participants described these as among the most profound of their lives.
Prior to Dr. Strassman’s landmark work, psychedelics had been stigmatized by the government and society after being banned in the 1960s and classified as Schedule One drugs – without any accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. In the time between the ban and the government providing funding on toxicology, psychedelics would become underground recreational drugs. Colloquially, the 1970s and 80s are referred to as the “dark ages” of psychedelic research, even though pockets of research briefly emerged.
Following Dr. Strassman’s work, a double blind study on the effects of psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) on patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was published by the University of Arizona. Another, from John Hopkins University, showed that psilocybin reduced depression and anxiety for patients diagnosed with life threatening cancer. These studies, though the sample sizes were small, sparked further interest as patients not only reported a decrease in symptoms, but, like Dr. Strassman’s study, felt the mystical experience was personally transformative. Disciplines other than psychiatry, like anthropology, psychology, and religious studies began taking notice, as did other credible institutions like Harvard, Imperial College in London, Yale, Cambridge, UCLA, Oxford and many others.
Today, psychedelic research covers an entire suite of substances like MDMA, mescaline, LSD, and ketamine treating a variety of disorders from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to addiction recovery to cluster headaches. Oregon approved the use of psilocybin assisted therapies and many state legislatures have heard policy reform proposals related to clinical psychedelic treatments. Training programs like the California Institute of Integral Studies guide future practitioners in the safe, ethical, and efficacious use of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting. National organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies work with federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration to further research with the ultimate goal of legalizing psychedelic assisted therapies.
Despite stigma attached to psychedelics in the midst of the 1960s counterculture movement, research into the substances has taken on a new life in the 21st Century. Reputable institutions partner with stated and federal governments to advance the study of a host of psychedelics to treat a variety of issues. The explosion of research and collaboration, as well as the social engagement with psychedelics has ushered in the psychedelic renaissance.