The Birth of a New Science of Healing
Historical Context - The Emerging Science of Psychedelic Therapy
On 5 May 1953, Aldous Huxley (the famous author of works such as Brave New World) ingested 4/10ths of a gram of mescaline under the supervision of psychiatrist, Dr. Humphrey Osmond. The resulting experiences were so profound that Huxley not only catalogued it in his book, "Doors of Perception" but also requested a dose of mescaline in his final moments while dying of cancer to ensure that he could return to bliss.
For Huxley, this molecule “loosens the valve” of perception to help you see that which is “realer than real.” Indeed, modern scientific investigation has confirmed this action. It would appear that Dr. Osmond’s labeling of such molecules as psychedelic, which means ‘mind manifesting’ (making the otherwise unconscious contents and processes of the mind clear and intelligible to the self), was an apt description after all.
Research on LSD and Alcoholism
Dr. Humphrey Osmond was one of a small group of psychiatrists who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and various mental disorders in the early 1950s. This group formed on the back of Dr. Albert Hofmann’s discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in Switzerland in 1943.
In 1953, Dr. Osmond and Abram Hoffer introduced LSD to their patients, including two who struggled with alcoholism; each of the two received a 200-microgram dose, leading to notable changes - one quit drinking immediately, while the other was sober after six months. Later, Colin Smith treated another 24 patients with LSD, with 12 showing significant improvement due to LSD therapy.
“The impression was gained that the drugs are a useful adjunct to psychotherapy,” Smith wrote in a 1958 paper describing the study.
“The results appear sufficiently encouraging to merit more extensive, and preferably controlled, trials.”
Osmond and Hoffer continued to administer LSD to alcoholic patients, treating about 2000 people by the late 1960s. Their studies consistently revealed a remarkable outcome – a single, large LSD dose was proving effective in treating alcoholism, with 40-45% of patients experiencing no relapse after a year.
Legal and Regulatory Challenges
However, in 1962 the U.S. Congress passed new drug safety regulations, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated LSD as an experimental drug and began to clamp down on research into its effects. This soon extended to the full class of psychedelics, and so research on their therapeutic benefits was halted. The following year, LSD hit the streets in the form of liquid soaked onto sugar cubes; its popularity grew quickly, and the Hippy counterculture was in full swing by the summer of 1967. The reputation of psychedelics quickly shifted from therapeutic and transformative aids of healing to drugs of abuse and mind-altering recreational substances provoking the decay of civilization.
The Psychedelic Renaissance - Hopeful New Research
After a 25-year hiatus from research, psychedelics have re-emerged in the scientific realm thanks to the diligent work of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists who have remained aware of their therapeutic potential. Dr. Roland Griffiths (a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University specializing in the treatment of addiction to drugs of abuse) is widely credited with reviving research into the therapeutic use of psychedelics. He was reportedly inspired by profound healing and mystical experiences from meditation and became curious about how inducing mystical experiences using psychedelics (in this case psilocybin or ‘magic mushrooms’) could help people with a range of life struggles.
Dr. Griffiths recruited 36 people (average age of 46 years) who had not used psychedelics before to explore its potential effects. His study was the gold standard model called a double-blind randomized control trial (DBRCT), which means that it compared psychedelic compounds (psilocybin / "Magic Mushrooms") to a non-psychedelic compound (Methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin), while neither the researchers nor the participants knew which one the participant received so that any subjective expectation of effects could be eliminated.
The results of the study are revealed in the graph below, with 80% of the participants stating that the psychedelic experience fell within the Top 5 most profound experiences of their lives.
This resulted in:
relief from anxiety
enhanced empathy, and
which was sustained for up to six months, from a single dose.
These results, as well as the results of a later study which showed that people dying from cancer showed significant relief from depression and death anxiety after a single dose of psilocybin, have paved the way for psychedelic (large dose occasionally administration) and psycholytic therapies (small or micro-doses administered daily) to become commonplace in the modern era.
MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD
Building on the success of earlier research, Dr. Jennifer Mitchell and her colleagues completed a large-scale study to investigate the effectiveness of a compound called methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in the treatment of severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across populations.
The study was a multi-site DB-RCT examination of 90 participants who were randomized 1:1 to receive manualized therapy with MDMA or with placebo (a chemical that has no real effect, although the participant was told that it will have the same effect as MDMA in this case), combined with three preparatory and nine integrative therapy sessions.
Dr. Mitchell concluded that “these data indicate that, compared with manualized therapy with an inactive placebo, MDMA-assisted therapy is highly efficacious in individuals with severe PTSD, and treatment is safe and well-tolerated, even in those with comorbidities."
"We conclude that MDMA-assisted therapy represents a potential breakthrough treatment that merits expedited clinical evaluation.”
The graphs above indicate an effect size of .91, which means that about 91% of participants who received MDMA-assisted therapies showed significant and even complete remission of PTSD symptoms after only 3 sessions. This is vastly superior to traditional medications and therapies, which typically show effect sizes of .36 and .46.
The publication of such findings has promoted a resurgence of interest in psychedelics, which have now been widely and comprehensively studied for effectiveness, safety, and tolerability.
Below is a summary of a series of studies conducted with various psychedelic compounds for different emotional concerns:
The results of ongoing research have been compelling enough that some psychedelics have been legalized in many countries around the world.
As of January 1st, 2023, Oregon achieved the distinction of becoming the first U.S. state to legalize the adult use of psilocybin, "Unlike cannabis, which can be sold at dispensaries, Oregon will not allow the retail sale of psilocybin; consumption must take place at a licensed service center." (New York Times).
“Psychedelic medicine is starting to transcend partisan politics in a way that few issues have. It’s our responsibility to create a golden standard that’s worthy of wider implementation.” Sam Chapman
On February 3rd, 2023, Australia announced that MDMA and psilocybin will be used, legally, by qualified psychiatrists in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and treatment-resistant depression, respectively.
While many regions around the world are starting to recognize their therapeutic value, it remains important to review the legal status of psychedelic compounds in a given geography before starting psychedelic-assisted therapy, as illegal use could result in serious legal consequences.
We remain hopeful about the future trajectory of continued research and interest, and committed to being at the forefront of providing compassionate, evidence-based psychedelic-assisted therapy programs.
DISCLAIMER: This article was written for educational purposes only, and is not intended as advice. Psychedelic-assisted therapy is not helpful or indicated for everyone, and professional, trusted advice from a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought before entering into any new form of treatment. Similarly, we advocate for the safe, legal use of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting, guided and administered by qualified professionals.
Contact us to find out whether psychedelic-assisted therapy is the right option for you.
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