Psychedelics and the War on Drugs

LFT“Eighteen veterans commit suicide every day,” Rene Campos, MOAA Deputy Director of Government Relations said while testifying at the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health in 2011.

Quite the bombshell.

“That is one every 80 minutes,” she went on. “Twenty percent of all suicides in the U.S. are former service members.”

Yes, it’s tragic. But it’s not incurable.

What if I told you that an effective treatment exists? In fact, it has shown an 83 percent success rate against PTSD.

But there’s a problem…

Big Pharma can’t make money from it.

And though having been deemed safer than riding horseback or drinking, it’s classified by Big Gov. as one of the most dangerous drugs on the planet.

Scientists are forbidden from studying it. And physicians can’t even imagine recommending it to patients.

And in the end, veterans suffering from PTSD are left to suffer.

LFTWhat you’re about to discover, dear LFT reader, is what one prominent English professor, David Nutt, has called “the worst censorship of science ever.”

And it’s another vast casualty of the insane drug war.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts, though… and show you some pretty controversial drugs…

First, we’re going to conduct a little thought experiment.

You’re going to step into the shoes of three people. Note how you feel at the end of each scenario.

LFTSCENARIO ONE:Let’s imagine for a moment that you have just served your country in war. You did what you were told. And you fought hard. Too hard.

The war changed you. Though you’re only 27, you feel older than your aging father. Not wiser, just harder. More made of stone.

Now let’s imagine you’re home. Safe. Away from the war. At least your body is.

Your mind, though, is still in the trenches. PTSD has you. You can’t sleep. Each and every night you doze off, your mind replays the war and you wake up in terror and cold sweats…

And sometimes these visions happen when you’re awake too.

Adrenaline takes over your body when a door slams too loud… you have flashbacks when you hear the blades of choppers. You are constantly on edge, and at any moment, feel as if you might fly off.

And then you hear about the harmless drug that, when coupled with psychotherapy, has, according to the Journal of Psychopharmacology, shown an 83 percent success rate in helping soldiers like you overcome PTSD.

And not just mask the symptoms like an antidepressant. Soldiers are being cured.

Eighty-three percent. That’s astonishing. Unheard of. Unprecedented.

Psychotherapy, in contrast, has been shown only to help less than 25% of PTSD sufferers. And that’s far better than going to the doctor.

Your doctor — who is by no means a mental health professional — will only prescribe you something like Cymbalta, a leading antidepressant. You’ll find it odd that, upon reading the label, you notice that one of the side effects is suicide.

(Uhh… ?)

But what about the drug that has actually shown an 83% effectiveness in treating PTSD? The one that, in 2009, a respected psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist published data showing that it is less harmful than drinking or riding a horse?

That one? It’s illegal.

Your government has told you, a veteran who served his country “fighting for freedom”, no. This drug is Schedule I. You’re forbidden treatment that has been shown to work. Simply because the State says so.

You can only read about experiences of the lucky few who found legitimate studies and were helped by this drug:

“”PTSD was like a file folder,” one soldier who took part in a rare study said, “sitting on a desk not knowing where to be stored, therefore piling up other file folders behind it, creating stress. The [drug]-assisted psychotherapy helped my mind properly file it away, allowing for peace of mind.

“I experienced some pretty horrific things in war, and those images can never be erased. Although they’re still in my mind, I’m no longer haunted nor debilitated by those traumas. The therapy has allowed my mind to process trauma as information to learn from.”

Your reaction?

OK. Wipe that away.

LFTSCENARIO TWO:Imagine you’re a raging alcoholic.

You want to quit. But you’ve tried everything.

Nothing has worked in the long-term. You always end up falling off the wagon. You are one of those unfortunate few who is extremely resistant to traditional treatment.

But then you hear about a drug that has been shown to be highly effective in sobering up severe alcoholics.

You learn that it was first given to habitually heavy drinkers as part of a controlled study in the 1950s in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

The researchers of this study, author Tom Schroder writes in his book Acid Test, “were astounded when, in their first minitrial, one of two hard-core recidivist alcoholics quit drinking on the spot after a single therapy session with [the drug] and remained sober throughout the six-month follow-up. Over numerous trials that followed, Osmond reported that the success rate stayed remarkably stable at nearly 50 percent, about twice that of traditional alcoholism treatments.”

Moreover, Schroder says, “Similar results came in scores of trials treating hundreds of subjects over the next fifteen years.”

Even better, you discover, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, once a severe alcoholic himself, got sober with the help of this drug. He took part in some of the original studies and it changed his life. In fact, it inspired him to create Alcoholics Anonymous. He was so impressed with this drug, he wanted to include it as the First Step.

But the government, years later, said no. Despite it being, according to the hundreds of researchers who studied it, one of the safest drugs on Earth, the government classified it as the most dangerous: Schedule I.

They stopped all research on it. And clamped down on it with the Jaws of Life.

No way a mental health practitioner would ever recommend it to you.

LFTSCENARIO THREE:Imagine you suffer from a terminal illness.

You’ve been given less than one year to live.

If life were like the Hollywood films, you’d go out and tick off your bucket list and have amazing adventures and rediscover life. And miraculously, somehow, you’d find out you had been cured.

But this isn’t Hollywood.

The vast majority of people with terminal illnesses become severely depressed and anxious when confronted with the fact that they are going to die soon. Most spend the rest of their days suffering in physical pain and existential terror.

You can already feel the walls closing in.

But let’s imagine you are told about a drug that helps you deal with the fear. It has worked miracles with many patients who have tried it. Studies have shown, over and over, it has helped them face the reality of death. And helped them live the rest of their days in peace.

And, oh yeah, it’s been shown to be less toxic than caffeine.

Really… what have you to lose?

Problem: the government, again, tells you that you’re not allowed. It’s classified by the UN as a Schedule I drug.

Meaning, very few researchers or physicians in the world are allowed to touch the stuff. And researchers, save for a tiny few, are unable to study it. Only in very controlled, very limited experiments are patients allowed to try the drug. And those happen only once in a blue moon.

Feeling free yet?

LFTThese three people exist in astonishing numbers in America. And have few options for treatment.

Most of them have no idea that drugs exist that have been shown to help. Instead, these people are given inferior methods that, at their best don’t work… and at their worst, only exacerbate the problem.

Meanwhile, the drugs that could help them have been shelved by the government.

This subject is on my mind today for a reason…

Yesterday, I attended a talk conducted by a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. He spoke in length about his current research.

What he had to say was infuriating… incredible… and infuriating because it’s so incredible.

His name is Albert Garcia-Romeu. And he studies psychedelics.

An advocate of softening the psychedelic drug laws, Romeu is one of the very few researchers in the world allowed to legally touch the stuff. Let alone give it to patients.

Yes… today, we’re going to talk about psychedelics. And before you allow your mind to fill with haunting images of hippies and burnt-out anarchy, hear me out.

What Romeu had to say was pretty eye-opening.

During his talk, he spoke about ecstasy… and the major successes we’ve seen using it as a treatment against PTSD.

Then he spoke of psilocybin (or magic mushrooms)… and how much peace it has given patients of terminal illnesses in their final days. And how much success it’s had in treating manic depressives. And depression in general… when very little else has worked.

Finally, he spoke about LSD. And how, in study after study, it has been shown to successfully treat alcoholics and other addictions more effectively than any other treatment known to man.

And yeah… he brought up the fact that the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, kicked the bottle with the help of medically-supervised LSD. Wilson even cited it as his inspiration to creating AA.

LSD, as mentioned, was supposed to be the first step!

LFTAnd then, upon doing a bit of research, I learned some other, very interesting facts about LSD, coupled with a few I already knew:

Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis claimed that using LSD was “more important than any courses I ever took,” stating that none of his ground-breaking studies may’ve come about had he not discovered LSD first.

Steve Jobs once said that “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.” Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later admitted he was on LSD.

The father of LSD, Albert Hoffman, (who accidentally created the compound while trying to make a better aspirin) lived a long, healthy and lucid life all the way to 102. And he experimented heavier than anyone.

Now, this doesn’t mean everyone should go out and drop acid. Not by a long shot. But the dangers of doing so, we suspect, are overblown.

So… we wondered… why is it illegal?

LFTFueled by unsubstantiated and overblown fears of the drug, and, of course, its overwhelming popularity in counterculture, Nixon deemed not just LSD, but all psychedelics, a federal offense.

And, in the process, he cut the entire scientific community off from studying them.

All with one incredibly draconian stroke of the pen.

Criminalizing psychedelics from public consumption because you’re afraid of them is one thing. But blocking the scientific community from studying them… that’s absurd beyond words.

So drastic were the measures that former attorney general and first-term senator from New York Robert Kennedy stood up in defense of LSD: “I think we have given too much emphasis and so much attention to the fact that it can be dangerous and that it can hurt an individual who uses it… that perhaps to some extent we have lost sight of the fact that it can be very, very helpful in our society if used properly.”

Kennedy was referring to the mountains evidence that had already been built showing LSD’s potential usefulness in psychotherapy: “Created in 1938,” Russ Kick writes in his book 100 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know (a book I picked up at random yesterday, coincidentally, in the same bookstore as the talk), “LSD was first suggested as a tool in psychotherapy in 1949.

“The following year saw the first studies in medical/psychiatric journals. By 1970, hundreds of articles on the uses of LSD in therapy had appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of Psychology, the Archives of General Psychiatry, the Quarterly Journal of Studies of Alcoholism, many non-English language journals, and elsewhere.”

Before the ‘60s took it over en masse, LSD was gaining credibility as a powerful psychotherapeutic tool in the scientific community. So much so, Kirk writes, that “Psychiatric and psychotherapeutic conferences had segments devoted to LSD, and two professional organizations were formed for this specialty, one in Europe and the other in North America. International symposia were held in Princeton, London, Amsterdam, and other locations. From 1950 to 1965, LSD was given in conjunction with therapy to an estimated 40,000 people worldwide.”

And mushrooms? Solid evidence exists of its powers for therapy too: “Through the use of brain imaging techniques,” the Prohibition Post blog reports, “evidence has been found to suggest that psilocybin can be effective in “switching off certain regions of the brain” that are particularly active for individuals suffering from depression. There is a huge potential for psilocybin to be used in life-changing psychiatric therapy, yet scientific research and developments are being blocked by government legislation.”

“No one has died from psilocybin,” said professor David Nutt, “there are few side effects, yet it’s treated as a drug more dangerous than heroin, it’s ridiculous!” Prohibition of psychedelic drugs is, Nutt claims, “the worst censorship of science ever.”

Worse, due to the social stigma caused by the bans, even stating the intent of studying psychedelics in most circles is considered professional suicide.

“As a journalist who has covered this area for decades,” Maia Szalavitz, a contributor to Time writes, “I’ve seen this problem occur repeatedly.

“Over the years, many researchers, who refused to be quoted publicly, have privately expressed to me their frustration with the barriers on research and one told me explicitly that he dropped a promising line of work on a major disease because of them.”

LFTThe potential medicinal benefits of LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin, and marijuana have been stripped from suffering and consenting adults…

But, Scientific American points out, all of these drugs “had their origins in the medical pharmacopeia.”

Unfortunately, national propaganda programs like Reefer Madness and false stories about teenagers pulling out their eyeballs while on acid were successful in generating enough support to ban these substances completely.

Scientific American goes on:

“The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 declared that these drugs have ‘no currently accepted medical use’ and classified them in the most stringently regulated category of controlled substances: Schedule I.

“The resulting restrictions create a de facto ban on their use in both laboratories and clinical trials, setting up a catch-22: these drugs are banned because they have no accepted medical use, but researchers cannot explore their therapeutic potential because they are banned. Three United Nations treaties extend similar restrictions to much of the rest of the world.”

“By contrast,” Popular Science chimes in, “cocaine, opium and morphine are Schedule II substances, meaning they can be prescribed by a doctor.”

Consider that. Now check out this chart of the most dangerous drugs…

Harm caused by drugs

LFTNow, having seen that, let’s move the lens to our favorite Big Brother in the bunch: Big Pharma…

70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. And at least one-fifth of us take five or more pills a day.

As a result, lots of people die. And very few people — if any — are actually cured. According to the book Our Daily Meds, nearly 100,000 Americans are killed each year from taking pharmaceutical drugs.

That’s more than 270 people each day.

And consider…

Of the 80,000 deaths from illegal drugs and alcohol each year, psychedelics are a tiny blip on the radar.

Drug overdoses in the U.S.

Scientific American goes on:

“Discovery of new psychiatric medication, whether for the treatment of depression, autism or schizophrenia, is at a virtual standstill. As just one example, the antidepressants on the market today are no more effective at reversing the mood disorder than those that first became available in the 1950s.

“New thinking is desperately needed to aid the estimated 14 million American adults who suffer from severe mental illness. Innovation would likely accelerate if pharmacologists did not have to confront an antiquated legal framework that, in effect, declares off-limits a set of familiar compounds that could potentially serve as the chemical basis for entire new classes of drugs.”

LFTAnd why shouldn’t professionals be allowed to study these drugs?

Why should physicians, upon weighing the evidence, not be able to make an informed decision about whether or not it’s safe and effective?

And why should a soldier be denied a drug safer than an antidepressant? Why should a dying woman be denied a drug that could help bring her peace?

Why should an alcoholic be forced to work with inferior methods of quitting when the desire to quit arises?

Because people are afraid of these drugs? To those people, I say…

Grow up.

As long as these drugs are ingested by consenting adults, what concern is it of anyone? Alas, it’s just another absurdity of the drug war and the government’s endless fetish with turning its citizens into infants.

But on a positive note, Rumeu does have good news:

“Psychedelics have recently reemerged in mainstream culture, with novel scientific research and major media outlets making a strong case for changes in the prohibitive policies currently impeding further progress in the field of psychedelic research.

“Researchers at institutions worldwide (e.g., Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, UCLA, NYU, Stanford, University of New Mexico, University of Zurich, Imperial College London, Hannover Medical School, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and others) have gone against the grain of current cultural conventions to investigate drugs that have long been taboo in the academic establishment, like psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, Salvia divinorum, and MDMA.”

And the world will be better for it. Or at least, a little freer.

[What do you think? Should adults be allowed to consume psychedelics? Email it: Chris@lfb.org.]

Until tomorrow,

Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell

Written By Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is the Managing editor of Laissez Faire Today. Before joining Agora Financial, he was a researcher and contributor to SilverDoctors.com.