It's not a hippie fantasy; drugs like LSD could have real medical benefits
By Austin Lopez
June 7, 2010
Patients and potheads alike rejoiced a few weeks ago when the
District of Columbia Council voted to legalize medical marijuana use.
The unanimous decision adds D.C. to the 13 states that have already
circumvented national legislation in order to allow doctors to write
prescriptions for the infamous herb. (Maryland does not sanction
medical marijuana but allows drug defendants to cite medicinal need
as a potential mitigating factor.)
Although the issue of medical marijuana remains contentious, the
council's decision reflects the drug's growing acceptance in the eyes
of the voting population. Pot was once a symbol of teenage
delinquency and rebellion in the counterculture era; now, even
President Barack Obama can, without fear of a backlash, admit to
lighting up during his teenage years.
But if marijuana has begun to shake off its former demonization in
some states, many of its chemical counterparts haven't fared so well.
More than 40 years after becoming central to hippie culture,
hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms retain their
social stigma. However, if we can all forget the clichés about bad
trips and freakouts for a moment, we might see that these drugs
deserve another chance too. Indeed, they warrant a place in medical
To many readers, the notion of medical hallucinogens may seem to be a
perfect illustration of what anti-drug advocates have always warned
that medical marijuana will be used to legitimize the use of harder,
more dangerous drugs. And it is easy to assume that my sympathy for
hallucinogens may appear to be based on personal motives. As a
freshman at college, I probably fit the sort of demographic that
would be most likely to partake in these illicit substances.
But my reasons for championing hallucinogen cause are therapeutic,
not recreational. And I'm not alone. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins
University have been studying the effects of psilocybin, a
hallucinogenic chemical found in some mushrooms, since 2006. In these
studies, hallucinogens have shown real promise in helping cancer
patients cope with psychological distress regarding their illness.
Older studies have also shown LSD to be far more effective than
traditional methods in combating alcoholism. At the moment these
studies involve only a small group of people because of the taboo
associated with these drugs even in research settings. These
preliminary studies suggest that it's time to take another look at
the psychological effects of hallucinogens.
As long as the government continues to keep a watchful eye on the use
of hallucinogens in research, they very well may be able to find a
place in medical circles. To ignore the potential therapeutic
benefits of hallucinogens would also deny a possible treatment to
victims of debilitating psychological disorders. By holding onto the
decades-old generalizations and misrepresentations of these drugs, we
may be sacrificing the well-being of many people.
The medical use of hallucinogens should be no more controversial than
the medical use of marijuana. In fact, hallucinogens can be regulated
in a way that medical marijuana cannot. Though medical marijuana is
approved to treat chronic pain and is often prescribed for use at
home, there is no need for patients to take hallucinogens outside of
a clinical setting. In the Hopkins study, just one dose of psilocybin
had positive effects lasting up to 14 months for cancer patients. In
a clinical setting, hallucinogens are much less likely to fall into
the hands of dealers and recreational users.
Although it might be difficult to let go of the sensationalist view
of hallucinogens that we have inherited from the Johnson and Nixon
administrations, I think the public is finally ready to reevaluate
the benefits and dangers of these drugs. As long as the government
lifts the ban on hallucinogen research gradually and carefully, we
can avoid the mistakes of the past and take advantage of these drugs'
powerful psychological effects.
Austin Lopez, who was born and raised in Pasadena, is a freshman at
Princeton University. His e-mail is email@example.com.