The Promise Of Psilocybin

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 5 2015 @ 10:48am

Michael Pollan’s New Yorker piece on the medical benefits of psychedelics is well worth a read:

3567431472_f8414a7ea1_oAs I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”

Kleiman calls Pollan’s article “as good an introduction to the field as one could ask for”:

The central idea is that the mystiform experiences that psilocybin and other drugs can trigger under the right circumstances can be beneficial, not only in treating specific problems – end-of-life anxiety, for example, or nicotine dependence – but by enriching lives: making some people “better than well.” So far the studies are small, but the results are impressive.

It’s encouraging to see the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health taking a scientific attitude: cautious but interested. It’s discouraging, though – alas! – not at all surprising to see the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse responding to exciting research results by worrying about what might happen if someone tells the children.

The Dish has covered this subject extensively over the years. Update from a reader who contributed much of that coverage, especially on ibogaine:

The New Yorker‘s recent piece on psilocybin has been on my mind a lot lately.  I had a lot of reactions to the piece, but the most lasting feeling was a deep sadness.  I felt sad because I hoped this article would convince my 70-year-old parents to take psychedelics before they start seriously declining.  The author, unfortunately, bends over backwards to make readers frightened of psychedelics.

It depresses me to accept that the cutting edge of psychedelic research is generations away from acknowledging an obvious truth: that psychedelics are an incredible gift to humanity that could help billions of people deal with the overwhelming intensity of life.  We don’t need more expensive, intricate, double-blind experiments to know this. If we just approach what we already know without fear, then this is the only possible conclusion.

I have no doubt that psychedelics will one day be a completely normal part of a person’s life journey.  It is just a shame that billions of people will suffer before we get there: and the people who suffer will be our family, our friends, and ourselves.

PS  I am really going to miss you guys.

(Photo of Psilocybe Cubensis by Flickr user afgooey74)