‘The war on drugs’ has been active since the late 1960s when government’s started to realize the vast potential for abuse with the now illicit substances. This war has been unrelenting and has seen drugs ranging from cannabis to more pervasive opiate substances becoming criminalised and therefore removed from many circles of discussion that were once intrigued by the potential medical benefits of these substances. Of course, this conversation has begun to shift as the legalization of cannabis is becoming increasingly popular. This legalization has come at least in some part as a result of research demonstrating the potential medical benefits of the drug and will likely contribute to further research and debate in the future. While there is still significant debate about the appropriateness of legalising cannabis (for medical reasons or otherwise), the existing evidence suggests that there is certainly a cause for studying the substance, even if at the very least it is to disprove claims about its effectiveness for certain symptoms and maladies.

Continuing in this line of thinking, there have been some who have advocated for research into more psychedelic drugs such as LSD in order to fully ascertain what, if any, medical benefits exist for these substances. This curiosity which emerged in the 1950s has been endured by a relatively small group of activists who with extremely limited resources have demonstrated some interesting findings regarding how psychedelic drugs can affect our mind and bodies for the better.

Out of the handful of studies that have explored psychedelic drugs for medical purposes, there has been some evidence to suggest that the substances may assist with alcohol and drug rehabilitation. There has also been some evidence to suggest that it may be a useful component when included in the treatment of mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. Neuroscientists suggest that the reason that these benefits might be occurring is because substances such as LSD can increase connectivity within the brain, meaning that parts of the brain that are not usually in contact with one another come into contact. As well as this, neuroscientists believe that such substances cause an area of the brain involved in habitual thinking and obsessions to relax and suggest that this may be the reason why use of the drug has been shown to be associated with positive outcomes for mental health and addiction difficulties.

Nevertheless while this research exists, much of the evidence supporting the aforementioned claims is shaky at best. It is also in extremely short supply. Given that some promising research is now emerging for somewhat less controversial drugs, is it time to loosen the grip on some of the more controlled substances? Is it time to restart the conversation on how these substances might be employed positively to ease health problems? The reality is that these substances can be extremely detrimental to human health and so extreme care must be taken when considering how to implement a practical and safe exploration into their potentially positive qualities. From a scientific perspective it could be argued that these substances should be treated with as much respect and curiosity as any other compound or material that is not fully understood. Only time will tell if the wider medical field can shake its existing hesitations about psychedelic drugs and take this exploration seriously and until then psychedelic drugs will remain on the extreme outskirts of mental health discussion.

Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.

Is there a place for psychedelic drugs in modern medical research?

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