There’s an old saying in medicine, that all things are poison, the only difference between poison and medicine being the dose. Indeed this can be true when drugs are taken in the wrong amounts or in the wrong conditions. Even when used properly, all drugs carry risks of side effects. They may be habit forming, damage neurons or (semi)permanently alter neurotransmitter levels. They may weaken the body's natural defenses. Any chemical or substance has a level at which it becomes more harmful than helpful to the human body. Psychedelics can certainly be draining mentally and physically, and do cause long term changes in brain chemistry. But the operative question, as it should be with all medicine, is “is this substance doing enough good to offset the bad?” The body of evidence suggests that, yes, at medically-approved doses and with accompanying therapy, the use of most psychedelics has a very good safety and side-effect profile. In trials with substances from LSD to psilocybin containing “magic” mushrooms to MDMA, the reported negative effects, even in long-term followup studies, have been less severe than many prescription medications already in use.
Of the more than 40,000 people studied (with LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin) before the prohibition of most psychedelic research, and the several hundred who have taken part in very limited trials (mostly with MDMA) as restrictions have eased over the last few years, almost no one has reported serious long-term health consequences of the kinds reported to be brought on by heavy recreational use.
What has been observed are some surprisingly high rates of benefits for hard-to-treat conditions like alcoholism, PTSD, anxiety about terminal illnesses, and other conditions. Many trials of psychedelics have been conducted on “treatment-resistant” populations of patients, often those who have already tried several other treatments over months or years without resolving their issues. In one famous study, a group of smokers, who had been averaging a pack a day for over 30 year, and tried to quit and average of six times, 60% were smoke-free a year after the study, compared to just a 35% success rate for the next most successful medication. In study after study about overcoming addictions, breaking neurotic habits, or adjusting to large life changes like illness and death, psychedelic-assisted therapy has been slowly creating a very positive picture of the potential of these substances to address some of the most difficult to treat and least understood psychological and social conditions that plague the western world.
Our newest Naked Facts book - MDMA Psychedelic Therapy - details the history, controversies, and effects of this largely repressed and unknown therapy. Look for it coming in print and digital forms to Amazon next week!