It’s about time. LSD is making a comeback. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, a research associate in the Centre for Neuropsychopharma-cology at Imperial College, is administering the psychedelic to test subjects, something that hasn’t been done for years or since the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971.
Trusting subjects took LSD and subjected themselves to an MRI chamber, of all things, risking a good dose of claustrophobia, as their brain waves we being monitored. He noticed explosions of color or blood flow in different parts of the brain but most of the activity seemed to focus around the hippo-campus, which involves, among other things, making memories and giving them context.
The potential scientific benefits of psychedelics, disregarding whatever cultural, social, artistic, spiritual or enjoyable benefits one might also argue they have, appear to be medicinally or therapeutically useful, and “they offer an unconventional view of the workings of the human mind, such that the age-old, so-called “hard problem of consciousness” might be made a little easier,” says Carhart-Harris. “The etymology of the word “psychedelic” is, after all, from the Greek for “mind-revealing”.
Since Albert Hofmann, a 37-year-old Swiss chemist in the laboratories of the pharmaceutical company Sandoz in Basel, accidentally ingested the chemical he had synthesized from the ergot fungus through his finger tips and became the first person to experience its remarkable mind-altering properties, millions of “hits” have been ingested by mind travelers, eager to experience something outside of the norm. Interviewed shortly before his 100th birthday, Hofmann called LSD “medicine for the soul”.
“Depression and addictions rest on reinforced patterns of brain activity, and a psychedelic will introduce a relative chaos. Patterns like these that have become reinforced, disintegrate under the drug which introduces a relative chaos.”I’ve used the metaphor of shaking a snow globe. And there’s some evidence that psychedelics induce plasticity, in terms of neural connections in the brain, such that there is a window of opportunity in which connections can either be broken or reinforced. New things can be learned at the same time that old things can be unlearned.. It induces a kind of suppleness of mind.”
I you want to sign up for an experiment, they recruit only people who have had previous experience with psychedelics or those who have already “tripped.” “If our main aim is to find out how the drugs work in the brain, we may as well play on the safe side and get volunteers who’ve previously tolerated them,” adds Carhart-Harris.
Unfortunately, LSD has been labeled a Schedule 1 drug by the Misuse of Drugs Act, which should be called the “Misuse of Labeling Act” because acid is considered worse than heroin, but it’s OK that opiates are the gravy train for the pharmaceutical industry.
Carhart-Harris seems to feel that LSD became illegal because of the Vietnam War. “Essentially, when its use spread to the general population in the mid 1960s, young Americans realized that they didn’t want to fight any more. That brought a huge tension into society. So they had to create reasons for banning the drug. Everyone knew the arguments were totally specious, but no one stood up. Psychedelics are scary because they reveal the mind, and people are scared of their own minds. They’re scared of the human condition, really.”
The unusual consciousness that psychedelics induce is characterized by a dissolution of the ego; a loss of the sense of self. “That is why they are so valuable as tools to understand the mind,” says Carhart-Harris, who found that the division between the ego-intact mode of consciousness and a mode which is more primitive breaks down, so the unconscious mind can be observed.
Psychedelics have historically benefited mankind when used as sacraments. They were once termed the “flesh of the gods” but now they’re considered the substance of the devil.
The UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances makes LSD illegal in its 183 signatory nations.