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Suspended for decades after controversial results, research on the hallucinogen psilocybin is showing early promise in a new series of small studies.

In research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), scientists highlighted the latest findings on the use of psilocybin, the synthetic version of the active compound in “magic mushrooms,” as a treatment for anxiety in terminal cancer patients, in smoking cessation and as a treatment for alcoholism.

Some of the studies are not complete and have not yet been reviewed by other experts, but they provide new information on psilocybin’s effects. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in over 100 species of mushrooms in the Psilocybe class, used for hundreds of years in shamanic ceremonies and other rituals in South America.

(MORE: ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Trigger Lasting Personality Change)

Research conducted during the 1950s and early ’60s into possible therapeutic…

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This article challenges the dominant view that LSD plays a significant causal role in the occurance of suicide, it attacks the media double-standard around LSD and suicide, and discusses the scientific evidence that the public has been misled on the issue.

The Media Double-Standard

During the 1960s and 1970’s the right-wing US government saw that LSD use was asosciated with increasingly radical left-wing political thought and activism: they were terrified and would stop at nothing to curb its usage so as to protect their interests and agendas.

A media shitstorm of epic proportions was was unleashed with a view to demonising the drug and its users. The media at the time used a few tenuous anecdotes of LSD related suicides, amidst a vast sea of LSD users to successfully embed the idea that the drug would cause instant insanity and presented a high risk of suicide into popular consciousness where it still persists to this day.

These anecdotes prove nothing: it is likely that (the very small number of) suicides that occured under the influence of LSD occured in individuals already at risk from suicide. There is no evidence idea that LSD is likely to cause a perfectly sane and functional individual to kill themselves.

As with many claims about the harms of psychedelic or recreational drugs, this issue shows clearly how double standards are at work. How many suicides occur whilst people are under the influence of alcohol? How many suicides are caused by prescribed psychiatric mediation? Why is it that if a single individual dies under the influence of LSD it makes it to national newpapers- yet all these other suicides are ignored?

Then there are all the suicides that have nothing to do with chemicals at all. How many people are driven to suicide by monotonous, stressful and/or futile jobs? By failed or failing marriages? By money worries, poverty and debt? In fact, there are so many risk factors asosciated with suicide which are either ignored by the media or treated in a very different way to the rare occasions of a suicide that is linked to LSD use.

Given LSD’s proven use as a psychotherepeutic agent it is a fair assumption that LSD ‘might’ have actually averted suicides in some cases. Of course, such an assertion could (by its very nature) not really be proven with ease, and certainly such cases would never make it to the mainstream media.

Let’s not forget, in the background of all of this, we have an obvious double-standard: a government who would ban a chemical under the premise that it is “protecting” people, whilst asking the same people to sign up to its army, to die killing others in the name of the economy.

Scientific Research

Where does objective the scientific research stand on this issue? According to Stafford & Golightly’s research:

“In 1960 Dr. Sidney Cohen undertook an extensive survey of psychedelic use to determine the nature of possible drawbacks. [His data] represented over 5,000 patients and 25,000 sessions covering a dosage range of from 25 mcg. to 1500 mcg.
[…] no serious physical complications were reported—even when the drugs were given to alcoholics with generally impaired health. There was also a surprisingly low incidence of major mental disturbances. Despite the profound psychic changes that occur while a subject is under the influence of LSD or mescaline, psychotic reactions lasting longer than 48 hours developed in fewer than 2/10ths of one per cent of the cases. The attempted suicide rate was just over 1/10th of one percent. Not one case of addiction was reported.”

This was research carried out on psychiatric patients, already at a higher risk of suicide than the general population.

“Among those who had simply volunteered for LSD or mescaline experiments, major or prolonged psychological complications almost never occurred. In this group, only one instance of a psychotic reaction lasting longer than two days was reported, and there were no suicides. Among the mentally ill given the drugs, however, prolonged psychotic states were induced in one out of every 550 patients. In this group, one in 830 attempted suicide, and one in 2500 carried the attempt through.”

We must keep in mind that the current overall US suicide rate is 11.8/100,000 (0.0018%), meaning there is no significant effect of LSD on suicide rates (the research above reports it was slightly over (0.0010%).

Clearly the risk of suicide has been greatly exagerated by the popular press. One of the most annoying things about this is that many LSD first-timers, whose main source of knowledge are the lies they have been spoon-fed by the mass-media, are primed into suicide-paranoia which detracts from their experience and significantly adds to the risks.

The therepeutic effect so LSD, which are established beyond reasonable doubt, are ignored by the press: would the newspapers run a story if an individual claimed that LSD had stopped them killing themselves? ‘LSD saves another life’ is not a headline I expect to see soon, but I am confident that LSD does more good than harm for the majority of individuals who use it. The fact is, we have no idea of knowing how many (if any) lives LSD has actually saved over the last 50 years.

Discussion

There is a more subtle thing going on here with the issue of suicide. Having worked in mental health, one of the first things one is taught is to let go of our moralistic judgements around suicide. When I hear of individuals who have killed themselves on LSD, I interpret that series of events very differently to a story of a man who killed themselves because of their marriage or debt: the suicide has a different meaning, arguably every suicide has a different meaning.

On LSD individuals have the capacity to transcend their bodies their bodies. I can understand why, in such moments, some users feel that they no longer need the body at all. Whether this is right or wrong, delusion or not, is not my place to say. What I will say is this: self-immolation and the conscious destruction of the body  has a well known historical pedigree in Buddhism and Hinduism: not just as a form of political protest (as we see in modern times), but as an expression of spiritual realisation and attainment. This is well-documented in the book ‘Burning for Buddha‘, for those short on time the wikipedia article on self-immolation may suffice.

Research demonstrates that one of LSD’s applications is in end-of-life care: it has been shown to help people to face their own death, to reduce the anxiety and fear surrounding death. Given this, it may help us understand why there might be a link between some individuals using LSD and then taking their own lives. LSD is known to reduce (or even remove) the fear of death, that might make suicide a more viable option to many. Further, individuals who (before LSD) wish to kill themselves, may use LSD as a way of achieving it in a peaceful manner.

Suicide is the third biggest killers of young men aged between 16-25, a clear indication of the spiritual bankrupcy of our age. LSD has the potential to re-awaken the forgotten aspects of our humanity and make life worth living for those who have forgotten the significance of their existence.

To summarise this article:

  • A double-standard exists in the media which high-lights LSD suicides whilst ignoring myriad other causes of suicide that our society embraces or ignores.
  • Scientific research provides no evidence that there is a significant link between LSD use and suicide.
  • If it is true, as research consistantly indicates, that LSD has psycho-therepeutic potential, then it is reasonable to assume that LSD may have prevented suicides in some users.
  • LSD may be a useful tool in addressing the high suicide-rates in our society.
  • The ability for LSD to alleviate death-anxiety means it may be a tool used by the suicidal, rather than a trigger of suicide.
  • We must avoid simple moralistic judgements about suicide, since history demonstrates that suicide is, in some cases, asosciated with genuine spiritual expression and attainment.

Post-Script Side Note

In many ways, the right to take one’s own life is fundamentally an issue of cognitive liberty. Afterall, what more basic expression of choice is there: than tha ability to chose to live or die?

In 1961, the British Government chose to recognise this freedom by deriminalising that act. Given that suicide is the most extreme form of self-harm/high-risk behaviour, surely it is logically inconsistant to prohibit the use of drugs on the basis that they are a risk to people’s health?

Did we hear that correctly? Richard Dawkins is curious about the LSD experience!?

Just think for one moment how this could change things… The King of Atheism being given a ticket to see The Absolute…

Dear psychedelic users of the world, your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Following our previous article: ‘Drug Harm Charts & Psychedelics‘ – we present new research demonstrating the claim that psychedelics are much safer than other recreational drugs and that their ‘Class-A’ classification is therefore indefensible.

The original research paper can be found here: ‘Quantifying the RR of harm to self and others from substance misuse: results from a survey of clinical experts across Scotland’

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Abstract

Objective To produce an expert consensus hierarchy of harm to self and others from legal and illegal substance use.

Design Structured questionnaire with nine scored categories of harm for 19 different commonly used substances.

Setting/participants 292 clinical experts from across Scotland.

Results There was no stepped categorical distinction in harm between the different legal and illegal substances. Heroin was viewed as the most harmful, and cannabis the least harmful of the substances studied. Alcohol was ranked as the fourth most harmful substance, with alcohol, nicotine and volatile solvents being viewed as more harmful than some class A drugs.

Conclusions

The harm rankings of 19 commonly used substances did not match the A, B, C classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The legality of a substance of misuse is not correlated with its perceived harm. These results could inform any legal review of drug misuse and help shape public health policy and practice.

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The main outcome of this study is a ranking by Scottish addiction experts of 19 recreational drugs according to their mean harm score. Two hundred and ninety-two addiction multidisciplinary experts across Scotland were involved making it the largest national panel to be involved in this type of study.

What you read here, and in the full research article if you chose to read it, is the view of trained professionals and experts – it is not conjecture, it is not biased, it is not based on political standpoint.

Quantifying the RR of harm to self and others from substance misuse: results from a survey of clinical experts across Scotland

What this suggests about Psychedelic Drugs:

  • Magic mushrooms are amongst the safest of all recreational drugs: their class-A rating is therefore a mistake.
  • Magic mushrooms are safer than all other drugs (except for cannabis): psilocybin mushrooms (a form of psychedelic drug) are significantly safer than tobacco or alcohol.
  • Magic mushrooms are safer than a medication currently prescribed to children on the NHS and by health-services around the world: Ritalin.
  • LSD is safer than tobacco or alcohol. Of 19 drugs it was the 4th least dangerous to the individual users themselves.
  • LSD and Magic Mushrooms (the only psychedelics in this study) are both class-A drugs, despite the ranking  in this study, and in other studies.

Discussion

If we take the examples of Cannabis (1.7 harm score) & Alcohol (2.6 harm score): do these average ratings of experts’ opinions of harm make any sense?

The estimated number of death from alcohol each year is between 30-40,000 , whilst there are no recorded deaths that result directly from cannabis. Surely alcohol’s harm rating ought to be many times greater than that of cannabis?

Further, whilst this study aims and (to some extent) succeeds in reflecting the relative harms of each drug: we must remember that many of the 19 drugs mentioned also have social and medical benefits that need to be factored in to policy making decisions.

We at Cognitive Liberty UK argue that this research is a part of a growing body of evidence which suggest that LSD& Magic Mushrooms, due to their comparatively low risks/dangers, and their proven efficacy as treatments for use in clinical psychology, should be downgraded from Class-A drugs. At the very least psychedelics should be downgraded to Class-C drugs, as an initial step towards re-integrating them into society.

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