Psychedelics, that category of illegal drugs which includes LSD and magic mushrooms, have been illegal in the United States since the mid-60s, largely because of a conservative reaction to the lawlessness and free spirit of the 60s. Think of the so-called hippies who used these drugs recreationally. As the counterculture against the Vietnam War grew, and more and more people used these drugs, the powers at be felt threatened and decided to cut the party short. Of course, making the drugs illegal just added to their allure and helped create a whole cast of counterculture heroes, like Timothy Leary. But as a result of psychedelics being cast as an illegal schedule 1 drug (schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical use), research on psychedelics largely ended by the 70s.
But there was a time when psychedelics were legal and were considered very promising for a wide range of mental health issues. In the 50s and 60s, Stanislav Grof emerged as one of the leading researchers of LSD research for instance. Groh said in a recent NPR interview, “It was quite extraordinary. This was a tremendous deepening and acceleration of the psychotherapeutic process, and compared with the therapy in general, which mostly focuses on suppression of symptoms, here we had something that could actually get to the core of the problems."
But once the drugs became illegal, all of that research either became very infrequent or was gone altogether. That is until the last few years where psychedelic research has come back with a vengeance. I won’t go through all the research-- a cursory google search can yield many results or if you’re interested in reading a book try Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” But nonetheless, the research, in my opinion, is very convincing.
I have tried psychedelics myself, both LSD and magic mushrooms, and those experiences have been some of the most important and spiritual of my life. I’ve experienced all of the usual cliches on these drugs such as the dissolution of the ego and of time. I’ve had trips where I can dig into the deep recesses of my psyche that psychotherapy never allowed me to go. I have healed old wounds and deep hurts from my childhood and adult life. I have also felt for lack of a better word the presence of the divine, which I can only describe as an overwhelming that love is behind everything.
But the illegality of psychedelics, unfortunately, hampers their psychological use. To put it bluntly: they can be very hard to get. It’s unfortunate because as study after study shows, they are far safer than alcohol or tobacco, which are both legal. But I have hope that at the very least, they will become more widely available in medical settings. The tides seem to be turning on they’re usefulness. And hopefully, more and more people will be able to access this powerful medicine that helps us connect to our true nature.