SSix years ago, when journalist Michael Pollan began work on a book about the potential of psychedelic drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin, MDMA and LSD to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including OCD , PTSD, alcoholism and depression, he met academics who were reluctant to declare their interest in a subject then still considered taboo. “I interviewed several scientists who knew a lot about psychedelics and were really interested in them,” he recalls. “And when I asked them, ‘Well, why don’t you study them?’ They would say things like, “The reputational risk is too great” or “That would be the kiss of death for my graduate students.”
The times have changed. When Pollan’s book, How to change your mind, was released in May 2018, it became an instant sensation. He exceeded The New York Times bestseller charts and has since been adapted into a four-part Netflix documentary series that hit screens last month. The book started a conversation that had real-world impacts — and not just for those with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis. In 2020, Oregon voters backed a measure that, starting in January of next year, will establish a state psilocybin program offering guided psychedelic therapy sessions to anyone 21 and older, qu whether or not she has a prescription.
Meanwhile, groundbreaking research is being conducted at universities such as Johns Hopkins Medical School in Maryland and UC Berkeley in California, where Pollan himself recently co-founded the Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP ). “The psychedelic renaissance is well underway,” according to BCSP executive director Imran Khan, who spoke at a press conference last week. “We are on the cusp of an exciting new era of scientific, social, and spiritual exploration of psychedelics after decades of political and cultural suppression.”
This shift in attitude toward psychedelics has happened with remarkable speed, but it’s not entirely unprecedented. Oregon was also a pioneer in the use of cannabis, which was decriminalized in the state as early as 1973. This paved the way for the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, which is now the case in 37 of the 50 states. , and possibly for “recreational” or adult use, which has so far been adopted in 19 US states.
Whether or not psychedelics can follow a similar path from medical use to full legalization remains to be seen, but some companies aren’t waiting to find out. Californian social media influencers and prominent figures such as rapper Wiz Khalifa were recently inundated with packets of psychedelic mushrooms by a brand called Psilo. The same company recruited athletes such as nine-year NFL veteran Kenny Stills to talk about their use of psychedelics in an effort to “normalize psilo.” “The way I was raised, I was pessimistic, negative, and one of those people that I thought could never change,” Stills says in a brilliantly directed video for the brand. “Seeing my personal growth through therapy, mindset work, and microdosing psilocybin has totally changed the way I think, live, and feel. The easiest way for me to describe it, it’s like the weight of all the things in the world is coming off your shoulders, coming off your chest, it just makes your life easier.
Psilo isn’t the only brand that seeks to de-stigmatize the use of psychedelics. Earlier this month, Psychedelic Water launched across the United States and is now available at over 500 locations, including Walmart and Urban Outfitters. Although the lightly carbonated drink is by no means as potent as substances like MDMA or psilocybin – its active ingredient is kava root, which has long been revered in Fiji for its mildly psychoactive effects – the way how it is marketed and sold is an indication of how psychedelics might be packaged for mainstream consumption. It is linked to a popular lifestyle trend, “California Sober”, a term coined by journalist Michelle Lhooq to describe those who eschew alcohol in favor of cannabis and psychedelics, who counts singer Demi Lovato among her followers. .
At the BCSP press conference, Pollan warned companies that are rubbing their hands in anticipation of a psychedelic free-for-all. “These substances have enormous potential, but they’re not for everyone, and they carry serious risks when used inappropriately,” he said. “The shift from ‘destroying young minds’ in the 1960s to effective medicine in the 2020s is as sudden as it is confusing for many people.”
He admits, however, that it is unlikely that the use of psychedelics can ever be confined to purely institutional settings. “The use of psychedelics will not be limited to the medical system,” he says. “It’s not now and it won’t be in the future. One of the striking things about the Oregon Experience is that it will make a guided psychedelic experience accessible to anyone over the age of 21, regardless of diagnosis. It’s a way [through which] psychedelics are entering society outside of medicine. I think there will be various psychedelic churches. They are being trained right now, and I expect some of them to get Supreme Court or DEA recognition as legitimate religions. It will be another way. »
For neuroscientist Dr. Andrea Gomez, whose work at UC Berkeley explores how psychedelics induce cellular-level changes in our brains, another relevant concern when it comes to expanding access to psychedelics is the potentially disastrous impact on plant populations that produce some of these potent compounds. As is a common theme for our species, we have failed to protect the remarkable fruits that our planet produces. “We need to pay close attention to where some of these drugs come from,” says Dr. Gomez. “Mescalin-producing peyote [cactus] is at risk of extinction, so in terms of wide-scale use for everyone, I think we should think carefully about how wide of a range we’re thinking about. In broader terms, however, she says she believes in reducing restrictions. “On the question of equity, I would say that access to the healing power of these drugs should be accessible to people seeking care,” she adds. “People should have access to drugs that could help them.”
This case is ongoing right now in Washington DC. Last week, it was announced that the Biden administration was “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force on psychedelics, in anticipation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of psilocybin and MDMA. , which could take place within the next two years. This will be a crucial next step. “Psychedelic drugs, including mescaline, peyote and LSD, are currently Schedule 1 substances – defined by the government as drugs with “no currently accepted medical use” and “high potential for abuse” “says BCSP’s Khan. “I think one of the things that we all hope for is that policy makers and legislators will engage in the research that we at BCSP and others are doing on these substances, because I think that definitely challenges question the idea that there is ‘no currently accepted medical use’.”
Similar arguments are made in Britain, where clinical trials have been conducted at the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. The 2018 documentary magic medicine and BBC movie 2021 The Psychedelic Drug Trial followed these trials into psilocybin’s potential as a treatment for depression, and last October Boris Johnson said he would “consider” calls to postpone psilocybin under UK law.
A consultant in the UK, who is part of a group that has explored microdosing psilocybin as a treatment, says: “On the days that I take a microdose, I don’t feel like my perception has changed. But I feel more acuity, similar to coffee, except it’s in my whole being, rather than just in my mind… I can be more empathetic with the people I interact with. And when I tackle a problem, I am able to perceive a creative solution more easily. I have less mental chatter – less negative internal criticism, and more of a feeling that what I’m doing is the right thing. It also helps with insomnia.
She worries, however, about the nuance of the drug being lost by companies determined to make a profit. “What you have to watch out for, I think, is how fast Big Pharma brings the extract to market – there’s a bit of a rush to standardize dosages and bring it to market, whereas there It has to be answered individually – you have to find your own amount that you take, that you can tolerate and work with.
What’s promising for psychedelics advocates is that they currently enjoy something that’s increasingly rare on both sides of the Atlantic: bipartisan support. In the United States, politicians as ideologically opposed as Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Dan Crenshaw have proposed amendments that would allow further research into the effectiveness of psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD, while in Britain Britain, too, are Conservative politicians such as MP Crispin Blunt who’ve backed campaigns such as the Heroic Hearts Project, which aims to provide psychedelics to veterans of the military and emergency services.
As Pollan points out, this widespread support is a sign that after years of misinformation, public opinion may finally be on the same page. “It’s one of those rare issues in American life right now where the right and the left seem to be in agreement,” he says. “We must nurture and cherish all these issues that we can.” With support from both sides of the political spectrum, the use of psychedelics could normalize sooner than anyone could have predicted just a few years ago. This journey has only just begun.
‘How to Change Your Mind’ is streaming on Netflix now