by Dr Ben Sessa, Imperial College London, for The German Psychedelic Society
For the last 40 years, since the decline and demonisation of psychedelic drugs at the end of the 1960s, research with these fascinating compounds has been left dwindling in the dark ages. But in the last ten years we have seen a tremendous renaissance of interest around the world (Sessa 2015). No longer marginalised as a fringe subject of whacky science, studies looking into the therapeutic, spiritual and social benefits of psychedelic drugs have been cropping up at major institutions around the world.
Research into the mechanism of action of psilocybin and LSD have transformed our understanding of the neurobiology of consciousness (Carhart-Harris 2014 and 2016). The field of addictions has seen studies looking at psilocybin-assisted therapies for alcohol (Bogenshutz 2015) and nicotine (Johnson 2014), ayahuasca therapy for cocaine addiction (Thomas et al 2013) and ketamine studies for opiate and alcohol addictions (Krupitsky 2007).
In the United States the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), celebrated their 30 year anniversary this year and The Heffter Institute, which incorporates several large American university research sites as well as a facility in Switzerland, continues to produce cutting-edge research with psilocybin in the field of spirituality (Griffiths 2008), addictions and in cancer distress research (Grob 2011). And in the UK The Beckley-Imperial Psychedelic Research program remains at the forefront of British research into consciousness and clinical applications for psychedelics.
This new thrust in academic research with psychedelics is happening alongside a global awakening of communal interest into these drugs, with newly formed organisations celebrating the psychedelic culture, including in the UK Breaking Convention, in the Netherlands the ICEERS OPEN Foundation and in New York, the Horizons conference. Psychedelic Societies have sprung up in many major cities around the world, from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol in the UK to Dublin in Ireland. Similar organisations are also well-established in the Czech Republic, who celebrate their success with a major international psychedelics conference in September 216.
And now we have the launch of the German Psychedelic Society, bringing together established research groups and young enthusiasts, all keenly united with the purpose of discussing the potential roles psychedelic drugs could have in our lives for individual and group personal development and growth. This is a fantastic time to get involved in this cultural and scientific revolution, which touches so many disciplines, from neuroscience, psychology and medicine, to botany, chemistry, anthropology, law and the arts. Psychedelic drugs have moved on since the maligned days of the 1960s and and there is a place for anyone that wants to get involved in this exciting new field.
Dr Ben Sessa MBBS BSc MRCPsych
Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Adult Addictions Psychiatrist,
Co-Founder of Breaking Convention and author of The Psychedelic Renaissance (2012) and To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic (2015)
- Sessa, B. (2015) Turn on and tune in to evidence-based psychedelic research. The Lancet Psychiatry , Volume 2 , Issue 1 , 10 - 12
- Bogenschutz, M. et al (2015) Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study. J Psychopharmacol. 2015 March; 29(3): 289–299.
- Griffiths R.R. et al (2008) Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. Journal of Psychopharmacology 2008 Aug;22(6):621-32.
- Grob CS et al (2011) Pilot Study of Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety in Patients With Advanced-Stage Cancer. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(1):71-78.
Thomas, G. et al (2013) Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: results from a preliminary observational study in Canada. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2013 March; 6(1): 30–42.
Carhart-Harris RL, et al (2012) Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109:2138-43.Carhart-Harris RL, et al (2016) Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 113(17):4853-8.
- Johnson MW et al (2014) Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction. Journal of Psychopharmacology, Published online before print September 11, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0269881114548296.
- Krupitsky EM, et al (2007) Single versus repeated sessions of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for people with heroin dependence. J Psychoactive Drugs 2007 Mar;39(1):13-9.
- Moreno FA, et al (2006) Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry 2006 Nov;67(11):1735-40.
- Johnson MW, et al (2014) Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction. Journal of Psychopharmacology, Published online before print September 11, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0269881114548296.
- Krupitsky EM,et al (2007) Single versus repeated sessions of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for people with heroin dependence. J Psychoactive Drugs 2007 Mar;39(1):13-9.
- Moreno et al. (2006) Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry 2006 Nov;67(11):1735-40.