A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, September 8th, 2015, titled “Psychedelic medicine: a re-emerging therapeutic paradigm,” illustrates a renewed interest in exploring the benefits of using psychedelic substances in the treatment of a range of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, addictions, and depression. This kind of therapeutic intervention is “re-emerging” after Richard Nixon’s declaration of a war on drugs in 1972 that sent pretty well all exploration of the potential benefits of psychedelics in therapeutic contexts – some underway since the 1950s - into the deep freeze, as research funding dried up and the medical establishment followed prevailing political attitudes about this class of drugs.

In recent years though, there has been a rising interest in the beneficial uses of psychedelics within the scientific community and within mainstream society as a new generation of people reach out to explore the human development potential of substances such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA, to name a few. From the therapist’s office and music festivals to the Amazonian jungles, a movement to explore psychedelics in formal therapeutic contexts and informal settings is occurring. This presents governments, scientists and communities with real opportunities to develop policies that protect consumers, facilitate research and create alternative approaches to these drugs. Rather than continued criminalization and denial that there may be significant benefits from the careful uses of psychedelics, governments should be exploring how to maximize their potential benefits to individuals and communities.

The therapeutic and religious uses of psychedelic substances have long preceded our scientific knowledge, and various cultures around the world have worked with naturally occurring substances for thousands of years in ceremonial and folk healing contexts. The resurgence of scientific studies and clinical trials may provide knowledge for new therapeutic approaches, which would be a welcome addition to the currently limited available treatments within the area of mental health and addiction. Indeed, the renewed scientific evidence on psychedelics suggest they may be both more clinically effective and cost effective than current pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic treatment options.

Priorities for Action

  • Federal government to ensure psychedelic substances that show promise in treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, addiction and other mental health disorders (e.g., LSD, psilocybin, MDMA) be removed from Schedule J of the Food and Drugs Act, so that they may be readily used in clinical practice as further scientific research confirms their medical and therapeutic potential.
  • The Federal Government work with the Sainto Daime and Uniãode Vegetal churches, as well as shamanic practitioners, to explore options for legitimizing the ceremonial uses of ayahuasca and similar plant-based psychoactive substances used for sacramental and traditional folk healing purposes.

Further Reading