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Deconstructing How We Think About Drugs
How to break the stigma, follow the science, and become an advocate for psychedelic education
Three weeks ago, I started making educational videos about psychedelics on TikTok.
If you’d asked me a few years ago if I’d ever see myself talking about drugs on the internet, I would’ve politely but firmly declined.
In those few years, of course, my view of drugs has changed considerably.
While the psychedelic renaissance is in full swing, what’s not really happening yet is education. Psychedelics have a huge image problem, thanks to the War on Drugs. It will require substantial time and effort to correct it.
So who’s doing that work?
In my opinion, no one really.
The researchers and therapists running clinical studies don’t have time to educate the public. Yes, there are a ton of excellent books on the topic but they’re mostly read by people who are already enthusiastic psychonauts (or at least convinced by the therapeutic benefits).
What about the general public? What about all the people who may benefit but don’t even have these medicines on their radar?
Today’s edition is a conversation starter to help you rethink how you view drugs.
When you educate yourself, you create a ripple effect. By sharing what you’ve learned with those around you, you actively participate in breaking the stigma, one conversation at a time.
Psychedelics Are Still Severely Stigmatized, Thanks to the War on Drugs
Once the Nixon administration decided that criminalizing its two biggest enemies, people of color and the anti-war left was the most effective strategy, the mission was clear: educate the public about the dangers of psychoactive substances.
As the government launched the War on Drugs, it essentially ran one big advertising campaign against all drugs—with great success.
In just a few years, the masses were convinced that LSD will make you psychotic, jump off roofs, and trigger schizophrenia.
Years later, Nancy Raegan campaigned around the country and told everyone to “just say no”.
Let me be clear.
There are 100000% drugs that you should “just say no” to.
Psychedelics aren’t one of them.
Yet, if you’d asked me about LSD five years ago, I would’ve told you that it’s a hard-core, addictive drug similar to heroin that I’d never dare touch.
Not only was the War on Drugs effective in ingraining this limiting, misinformed mindset in people, but it also had fatal consequences.
Criminality surged and the US became the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, with people of color being the most targeted minority.
In the words of Sam Harris:
“Our government fights a war on drugs that creates the very problem of black market profits and violence that it pretends to solve.”
It’s time to acknowledge that the War on Drugs was not only manipulative and ineffective but also harmful.
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Science Proves That Psychedelics Are Not Only Safe but Therapeutic if Used in Controlled Settings
Let’s unpack where we went wrong and debunk some myths.
The Controlled Substance Act scheduled drugs based on “approved medical use”, “abuse potential” and “safety of use under medical supervision”.
Schedule 1, which contains all psychedelics, denotes substances that “lack medical benefit, are highly abusable, and unsafe under medical supervision”.
Is this really the case for psychedelics?
Myth #1: No medical benefit
It’s quite ironic that the Nixon administration managed to push its bill through Congress, despite the decades of favorable research and objections from many high-level psychiatrists.
After the discovery of LSD by Albert Hofman in 1938, pharma giant Sandoz sent out LSD samples to institutions across the globe to encourage research.
Eager psychiatrists embarked on a variety of projects that quickly illuminated the intriguing, mind-altering properties of psychedelic substances. LSD was an ideal candidate for psychedelic research because of its potency, in which regard other substances like mescaline far lagged behind.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, psychedelic research was the emerging field in psychiatry. Then, in 1971, the Controlled Substances Act halted all efforts and made further research virtually impossible.
Researchers are now picking up where scientists left off in the 70s to investigate and prove a host of potential benefits, such as:
Recovery from PTSD (here)
Relief for Major Depression (here)
Recovery from substance abuse (here)
Lasting positive personality changes (here)
Smoking cessation (here, first study to receive a federal grant in 50 years!)
Easing end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients (here)
Treatment for chronic pain (here)
These are just some examples.
A search for “psychedelic therapy” on clinicaltrials.org currently brings up 356 results.
Myth #2: High potential for abuse
Here’s how the FDA defines abuse potential:
Dependence refers to physical or psychological dependence.
Drug abuse refers to any intentional, non-therapeutic use of a substance to achieve a desired psychological or physiological effect.
In terms of (1), it’s widely known that psychedelics are considered non-addictive. They don’t cause physical dependence.
As for psychological dependence, most psychonauts can attest that the usual user won’t embark on a trip more than every few months, given that the experience is quite intense and requires time to process and digest psychologically.
The question around (2), abuse, is more tricky.
Yes, there is potential for abuse. Just as there is potential for abuse with several other Schedule 2-4 drugs that are medically available, such as Oxycodone, Adderall, Xanax, and Ambien. All arguably much more addictive, yet widely prescribed in the US.
So, the real question is, what are the consequences of repeated abuse in the case of psychedelics?
Anecdotally, we can look at Ram Dass to see what happens to someone who takes a lot of acid over a long period of time.
Ram Dass, a former Harvard psychologist, became a spiritual guru and warrior for love and truth.
Myth #3: Unsafe in controlled settings, aka “bad trips”
You might be thinking now, but what about LSD making you crazy!
So, what about prolonged effects, psychosis, and schizophrenia?
Richard Strassman, doctor and author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, spent a fair chunk of his time sifting through every single study exploring the negative side effects of psychedelics.
Here’s his conclusion:
“It was clear that rates of psychiatric complications were extraordinarily low in controlled research settings, for both normal volunteers and psychiatric patients. However, when psychiatricyally ill or unstable individuals took impure or unkown psychedelics, combined with alcohol and other drugs, in an uncontrolled setting with inadequate supervison, problems occured.”
As commonly understood, it’s a question of set and setting.
In intentional, guided settings, bad trips don’t happen.
It’s Time We Differentiate Substances More Accurately
In light of the above, it’s time we stop compartmentalizing drugs based on the FDA schedule they fall in.
There are opioids, sedatives, narcotics, stimulants, and psychedelics.
They each have drastically different risk-benefit profiles. The federal Scheduling does not reflect those accurately.
Not only in the case of psychedelics.
For example, Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug that’s now being legalized state after state for its medical benefits and low risk profile. Oxycotin, however, has been widely available under Schedule 2 and has led to a nationwide overdose epidemic.
Not to mention alcohol, which, despite being the most harmful drug, is completely legal.
The line between medicine and drug is a fine one.
The psychedelic movement knows this. That’s why most prefer using words like “psychedelic medicine” or “plant medicine”.
Yet, it would be more helpful to get to a place where the public is educated enough to realize that all drugs are not created equal.
All our modern medicines are drugs.
Psychedelics are drugs.
Psychedelics are medicine, too.
Psychedelics Are Not for Everyone, but Also, They Don’t Have To Be
People on TikTok like to frequently remind me that this doesn’t work for everyone.
Of course, it doesn’t!
Nothing works for everyone.
We’re highly individual beings with highly individual needs. Especially when it comes to our mental health.
In Sacred Knowledge, William Richards gives an anecdote that I’d like to leave you with:
“In passing, however, permit me to register the thoughts that we do not make skiing illegal because some people injure themselves or others, and that there are many who really love to ski, do it skillfully and responsibly, and find it life-enhancing. Still skiing is not for everyone, and there are those who for medical or psychological reasons, or for pure lack of interest and motivation, may be well advised to explore other life activities instead.”
Thank you for gifting me your attention this week. If you have any thoughts, feedback or questions, hit reply.
If you know someone who could benefit from this, please go ahead and share it.