For many, mentioning the term psychedelic likely conjures images of long-haired hippies from the 1960s immersed in a drug culture typified by Timothy Leary's slogan "Turn on, tune in, drop out." But a recent reexamination of hallucinogens' medicinal benefits may be changing that.
According to a New York Times report, preliminary research has shown that hallucinogens - such as psilocybin, which is derived from certain mushrooms - have proven effective at treating a range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life anxiety.
In the case of Clark Martin, a retired clinical psychologist battling kidney cancer and a serious bout of depression, hallucinogens provided relief that more mainstream antidepressants didn't. Taking part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school last year, the 65-year-old Martin had his first psychedelic experience, which involved psilocybin, a blindfold and headphones pumping out classical music.
"All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating," he told the Times. "Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water's gone. And then you're gone."
Martin has credited the treatment with changing his outlook on life and improving his personal relationships. Others administered psilocybin have also reported, more than a year later, greater satisfaction with their lives.
According to the report, researchers are drawing some parallels between patients' psychedelic experiences and the life-changing revelations of religious mystics. The results, while not physical, appear to be a greater sense of peace with oneself.
"Under the influences of hallucinogens individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change," writes Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist involved in the experiment at U.C.L.A.
Despite early positive results, researchers are cognizant of overcoming the negative stereotype often conferred upon the psychedelic movement's previous incarnation. To that end, the drugs are administered using strict safety protocols. Researchers are also hopeful that with other new age trends like yoga and meditation becoming mainstream, acceptance of psychedelic medical treatment isn't far behind.
According to the report, studies are currently underway at Hopkins, the University of Arizona, Harvard, New York University, U.C.L.A., among other places. Researchers from around the world are meeting in San Jose this week to discuss the results.