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The War on Drugs is Not Over - Psychedelics should be Legalized

Posted: Thu, August 13, 2015 | By: Brain Health

By David Byrnes

(this essay was originally published in DePaulia Online HERE)

The Illinois legislature passed a bill this past summer that, starting in January, will allow for the legal sale of medical marijuana to patients suffering from chronic and fatal ailments.

Now, even ignoring for a moment that this new medical marijuana program is only a four-year experimental run and that, according to the Illinois General Assembly’s website, cannabis will only be made available to people with the most fatal or chronic of diseases, it wouldn’t be right to call this a victory against unfair drug legislation. Why?

Because some really important drugs are still illegal. LSD or “Acid,” Ecstasy, Psilocybin Mushrooms, Mescaline and a whole slew of other substances that constitute the “psychedelic” class of drugs are still listed as Schedule 1 Drugs (the most illegal) by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration. A close look at these substances’ effects and uses leaves one thinking, “Why?”

A simple Wikipedia trawl on the subject of psychedelics, never mind the numerous institutions that have experimented with the drugs over the past six decades, reports on their high potential for psychotherapeutic use, incredibly low toxicity relative to dose, and a potential for physical and psychological dependence no greater than caffeine.

LSD has been strongly linked to treatment for alcoholism, end- of-life anxiety, cluster headaches (a severe form of migraines) and depression by the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and UC Berkeley.

Similarly, in a 2009 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, scientists found a direct link between psychedelic mushroom use and increases in creativity, openness and empathy. Yet, since the 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of the Nixon Administration, possession of any of these substances has been punishable with penalties that in Illinois exceed certain classes of sexual assault.

Even the aforementioned studies are somewhat novel, given that the FDA forcibly discontinued most research into the substances in 1970. Here we have a class of substances that science has said is by and large a good thing, or at the very least worth researching.

But then the government pulls science’s shirt over its head and forbids research on the topic. It may very well be that Ecstasy sparks terrible genetic mutations that will cause anyone who uses it to have horribly deformed children. But no one will ever know because hardly anyone is allowed to study it.

The FDA Public Affairs office, when contacted, claims this is because of psychedelics’ “high potential for profound adverse psychological reactions, abuse, and dependence.”

Yet startlingly absent from any of their public records are the studies informing that conclusion. The DEA’s online records are even starker. There are whole pages of documents detailing punishment for possession and sale, but not one that explains why those documents need exist.

Even their public relations office only makes vague reference to “studies carried out by a number of researchers in the 1950s and ‘60s.” One can only hope they’re not referring to the CIA’s MKUltra initiative – a program that, by the US Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1985 CIA v Sims case, was illegally concerned with “the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”

That’s a fancy way of saying they were experimenting with mind control. Or maybe they’re referring to the 1953-54 British Military experiments demonstrating that LSD made soldiers unable to follow orders and unwilling to fight. If all this sounds like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist loon, it’s because – at least in part – it is.

But for once the loons have it. Some of these drugs have been illegal for almost 43 years now, and for no readily apparent reason. Much like marijuana, these substances were condemned whilst they were associated with a widespread counter- culture and in the midst of a controversial war. Much like marijuana, government programs are explicitly dedicated to their prohibition and cultural discrediting.

Unlike marijuana, there is absolutely zero movement on making these drugs legal, and possibly just as little on making them available for study. And that’s sad. In a society where poisons like tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, codeine and opiates are all readily available and culturally acceptable – even encouraged – a genus of a drug that has the potential to change lives for the better is so demonized that most people are taught to be terrified of it.

Everyone has a story of that friend of a friend of a friend who went permanently insane from mushrooms, despite psilocybin’s primary effects only lasting about eight hours according to the John Hopkins study. Everyone thinks that LSD is only used by hippies and failures, despite advocacy from such figures as Steve Jobs, Aldous Huxley, Francis Crick and Hunter S. Thompson.

So yes, marijuana may be slowly on its way to wide-scale legalization and acceptance. However, until other psychedelics are likewise accepted, the fight against the War on Drugs will be far from won.

(this essay was originally published in DePaulia Online HERE)

Related Articles:

Brighter Brains Institute - a San Francisco think tank - endorses the same POV, HERE

Psychedelic benefits will be discussed at Brighter Brains Institute’s TRANSHUMAN VISIONS conference - details HERE

LSD Research: trippy experiments & far-out discoveries, HERE


As the author of a book on the use of LSD for Self-Discovery, which focuses on the science, history and psychology of psychedelic use; I am very pleased to see this kind of story appearing more frequently online than it used to.

I think we have a long way to come, but at least some people are now starting to look in the right direction.

To quote myself from my book:

As it happens, we are not completely without any real world examples of legally available psychedelics. In the Netherlands, truffles (and mushrooms until quite recently) containing psilocybin are available for purchase in ‘smart shops’. When purchasing them, the buyer is informed by the staff that they must not consume alcohol, marijuana (also available in the Netherlands) or any other drugs. A small pamphlet is then included with the purchase to give additional information that the user should read including links to websites that contain further information that the user might want to make themselves aware of if they choose to. In some locations – however unfortunately fewer than there used to be – there are ‘chill out’ lounges where people can consume their psilocybin and have their psychedelic experience in a relaxed and comfortable environment that is also safe and secure.
A similar situation for LSD should certainly be entirely possible; however, as the LSD experience can be much more powerful, profound and deeper than the psilocybin experience, perhaps additional safety measures could be taken. These could be for example the requirement that the user must stay in the ‘chill out’ lounge (which, for the best possible experience would also then have an enclosed outdoor area available) for the duration of the trip; that the information provided is more detailed; or that a particular process (involving education) must be followed to get a kind of card or other identification document that is then required when the user wishes to purchase LSD (and perhaps also other psychedelic substances).

By Dale Bewan on Nov 06, 2013 at 12:38pm

Mr Bewan, thank you for writing such a great book

By Seda N on Nov 06, 2013 at 3:22pm

we just got pot, let’s settle for awhile.

By johnnyboy on Nov 07, 2013 at 11:48am

Seda N: Thank you very much for your kind words.  I always appreciate hearing that people found it useful or interesting.

johnnyboy: While marijuana is extremely useful, as are psychedelics, they aren’t really comparable.  The uses (both medical and recreational) are different, the effects are different, and the public perception is generally quite different.
Other than both being ‘drugs that some people use for pleasure’ and (in many places still) ‘drugs that are both illegal’, they really don’t have anything in common at all.
I’m a strong supporter of marijuana legalisation and am very happy to see it beginning to happen in several places now, but I personally have no use for it.  I don’t enjoy it recreationally, and I have no medical conditions with which it would help.  I do however have a lot of use for psychedelics and so those are my focus personally.
Perhaps the focus should be more on ‘general reform’ towards and in favour of cognitive liberty rather than reforming laws relating to specific substances or classes of substances, but that change would be significantly more difficult in the legal systems that currently exist around the world.  I’m not saying impossible, or that that we shouldn’t push for it, just that we should consider targeting some ‘steps’ rather than trying to push a massive change all at once.  One good step so far doesn’t mean we should hold off on the next!

By Dale Bewan on Nov 08, 2013 at 5:27am

Well a lot of Psychedelics are still legal, look at spice and kratom for example. Not only are they legal otc drugs, places like & and god knows how many other places sell legal psychedelic drugs online.

By Cherix on Mar 17, 2014 at 7:39pm

There certainly are a lot of legal psychedelics.  I live in Germany, but it’s only a short drive to the Netherlands, where I can buy psilocybin truffles legally and easily.

That s however not enough in my opinion.  Many psychedelics - including many of the powerful but safe ones such as LSD (basically everywhere) and psilocybin (only a few exceptions) are still illegal.

“Spice” (synthetic cannabis) is not legal everywhere either.  It is also relatively new, not well tested, may have negative side effects, and - most importantly from my perspective - doesn’t give an experience that I personally find interesting and useful.

Kratom is also not so well studied, although it does have a significant history of use and is most likely quite safe in normal usage.  That said, it’s also a very different effect to the psychedelics that interest me.

It’s not so much a case of some being available and that ‘should be good enough’, but rather that the legislation is so out of touch with reality that it is significantly more harmful than useful.  By outlawing LSD for example, it only encourages the spread and use of substances that have far more potential for harm (for example: the NBOMe series, and whatever some chemist comes up with next to circumvent the laws for a short time).

By Dale Bewan on Mar 18, 2014 at 1:48pm

I agree all psychedelics should completely legal. We are capable of making our own decisions on what we do with ourselves. How can we get psychedelics legalized worldwide as quickly as possible.

By Jesse Taylor on May 04, 2015 at 11:39am

LSD, DMT, psilocybin are safer than many OTC and certainly safer than many legal Rx ‘s. Please remember that drugs both legal and illegal is big business! Pharmaceutical companies do not want any illicit drug legalized. Unable to patent equals little long term return. They would rather patent a drug which is much more dangerous(ever listen to the ridiculous list of side effects on TV commercials)all in the name of money!

By psychedelic Relic on Aug 21, 2015 at 5:28pm

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