Marie Smith
HLTH 1050
While it is true that many of the drugs that our society condemns have
great potential for abuse, some of the drugs being demonized by society have
the potential to be used for the treatment of debilitating conditions and for
catalyzing personal growth. There is much ongoing scientific research that
focuses on potential beneficial uses of illegal drugs such as psilocybin, LSD, and
MDMA. There is a great deal of scientific material to draw on regarding these
substances from research carried out around the world, both before these
substances were made illegal, and after.
Most people are familiar with the images associated with psychedelic
drugs during the peak of their use in the 1960s: Woodstock, Ken Kesey’s Merry
Pranksters, and the Electric Kool-Aid acid tests. Less well known, however, is the
research that was done using these drugs in the treatment of many conditions in
the 1950s. After Albert Hofmann discovered the psychoactive effects of dlysergic acid diethylamide in 1943, several other physicians conducted and
popularized research describing the effects of LSD, Psilocybin and other
psychedelics on perception, cognition, emotion, and behavior.
“Many people remember vaguely that LSD and other psychedelic drugs
were once used experimentally in psychiatry, but few realize how much and how
long they were used. Between 1950 and the mid-1960s there were more than a
thousand clinical papers discussing 40,000 patients, several dozen books, and
six international conferences on psychedelic drug therapy. Today, psychedelic
drugs cannot be used in clinical practice but only in research, and only under a
special license from the federal government.” (Doblin)
When LSD possession was made illegal in the United States in 1968,
most research came to an end due to restrictive rules and lack of money. Since
then, most people have viewed psychedelics as dangerous and worthless drugs.
Now after years of legal difficulties, new studies are being carried out using these
One recent study seeks to confirm anecdotal evidence that certain
psychedelic drugs are useful in the treatment of cluster headaches. Cluster
headaches occur in cyclical patterns or clusters and are one of the most painful
types of headache. “The authors interviewed 53 cluster headache patients who
had used psilocybin or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to treat their condition.
Twenty-two of 26 psilocybin users reported that psilocybin aborted attacks; 25 of
48 psilocybin users and 7 of 8 LSD users reported cluster period termination; 18
of 19 psilocybin users and 4 of 5 LSD users reported remission period extension.
Research on the effects of psilocybin and LSD on cluster headache may be
warranted.” (Sewell)
Another example of an illegal drug with the potential to heal is MDMA.
Years before MDMA became part of the rave scene under the street name
Ecstasy, it was being used legally as an adjunct to psychotherapy. MDMA’s
remarkable ability to lower defense mechanisms and facilitate communication
made it an incredible addition to a qualified therapist’s arsenal. In Myron
Stolaroff’s book, The Secret Chief, he writes about an anonymous pioneer
therapist using MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy. He writes about one
session like this, “Robert describes an experience with MDMA as his most
profound psychedelic session… Three hours after the beginning of the session
he had a profound experience of God, which he describes as the most joyous
moment of his life. A month later he was still happy, joyous, grateful, and
completely satisfied. The overall quality of the relationships in Robert's life has
improved. He now feels more relaxed around people, more in the present. When
dealing with the world at large, Robert no longer feels the need to be constantly
on the lookout, scanning for danger. The fear of danger has now fallen away. His
fear of death and anxiety levels have also diminished.” (Stolaroff)
Now after many years, studies are again being undertaken on the use of
MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy. The Multidisciplinary Association for
Psychedelic Studies has announced a ten-year plan to make MDMA into an
FDA-approved prescription medicine. One of the studies they are currently
funding involves using MDMA as an adjunct to therapy with veterans suffering
from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This study has been approved by the FDA
and the DEA and is currently seeking subjects. (MAPS) One former Army Ranger
who participated in the pilot study remarked, “It’s basically like years of therapy in
two or three hours. You can’t understand it until you’ve experienced it.” (Mitchell)
The research so far has illustrated the possibilities for using psychedelic
substances to treat disorders and assist in the therapy process, but it does not
stop there. Research is also currently being done on the uses of psychedelic
drugs for personal and spiritual growth. This research has its roots in the 1962
experiment carried out at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Walter Pahnke
performed this study, but long-term follow-ups were never done due to his death
in 1971.
“On Good Friday, 1962, before services commenced in Boston
University's Marsh Chapel, Walter Pahnke administered small capsules to twenty
Protestant divinity students. Thus began the most scientific experiment in the
literature designed to investigate the potential of psychedelic drugs to facilitate
mystical experience (Pahnke, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1970; Pahnke & Richards,
1969a, 1969b, 1969c). Half the capsules contained psilocybin… and the other
half contained a placebo. According to Pahnke, the experiment determined that
"the persons who received psilocybin experienced to a greater extent than did
the controls the phenomena described by our typology of mysticism" (Pahnke,
1963, p. 220).” (Doblin)
A new research study undertaken by the Multidisciplinary Association for
Psychedelic Studies and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was
designed to reexamine the results of this landmark study. “Using unusually
rigorous scientific conditions and measures, Johns Hopkins researchers have
shown that the active agent in “sacred mushrooms” can induce mystical/spiritual
experiences descriptively identical to spontaneous ones people have reported for
centuries. The resulting experiences apparently prompt positive changes in
behavior and attitude that last several months, at least.” (Johns Hopkins)
Researchers were able to show conclusively that “Psilocybin can occasion
mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning
and spiritual significance” (Griffiths). “In the study, more than 60 percent of
subjects described the effects of psilocybin in ways that met criteria for a “full
mystical experience” as measured by established psychological scales. One third
said the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes;
and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually
significant. Griffiths says subjects liken it to the importance of the birth of their
first child or the death of a parent.
Two months later, 79 percent of subjects reported moderately or greatly
increased well-being or life satisfaction compared with those given a placebo at
the same test session. A majority said their mood, attitudes and behaviors had
changed for the better. Structured interviews with family members, friends and
co-workers generally confirmed the subjects’ remarks.” (Johns Hopkins) This
study was important for establishing that psilocybin can induce mystical
experiences. This research is ongoing, and further follow-ups are planned.
Psychoactive drugs such as psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD have the
potential to give relief to those suffering from debilitating headaches and posttraumatic stress disorder. They can also assist in psychotherapy by opening a
person up, lowering defense mechanisms and facilitating communication, thus
aiding personal and spiritual growth. While these drugs do have the potential for
harm when abused, the research clearly shows that they have the potential to
heal and help when used properly.
Works Cited
Doblin, Rick, Jerome E. Beck, Kate Chapman, and Maureen Alioto. "Dr.
Oscar Janiger's Pioneering LSD Research: A Forty Year Follow-up." Bulletin of
the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 9.1 (1999): 7-21. Web.
15 Dec. 2011.
Sewell, R. A. "Response of Cluster Headache to Psilocybin and LSD."
Neurology 66.12 (2006): 1920-922. Print.
Stolaroff, Myron J. "Appendix 1." The Secret Chief. Charlotte, NC:
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 1997. Print.
Mitchell, Bryan. "'Party' Drug Could Be PTSD Treatment." 4
Mar. 2009. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. <>.
"MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy." Multidisciplinary Association for
Psychedelic Studies. Web. 15 Dec. 2011.
Griffiths, R. R., W. A. Richards, U. McCann, and R. Jesse. "Psilocybin Can
Occasion Mystical-type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal
Meaning and Spiritual Significance." Psychopharmacology 187.3 (2006): 268-83.
Based in Baltimore, Maryland. Media Relations and Public Affairs, 11 July 2006.
Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Marie Smith Research Paper