Psychedelics getting research attention

A few years ago, my university sent out a press release announcing that one of its researchers had conducted a study on psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in friendly fungi. It was amazing how science-y the press release made the whole endeavor sound, reducing it to a sterile scientific study with few flicks of the wrist. The study explored religious experiences and the effects of psilocybin on long-lasting religious belief. The press release stressed that this study was conducted under the most rigorous scientifically controlled environment, and that its results ought not be duplicated by the casual "dabbler".

In junior high school, we passed around the book "Go Ask Alice," which traumatized me with its horrific descriptions of a young girl's "descent" into drug-addled irresponsibility and eventual death. The book was presented as an actual girl's diary, which revealed the dangers of LSD. I found out in college that it was pure propaganda. Like the Covenant House "books" that came in the mail about runaways and children living in the streets (see the new Maritime Hotel on 9th avenue...which used to be a Covenant House and would freak me out whenever I took the bus past it -- it has portal windows, and I was convinced that bombed out abused and runaway children were hanging themselves in desperation, now it is an expensive hotel, which I simply find unacceptable on so many levels), the early 80s depended on a lot of mass hysteria and invisible threats (such as the word on the street that acid tabs were being handed out to innocent children with cute cartoon characters on the blotters). I recently discovered that my junior high school friend, who teaches in the New York schools, has "Go Ask Alice" available at her school. I am deeply disturbed that this is considered acceptable literature -- at least, without its disclaimer that it's a work of fiction and not a true (and totally ludicrous) story. The narrator dies at the end, even though she's renounced her drugging and sexing ways, because her friend-enemies lace the bowl of popcorn (or nuts or whatever) at the house where she's babysitting.

I tell this nonsequitur seeming story to actually direct your attention to the Alternet article about psychedelics. Although the piece can get a little preachy, the article raises some interesting questions about addiction in American society. In addition, the article points to the vested interests that want to prevent access to and use of psychedelics, even though they may provide important benefits. I once had a student who tried to explore pharmaceutical companies capitalizing on plants and indigenous medicines by re-packaging and distilling the naturally occurring compounds into packaged and processed, and costly, drugs. Though her paper quickly went off the rails, it was an interesting and important question to ask. And the corollary is whether we want to formalize/legalize/sanitize the power of certain compounds that are freely available (or at least, available without the cost of R&D, marketing, litigation and doctors' kickbacks all neatly embedded in the price we pay at the pharmacy). Similarly, the renewed interest in psychedelics concerns me a bit -- pharma is so untrustworthy, and if they can get the FDA to approve dosing everyone, for a solid buck, they will do so happily.

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