Psychedelic drugs may have a role in medical treatment


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On balance, you would not be in your right mind, as the saying goes, to voluntarily take psychedelic drugs. Though the long-term physical and psychological effects of LSD are sometimes exaggerated in the public mind, a bad “trip” carries risks.

In a medical context, however, psychedelic drugs may be beneficial. That, after all, is where LSD and others have their origins, before their widespread abuse and subsequent prohibition. The British Medical Journal – hardly populated by ageing, addled hippies – carries an article by a leading psychiatrist suggesting that a change in the law should foster more research into a neglected arm of the pharmaceutical industry, and allow the legitimate prescription of LSD and other substances where they clearly do serve a medical purpose.

Public debate has long suffered from an intense politicisation of these substances – on both sides. In particular, panic-mongers have closed down examination of the failures of the “war on drugs” – and shut off debate on where illegal chemicals could in fact do good.

With LSD, the case for its supervised use is rarely heard, and that is inflicting damage on patients who could benefit. As the BMJ article’s author argues, there is no evidence that psychedelic drugs are habit forming; there is little evidence that they are harmful in controlled settings; and much historical evidence that they could have use in psychiatric disorders.

The key word here is “evidence”. There is too much supposition and not enough evidence underlying the classification of drugs. An evidence-based, patient-centred, harm-limitation approach would be a good trip for our policy-makers to take.