The Psychedelic Renaissance
A Brief History of the Psychedelic Past and What is to Come
By Luke Bekins
From the dawn of early civilizations, man has prioritized the objective and observable over the subjective and spiritual. LSD to ayahuasca, peyote to ecstasy, these psychedelics are often sensationalized in a negative connotation as many choose to ignore the wholistic and medicinal benefits. Establishment after establishment have forfeited the affirmation of the psychedelic experience as a result of the mislabeling and misinterpretation of the effects of the drugs. Due to this misconception, the United States government has labeled all psychedelics as Schedule I "experimental" drugs. These Schedule I drugs are believed by lawmakers to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Attributable to their counterculture connotations and rigid legal status, psychedelics have consistently been a highly stigmatized topic. Over the last few decades, however, a steady stream of groundbreaking research has proven that these powerful substances have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases safely and effectively. This article is a collection of studies, their findings, potential medical uses, and analysis of the current state of suppression in the United States regarding the use psychedelic drugs.
To begin, we must take a closer look at the origin of psychedelic drugs. While the science behind these mind-altering plants is only now becoming transparent, they have been used in rituals and ceremonies for millennia. As a result, psychedelic substances have been hugely influential in shaping certain cultures and religions dating back to 4,000 BC. These cultures, particularly in the Americas, learned how to utilize psychoactive plants and mushrooms for both medicinal purposes and to reach an altered state of consciousness. While there is unmistakable evidence these civilizations used psychedelics for their advancements, it is safe to assume that civilizations prior to the great ice age were also adhering to the use of these magic plants. Henceforth, there is a plethora of psychedelic substances humankind has been utilizing predating ancient civilization. There is extended speculation within the evolutionary community that the beginning of the evolutionary process was prompted by the ingestion of psilocybin, the primary component in psychedelic mushrooms.
To continue, the use of these substances has been evident in our own culture, albeit withheld as common knowledge. For example, in August 2000, an English newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, reported that geneticist Francis Crick was taking low doses of LSD when he discovered the double helix form of the DNA molecule in 1953. Matt Ridley's 2006 biography, which discussed Francis Crick's discovery of the genetic code also further confirms Crick’s LSD use. This information, which Crick strenuously suppressed during his life, is only one of many examples of a secret ultramodern history, linking psychedelic use with recent advances in human knowledge. With this newfound knowledge, Crick joins the likes of Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan, Sigmund Freud, Bill Gates, Thomas Alva Edison, and others in the ranks of pioneers maximizing the benefits of psychoactive stimulants.
Equally prominent, various household names in the entertainment industry have openly accredited much of their success to their mental breakthroughs achieved while utilizing psychedelic drugs. This list of visionaries includes but is not limited to Paul McCartney, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, Joe Rogan, Jack Nicolson, Seth Rogan, Sarah Silverman, Miley Cyrus, A$AP Rocky, and Harry Styles. Perhaps the most inspiring of these is Mike Tyson. The former heavyweight champion of the world claims that the use of mushrooms saved his life when he was on the brink of suicide. Tyson, who is on record stating that "To think where I was —suicidal, on the verge of death — to this now. Isn't life a trip, man?" Tyson told the outlet, "It's amazing medicine, yet people don't look at it from that perspective." Making a distinguished point regarding the untapped potential of these substances, if only people were to open their minds
We look to the early 18th century to briefly address the prohibition era. In the 1800s, scientists and psychiatrists began discovering new kinds of drugs such as psilocybin, and their countless medicinal uses. The scientific community subsequently became advocates of psychedelic medicine. Unfortunately, uncontrolled drug use for recreational purposes led to governments worldwide debating their legal status and clamping down on restrictions. W decades, the recreational use of psychedelics undermined promising medical discoveries, and put the industry's future into question, eventually falling victim to the notorious War on Drugs.
For the first time since the 1960s the government and the Academy are permitting scientific research into psychedelics after a 50-year break. Paving the way in these studies are the researchers at The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and The University of Michigan Psychedelic Center (M-psyC). Likewise, the multidisciplinary association for psychedelic studies (MAPS) is one US group currently shepherding many projects through the tangles of government bureaucracy. In 2007, MAPS launched a series of studies to examine the use of psilocybin to treat obsessive compulsive disorders and depression, the possible efficacy of MDMA to help terminally ill cancer patients prepare for death, and the use of the West African psychedelic ibogaine as a treatment for drug addiction. Unconnected to MAPS, a 2006 John Hopkins double blind study, replicated experiments from the early 1960s, giving psilocybin and placebos to volunteers who had never experienced a psychedelic before. As the study concluded, the conclusion was made that 60% of the volunteers found their psilocybin sessions to be positive, and in some cases spiritually transformative. While these results were not surprising to anyone versed in the psychedelic history, the study received surprisingly prominent media attention in the Wall Street Journal on CNN.
Nearly 10 years later, John Hopkins is still breaking ground, and tearing down stigmas. Previous studies by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers showed that psychedelic treatment with psilocybin relieved major depressive disorder symptoms in adults for up to a month. Now, in a follow-up study of the same participants, the researchers report that the substantial antidepressant effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy, given with supportive psychotherapy, may last at minimum a year for some patients. In fact, according to their 2016 study, a single dose of psilocybin can reduce depression and anxiety for as long as five years when paired with proper psychotherapy. Participants of the study “rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.” According to M-psyC, when severely depressed patients were treated with psilocybin, all experienced some level of emotional improvement. Two-thirds were in remission after one week, and 42% of those patients were depression-free after three months. Lastly, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research found through studies in 2014, 2016, and 2020 that the effects of psychedelic therapy have been objectively proven to ease reliance on other addictions, relax existential anxiety in terminally ill patients, and relieve all major symptoms of depression.
An exceedingly popular term amongst the psychedelic community is that of the 'Ego' or identity of oneself. The dissolution of the ego is a commonplace amongst spirit-centered psychedelic users. The Tibetans considered the dissolution of the ego to be the birth of a new soul - one which has not yet been stained by the cancerous culture of its surroundings, a common issue in present times. In a 2022 study into psychedelic use and the role of ego dissolution and connectedness play on your mental well-being, researchers found that there are objective beneficial therapeutic effects, including improved psychological well-being. This is especially true across several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder. Some people regard the ego as a lens through which they view the world. Those who argue for the benefits of ego dissolution suggest that this lens is often restrictive. They believe ego dissolution removes these restrictions, thus offering a larger and more fulfilling perspective. As this information is all arbitrary and nuanced, individuals are advised to use their own subjective judgement when considering the role of the ego within their own lives.
So Now What?
As our society looks forward, there are evident obstacles and barriers we must overcome for the betterment of our kind. Obstacles that must be torn down to live in a world where psychedelics are legal and the stigma around them is lessened. These barriers include “Big Pharma” lobbying in favor of their own – temporary- treatments and stigmatization just to name a few. Another essential to living in this ‘revolutionized world’ is the proper shamanic training of therapists to correctly teach and spread the positive effects of psychedelics to those that are curious.
As stated in the aforementioned research studies, for the first time in our history, there is now hard-soiled evidence supporting the use of psychedelic drugs for the betterment of man. In a culture that is awash in prescription chemicals, drugs of abuse and mood-altering SSRIs, it seems increasingly odd to ban a handful of plant substances and related compounds. The late, great chemist and psychopharmacologist, Alexander Shulgin once stated that " the idea that the earth moved around the sun was radical heresy at one time and is now a common truism. The idea of the inner exploration of consciousness with the use of psychedelics is currently seen in the same light of heresy. Who's to say we won't discover a new truism through diligent research?".
The idea that our country, at the very least, should consider the legalization and implementation of these substances is becoming more and more apparent each year. A civilization that supports the adult individual's right to utilize these catalysts to reach a higher level of self-discovery and spiritual communion would only be helping their citizens. While it would be impractical to consider psychedelics alone the answer to the massive problems now facing us, it would be equally foolish to ignore how much they could too truly help. Psychedelics continue to offer some individuals the means needed to look at the world from a new vantage point, with new levels of insight, and even treat what were once considered irreversible diseases.
When we cast a cold eye on the current planetary situation, we discovered that the industrial culture and excessive lifestyle of the affluent west masks an unavoidable truth that the people of this world deserve better. The people of this world deserve inner-peace and stable health. The point is not that everyone needs to take psychedelics, but that the minority who feel compelled to do so may under their own freedoms.
60 years after the summer of love, the country is on the verge of a new renaissance; one that has the potential to change the world as we know it.