Psychedelic Journeys Through The Human Brain

Psychedelic Journeys Through The Human Brain

A resurgence in the study of psychedelic substances in treating mental illnesses is taking over the world. We walk you through the work of those leading the charge.

Psychedelics hold a peculiar place in our culture. Sabotaged by decades of criminalisation, both plant-based and chemically synthesised compounds have been slapped with an image that is simply undeserved. The illicit market for drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA and ketamine will continue to have takers, while scientists and doctors struggle to attain permission to study them in clinical settings.

The truth is, psychedelics can serve humanity much beyond dudebros tripping on patterns and having cosmic revelations. Research on their potential to treat a slew of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, PTSD and addiction is having a quiet global renaissance, and they are proving to be powerful tools of self-work that can make a paradigm shift in how we approach psychopharmacology.

The President Who Cried Wolf

The use of psychedelics for wellness instead of just recreation isn’t new in any way. Plant-based entheogens have been revered for thousands of years by indigenous communities as sacred medicine.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, psychedelic research was flourishing, showing great hope for psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. After they became associated with the counterculture and the hippies, US president Nixon promptly declared the war on drugs, cutting short all studies and trials. This forced all psychedelics to go underground, wherein quality regulation became non-existent and taboo surrounding their use soared. The drug scare of the 70s touched most parts of the globe, lumping psychedelics in with dangerous and addictive substances like cocaine and heroin.

Magic mushrooms
Magic mushroomsvia Stat News

To Trip or Not To Trip

Popular attitudes couldn’t be more ill-informed. Several studies have concluded classic psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin (the compound in magic mushrooms) are not addictive and cause no organ damage even when consumed in high doses.

US-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) founder Rick Doblin reminds us that psychedelics are tools- whether their outcome is beneficial or harmful depends on how they are used.

Psychedelic psychotherapy is an attempt to go after the root causes of the problem.

Many struggling with chronic mental health issues are desperate for alternative medication, and clinicians and regulators around the world are warming up to the idea of psychedelic-assisted therapy. With relatively few administrations, they have shown to drastically alleviate the suffering of patients on a long-term basis, in contrast to allopathic drugs used today that mostly address symptoms and are meant to be taken on a daily basis.

Seeking FDA approval, MAPS is in phase 2 of clinical trials proving the effectiveness of MDMA in treating PTSD. The use of psilocybin in addressing treatment-resistant depression is also under the clinical lens, and shows great hope worldwide.

In the face of these breakthroughs, leading universities including Johns Hopkins, Yale, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York have opened up divisions dedicated to psychedelic research and innovation.

DIY Psychonauts

Despite shifting perceptions, psychedelics continue to be illegal in most countries. Many are taking things in their own hands and organisations dedicated to bringing psychedelics out of the shadows are guiding people through their experiences. Media company Double Blind provides a magic mushroom growing course, taught by experts in the field. Axis Mundi offers courses that help psychonauts prepare for, navigate and integrate psychedelic experiences, with a focus on intention. Synthesis offers safe, legal, medically supervised psychedelic retreats in Amsterdam.

via Financial Times

PsyTech Summit is an annual event being held since 2019 where experts in the field come together for “a spirited global discussion focused on today’s most impactful psychedelic treatments and their burgeoning commercial climate”. Of course, the psychedelic renaissance isn’t escaping the notice of entrepreneurs, who are turning their R&D ventures into publicly traded companies. Called ‘shroom stocks’, these public psychedelics companies and stocks are leading the charge in production, patents and novel delivery methods.

Drugs vs Sanskaar

You might say, all of this is well and good, but what’s the scene in India? Predictably, the understanding of psychedelics continues to be clouded by the impact of fear-mongering tactics, and the lack of drug policy reform hampers those seeking access to psychedelic-assisted therapy. Besides queries on Quora about the mushroom season Kodaikanal or how to find acid in Kasol, scientifically-informed, expert-led initiatives to study the potential of psychedelics in treating the mental illness pandemic in the country are far and in-between.

However, some organisations have already started the difficult work of addressing taboo.

Somaa is an NGO dedicated to research & integration of entheogenic plants. Using an educational approach, they aim to demystify psychedelics in India. Psychedelic Society of India advocates for the safe, informed and socially constructive use of psychedelics, and seeks to establish a harmonious psychedelic community by organising regular events to meet, share experiences and facilitate open public discussion.

This is only just the beginning, and we still have a long way to go in a country where all drugs are demonized and their use is seen as the ultimate fall from grace. While the deeply embedded social stigma will take decades to overcome, there is hope for a uniquely Indian psychedelic renaissance.

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