An opinion piece in The BMJ by James Rucker, a psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London in the UK, argues that psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin should be legally reclassified to encourage research on their clinical applications.
In the US, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 ruled that psychedelic drugs have “no currently accepted medical use” and they were placed in schedule 1, the most stringently regulated category of controlled substances.
In both the US and UK, psychedelic drugs were used and researched extensively in clinical psychiatry throughout the 1950s and 1960s. However, for decades, both countries have been required to uphold prohibition as a condition of United Nations (UN) membership, which Rucker suggests arguably causes more harm than it prevents.
To illustrate the faults of the current UN classification of psychedelics, Rucker cites the 1992 admission by Richard Nixon’s former assistant John Ehrlichman, that the Nixon administration had lied about the harmful effects of psychedelics and other substances as part of their “war on drugs” – manipulating media coverage on the issue for political advantage.
To this day, psychedelics face tighter legal restrictions than heroin and cocaine.
“But no evidence indicates that psychedelic drugs are habit forming,” Rucker writes, “little evidence indicates that they are harmful in controlled settings; and much historical evidence shows that they could have use in common psychiatric disorders.”
Rucker points to a 2010 analysis of harms to both recreational drug users and society, which ranked LSD and psilocybin – the psychotropic compound found in magic mushrooms – among the safest of all studied substances.
And he dismisses the popular perceptions of psychedelics’ harms as being mythical and rooted in propaganda:
“The belief that psychedelics induce homicidal or suicidal behavior was inculcated by the politically driven and media led condemnation of LSD in the 1960s. ”
Rucker elaborates that studies have suggested that psychedelics have beneficial properties in the treatment of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), cluster headaches and tobacco and alcohol addiction.
However, the article explains that larger clinical studies into psychedelics have been made almost impossible due to the schedule 1 classification, which imposes “practical, financial and bureaucratic obstacles.”
For example, if researchers want to obtain psilocybin for clinical study, there is only one manufacturer in the world that can supply the drug, with a prohibitive cost of more than $150,000 per gram, a quantity that provides just 50 doses.
In addition, the cost of licenses required to legalize the possession of psychedelics for clinical trial means that studying psychedelics costs an institution up to 10 times more than that of research into heroin, a drug that Rucker points out is less restricted and more harmful.
Consequently, “almost all grant funders are uncomfortable funding research into psychedelics.”
As psychedelics are not harmful or addictive in comparison with other restricted drugs, Rucker calls on the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs to reclassify psychedelics as schedule 2 substances, which will “enable a comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of their therapeutic potential.”