When you hear the term “psychedelics,” you might think of hallucinogenic and mystical experiences. Popular psychedelics include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), magic mushrooms (containing the psychedelic psilocybin), and DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine, part of the spiritual medicine ayahuasca), all of which can cause intense psychological experiences colloquially known as “trips.” However, there is an emerging push within the scientific community to study these known recreational drugs as treatments for psychiatric conditions that could potentially be more effective with fewer side effects than traditional psychiatric medications.
This psychiatric interest in psychedelics is nothing new: in the 1950s and 60s, thousands of patients were experimentally given various psychedelics to treat alcoholism and other mental health disorders. It was only when the U.S. 1971 Controlled Substances Act was passed that much of this research came to a grinding halt. After a nearly 40 year pause in this work, scientists are beginning to resume this research. Landmark trials from 2014 and 2016 have already shown that LSD and psilocybin respectively improved mood and anxiety in patients with various life-threatening illnesses for up to a year after treatment, with many more studies underway.