The tide seems to be turning with regard to attitudes to the healing powers of psychedelics, says Tom Shroder, the author of a new book on the subject. And, according to some researchers, their incredible efficacy is down to their ability to unleash the mind’s own “innate healing intelligence”.
The award winning journalist and ex-editor of The Washington Post Magazine spoke to The Eternities podcast about his latest work, Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy and the Power to Heal, which looks at the history of psychedelic therapy from the fifties to the present day.
He said, “Our system, as biased as it might have been against psychedelics, certainly was based on [a] belief that science could prove something, and science [has been] proving the efficacy of these drugs … in clinical conditions. They’re plenty safe enough. In fact, they’re much safer than most other drugs used in psychiatry. So, you can’t argue with the science.”
One of the three main figures of the book is Dr Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist at the forefront of psychedelic therapy research. In the podcast, Shroder tells how Mithoefer, previously an emergency room physician, saw a parallel between his two clinical roles. As an ER doctor, he couldn’t directly heal his patients but only remove obstructions to the body’s own natural healing pathways. “He felt it was the same in the psyche,” said Shroder. “If you remove the obstructions, and give the psyche the room it needed … it [can]heal itself. There is an innate healing intelligence.”
Shroder tells of therapists in the seventies and early eighties – before the DEA decided, against the evidence, to ban the therapeutic use of MDMA – allegedly achieving in just a few sessions the kind of successes that couldn’t even be accomplished in fifteen years of traditional therapy.
Also discussed in the podcast is the case of one of Mithoefer’s patients, Nick Blackston, a former Marine who served in Iraq, now seemingly cured of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thanks largely to MDMA assisted therapy. The third main personallity in the book is the indomitable campaigner Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), whose organization is currently raising funds for clinical trials of MDMA as a tool to assist PTSD psychotherapy.
Shroder told The Eternities, “[W]e have a trillion dollar commitment to these half a million vets who have come back with PTSD, in terms of disability and healthcare. The Pentagon has enough loose change in their couch cushions to fund this research … and the FDA has the regulatory authority to declare this an urgent need drug and put it on a fast track. Neither of those things are happening. The Pentagon hasn’t contributed a dime.”
“There is another side to this,” said Shroder. “The nature of the psychedelic experience does not only benefit people with mental illness. Johns Hopkins university is also researching psychedelics and they did an initial study [with] problem free volunteers. [S]eventy per cent of the people who participated said this was one of the five most significant experiences of their lifetime, and thirty percent said it was the single most significant experience of their lives.”
“I’ve had a lot of excerpts [of Acid Test] printed in various places [from] The Atlantic to Psychology Today to Salon and the Washington Post. There are not many comments that say ‘oh, these crazy drug fiends!’ Instead, they’re saying ‘yes, I’ve had experiences, I know how valuable these drugs are’. There are millions of people in the US and around the world who have had experiences with psychedelics that they’ve found to be valuable many years later, and, in fact, the people moving this research forward all along are in that group.”