Despite the decriminalization of psychedelics in Ann Arbor and our first Entheofest, there is still a stigma surrounding psychedelic drugs which ascribes them the reputation of forbidden fruit. Whether this is an opinion that you share or do not share, I seek to give background as to why they are viewed as untouchable, disclose their relative level of safety and shed light on their gradual road to acceptance as a treatment for mental illness. 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago, this idea was considered outlandish and was only accepted by a minority of people. However, society has become ever-increasingly progressive over time, leading to a larger proportion of people who accept this notion. A complete change in this stigma will likely not be seen for years, but conversations which raise awareness about the topic will push for therapeutic usage in the future.
You might be asking why the negative reputation of psychedelics exists if there is research proving their numerous benefits to mental illness. The answer to this question is rooted in United States history. There was a great amount of research pertaining to psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s, with about 40,000 patients enrolled in psychotherapy as their primary form of care. Hippie culture emerged in the 1970s, which was largely looked down upon as people acting in barbaric manners. The government cracked down on this movement, demonizing the drugs they used. Because of the media’s influence, psychedelics gained an even greater negative connotation. This led to significant setbacks in psychotherapy’s progress and brought many clinics to a close. Unfortunately, these negative perceptions of psychedelics are now deeply ingrained in our culture. These ideas have marinated for upwards of 50 years, meaning they will be difficult to change.
On a more optimistic note, the exponential growth of technology in the past half-century is highly beneficial to psychedelic research. We now understand these drugs at a molecular level, which we did not have the capability to know before. Brain scans of various study participants have revealed the effects of psychedelics with more certainty than ever before.
In addition to greater technological awareness, another step in changing these perceptions involves making people aware of psychedelics’ safety. Psychedelics “have a much greater safety profile than the (other) major addictive drugs, have extremely low levels of mortality, and produce little if any physical dependence.” It is not in their nature to be addictive, as a high on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) takes up to 12 hours and a high on psilocybin takes up to six. These highs are emotionally and physically challenging, therefore the vast majority of users do not have a desire to do them on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis. Additionally, tolerance to psychedelics builds up very quickly and using them more than four days in a row makes it “extremely difficult to have any effect.”
With all of this considered, I segue into the positive impact of psychedelics on patients with depression and anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common treatment for these patients but they come with adverse side effects and a relapse rate of 23%. Those who relapse may want to turn to other methods, such as psychedelic drugs like (LSD) and Psilocybin mushrooms. These drugs have similar effects to SSRIs; however, they do not cause as many negative reactions and have the added benefit of an “after-glow.” The “after-glow” is a phenomenon characterized by increased clarity and realization of one’s own reason for existence, therefore putting that person in greater touch with their humanity and life itself. This “after-glow” is unique to psychedelics and is not experienced when using SSRIs.
Based on individual needs, psychedelics have the potential to be a valuable alternative to SSRIs or a concurrent therapeutic option, provided that research continues to affirm these positive results. Elaborating on the idea of varying needs by individual, it is important to note that mental illness is extremely malleable in the sense that no person’s battle is the same. Each patient’s recovery differs based on the effects of certain drugs on that specific person’s body, how successful treatments are for them and the degree to which they can battle the illness. Because of this high level of variation, the use of precision medicine is critical. Each person’s medical journey is unique and different methods will work for different patients. For this reason, I emphasize that if psychedelics were hypothetically approved to be used pharmaceutically, they would not be the solution for all, only for some.
With this in mind, we must be aware of the fact that mental illness is on the rise. For the group of people who would potentially benefit from psychedelics, we must push to legalize them for medical purposes. In the modern world, mental illness prevalence has increased 13% due to demographic changes, substance use disorders and the current pandemic. With changing problems, we should consider changing solutions. The onset of mental illnesses appears for the first time before the age of 25 62.5% of the time.
This directly impacts us as college students. Young people face more mental illness than any other age group because of pressures from social media, making this topic especially applicable to University of Michigan students. We are growing up in a time where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and where we have access to a virtually unlimited amount of information, whether this information is good or bad. Children growing up with devices are only a touch away from all of these pressures.
One solution to this dilemma is right in front of us and has been throughout our country’s history — psychedelics. With the acceptance of fact-based evidence and open-mindedness, they will one day be more than just a disgraceful dinner table topic. Society may have taught you to reject them, but I ask you to question this social construct. Read about them, look into the work of psychedelic plant activists, do your own research and develop your own opinion. Do this for the greater good of our generation and for our student body as a whole.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.