Can LSD Cure Depression?Healing Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Jerome Burne | The Telegraph
Until recently, prescribing Ecstasy, mescaline or magic mushrooms has been a guaranteed way for a psychiatrist to lose his research funding, his job or even his liberty. But now, scientists are beginning to suspect that such illegal drugs may be the key to treating a range of intractable illnesses, from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression.
These chemicals – which include the psychedelic drugs psilocybin, derived from magic mushrooms, and LSD, as well as ecstasy – affect the way we think and behave, as well as causing hallucinations and mystical experiences. Yet a series of studies performed in Britain and the US is beginning to tease out their potential benefits. One, into the effects of Ecstasy, is featured in the controversial Channel 4 documentary, Drugs Live, tomorrow night.
“People become very emotionally tender on Ecstasy, which makes you more responsive to psychotherapy,” explains Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the experts involved. In the televised study, either a dose of ecstasy or a placebo was given to 26 volunteers, including the writer Lionel Shriver and the former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris. They were then put through a brain scanner by scientists at Imperial College London to see precisely where these drugs have an effect.
It was found that, in the volunteers given the proper drug, the area of their brain involved in positive memories became more active, while another processing negative memories was damped down. “We think this would make it easier for patients to revisit a traumatic memory and overwrite or control it,” says Carhart-Harris. Earlier studies have made surprising discoveries about what psilocybin, a class-A drug in Britain, was doing in the brain. These in turn could lead to new treatments for depression and agonising cluster headaches.
This may all sound radical, or even dangerous – yet half a century ago, research into the effects of psychedelic drugs was widespread and respectable. More than 1,000 papers were published looking at ways that psychiatrists could help patients with hallucinogenic chemicals. But then the walls descended, as a new anti-drug culture took hold, particularly in the United States. In the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of LSD and related chemicals. Since then, research in the field has been effectively frozen, with recent years seeing a tentative thaw.