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article imageTimothy Leary Vindicated? Psychedelics mostly safe, maybe helpful

By Craig Boehman     Sep 6, 2013 in Science
Research published on August 19 dispels the notion that the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD cause mental disorders. In fact, discredited researcher Timothy Leary may have been right all along in his assertion of the positive mental benefits for users.
Unlike other drugs and intoxicants, psychedelics are not known to to be addictive or cause brain damage.
Digital Journal reported earlier on the research conducted by Norwegian clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen and researcher Teri S. Krebs. Their study draws from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2001-2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Data was analyzed from a sample of more than 130,000 people chosen at random. More than 22,000 respondents surveyed declared that they had tried psychedelic drugs at least once.
Johansen and Krebs found no evidence that users of LSD, psilocybin (active ingredient in magic mushrooms), and mescaline (peyote) would later succumb to mental disorders.
“We did not find use of psychedelics to be an independent risk factor for mental health problems,” they wrote.
Perhaps surprisingly, their research found “weak associations” between psychedelic drug use and a lower rate of mental health issues. However, they caution that the design of the study wasn't meant to “draw causal inferences.” Along with other factors, they note that family mental health history wasn't available in the data prior to the user's initial use of psychedelic drugs.
We cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others. We did not adjust for multiple comparisons, so some of the associations with weak statistical significance are likely due to chance.
Johansen told The Local that many early studies showing a link between psychedelic drug use and mental health damage were based on a small number of cases studies from patients who were already mentally ill. He also noted that 3 percent of people suffer from a psychotic disorder over the course of their lifetimes – and one in six Americans have experimented with psychedelic drugs.
"Both mental illness and psychedelic use are prevalent in the population, likely leading to many chance associations," Johansen said.
American psychologist, writer, and psychedelic drugs advocate Timothy Leary claimed that psychedelics could prove therapeutically useful in the field of psychiatry. In particular, his Harvard research focused on the reduction of recidivism of prison inmates. But his program was shut down when concerns were raised by fellow professors about the legitimacy and safety of the experiments. Leary and his partner Dr. Richard Alpert were eventually fired.
Leary later emerged as a cult icon in the counter-culture of the 1960s. Although a highly controversial figure, his claim that LSD could be used as a treatment for alcoholism had found a new lease on life with researchers in later years.
In 2012 Johansen and Krebs analyzed the data from six clinical trials from the 1960s and 1970s who were enrolled in alcohol treatment programs. They found that 59 percent of those who dropped acid showed improvement in their alcohol addiction compared to 38 percent of the control group. Additionally, positive effects lasted from six to 12 months from a single dose of LSD.
Native Americans have been using psychedelics like peyote for thousands of years in religious and ceremonial rites. Peyote was commonly used by the Indians of Mexico to treat a variety of painful ailments and was often considered to be a panacea.
LSD was first synthesized by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann on November 16, 1938. He was attempting to create a respiratory and circulatory stimulant that wouldn't adversely affect the uterus. A few years later he accidentally absorbed a small amount of LSD through his fingertips in the lab.
“In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors,” he said of the event.
Three days later, Hofmann intentionally ingested LSD and rode his bicycle home, becoming the inspiration for “Bicycle Day.” It was the world's first official acid trip.
More about Lsd, Psychedelics, Timothy Leary, Plrjan Johansen, Teri S Krebs
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