For years, the field of mental health has been largely barren of meaningful treatment advances. But now, scientists have new hope in the least likely of places: psychedelic drugs. Recent research suggests that certain psychedelic substances can help relieve anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and the fear surrounding a terminal diagnosis.
“The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy,” says Michael Pollan, author of the new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. “We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes — but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.”
In the interview below (and video above), Pollan talked with TIME about the therapeutic promise of the drugs, their fraught history and the sheer terror he felt after smoking toad venom.
Walk me through a brief history of psychedelics.
If you ask people about psychedelics or LSD, they’re going to think about the psychedelic ’60s — Timothy Leary, this flamboyant psychology professor who was at Harvard for a few years, studying psilocybin and LSD, and then telling everybody they should take it in a very public way. The drugs kind of escaped the laboratory and were embraced by the counterculture.
The result was a full-scale moral panic against the drugs. President Nixon said Timothy Leary was the most dangerous man in America, which is pretty amazing for a washed-up psychology professor. But before that, there had been more than a decade of very promising research using these drugs in a therapeutic context in a very responsible way.
What do psychedelics do to the human mind?
The honest answer: nobody quite understands. We’re really just at the beginning of exploring that frontier. But psychedelics appear to diminish activity in one very important brain network called the default mode network. That network is very involved with operations having to do with our sense of self: how we integrate what’s happening to us in any given moment, with our abiding sense of who we are.
The interesting thing about psychedelics, both LSD and psilocybin — the ingredient in magic mushrooms — is that they take this network offline. When that happens, you have this sensation of ego-dissolution: that your self is evaporating or dissolving. And that seems to lead to new connections in the brain temporarily forming. Your emotion center …read more
Source:: Time – Health