Psilocybin day of action fosters discussion of the role of psychedelics in medicine

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This past Sunday, Sept. 20, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) participated in a coordinated day of action centered on raising awareness and bringing attention to the psilocybin compound.

Psilocybin Day of Action is a project developed by the 920 coalition. The coalition’s aim is to increase awareness of recent medical research on psilocybin and provide contextual information about the traditional healing uses that have been practiced for thousands of years by indigenous peoples all over the world.

“Psilocybin has shown promise in end-of-life therapy, treating anxiety and depression, and promoting long-term psychological health,” according to the SSDP website.

Psilocybin has also been shown to significantly reduce the effects of cluster headaches, long acknowledged to be the most painful condition known to medical science. Nicknamed “suicide headaches,” the suicide rate among sufferers is said to be 20 times the national average. Approximately 400,000 people suffer from cluster headaches in the United States alone, an estimated one in 1,000 individuals.

Clusterbusters is a non-profit research and educational organization dedicated to finding effective treatment for cluster headaches. The organization was in part created to explore the role of psychedelics (primarily LSD and psilocybin) in the treatment and prevention of cluster headaches. In one experiment, 22 out of 26 psilocybin users reported that the use of psilocybin had aborted their attacks; 25 out of 48 psilocybin users and 7 out of 8 LSD users reported cluster period termination; and 18 out of 19 psilocybin users and 4 out of 5 LSD users reported remission period extensions.

Studies on psilocybin and its effects on the human brain and body have been ongoing in the U.S. since 2000. One Johns Hopkins study on psilocybin found that participants exhibited more “openness,” a term that includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness.

“Hopkins scientists were able to reliably induce transcendental experiences in volunteers, which offered long lasting psychological growth and helped people find peace in their lives,” according to Time magazine.

The study involved 18 healthy adults, the average age being 46, all of whom participated in five eight-hour long sessions with either various doses of psilocybin or a non-psychoactive placebo. Nearly all of the volunteers were college graduates, 78 percent regularly participated in religious activities, and all were interested in spiritual experiences. Fourteen months after the study, 94 percent of those who received the drug said the experiment was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives and 39 percent said it was the single most meaningful experience of their life. The research was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and approved by Johns Hopkins’ Institutional Review Board prior to being published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“The first two psilocybin studies conducted at Johns Hopkins, in 2008 and 2011 respectively, showed that psilocybin occasions [can result in] personally meaningful and spiritually significant mystical experiences [that can] produce positive changes in attitudes, mood, altruism, behavior, and life-satisfaction,” according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS, an organization created by New College alum Rick Doblin, is dedicated to the development of medical, legal and cultural contexts in which people can benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.

There is a huge gap in scientific research on the psychedelic front, primarily as a result of reactionary controlled substance laws that were created in response to the perceived role of psychedelics in the 1960s. One of the first major scientific studies on the benefits of the psilocybin compound, the Harvard Psilocybin Project (1960-1962), ended with the termination of Timothy Leary and his partner Richard Alpert, now known as Ram Dass, from Harvard. The study led to the regulation of the once-legal psilocybin compound, first under the Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965 and then under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

The Controlled Substances Act was responsible for categorizing a majority of psychedelics, including marijuana, LSD, MDMA, DMT, psilocybin and peyote, as Schedule I drugs, a category defined by substances with both a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. The demonization of psilocybin, and other psychedelics, led to the use of their compounds, even in highly controlled academic settings, being banned for the next 20 years.

Psychedelic research began to pick up again in the 1990s, with Rick Strassman’s revolutionary experiments with the tryptamine compound commonly known as DMT. Strassman was the first person in the U.S. to embark on human research with a psychedelic in more than 20 years, and his struggle in obtaining the compound and inability to complete his research as he originally desired are well documented in his book, “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.”

Participation in Psilocybin Day of Action included the screening of documentaries, distribution of educational materials, the hosting of formal or informal discussions, panels, and debates around the nation as well as through SSDP’s international branches in Canada and Mexico.

New College’s participation in Psilocybin Day of Action took place in the Gender and Diversity Center. Students watched informational videos on the medicinal benefits of psilocybin and other psychedelics, both physiologically and psychologically, and held informal discussions on the cultural, historical and pharmacological components of psychedelics and their use throughout the world.

SSDP’s participation in Psilocybin Day of Action has allowed for more open discussion about psychedelics without the negative bias that permeates popular media, the government and law enforcement.


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