The legal restrictions surrounding psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms), are stifling research into the potential medicinal benefits that these drugs could bring, according to a leading psychiatrist from Kings College London. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr. James Rucker claims that they should be reclassified to make it easier for scientists to research their effects on common psychiatric disorders.
Before 1967, there were hundreds of trials involving tens of thousands of patients. Whilst these studies would fall short of modern standards, Rucker says that other more recent trials performed outside the U.K. have “shown clinical efficacy in anxiety associated with advanced cancer, obsessive compulsive disorder, tobacco addition, alcohol addiction, and cluster headaches.”
Research in the western world was abruptly halted in 1967 when the psychedelic drugs were made illegal. The common belief often still held today is that they cause homicidal and suicidal tendencies. But according to Rucker, John Ehrlichman, former assistant to Richard Nixon during the 1960s “war on drugs,” admitted in 1992 that the government lied about the harmful effects of the substances for political gain. He is even reported as saying: “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Psychedelic drugs have since been classed as ‘schedule 1 class A’ in the U.K., which is the strictest level of control. This is for substances that “have no medicinal use,” despite, according to Rucker, evidence to the contrary. This category also includes cannabis, where studies have shown its medicinal benefit for treating conditions such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Drugs that fall into the less restricted ‘schedule 2 class A’ category include heroin and cocaine, which have shown “no prospect that [their] benefits can be translated into wider medical practice,” says Rucker.
Writing in the BMJ, Rucker states that there is no evidence that psychedelic drugs are addictive or habit forming, and that there is little evidence to show that they are harmful when used in a controlled environment. With restrictions as they currently are, he claims that there is too much stigma associated with the drugs and that they are simply too expensive to conduct meaningful trials. It currently costs around £100,000 ($153,000) for one gram of psilocybin.
Rucker wants to be able to assess the possible benefits of the drugs in a safe, comprehensive and evidence-based way. But with the British government's past record with evidence-based drug assessments, it doesn’t look like it’ll be downgrading LSD anytime soon.