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The Psychedelic Renaissance: What is Behind the Trend? 

Celebrities, studies, legal developments and more.

The material below is not intended to provide medical advice and we don’t encourage the illegal use of any substances. Most psychedelics are potentially illegal substances, and we do not encourage the use of these substances where it is against the law. Due to the high demand for the subject, we created this article for educational purposes. The intent of the content is to help you start learning about the subject.

Psychedelics were slowly relegated to the fringes of experimental drug use for two and a half decades following their initial ban in 1970. While they always retained a degree of cultural sway and mystical lore in certain liberal circles, the revival of scientific interest in their properties didn’t happen until the mid-‘90s. That’s when scientists in Germany, the US, and Switzerland began taking a second look at the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.  

The resurgence of these mind-altering substances in recent years has ignited a cultural and scientific renaissance, challenging preconceived notions and promising transformative experiences.

The past seven decades of psychedelic history have been marked by a rollercoaster of developments, driven not only by concerns about long-term health effects but also by political and legislative factors. While the 1960s held promise with extensive research conducted in prestigious institutions like Harvard, the momentum came to a screeching halt in the 1970s with President Nixon’s ban on psychedelics. This turbulent history reflects both the potential and the obstacles that psychedelics have faced over the years.

While they always retained a degree of cultural sway and mystical lore in certain liberal circles, the revival of scientific interest in their properties didn’t happen until the mid-‘90s. That’s when scientists in Germany, the US, and Switzerland began taking a second look at the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.  

In 1999, Johns Hopkins University researchers began studying psilocybin for its potential therapeutic uses. Subsequent research demonstrated the effectiveness of psychedelics in treating various mental and physical conditions. Legal developments, including a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling and FDA recognition in 2019, supported their use. Several US cities decriminalized psychedelics, leading to a growing movement. Academic institutions established research centers, and significant funding was secured for studies. In 2022, a Netflix series renewed interest in psychedelics, signifying a resurgence in their popularity.

Celebrity Mentions

In recent years, several notable celebrities have openly shared their experiences with psychedelics and the potential therapeutic benefits they’ve derived from these substances.

Prince Harry, in an interview with 60 Minutes, revealed his use of psychedelics such as ayahuasca and psilocybin. He attributed this unconventional therapy to addressing the mental health challenges stemming from the profound grief of losing his mother at the tender age of 12. While emphasizing that he wouldn’t advocate recreational use, Prince Harry acknowledged the medicinal potential of these substances when used in a therapeutic context.

Will Smith, the accomplished actor, shared his transformative encounter with ayahuasca, describing it as his “first tiny taste of freedom.” He spoke passionately about the profound connection he felt during the experience and referred to “Mother Ayahuasca” as a guiding force that provided him with profound insights and a sense of purpose.

Sam Altman, the founder behind ChatGPT, candidly discussed the impact of psychedelic therapy during an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, Episode 2044. He recounted how it played a pivotal role in transforming his life, particularly in alleviating anxiety and other personal challenges. Altman’s testimony underscored the profound effects psychedelics can have on individuals.

Joe Rogan, not just a celebrity but a prominent advocate for psychedelics, has dedicated numerous podcast episodes to exploring the subject. He has hosted in-depth conversations with experts like Dennis McKenna, Sam Harris, Michael Pollan, and Paul Stamets, delving into the potential benefits of psychedelics and the latest research findings. These discussions have contributed to a broader awareness of the therapeutic potential of these substances.

These high-profile endorsements and conversations reflect the growing recognition and interest in psychedelics as a tool for mental and emotional healing.

Therapeutic Benefits and Recent Studies

Research into the therapeutic effects of psychedelics on humans went through an abrupt halt following their 1971 prohibition, before being revived in the mid-’90s by researchers in the US, Germany, and Switzerland. Research over the next two decades has now left us with a considerable body of knowledge on psychedelics. Separate studies have so far established the efficiency of psychedelics in treating particular psychiatric symptoms: Psilocybin has been shown to be effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), LSD in helping patients with end-of-life psychological distress, and Ayahuasca for the treatment of major depression. 

A host of related studies are currently underway at multiple clinical establishments across the world. These include Johns Hopkins Medicine in the US, where researchers are probing the potential use of psilocybin to help with smoking cessation, Alzheimer’s disease, eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, Lyme Disease, and PTSD, among others. Elsewhere in the US, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has reported that 67% with moderate to severe PTSD showed remarkable signs of improvement with MDMA therapy in stage III clinical trials. In another study by the mental health care company COMPASS Pathways, 30% of participants with treatment-resistant depression were in remission after a single 25mg dose of psilocybin.  

Results for many more psychedelic trials in mental health treatment are expected to be released in 2023.

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Real Results

The groundbreaking study conducted by Johns Hopkins University shed light on the potential of psilocybin, the active compound found in “magic mushrooms,” as an aid in smoking cessation. This carefully controlled study, embedded within a cognitive behavioral therapy program, yielded remarkable results.

Over a six-month period, the study reported an astounding 80 percent abstinence rate among long-term smokers who had previously struggled to quit. This success rate significantly surpassed the typical outcomes observed in conventional smoking cessation trials. For comparison, the most effective smoking cessation drug, varenicline, achieves approximately a 35 percent success rate after six months, while other treatments like nicotine replacement and behavioral therapies often yield success rates below 30 percent.

However, it is crucial to note that the researchers strongly emphasize that their findings should not be interpreted as an endorsement of self-administered psychedelic drug use for smoking cessation. Instead, the success observed is specifically linked to the controlled administration of psilocybin in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, underscored that quitting smoking with psilocybin is not merely a biological reaction, unlike other medications that target nicotine receptors. Rather, when administered within a therapeutic framework following careful preparation, psilocybin fosters deep introspection about one’s life and ignites the motivation to make profound changes.

The study encompassed 15 participants, comprising 10 men and five women, all in good mental and physical health. They averaged 51 years of age, smoked an average of 19 cigarettes daily for 31 years, and had previously attempted, without success, to quit smoking. Notably, some participants had minimal prior exposure to hallucinogens, with the last usage occurring an average of 27 years before the study.

The treatment involved three sessions of psilocybin administration, with escalating doses. During these sessions, lasting six to seven hours each, participants were closely monitored in a comfortable, home-like environment, often wearing eyeshades and listening to music to enhance the introspective experience. Concurrently, they engaged in a comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy program, which included one-on-one counseling sessions and diary-keeping to track cravings and triggers.

The researchers, who have long received federal funding to explore the psychoactive effects of psychedelic substances, propose that psilocybin may disrupt the ingrained patterns of thought and behavior associated with long-term smoking addiction. Importantly, the benefits appear to endure beyond the immediate influence of the drug.

The movement to decriminalize psilocybin in the United States gained traction in 2019 when Denver, Colorado, became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in May of that year. This movement expanded rapidly, with Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, following suit in June 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Washington, D.C., joined the list in November 2020, with Somerville, Massachusetts, following in January 2021. Nearby Cambridge and Northampton, Massachusetts, joined in February and March 2021. Seattle, Washington, joined this growing list in October 2021, and Detroit, Michigan, followed in November 2021.

These initiatives have garnered support from advocates citing emerging research on the potential medical uses of psilocybin. Oregon notably passed a ballot measure in 2020, becoming the first state to both decriminalize psilocybin and legalize its supervised use. Colorado followed suit with a similar measure in 2022. However, it’s essential to note that the use, sale, and possession of psilocybin remain illegal under federal law in the United States.

The decriminalization efforts encompass various cities and states, reflecting a broader shift in attitudes towards psychedelics. Proponents argue that decriminalization can redirect law enforcement resources toward more pressing issues, such as violent crime, while acknowledging research indicating the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin. These developments underscore the evolving landscape surrounding psychedelic substances in the United States.

Ongoing Efforts to Legalize Psychedelics

Ongoing efforts to reform psilocybin laws in the United States have seen significant developments. In 2019, Iowa lawmaker Jeff Shipley introduced bills to legalize medical psilocybin and remove its classification as a controlled substance. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed legislation to facilitate research into psilocybin’s medical applications. By November 2019, nearly 100 U.S. cities were considering decriminalization measures.

In January 2020, Vermont legislators introduced a bill to decriminalize psilocybin, peyote, ayahuasca, and kratom. Oregon witnessed initiatives to legalize supervised psilocybin use and decriminalize drug possession. New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal introduced a decriminalization bill, citing successful efforts in other cities. New Jersey Senator Nicholas Scutari proposed an amendment to decriminalize psilocybin in a marijuana bill.

In November 2020, California Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill to decriminalize various psychedelics. The bill made significant progress in the legislative process. In September 2021, Michigan senators introduced a bill allowing personal and communal use of naturally occurring substances, including financial gain for related services. Activists also pushed for reform in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In January 2022, Washington State legislators proposed a bill to legalize psilocybin for supported adult use. In 2023, lawmakers in eleven states pursued psychedelics reform legislation. Notably, Senate Bill 58 aimed to decriminalize psilocybin but was vetoed by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2023. These ongoing efforts reflect a dynamic landscape of changing attitudes toward psychedelics across the United States.

Recommended Read:

Breaking the Stigma: Psychedelic Subtypes Yield Consistent Depression and Anxiety Relief

The Role of Education and Awareness

In the realm of education and awareness regarding psychedelics, Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” has played a pivotal role. Following the success of his book with the same title, Pollan ventured into the world of documentary filmmaking with a Netflix series. This documentary consists of four episodes, each delving into a specific psychedelic substance and its history. It covers LSD’s synthesis and therapeutic research, the world of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, MDMA’s therapeutic use, and the ceremonial use of peyote cactus. The series serves as an informative introduction to psychedelics and their therapeutic potential, emphasizing the importance of responsible and research-based exploration. 

BBC Two - The Psychedelic Drug Trial
BBC Two – The Psychedelic Drug Trial

Another documentary, “The Psychedelic Drug Trial,” explores the use of psilocybin as a treatment for major depressive disorder, providing an in-depth look at the study’s design and the experiences of participants. It highlights the potential of psilocybin therapy as a lifeline for individuals dealing with severe depression. 

Overall, these documentaries contribute to public understanding and dialogue surrounding psychedelics and their therapeutic applications.

The resurgence of psychedelics represents a profound shift in our understanding of these substances, moving from decades of prohibition and stigma to a renaissance of scientific exploration and therapeutic potential. The journey through history, science, and society reveals a complex tapestry of promise, challenges, and evolving attitudes. As celebrities share their transformative experiences and research uncovers new therapeutic applications, psychedelics are poised to reshape mental health treatments and our broader cultural conversation. The legal landscape, once staunchly against these substances, now bears witness to a growing movement to decriminalize and legalize psychedelics, reflecting a recognition of their potential benefits. With ongoing research, education, and advocacy, the future holds promise for a more enlightened and compassionate approach to these remarkable compounds, offering hope to those in need of healing and understanding.

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