With the mainstream ‘discovery’ of psychedelics in the early to mid-20th century came great hope that these substances may prove to be a valuable scientific tool in investigating psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis. Indeed, in 1947 – in the direct wake of Albert Hoffmann’s synthesis of LSD – his employer Sandoz began actively marketing the psychedelic substance to psychiatric researchers as a tool for this very purpose.
But from the mid-1960s, as hallucinogens such as LSD began to ‘escape’ the labs and as the general population began experimenting with the mystical states offered by the drugs, governments around the world began to heavily regulate distribution, and soon after began criminalizing them altogether. For three decades psychedelics became ‘forbidden fruit’, and scientific research languished.
However, in the past two decades research with hallucinogens has slowly been making a comeback, not least through the efforts of organizations such as MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Recent studies have looked at the use of MDMA in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), LSD and psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety, and ibogaine therapy for drug addiction.
As such, many high profile scientists have been calling for more open discussion of the possible benefits from psychedelic use. A new addition to that list is famed neurologist/psychologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of a number of bestsellers such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings. In the interview above he notes how psychedelic use has allowed him to be more empathic towards his patients, although in the second half of the video he also warns of the dangers of other types of drugs, such as amphetamines:
Although I can’t claim very lofty motives in my drug-taking, it did occur to me that there might be a bonus, that the drugs might sensitize me to experiences of a sort my patients could have. And I certainly felt that very strongly when I came to see migraine patients, and they described all sorts of geometrical patterns and colors, which I was very familiar with… Also, when I came to work with my ‘Awakenings’ patients, some of these patients had extraordinary sensory experiences – of time stopping, of motion being split up, into a series of separate stills. Which I think is almost unimaginable, but I had experienced that myself on LSD and I knew what they were talking about, and I knew how confounding it was.
So on the one hand, one bonus of the drug experiences was that it allowed me to be more empathic and to understand from my own experiences what various patients were going through.
Dr. Sacks’ latest book, Hallucinations, will be released later this year.