To talk about the future of psychedelics, it’s important to know a few things about the past. For the entirety of recorded history, man has used plants to alter his consciousness. Every civilization that we know of, besides those living in barren arctic climates, have used some form of plant or fungus to explore their mind!
Insights from drug use in ancient times
Michael Pollan, professor at UC Berkeley, illustrates this point beautifully in his book, turned Netflix docu-series, “How to Change Your Mind”; which, if you haven’t watched yet, I couldn’t recommend it more!
Pollan is primarily an author and journalist. He originally approached the topic of drugs with the idea that it doesn’t make any sense evolutionarily for drug use to continue from generation to generation, spanning thousands of years.
After all, drug use must make you sloppy and less effective at avoiding predators and acquiring resources. If drug use is a net negative, then all the users would surely be phased out through natural selection after several millennia, right?
The existence and prevalence of drug use today must mean that there is some benefit to the altered state of mind provided by these plants and fungi.
How psychedelics reemerged during the 20th century
We need a little more history to set the stage. At the turn of the 20th century, scientists began hearing reports from explorers of indigenous people using plants in religious ceremonies to alter their consciousness. Mescaline, the active compound in Peyote and San Pedro Cacti, was “discovered”, isolated, then synthesized all before the 1930s. Another early psychedelic, MDMA, was accidentally synthesized for the first time in that period as well.
Then came Albert Hoffman in 1938. While the Swiss chemist was attempting to find a stable form of Lysergic Acid to use in other medical formulas, he created Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25. Initially, LSD was set aside as some strange substance that didn’t appear to have any medicinal implementations.
It wasn’t until about a decade later that LSD started to get some attention. But as soon as more data became available around the substance, LSD spread like a wildfire through the scientific community.
At institutions like UC Berkeley and Harvard, figures like Timothy Leary and Terrence McKenna did some impressive work with LSD and other psychedelics, though most of their notoriety came from their activism in the counterculture movement. These figures, among others, were the driving forces behind the popularization of psychedelics in the 60’s and 70’s.
These inseparable ties between counterculture and psychedelic science ended up ushering in the dark ages of the field. Through policy crafted to target the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War efforts, Richard Nixon criminalized the “classic” psychedelics, cannabis, and just about all drugs. This prohibition made it difficult for any real research into these substances to progress.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Along came Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. In 1986, Doblin founded MAPS as a non-profit pharmaceutical company with the mission to establish psychedelics and cannabis in society.
Doblin has devoted nearly 40 years to this end, and has quietly become one of the most impactful figures in the space. With Doblin still at the helm, MAPS is currently in the final phase of FDA trials to approve MDMA for therapeutic treatment of PTSD, and expects to receive approval as early as late 2023!
So what does the future of psychedelics look like?
Once MDMA is approved by the FDA, things will start to progress quite a bit quicker. The DEA will have 90 days to reschedule MDMA to recognize its accepted medical use, and allow it to be prescribed by any doctor in all 50 states. We will start to see the already existing infrastructure of federally legal ketamine clinics implementing MDMA treatment using the protocols designed by MAPS.
FDA approval also means doctors will be able to prescribe the drug “off-label” for the treatment of a plethora of psychological conditions. Psychedelics will rapidly become commonplace, with varying policy solutions, ranging from decriminalization to recreational legalization, being implemented over the next 10-15 years.
This looks like a simple plan on paper, but in reality it will be far from easy. In an interview with Lex Friedman, Rick Doblin explained just how challenging it will be. The biggest hurdle will be in actually providing the treatment.
Doblin believes that we will need thousands of psychedelic therapy clinics open in the next decade; there are currently only a few hundred Ketamine clinics in the US. Not only does that mean the medical professionals will need to be trained and the infrastructure developed, but it also means these sites will need to be functioning and successful businesses.
Opportunities in the future of psychedelics are not just limited to the realms of research and policy; the industry needs passionate people interested in business, communications, technology, and even art, just to name a few. If you’re interested in taking serious action to end the drug war, there is a place for you.
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