One of the greatest sources of consternation in my life is the way our political leaders and lawmakers continue to respond to the greatest drug epidemic the world has ever seen. In 2017 and sourced from the most current data available, over 73,000 Americans died an avoidable death at the hands of overdoses. Hundreds of thousands have died in the last twenty-years. Families have been decimated. Life expectancy has decreased for Americans due to opioid overdoses. Moreover, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2017 than in 1999.
The number of Americans suffering and dying from addiction is absolutely staggering. One could rightfully expect our leaders to demand ‘all hands on deck’ approach and use whatever resources available to save American lives and end this epidemic. But that is not what is happening, not even close. Instead, we hear, ‘my heartfelt condolences go out to the family of this poor person’, and nothing ever gets done.
In the fifties and sixties, researchers were experimenting with the use of hallucinogenic drugs in the treatment of mental health and addiction. Psychiatrist Humphry Osmond was one of the pioneers in the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and various mental disorders beginning in the early 1950’s. Osmond tried LSD for himself and stated that the drug could produce profound changes in consciousness. By the end of the 1960’s, Osmond and his associate Dr. Abram Hoffer treated approximately 2,000 alcoholic patients. Their study revealed that between 40 and 45% of their patients given the drug had not experienced a relapse after a year. They concluded that a large dose of LSD could be an effective treatment for alcoholism.
Stanislav Grof was another pioneer in the research of therapeutic applications of hallucinogens on mental disorders, including addiction. He claimed that LSD seemed to accelerate treatment of mental illness exponentially. “It was quite extraordinary,” Grof tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “This was a tremendous deepening and acceleration of the psychotherapeutic process, and compared with the therapy in general, which mostly focuses on suppression of symptoms, here we had something that could actually get to the core of the problems.”
At about the same time, a group of researchers drilled down into studies to assess the efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) as a viable treatment for alcohol and narcotic addictions. The results were rather surprising and encouraging at the same time. In a survey they conducted with a local drug supervision program, they found that of the 25,000 people surveyed, previous psychedelic use was a good predictor of completing the program drug-free.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the future of the therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs in the mental health and addiction field. Some of the drugs were already approved for use and were being applied on a limited basis to great success. This all came to a screeching halt in 1970.
Anyone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s will tell you it was a turbulent time. President Richard Nixon was in the Whitehouse. The Viet Nam war was raging; hundreds of thousands of young American men were sent overseas to fight a war but knew not what they were fighting for. Many returned with heroin addictions. Back home there were student riots, anti-war demonstrations and the hippie movement was taking over the country. Experimenting with drugs such as heroin and psychedelics became integral to the movement.
They were unsettling times and our political leaders felt they needed to take action to bring order back to society. Consequently, the negative press surrounding psychedelic drugs set off a full-blown national hysteria. Look magazine published an article titled: “A mood of public—and to an extent, professional—hysteria has been generated and is blocking legitimate scientific research on these substances” which put an exclamation point after the disastrous shift in perception of what was recently considered to be “the next big thing” in psychiatry. Then in 1970, LSD, psilocybin, Ibogaine, marijuana and other drugs remotely associated with the counterculture were given schedule 1 status under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970; meaning, prescriptions cannot be written for these drugs that are considered unsafe, addictive, and have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The criteria starkly contrasted with what researchers found, leading many to believe this action was more about quelling the counterculture than science and medicine.
The act put an end to large scale research of psychedelics, effectively paralyzing future studies in this aspect of human psychology for decades. The pharmaceutical companies have no interest in investing in promising therapies that cannot be patented and profited from. However, there were a few independent researchers around the globe that carried on. It was through their work and efforts that a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs therapeutic value was born.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find a robust research climate into the therapeutic values of psychedelic drugs as a viable treatment option for mental health and addiction. Two of the biggest subjects are the effects of psilocybin and LSD on anxiety in terminally ill patients and those suffering from addiction.
How psychedelics work in the brain still escapes researchers to this day. They seem to agree that they work on the serotonin and dopamine receptors but what actually causes the hallucinations remains elusive. However, and more important to the how, is the what they can do. Many recent studies have discovered that classic hallucinogens, in one way or another, have the potential to treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and other mental health conditions.
Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychology at Johns-Hopkins University said that: “People will often report a changed relationship in observing themselves. I think this is much like what we refer to as mindfulness: someone’s ability to view their own motivations and behavior from a more detached and less judgmental perspective. “It’s sort of like a crash course in mindfulness; I’m starting to think of it like that”. Johnson is testing psilocybin in a trial aimed at nicotine addiction.
In a paper titled: Psychedelics as medicines for substance abuse rehabilitation: evaluating treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca, published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), part of the United States National Library of Medicine, researchers revealed that: “Evidence suggests that these substances help assist recovery from drug dependency through a variety of therapeutic mechanisms”.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you my own personal experiences with Ibogaine, a substance found in the root of a shrub native to West Central Africa. I was just one of a handful of addiction experts to work with Dr. Debra Mash on the only FDA approved clinical study of Ibogaine that took place on the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts. Dr. Mash has referred to me on multiple occasions as one of the leading clinical experts of Ibogaine. 303 people with active addictions who had been abusing opioids for up to 14 years, a few even longer, came through the program. Of those 303 people treated, 98% experienced no withdrawal symptoms or a desire/craving to abuse opioids. The entire treatment lasted 36 hours or less from the administration of Ibogaine.
Moreover, I’ve personally experienced Ibogaine therapy myself on one occasion. I can tell you first hand that my experience didn’t even remotely come close to the way psychedelic experiences were described in the sixties. Like most others, my experience was more of a personal journey back to my childhood that moved forward to adulthood. I was looking at myself in third person. It seemed more real than a dream, but many people call it a dream for lack of a better description. I saw myself in emotional memories that had long been forgotten – or maybe even suppressed. Even though some of these memories were traumatic, I didn’t feel any fear; just a calm about myself and a new perspective on the event I was experiencing. As the Ibogaine wore off, I felt renewed and more attune to myself, as though balance had been restored to my life.
New studies on hallucinogens have also put to rest many of the negative talking points of the sixties. For example, classical serotonergic psychedelics- LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline are not known to cause brain damage and are regarded as non-addictive. A variety of clinical studies found no indication that these psychedelics cause long-term mental health problems, indicating that classic hallucinogens are much safer than we were led to believe in the sixties.
All of this interest and experimentation into the therapeutic applications of hallucinogens have placed us on the threshold of new and effective therapies for mental disorders including addiction. It is the breakthrough that many of us have been looking for to help save lives and change the tide of this deadly epidemic. The science is there and I think it is just a matter of time before we start to see these therapies roll out of clinical studies and into treatment centers across the country.
John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare & Chronic Relapse Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is on the board of directors of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 69 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. Giordano is the proud recipient of the Martin Luther King Award and a tenth degree black belt honored in the Black Belt Hall Of Fame. For the latest development in cutting-edge addiction treatment, check out his website: www.HolisticAddictionInfo.com