Let Loose: The Benefits of Psychedelics

Artwork: Milly Yates

There has been a surge in the use of psychedelic substances such as LSD (Lysergic acid Diethylamide), Psilocybin (mushrooms), Mescaline (Peyote Cactus), and DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) over the last 60 years, and this has also resulted in scientific studies on how they affect the human body making a comeback. From Carlos Santana ingesting LSD in Woodstock to enhance his musical creativity on stage, to Native Americans using Mescaline in sacred rituals, there is a lot to learn about these psychedelic substances. Researchers have been responding to these stories and narratives from artists, pioneers, and history which claim that psychedelics play a substantial role in heightening creativity.

Most governments have baulked at scientific studies that show psychedelics aren’t just substances hippies and rebellious teenagers consume to get high and party, but are substances which have actually been traditionally used for centuries. They have been used, not just for fun, but for healing, expanding and enhancing creativity and the cognitive ability of our minds. There is a small number of researchers who still study these substances and don’t let politics and fear impede their studies. These studies show mounting evidence that these substances can be used to treat almost anything from PTSD to depression to cancer.

For example, researchers from the Imperial College, London, in June 2018 conducted a comprehensive study on the effects of Psilocybin on patients afflicted with treatment resistant depression. The study involved 20 patients who were given micro doses of the Psilocybin compound on a weekly basis and a range of their personality traits were examined over a 3 month time period. One of the personality traits examined was “openness” amongst the patients, as researchers believed it was one of the most essential factors for imagination, creativity and aesthetic appreciation. From the study, it was concluded that over the time period stipulated, Psilocybin along with DMT and LSD increased patients’ openness and creative thinking.

Recent studies of psychedelics and their impact on the human mind have a well-known precedent in the late 1950s and 1960s. In 1954, Oscar Janiger, a psychiatrist from the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study on the effects of LSD on creative output. He gave 70 artists LSD doses, crayons, pencils and a canvas to draw on while under the influence of the substance. He had them draw still-lifes, both on and off the substance. From the analysis of the artwork, it was concluded that “LSD art” was neither superior nor inferior to non-LSD art, but it was comparatively brighter, more abstract, and non-representational. It also tended to cover the entire canvas.

There are several groups of people that believe that we shouldn’t be assigning a sense of morality to psychoactive substances since they are just material compounds and also because there aren’t clear, tangible distinctions between what is right and wrong. Intoxicated humans are heavily influenced by their emotional state, environment, and the people around them. Psychoactive substances are just a small part of the equation. In this case, is it really immoral to ingest these substances?

The inclination to get intoxicated and expand the state of mind and to enhance creativity isn’t just a human instinct, but also an animal one. There are thorough accounts of animals intentionally utilising psychoactive substances in the natural world. From cats using catnip, to dolphins using pufferfish toxins to get high, there undoubtedly exists a biological drive in nature to experience and go beyond typical states of mind. As such, ideologies which strive towards a “drug free-world” could be considered immoral and anti-science. There is direct evidence from nature and history that we have a biological drive to consume psychoactive substances. By prohibiting drug consumption, we would be going against our natural instincts.

There is research suggesting these substances work by obstructing communication in the chemical systems of the brain. They affect the chemical serotonin which regulates our mood, sensory perception and sexual behaviour to name a few. Overdoses caused by these substances don’t always directly lead to death, but to extreme uneasiness and unpleasant experiences. Long term influences can cause a persistent sense of paranoia and psychosis (disordered thinking and detachment from reality), but are quite rare. Although there is substantial evidence which suggests that psychedelics can be addictive and people can develop a tolerance, to what extent a tolerance could be developed is still unclear, and the addictive potential of the substances mentioned is quite ambiguous.

If psychedelics such as LSD and DMT have a set of risks and benefits, adults should be able to make their own informed decisions about whether they want to use the substances or not. Governments don’t have the authority to decide whether an adult can or cannot consume something. Thus, regulation and legalisation of psychedelic substances is necessary in order to adhere to a sense of morality. Legalisation and regulation would provide governments with the golden opportunity to educate communities and facilitate further research into psychedelics so that we can understand them better and use them to the best of our ability. This would also help prevent adversity which, at the end of the day, is the main reason governments oppose psychedelic substances. Providing information on the conditions that are required to use these substances would increase the moral acceptability of psychedelics.

I like to believe that psychedelics have the potential to make our lives better or worse. They can either empower us or enslave us, either create or destroy. In other words, psychedelics do have consequences. They are powerful substances that can alter our state of mind, and can be very risky under unsuitable conditions. Having said that, the positives do outweigh the negatives when taken responsibly and in controlled environments.