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Are psychedelics the newest hope for treating PTSD and depression and thus reducing the risk of suicide? Or are psychedelics dangerous drugs as was determined decades ago when LSD and others were labeled Schedule I drugs by the DEA. Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse and the category includes heroine, methaqualone, ecstasy, peyote, and LSD. LSD was made a Schedule I drug in 1968 when it was considered a cultural threat to American values as well as the (Vietnam) war effort. Now we see that the FDA has given two psychedelics breakthrough drug status because they show such promise for treating PTSD and major depression? What are the risks of taking psychedelic medicines?

Why Was LSD Made a Schedule I Drug?

The criteria for classification as a Schedule I drug are that the drug has high potential for abuse, no safe use even under medical supervision, and no current medical use. Cocaine, by the way, is a Schedule II drug because it is a very effective topical analgesic and is used for that purpose. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) alters mood and perception and can produce hallucinations in sufficient (small) doses. After its synthesis by a chemist in Switzerland in 1938 this drug was used to treat addiction, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic ailments. It was in the 1960s when LSD came to the public’s attention as it gained use as a recreational drug by people seeking a “spiritual” experience or simply a “high.” Many of the same people who experimented with LSD were very publicly opposed to the war in Vietnam which caused public opinion to be against the drug and eventually caused it to be made a Schedule I drug with prison sentences handed out for its use and its possession.

Why Was LSD Made a Schedule I Drug?
Why Was LSD Made a Schedule I Drug?

How Dangerous Are LSD and Other Psychedelics?

LSD is not addictive. Unlike narcotics, using LSD does not create a craving for more or a physical need for a higher dose to achieve the same effect. For the vast majority of users the effects are temporary in terms of mood and perception alteration or even frank hallucinations. Effects are more pronounced with higher doses and this is an issue with recreational use of “street drugs” which commonly contain other drugs as well as psychedelics and can be very dangerous. Individuals who suffer from mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or other psychoses may experience worsening of their condition after use of psychedelics like LSD.

Psychedelics Are Safe in Controlled Medical Settings

LSD plus psychedelics like ayahuasca, psilocybin, MDMA and others have been researched in controlled medical settings without any evidence of harm to those taking the medicines and strong evidence of benefits for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse. A serious issue with using psychedelics in recreational settings is that the dose is uncertain so a person could be overdosing on the drug and thus getting a stronger effect. Another issue is that very commonly those creating street drugs add several other ingredients to get a stronger effect to make their “product” more popular or more profitable. It is often the addition of dangerous other chemicals to a psychedelic that produces dangerous side effects. None of this is the case with professional research into the safety and usefulness of psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, or ayahuasca for valid, therapeutic purposes.

Psychedelics Are Safe in Controlled Medical Settings
Psychedelics Are Safe in Controlled Medical Settings

How Safe Will Psychedelics Be In Use For Treating PTSD Or Depression?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the agency tasked with the job of assuring that any medicine is safe to use in its prescribed dosage and effective in treating conditions for which it is intended. At this time two psychedelics have received breakthrough drug status, psilocybin and MDMA, for testing with the goal of treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. While the testing is done under very strict conditions, it remains to be seen how the drugs might be used in normal clinical circumstances. Once either of these meds has been approved, they will be available by a physician’s prescription. In the research setting these meds are used as adjunctive treatment for coaching or psychotherapeutic sessions. They are only given in one or two doses and in small, controlled amounts. When these meds are OKed for standard treatment the suggested use will be for what has worked in research settings. Unfortunately, that will not prevent treatment professionals from trying more or higher doses. At that point we will need to rely on the sound judgment and ethics of those with the right to prescribe psychedelics to do their job properly.

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