Monday June 08, 2015

Scientists push to renew psychedelic drug research for psychiatry

Commonly known as Fly Agaric, the poisonous mushroom has been noted for its hallucinogenic properties. There's a renewed push for psychedelics in psychiatry, many scientists feel these drugs have enormous potential and research should be facilitated, not hindered.

Commonly known as Fly Agaric, the poisonous mushroom has been noted for its hallucinogenic properties. There's a renewed push for psychedelics in psychiatry, many scientists feel these drugs have enormous potential and research should be facilitated, not hindered. (Bert Heymans, Flickr cc)

Listen 25:00

In the 1950s, scientists did serious research into LSD, and other psychedelic drugs.  Some of the studies from that time were ethically problematic. But many of them had encouraging results.

Mushroom psychedelic drugs

When researching LSD, staff took the drug to stimulate chemical empathy as a proxy to understanding psychosis. (Blek, Flickr cc)

It was the experimentation with LSD outside of hospitals and universities, however, that derailed that sort of research for half-a-century. When LSD became a recreational, counter-culture drug, the entire category of "psychedelics" became stigmatized and serious medical research into those substances all but disappeared.

But now, they are being revisited, and showing new promise in the world of psychiatry.That's thanks in large part to David Nutt. He is a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College in London, England who is at the forefront of this renewed push to study psychedelic drugs.  He is also the former chief adviser on drug policy to the British government. 

Beyond the U.K., this renewed interest in the use of psychedelics is happening around the world, including here in Canada. Mark Haden is chair of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada and an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health. We reached him in Vancouver.

To put the current research into some historical context, we were joined by Erika Dyck. She is Canada Research Chair for the History of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. We reached her in Saskatoon.


This segment was produced by The Current's Leif Zapf-Gilje.