How Dangerous Are Psychedelic Drugs?

"The guy was tearing him to pieces with his mouth…[he] just kept eating the other guy away, ripping his skin… [then he stood up] with a piece of flesh in his mouth and growled” This shocking testimony came from Larry Vega

Vega was out in Miami when he spotted a naked, homeless man – Rudy Eugene – hungrily eating another man’s face Eugene was shot dead by police The post-mortem revealed he was tripping on a potent form of LSD Disturbingly, his story is hardly extraordinary Although the U

S government spends over $36 billion every year fighting illegal drugs, an estimated 32 million Americans are lifetime users of psychedelic drugs And, despite gruesome stories like Rudy Eugene’s, every year over $100 billion is spent on illegal drugs by US consumers

Psychedelic drugs are mind-altering substances that change the way we perceive the world and process information The three most common psychedelic drugs are LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms and DMT The vast majority of these drugs are illegal under international UN conventions Acid – or LSD – is currently classified as a Schedule I drug by The Drug Enforcement Administration, making it ‘one of the most dangerous drugs’ under US

law The DEA states that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” Other psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and peyote are also put within this extreme category But research increasingly finds almost no evidence to support this hardline stance The number of annual deaths directly caused by these substances is negligible

Unusually for illegal drugs, they are very rarely addictive, and users do not experience withdrawal when they stop taking them More disturbingly, these drugs may actually reduce anxiety, mental illness and debilitating physical conditions Two recent landmark American studies used around 200,000 data samples from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health They found no negative link between psychedelic drug use and mental illness In fact, both studies concluded that using these substances appears to reduce mental health problems

Public Health Professor Peter Hendricks, who led one of the studies, says that psychedelic drugs can even stop people from committing suicide He says, “lifetime classic psychedelic use [is] associated with a 19% reduced likelihood of past month psychological distress, a 14% reduced likelihood of past year suicidal thinking, a 29% reduced likelihood of past year suicidal planning, and a 36% reduced likelihood of past year suicide attempt […] By contrast, lifetime illicit use of all other substances [is] by and large associated with an increased likelihood of psychological distress and suicidality” Psychiatrists Paul Orjan and Teri Krebs, who ran the second study, say that psychedelic drugs are “less harmful to the individual user and society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances” Krebs believes that public fear over the safety of psychedelic drugs is down to misleading media scaremongering

She says, “Psychedelics are psychologically intense, and many people will blame anything that happens for the rest of their lives on a psychedelic experience” She argues this has determined how these drugs are represented in the media On the other hand, the CIA claims psychedelics are too dangerous for human consumption The agency spent an estimated $875 million secretly testing their effects on unwitting American citizens between 1953 and 1973

In a programme codenamed MK-Ultra, the CIA administered vulnerable people – including prostitutes, drug addicts, prisoners and the homeless – with high doses of LSD In violation of the Nuremberg Code, the vast majority of these people were never informed that they were being experimented on The CIA observed the effects of the drug to assess its use as an interrogation weapon against Soviet spies In one horrifying case, a severely mentally ill man was given LSD 74 days in a row His fate remains unknown to this day

The agency even used LSD on its own employees, which suggests it does not truly believe the drug poses a major threat to users In April 2016, a study by Imperial College London discovered that psychedelic drugs really do heighten the brain’s consciousness Journalist James Griffiths reported that the results show “The visual cortex [becoming] much more active with the rest of the brain, and blood flow to visual regions also [increasing]” The leader of the study, Dr Robin Carhart-Hariss said it linked to an emotional state in which “the normal sense of self is broken down and replaced by a sense of reconnection with [oneself], others and the natural world… [It is] associated with improvements in well-being after the drug's effects have subsided" However, neither Professor Hendricks nor Orjan-Krebs’ studies are foolproof

Both rely on National Survey on Drug Use data which – as reporter Jesse Singal notes – is problematic, because it relies on people accurately reporting their own drug use “[P]eople may sometimes report their habits or experiences inaccurately, intentionally or not” And just because these drugs may have some positive effects, does not mean that taking them is without risks The gruesome MK-Ultra experiments show just how they can alter a person’s behaviour In 1953, U

S government scientist Frank Olson was given LSD without his knowledge as part of the programme Nine days later, he plunged to his death from the 13th story of a New York hotel In another incident, a CIA operative’s morning coffee was spiked with LSD Agency observers described the man running erratically around Washington DC: “Each time a car passed, he would huddle down against a parapet, terribly frightened

” He feared the vehicles were monsters hunting him Evidence strongly shows the dangers posed by psychedelic drugs are exaggerated But, that does not mean they are safe 5% of people who take these drugs will end up with long-term psychological damage, which is much higher than either alcohol or tobacco They do seem to have some positive effects

We have been conditioned to see psychedelics as much more dangerous than they really are But that does not mean they are safe

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