What are Psychedelics?
“Psychedelics show you what’s in and on your mind, those subconscious thoughts and feelings that are hidden, covered up, forgotten, out of sight, maybe even completely unexpected, but nevertheless imminently present. Depending upon set and setting, the same drug, at the same dose, can cause vastly different responses in the same person. One day, very little happens; another day, you soar, full of ecstatic and insightful discoveries; the next, you struggle through a terrifying nightmare. The generic nature of psychedelic, a term wide open to interpretation, suits these effects.”
— Rick Strassman
Psychedelics (from the Greek psyche: mind, delos: make visible, reveal) are substances that induce a heightened state of consciousness characterised by a hyperconnected brain state . The best known psychedelics are psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), , mescaline (found in peyote and San Pedro cacti)
How safe are psychedelics?
The classical psychedelics are not addictive and, whilst they can temporarily induce powerful mental effects, they are not toxic to the body like alcohol is. Unfortunately, many unfounded scare stories in the media have greatly exaggerated the risks.
A 2010 study published in top medical journal The Lancet rated LSD and magic mushrooms as among the safest of 19 commonly used psychoactive substances; twelve times safer than alcohol and four times safer than tobacco. As for longer term safety, an unprecedented 2013 study of more than 130,000 people found that psychedelic use was not indicative of increased mental health problems . In fact, some use of psychedelics corresponded with lower rates of psychological distress.
So why are psychedelics illegal to possess?
Despite thousands of years of use by humans around the world, psychedelics were abruptly made illegal to supply and possess by a UN convention in 1971 as a consequence of President Nixon’s War on Drugs.
Whilst the policy was framed as promoting public health, one of Nixon’s top advisors said in 1994 that the drug war was in fact a ploy to undermine Nixon's political opposition :
"You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
To this day, the UK government persists in claiming that psychoactive substances are classified on the basis of harm, but the House of Commons’ own Science and Technology Committee has described UK drug law as "arbitrary", "unscientific" and "based on historical assumptions, not scientific assessment", and the government's chief drug adviser was famously sacked when he pointed out that classical psychedelics are far less dangerous than alcohol.