Recreational Drugs Go Straight
Catherine Lange, New Scientist Magazine
With a handful of trials showing positive results, from the treatment of cancer to alcohol addiction, could illegal drugs enter mainstream medicine?
From the relaxing effects of cannabis to the highs of LSD and ecstasy, illegal drugs are not generally associated with the lab bench. Now, for the first time in decades, that's starting to change.
For almost 40 years, mainstream research has shied away from investigating the therapeutic benefits of drugs whose recreational use is prohibited by law. But a better understanding of how these drugs work in animal studies, and the advancement of brain-imaging techniques, has sparked a swathe of new research.
What's more, clinical trials of MDMA (ecstasy), LSD and other psychoactive drugs are starting to yield some positive results. This could lead to a call for governments to take a new approach to the funding and regulation of research into the potential benefits of such chemicals.
LSD was developed in the 1940s, but by the 1970s it and many other drugs became classed as schedule 1 in many countries -- described as "abuse" drugs with no accepted medical use.
"Research on psychedelics was severely restricted and interest in the therapeutic use of these drugs faded," says
The classification of LSD as schedule 1 was a mistake born of "ignorance and taboo," says
These kinds of decisions are political not scientific, says
Despite these hurdles, a number of trials are now under way in the U.S. and
Feilding is also working with
Meanwhile, in a study at
Cannabis is already known to have a soothing effect on the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
"Previous studies have looked at cannabis and pain, but this is the first one I've seen looking at smoked cannabis," says
While many drugs could have medical uses, don't their psychoactive effects limit their use? Feilding doesn't think so. LSD, psilocybin and MDMA are neither addictive nor dangerous in controlled doses, she argues. Others disagree.
"The psychiatric risks of these substances are well known," says
However, this problem isn't unique to psychoactive drugs.
"We use many things in medicine that can be misused and be very dangerous in the wrong doses," says Mithoefer. Feilding thinks governments need to see past the stigma of schedule 1 drugs and fund medical research that could be "very valuable."
Some funding organizations already exist, including the
"As research progresses, larger studies will get more expensive and it would be most helpful to have government funding," Mithoefer says.
His latest study investigated whether MDMA could help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MDMA decreases the fear response, so he reasoned it might help people undergo therapy "without being overwhelmed by anxiety while revisiting traumatic experiences."
Of the 12 patients who received the drug, 10 saw such an improvement in their symptoms that they were no longer categorized as suffering from PTSD, compared with two out of the eight patients who received a placebo (
Government funding may still be some way off, though. For one thing, it's hard to design an effective double-blind trial when the secondary effects of the drug are so well known, says Dickinson. In Mithoefer's study, for example, all but one of the patients correctly guessed whether they were receiving the placebo or MDMA.
"There is much to be learned and we're still in the early stages," Mithoefer says, "but it's important that the research moves forward so we can establish whether or not (psychoactive drugs) can be safe and effective therapeutic tools."
THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF LSD
"With a remarkable restlessness and slight dizziness, I sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition. In a dreamlike state, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic colors."
This is the description of the first LSD trip taken by
He initially developed LSD in 1938 on the premise that it may act as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant. Working as a chemist at
Realizing the symptoms must have occurred from inhalation or absorption of LSD-25, Hofmann took an oral dose of the chemical, estimating that 250 micrograms would be the threshold at which effects would occur. In reality, the threshold is closer to 20 micrograms. After 6 hours of positive and negative experiences, which involved thinking his neighbor was "an insidious witch," the effects subsided.
"I was aware that LSD, with such properties, would be of use in pharmacology, in neurology, and especially in psychiatry," Hofmann wrote in his biography.
Over the next 20 years, thousands of papers were published on the drug's effects, including treatment for alcohol addiction and psychosis. Several positive outcomes were also reported for the treatment of autism, such as an increase in social behaviors manifested by increased eye-to-face contact (Behavioral Neuropsychiatry).
Unfortunately, many of the studies lacked proper experimental controls and presented largely descriptive data. The lack of long-term follow-up studies and a realistic placebo have been major limitations of the work to date.
The drug quickly leaked into the general population, which led to an investigation by the
Today, many researchers believe that LSD poses no risk to health when administered in a controlled environment and that the case for medicinal LSD should be reopened (see main story).
Available at Amazon.com:
- Screening Tests That Can Save Your Life
- Eat Fiber and Feel Better
- The Worst and Best Sweets for Your Teeth
- The Truth About Extreme Smile Makeovers
- Beat the Bedbug Epidemic
- Healthy Eating All Day
- Recreational Drugs Go Straight
- A Smart Guide to Dietary Supplements
- Normal Weight Obesity - A Growing Concern
- Fruit and Vegetables: Americans Fall Short
- Hybrid Fruit: The New Super-food
- Is Indian Cuisine Healthy Cuisine?
- Is 'Ethnic' Cuisine Healthier?
- Is the H1N1 Flu Pandemic Over?
- 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
- Surviving Cold Season: How Not to Get Sick
- 7 Healthy Habits in 7 Weeks
- Sleep More and Live Longer
- 4 Dangerous Health Emergencies: What to Do
- Heartburn-friendly Diet with Your Favorite Foods
- Put Brakes on Inflammation Through Diet and Lifestyle Strategies
- The Vibrant and Healthy Flavors of an Authentic Latin Diet
- Is It Hunger or Just Appetite?
- Stay Healthy the Easy Way
- The Importance of Dreams
- Boost Your Energy: Hour by Hour
- Stop Information Overload
- Breathe Like a Baby
- 5 Healthy Foods That Wreck Your Teeth
- Are You Falling for Dental Myths?
- Is Heart Attack Going Out of Style?
- Flu Season
- Preventive Care & Electronic Medical Records Guidelines Set
- Stone Age Diet Surprisingly Good For a Healthy Life Today
- New Tools Fuel Progress on Development of Genetically Engineered Farm Animals
- Beat Your Afternoon Energy Slump
- Small Healthy Habits With Big Health Benefits
- Relieve Stress and Uplift Spirits with Aromatherapy
- New Things To Try That Lift Your Spirits and Relieve Stress
- 5 Fast Breakfasts That Boost Your Health
- Much to Consider When Looking for a Primary Care Physician
- Apples Are the New Fish
- Watermelon: Summer's Antioxidant
- Prescription for Better Health: Go Alfresco?
- Are All Omega-3 Fats The Same?
- Sample a Semi-Vegetarian Lifestyle With a Flexitarian Diet
- Milk: When the First Food May Be the Best Food
- Foraging is Green Eating at Its Purest
- How to Lose Weight Safely
- Colleges Joining Effort to Turn Around Skyrocketing Obesity Rates
- Medical Claims for Marijauna - Just Blowing Smoke?
- The Hidden Health Benefits of Adult Braces
- 5 Things Your Dental Insurance Will Not Cover
- 4 Effortless Steps to Whiter Teeth
- 5 First-aid Tricks You Need to Know
- Heat Can Beat the Heart
- Eating for Your Blood Type -- Truth or Fiction?
- Salt Sensitivity Issue: Salt Restriction
- 5 Tips to Bulldoze a Bad Mood
- Genetically Engineered Foods Update: More Common Than You Think
- 5 Celebrity Trends That Could Harm Your Health
- Should You Travel Abroad for a Dental Procedure
- Super Foods to Boost Your Dental Health
- The Fight Escalates Against Fake Drugs
- Fermented Foods Are Making a Comeback
- Wean Yourself Off Processed Foods in 7 Steps
- An Update on Soy: It's Just So-So
- Is it OK to Take Ibuprofen P.M.?
- Colonoscopy: Is It Time to Go Virtual Colonoscopy
- Sleep Better Tonight (Fight Fatigue Tomorrow)
- Do-it-yourself Sunburn Remedies
- Take the Germ Quiz
- Healthy Mouth Equals Healthy Body
- 5 Biggest Flossing Mistakes
- Health Threat of Nitrates: Nitrites in Cured Meats
- Stop Dry Mouth Now
- Best Ways to Keep Your Teeth
- 5 Instant Ways to Stress Less and Smile More
- Be Suntan Savvy
- 4 Ways to Sneak in Sunblock
- Can Aspirin Do That, Too?
- A Natural Approach to Sweet Slumber
- Boost Your Brainpower
- Seeds of Life: Chia, Flax, Hemp and Pumpkin
- Microgreens Become Macro Trend to Follow
- Eat Your Way to a Healthy Smile
- Why and How to Get More Vitamin D
- Better Alternatives to Silver Fillings
- 5 Beach Safety Tips
- Traveling Light: Healthy Eating for Business Junketeers
- Healthy Snacks for Energy
- Shape-Shifting 'Tube Robot' Could Aid Heart Surgery
- Better Ways to Get Your Produce
- Cutting-Edge Cuisine Engages Senses Beyond Taste
- Eat for Your Eyesight
- Is It Better to Stop Smoking Abruptly or Gradually?
- Relieve Stress in 5 Minutes or Less
- Best Ways to Soothe Sensitive Teeth
- Turn a Clean Home Into a Healthy Home
- Largest Ever Cell Phone Cancer Study is Inconclusive
- Treating Early-Stage Esophageal Cancer
- TNF Inhibitors Offer Relief to Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Advances in Breast Cancer Screening Helping to Fine-Tune Diagnosis
- First Aid for Summer
- The Microscopic World of Food Nanotechnology
- Screening Plays Key Role in Detecting Polyps Before They Become Cancerous
- Learn How to Read Supplement Labels
- Compression-Only CPR Can Replace Conventional CPR in Many Circumstances
- Diabetes: Could You Have Diabetes and Not Know It
- Fighting Inflammation with Food
- Bad Health Habits Rob Years From Life Span
- Beating Back Pandemics is a Cooperative Crusade
- The Importance of Decreasing Dietary Sodium
- Chocolate Reduces Inflammation Associated with Heart Disease
- Healthy Eating Tips for a Busy Lifestyle
- Olive Oil and Health
- Push for Healthier Diets Means Big Changes for the Food Industry
- How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late
- Tips for Natural Allergy Relief
- Inflammation May Play Role in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Longevity Revolution Will Restructure Life Around the World
- Maximum Fitness: CrossFit Training
- Tests to Optimize Treatment of Breast Cancer
- Enjoy the Health Benefits of Tea
- Can Your Toothbrush Make You Sick?
- Sunscreen Facts You Need to Know
- When does Knee Replacement Surgery Make Sense
- Is Hefty the New Healthy?
- Best Way to Take Heartburn Medication
- Aerobics Without Heartburn
- Stress Less: Ten Strategies That Work
- Paralyzed Limbs Revived by Hacking Into Nerves
- Take the Work Out of Workout
- Cultivate a Nutrient-Rich Approach to Eating for Life
- Treadmill Test Can Reveal Hidden Problems in Heart
- Researchers Break Through to Unconscious Patients
- Key Factors Related to Heart Attack Risk
- Type 2 Diabetes Increases Risk for Cardiovascular Problems
- Middle-Age Spread and How to Avoid It
- Fiber and Weight Loss: Learn the Secrets
- Hypochondria: The Impossible Illness
- Get the Lead Out: The Less Exposure to This Toxic Metal the Better
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sugar
- Cultivate a Healthy Brain Lifestyle As You Age
- Regular Exercise Helps Protect Aging Brains
- Surgeries Can be Combined But May Not be Necessary
Copyright © 2010 New Scientist Magazine. All rights reserved.