Psychedelic drugs are not exactly new. Cultures around the world discovered them centuries ago, but their popularity seems to be on the increase once again.
Robin Carhart-Harris is head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London’s Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology. He is leading the charge in using psychedelics in the treatment of depression, primarily using Psilocybin. Funding has proven the limiting factor in his studies, with the major pharmaceutical giants viewing his research as potentially damaging to their reputations. No one wants to risk the inevitable linkage with hippies getting their kicks from an existential experience on depression meds.
Following a massive dose of these drugs, subjects related feelings of connectedness and a blissful oversight of a larger picture. They claimed to have lost a sense of themselves as individuals, gaining a lucid perspective of the human experience from afar. Carhart-Harris believes that it’s the very use of mystical terminology that give psychedelics such a bad name. If subjects’ feelings could be characterised in more scientific terms, then perhaps those funding bodies would be more open to expanding research grants. The problem remains, in explaining how a single dose of psychedelics can render anyone more politically liberal, less conservative and show a greater affinity towards their fellow man? I don’t think he will be garnering the support from our government.
Does Carhart-Harris suggest a hippy-trip available to all on the NHS? Nope. He staunchly sits on the fence to preserve his rigorous scientific credentials. He maintains that while psychedelics can illicit an existential Truth, the Truth can be realised via other means. He puts the value on obtaining Truth, rather than the promotion of drug use.
Yet again, we are sitting on the edge of another research dilemma. Scientists looking for spiritual Truth, under the guise of finding a pharmacological cure for mental illness. Didn’t Jefferson Airplane write a song about the very same thing?
The 1950’s and 60’s were laden with early experiments into psychedelics that led to an explosion of hippies campaigning to end war and ‘peace out, brother!’ Isn’t this just a case of history repeating itself? Trump et al, fueling the fires of international disharmony while liberal minded youths experiment in a greater togetherness. How will it be any different from last time? Fewer tragic deaths in combat? Certainly, but only for allied forces using unmanned weaponised tech. Those caught in the cross-hairs will still perish.
There has to be a way to stop the endless cycle of destruction. I, for one, don’t think it will be in the consumption of drugs, naturally derived or otherwise. Neither will it be in political campaigns until the systems are wholly freed from personal gain or commercial bias. It has to begin with a tidal shift in attitude. Not just in the west, where material gain reigns supreme. Nor in eastern philosophies where penury and suffering leads to enlightenment. There is a middle ground to be reached, but it requires an unbroken cascade of selflessness across the globe.
Somehow, I don’t think that will be feasible during my lifetime, but someone, somewhere has to begin.
Sam Nash is the author of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, The Aurora Mandate. Release date TBA. You can find her at https://www.samnash.org or on Twitter @samnashauthor or Facebook.com/samnash.author.