QUALITY/PHARMA: Someone’s going to get fired at the DEA for sure

The WSJ writes about a serious scientific study of the hallucinogen in magic mushrooms.  As you might expect virtually all of the participants thought that the sessions had a very powerful effect and 60% of the clinical trial participants said that effect was very positive indeed. But 30% of the cases felt incredibly bad effects, largely increasing paranoia. That’s not much of a surprise—people react differently to different drugs. The researchers are interested in seeing if these drugs (and presumably others like MDMA/Ecstasy) have value in treating psychiatric cases.

What’s amazing is that someone in the DEA signed off and allowed this research. After all, this is a substances banned for hysterical political reasons and, like LSD its synthetic equivalent, no one is pretending that they’re not very powerful. Of course the government does allow equally powerful psychotropic drugs to be widely used and dispensed with a false pretense that somehow their use is morally different.

The main differentiator is of course what the government will allow to go through clinical trials. Now that an approved trial of one class of banned drugs that may have a positive effect has been allowed, how can the DEA justify the continued delays in granting permissions for real trials of another banned drug that we all know has significant medicinal qualities? They can’t justify it morally or rationally or even legally, but they certainly continue to raid medical marijuana dispensaries to justify their existence, their power and their budgets. So when word gets out that someone inside the DEA made a rational decision on allowing a study that counters the drug warriors’ propaganda—well, I’m sure their career is on the outs.

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  1. Are any follow-on studies planned? 😉
    Seriously, reading the article reminds me of Timothy Leary’s heuristics about “set and setting”. “Set” or mind-set has a pretty obvious effect – psychedelics just amplify your internal state by taking down perceptual filters. If you start out in a paranoid or fearful state, you’re off the deep end in no time. You see what you expect to see… There was a great cartoon image about this back in the early ’70’s, showing two SWAT team members in full riot gear talking to each other, and the one says, “I smoked pot once. It made me want to rape and kill.”
    Setting is equally important: They held this study in a “living room environment”, and made their subjects listen to “classical music”. What was the wallpaper like? Was there a stucco-textured ceiling? Were there mirrors on the walls? Was the classical music “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” or the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor? Were they nervous types forced to listen to uptempo pieces like “Eine Kleine Nachmusik”?
    I’m surprised only 30% did a swirly. I would have recommended putting them in a nice temperate outdoor setting with a lot of beautiful vegetation and birds and a stream or brook nearby, and pairing them with some close friend or relative they trusted implicitly to be their anchorpost in reality. Maybe that’s not a controlled enough setting for clinical research though. It seemed to work well enough back in the ’60’s and ’70’s for, uh, my friend’s friend who used to do that kind of stuff.
    On a side note: I want to know what dose Ritalin they used to get one in twelve saying their Ritalin high was one of the “top five experiences in their lives.” My meds get adjusted next month, so this could be useful information. %-)