Scientists finding new uses for hallucinogens and street drugs

Melissa Healey in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 03 20.56Janeen Delany describes herself as an “old hippie” who's smoked plenty of marijuana. But she never really dabbled in hallucinogens — until two years ago, at the age of 59.

A diagnosis of incurable leukemia had knocked the optimism out of the retired plant nurserywoman living in Phoenix. So she signed up for a clinical trial to test whether psilocybin — the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” — could help with depression or anxiety following a grim diagnosis.

Delaney swallowed a blue capsule of psilocybin in a cozy office at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She donned a blindfold, a blood pressure cuff and a headset playing classical music. With two researchers at her side, she embarked on a six-hour journey into altered consciousness that she calls “the single most life-changing experience I've ever had.”

What a long, strange trip it's been. In the 1960s and '70s, a rebellious generation embraced hallucinogens and a wide array of street drugs to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Almost half a century later, magic mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy and ketamine are being studied for legitimate therapeutic uses. Scientists believe these agents have the potential to help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, unremitting pain or depression and the existential anxiety of terminal illness.

“Scientifically, these compounds are way too important not to study,” said Johns Hopkins psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths, who conducted the psilocybin trial.

More here.