September 14, 2021

September 11, 2021

Who’s Winning The Drug War?

The war on drugs has been a long and arduous one, but is it coming to an end? Read on to find out more about the history of the war on psychedelic drugs and a future of psychedelic therapy without stigma.

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The Oxford dictionary defines stigma as “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” What the definition doesn’t tell us is that stigma also creates feelings of fear and shame, stopping people in their tracks from seeking help, asking questions, and sharing their experiences. 

For a long time, stigma was a huge proponent in the mental health care realm, preventing many people from seeking treatment for their disorders. According to Johns Hopkins University, an estimated 26% of Americans 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, and roughly 17.3 million adults in the US have had at least one major depressive episode.

Moreover, an estimated 40 million adults in the US have anxiety disorders.

Over the past year and some, mental health issues amongst North Americans and globally have skyrocketed. This shared crisis, while terrifying to experience, has also helped bring the importance of mental health to the forefront of society, and remove some of the social stigmas that surround it. People are finally starting to share their experiences and find ways to improve their mental health. One avenue that's only now starting to become more available is psychedelic-assisted therapy.

During the 1960s and 1970s, stigmatization of psychedelic substances also put a halt to years of clinical research. In the last 10 years, this research has experienced a resurgence. Piggying off the back of cannabis legalization but with a clinical twist — psychedelic substances available in therapeutic settings in the hopes that people can access this type of support on their mental wellness journey.

Despite punitive drug control laws created in the 1970s, positive clinical research findings have emerged today that demonstrate the therapeutic usefulness of psychedelic substances in helping to treat mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other treatment-resistant disorders.

As more and more research comes forward emphasizing the power of these substances in treating mental health, easier access to clinical studies and more technology to help clients with their psychedelic journey — the stigma that formerly surrounded these “party drugs” may just disappear.

The History of Psychedelic Stigma

In the 1950s and '60s, the psychedelic movement boomed in both clinical and civil settings. In clinical settings, researchers like Timothy Leary and Ram Dass were making strides in utilizing drugs like LSD to help treat anxiety and other psychological disorders. While in civil settings, Leary was also encouraging American students to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” 

It was the latter that played a huge role in the stigma that started to play out in the mainstream message surrounding psychedelics. In 1971, President Nixon launched the war on drugs, a concerted effort to curb the illegal consumption of drugs by increasing penalties, enforcement, and incarceration for offenders. 1971 was also the year that the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances was held, classifying psychedelic substances like psilocybin and MDMA as NPS or New Psychoactive Substances. 

In 1973, the Drug Enforcement Administration was created and classified NPS substances as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. These drugs are defined as having no accepted medical use and presenting a high opportunity for abuse.

Since psychedelic substances were classified as Schedule I drugs, clinical research ceased and the study of psychedelic substances as treatment options for mental health disorders came to a standstill.

A Resurgence of Research

The fact remains that over the last 50 years, the number of controlled drugs which are regulated under the 1961 UN convention has not changed much.

And in the July 2020 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, doctoral candidate Andrew Yockey called for a depoliticization of LSD, which would make studies of its therapeutic potential possible. 

Yockey emphasized that efforts to reduce drug use should focus on more harmful substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl. “These drugs can kill you, LSD cannot,” Yockey says. “We need to rectify our messaging.”

This sentiment has been echoed time and time again, but the promise for change is held tight by regulations that are only now starting to see change.

The Psychedelic Landscape

As mentioned, the last 10 years have seen a huge return to psychedelic research. Calls asking for changes to the regulatory landscape by clinicians and researchers have paved the way for how companies, universities, and research centers can study the effects of psychedelic substances on mental health disorders, turning towards the data.

In 2012, the FDA introduced the Breakthrough Therapy designation that expedited the development and review of drugs that had preliminary clinical evidence to prove substantial improvement over available therapies for serious or life-threatening diseases.

This was the start of a turning tide:

  • A 2014 paper concluded that LSD administered in a medical setting is safe and can bring lasting benefits
  • A 2015 study observed that the drug enhanced the emotion evoked from listening to music — an effect the authors believed could be useful for psychedelic-assisted therapy
  • A 2017 paper found that LSD, when taken in a controlled setting, increased sociability, trust, and feelings of openness. The same observations have also been found with the controlled use of MDMA
  • In 2019, Denver became the first city in the US to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, Oakland soon followed
  • In 2020, the state of Oregon voted to legalize psilocybin for mental health treatment at licensed centers and to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs, with the law becoming effective February 1, 2021
  • In 2020, Washington DC passed an initiative to decriminalize the cultivation and possession of entheogenic plants and fungi 
  • California is currently reviewing bill SB-519, which would decriminalize a variety of psychedelics, including psilocybin

Health Canada is also starting to acknowledge the need for change to address the growth in mental health challenges faced by Canadians. In August 2020, they began approving ground-breaking exemptions under a Section 56 application, enabling access to legal psychedelic-assisted therapy for the first time in approximately 40 years. 

Health Canada writes, “Predictability is a critical element of a clinical trial sponsor's planning.” Predictability, understanding, and data has become a huge proponent in the successful sponsoring of psychedelic-focused therapy trials. And while the red tape associated with these trials has proven burdensome, often stopping research in its tracks — it’s also provided undeniable evidence towards the effectiveness of these substances.

Psychedelics in the Market

Currently, MINDCURE is developing psychedelic research programs are psychedelic knowledge to help create real solutions for ongoing and under-treated mental health issues. For example, by developing pharmaceutical-grade ibogaine, MINDCURE is helping to provide researchers with the resources they need to identify the drug’s medicinal uses and risks, while establishing care protocols. 

This growth in psychedelic research, the increasing prevalence of depression and other mental health disorders, and the growing acceptance of psychedelic drugs as treatment has led to psychedelia becoming a major disruptor not only in the health space, but also the market. 

According to Data Bridge Market Research, the psychedelic market is projected to grow 16.3% over the next eight years, reaching $6.85 billion by 2027. 

Investors are paying attention and 2020 demonstrated quite the leap with well over $220 million being raised by private companies, and several going public.

The views and laws that governed psychedelics in the past are clearly evolving, people are acknowledging their efficacy in treating mental health disorders and the stigma surrounding these substances is finally beginning to loosen.

Click here to read more about our research.

Written by

Hayley Kirsh