This article originally appeared on AlterNet.org.
The problem with banning anything out of a fear of the unknown is that many unknowns will remain. Such is the story of many psychedelic drugs in the U.S. While the government has experimented with various psychedelic compounds (take the CIA’s secret attempts at LSD mind-control between 1953 to 1964) over the years prohibition has become the name of the game.
In response to a cultural upheaval beginning in the 1960s that saw more and more people independently experimenting with mind-altering drugs, the U.S. government has cracked down on every psychedelic it can muster, often without first exploring their potential medical uses. The U.S. Department of Justice has demonized psychedelics, listing many of them (including LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA) as felony-status, schedule I substances with “high potential for abuse” and no medical value.
The reality the government, and Western world at large, has failed to acknowledge is that psychedelic drugs aren’t just something free-spirited hippies eat to feel trippy and dance naked (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Humans have used psychedelics since before we were painting on cave walls, not just for fun but for healing. Psychoactive mushrooms have been part of human healing practices since before recorded history, and ayahuasca—the brew of various psychoactive plant decoctions that is increasingly popular in the West—remains a medicinal staple for the people of Amazonian Peru. More recently, the psychedelic chemical compounds MDMA and LSD were both originally developed to help treat psychiatric patients.
The Western war on drugs mindset has led most of the mainstream medical world to dismiss psychedelics altogether, but a handful of dedicated researchers have refused to let fear and politics keep them from exploring. These researchers have petitioned the government for permission to conduct research on those highly classified substances, and after decades of scientific drought a few studies have received the go-ahead. Now, the evidence is stacking up to show the enormous potential of psychedelics for treating everything from cancer to PTSD to addiction.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a pharmaceutical research and educational nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, Calif. is at the forefront of psychedelic science. It funds researchers around the world to conduct government-approved, placebo-controlled, clinical studies of various psychedelic drugs. Since its founding in the ’80s, MAPS has gathered a wealth of insight into the interactions between psychedelics and the human mind. This June it decided to share its insights with the masses by offering its first-ever, open-enrollment online psychedelics course.
The live, 5-session interactive video course, “Psychedelic Science: How to Apply What We’re Learning to Your Life,” co-produced by Evolver Learning Labs, brought together experts in psychedelic science, medicine, art, and spirituality.
Here are five key lessons from the course.
1. Psychedelics could redefine the way we perceive and treat “illness,” and could unlock health mysteries like cancer and addiction.
Gabor Matè, a medical doctor, speaker and author from Vancouver, has worked with psychedelic medicine among aboriginal people, as well as in contemporary, non-indigenous healing circles. He contends that therapy assisted by psychedelics–ayahuasca in particular–can untangle complex, unconscious psychological stresses.
As a speaker for the MAPS course, Matè said, “The issue of psychedelic healing goes to the very heart of what it means to have illness in the first place.” According to Mate–and most of the non-Western world–the mind and body are not separate entities, but work in tandem. He believes many illnesses are a result of pent-up psychological and/or spiritual traumas.
“In the Western medical model, illness is something bad that happens to a person usually because of bad behaviors on their part, like smoking cigarettes and getting lung cancer or even having the wrong genes,” he said. “But for the most part we don’t look at the possibility that the illness is not just misfortune but actually represents something about that person’s life. For instance cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis, or depression, or drug addiction, or ADHD, or whatever form your illness takes, may be a representation of what’s happened to you in life and how you have coped with life.”