Learn What Effects Low Dosage of Psychedelic Have on Your Mental Health
He did his undergraduate work at Harvard and his graduate work at Stanford, doing pioneering research with the Harvard Group, the West Coast Research Group in Menlo Park, and Ken Kesey. Dr. Fadiman is author of The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys.
BOYT: How did you get involved with psychedelic research?
Dr. James Fadiman: My undergraduate mentor from Harvard, Richard Alpert, later known as Ram Dass, visited me in Paris on his way to giving the first presentation about psychedelics to an international scientific conference. He said, “The most wonderful thing in the world has happened to me and I want to share it with you.” Needless to say, I did not turn down his offer.
BOYT: Medical and scientific psychedelic research in the US was banned in 1966, but there's a recent resurgence of interest and research in psychedelics. What's caused this renewed interest?
Dr. James Fadiman: While above-ground research has been banned for over 40 years, there has been continual interest in and use of psychedelics worldwide. Twenty-three million people in the United States alone have used LSD, and that number increases about 400,000 a year. A whole new generation of scientists with personal experience began to press to do research about what they had glimpsed inside their own minds. At the same time, many people now in the regulatory agencies also had some psychedelic experience, usually in college, and were not frightened by these proposals. The results have been much tighter and better regulated research than had been done earlier. There is an astounding amount of demand to answer basic questions about how these substances work and what medical conditions they can help alleviate.
BOYT: Before we get into talking about promising research, how safe are psychedelics?
Dr. James Fadiman: Psychedelics, used carefully and with guides, are extremely powerful and relatively safe substances. But like any powerful medication, misusing them can get you in serious trouble. While there are definite psychedelic casualties, almost none of them have come from regulated research. In the 1960s, the CIA did some extremely unethical experiments with some of these substances that resulted in severe and long-lasting negative effects. Taking them recreationally without understanding the range of potential effects can be unsafe and can lead to real difficulties.
BOYT: In your book, The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide, you discuss potential therapeutic uses of psychedelics to treat mental health and other conditions. Talk about some of the medical applications and who's conducting this psychedelic research.
Dr. James Fadiman: Right now, the best research is concerned with mental and/or physical healing. There’s a body of beautiful work first done by Charles Grob’s team at UCLA, now being replicated at NYU and Johns Hopkins, helping people with terminal conditions vastly improve the quality of their time remaining. One psychedelic session with support and counseling makes a huge difference in most patients’ attitude and for many of them, minimizes prior debilitating anxiety. Work being done at Harvard has offered, for the first time, a way of controlling cluster headaches—the worst known headaches out there—with a single dose of LSD or a related psychedelic.
What’s remarkable about all this research is that it follows up already published results of individuals taking LSD illegally and reporting their incredible turnarounds on the Internet. The Harvard research is redoing this in formal clinical trials.
The work being done by Michael Mithoefer’s team exploring the use of MDMA (known as Ecstasy) to assist psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been a revelation. The initial favorable results were with subjects not helped by any other available therapy. The FDA is now allowing a new study with returning veterans who have PTSD. As it is estimated that several hundred thousand recent veterans have PTSD, it is likely that the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, if it continues to be so successful, will be integrated into general medicine. PTSD/MDMA studies are now moving forward in Canada, Israel, and Jordon as well.
BOYT: A number of prominent thinkers, from scientists and engineers to artists and entrepreneurs, credit some of their most important ideas to revelations they had while under the influence of a psychedelic. At what dosage and in what type of setting have studies been conducted with psychedelics to investigate this kind of result?
Dr. James Fadiman: While the media and popular culture seem convinced that any psychedelic experience precludes paying attention to rational analytic skills, it turns out that if the dose is low enough, and the intention to work on scientific problems is high enough, remarkable creative breakthroughs can be achieved. The study I was part of worked with senior scientists and architects using psychedelics in a specially designed setting. The results led to new products, patents and publications. Beyond that, according to the participants, it raised their overall level of creativity for some months following their single experimental session.
Furthermore, several Nobel Prize winners have attributed the breakthroughs for which they were given the prize in part to insights that occurred during low-dose psychedelic experiences. It seems unfortunate that formal research on such breakthrough possibilities have not yet resumed.
BOYT: Could taking extremely small micro-doses of psychedelics, a dose so low that its effects are barely noticeable, benefit people's everyday performance?
Dr. James Fadiman: I am involved in this research right now. I have been interviewing people across the country who take so-called micro-doses, doses so low that they have no perceptual effects. That means nothing is distorted and that people function normally in their work and relationships. What does appear to be true is that the micro-doses seem to give them additional focus and emotional clarity.
One report from a physician says, “Since I started micro-dosing I am in touch with a deep place of ease and beauty, really trusting and with more strength and determination.” (Micro-dosing in this context means 10 mcg of LSD every three days.) An older addiction counselor says, “The sub-threshold doses helped me to be more focused overall with better mental clarity. I was also more energetic with better memory recall. “
Albert Hofmann, the chemist who first synthesized LSD, said this was “an under-researched area.” I’m reviewing the first field reports, most of them favorable while a few indicate that it was not a good experience and the subject stopped doing it. It is foolish to assume that any substance, especially those as powerful as psychedelics, are good for everyone. This is absolutely not the case. However, in this new area of research, there are definite possibilities that need to be more rigorously explored.
BOYT: Why do you recommend a sitter or guide for someone who wants to take what you call a “psychedelic voyage,” and what might they gain from the experience?
Dr. James Fadiman: I recommend a guide to anyone who chooses to take these substances for the same reason I recommend a diving instructor, a driving instructor, a flight instructor, or a safari guide for situations when there are many advantages for doing it right and considerable dangers if doing it wrong. What we found in one study was that 78% of people having one guided psychedelic experience in a safe secure setting considered it one of, if not the most, important experience of their lives. Certainly, something with that much positive potential should be done as well and as carefully as possible.
BOYT: How has psychedelic use affected your life?
Dr. James Fadiman: Most important, probably, is that my worldview has broadened considerably. I am far more open as a researcher to investigating phenomena, including spiritual experience, which many people in science in general and in psychology in particular deny even exist.
I also believe that my own relationships are vastly more loving than they were before. At a personal moment-by-moment level, I find myself far more alive and open to the extraordinary interconnected complexity of the natural world. I feel driven to help others to recognize our cultural disconnection with nature and the imperative to reconnect. I believe that only by being more cooperative with natural forces and other species can we, as much as is still possible, repair the damage that our lack of awareness of being embedded in nature has caused. Before psychedelics, I would not have understood a word of what I just said.
About James Fadiman
James Fadiman PhD was one of the people involved with totally legal psychedelic research during the 1960s, and is considered among America's wisest and most respected authorities on psychedelics and their use. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard and his graduate work at Stanford, doing pioneering research with the Harvard Group, the West Coast Research Group in Menlo Park, and Ken Kesey. He is author of The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys (Park Street Press, 2011).
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