Lee Heidhues 10.2.2021
Leave it to the Germans to be a leader in changing people’s attitudes.
Psychedelics have long been part of the culture. Sadly, psychedelics became part of the reactionary war on drugs which has seen thousands of people imprisoned for selling and consuming these drugs.
Now, decades later, the medical profession is taking a dispassionate and clinical look at psychedelics and their benefits to society.
Maybe the phrase from the Beatles song, “I get high with a little help from my friends” will become widely accepted in the world culture.
Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 10.2.2021
Psychedelic substances have returned to where they once stood in the 1950s and ’60s — to the center of psychiatric, medical and psychological research.
Experts are already enthusiastic. “How ecstasy and psilocybin are shaking up psychiatry” a headline of the science magazine Nature gushed at the beginning of the year.
Millions of people in Germany have been diagnosed with depression. Researchers believe that drugs such as LSD and psilocybin can offer an effective treatment. They could also bring big profits.
On July 13, there was a rainy sky above the southern German city of Mannheim. But, despite the uninspiring weather, it was a day of hope for millions of people with depression — because the first patients of a research project run by the Central Institute of Mental Health were scheduled to have a psychedelic experience.
They wore a blindfolds and headphones that played music and were accompanied by two therapists. The hallucinogen used for the inner journey is called psilocybin.
This active ingredient was isolated about 60 years ago. It gives the magic mushrooms their “magic” — i.e., their mind-altering effect. And it has been banned almost worldwide, including in Germany, for over half a century.
Even for the Mannheim researchers, “obtaining the substance has proven to be the highest hurdle.” That’s according to researcher and psychiatry professor Gerhard Gründer.
“There are not that many manufacturers in the world from whom you can obtain such a substance in the required quality. It was a long and laborious process,” he said.
But that laborious process is becoming more common. Hallucinogenic trips have long ceased to be solely the recreational pastime of hippies. A growing number of scientific studies point to the potential of psilocybin-assisted therapy for treating depressed patients — even those for whom other therapies have been exhausted. The Mannheim study, with a total of 144 patients, is now large enough that Gründer “expects statistically robust conclusions.”
Depression is a widespread condition
According to estimates by the World Health Organization, about 300 million people worldwide live with depression. In Germany, that number is an estimated 5 million, and the Health Ministry has referred to it as a “widespread disease.”
A conservative estimate is that around one in five patients cannot be helped with conventional treatment methods. “There is a huge need,” Gründer said, adding that his institute is almost overrun with inquiries from patients.
In conventional therapies, patients are treated with daily doses of antidepressants. The new approach is fundamentally different.
This could be seen in mid-September in Berlin, when the Insight 2021 conference took place, organized by the Mind Foundation. According to its website, the foundation advocates the “evidence-based, safe and legal use of psychedelic experience in medicine and society.” The venue for the meeting of the center of international psychedelics research is the Berlin Charite, one of Germany’s most prestigious medical institutions.
For four days, attendees discussed neurological processes, compared the effects of LSD, psilocybin and other drugs with diagrams, and presented the state of research in a wide variety of fields. Even an employee of the German drug approval authority, the federal authority for drugs and medical devices, was there.
“We managed to destigmatize the topic; a discourse has emerged,” Mind Foundation co-founder Andrea Jungaberle said in summary. “How this discourse will affect day-to-day medical business remains to be seen.”