“National and international policies must respect the human rights of individuals who chose to use psychedelics as a spiritual, personal development, or cultural activity,” concludes a letter published in the April 2015 issue of Lancet Psychiatry.
(Read the full-text of the letter.)
Scientists speak out
“In the same way that climate researchers have a responsibility to discuss environmental policy, scientists in medicine and health have a responsibility to inform the public when drug regulations are not based on science, especially if they violate human rights,” says author Teri Krebs, research fellow at the Department of Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Krebs, who is from Boston, USA, and her Norwegian husband Pål-Ørjan Johansen have published research on LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and on mental health of psychedelic users. Their studies have been funded by the Research Council of Norway and featured in Nature News, BBC World News, Fox News, and other global media.
Profound effects, less harmful than alcohol
“Psychedelics often induce profound experiences while at the same time having a safety profile comparable to many activities of daily life, such as riding a bicycle or playing soccer. It is important to take a statistical perspective on risk, rather than focusing on anecdotes,” says Johansen. He points out that in two studies published in the Lancet, panels of experts ranked LSD and psilocybin “magic” mushrooms as much less harmful than alcohol, both to the individual user and to overall society.
Psychedelics have long been recognized as an ancient spiritual practice, protected under freedom of religion and belief, at least for certain groups. As confirmed in recent research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, most people report that the psychedelic experience was one of the most deeply personally and spiritually meaningful events of their lives, with evidence of lasting beneficial effects.
As Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, said to his biographer: “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin… It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money.”
Not based on evidence
Over 40 years ago, psilocybin and LSD were classified as “scheduled substances” by the US and United Nations. Why this happened is not fully clear.
“In my correspondence with the US Drug Enforcement Agency and European and international drug agencies, I have not received any evidence-based rationale for why psychedelics are banned, they just point to the political process from half a century ago,” says Krebs, “People assume that drug policies have been based on solid evidence, but this is just not true.”
As explained in the Lancet Psychiatry letter, under international treaties, the World Health Organization (WHO) has responsibility to evaluate whether psychedelics are causing a “public health and social problem warranting the placing of the substance under international control.” The original 1969 WHO assessment acknowledged that psychedelics “are usually taken in the hope of inducing a mystical experience leading to a greater understanding of the users’ personal problems and of the universe,” but this assessment failed to cite a single example of harm from naturally-occurring psychedelics like psilocybin or mescaline, and cited only a handful of anecdotes related to LSD. “This was in no way an evidence-based harm assessment,” writes Krebs.
A March 2015 report from the United Nations Development Program warns that “current drug control policy has not only failed to achieve its own objectives but has generated considerable harms,” and calls for “urgent and necessary” reevaluation of drug policy with a new focus on “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
US Supreme Court recognizes right to use psychedelics
In 2006 the US Supreme Court decided in favor of a religious group that uses ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic with effects similar to LSD and magic mushrooms. Many mainstream religious organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Baptist Joint Committee, and other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu organizations, wrote letters to the US Supreme Court supporting the position that the government must provide actual evidence of a serious threat before it can legally interfere with peoples’ freedom to use psychedelics as a spiritual practice. Other psychedelic-using groups, such as the Native American Church, have had legal protection in the US and other countries for many decades.
Legal and “relatively safe” in the Netherlands
As noted in the Lancet Psychiatry letter, psychedelic magic mushrooms containing psilocybin are legally sold in shops in the Netherlands. Dutch police report very few public order problems involving magic mushrooms, and Dutch health authorities report that use of magic mushrooms is relatively safe.
In the Lancet Psychiatry letter, Krebs sums up the risk profile of psychedelics: “In the past 50 years, people have used at least half a billion doses of psychedelics…. Based on extensive human experience, it is generally acknowledged that psychedelics do not elicit addiction or compulsive use and that there is a lack of evidence for an association between psychedelic use and birth defects, chromosome damage, lasting mental illness, or toxic effects to the brain or other body organs. Although psychedelics can induce temporary confusion and emotional turmoil, hospitalizations and serious injuries are extremely rare. Overall psychedelics are not particularly dangerous when compared with other common activities.”
Part of the culture
Psychedelics have been used in the Americas for thousands of years and have been part of the global culture for over half a century. As many people are using psychedelics now as in the 1960s and 1970s. Over 30 million people currently living in the US have tried magic mushrooms, LSD, or mescaline.
Expanding access to psychedelics
Krebs and Johansen have started a non-profit organization EmmaSofia (www.emmasofia.org), which is working to expand access to quality-controlled MDMA (ecstasy) and psychedelics and to promote human rights for psychedelic users. EmmaSofia is running a crowdfunding campaign to produce pharmaceutical MDMA and psilocybin for use worldwide in medicine, research, and other legal purposes.
EmmaSofia legal advisor Ketil Lund, who is a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Norway and member of the International Commission of Jurists, has stated, “The ban on psychedelics, which first and foremost seems based on ignorance and prejudice, could very well be a disproportionate intrusion into the right of individuals to freely exercise their religion, beliefs and private lives, all of which are protected by human rights conventions.”