I. Protecting the human rights of people who use psychedelics and MDMA
II. Reporting Organization
EmmaSofia (www.emmasofia.org) is a non-profit organization based in Oslo, Norway, working to protect the human rights of people who use MDMA and psychedelics and expand access to quality-controlled MDMA and psychedelics.
III. Subject area and keywords
UNGASS subject areas: Drugs and Health, Human Rights
Keywords: PSYCHEDELICS, MDMA, HALLUCINOGENS, HUMAN RIGHTS, LEGAL REGULATION
IV. Issue Summary
Psychedelics have been used for thousands of years and have been an important part of the global culture for over 50 years, inspiring significant contributions to art, music, philosophy, religion, and technology. Over 40 million people in the US alone have personal experience with psychedelics (psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, DMT, and related) or MDMA (ecstasy) (NSDUH 2013). Prohibition of personal use of psychedelics and MDMA has been presented as a public health intervention, but these policies infringe on fundamental freedoms and have not been based on evidence or consideration of costs and benefits.
“The UN has for years recognized that psychedelics are an indispensable part of life in many religions and cultures. Despite extensive experience with use of psychedelics, including medical research, there has never been any demonstrated public health reason to justify their prohibition. 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.” — Ketil Lund (former Justice of the Supreme Court of Norway, legal advisor to EmmaSofia), statement to VG newspaper and New York Times, March 2015
Human right to use psychedelics: As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have a right to free development of our personalities, to practice of religion and belief, to free-time for play (leisure), to participate in culture, and to benefit from scientific discoveries. Using psychedelics and MDMA is an important part of the personal, spiritual, and cultural lives for millions of people, and thus should in principle be protected, subject to limitations provided for in human rights law – that is, subject to reasonable limitations protecting the “rights and freedoms of others” and “the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 29).
“[The attack on psychedelic dance festivals] was an attack by the totalitarian system on life itself, on the very essence of human freedom and integrity.” — Vaclav Havel (first elected president of Czechoslovakia), Power of the Powerless, 1985
Personal development and spiritual use: Psychedelic use has long been acknowledged, by both critics and advocates, as a sincere personal-development or spiritual practice. For example, the WHO assessment of psychedelics noted, “These substances 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” (Krebs 2015), and the 1971 Psychotropic Convention allows for use of psychoactive substances in “magical and religious rites”. Recent clinical studies at Johns Hopkins Medicine (Griffiths et al. 2008) and elsewhere, as well as user surveys, and extensive personal testimonies, demonstrate that psychedelics can often elicit deeply meaningful experiences comparable to those described by mystics of various faith traditions. In many countries recognize a religious freedom right to use psychedelics, at least in limited circumstances, and in 2006, the US Supreme Court (Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006)) ruled that church groups had a religious freedom right to use ayahuasca, a psychedelic containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), with effects similar to psilocybin or LSD.
Netherlands provides an example of legal regulation: Hundreds of thousands of servings of psilocybin mushrooms (or “truffles”) are legally sold in shops every year in the Netherlands, providing a realistic model for legal regulation. An evidence-based assessment by a state drug-control agency concluded that use of psilocybin mushrooms “poses such a low risk for the health of the individual and for society that prohibiting their use would appear to be a disproportionately grave measure” (CAM 2007).
No dependence potential to psychedelics, little for MDMA: International drug control has been based on the premise that drugs induce compulsive use or dependence, and thus external controls are necessary to “save users from themselves”. In 1965 WHO invented a special “LSD-type” dependence, defined as “periodic, rather than continuous use” by “‘arty’ people” and “non-conformists” – this has nothing to do with today’s notion of drug dependence. There are no reported cases of dependence to psilocybin, LSD, or related psychedelics, and compulsive or dependent use of MDMA is highly unusual. The typical use pattern for these substances is once or a few times per year (NSDUH 2013).
“LSD is not considered an addictive drug since it does not produce compulsive drug-seeking behavior.” — US National Institute on Drug Abuse
Evidence-based drug policy: A key requirement for inclusion of a substance in the schedules of the 1971 Psychotropic Convention, is that WHO finds “sufficient evidence that the substance is being or is likely to be abused so as to constitute a public health and social problem warranting the placing of the substance under international control”. The WHO assessments of psychedelics and MDMA did not present any evidence of serious public health or social problems, much less any evidence of likely overall benefit from international control measures, which have been interpreted to require prohibition of personal use and prohibition of quality-controlled production for personal use (Krebs 2015; WHO TRS 1985).
Quality-controlled production is an essential public health measure: In recent years a number of people have needlessly been injured or killed from fake MDMA (actually PMMA or PMA) or fake LSD (actually 25i-NBOME or Bromo-DragonFLY). Quality-controlled production and accurate labeling on packaging are basic first principles of modern regulations of food and drugs. Banning quality-controlled production of psychoactive substances intended for personal use appears unjustifiable from a public-health or ethical viewpoint.
“We need to regulate drugs because they are risky… Consumers need to be aware of what they are taking and have clear information on health risks and how to minimize them.”
— Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General), World Health Assembly, May 2015
Setting risk in perspective: Everything in life has risks, and risk assessment should consider risk in perspective rather than focusing on worst-case scenarios. Consider that playing soccer (football) entails a risk of traumatic brain injury (concussion), chronic joint injury, and even sudden cardiac death. Also, there are many accounts of panic, confusion, and psychotic symptoms related to intensive meditation or even viewing beautiful artwork (Stendahl Syndrome) (Krebs & Johansen 2013). Likewise, there are potential risks with psychedelics and MDMA. However, taking into perspective that tens of millions of doses of psychedelics and MDMA are used every year, these substances do not appear particularly dangerous and the risks appear comparable with voluntary activities generally considered to have acceptable safety (such as sports). Overall, there is widespread expert agreement that psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA, as typically used, are much less harmful than alcohol to the individual user, with very little adverse impact on society (five recent expert panel assessments, including, Nutt 2011).
1) The 2015 drug report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/30/65) recommends protection, subject to limitations provided for in human rights law, of the right of “indigenous peoples” to use psychoactive substances in “traditional, cultural and religious practices”. These protections should be extended to all people, regardless of ethnicity or faith-affiliation.
2) The Global Commission on Drug Policy (2011) recommends: “Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA.” And we would add, review psychedelics including psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, and DMT. Remove psychedelics and MDMA from the schedules of the UN drug treaties.
3) The Global Commission on Drug Policy (2011) further recommends: “Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.” Ensure that under international drug treaties countries can implement legal regulation of production and distribution of psychoactive substances for non-medical personal use.
4) Encourage public health (harm reduction) measures related to psychedelics, MDMA, and other psychoactive substances, including sale and distribution of test kits (example bunkpolice.com) to check contents of psychoactive substances, as well as anonymous on-site and mail-in testing services (see WEDINOS in Wales, ACTINOS in Australia, and CheckIn! in Portugal). This would be unnecessary if production is allowed to follow good manufacturing practices (see Recommendation 3).
CAM (Coördinatiepunt Assessment en Monitoring nieuwe drugs). Risicoschatting van psilocine en psilocybine bevattende paddestoelen (paddo’s) 2007. [Risk assessment of psilocin and psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) 2007.] Bilthoven: Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu; 2007. http://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/digitaaldepot/cam_paddo_aanvulling.pdf.
Griffiths R, Richards W, Johnson M, McCann U, Jesse R. Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. J Psychopharmacol. 2008;22(6):621-32. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050654/
Johansen PØ, Krebs TS. Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: a population study. J Psychopharmacol. 2015;29(3):270-9. http://www.emmasofia.org/research/
Krebs TS, Johansen PØ. Psychedelics and mental health: a population study. PLoS One. 2013;8(8):e63972. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0063972
Krebs TS. Protecting the human rights of people who use psychedelics. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015;2(4):294-5. http://www.emmasofia.org/research/
NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). United States Department of Health and Human Services; 2013. http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/35509
Nutt DJ, King LA, Phillips LD. Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. Lancet. 2010;376(9752):1558-65.