In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, which classified hallucinogens including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline, peyote and psilocybin as Schedule I controlled substances, simultaneously starting the US government’s war on some drugs and immediately ceasing all research into the medicinal properties of the hallucinogens. As Schedule I controlled substances, these substances have no accepted medical use and therefore cannot be prescribed by a physician. Worse, the substances are thought to be so dangerous—even though early trials in treating alcoholism and mental illness were favorable—the government systematically increased its control such that almost all research was curtailed.
Only now are scientists taking another look at these substances, through the lens of medical use. Schaunacy Ferro, writing for Popular Science, reports that in the last 10 years, the government has slowly and begrudgingly allowed researchers to conduct small human trials. Initial studies indicate promising results for using one of the newest entries into the Schedule I controlled substances family, ecstasy (MDMA), to treat depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Other researchers are re-investigating the usefulness of psilocybin and LSD to treat alcoholism, anxiety in the terminally ill, and and other maladies.
In order for a researcher to work with any of the hallucinogens, she must meet all of her institutional requirements, plus obtain FDA approval and be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to store and work with the particular substance. Ferro reports the approval and licensing process takes about nine months although researchers say “the DEA’s not in a hurry to grant these licenses.” Additinally, the approval and license must be renewed annually. Currently only 349 researchers have the necessary approval and license, and that number is declining.
The difficulty of getting necessary approval and licensing is just a small part of the problem. The largest part of the problem is that there’s no money in the research. Big Pharma isn’t interested in funding the research because as Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) notes in a 2012 interview with Ido Hartogsohn, writing for Reality Sandwich, the hallucinogens are relatively easy to make in a basic chemistry lab and “psychedelics are off-patent, can’t be monopolized, and compete with other psychiatric medications that people take daily.”
How much further along would we be, individually and collectively, had our government not been so short-sighted.