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In July 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two amendments designed to expand research into the medical use of MDMA (a.k.a. ecstasy or molly) and psilocybin (the “magic” chemical in magic mushrooms); the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies both psychedelic drugs as illegal Schedule I substances. That the vote garnered no major headlines is a testament to mounting evidence of the benefits these drugs offer to people struggling with serious illnesses.

MDMA has been shown to ease the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Indeed, the potential new research approved by the House would look at psychedelic alternatives to opioids as a treatment for PTSD in service members.

And recent studies suggest that psilocybin may be an effective treatment for those battling depression and alcohol-use disorder. Researchers are also considering psychedelics as a pain-relief option without the addictive hazards of opioids.

Some scientists credit the surge of research in this area, after a 30-year lull, to Michael Pollan’s best-selling 2018 book How to Change Your Mind. In it, he chronicles his own guided experiences with psychedelics and comes away convinced of their ability to improve people’s lives.

“I’m very excited about the addiction work going on both at Johns Hopkins, to treat smoking addiction, and at New York University, treating alcohol addiction,” says Pollan, who is cofounder of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. “There is also a trial at Yale going on to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Investigators are making progress. The Food and Drug Administration in 2017 designated MDMA a breakthrough therapy for PTSD and may one day approve its use for therapeutic purposes.

“We’re really at the beginning of something, and there’s a lot more we have to learn,” says Pollan.

This article originally appeared as “Psychedelics Redeemed?” in the December 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Craig Cox
Craig Cox

Craig Cox is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of healthy aging.

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  1. This treatment is not new. As a species we have known about and used these medicines for thousands of years. “Modern Medicine” is just now catching up to the knowledge that ancient people already knew. Stop claiming these are new treatments. Study Indigenous history and correct yourself.

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