The Psychedelic Renaissance: Horizons, the Fifth Annual Conference on Psychedelic Research
Michael Cooper, BA
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461.
In the spring of 1943, a 37-year-old Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann had “a peculiar presentiment.” He believed that he had missed something in 1938, the year when he first synthesized the twenty-fifth compound of the lysergic acid diethylamide series, LSD-25. For eight years at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Hofmann was in charge of the ergot project, which involved synthesizing ergotamine molecules for the treatment of migraines. On April 16, 1943, guided by a premonition, Hofmann synthesized and ingested a crystalline water-soluble batch of LSD- 25. Shortly thereafter, Hofmann experienced “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness . . . accompanied by an intense kaleidoscopic play of colors” (Stevens, 1987).
Less than thirty years after Hofman’s discovery, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classified LSD and other related psychedelics, including psilocybin (the psychoactive component found in psilocybin mushrooms), as Schedule I, a category for drugs that have no known medical use and a high potential for abuse (DEA, 2011). As a result, nearly all research on psychedelics was placed on hold until the early 1990s, when several investigators received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct carefully designed research trials. In 1995, Rick Strassman, MD, a psychiatrist and graduate of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, completed a study at the University of New Mexico in which he administered N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) to 60 volunteers. This was the first clinical research project involving a psychedelic drug that the United States government had approved and funded in more than twenty years (Strassman, 2001).
In the years following this study, with funding from nonprofit research and educational organizations such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), nearly a dozen more clinical research projects on psychedelic drugs have been initiated. Multiple investigations involving research questions ranging from the use of psilocybin as an end-of-life therapy for terminal cancer patients to the use of LSD for the treatment of cluster headaches have been completed or are under way at institutions such as the Johns Hopkins University and New York University (MAPS, 2011). On October 15, 2011, Horizons, the fifth annual national conference on psychedelic research, took place in New York City at Judson Memorial Church. Physicians, scientists, scholars, and artists gathered to learn about the latest research projects from experts in the psychedelics field. The topics of that year’s conference ranged from the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with the use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) to the use of psilocybin as a treatment for depression and anxiety in terminal cancer patients.
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