MJ News: New Medical Uses for Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, Ketamine?
Contributed by skip
on Saturday, March 22 @ 18:22:13 UTC
Could Ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms one day be legitimate prescription
medicines? It sounds unlikely, but doctors and researchers in the US and
across Europe believe it is possible and that new science will prove the
Second chances are rare in science. In the Fifties and Sixties, hallucinogenic
drugs, such as LSD, were hailed as the magic bullet to everything from
alcoholism to migraine. But they became caught in the crossfire of the
cultural wars of the times. Western politicians banned the use of
psychedelics in research once they started to be used recreationally, and
became associated with flower-power and the counter culture. The drugs were
dangerous; the science was flawed; the researchers biased.
But a comeback has been under way for more than a decade. A new generation of
researchers say that psychedelic drugs can treat conditions such as
addiction, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a type of headache
called cluster headache.
Studies with Ecstasy and LSD are planned or are under way in the UK,
Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Israel. And so big is this scientific
movement that researchers and speakers are gathered this weekend in Basel,
Switzerland, for the inaugural World Psychedelic Forum. Here are some of the
drugs they may be discussing. ECSTASY In the mid to late-Eighties, Ecstasy,
or its chemical name MDMA, was used therapeutically by psychotherapists on
the West Coast of the US. They were wowed by its ability to break down
psychological barriers between patient and practitioner, and instil feelings
of empathy and calm. It was found to be particularly useful in marriage
How it achieves its effect is not clear, but it is thought to affect the
action of two moodenhancing brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.
Proponents say that the drug allows people to open up and express themselves
in ways that they otherwise might not be able to. They are also more relaxed
and calm, which helps to stop them becoming traumatised again when they
revisit painful memories. The drug is neurotoxic at high doses, but the
debate continues as to whether a few low to medium doses causes permanent
Supporters argue that any risk is outweighed by the possible benefits for
people who have not responded to conventional treatments, and that limited
exposure to the drug in moderate doses will not result in addiction or
long-term memory problems. Michael Mithoefer, a clinical assistant professor
of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, is finishing a
study into MDMA's effect on patients with treatment-resistant post-traumatic
stress disorder. He says the preliminary results are promising and that the
therapeutic response “warrants our going on to larger studies”.
The “classic” hallucinogens, such as LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient
in “magic” mushrooms), also affect the serotonin and dopamine systems in the
brain. LSD causes hallucinations, commonly known as a “trip”. Researchers
believe that it may be useful in treating severe headaches known as cluster
headaches. These usually centre around one side of the head, and can occur
several times a day for weeks, before stopping for long stretches of up to
several months. Scientists believe that these can be treated with a
sub-hallucinogenic dose of LSD, which does not cause the wild visual
distortions associated with larger doses.
How can a hallucinogen prevent a type of headache? They have a similar
chemical structure to serotonin and exert their effects by binding to some
of the same receptors as serotonin, a property that is exploited by some
mainstream migraine drugs, such as sumatriptan (Imigran) and methysergide.
Andrew Sewell and John Halpern, of McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School,
conducted interviews confirming that LSD and psilocybin were both more
effective than conventional drugs at stopping a new cycle of headaches, and
that psilocybin was the best drug of all to abort an attack. Halpern is
developing full clinical trials. Studies are also under way in Switzerland
and the US using LSD or psilocybin as a palliative care agent for patients
with anxieties associated with terminal cancer.
Ketamine is an anaesthetic developed in 1962 for human and veterinary
medicine. It works on a wide range of receptors and sites within the brain,
with recreational users reporting feelings of euphoria and out-of-body
experiences. It is neurotoxic at high doses (at least in rats), but smaller
doses could have safer medical benefits, and act as an antidepressant.
In 2006, scientists from the US National Institute of Mental Health injected
17 patients suffering from depression - and who had failed at least six
previous drug treatments - with either a low dose of ketamine or a placebo.
More than two thirds responded favourably to the drug within a day. However,
its psychedelic effects may have to be smoothed out before it can be used
Users say that cannabis makes them feel relaxed and congenial. It is also
known to increase appetite. The drug, or its chemical derivatives
(cannabinoids), is used in the US as an appetite stimulant for Aids
sufferers and chemotherapy patients.
The cannabis-based medicine Sativex uses fewer psychoactive cannabinoids and
is licensed in Canada as an under-the-tongue analgesic spray for patients
suffering from multiple sclerosis and advanced cancer. It is also available
in Spain and the UK on a case-by-case basis. Researchers are investigating
the drug as a potential treatment for conditions such as glaucoma, obesity
and diabetes, and as an agent against addiction and hypertension, as
revealed recently by scientists at the University of Nottingham.
Not everyone believes that using hallucinogenic drugs for medical purposes
will be fruitful, or that it is warranted. “You have to look at research
policy within the usual rules without giving way to passion or modern
fashions,” says Griffith Edwards, the co-founder of the National Addiction
He says that the risk to the individual of experiencing drug-induced negative
effects must be considered. It may be that a new generation of
psychotherapists are viewing the past with kaleidoscope eyes, and that the
medical benefits may be a mirage based on bad science in the past when risks
were under-reported and follow-ups inadequate.
While scientists and medics do not dispute the catastrophic effects that these
drugs can have on physical and mental health when taken recreationally, the
pace of research into the medical benefits of such substances, when taken in
a controlled setting, shows no signs of slowing down.Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article3593278.ece
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