Are Psychedelics a Possible Medical Treatment for Depression?

Kevin Lyskawa

In an article published by Tim Martin in The New Statesman titled, “The New Science of Psychedelics,” Martin embarks on current and past research that could hold promise for the medical use of psychedelics as a treatment for depression or anxiety. Within this article, Martin references work from many famous psychedelic researchers such as Robin Carhart-Harris, Bill Richards and more. With strong scientific evidence supporting Martin’s claims, he has revolutionized this schedule one drug to more than its common misconceptions, but rather a potential medical treatment for depression.

I want to first establish the background of psychedelics in society and in the scientific world prior to illustrating the scientific evidence that has emerged in recent years. Psychedelics were first discovered by Swiss scientist, Albert Hoffman, who at the time was studying the effects of lysergic acid diethlamide-25, commonly known as LSD, to cure raspatory issues and headaches. The story goes that while Hoffman’s results provided little to no evidence supporting his cause, he came into contact with the drug via fingertips during synthetization. Soon after, Hoffman stated in his journal that he began to experience the world in a different dimension, one filled with vibrant colors that seemed to differ than the normal visual spectrum. He left his laboratory to his home traveling on bike which gave rise to April 23, 1943 officially becoming known as “Bicycle Day,” becoming one of the first individuals recorded to experience a psychedelic trip.

Since Hoffman’s discovery, many researchers became fascinated with this new class of drugs. Research continued making immense headway into the possible benefits for treatment before president Nixon abolished psychedelic research by withholding government funding towards research during Nixon’s “War on Drugs” in the 60’s. The age of the drug loving “hippies” soon came to an end and research was halted for many years until a well-known scientist, Bill Richards, resumed his previous work in the late 90’s.

In a famous experiment performed by Richards, he wanted to see if psychedelics could have an effect on an individual’s outlook on life while suffering a terminally ill disease. Therefore, Richards conducted an experiment with 51 cancer patients who were suffering from chronic depression or anxiety and were given varying dosages of psilocybin, the psychoactive component in psychedelics. The patient’s feelings and attitudes on life after ingesting the drug were recorded and it was found that 80 percent of patients experienced a more positive outlook on life. It should also be known that these effects remained for over six months after experiencing the effects from the drug. That being said, Richard’s study indicates that psychedelics could serve as a one-time treatment for individuals with depression or anxiety.

Richard’s acknowledged that the shift in drug culture after the 60’s might make many reluctant to believe the benefits of such as drug. It should be known, however, that Richard’s will continue his research to hopefully one day convince the public that this is in fact a legitimate treatment, or should at the very least, be considered an alternative approach to treating depression. In my opinion, although the drug culture has taken its toll on many individuals and families who have suffered addiction problems in the past, psychedelics should be sought upon under regulation by practitioners a viable form of treatment. It will be interesting to follow the trajectory of psychedelic research because if sufficient evidence can prove the benefits, society must look past its previous history and come to terms with what could be a significant medical breakthrough.

Literary Cited

Martin, T. (2018, September 7). The new science of psychedelics. New Statesman; London, 147(5435), 32–35.
Richards, W. A. (2017). Psychedelic Psychotherapy: Insights From 25 Years of Research. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(4), 323–337.

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