Parents and students are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing drug abuse epidemic on college campuses. Although such institutions are infamous for illicit experimentation, a staggering number of deaths are arising from the practice. A recent spike in the use of hallucinogens is adding to the health crisis.
According to a recent survey by The Dartmouth, 40% of students begin using drugs once they enter Dartmouth University. The study also found that hallucinogenic substances are on the rise, with one in ten pupils having tried lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also known as “acid.”
Dartmouth is not the only college in which psychedelic drugs are becoming popular. Police officers at Purdue University in Indiana say that although alcohol, marijuana, Adderall, and Xanax are the illegal drugs most often seized at the school, they are now increasingly confiscating LSD and “magic mushrooms.”
The surge has caused many parents and students to grow concerned about campus safety. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists LSD as a Schedule I drug, which is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic application, as reported by Liberty Nation. Is it true that the substance truly carries damaging effects, and that there are there no potential benefits?
In the book No One Cares About Crazy People, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Powers explains that taking hallucinogens can trigger psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. David Nichols, a pharmacologist and chemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an interview with the Purdue Exponent student newspaper that these risks are only severe in those predisposed to psychopathy.
Nichols says that those who are “mentally healthy” will typically not experience damaging effects. Furthermore, in contrast to the DEA’s ruling of LSD as a Schedule I substance, the scientist continues that addictive qualities of the psychedelic drug are “virtually nonexistent.” That is not to say that individuals should begin recreational use. Nichols warns that street drugs have no guarantee of purity and are thus potentially tainted and dangerous to one’s health. He instead advocates for consumption only in a laboratory setting.
As for concerns raised over users’ violent behavior while “high,” psychiatric disorders spurred by ingestion of hallucinogens may trigger some to commit crimes. Those who take illicit drugs may also be more inclined to carry out such behaviors. There is no evidence of “acid” itself being the culprit.
Nevertheless, possession of “acid” entails five to 30 years in prison in many states, according to FindLaw, a site frequented by legal professionals. Many argue that the justice system must reevaluate this, as it is currently scientifically illiterate to harshly prosecute those consuming a drug that has not been proven to have adverse effects.
In fact, the present literature points to potential benefits.
Impact on Mental Health
Although results are still in the preliminary stages with small sample sizes, there is promising evidence to support the idea that hallucinogens may aid in relieving addiction, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
A study by Johns Hopkins examined 15 cigarette smokers who wished to end their addictions but had previously failed. The most effective treatment on the market is currently varenicline, with a six-month success rate of 35%. However, researchers administered psilocybin, the active mind-altering agent of “magic mushrooms,” to the subjects and found that there was an 80% cigarette abstinence rate for six months following the treatment.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, psilocybin and LSD work on the same brain receptors, leading many to believe that both would have similar benefits. Although the reasons are not fully understood, the drugs act on the posterior cingulate cortex and temporal gyrus of the brain, which are regions responsible for introspection and identification of the self.
Scientists believe that the act of allowing individuals to engage in enhanced introspection contributed to the high rate of abstinence from cigarettes. It is currently unknown whether the substances would have the same impact for ending other forms of addiction.
As published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, another group of researchers gave psilocybin to 80 patients with advanced stages of cancer who were also suffering from depression and anxiety due to their condition. Two-thirds of the participants said their mental angst was almost relieved after half a year of following the treatment. A limitation of the study was that the control group did not receive a placebo, but instead low doses of the psychoactive chemical. An experiment by New York University conducted a nearly identical test, which yielded similar results, however, they used the B vitamin niacin as a placebo, which does not have psychedelic effects.
In addition to anxiety associated with cancer, the drugs were also found to aid those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says Selen Atasoy, a researcher at the Center for Brain and Cognition at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain. She explained that patients under the influence of psychedelics could evaluate and integrate past traumatic experiences, leading to enhanced recovery.
The Journal of Neuroscience published that LSD is effective in treating schizophrenia by acting as a serotonin 2A receptor antagonist. Blocking the chemical from binding to these sites addresses social impairments in those with psychiatric conditions.
A Schedule I Substance?
As previously reported by LN, about 44,193 Americans commit suicide each year, mostly as a result of depression. The economic cost to the U.S. is an estimated $51 billion annually. Furthermore, LN notes that military veterans suffering from PTSD have high rates of substance abuse, as they attempt to relieve their symptoms. LN also explains that those with schizophrenia are 12 times more likely to die from suicide, drug overdose, and other unnatural causes compared to the general population.
Many believe LSD should be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs, as there is insufficient evidence that it poses a danger to society. Doing so would permit scientists to more freely analyze its potential health benefits and thus could save thousands of lives otherwise lost or ruined. Scientists would be able to investigate further the potential benefits to cancer patients, military veterans with PTSD, and other individuals struggling with depression and anxiety.