Vice Squad
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Psychedelic Pioneer

Today's New York Times (registration required) contains an obituary of Dr. Humphry Osmond, who invented the term "psychedelic" for drugs such as L.S.D.: " his own view and in that of some other scientists, Dr. Osmond was most important for inspiring researchers who saw drugs like L.S.D. and mescaline as potential treatments for psychological ailments. By the mid-1960's, medical journals had published more than 1,000 papers on the subject, and Dr. Osmond's work using L.S.D. to treat alcoholics drew particular interest."

The sort of research the Dr. Osmond conducted, however, withered for decades, in part because of regulatory hostility. Here's the Times take on the research dearth:

"...the combination of flagrant youthful abuse of hallucinogens; the propagation of a flashy, otherworldly drug culture by Timothy Leary; and reports of health dangers from hallucinogens (some of which Dr. Halpern [a substance abuse researcher] said were wrong or overstated) eventually doomed almost all research into psychedelic drugs.

Research on hallucinogens as a treatment for mental ills has re-emerged in recent years, in small projects at places like the University of Arizona, the University of South Carolina, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard. Though such research was always legal, regulatory, financial and other obstacles had largely ended it."

The Times obit concludes with an overview of the late stages of Dr. Osmond's career, which took a different track because of hostility to research on psychedelic drugs:

"He mainly studied schizophrenia but was disappointed he could not pursue his research into hallucinogens, Mrs. Blackburn, his daughter, said.

'I'm sure he was very saddened by it,' she said. 'It could have helped millions of people.'"

The claim that the problems with hallucinogens were exaggerated brings to mind last year's discovery that a much-ballyhooed study finding lasting brain changes from a single night of ecstasy use was off-base: it turns out that the researchers examined the effects of another drug, not ecstasy, during their research. The original, flawed research helped to stoke the flames for the offspring of the RAVE act. Did you notice all of the attention paid to repealing the legislation after the mistake was revealed?

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