Researcher Claims Psychedelics Useful
A recent study by a teaching fellow in Psychiatry suggests that "psychedelic" drugs like LSD may have a legitimate psychotherapeutic use despite the doubt cast on their value in the past two years.
The study, performed by Dr. Walter N. Pahnke as part of his work for a Ph.D. from Harvard in the History and Philosophy of Religion, established that psilocybin is capable of inducing "mystical experiences" as experimentally defined, Dr. Pahnke received an M.D. before he began the study.
Dr. Pahnke's experiment involved administering psilocybin to 20 theology students, none from Harvard, in a setting designed to optimize the chances for mystical reactions. The ten students given psilocybin scored significantly higher on Dr. Pahnke's experimental criteria for defining mystical experience than did the ten controls, who were given nicotinic acid, a vitamin which has mild somatic effects. The study was conducted as a "double-blind" experiment, in which neither the subject nor the experimenter knew who was receiving which drug.
Drug-induced mystical experiences might be used in treating personality and behavioral disorders, Dr. Pahnke said. In this treatment, Dr. Pahnke said "the drug is a necessary, but not sufficient condition" for therapy. The subject is given high does of psilocybin, with psychotherapy sessions before and after administration of the drug. The physician hopes to produce a unique experience for the patient which, it is hoped, will induce a rapid personality change.
Such treatment has been used experimentally elsewhere for alcoholics, neurotics, and juvenile delinquents. Although results so far are "promising," Dr. Pahnke said, the drug's "therapeutic value still needs to be proved."
Dr. Pahnke stressed the need for handling the dangers which led to the drugs' recent condemnation. He noted that by controlling the environment in which the drugs are administered, the preparation of the patient, and the attitude of the experimenter, the unpredictability of the drugs and their danger to latent psychotics is decreased. He added that a doctor's supervision and careful screening of patients are still necessary.
Dr. Pahnke also maintained that the question of psychological dependence on drugs is "a real factor to be taken into consideration." He emphasized that the use of the drugs to develop creative ability is "open to question and should be carefully researched."