Alibi V.27 No.20 • May 17-23, 2018 

Opinion

Tripping Over Addiction

UNM leads a psychedelic renaissance

Something in the New Mexico climate has made us remarkably receptive to the allure of hallucinogenic experience. Maybe the radiant sunsets that set our sparsely-clouded skies ablaze every evening ignite an intense cosmic curiosity within us, or perhaps our communities have simply developed in such close connection to the natural world that we are unafraid of discovering the secrets held within it.

Though some dream of introspective epiphany and others crave raw connection to a world that increasingly threatens isolation, the puzzles promised by psychedelic adventure speak to a subconscious (and perhaps universal) lust for truth. But hallucinogens might promise more than puzzles. They appear to provide answers: real, tangible and beneficial functions that could solve issues that plague our communities and even our world.

New Mexico is playing (and has played) a crucial role in leading the movement against stuffy policies that have limited hallucinogenic potential since Nixon’s Controlled Substance Act in 1970. In the sixties, however, hallucinogens including LSD, psilocybin and DMT were actively used in scientific settings to treat mental disorders and more. The promising results indicated potentially advantageous applications of the chemicals for medicinal, creative, and divine purposes—and everything in between.

That all ended in 1971, when Nixon triggered the “War on Drugs” in a Machiavellian attempt to disrupt the antiwar left and minority communities and anti-capitalist countercultures whose budding social influence threatened his reign. Suddenly psychedelics (along with cannabis) became social and scientific taboo, and their profuse possibilities were forgotten.

But not by everyone. In the early nineties, Dr. Rick Strassman embarked on the first government-approved (and funded) clinical research with psychedelic drugs in over twenty years. Over the course of his five-year study, Strassman administered dimethyltryptamine (DMT) to over 400 patients to produce a deep trove of biological and psychological data that suggest an abundance of potentially beneficial applications of the chemical.

With that, Dr. Strassman instigated what has become known as the “Psychedelic Renaissance,” and UNM remains on the cutting edge. UNM is one of only five universities working with the Heffter Research Institute to pursue a greater understanding of the human mind and condition through psychedelic research.

Since their inception in 1993, Heffter has studied the use of psychedelics to treat anxiety and depression in terminally ill patients, as well as psychiatric conditions. They have scientifically explored the possible relationship between psychedelic experience and spirituality. They have used hallucinogens to enrich and advance our understanding of brain cognition and behavior.

Most promising, however, is current research being carried out right here at UNM, with the Heffter Research Institute’s support. Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, a UNM psychiatrist, is heading a research project investigating the use of LSD as a potential treatment for alcoholism and other forms of addiction.

Dr. Bogenschutz has already delivered impressive results with a study that utilized psilocybin as a biological tool to improve self-efficacy in recovering alcoholics; similar studies carried out at Johns Hopkins University matched his findings regarding the ability of psilocybin to combat nicotine addiction.

Armed with an enriched conception of how LSD temporarily disables the brain’s default mode network to dismantle otherwise rigid cognitive functions, Dr. Bogenschutz’s study—the first of its kind in over 40 years—will hopefully blaze a trail for an entirely new understanding of the mechanisms of addiction, as well as a new appreciation and acceptance of the abundant advantages hallucinogens could, and likely do, have in store.

Though the government has set us back some fifty years to the realization of some potentially revolutionary discoveries, New Mexico is seizing our opportunity to make up for lost ground and unearth the truth—of hallucinogens, our world, and perhaps even ourselves.