Monday, December 12, 2016

Psychedelic drugs and psychiatry

The Philosophy Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has asked for submissions for its conference next year on Philosophical issues in psychedelic drug use (see call for papers). It's interesting to look at what motivates this focus.

As I said in my book chapter in Liberatory Psychiatry, Tom Wolfe's book The electric kool-aid acid test acknowledged the expansion of the limits of immanent experience through psychedelic drugs. Ken Kesey who, with his Merry Pranksters drove across America in a brightly painted bus, was the author of One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. This accomplished novel depicts Randle McMurphy’s attempt, apparently on behalf of the counterculture, to overthrow the bureaucratic control of Nurse Ratched in the psychiatric institution. It was made into a successful film starring Jack Nicolson.

The blurb for the conference states that "Neuroimaging studies are revealing how changes in brain function can lead to the particular changes in emotional and cognitive experiences produced by psychedelic drugs. These findings may be relevant to our understanding of psychoses and other abnormal mental states." I'm not sure what neuroimaging studies it is referencing, but I agree that the overlap with psychosis is what makes the topic interesting. The blurb goes on that psilocybin and LSD "have been used on a trial basis in a range of psychiatric disorders including depression, PTSD and ‘existential anxiety’ in people with terminal illnesses". R.D. Laing, perhaps the most famous of the anti-psychiatrists (see eg. previous post), used LSD in treatment.

It is interesting how the strands of anti-psychiatry were interwoven with the 1960’s counterculture. Laing's perspective that civilisation represses transcendence and so-called ‘normality’ too often abdicates our true potentialities cannot be completely divorced from the use of psychedelic drugs.

The interest in psychedelic drugs came not only from anti-psychiatry but also from mainstream psychiatry, such as William Sargant. He reviewed The doors of perception by Aldous Huxley for the British Medical Journal. It seems likely he was involved with trials of LSD as a truth serum at Porton Down between 1953-5 (see BBC News story).

These historical aspects are of interest and require further elucidation. I'm not quite sure what the relevance of psychedelic drugs are to current psychiatry.

3 comments:

Chrys Muirhead said...

For me the relevance of psychedelic drugs is that people are seeking out of body experiences like psychosis as an escape from life stressors, cruelties and the unknown. Whereas psychiatry is about punishing or repressing psychoses by coercive measures, using mind bending/control drugs which are horrible, take away agency, cause disabling side effects in the short term, even more disability in the long term, and a shortened life span.

Psychosis for me was an escape from traumatic birth labour, caused by induction drugs/chemicals, pushed into me by doctors/nurses in maternity wards to make me deliver on the day shift, to suit their routine and schedule. It wasn't for my benefit. Then when I reacted with psychosis I was further coerced with drugs for externalising my distress.

Depression is a major issue in our society because people are internalising their distress. But if we all let it out via psychosis then how could the State control it?

Anonymous said...

At the very least, psychedelic drugs can force the user (with their consent, naturally) out of their conventional mind state. A Mexican psychiatrist in the 1960s (whose name eludes me at the moment) administered psychedelics to his patients for the expressed purpose of inducing an anxiety state, thereby bringing the "beast" out of its cave for confrontation. If anxiety reduction, i.e., coping mechanisms, are the root reaction that cause us so much pain, then perhaps psychedelics are an important and necessary tool.

Anonymous said...

Mexican psychiatrist _ Dr. Salvador Roquet.