26 Jun Do psychedelic drugs expand the mind or poison the brain?
Do psychedelic drugs expand the mind or poison the brain?
Many people have wondered whether Psychedelics, drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms and Molly, can be useful in treating psychiatric disorders (such as PTSD). They ask whether psychedelics can restore health to an impaired brain. In other words, can these drugs be used to fix the brain, a biological machine?
Some people have taken it a step further and claimed that psychedelics can take normal brain function to the next level. In other words, can these drugs be used to take your brain beyond a biological machine? Can they give a boost to your mind, the fountain of consciousness, and allow humans to transcend their mechanical limitations?
In their 2017 book, Stealing Fire, authors Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal interviewed influential and knowledgeable people. They made the case for using mind altering chemicals to get into the zone. They explore ways to coax your brain into a flow state (in which you become fully immersed in an activity) and you achieve the full potential of your mind.
More recently, Peter Thiel has invested in a company called ATAI life sciences. In case you don’t know who he is, Peter Theil is the billionaire founder of PayPal and Palantir. He seems to have a Midas touch. So, his financial interest in a startup piques my interest. And indeed ATAI seems to have made Theil even richer than he was. It had its IPO in June 2021 and was valued at north of 3 billion dollars.
A big part of ATAI’s mission (and the mission of similar companies such as MindMed and Compass Pathways) is to develop psychedelic drugs, most of which are currently illegal, and get them through regulatory approval to treat psychological disorders.
It seems that the call to legalize psychedelic drugs is gaining momentum. There seems to be a three pronged approach. Allowing psychedelics for medical treatment of psychiatric disorders. Allowing them for recreational use. Allowing them to augment the function of the mind, creating a designer brain.
It’s that last one that has me the most worried. Many rich and powerful people are on board with the concept of a chemical shortcut to get your brain, your biological machine, into the zone, a place where your mind can transcend. There are other ways to get your mind into a flow state, but they take a lot of hard work. Some examples are: mastering meditation techniques or dedicating years of training and practice required to become part of an elite team.
Taking some designer psychedelic drug to boost your brain is like injecting anabolic steroids to get a body like Chis Hemsworth, who played Thor. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Just like using steroids can damage the body, there’s evidence that psychedelic drugs can damage the brain.
Psychedelics may well become medicine but surely are poison. There’s emerging evidence that long term use of psychedelic drugs may change the structure of the brain. And not for the better.
Based on research conducted in 2015, scientists reported that users of psychedelic drugs suffered from personality disorders. Brain scans of drug users also demonstrated wasting away of a part of the brain called the posterior cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is partially responsible for integrating executive functions (decision making) and emotion. It’s not a part of the brain that you’d want to atrophy.
So, Maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves as a society. Before giving in to the temptation to legalize every drug under the sun, we should subject them to rigorous medical scrutiny. And companies, like ATAI, that look to profit from these types of drugs, should have iron-clad, independent ethics panels in place.