ALAMEDA Drug policy debate has raged for decades. And it only has intensified lately with states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana pitted against formidable opposition, especially in the federal government with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling to double down on enforcement.
At least thats the narrative presented to the public. A much different story unfolds behind the scenes, one that extends far beyond marijuana. It involves research into the medicinal use of psychedelic drugs such as MDMA (aka ecstasy or Molly) and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) to treat patients suffering from such struggles as depression, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Noted Bay Area journalist, author and Alameda resident Don Lattin sheds much light on the subject in his new book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy.
This book is about whats happening right now with government clinical trials, Lattin said. The government is open to treatments such as this very controlled. The (Food and Drug Administration) and (the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) have signed off on this.
Lattin, 63, a former longtime writer for the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, has spent years researching the subject.
I interviewed research subjects, researchers and neuroscientists, Lattin said about gathering information for the book. These drugs have a unique quality to help people psychologically or spiritually if theyre so inclined with therapy. Were getting a much better idea of how the brain works.
Changing Our Minds is Lattins sixth book. It serves nicely as a follow-up to his previous two books, The Harvard Psychedelic Club (2010, a California Book Award winner) and Distilled Spirits (2012).
This is really the third book in a trilogy about sacred medicines, he said. The Harvard Psychedelic Club started it, a look at the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Distilled Spirits is a prequel.
In Distilled Spirits, Lattin blended his own memoir with his research into the lives of three men: English essayist Aldous Huxley, forgotten philosopher Gerald Heard, and Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. The three got together in the 1940s and 1950s, when, as Lattin wrote, Wilson began a series of little-known experiments to see if LSD could be used to help diehard drunks discover a power greater than themselves.
Changing Our Minds fast-forwards readers to more current times. Of course, Changing Our Minds at the title suggests links to the past too, as psychedelics gained a foothold on the streets in the 1960s. Perceived by many as backlash against the hippie culture, the federal government outlawed the drugs despite arguments for their potential benefits based on earlier research. By the early 1990s, though, the FDA at least partially reversed course and allowed research to resume but without government funding.
The goal (for research advocates and those in favor of reforming drug laws) is for careful, cautious use there has been success working with people with PTSD, for treating psychological trauma, Lattin said. The goal is to reschedule these drugs, not so they can be legal (as over-thecounter medicine and/or for recreational use) but so they can be prescribed by a doctor.
Lattin, who largely covered transportation and the East Bay beat for the Examiner from 1977-88, went on to the Chronicle, where he became best known as a religion writer an experience that dovetails nicely into some of the themes covered in the book. He left the Chronicle through a buyout in 2006, the same year a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed limited use of illegal drugs for religious purposes.
Changing Our Minds explores a transformational movement that advocates the use of mind-altering plants and medicines to promote mental health and spiritual growth, Lattin wrote in the books introduction. It is part of a larger shift in Western culture of people searching for new ways to connect mind, body and spirit. Some seekers make these conscious connections through meditation, yoga, chanting, drumming, ecstatic dance and deep breathing techniques. Others prefer LSD, ayahuasca, ecstasy, magic mushrooms or various combinations of any or all of the above.
Whats happening in many of these circles is the coming together of psychology and spirituality. Even the self-proclaimed secularists in the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy movement employ rituals that draw from Native American shamanism and the sacramental rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Atheists pound on drums and ring Tibetan Buddhist bells. Medical doctors present MDMA and psilocybin pills to patients with the hushed decorum of Orthodox priests.
Changing Our Minds might not change the minds of those wanting to escalate the war on drugs, but aside from a receptive audience of research and reform advocates, it provides food for thought for those sitting on the fence.
Everyone is taking a different look at psychedelics, that theyre not just for hippies from the 1960s, Lattin said.
For more information about Don Lattin and his work, go to http://www.donlattin.com.
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