Mental Health Denied

How the DEA and Congress have usurped the role of science

The DEA, with the full support of "War on Drugs" republicans and democrats alike, has seen to it that mental patients (including soldiers suffering from PTSD) have no access to substances that have proven marvelously effective (albeit anecdotally so) in treating depression and anxiety (substances such as DMT, MDMA, peyote, and even LSD).

You say: "But these drugs have proven only anecdotally effective, not scientifically so. Steve Jobs, for instance, may have signed off on the use of LSD to enhance creativity, but there have been no scientific studies done to confirm his impressions."

Yes, but why is that so? Why has little or no scientific research been done on these substances?

It's because these substances have been placed on the DEA's infamous Schedule I list, making it virtually impossible for scientific studies to be done on them -- not just because of the regulatory hurdles involved but because of the stigma that inevitably gets attached to any scientist who dares to investigate substances that the government has pooh-poohed a priori as evil.

Why is Schedule I infamous?

Because it tells scientists to shut up and let the government decide about the efficacy of substances.

So science must toe "the official party line" in these cases, either saying nothing or else echoing the popular beliefs. No independent investigation is allowed, at peril of a scientist's reputation.

Gee, where have we heard that before? Can somebody say Galileo?!

The problem with Schedule I classification is that it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy about the drugs that it lists: The classification is said to cover drugs with "no proven therapeutic value" -- but, of course, a drug can NEVER have proven therapeutic value if it can't ever be properly researched by scientists.

And so decades can pass and the government can keep triumphantly pointing to the lack of solid scientific evidence for the drugs that they hate, never realizing that this lack of solid evidence is merely a result of the government's blacklisting in the first place, which means that the substances in question CAN'T be studied, except by the bravest and most bureaucratically nimble of researchers.

So where do we stand?

In order to respond noisily to a few highly publicized incidents of drug overdoses on a given substance, the government has slapped these substances onto Schedule I, thus preventing scientific study and thereby denying millions of its own citizens a potential non-addictive cure that really seems to work, in a way that addictive nostrums such as Zoloft and Effexor can't come close to touching.

Indeed, in Tom Shroder's book "Acid Test" from 2014, one MDMA user reports that one tablet of MDMA gave him more insight into his mental condition than did 20 years of therapy.

Sure, that's anecdotal evidence, but it's scarcely a minority viewpoint when it comes to reports about that persecuted drug's power to provide self-understanding in the individuals who use it under proper supervision. Surely such reports at least warrant further study in the quest to improve mental healthcare.

Isn't it time that a free society stops letting government set up shop as an Inquisition, usurping the role of science and thereby potentially subjecting millions of mentally troubled Americans to lives of unnecessary misery? If Americans truly value science, let them show it by denouncing this triumph of anti-drug demagoguery over the scientific method.

*Good news. As author Tom Shroder was nice enough to point out to me today (May 7, 2018), and I quote: "The science on psychedelic therapy is way beyond anecdotal at this point and expanding daily."

Editor's note: In referring to anecdotal evidence, Brian was attempting to simulate the straw arguments of doubters, not attempting to imply that the evidence to date was only anecdotal.

Editor's additional note: Brian was thinking of informing Tom of the foregoing caveat, but lately our admittedly somewhat sensitive webmaster has had a number of prominent writers bite his (Brian's) head off for his supposed presumption in "reaching out" to them by e-mail (for which Brian was like, "Well, excuse me for wishing to discuss the issues.") Though Brian has no reason to believe that Tom Shroder subscribes to this curmudgeonly school of authorship, Brian resolved to maintain a positive image of the author rather than risk a rebuff by responding with a clarification that might be misconstrued as quibbling, the more so in that Brian had yet to finish reading Shroder's Acid Test, which Brian might fail to do were he to be on the receiving end of what he perceived to be a rebuff from the Post journalist.

Editor's additional sally: Which, if Brian were bolder, he might have also explained his theory to Tom that all mental illness is fundamentally an effect of post-traumatic stress disorder, even if the stress in question is delivered on the installment plan, as in the case of a dysfunctional upbringing -- a proposition which, once accepted, dispels the notion that testing substances on soldiers with dramatic forms of PTSD is somehow separate in principle from testing substances for use in psychiatry. This is an important point to recognize, because failing to do so means that a bunch of time-consuming redundant tests could be first scheduled for supposed "regular" civilian psychiatric patients before relief could be afforded them from psychedelic therapy.

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)