The surprisingly delightful musings of a humble Virginian whose satiric paeons to a plausible utopia implicitly shame the cynical zeitgeist of our times, causing it to cry, as 'twere, 'Damn, what was I thinking?' or words to that effect.

July 2018
in response to his op-ed piece entitled "LSD to cure depression? Not so fast," published Dec. 2017 in the New York Times.

Open Letter to Psychiatrist Richard Alan Friedman, MD

Dear Dr. Friedman:

I would like to offer a little feedback on your op-ed piece entitled "LSD to cure depression? Not so fast."

I consider myself to be an expert of sorts in this matter because I have been on the receiving end of "legal" depression therapy in the United States for 40 years, that is to say the default addictive pill-popping paradigm that came into effect after the criminalizing of psychedelic treatment in the late '60s and early '70s, eventually ushering in the age of the addictive SSRIs. I hope that the medical field still believes that its patients should have a say in therapy and that therefore my viewpoint will be considered before eminent physicians such as yourself succeed in returning the longtime stigma to LSD and psychedelics: the stigma that was so assiduously cultivated by politicians in the late '60s and early '70s. The mere utterance of the word "LSD" now creates a bias in the mind of the hearer, even in the mental health field, thanks to that hysterical anti-hippy campaign of yore.


I am sorry that you would launch so many merely speculative public attacks on the new potentially wonderful treatments without even so much as a nod to the gross inadequacy of the present system for treating depressed patients, especially since some of the LSD-related ills that you fret about (impurity and dosage) are irrelevant when we're speaking of using substances in a legal professional medical environment that is controlled both as to 'set and setting' (as no professionals that I know of are currently calling for the "recreational" use of psychedelics).

Meanwhile, just put the words "SSRI" and "addiction" into your Google search engine and you will find the posts of thousands of depressed patients attempting unsuccessfully to wean themselves off of antidepressant substances that their psychiatrists never described as "addictive" in the first place. Instead, the psychiatrist used newspeak (no doubt at the behest of Big Pharma sales agents) to obscure the addictive potential of these mass-produced SSRIs by disingenuously reassuring the patient that "you will probably have to take this medication for life." That sounds reassuring coming from a doctor in a lab coat, but then any drug pusher in blue jeans could have said the same thing in defense of his own product.

In psychedelics, chronically depressed Americans like myself finally have before us a potentially non-addictive treatment that has literally thousands of years of precedent behind it, if we consider the use of psychedelics in ancient cultures for ritual and healing (resisting our imperialistic temptation to dismiss such cultures as "primitive" and thus ignore the data with a good, if somewhat smug, conscience). These positive results are necessarily anecdotal, but does our supposedly rational science really believe in ignoring them altogether?

Moreover, there were many promising studies performed in the '50s and '60s on LSD and psilocybin in the treatment of depression and other ills. Bill Wilson of AA found such promise for LSD in beating addiction that he wanted to use the drug on alcoholics in AA sessions. Unfortunately, his board of directors just said no, terrified of the public relation impact of employing a substance that was currently being vilified by the U.S. government, as part of a war on hippies. And vilified the drug most certainly was in the early '70s, until the term "LSD" became synonymous in the public mind with "madness" in the same way that unions once succeeded in irrevocably associating the term "strike breaker" with "scab." In short, the conservatives like yourself had won the lexicographic war against the therapeutic use of psychedelics for therapy. But the victory was not without its casualties, Dr. Friedman: namely the millions of alcoholics who led an unnecessarily miserable life over the last half century!

But now once again, psychiatrists like yourself seem to want to run interference between patients like myself and our new hope for peace of mind and self-understanding. I don't want to engage in ad hominem arguments, but to be honest, sir, here's my knee-jerk reaction to such interference:
"First the psychiatrists get us addicted to only modestly useful drugs (i.e. SSRIs,) then they prevent us from switching to non-addictive therapy elsewhere."
Moreover, there is something absurd about modern science's disproportionate disdain for anecdote. Yes, anecdotal evidence may be unimpressive in a given situation, but it's perverse and dogmatic to completely ignore the safe usage of psychedelics over the centuries, not to mention the gleaming latter-day reports of users' own stories in books by Fadiman, Huxley, McKenna, William Richards, Stanislov Grof, Tom Shroder, Jospeh Selbie, etc. At very least, such reams of positive evidence should make you want to cry out for more controlled studies, rather than using your energy to slow down existing research, especially when you yourself admit that past research has been stymied by the government's own Schedule I listing of the drugs (and plants!) concerned.

The worst part of this scientific disdain for anecdote, though, is that it's selective, Dr. Friedman: the government's own hysterical campaign against LSD was based largely on anecdotal reports, often featured in yellow journalism, and yet you are in no hurry to dismiss the anecdotal concerns of the past, or at least you seem happy to accept a criminalized status quo that is a direct result of the anecdote-based testimony of the early '70s and the resultant public hysteria.


Sufferers like myself should not have to wait for psychiatrists to "get their head around" a treatment paradigm merely because it fails to follow the conventionally understood pattern.

Traditionally, drugs treat disease and illness, but that's not how psychedelics work. Psychedelics don't treat depression per se, or PTSD, or addiction. Rather, with properly guided usage (controlled as to "set and setting"), they open the mind to insights that can equip the patient to see the world in a new way, thus empowering the patient to alleviate his or her own symptoms via novel thinking and creative problem solving. Therefore, promising research in treating PTSD with LSD and psilocybin gives us good reason to think that LSD and psilocybin will be equally useful in treating depression, anxiety, etc. Why? Again, because psychedelics don't directly treat the illness (as the reductionist researcher might expect) but rather they give the patient a greater perspective on their situation.

This is not surprising, because as Aldous Huxley long ago noted (in a theory now embraced by physicist Carlo Rovelli in his new book 'The Order of Time'), the brain is essentially a limiting valve, filtering input in such a way that we see what we expect to see - or what we have learned to look for. And it is these new therapies that, for whatever reason, help the mind to bypass this limiting valve and see more, thereby giving us the ability to learn about ourselves, hence to find new creative ways to confront our illnesses and worries.


In short, Dr. Friedman, I demand the right to psychedelic therapy, not simply to cure my depression. That's the hurdle that YOU may set for LSD and psilocybin, but the real reason for "taking" such substances (from the patient's perspective) is to get a bigger view of one's place in the world. My goal then is to see myself in the bigger picture - and then use the knowledge gained to understand my depression and rise creatively above it. Your SSRIs only dull reality for me; LSD and psilocybin can help me SEE reality and my place within it. That's my belief based on thousands of published results, however anecdotal those results may be. That's my belief after learning from hard experience that Effexor, on the other hand, is extremely addictive, notwithstanding the spin job of Big Pharma and the health establishment in the USA.

So, please don't try to stop me and similar patients from pursuing this potential godsend. Please stop writing negative op-ed pieces on this still fledgling therapy - or if you must, at least be fair and expend a comparable amount of negativism on the addictive status quo that your own field adopted not long after docilely going along with the government's near shut-down of legal research. (You say that psychedelic research was never completely shut down and so could have been pursued at will by any scientist; but surely you know that the price for studying psychedelics has long been the loss of one's scientific reputation - and funding opportunities.)

I'm sure you're a great and intelligent man, but I wish you would open your eyes to the world around you as experienced by thousands of depressed patients like myself. It's out there merely by Googling "SSRIs" and "addiction." This is why I'm astonished that you would bash the fantastic prospect of psychedelics, while giving a pass to the addiction and lethargy produced by the pharmacological status quo.

After all, the question is not, especially at this stage, "are potential psychedelic therapies risk-free?" The question is rather, "should an obviously slandered non-addictive alternative to the status quo be given a fair chance as a therapy, especially considering that the current treatment paradigm is palpably addictive and therefore hardly 'risk-free' itself?" Because if patients have any say in the mental health system in America, then the answer is a big yes. We can only hope that scientific inertia and Big Pharma's money interests won't keep us from the promising therapies that are finally so tantalizingly within our reach.

Finally, if we've learned anything from the opioid crisis, it's this:


And the mass of evidence proves that psychedelics are not addictive, sir, while I can give you first-hand testimony that Effexor most definitely is.

So please, please: stop rallying against my final best hope for living a full life. For although I firmly believe that history is on the side of the new treatment paradigm that psychedelics suggest, your rear-guard action in the op-ed pages could well have the effect of keeping me personally from seeing that promised land in my lifetime.

Brian Quass
Veteran psychiatric patient since 1970 and 25-year Effexor addict

friedman, new york times, lsd, depression

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass (follow on Twitter)