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BEDI: Psychedelic decriminalization offers research opportunities

Column: Through a Glass, Darkly

Psychedelic drugs are becoming more prevalent once again.  – Photo by Pretty Drugthings /

Lady Lucy, acid, LSD. Blotters have been having a bit of a moment recently, with acid use in America having shot up 56 percent between 2015 to 2018 (not among Generation Z though, its older members have actually seen a decrease in use).

Why? Some scientists say desperate times call for desperate measures. Some researchers believe that it is about religious or spiritual experiences. Whatever the reason may be, it seems like the '60s are coming back to life — and where there is a trend, Netflix is bound to follow. 

2018 and 2019 saw a spate of independent documentaries and films come out on psychedelics. Movies like "Psychonautics: A Comic's Exploration of Psychedelics," "Dosed," "Journey to the Edge of Consciousness" and "From Shock To Awe" have all capitalized on the increasing hallucinogen and spiritual drug use craze. 

In April of this year (on the 20th, no less), Netflix entered the fray with an animated series based on a podcast by comedian Duncan Trussell called “The Midnight Gospel.” It blew up among audiences and critics, garnering rave reviews for the animations (done by Pendleton Ward, the animator behind "Adventure Time") and the philosophical content of each episode itself.

Strictly speaking, the show is not quite about psychedelics. The topics it covers range from benzodiazepines and drinking to Eastern spirituality. The aesthetics of the show are incredibly trippy though. It’s like Aleister Crowley and Timothy Leary had a child and dipped it in a rainbow.

Clancy Gilroy, the main character, changes his appearance just a bit every episode, going from a buff, hulking titan that can break buildings to an emaciated old guy who looks like he has scoliosis. He has a characteristically oversized wizard hat in every episode, along with a tunic and knapsack to finish the nomadic adventurer vibe.

2020 itself saw this trend continue, with the release of Netflix’s "Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics," a comedy-documentary that interviewed celebrities from A$AP Rocky to Sarah Silverman about their experiences with psychedelics.

While the movie faced withering reviews from critics and laymen alike, it was also hailed for shedding light on different aspects of the drugs’ use, from psychological to physiological benefits in terms of medicine. 

2021 has seen the trend in psychedelic interest continue, with various online communities popping up around the use of the drug category. Much research has demonstrated the positive effects of these drugs, but, as ever, the jury is mixed on their medicinal use. While some researchers believe that psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD ought to be used in therapeutic settings, others are less sure of the matter.

Nonetheless, what has generally been demonstrated is the potential of such drugs in relation to therapeutic use. There is great research to be done here, and as such, many scientists believe that restrictions on psychedelics ought to be made less strict.

Following some of the other data, multiple states and cities have decriminalized the use of psychedelic drugs. Oregon and cities like Oakland, California and Denver have been pioneers in this regard (the list is not limited to them).

Now, the question of the recreational use of such drugs is up to a variety of factors, such as the overall impact on public life they may have and sentiments on the popularization of these drugs. That said, their medical use is governed by a simple principle: Do they or do they not serve to help patients? In this regard, decriminalization helps advance research on safety statistics, and ought to be seen as straightforwardly positive in terms of health research. 

At the end of the day, the question of decriminalization of psychedelic use ought to be decided based on the preference of the majority of citizens in a given jurisdiction. Given the increasing popularity of such drugs and their potential psychotherapeutic effects there should be a bias in voters toward leniency in regards to psychoactive substances in certain contexts.

Just as the popular narrative surrounding marijuana has rapidly changed in recent years, so too does it seem like popular consciousness toward psychoactive substances will follow suit. Given this trend, citizens should abandon their prejudices toward such substances and look to decriminalization, or at least medical use, with open minds. 

Sumit Bedi is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in philosophy. His column, "Through a Glass, Darkly," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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