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» Renewed Research into Psychedelics: A Wise Choice?

By Janet Hoffman on February 20, 2015


A psychedelic is described as a drug that produces radical changes in consciousness, often including hallucinations. The word ‘psychedelic’—meaning mind-manifesting— was coined by English psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957.

From the early 1950s through the early 1970s, the US government spent about $4 million underwriting more than 100 studies on LSD, and these statistics do not include “classified” research. As the 60s generation can confirm, various psychedelics were easily attainable during the first half of that decade, during which time LSD was found by researchers to successfully treat several ailments including alcoholism and end-of-life anxiety. In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act was signed into law, and use of psychedelics, including research, became illegal.

A few years ago a few major medical schools reflected a renewed interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics by initiating tightly-regulated research into the potential of psychedelic drugs—particularly psilocybin. A witty NY Times headline in 2010 read, “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again. UCLA, Johns Hopkins, and NYU as well as institutions in London and Zurich have been conducting studies with results they applaud as anywhere from “useful” to, ironically, “mind blowing”. One of the significant problems in these studies is that they cannot be well controlled—the researchers can always distinguish the drugged subjects from the control subjects because drugged subjects’ behavior becomes exceedingly different. But support for research on psychedelics is now common among medical experts.

In one study at Johns Hopkins, researchers relied on personal assessments to determine the quality of results, ie the mystical experience the subjects experienced during the drug use that might transform their perspective and behavior after the drug wore off. The questionnaires that the subjects completed measured their subjective feelings of peace, joy, ineffability, transcendence, sacredness and unity. Follow-up questionnaires showed that months later, most participants claimed lasting effects of increased positivity, openness and tolerance, reduced fear of death, and the calm that comes from having had a significant spiritual experience.

However let’s consider how these drugs may create havoc instead of peace. In non-controlled, non-therapist assisted sessions, decades of experiences reported by illegal psychedelic drug users included adverse effects like paranoia, fear, and confusion while on the drug, and then later—psychosis, flashbacks, and even suicidal tendencies. Even volunteers in current studies report impulses of fear and anxiety. Overall, these drugs—so profoundly affecting brain function—are experimental at best and possibly causing unknown permanent damage at worst.

Damage in the nervous system can be caused by a strikingly contrasting experience that assails our mind or body, such as a sudden overwhelming flash of light in our eyes that leaves us blinking and “seeing stars” or a sudden booming noise that makes us jump. The decidedly intense contrast of experience during psychedelic drug use can be leaving unknown significant damage in the nervous system.

Our modern population is intoxicated with this kind of super-fast-‘remedy’ which, in this case, does nothing to address the source of our ailments. The reason for the lack of peace, joy, transcendence and unity in one’s life should be addressed and corrected rather than taking a drug to mask or temporarily supply what we’ve been missing. This is the purview of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

TM has two main ways that it achieves the full development of our human potential on a safe, natural permanent basis:

1-      The TM technique practiced twice daily systematically reduces the stress and fatigue that prevent us from experiencing our inherent unbounded spiritual nature.

2-      The TM technique systematically brings our awareness to the unbounded field of silence and wholeness that lies deep within us, simultaneously increasing coherent integrated functioning of the brain to uphold that experience as a permanent feature of our daily lives.

More than four decades of published peer-reviewed research on TM benefits show that the technique works regardless of the meditator’s age, race, ethnicity, religious background, belief system and occupation. To learn it, unlike with psychedelic drug research, people do not have to be screened for mental instability and they don’t need therapists in attendance—TM is safe and intrinsic to our nature, a process conducted by the natural functioning of one’s own mind and body.

The spiritual experience inherent during TM practice is accurately conveyed by the name: Transcendental Meditation. Meditation is in the field of thought but transcending brings the mind to the ineffable pure field of Being that lies outside of relative experience, beyond the mind’s subtlest mechanics of functioning. Having experienced it, a meditator finds both immediate and cumulative increases in inner stability, joy, peace, creativity, optimism and well-being. The meditator finds a decrease in anxiety, stress and depression. They feel a growing sense of inner harmony that spills into daily life, enhancing their feeling of connectedness to all around them.

It seems to me that it would be time and money better spent if those institutions researching into mind-altering drugs diverted their intelligence and resources to the wave of research establishing the Transcendental Meditation as the method of choice for finding inner enlightenment. TM doesn’t create an eight hour “high” half an hour after swallowing a pill—it creates the permanent valuable real experience of what we seek. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.



About the author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of the Transcendental Meditation Program for Women Professionals in the United States