IIn 2008, Professor David Nutt was appointed chairman of the government’s Drug Abuse Advisory Council. A year later, Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist, was fired by the same government after insisting, I paraphrase minimally, that cigarettes and alcohol were more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy. Twelve years later, he’s still clearly furious about it, not because of the firing, but because of the lack of evidence-based thinking behind it. “I couldn’t bear to mislead the public … their policies were so bad,” he says in The Psychedelic Drug Trial (BBC Two). The hour-long documentary follows Nutt’s flagship study with Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris on the possible uses of psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms) as a potentially better alternative and treatment for depression than selective inhibitors. commonly prescribed serotonin reuptake (SSRI).
For this double-blind trial, 59 carefully selected volunteers with long-term depression were divided into two groups. One group will receive two doses of psilocybin three weeks apart. The other will be treated with escitalopram, an SSRI. Everyone is closely supervised by medical personnel and a clinical psychologist at all times. Don’t try this at home, kids.
Under normal conditions, there is nothing more boring than seeing or hearing other people getting high. But those responsible for the program are in charge of mitigating this fact by presenting the participants in a relatively leisurely way and establishing the deep pain and suffering they have endured. “I have to find a different way to live with this feeling of sadness,” says Steve, after a quarter of a century of living with the disease and a decade of medication for it. Pediatric nurse Ali has been taking antidepressants for 12 years despite multiple adverse side effects, but since her best friend committed suicide five years ago, they have barely been enough to keep her afloat. If the trial doesn’t work, Ali has the thought that “it would probably end my life.”
Furthermore, the participants taking the psychedelic doses speak of their experiences so beautifully and with such yearning hope that it is completely different from hearing a friend of a friend tell about being the first person to travel to a field and realize it. of interconnection. of all things. Instead, they speak in terms of the burdens being eased, of feeling happy again, of being free from the obsessive musings that dominate and imprison the depressive mind. “It taught me that I am much more than I thought,” says photographer and filmmaker Matt. “I am separated from thought.” “There has been a fundamental change in me that allowed more light to come in,” says Joe, after the trial is over. There is a feeling that, however vivid the colors of the cathedral Ali felt her walking in, or how energetic the white birds that Matt saw fluttering in their cages were, the drug experience was the closest thing to doing. the normality they had been in years. “Talk therapy helps you believe something is true,” Matt said. “Psilocybin helps you know.” They do not speak with the zeal of the converts, but with the relief of the damned who have been saved.
Watching the trial unfold is interesting and the results suggest great potential but, like all but the rarest research efforts, they are not dramatic or definitive enough to let us know that we must be witnessing the beginning of a revolution. At the end of the hour, then, you are left wishing that the larger issues at stake were done just as fairly as individual stories, personal insights, and moments of transformation.
The show addressed the history of research on the therapeutic power of psychedelic drugs and how progress was halted for half a century when they were inextricably linked to the moral outrage that accompanied their use in the 1960s and was criminalized thereafter. However, more context, more examples, and a deeper examination of how the powers that be classified into substances and why it would not have failed. A look at how often social prejudice trumps verifiable facts, or even asking questions such as whether there would be downsides or a backlash against a drug that seemed to offer a shortcut to mental health, would have been welcome. Would this “cure”, for example, be as long-lasting, as “real” as that which is obtained only through working with a therapist? Ultimately, issues like this would have added weight and depth to what, while poignant, felt like a fairly light movie in the end.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism