>Lucy In the Sky, With Therapists <http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0%2C1282%2C39796%2C00.html> >by Kristen Philipkoski > >Nov. 9, 2000 > >Psychedelics such as ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms aren't just >for ravers and Deadheads. Not by a long shot. > >Psychotherapists around the country say if you're using >these hallucinogenics as party drugs you're missing the >point. As psychotherapeutic agents, many researchers say, >they are an immensely valuable and untapped resource. Folks >ranging from computer executives to elderly women to church >leaders are participating in psychotherapy enhanced by >psychedelics, typically thought of as party enhancers for >teenagers or burn-outs. > >"It's one of the most fascinating things happening in >psychology today," said a San Francisco clinical >psychotherapist who asked to remain anonymous. "I have no >question that in many ways it's much better psychotherapy >than I could ever do by sitting and talking. But basically I >don't choose to do that out of a fear of going to jail." > >Indeed, people who facilitate and participate in >psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy are an extremely >underground and secretive bunch. The $350 to $400 sessions, >mostly done in groups, are never advertised. It's strictly >word of mouth. > >There are at least seven such therapy groups in the San >Francisco Bay Area, and certainly plenty of others around >the country, whose members risk jail time in order to, they >say, explore the deepest crevasses of their minds. > >The legal risks are worth the insights gained, according one >longtime client of the psychedelic sessions who asked to >remain anonymous. > >"This kind of work goes to a much deeper level," she said. >"You get a whole lot more than you would in a one-hour >session with a therapist.... It reaches different >transpersonal levels." > >They also say it's worth the possible health risks. > >The first study on methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA >(better known as ecstasy), to show proof that MDMA >dangerously depletes the brain of the mood-regulating >hormone serotonin was published in Neurology in June. > >Federal research has found that other drugs used in these >group therapies -- lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), >gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and ketamine (also called >Special K) -- can result in confusion, memory loss, high >blood pressure, delirium, psychosis, coma and even death. > >Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an associate professor of psychiatry >at Harvard Medical School who sued the DEA when it declared >ecstasy a schedule 1 controlled substance in 1985, said he >doesn't quite trust studies performed by the National >Institute of Drug Abuse. > >"The NIH is a wonderful institution as a whole and truly >their interest is in science," Grinspoon said. "But the NIDA >really lost its where science is concerned and has become a >ministry of drug propaganda." > >Still, researchers outside the United States have come to >similar conclusions. > >Dr. Andy Parrott, of the department of psychology at the >University of East London, published a study in the medical >journal Psychopharmacology showing that young, recreational >ecstasy users had impaired memory function compared with >non-user controls. > >"This drug should not be administered to humans, especially >on a repeated basis," Parrott said. > >Nevertheless, many medical professionals and psychologists >say the gains outweigh the risks. > >The longtime client mentioned above is also about to become >a therapist herself. She has completed her master's degree >in psychotherapy, and is in the process of completing 3,000 >hours of a client-work internship necessary to become a >licensed therapist. > >She has participated in about 12 psychedelic therapy >sessions in the past two years. She said she has no fear of >ill-effects from most of the drugs, although she favors more >studies of ecstasy to determine the effects of its repeated >use. > >"In terms of going into a psychotic state, that might happen >when drugs are used in very careless way, such as without a >group involved or as a party drug," she said. "(The group >therapy) is very careful both in terms of dosage and of what >they use for your particular issues." > >Responsible use of psychedelics, she said, means being >sufficiently prepared for the session, having a guide on >hand at all times and knowing how to "integrate" the >experience afterward. > >A typical session -- which is, pardon the expression, an >overnight trip -- goes something like this: > >Clients typically arrive at a rented space in a rural >setting on a Friday evening, after having fasted for the >previous 12 hours. Medical professionals are commonly on >hand and the facilitators are often experienced and licensed >therapists. > >Individuals get acquainted with one other as well as with >the facilitators. Each client spends up to 30 minutes >discussing with a facilitator what emotional points they >want to cover during the so-called journey: a relationship >issue, a personal fear, a family problem. > >"Working with a guide who's experienced and creating a safe >setting to do the work -- because in the psychological state >people tend to be hypersensitive -- is very important," said >Roger Marsden, a marriage and family therapist completing a >dissertation on these groups who has also participated in >the therapy as a client. > >Clients are encouraged to bring personal items, such as >photographs, to keep with them or place on an altar. They go >to bed that night, and take the "medication" Saturday >morning. The session typically begins with either >psychedelic mushrooms or ecstasy, which are known for their >ability to relax people and make them feel safe. After that, >perhaps LSD or ketamine, or both. > >As soon as the medication is given, everyone is blindfolded >to be sure individuals focus on themselves rather than >getting too wrapped up in what's going on around them. > >No one is ever left alone, not even to go to the bathroom. >"Not that you could go alone when you're on as much as you >are," the intern said. > >Clients may go through the full range of emotions; some have >even relived their own birth. > >"There's anecdotal evidence that MDMA as well as other >psychedelics can help people to recapture very early >memories," Grinspoon said. > >Marsden also described a "rebirthing" episode. This client, >who had trouble dealing with an ongoing feeling that his >birth was unwanted, was apparently able to resolve the issue >by reliving his birth with the help of a psychedelic drug, >Marsden said. > >The blindfolds are kept on until the drugs start to wear >off, anywhere from eight to 12 hours later. Some groups >require clients to spend another night at the retreat, >others don't. But group members always reconvene to talk >about their experiences before taking what they've learned >and trying to apply it to their lives. > >"The process has given me more strength in the ability to go >to these dark places and work with some of the most scary >issues I have had to deal with," the intern said. "After >that, you look at problems in daily life and say, 'O.K., I >can handle that.'" > >Marsden echoed her thoughts: "When you have this internal >experience where you're really confronted with your deepest >fears and anxieties, and there's nowhere for you to go, and >you just have to face those demons whatever they are, it's >something very empowering." > >Of course, psychotherapists aren't the first to use >psychedelics to search for a kind of "truth." The CIA >launched a project in the fifties called MKULTRA to >investigate the use of LSD as vehicle for mind control or >truth serum. > >CIA researchers slipped the drug to prisoners, brothel >patrons, and terminally ill patients, among others, without >their knowledge. Some subjects were given the drug for >months on end. The project went on for more than a decade, >and resulted in at least one suicide. > >(You can see a summary ><http://www.maps.org/research/psyprojects.html> of research >both past and present at Multidisciplinary Association for >Psychedelic Studies <http://www.maps.org/> , which helps >scientists design, fund, and get approval for research on >psychedelics.) > >Regardless of what psychological therapeutics psychedelics >may offer, they remain illicit and won't likely be legal, >even for research, any time soon. Grinspoon, and others, say >this is a shame. > >"Here is a drug that patients and people report helps them >to be able to overcome, at least on a temporary basis, >defensive approach areas of the mind that ordinarily we stay >away from," Grinspoon said. "It allows the intellect to >visit parts of the mind that are ordinarily off limits." > >But even if the drugs are effective, there are other perils >that keep most psychotherapists from embracing them. Like >the loss of one's career. > >"I've invested 15 years and a quarter of a million dollars >on my education," the San Francisco psychologist said. "It >would only take one bad thing to happen and I lose my >license." > >He added that the fear of incarceration may also inhibit >potential long-term therapeutic effects. > >"Out of his or her fear of going to jail, the facilitator >asks you to promise not to tell anyone about the most >incredible experience of your life," he said. > >Some groups have gotten around the isolation by functioning >as a community, living together as well as doing therapy >together. > >"They can talk among themselves, but it still creates an 'us >vs. the world' mentality," the clinical psychologist said. > >Despite the drawbacks, clients swear by the method. The >female client mentioned earlier says that following a >particularly good session, she was able to abandon her >medicine. > >"I was in a place where having to take prescription >medication for psychological reasons," she said. "After this >journey I didn't need them any more."
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