These days have been called the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’ and for good reason. Over the last few years licensed research, conferences, publications and (positive) mainstream media coverage about psychedelics has been popping up like, well, magic mushrooms. There are less well publicized contributory factors to this in the underground too. Across the world the Medicine Community (i.e. people making use of psychedelics as entheogens or sacraments in their own spiritual practice) has been dramatically increasing in number. The gathering of tens of thousands of people in Oregon for the recent total eclipse is just one example. Elsewhere the underground is currently blessed with the availability of excellent quality MDMA and LSD (so I’m told). The recent draconian and bonkers legislation against psychoactives in the UK has been shown to be deeply flawed… can this Third Summer of Love get any better?
The answer is ‘yes’!
Something major, indeed an event of seismic proportions, has just happened. In the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized MDMA therapy as a breakthrough treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This amazing leap forward for (legal) psychedelic medicine has been brought to you by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The cultural space in which this remarkable volte-face (from the American criminalization of MDMA in 1985, to its recognition as a valid, safe and highly effective therapeutic agent) has been nurtured by many organisations and individuals; from research bodies such as the Beckley Foundation, pressure groups such as Transform, and many individual acts of advocacy and (to use a religious metaphor) people bearing witness to the value of the psychedelic experience (even at great personal risk).
The announcement by MAPS (covered here by CBS) marks a sea-change in the story-line of Western medicine, one that picks up the amazing work being done by researchers in the early days of late 20th century psychedelic science. More broadly the recognition of MDMA as a breakthrough therapy represents an official validation of what I would describe as a shamanic practice. The point about MDMA therapy is that it’s not a case of prescribing Ecstasy to patients and letting them get on with it. The therapeutic protocol developed by MAPS researchers includes both ‘MDMA assisted’ and non-MDMA psychotherapy sessions. MDMA theapists are given this empathogenic and entactogenic medicine as part of their training, gaining an experiential understanding of the space their patient will be in. (I’m not sure how many psychiatrists have tried electroconvulsive therapy in order to better understand their patients experience).
With one or more skilled healers present, the sessions, both psychedelic and non-psychedelic, are carefully supported and guided. This process, the intelligent management of psychedelic Set and Setting to promote healing, is exactly what a shaman does. In the case of treating PTSD the therapists help the patient to remember their trauma and to find new ways to orientate themselves in relation to past difficult experiences. Whether this process is imagined as a species of shamanic soul retrieval or a way of inducing the optimum arousal state for therapy, the point is that the therapists are accompanying the patient on a psychedelic-supported healing journey. They are psychedelic shamanic psychopomps; and the FDA recognizes that this process works!
This announcement is significant in that it will hasten the development and deployment of MDMA assisted therapy in the USA and hopefully in Europe too. It also marks the return of not only legal psychedelic research but of approved psychedelic therapy. With the exception of the first wave of research, following the discovery of LSD, this return is the first time since the days of the Eleusinian mysteries that mainstream culture has openly embraced the healing potential of the psychedelic journey. Given the record-breaking levels of mental illness in our culture the return of this profound and very effective method of healing has come (to quote Terence McKenna) ‘not a moment too soon’.
The great irony of this story is that a medicine that entered our culture at the end of the 20th century, which made people want to dance and love each other, is only now being permitted back into legal use because so many in our society are damaged by abuse and war. There is a black humor in this, or perhaps a magical, alchemical narrative. But however we understand what is going on, and whatever our preferred terminology, this Third Summer of Love may finally be a time when our culture honestly engages with the healing potential of the psychedelic experience.
To again quote Mr McKenna, “we’re not dropping out here, we’re infiltrating and taking over’.