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What are the dangers of psychedelics?

The use of psychedelics is often viewed with suspicion within modern-day society, fearful of the dangers that they cause to society and the person taking them.

Many people are still fearful of the psychoactive effects that make “people believe they can fly” or lose control of themselves.

Yet when examined a little deeper, there is little evidence to support the historic and popular narrative around psychedelics.

Research around the dangers of psychedelics

Research published by Professor David Nutt and his colleagues has shown that, within the UK at least, psychedelics are both less harmful to a person than many other substances examined.

They are also less harmful to society.

Nutt is considered a leading expert regarding the research of drugs and is chairman of the non-profit drug science. He was also the UK’s government’s Chief Drug Advisor in the 2000s.

dangers of psychedelics
Source: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2961462-6/fulltext

The above chart shows the dangers of drugs to both the person and to other people.

Alcohol is unsurprisingly the most dangerous, but this, it should be noted, is largely since it is legal for adults over 18 in the UK and extremely popular among the population.

As the chart shows, the psychedelic drugs of MDMA (ecstasy), LSD and psilocybin (mushrooms) are some of the least dangerous drugs of those examined both to the individual and society.

Indeed, much of the danger from them is towards other people rather than the person taking the drug themselves.

It is common for ecstasy to appear in the British media, highlighting the deaths of those who have taken it. However, many of these deaths stem from the drug being mixed with other chemicals or the drug being provided not being ecstasy itself.

During lockdown, a study found that MDMA suffered a large drop in quality. Much of the MDMA appeared to be replaced with other amphetamines or caffeine instead.

Despite the findings of the research, many of the psychedelic drugs such as ecstasy and LSD are in the same legal class as heroin or crack cocaine, showing the disparity in the current legal framework in the UK.

There has long been a history of fear surrounding psychedelics. Nixon and the ensuing war on drugs have portrayed psychedelics as a danger to society.

The evidence, however, portrays a different picture. This is not to imply that there are no risks associated with psychedelics. Since research was stunted by the ban on psychedelics, we are still learning what is safe and what isn’t.

Dangers also arise from the illegality of the drugs. Often there can be risks in consuming the psychedelics that are on the black market due to the ingredients being used to synthesise the drugs.

Illegality also places risks on those illegally purchasing drugs. Just this past month, a man in Singapore was hanged for his role with cannabis in the country.

There will always remain risks in both purchasing and using psychedelics (and other drugs) in nations where they remain illegal.

During debates around the dangers of psychedelics we need a new approach, one that examines the evidence, not one based on fear.


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