The Irish Medical Times - Flower power: Turn on, Tune in, Drop out

There are risks to taking psychedelics, most notably having a negative reaction to the drug, known as a ‘bad trip’ - including anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, flashbacks, addiction (which also describes me watching Netflix). One assumes the dosage the FDA approves would minimize (but not eliminate) the risks. Also the medication has to be heavily supervised, hence the 8 hour therapy sessions. That is a long time, I would struggle to spend 8 hours in the company of anyone, unless I was heavily drugged. 

Timothy Leary was probably the most famous advocate of how psychedelics can improve mental health. Leary was an American psychologist who conducted many experiments with LSD in the 1960s. He was described as “a hero of American consciousness” by poet Allen Ginsberg and as “the most dangerous man in America” by President Nixon. He was arrested 36 times on drug charges. 

I wonder what he would make of the FDA approving his drug of choice. 

Are there other alternative therapies from history that we baulk at, that may one day get an official medical stamp of approval? (if they don’t already exist in another guise!).

In ancient Greece they would shake people up and down to diagnose lung disease, perhaps not all that different to a Pulmonary exercise test on a treadmill. To check for infection an ancient physician would take samples from the patient; blood, wound pus, sputum and nasal mucous. Not too different to today, except 2,500 years ago they didn’t run it through a machine - they tasted it! Unpleasant, but quick. 

Pirates were known to chop off legs at the first sight of infection to prevent gangrene. A bit extreme, but perhaps the early days of preventative medicine. 

In ancient Egypt they rubbed honey into wounds, which is a natural antiseptic. They used myrtle leaves for mild pain, high in salicylic acid, the basis for the common modern medicine - aspirin. If you had a dodgy tummy they offered the patient ground up limestone, a form of calcium carbonate seen in present day Tums and other antacids. 

Arabian healers in the 11th century were known to promote a healthy varied diet as the main way of keeping well. It amuses me to think ten centuries later and each new batch of humanoids has to be constantly reminded to make good food choices. 

Hemlock and opium were used as painkillers with the knowledge that too much could kill you. The current opioid crisis is a fatal reminder that we never found a better alternative. 

The original resuscitators were fireside bellows with smoke blown into the tracheal cavity or up through the rectum, to provide warmth. Before the bright idea to blow smoke into the dying person, they used to whip the patient, again to bring warmth. I for one am very glad they have replaced the whips with blankets, and the bellows with masks (just my personal preference).

My favourite ancient remedy came from the Tudor era where bone marrow mixed with sweat was considered a reliable cure for illness. 

In 2002 my blood was collected, probably not a million miles off the ancient art of bloodletting. It was sorted into its constituents, and the stem cells produced by my bone marrow were kept. “We’ll keep them aside for later” said a chirpy nurse, it conjured up an image of the cells being placed in a little jam jar with a gingham cover on top snapped into place by a rubber band. The chirpy nurse scrawling my name on the jar adding smiley face emojis. In reality I hope they were kept in a sealed sterile container in a secure location (alongside the bellows and whips!). Either way, after some nasty high dosage chemo that killed off my cancer, my stem cells were reintroduced into my body and thankfully gave my bloodstream a fresh new start.

A stem cell transplant felt part mediaeval to me in its description. I’m half surprised that leeches weren’t involved in my apheresis. But the procedure saved my life.

We can learn a lot from the past. Sometimes the best ideas are the old ideas with a new twist. 

Psychedelics may feel like a 1960s hippie drug, but with the right protocol used on the right cohort, they could move patients from the darkness into the light.  

To quote Timothy Leary - “You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind”

For the online article read here - Flower power: Turn on, Tune in, Drop out