Challenging views on the therapeutic properties of psychedelic drugs

Behavioral Neurobiology of Psychedelic Drugs edited by Adam Halberstadt, Franz Vollenweider & David Nichols (Springer; ebook £119.50; Hb £149.99) Reviewed by Kimberley Smith

Halberstadt, Vollenweider and Nichols have presented 14 compelling, peer-reviewed, chapters paying attention to the pharmacology and the neurobiological and therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs. Early chapters focus on the biological properties and gene expression of serotonergic hallucinogens and their ability to alter the state of humans consciousness; particularly cognition, mood and perception. Further chapters draw attention to the comorbidity between psychedelic drug use and psychopathology, evoking debate for the use of psychedelic drugs therapeutically to treat mental health and addiction disorders, which was both captivating and challenging to comprehend.

Throughout my career I have been led to believe that there is no latitude for using hallucinogenic substances to positively affect mental health. This notion was confronted by the authors, who propose that there is potential for the use of psychoactive substances in treatment for addiction and alcoholism and in terminal illness. They argue for the use of hallucinogens, including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and ketamine, to facilitate the exploration of the unconscious mind – desires, emotions, attachments and self-representations, based on Freudian psychoanalytic principles. At first this therapeutic approach struck me as impossible to achieve but also rather ingenious, as it initiates debates over whether controlled uses of these substances could in effect ‘unlock’ ordinarily unreachable areas of the brain and therefore allow greater transparency of the patient’s inner conflicts during therapy.

This book invites further discussion around this theory and leaves one questioning whether hallucinogenic substances could in fact be used auspiciously during therapy.

Reviewed by Kimberley Smith, who is a Research Assistant with Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust

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