The Stigma Of Psychedelics – Why ‘Illegal’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Dangerous’
Psychedelic compounds have had a long, troubled history in the U.S. This has led to an ongoing stigma of psychedelics, with many substances on the DEA’s list of scheduled (illegal) drugs.
Due to drug scheduling taking place between the 1960s and 1990s, many psychedelics are still taboo or stigmatized. Unfortunately, illegalization hinders medical research, meaning patients miss out on the potential of banned substances that carry medicinal value.
Below, we explore why there’s a ban on these substances in the U.S. in the first place. Likewise, we’ll dive into how some have evolved after scheduling. This is crucial for dispelling this powerful stigma of psychedelics — which, in effect, can help people realize the medicinal potential many hold.
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Why The Stigma Of Psychedelics Exists In Today’s Society
The illegalization of psychedelic drugs — including lysergic diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) — took place primarily in the 1960s and 70s. These two decades saw civil unrest in America, which gave rise to the counterculture “hippie movement.”
Experts believe the federal government sought to put an end to the anti-government agenda, in part, by banning the substances that seemingly fueled it. This includes LSD and psilocybin.
Not only were these compounds banned, but they were demonized by anti-drug propaganda created by the government. Years of advertisements and the famed “war on drugs” that ensued painted a clear picture.
In other words: Psychedelics and other mind-altering substances were the enemy.
Drug scheduling didn’t end in the ’70s. Methaqualone was scheduled in 1982, MDMA (ecstacy) in 1985, and ketamine in 1999, to name a few. All told, the federal government illegalized hundreds of compounds throughout the 20th century.
Banning compounds continued for decades after the hippie movement came to an end.
Yes, some of these compounds do come with risks, but many hold immense potential for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, the negative stigma of psychedelics inhibits research and medical use.
Is Ketamine Illegal?
Yes, ketamine is currently a Schedule III drug, and has been since it became illegal in 1999. Schedule III drugs are considered to have a low-to-moderate risk of dependence. Ketamine falls under this description.
While the substance is illegal on a federal level, it’s starting to be used as a medicine in some states where it has been decriminalized or legalized on a state level. Ultimately, each state determines how it will — or if it will — enforce federal drug laws and restrictions. Substances can remain illegal federally but legal for medicinal and even recreational use on a state level.
Is Ketamine Dangerous?
Ketamine use can lead to dependency, so there is some potential for it to be dangerous. However, using it under medical supervision is considered safe. In fact, the risk of ketamine addiction is lower than the risk of addiction with prescription opioid use, and it’s sometimes used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid cessation.
Despite this fact, opioids are still prescribed every day throughout the U.S., while ketamine is only starting to be used in medical settings.
Understanding that ketamine can be used safely — much like opioids and other scheduled drugs, like Adderall and Ritalin — and provide relief from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is crucial for relieving the compound of the stigma it currently carries.
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Illegal Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous
Drugs that are scheduled are banned for a variety of reasons, but dependency, addiction, and abuse are the primary reasons for illegalization. It’s debatable whether or not all of the compounds that have been federally banned have a risk of dependency. Still, even those that do can still hold medicinal value.
One need only look at the recent advancements in marijuana laws and its medicinal potential to understand that illegal drugs aren’t necessarily dangerous. Compounds can be illegalized for fear of abuse and misuse. This is logical, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t safe in certain situations.
Today, marijuana is used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including glaucoma, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, and more. Not only has it been proven to have medicinal value, but the stigma attached to its use is finally melting away. Medical and recreational use is seemingly more popular and commonplace today than ever before.
Similarly, opioids and ADHD medications — like Adderall — remain on the list of federally illegal drugs. However, they’re still prescribed daily, and are used safely under medical supervision. The general consensus is that ketamine also fits into this category: illegal, with a risk of abuse, but safe in some contexts.
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The Future Of Ketamine, And Its Legal Status
Today, research abounds that suggests that some federally banned substances do hold encouraging medical value. Ketamine may be the most promising.
Ketamine has shown to be highly effective in the clinical treatment of anxiety. Similarly, so, too, has ketamine for depression. New research also suggests that it could serve as a treatment for PTSD.
A more recent use for ketamine has been as a treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms. Early studies show great promise as well.
As ketamine continues to show effectiveness for different medical conditions, the stigma surrounding its psychedelic properties will dissipate. This should lead to more acceptance of its medicinal use. Other drugs — like MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin — are being researched for medical applications as well and have promising futures.
These compounds could follow in the footsteps of marijuana, which was illegal for decades as a Schedule I drug. Cannabis is now legal for medicinal use in all but 12 states, and for recreational use in 22 states.
Even today, ketamine clinics are opening across the U.S. Medical practitioners are exploring the efficacy of ketamine for treating a variety of medical issues. That trend is expected to continue — especially with the release of more research and results.
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The Stigma Of Psychedelics – In Conclusion: ‘Illegal’ Drugs Can Sometimes Be Useful
The illegalization of compounds in the U.S. dates back to the early 1900s. Whether substances were banned in an honest attempt to keep recreational users safe, or to quash the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the message from the federal government was clear for decades: illegal drugs are dangerous.
However, there’s been a paradigm shift in recent history.
More and more people, including government officials, are coming to terms with some of those banned substances holding medicinal value. In turn, this helps quash the stigma of psychedelics, and shows that some substances may not be as dangerous as once believed.
Ketamine holds immense promise for a variety of serious ailments. Disposing of the idea that “illegal” means “dangerous” could be the key to providing adequate treatment for thousands of people. It will also help educate millions, leading a charge to drop the stigma of psychedelics.
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