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November 13, 2022
Social Justice

Follow the spores, psychedelic renaissance as political awakening

Insight by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS

Psychedelic renaissance, a term that indicates the rediscovery of the enormous therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances.

 A term we hear more and more about, thanks to the tireless work of research centers and universities such as the Imperial College of London, or John Hopkins University. And not only that, psychedelics are back on our screens and in pop culture, rehabilitated after years of forced demonization; Netflix alone offers more than 10 documentaries and tv shows dedicated to their universe. Every year, more regions and nations begin (or perhaps it is better to say, restart) to study psychedelics in the therapeutic field. In November 2022, Colorado voted on the legalization of the so-called 'hallucinogenic mushrooms', while since 2019, psilocybin - a psychedelic molecule - has been legalized in Oregon. Meanwhile, in countries like the Netherlands, it is difficult to remember a time when 'magic truffles' were not available for purchase in any smart shop.

Psychedelics are a class of psychoactive substances that, when taken, produce changes in inner and outer perception over a certain amount of time. Molecules such as psilocybin, mescaline, or DMT are only some of the responsible for the psychedelic effects that can respectively be found in 'hallucinogenic' mushrooms, peyote, or ayahuasca. "Those who trained in psychiatry in the 90s knew, for those few allusions to psychedelic molecules, that theywere the most destructive", explains Piero Cipriano, psychiatrist, writer, and medical executive, "It was even said that they led to psychedelic madness, a far-fetched hypothesis that became well known. For this reason they have never been taken into real consideration in Italy".

Depression, addictions, post-traumatic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder: the list of pathologies in which psychedelics have shown surprising therapeutic results is very long. But studies are still limited and there are several biases about both mental health and psychedelics to overcome. «Today we know that psychedelics can lead to impressive results in therapies», says Dr. Cipriano, «these substances lead to a paradigm shift. Up to now, we have based therapies on the effects of specific molecules on the pathology they had to solve. For example, an antidepressant that insists on serotonin improves depression, and so we got the idea that depression was caused by a decrease in serotonin in the brain. In reality, however, we know very little about what causes depression». Cipriano then adds: «In the case of psychedelic molecules, a different approach is needed. When taken, they create a change in the state of consciousness, so radical that it deactivates what is called the 'default mode network', thus allowing all areas of the brain to communicate with each other, creating hyper connections. For this reason, memories that have been removed can emerge when taking psychedelics; it would take ten years for them to re-emerge with traditional methods. The immediate resolution of psychological suffering can also happen, it seems magical for those who hear about it".

Science proves Piero Cipriano right. More and more research is showing the positive effects of psychedelics in psychotherapy. But despite the incredible results that could be achieved, in Italy they are still demonized and included in Table 1, or the Ministry of Health's list of the most "dangerous" substances, therefore considered on the same level as substances such as heroin or cocaine.

"Years ago I had a nervous breakdown following a mobbing experience," says Anita Romano, 50, "I was sick for six months, and I have no memories of some of those months. At first, I was given antidepressants, but in recent years I was only taking mood stabilizers. Medicines have been a part of my journey because they have allowed me to find an initial balance. It was like walking with crutches, but I didn't want to do it all my life. I had tried many times to stop taking them, and by the last period the dosage was very low, but I was struggling with it. Ayahuasca allowed me to make this passage, it was like taking a highway. I could have achieved this result with years of therapy but thanks to the support of the people around me and this experience, I was able to achieve a new balance after four sessions ". Anita says that this path was not easy and that without the help of her therapist she would not have made it. For this reason, she is keen onemphasizing that a psychedelic experience aimed at achieving such results must be accompanied by one or more experts. "I still have the same mood swings as before, with the difference that now I accept them as a part of me and can manage them", concludes Anita.

But if psychedelics are so effective, why are they illegal? There are several schools of thought in this regard. Doctor Cipriano explains it like this: "When the first molecules to create psychotropic drugs were studied in the 1950s, two types had been found. The first was more manageable and consistent with a control-oriented type of politics, lowered thoughts, and perceptions. On the other hand, completely different molecules broke in, such as LSD and psilocybin, which not only act on the consciousness, expanding it but leading to a political awakening. So it is obvious that psychedelics, and not the molecules that reduced thoughts and perceptions, came out of the labs and became a symbol of the hippie movement. Psychiatrists were unable to manage psychedelics, which moreover risked changing the conceptual framework of psychiatry. But outlawing them was not enough, and therefore they were demonized on all levels».

Besides the cultural question, there is also an economic question. Psychedelics are often inexpensive, and their effectiveness is revealed very quickly, making it more difficult to create the same financial gain from a drug that is taken multiple times a day for a lifetime. Giovanni Spora, 50, talks about his experience with psychedelics, «My first experiences date back to 2019 when I found myself in a situation of profound crisis after the end of a relationship. My entire system of values seemed to no longer hold up, it was no longer functional or sustainable for my existence. I only perceived the injustice of life. For years I had been working with a therapist who proposed to me to undertake a path that would integrate some sessions with MDMA into the therapy. Before taking them I was full of prejudices and had never taken any psychedelic substances. Since 2019, my work continues regularly with ayahuasca, and my life has improved in many ways: I have a more holistic view of existence, I understand myself and others and I can accept my emotions with more serenity".

Giovanni is one of the many people who have taken psychedelics not to 'cure themselves' of a specific disease, but simply to improve their mental health. Like him, Elisabetta Rossi, 39, says "Ayahuasca has made me more aware of the cognitive filters I use to observe the world. It allowed me to be more objective, not annihilated by emotions, especially negative ones, and by recursive thoughts. I learned to trust life, which is a wave: everything passes. As a cynical and skeptical person, I got back in touch with my spirituality: I learned to notice a connection with nature, people, everything. All this happened also before, but I didn't realize it".

Prohibitionism is political, as is our approach to mental health. And this is exactly what Marco Perduca, former senator of the Radical party and promoter of the Italian referendum for the legalization of cannabis in 2021, says, reached on the phone by Voice Over Foundation. "First, Italy must review the resolution that concluded the UN General Assembly in 2016. According to the United Nations, criminal law is not the best way to tackle the phenomenon of unscientific drug use. Italy itself has approved this document, consequently, our laws should be progressively amended to cancel criminal sanctions. Second, for years we have been shown that penalizing conducts and behaviors, which do not have a violation of the psychophysical integrity of another person or damage the environment, does more harm than the problematic use of a substance. Third, the best policies must take scientific evidence into account. Until 10 years ago, governments were asking science to prove the danger of psychedelics, in recent years they are asking to study their benefits. In Italy, 22% of people between 15 and 64 use prohibited substances, we know that a third of our population has tried drugs in their life. If all of these people manage not to ruin their lives as we are told, it means that taking drugs has become a cultural element, and that society itself has organized itself to consume them. Both to get away with it, but also to find better quality products or help in case of bad consumption».

Research conducted in 2018 showed that the economic proceeds from the legalization of cannabis could bring a profit of 6 billion euros per year for the Italian state. Furthermore, the quality of the product would be improved. Mixed with illegal cannabis around Europe, there are substances such as lead, glass, aluminum, and other heavy metals. The legalization of cannabis would also reduce the influence of mafias in the drug market, at the moment the cannabis market in Italy is under the almost-total control of the 'Ndrangheta.

Psychedelic means "revealer of the soul", from the Greek. The famous physicist Carlo Rovelli revealed that he used LSD in his youth, "When a chemical enters your body, and you see theworld from such a different perspective, you start to think that perhaps the world is not limited to what it is perceived. This openness is the main lesson I have received from that period of my life". Like him, Francis Crick, Nobel laureate and creator of the first precise model of DNA, has openly admitted that he discovered the famous double helix structure under the influence of LSD in 1953. In this sense, psychedelics are revealing, thanks to the expansion that they give to the human conscience.

The psychedelic renaissance could be one of the many solutions to the ever-constant increase in psychic pathologies. An approach not based on profit, on silencing a person's pain, or on the need to make one's citizens productive. But, an approach that, through the expansion of consciousness, leads to self-acceptance and a connection with the world in which one lives.

*Disclaimer: the names of Anita, Giovanni and Elisabetta are invented to protect their identity

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