With the return of "Last Week Tonight," comedian John Oliver hit out on federal policy standing in the way of using psychedelic drugs in mental health treatment.
"The truth is, lots of people use psychedelics, some for spirituality, some for healing, and some, like A$AP Rocky, just for fun," said Oliver, who played a clip of the rapper humorously describing the invigorating hallucinations it caused for him during sexual intercourse.
The important point, he noted, is that they have an increasing use in therapy, with a growing number of people saying that it has improved their mental wellbeing in a clinical setting, and one man saying it made him feel "more comfortable with living," and a veteran being treated for PTSD saying, "it's like doing therapy while being hugged by everyone who loves you, in a bathtub of puppies licking your face."
Indeed, Oliver cited a study of MDMA therapy for PTSD sufferers, showing that after two months of treatment, 67 percent of them no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis — but, he warned, this is not the first time these therapies have been tried, and the last time, "we f---ed it up."
The concept gained traction in the late 1950s and 1960s, with a finance expert popularizing them, doctors using them to treat alcoholism, and the military even experimenting on their potential use as a way of pacifying enemy troops on the battlefield.
One of the ways these drugs work, Oliver noted, is by suppressing the part of the brain that feels fear — allowing you to process your worst memories without fearing them. They can also help the brain forge new connections, which is why they appear to help veteran PTSD and substance abuse. These therapy sessions don't just involve taking drugs, and are often a complicated process that don't work for everyone — and the drugs can still cause harm if misused outside of a controlled, clinical setting, or if given to people with mental health issues like schizophrenia — but they can work wonders when used properly, Oliver explained.
However, Oliver noted, late in the '60s, these drugs became "associated with the counterculture," and the federal government created an "anti-psychedelic hysteria" to target that movement, putting an end to all the legitimate use of these drugs — including videos showing these drugs mangling fetuses in utero and an ominous narrator over a shot of a departing hearse saying, "unfortunately, these dreamy psychedelic trips are very often one-way."
"That is quite the smear campaign there, from the hamster fetus that looks like dino nuggets, to the woman screaming at you about all the doctors and lawyers she knows, to the hearse that apparently makes house calls," said Oliver. "And while all of that was nonsense, I do kind of miss the days when we used to get dressed up to watch our drugged-out relatives get carted off to the morgue. Honey, they'll be hauling Jimmy's body to its final stop before Hippie Hell. Quick, where's my tie clip?" There was even a study that purported to show "permanent brain damage" from MDMA in monkeys — which was retracted when it turned out the monkeys were actually given methamphetamine.
All of this culminated in the Controlled Substances Act, which placed psilocybin and LSD in Schedule 1, the category reserved for extremely dangerous substances with no medical and lawful use. A policy that is only now starting to be reversed, with the Food and Drug Adminstration slowly rolling out approval for these drugs in certain medical uses.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) www.youtube.com