Psychedelics have a history which is probably longer than that of civilisation. They have powerful effects on the brain and their lore is rich in anecdotes about effects on mental health, some for better and some for worse. As pharmaceutical companies tried to find new approaches to the brain, the potential of psychedelics might have seemed an obvious road to go down. But law and stigma blocked it. Until five years ago corporate investment in psychedelics as medicines was more or less unthinkable.
Work by Lady Wemyss’s Beckley Foundation, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (maps) in San Jose, California, and other such groups have helped to change that. So has the broadening acceptance of marijuana as a medicine and the softening or repeal of laws limiting its use. A change in the attitude of regulators and researchers towards running proper trials of the drugs has also contributed. Applying modern scientific techniques to the question of how psychedelics and other drugs affect the brain and mind is now seen as opening up possibilities for insight, treatment and profit.