Your New Anti-Depression Medication: LSD

Therapeutic research on LSD stopped in 1968. Now we're rediscovering its value.

Shortly following its synthesis in 1938, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) fascinated mystic explorers of consciousness while wreaking havoc on those that didn’t realize they might be going in over their head. Briefly marketed in therapeutic settings in 1947 (and used by the CIA in mind control experiments shortly thereafter), LSD was deemed illegal in the United States in 1968.


As the cycles of history go, we have returned to therapeutic applications. While still illegal in the US, LSD is showing promise in treating patients suffering from depression. This study is particularly interesting in that it investigates the role of the human brain’s default-mode network in mental time travel. As it turns out, those of us with an active DMN are more likely to reflect on the past and hence wax romantic about what is not present, a reliable marker of depressed states.

Psychedelics appear to deactivate the DMN, forcing users to stay in the present moment. Ironically, the DMN has been championed in Flow states, in which the experiencer is also in the throes of “ego dissolution,” the term LSD researchers employ regarding the deactivation of the DMN. Flow states apparently shut down the brain’s central executive mode (the other major mode) in its own form of ego destruction.

There’s even a style of introspection associated with the DMN: nondirective meditation. Also known as ‘mind wandering,’ this study showed a positive link between activation of the DMN with emotional processing and memory retrieval.

This form of meditation is not simply daydreaming, though that too is pertinent: we have an average of two thousand daydreams every day, each lasting an average of fourteen seconds. Nondirective meditation takes its cue from mindfulness, noticing thoughts arise while abstaining from creating a narrative. Our brain produces thoughts, but the conscious ‘I’ has a role in what stories it tells from those mental images.

Which puts the activation—or, in the case of LSD, deactivation—of the DMN into the spotlight. The human brain is complex and interactive, a symphony not a solo. What appears to be true regardless of how you get there is the necessity of ego dissolution when dealing with emotions. Perhaps better put, not taking things so seriously.

Certainly a monumental task, this quieting of that pesky inner voice always speaking forward and backward with so little regard for the moment. In 1970, when LSD had become illegal, the philosopher Alan Watts put forward his own thoughts on the topic in his essay, ‘Psychedelics and Religious Experience.’

Watts considered the incessant individualistic focus of American culture to be one of the failures of imagination that LSD prominently points out. Societies mimic brains in breadth of connections—think of neurons as people interacting and communicating. If you consider yourself an island separate from the populace, depression is guaranteed; if everything that happens is happening to you, life becomes a conspiracy aimed at your demise.

Watts continues along this line:

All forms of life and being are simply variations on a single theme: we are all in fact one being doing the same thing in as many different ways as possible.

While Watts enjoyed his experiences with psychedelics, especially LSD and cannabis, he recognized their limitations. They can introduce you to important ideas that you might not have considered, but you have to stay there on your own, which is essentially the same argument being made about LSD as a depression reliever. In fact, microdosing has become a popular therapeutic technique with strong anecdotal results.

Watts points out another issue that today is slowly dissolving in America: the religious fear of union. In Buddhist and Hindu systems, Watts’s specialty, man has every opportunity to become one with the godhead. In Western faiths this is blasphemous. A loss of ego, one of the most discussed consequences of LSD, connects you with the ebbs and flow of existence. Hold too tightly the reigns, your hands are burned.

Surrender is key. Psilocybin is proving especially effective in treating patients at the end of their lives, particularly with the existential quandary of transience. We need medicine in the prime of life as well. Research on LSD continues to be promising. With all the talk of ending the ‘drug wars’ in political and prison system circles, America needs to rethink its relationship to psychedelics as well.

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Image: E. Bacon / Getty Images

Derek Beres is a Los-Angeles based author, music producer, and yoga/fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness. Stay in touch @derekberes.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.