This article originally appeared on Think Wilder.
Happy New Year! 2017 had a lot in store for the psychedelic community. I’ve attempted to capture as much of it as I could below, although I’m sure there are some important events and items that I have missed.
This year’s psychedelic-related news is broken up into various sections, each including the news items that were covered for each substance this year. The final section is a compilation of items that include frequently-seen themes in 2017, psychedelic research updates, and news about individual people in this space.
So without further ado, here is this year in psychedelics:
Cannabis had an extremely busy year in 2017. The new year started with someone changing the iconic Hollywood sign to say Hollyweed, and only got weirder from then on out. There were quite a few political things going on in America, including Donald Trump getting sworn in as the President of the United States. Pot protesters made sure to be there for his inauguration, passing out roughly 9000 joints to help keep the peace during the tumultuous times. No one has been able to get a clear read on how his administration is going to address the existing drug war, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions evading a firm answer on how the federal government is going to treat state marijuana laws and claiming outrageous things such as his opinion that cannabis is only “slightly less awful” than heroin.
Although marijuana prohibition turned 80 this year, there were still some good things to happen. Nevada’s recreational cannabis market opened up for business and New Hampshire’s decriminalization law took effect. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey introduced a bill that could legalize cannabis nationwide. Vermont’s legislature became the first to approve recreational cannabis, but its Governor later vetoed the bill. A legalization coalition in Michigan obtained 360,000 signatures to place the issue on its 2018 ballot and New York added PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.
Even with all the positive movement in the cannabis medicalization and legalization efforts, news came out that more people were arrested in 2016 for pot than for murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery—combined! California also banned the use of drones and self-driving cars for weed delivery. And Maine’s Governor vetoed legislation that would’ve allowed for retail legalization. We still clearly have a long way to go before the laws in America reflect the fact that support for legalization is at an all-time high.
However, a few other countries have already moved in that direction, and others plan to do so in the near future. Ireland legalized medical marijuana, Israel decriminalized recreational cannabis, Canada plans to legalize cannabis in 2018, Uruguay now allows for the sale of recreational cannabis in its pharmacies, France is getting rid of prison terms for cannabis users, Poland legalized medical marijuana, and Mexico announced that it is going to allow cannabis-based foods, drinks, medicines, and cosmetics beginning early next year.
Cannabis research was also pretty fruitful this year, showing that cannabis could help treat Alzheimer’s and even reverse the brain’s decline in old age, that cannabis use is linked to lower medicaid costs and often substituted for more dangerous prescription medicines, as well as evidence that it can help treat epilepsy in children and reduce migraine frequency. In addition, another study found that cannabis use is not independently linked with IQ decline, it may be helpful for treating schizophrenia and Tourette syndrome, and that Colorado’s recreational market may have resulted in reductions in opioid deaths. Finally, cannabis use was also inversely associated with fatty liver disease, alcohol was found to be 10 times more deadly than cannabis on the road, alcohol sales have fallen since cannabis legalization, and a study found that cannabis users have more sex.
In miscellaneous cannabis news, the technicolor International Church of Cannabis opened its doors in Denver, microdosing marijuana became more popular, adolescent cannabis use hit a 15-year low despite legalization, domestic hemp production more than doubled, a Colorado girl is suing Jeff Sessions to legalize medical marijuana nationwide, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin helped the cannabis industry find an alternative to its banking issues. Looking forward to the next year, here are the states that are likely to legalize cannabis in 2018.
There was also a ton of LSD-related news this year. Norway decriminalized LSD, sentencing people who use LSD to community service instead of jail time. A documentary about two of history’s most prolific LSD manufacturers called The Sunshine Makers and a docudrama about the CIA’s secret LSD mind control experiments called Wormwood were added to Netflix’s catalogue. Shortly after that, one of the chemists featured in The Sunshine Makers, Nicholas Sand, died at 75. An interesting interview with his partner Tim Scully delved into his experience of manufacturing 750,000,000 doses of LSD in order to save the world and another interview asked how 100 therapeutic LSD trips helped Cary Grant prepare for the future. A stash of reel-to-reel recordings called the Sonic Journals, recorded by another big LSD manufacturer by the name of Owlsley Stanley, were released. There was a bunch of coverage of Ayelet Waldman’s book about microdosing LSD called A Really Good Day this year.
When it comes to LSD research, it is being studied for depression treatment and some evidence surfaced that shows that it may actually heal the brain. Scientists also figured out why acid trips last so long.
I saw a few articles about a doomsday cult that gave children LSD, which is a pretty interesting (albeit tragic) story. Silicon Valley’s microdosing habit, the world’s first online LSD microdosing coach, and an article on why it feels like you can communicate with nature while on LSD are also worth a read. I especially enjoyed this article about how ergotism influenced renaissance painting, a fateful hunt for a buried stash of the greatest LSD ever made, and a hilarious video about what it would be like if Mormon missionaries tried LSD for the first time. As you can see, there was a ton of LSD news this year! So much that USA Today even reassured its readers that they’re not tripping—LSD really is making a comeback.
When it comes to magic mushrooms, the most exciting news is probably that California and Oregon are both considering decriminalizing them for recreational use. Impressively, a study found them to be the safest recreational drug. The potential benefits of psilocybin that were covered this year include the treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, cluster headaches, and a decrease in criminal behavior. A study giving psilocybin mushrooms to religious leaders is being conducted to test the effects of psychedelics on religious experience. And an article about Terence McKenna’s Stoned Ape Theory and the obligatory article about how Santa Claus is actually a psychedelic mushroom closed out the year.
There were some extremely exciting things that happened in the MDMA space this year, including the fact that the FDA designated MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD treatment. Several articles talked about how MDMA could be made legal within the next five years, which may happen even faster now that Dr. Bronner’s pledged millions of dollars to MAPS for MDMA research. There was a fantastic article about the promise of MDMA for PTSD in The New York Times and Scientific American took its readers on MDMA’s journey from Molly to medicine. There were some articles about the highest levels of MDMA consumption in Australia and Ireland, and a study found that young adults with higher education are the most likely demographic to use MDMA. In addition to PTSD treatment, purported benefits from taking MDMA included the curation of tinnitus, saving relationships, and the treatment of alcohol addiction. Finally, a new MDMA overdose drug was developed, an exhibition of ecstasy artwork was put on display, and a father who lost his two songs to MDMA is now advocating for its legalization.
The vine of the soul known as ayahuasca had a decent amount of positive media coverage this year. Two new ayahuasca films—The Last Shaman and Icaros: A Vision—were reviewed by mainstream media. Some research came out showing that ayahuasca and meditation change the brain in similar ways, with ayahuasca even stimulating the birth of new brain cells. However, Ayahuasca tourism has been a bit of a mixed blessing for the Amazon, and it is important to understand that over-popularizing ayahuasca sets bad expectations and could potentially give it a poor reputation. The ayahuasca ceremony is going to be studied a bit closer using the scientific method, which is good because there hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research going on in this realm so far. There has been a fight to allow people to use ayahuasca for religious reasons, and the Santo Daime Church was granted religious exemption to use it in Canada. I enjoyed these articles on the spiritual and therapeutic benefits of icaros songs sung in ayahuasca ceremonies and a breakdown of the various plants commonly used in ayahuasca. In addition, Brazil started giving its prisoners ayahuasca as a part of their rehabilitation process and there is some evidence showing that ayahuasca may be able to help in the treatment of eating disorders.
When the media covers peyote, it usually focuses on the fact that peyote was approved for religious use by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, this year there were articles about how racist thinking still shapes how we understand peyote drinking, a well-done overview of the cactus, tripping on peyote in Navajo nation, and a short video about peyote’s complicated history. And when it comes to san pedro, High Existence had a nice piece on how it is one of the most potent psychedelic plants in the world, Reset.me covered how it can be a healing medicine for modern times, and there was an awesome timelapse of the cactus flower blooming that offers up some beauty for your eyes to feast on.
This substance was talked about pretty often in the media this year. Most articles focused on how iboga can treat drug addiction, including its success rate, but some started to wonder if it could even help solve the opioid epidemic. An interview with an ibogaine aftercare provider talked about the process of recovering from addiction using ibogaine, and Psymposia ran an eight-part series called The Ibogaine Conversation that is definitely worth checking out. When it comes to iboga and ibogaine, the coverage was mostly positive and well-informed this year.
There wasn’t a tremendous amount of coverage related to salvia divinorum this year—it’s certainly not one of the substances that is covered all that often nowadays. Most important was the fact that scientists synthesized salvia for its opiate-like painkilling effects. In addition, there was a story about how a 15 year-old got sick from using salvia and one about how experts in Lebanon are concerned about the drug’s increasing popularity.
Morning Glory Seeds
There also wasn’t a whole lot of coverage on morning glory seeds this year. In fact, there were only a couple of articles that I felt were worth sharing here—an explanation of why morning glory seeds get you high and the news story about how morning glory could potentially be one of the first crops that is grown on Mars.
Synthetic Cannabinoids/Psychoactive Research Chemicals
Most of the coverage of psychoactive research chemicals and synthetic cannabinoids was pretty negative, focusing on a couple of NBOMe deaths, the so-called spice epidemic, deaths from unknown substances that were sold as something else, deaths from synthetic cannabinoids in New Zealand, warnings about bath salts, and how much worse synthetic cannabinoids are than actual marijuana is when it comes to leading to harder drugs like heroin and ecstasy. Apparently Hyderabad has become a bit of a hub for manufacturing psychoactive research chemicals, and China was contributing a lot to that effort as well. A man was arrested for selling fake drugs at Bonnaroo and thought he was doing “God’s work”. During some drug checking, people found that some of their festival-bought drugs contained concrete, of all things. Pentylone was singled out as something that we should keep our eyes on, a German therapist is facing trial for providing banned psychedelics to his patients, and the legend of “zombie drugs” still hasn’t died yet.
There were several articles about the potential benefits of using ketamine, including how it could help alcoholics quit drinking, the ketamine clinics that are showing promise for treatment-resistant depression, the prehospital management of severe asthma, migraine treatment, and healing from PTSD. There is even a handy dosing guide that can be used for ketamine therapy.
When it comes to PCP, the news coverage is once again almost exclusively negative, including articles on PCP users killing their friends, crashing into ambulances, getting shot and killed by police, setting fire in courthouses, pointing cellphones at drivers passing by like a gun, throwing rocks and running around naked, hitting officers in the face, and stopping rush hour traffic to masturbate. I generally try to keep news articles about simple drug crimes out of my news media roundups, but when it comes to PCP the scenarios are so fascinating that I will often include them. When it comes to psychoactives, PCP seems to consistently get the worst rap of them all. However, there was an article describing how to treat a PCP overdose, a new research project that is going to study PCP’s effects on the brain, and some trips down memory lane from when the movie crew for Titanic ate PCP-spiked clam chowder and when David Letterman accidentally smoked marijuana laced with PCP.
Each year seems to get worse when it comes to opiates and opioids. Heroin and prescription drug use became so bad in 2017 that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, with the rate of U.S. heroin overdoses quadrupling during the last five years. Even though America is fighting the drug war abroad, Afghanistan still saw its opium production growing at a frantic pace. However, a 14-year trend of rising opioid deaths was reversed in Colorado after recreational cannabis was legalized, safe injection sites in Seattle and Denver are aiming at reducing harms related to opiate use, the overdose reversal naloxone spray Narcan is now stocked by all Walgreens pharmacies, a vaccine was developed that could make the brain immune to opioids, and a study showed that psychedelics could help play a role in tackling the opioid epidemic. In addition, a fish was identified that drugs its enemies with opioids and fentanyl was found in samples of MDMA and cocaine that were drug-checked this year.
The Wall Street Journal probably said it best in its article titled “Absinthe Was Once Banned for Being Evil—Now It’s Just Meh”. That’s because there wasn’t a whole lot of interesting coverage of absinthe in 2017. There was an article about five things you should know about absinthe, another about some of the most ridiculous scenes of people tripping on absinthe, and the best absinthe bars in America. But that’s about it. Maybe there will be some more coverage about the Green Fairy in 2018?
The frog venom medicine known as kambô was featured in the media quite a bit this year, with articles on the complex relationship between migraines and kambô, a guide to increasing fertility and taking kambô during pregnancy, how to stay safe in a ceremony if you have bulimia, how to increase its pain-relieving effects, and the challenges that Western companies face when trying to create synthetic compounds from kambô.
Since it was involved in more controversy this year, kratom’s coverage in the media is a bit of a mixed bag. Some thought that kratom might be a solution to the opioid epidemic, while energy drink manufacturers, Big Pharma, and the federal government wanted to ban it. Some people claimed that kratom helped them beat insomnia and kratom vending machines popped up in Arizona. There were also some articles that discussed how to avoid overdosing on kratomand whether it is healthy to consume kratom while breastfeeding.
Kava became quite a deal more popular this year, even getting some positive coverage by The New York Times. Part of that is due to articles showing how kava is a healthier alternative to alcohol or those that focus on its incredible health benefits. In addition, the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries increased their demand on the kava root extract market. Some research came out showing some insight about how kava affects reaction times and urging kava drinkers to not mix the drink with alcohol. When it comes to looking to the future, one article even asked if kava will be the cannabis of 2018. Only time will tell, but what we do know is that 2017 was definitely an interesting year for kava.
This herbal stimulant is getting more and more attention each year as it increases in popularity around the world. Khat, also known as miraa, was featured as a cheap pick-me-up for truck drivers, listed as a dangerous drug by Kenya’s Health Ministry, grew to new levels of consumption as 16 percent of Ethiopians began using it, and some research came out showing how khat can damage one’s liver. Considering that khat seemed to be fairly unknown just a few years ago, it’s been interesting to watch its coverage pick up steam recently.
Miscellaneous Psychedelics/Psychoactives/Drug Policy
There were a few predominant themes throughout the year that showed up time and time again in the news. Microdosing continued to be frequently presented as an option for increasing productivity in the workplace. The concept of the psychedelic renaissance was brought up a few times as well. Articles about psychedelic honey also showed up a handful of times, probably because most people haven’t heard about it before.
As far as psychedelic research goes, researchers gave religious leaders psychedelics to understand mystical experiences, a study came out showing that psychedelics could reduce criminal behavior, scientists came to some conclusions about what psychedelics really do to your brain, and it turns out that people who have taken psychedelics are more likely to be environmentally friendly. Although it’s somewhat bizarre, scientists even went as far as growing human mini-brains in the lab and then dosing them with psychedelics—all for research. Support for psychedelic therapy continued to grow, with a majority of Americans now supporting it, and an anonymous donor known as “Pineapple Fund” donated 60 bitcoin to MAPS to assist its research efforts.
When it comes to individual people in this space, there were a few things that stood out from the rest. The Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, stepped down from his position after nearly 17 years of work with the organization. Jeff Sessions announced his desire to resurrect the failed D.A.R.E. program. Alleged Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht lost his appeal over his life sentence without parole and has filed a new appeal to the Supreme Court. Finally, the head of the DEA resigned because of his issues with President Trump.
All in all, it’s been a very busy year for the psychedelic community. There was a ton to keep up with, and it looks like we’re in for even more movement in 2018. Thank you for taking the time to read about this year in psychedelics, and have a great year!
Previous Years in Psychedelics
Disclaimer: “This Year in Psychedelics” does not censor or analyze the news links presented here. The purpose of this column is solely to catalogue how psychedelics are presented by the mass media, which includes everything from the latest scientific research to misinformation.