Psychotherapeutics like psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline, ayahuasca, and LSD are all classified as Schedule I substances. This classification is reserved for “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Not surprisingly, heavier penalties for Schedule I drugs are justified on the basis that they are purportedly more dangerous than a Schedule III or IV drug.
But are psychotherapeutics deserving of this dangerous reputation?
One way to determine how dangerous a substance is, is to look at its safety ratio. A safety ratio is calculated by comparing an effective dose, the amount someone would use recreationally or medically, to a lethal dose, the amount it takes to kill.
Not surprisingly, heroin has a very low ratio of six, meaning it’s pretty easy to accidentally overdose. Cocaine, which has been classified as a Schedule II drug, has a safety ratio of fifteen. Both have earned their reputation for being deadly.
Psychotherapeutics, by contrast, have much better safety ratios. DMT, the active ingredient in ayahuasca, has a safety ratio of fifty. LSD has an impressive safety ratio of one thousand as does psilocybin, for which there has never been a confirmed deadly overdose.
More startling than how safe psychotherapeutics are, is how dangerous commonplace substances are. Alcohol, the mostly widely-used psychoactive substance, has a safety ratio of just ten. It is therefore not surprising that when a group of experts assigned numerical scores to drugs based on their harm to both the user and society, alcohol was the most damaging (72 on a 1-100 scale) and psychotherapeutics were the least (psilocybin scored just 6).
Drug policy, like all policy, should be based on facts. In this case, the facts show that psychotherapeutics are safer and less harmful than alcohol and not deserving of their Schedule I classification.
For more facts on psychotherapeutics, refer to the tables below.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
|Overview||First synthesized by Albert Hoffman in 1938, LSD occurs naturally in the grain fungus, ergot.|
|Legal status: At a minimum, the following jurisdictions do not have criminal penalties for possessing minimal amounts of LSD for personal use.||
|Therapeutic uses||Addiction, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain|
|Side effects||Minor, including headache, migraine, diarrhea, and flashbacks.|
|Risk of dependence||Very Low|
|Overview||A naturally-occurring substance found in more than two hundred species of mushrooms worldwide. Their ceremonial use in Central America was documented by explorers in the 1500s. Itself inactive, after ingestion it metabolizes into the psychoactive, psilocin.|
|Legal status: At a minimum, the following jurisdictions do not have criminal penalties for possessing minimal amounts of psilocybin for personal use.||
|Therapeutic uses||Depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and chronic pain|
|Side effects||Panic if taken in the wrong set or setting and gastrointestinal upset.|
|Risk of dependence||None|
|Overview||Originally synthesized as chemists were looking for a blood-clotting agent, therapists began using it as a therapy aid in the 1970s. An amphetamine, MDMA is a stimulant as well as a hallucinogen.|
|Legal status: At a minimum, the following jurisdictions do not have criminal penalties for possessing minimal amounts of MDMA for personal use.||
|Therapeutic uses||PTSD, eating disorders, and addiction|
|Side effects||Minor, including nausea, feeling cold, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, and anxiety.|
|Risk of dependence||Low|
|Overview||A traditional psychoactive brew made by boiling plants containing DMT, it has been used ceremonially for thousands of years.|
|Legal status: At a minimum, the following jurisdictions do not have criminal penalties for possessing minimal amounts of ayahuasca for personal use.||
|Therapeutic uses||Addiction, depression|
|Side effects||Nausea, vomiting, temporary exhaustion, and temporary insomnia|
|Risk of dependence||None|
|Overview||A naturally occurring substance found in several species of cactus, including peyote. It has been used sacramentally by Native American cultures for at least 5,000 years. Decriminalization efforts have led to concern that traditional peyote gardens will be depleted, although synthetic mescaline and alternative plants could ameliorate this problem.|
|Legal status: At a minimum, the following jurisdictions do not have criminal penalties for possessing minimal amounts of mescaline for personal use.||
|Therapeutic uses||Anxiety, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and addiction|
|Side effects||Nausea and vomiting. Acute anxiety, panic, and disorganized behavior.|
|Risk of Dependence||None|
|Overview||Developed as an anesthetic and sedative in the 1960s, its use as a fast-acting antidepressant was recognized in 2000. Since then it has been used off label in conjunction with therapy to treat a variety of mental illnesses.|
|Legal status||Legal throughout the United States under medical supervision.|
|Therapeutic uses||Depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum symptoms.|
|Side effects||Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diplopia, drowsiness, dysphoria, and confusion.|
|Risk of dependence||None when administered in a clinical setting.|