Are psychedelics just misunderstood wonder-drugs?

Science and Technology Student Life

“Psychedelics! LSD! Psilocybin!” is not something that you expect to hear at the OUSU Fresher’s Fair. Yet, if you walked through the “Miscellaneous” section of the Fresher’s Fair this year, you might have heard this pitch. Alternatively, you could have witnessed what looked like the oddest drug deal in history: free blotter tabs, typically associated with the consumption of LSD, in exchange for signing up to a mailing list.

Alternatively, you could have witnessed what looked like the oddest drug deal in history: free blotter tabs, typically associated with the consumption of LSD, in exchange for signing up to a mailing list.

Of course, the Fresher’s Fair had not actually been infiltrated by drug dealers setting up shop in the hallowed halls of the Examination Schools. This was the brand-new Oxford Psychedelic Society (OPS) trying to recruit people to their mailing list like any other society. Furthermore, the tabs they handed out did not contain any psychoactive substances. Nonetheless, that did not stop some freshers from experiencing placebo effects strong enough to convince them they were tripping. This swiftly prompted the Fresher’s Fair security to crack down on the public menace of consuming perforated paper by confiscating the tabs from the OPS stall. One can only imagine the sheer terror and chaos that could have unfolded otherwise.

Of course, the Fresher’s Fair had not actually been infiltrated by drug dealers setting up shop in the hallowed halls of the Examination Schools.

In all seriousness, this incident demonstrates why Oxford desperately needs a psychedelic society. In a nutshell, these substances are woefully misunderstood, even in a place which prides itself as a global centre of scientific and humanistic literacy. Multiple placebo-controlled studies have shown that psychedelic drugs such as LSD, cannabis and magic mushrooms have major benefits to people suffering from mental health problems such as depression and addiction. Moreover, it is well-established within the scientific community that psychedelics pose a much lower health risk than legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, with magic mushrooms being the safest recreational drug (according to the Global Drug Survey 2017, the world’s largest annual drug study, involving 120,000 people across 50 different countries). Despite all of this, psychedelics remain classified as Schedule 1 drugs in the UK, which is reserved for substances that have no medical uses whatsoever.

Despite all of this, psychedelics remain classified as Schedule 1 drugs in the UK, which is reserved for substances that have no medical uses whatsoever.

As a result, psychedelics exist in a strange duality: hailed as a wonder drug in some contexts, but demonised in others. This broad range in the public perception of psychedelics was clearly reflected in the reactions of the Fresher’s Fair crowd. Some freshers looked at the ground and picked up their pace when approached about psychedelics, as if the very mention of these substances might get them in trouble or drive them insane. Others (typically with a higher-than-average concentration of tattoos and nose piercings) signed up without hesitation. Most, however, were curious because they had heard conflicting views on psychedelics, and signed up to learn more. The OPS aims to remove the ambiguity surrounding psychedelics by raising awareness and advocating a change in the laws surrounding psychedelic substances to allow for proper research. As a world-leading research institution with a tradition of “independent scholarship and academic freedom”, the University of Oxford is a place where controversial, but important subjects can and should be discussed freely.

To get involved, join the OPS Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/oxpsysoc/.