Currently, the research world is investigating again as potential medical treatments all of the so-known "recreational drugs". Marijuana and have been seen improving post-traumatic stress disorder; MDMA is at the latest steps to also be proven helpful for that; Ayahuasca also seems to be helpful for post-traumatic stress disorder; LSD has been used to help psychotherapy since it was discovered.
On the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies site, it's possible to find a good window on the updated situation per every drug.
People with medical conditions that will require these kinds of medications are already part of a fragile portion of the population. The risk of these patients avoiding medicaments and feeling or being verbally judged is very high.
So, after decades in which every single state has been trying to demonize drugs, how are we gonna destigmatize them?
Stigmatization of drugs = vaccination against misdirection of values
Dragan OtasevicNov 06, 2020
People living in Australia would be wise to teach their children to categorically avoid ALL spiders and snakes. Not because all are dangerous but because the probability of running into dangerous species is high and the probability of children handling the dangerous species right is low. This cumulatively increases the chances of children dying or getting in serious trouble. Parents would be wise to err on the side of caution even if it means instilling fear (arachnophobia, ophidiophobia) that could last for a lifetime. Arguably the risk of phobia it's worth it to the person whose life it would save.
Similarly, it's wise to teach children to rigorously wash their hands and wear a mask even though they themselves are not in immediate danger of Covid19 complications. The habit of virus avoidance could directly save someone else and the child when they eventually reach old age.
Stigmatization of drugs is directed toward young people - those who are hopefully not yet in contact with them.
The development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex has not yet been complete in people under the age of about 25 years. The development of the prefrontal cortex is crucial for complex behavioral performance, as this region of the brain helps accomplish executive brain functions. People who don't yet have a fully developed prefrontal cortex are not well equipped to defend themselves against drug addictions. Stigmatization of drugs is society's way of looking out for them.
When it comes to the best feelings known to humans (happiness, high motivation, social acceptance, love), we will do anything that gets us those feelings and we will keep repeating what worked. All recreational drugs elicit one or more of these amazing feelings. That's why drugs are habit-forming. Some people will organize their entire lives around recreational drugs and give their "life calling" some good sounding names (shamanism, natural healing, etc) to give their life meaning and destigmatize their addiction.
Stigmatization of drugs might not be working all that well in preventing drugs from reaching the most vulnerable people, but it's one of the few tools in the small toolbox that humanity has against this threat.
Ask yourself - is the destigmatization mostly going to help heal, or is it to legitimize the love of my life? Some people might be oblivious to drug addictions solely because of the instilled fear. By removing the fear of drugs, are we going to liberate them or cut their brakes?
Sure, some people are terminally ill, in chronic pain, etc. Drugs would make them feel better temporarily. If they don't have long to live, they might not need to face the downsides of the ensuing addiction. There are situations where upsides outweigh the downsides.
Arain, Mariam et al. “Maturation of the adolescent brain.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 9 (2013): 449-61. doi:10.2147/NDT.S39776
Spreading fact-based information
Povilas SNov 06, 2020
A lot of people demonize drugs without actually knowing much about them. Society's opinion is mostly formed by rumors and predispositions. And one factor that perpetuates this even more is that governments seem to be happy about this. Government function is to maintain a "healthy" society, therefore a little push towards rumors, in this case, works just fine and nobody hurries to supply people with factual information. What should be done instead is giving a clear and unbiased review on each drug :
chemical and physical properties of the drug
kinetics of the effect - how long does it take to start, when the effect peaks, how long it lasts
description of the effect, what are you likely to experience
risk of dependency - physical, psychological
potential health benefits and risks
what has been proven by scientific research
knowledge gaps - what still needs to be proven/investigated
This information could be kept in officially approved publicly available databases. In addition to that it could be promoted to be spread in various forms that are more acceptable to average citizens - social media, youtube videos, etc. (e.g. a post about new research on drug A, put in layman's terms). Such information concerning drugs should be regularly checked and assessed or only allowed if it's coming from trustworthy sources, efforts should be made to track and remove disinformation or information that lacks supporting evidence.
We need information like this to become common sense in society for stigma to go away.
religions and pleasure
Martina PesceNov 07, 2020
Most of the world population believe in some form of God, more precisely, they were a good 84% in 2012 .
It's a common trait of many religions to see pleasures as a sin.
Stop seeing drugs as a pure source of pleasure may be a good way to lower the stigmatization coming from religious communities. This could be helped by what @Povila was suggesting: the government giving fact-based information on the consequences of every type of drug.
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (18 December 2012). "The Global Religious Landscape". Retrieved December 18, 2012.
Supporting drug-related scientific research
Povilas SNov 06, 2020
Governments should do more to support related scientific research both in terms of financial and other forms of support. Important changes should be made regarding laws that govern access for scientists to use those substances for investigative purposes. If that access was more freely available this would encourage more scientists to work on it. Scientific research is very important for changing the current dogmatized view towards drugs because it provides truthful, fact-based information and opens up possibilities of using drugs for beneficial causes such as treatment of physical and psychological disorders and also gives reliable insight to how these substances could contribute in creating a better quality life for any person in general.
Stigmatization is a form of protection from the hack we are not designed to defend against
Dragan OtasevicNov 08, 2020
People form habbits based on feel-good neurotransmitters (rewards) for desirable actions. These desirable actions could be: finding food, finding a mate, making a friend, acquiring knowledge, perfecting a skill, creating something, etc. Drugs (including alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, coffee, masturbation, gambling, etc) that "hack" those reward circuits are the problem. They directly activate or mimic the rewards even though the person has done nothing to deserve the reward. It's theft where you steal from your own shop.
The good feelings/benefits of drugs are a hologram - change of perception that is not based on real world action. It's a mind trick. Having acces to this easy hack you can keep comming back and repeating it rather than working for the reward the way our species was designed to do. This hack efectively turns you into a "gamer" that keeps building a virtual life rather than going out into the real world and doing some action that causes the release of endogenous feel-good neurotransmitters.
Forming a habbit around your drug of choice is misappropriation of your time and resources.
Stigmatization of drugs in some way serves to make the intersting-looiking hack less appealing and hopefully prevent some people from giving it a try and falling into the downward spiral. It's easier never to get in contact with the feeling in the first place than to sever your bond with your drug of choice once you've fallen in love with it.
Our brains are not designed to fight this threat. It's literally a hack. Stigmatization is society's way of warning us of the threat ahead. Yes, it's biased and the presented data is cherry picked. Those who present it might not be good at marketing. The direction is well meaning though. It's like folk songs - they are primitive but get the message across.
Probably, just wait
Shubhankar KulkarniNov 09, 2020
Everything takes time to percolate. Maybe waiting around for "good" non-addictive drugs to get destigmatized is another option. And that will eventually happen as more and more people start indulging in healthy use. Forceful destigmatization might lead the population to the other extreme where there is a rebellious over- and mis-use of all drugs (including the addictive ones). As Povilas pointed out, proper (unbiased) education (without any kind of encouragement or discouragement) is the key till we attain a new steady state.
The slow percolation of destigmatization will also uncover its effects. These can be used to decide the further course of action.
Destigmatization and legalization are two different issues. Those who know they are responsible users of a beneficial drug can, indeed, indulge and reap the benefits.
Changing the laws
Povilas SNov 06, 2020
One of the best ways to loosen the stigma is to change the laws directly. Often the main reason for people to have negative notions about drugs is the fact that they are illegal. This affects opinions and decision making whether consciously or unconsciously. Loosening drug-related laws will gradually change those rigid notions and make people reconsider the topic.
Many drug laws are exceptionally stupid and not based on anything rational. In some countries, you can get more time in prison for carrying small amounts of marihuana than for committing a robbery. Psychedelics are classified as schedule 1 substances almost all around the world regardless of the fact that they are pretty much the most harmless class of drugs. In comparison, alcohol and tobacco, which are legal, do much more harm both to the users and to people around them.
Rigid drug laws is also one of the main reasons holding back scientific research and lack of scientific research only strengthens biases and misconceptions and prevents exploration of potential benefits.
Build up a platform for drug-sharing
Subash ChapagainNov 06, 2020
This might sound a little bit too radical, but given that a lot of (especially European) countries are opting towards decriminalization and even legalization of some of the drugs like cannabis, it would be a nice thing to have a platform where you could share and exchange drugs.
However, strong regulatory frameworks have to be maintained to do so. So, I would propose a third party (usually the state/government) overseer who would monitor what gets exchanged and shared via the platform. Only the drugs/substances that are already decriminalised and legally accepted can be shared. There should be a cap to how much can an individual share and exchange. For conventional reasons, the threshold could be set up as much as the amount legally allowed to keep for personal usage.
Such a platform would indeed help solve some of the tangential problems associated with drug use. Firstly, like intended in the session, it would help destigmatize the notion of drug usage, even more so on the face of evidence that psychoactive drugs like cannabis are actually much safer and risk-free than previously thought. Secondly, such sharing platform would help curb at least some of the social problems like theft, robbery and similar minor/major crimes that would be committed by people in desperate need for the drugs (for example someone who is pathologically addicted to any drug might be motivated to rob another person just to be able to buy the drug s/he needs.) If one is guaranteed that he would acquire the drug from a public, open platform that is accepted by everyone, there would be much less stigma on the one hand and on the other, the user will not have to succumb to the darker acts of robbing or stealing.
documentary, movies, tv series
Martina PesceNov 07, 2020
Netflix did amazingly with "Have a good trip" where famous movie stars and VIP tells their psychedelics good and bad trip stories. VIPs are often taken as models and their influence can be enormous.
This is only one documentary though and is just on LSD. I think it would be of great use to do something similar with other drugs too.
Creating safer, less addictive drugs
Povilas SNov 26, 2020
I like the attitude expressed here. Instead of banning and stigmatizing drugs, time and energy could be invested in trying to find better alternatives. This has already been done with smoking - e-cigarettes are a safer alternative. In this particular case, it's a novel consumption method, but the chemicals themselves could be replaced by different ones. The main problem with drugs is not really the addiction, but rather harmful side effects. Those could be diminished by design. Just like pharmaceuticals are engineered, psychoactive drugs can also be engineered.
The trust is built on a solid scientific approach - the need for "opposition"
J.Mar 20, 2021
We already discussed the increasing need for new drugs for specific disease and disorder treatments, but it's important that things go gradually and thoughtfully - that's the key to winning the people's trust and destigmatizing still illegal drugs. People are still afraid of drugs and we need to work on the overall picture of drugs and bring them up as scientifically/medically processed products.
The story of AstraZeneca COVID 19 vaccine
A bit less than one year since the beginning of the "corona pandemics", AstraZeneca's vaccine came out. Since it had the efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, it was approved for emergency use by WHO and European Medicines Agency (EMA) . People were relieved to finally have one more solution to end the corona crysis and more than 17 million got vaccinated in the EU and UK, only. Although the concerns on safety and adverse effects were risen by the public and countries stopped using the mentioned vaccine, the company confidently defended its vaccine's efficacy and safety. The ongoing problem is that people still avoid it.
It seems that we need a million reasons to trust and only one reason to doubt.
The problem with psychedelic drugs is much bigger, but similar.
Disbalance in scientific approach to psychedelic drugs
In the last decade, more and more papers have been published showing the incredibly beneficial effects of cannabis, LSD, and other unusual and stigmatized drugs. As a consequence, medical marijuana is now at the everyday disposal of numerous veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). What scientists discover now is that the prescribing practice has maybe run ahead of the evidence supporting it and caused the scientific disbalance which reflects negatively (only supporting studies, no public preclinical and clinical assesments of safety and adverse effects).
The recent study published in PLOS One journal observed for the first time the short-term impact of smoked cannabis versus placebo on PTSD symptoms . The study was a randomized, double-blind, cross-over preclinical trial on 76 participants which reported that no active cannabis treatment statistically outperformed placebo in reducing the PTSD symptoms. Similar point of view can be seen in the video. Another example is the use of cannabis to treat migraines. Although people widely accepted cannabis use as a way to self-treat migranes, a study showed that there is a association between canabis use and medication-overuse or rebound headache in people with chronic migraine . If you are interested, there is also a video dealing with this problem.
Mentioned papers are important, not because I don?t like marijuana and I don't want it to become a legal cure for many things, but because they are highlighting the psychedelic drugs as a potential solutions which are throughtly analyzed from both, the supporting and non-supporting side.
These papers make stigmatized drugs look more Aspirin-like. Normal.
Also, on a way to destigmatize psychedelic drugs we have another big obstacle - their past and present of illegal abuse. As seen with AstraZeneca, it's hard to make people trust you even when you have no past. That surely makes the way up for many stigmatized drugs much harder, but as @Shubhankar said, if we give people time, they will forget and accept the new normal.
My point here is not to stop or slow down the future research and use of psychadelic drugs, but to point out the importance of ballanced gradual research and progress. Unless it a COVID 19 vaccine which we need fast to stop the tumbling of the world's economy, I think we should go step-by-step and do all the necessary toxicology and comparison studies on new drug's effect on our bodies. We should also invest money and time to give people a whole new picture of drugs, where they are not abused, but safe, over-the-counter solutions to medical issues.
Those are becoming more frequent in festivals and other social gatherings. These days they are accepted more as a normal phenomenon when a few decades ago would be regarded as an indication of "junky gatherings". To help those get accepted even more as not only normal, but a beneficial and necessary thing is a good way of reducing social tension when it comes to drugs.
People would take drugs whether those help stations existed or not so to be able to provide psychological as well as physical help for people in need during the "trip" is a very beneficial thing. One of the most frequent problems that a person under effect of a drug faces is psychological anxiety and more serious problems usually come as a byproduct of this, so to be able to talk to someone trained for this is all they might need. In case there is a more serious health risk people working there could assess the situation with a clear mind and decide whether to call professional medics. People can also be given water or some light medications in case they are nauseous, etc. There is usually some useful information in a form of posters or flyers also, like which drugs are dangerous, neutral, or ok to mix together so that people could assess the risk and decide before doing it.
Safe drug use frequency and dosage standards
Povilas SNov 26, 2020
Up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered to be safe for healthy adults. Those kind of standards could be determined for each drug. This would be especially useful if more drugs got legalized or decriminalized, but even now it would be helpful for people who are using illicit drugs anyway to have some reference point, just like it's helpful for people who consume caffeine every day to know the "official" safe limit. With some more addictive or/and harmful drugs safe use frequency would be low, e.g. once in a few months or once a year, with less harmful/addictive ones it would be higher. Now this kind of information is not available even for legal drugs like alcohol, people just use their common sense to determine what's still ok.
A "safe" limit meaning you are unlikely to cause serious health problems if you stick to it is one thing, but it would be very useful to have another criterion - addiction limit, - a determined use frequency and dosage which prevents you from developing addiction to that drug if you don't exceed it.
Those standards could also be used for developing a smarter system to regulate legal drug availability to people. Each person could have a record of whatever drugs he/she buys and when purchases of a certain drug would exceed safe or addictive frequency/dosage limits that person would not be allowed to buy that drug until a certain amount of time passed. This record could be stored on an electronic card which a person would be obliged to present if he/she wanted to buy any drug legally.