A Neuroscientist's 3 Logical Reasons Psychedelics Should Be Legalized

One of the most tragically well-kept secrets in medical history.

hippie woman holding paper Radharani / Shutterstock

Can we admit that there is a lot of hurt happening in the world around us? I mean, let's take a quick look around. People are depressed, PTSD is so common we barely blink an eye at it anymore, and there's a huge loneliness epidemic happening. 

And we are often told that taking anti-depressants is the end-all-be-all solution, as if there is no other way to be happy. And what if a person has tried all sorts of medications and never truly found peace or healing? 


In the podcast Open Relationships: Transforming Together host Andrea Miller sat down with neuroscientist Matt Zemon to discuss psychedelics as a treatment for serious emotional and mental health challenges. Listening to it, I learned more than I ever expected.

Why is the less dangerous drug so illegal? 

Now, if someone told me that psychedelics could be used to help with PTSD I would have laughed in their face. After all, taking psychedelics is absolutely insane, right? 


Many people feel the same way I did — and it's not hard to see why. Psychedelics are considered a "devil's drug" to some religious communities, and only crazy hipsters take it (says my family!). However, is this stigmatization even fair? The answer: absolutely not. 

Through clinical research, data is making clear that many medications and even illegal drugs with hallucinogenic properties may end up saving lives due to their ability to treat serious mental illnesses and trauma. The medications being studied include the active ingredients in LSD, "magic" mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, ketamine, and even MDMA.

A PBS states that in two separate studies, MDMA was used alongside talk therapy to treat patients with PTSD. And their findings? According to PBS, "The drug is thought to help patients come to terms with their trauma and let go of disturbing thoughts and memories."

But it gets even wilder. Patients who take MDMA are more likely to have lower PTSD scores and are more likely to go into remission for their PTSD.


With all that being said, why is it that MDMA is still in the same restrive category as other harmful drugs such as cocaine — not just illegal, but illegal for doctors and other certified clinicians to prescribe? Well, we can blame Nixon for this mess. 

Harvard University explains that in 1970, congress passed the Controlled Substances Act. Then in 1971 our "favorite president" dramatically declared a war on drugs.

They continue, "Experts have criticized the capricious (and frankly, racist) drug scheduling process that placed MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and marijuana all in Schedule I, despite medical industry pushback."

Knowing this, does the legalization of psychedelics still make sense? 


RELATED: 6 Benefits Of Microdosing Psychedelics — Can It Really Help?

Neuroscientist's Explains Why Psychedelics Should Be Legal

Zemon states that, "These are powerful medicines and I try not to even use the word 'safe.' I use 'risk-reduced' [in order to be more clear]."

However, researchers appear to agree that these drugs are both physiologically risk-reducing and non-addicting. 

According to Dr. David Nutt, although all drugs can be dangerous, we need to focus on self-risk and risk to others. And when he put his research together, the results were astonishing.

It wasn't mushrooms or LSD that ranked as the most dangerous drugs. Rather, it was a substance that most of us probably have in our house: alcohol.


According to Dr. Nutt, alcohol is even more harmful than heroin and cocaine. 

Zemon continues, "If you pay attention to the source, where your drugs come from, and your setting, the probability of having a truly bad trip is very, very, very low." 

Zemon continues, "So can these cause harm? Of course, they can. And can they be good? Of course, they can."

Co-host and author Joanna Schroeder noted, "It's amazing the bias we have toward alcohol and the bias we have against something like a plant medicine, because of that."

And let's be real, there is no safe amount of alcohol you can drink daily that won't cause some sort of irreversible damage. Consuming alcohol is bad for our liver, is highly addictive, and can encourage people to make bad and reckless decisions, taking lives every single day. In fact, a person is killed in an alcohol-related accident every 79 seconds in the United States alone. That doesn't mean alcohol should be illegal, but it should inspire us to reconsider what is "dangerous". 


Zemon shares three main reasons he believes hallucinogenic drugs should be made legal, including:

Three logical arguments for the legalization of psychedelics:

  • The Medical Model:
  • Decriminalization Model
  • Religious Freedom Model

In that time, there was little to no research on the potential treatments for serious mental health issues because of some ridiculous moral panic. All while, ironically, people continued to die from legal (and broadly marketed) alcohol and nicotine products. 

Meanwhile, we treat many children with medications that aren't thoroughly safe for them, including SSRIs. 


RELATED: I Used Psychedelic Medicine To Heal My Childhood Trauma

Pushing SSRIs while ignoring the potential for healing from hallucinogenic medicines 

According to the NHS, "SSRIs aren't usually recommended for children and young people under the age of 18. This is because there's evidence of an increased risk of self-harm and thoughts about suicide in this age group." 

As the Child Mind Institute explains, "SSRIs and SNRIs come with what's called a “Black Box” warning from the FDA that children and adolescents taking them may experience an increased risk of suicidal thoughts." But still, this is the common solution. Of course, for some adolescents, SSRIs can work but should be prescribed and closely monitored by a thoughtful, qualified medical professional. 

This argument doesn't mean we should treat children or adolescents with hallucinogenics — but rather that we should examine how our medical system may push some potentially unsafe drugs on our population while ignoring others that could do some good. 


And yes, SSRIs do save lives — there is absolutely no denying that. But the issue boils down to whether there is a better solution that is only recently coming to the surface for many adults.

And as Zemon explains, "Anti-depressants were never meant to be decades-long solutions. They were meant to be episodic." They were also meant to be partnered with treatments like talk therapy, exercise, better sleep and other lifestyle changes. But our system often doesn't allow for enough support in all those ways. 

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, "However, the rate of treatment response from baseline symptoms following first-line treatment with SSRIs is moderate, varying from 40 to 60 percent; remission rates vary from 30 to 45 percent."

But that's not all. SSRIs can possibly cause weight gain along with suicidal thoughts. And most concerningly, it can absolutely cause sexual dysfunction, especially if you are a woman. 


According to the National Library of Medicine, "In one meta-analysis of over 14,000 patients, those with diagnoses of depression had a 50% to 70% risk for development of sexual dysfunction, even after adjusting for common comorbidities."

As Zemon says, "Those are big price tags to pay." And yes, those are huge price tags to pay to compromise your relationship with yourself and others. 

In addition, our healthcare system doesn't have a great system for safely and gently ramping people off of anti-depressants while supported with other forms of care including nutrition, sleep care, exercise, and unique therapy modalities like CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc.

Of course, SSRIs have saved many lives, and continue to do so. Patients should always follow the instructions of their healthcare providers when it comes to medication changes. Stopping medications like SSRIs cold-turkey should be avoided unless your doctor approves and/or oversees the process. 


And, remember, The problem isn't with SSRIs, it's with our system not being willing to consider other routes for emotional and mental healthcare that might be more effective for some. Which is why we need to explore other options. And this begins with expanding our horizons and trying "unconventional methods."

And listen, if taking magic mushrooms in a supervised, clinical setting is the possible cure for my anxiety — then I'm all for it. 

RELATED: How Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Helps People Who Are Haunted By Hard-To-Name Traumas

Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.