This Is DARPA on Drugs
Even when the Department of Defense gets it right, they get it wrong.
Posted Oct 08, 2019
On the 18th anniversary of 9/11, after years of turning a blind eye, the Department of Defense finally acknowledged that privately funded clinical research has provided strong evidence that psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA and psilocybin, when combined with psychotherapy, “show promise of rapid and long-lasting therapeutic effect in treating neuropsychiatric conditions such as chronic alcohol dependence, post-traumatic stress, and treatment-resistant depression following only limited doses.” 
In a world where millions of service veterans have suffered severe psychological trauma following decades of almost continuous warfare, such a development should be not only acknowledged but actively and generously funded by the deepest pockets in the US government.
Instead, as private groups struggle to raise the tens of millions of dollars necessary to bring the drug therapy programs through the final phases of clinical testing, the Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) announced it was beginning a program to develop versions of the drugs that somehow have the same therapeutic benefits without the “deleterious neurological effects”—i.e. the mind-expanding, consciousness-altering effects that these drugs are famous for. In other words, they want to develop psychedelic drugs minus the psychedelic experience.
It is ironic that the Department of Defense, which partnered with the CIA in the inexcusably ill-conceived post World War II effort to make psychedelic drugs a potential weapon of war, is once again so badly misunderstanding the nature and potential of these remarkable drugs.
Decades of research into psychedelics’ therapeutic usefulness has made it clear that the very aspect of the drug experience DARPA is trying to excise—the powerful alteration of subjective reality—is precisely the catalyst for the dramatic psychological healing that recent double-blind clinical trials have demonstrated.
It’s been more than 50 years since Canadian psychiatrists using LSD to treat acute alcoholism noted that those patients who do the drug therapy but “have not had the transcendental experience are not changed; they continue to drink. However, the large proportion of those who have had it are changed.” Modern research, from carefully controlled clinical trials to fMRI brain scan studies, have all supported that point of view for classic psychedelics. While there is no correlation between mystical experiences and therapeutic outcomes with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, MDMA's therapeutic efficacy still relies on the sort of “deleterious neurological effects” that DARPA is seeking to eliminate.
So it’s painful to watch as the government entity most in need of the rapid development of these therapies is choosing, instead of directly funding the very costly research, to chase the chimera of a psychedelia-free psychedelic that almost certainly would not be as effective, if it is effective at all. One can only conclude this is all motivated by an outdated and badly misguided fear of the psychedelic state of mind expansion, once demonized as something akin to insanity and terribly dangerous, but since proven to be—under controlled conditions and with trained therapeutic support—remarkably safe and effective.
We can only hope that not too much time or money is wasted before the truth becomes apparent and DARPA realizes that the supposedly “deleterious neurological effects” of these drugs are not the bug, but the feature.