Passie is one of very few researchers in the world who dare to
work on the positive effects of hallucinogenic drugs. His research
centres on the life-enhancing and therapeutic effects of the most
powerful mind-altering drugs known to science, including
hallucinogens, psychedelics (literally "mind Revealing"
drigs) and entactigens (subtances that induce a deep change in
feelings). These are drugs that can turn your mind inside out throwing
everything into question. An LSD trip can be a terrifying whirlwind of
horrific hallucinations, a delightful journey of discovery, or even a
But while the dangers of hallucinogens are
well known, the stigma of their illegality makes it nearly impossible
to discuss, let alone research, their positive potential. Could they
help the dying, the depressed or the mentally ill? If so, argues
Passie, perhaps we should treat them more like dangerous sports -
acceptable if treated with caution - rather than banning them and
pushing them underground.
Sue Blackmore met him in Basel at a
conference celebrating the one hundredth birthday of Albert Hofmann,
the discoverer of LSD.
This is the original version. It may
have been slightly edited for publication
Tell me why you are working in this unusual
and difficult area.
I work in the field of altered states of
consciousness in general, looking at their philosophical implications,
but I’m also interested in temporarily inducing severely altered
states. I want to explore these states, and make scientific
experiments on them, including those induced by using hallucinogens.
But it’s practically impossible to get
grants and licenses to use these drugs isn’t it?
This isn’t really the main problem. I
personally have permission to work with cannabis, ketamine and
psilocybin and it was no big problem to get it, but then I’ve been
in the field more than 20 years and I know all the literature. My Head
of Department has done a lot of work with cannabis before. He did have
all those problems with ethics committees, but now we’ve got
permission for everything we want. If you really know what you’re
doing they’ll give you permission.
Are there more people joining you? Do you have
lots of students?
I’m really on my own. This is the real problem,
that there are only a very few people who are seriously scientifically
interested. It’s astonishing because a lot of people try to get
information out of you, especially journalists and press people, but
they only want to have an impression of a special facet of the topic.
They don’t want to take on the therapeutic applications, or the
religious and spiritual potential of these drugs. So normally I
don’t give interviews and I don’t have that many students.
What is your own motivation for doing this
My personal interest is because I worked for many
years with Hanscarl Leuner, who did pioneering work with LSD in the
1960s and continued research on hallucinogen-assisted psychotherapy
until the end of the 1980s. My intention now is to rediscover the
therapeutic applications and potential of these substances.
What’s your guess about the therapeutic
potential? What is the best that could come out of these drugs?
The earlier researchers found that you should do
therapy in mixed groups. In a scientific design you would use people
who all have the same kind of neurosis, but that’s counterproductive
for doing therapy. The healing process happens better if you have a
mix. You may give MDMA first to these patients because it’s easier
to handle, and then give LSD a few times. We found that this can be
very productive and is essentially a self-healing process. If you use
an appropriate setting – kind of permissive – and an appropriate
therapeutic strategy – having a hold of the whole setting and the
relationship with the people – then you don’t actually have to do
much during these altered states. It seems that people can self-organise
the processing of their experiences to promote their own healing.
You mean you provide the setting, you
provide the drug, you provide the support and then they do it
That’s right, and this may be problematic for
therapists because they are kind of useless then. This is something
that people don’t realise; that normally therapists are trying to
influence somebody in a way. Here you don’t have to. You only have
to furnish a room nicely, do some background work, and then the
process happens without danger and with great potential for a lot of
It seems that MDMA and the entactogens are able
to detraumatise people from experiences that have left them in states
of heavy tension and friction. With these substances you can really
let them open up. They can see that it’s safe and that it’s really
nice to be open again. After that they may not go back into the closed
state they were in before.
There’s a difference between using drugs
for therapy when there’s something wrong and using them for healthy
people to go beyond. Are you also interested in their potential to
take people further?
I would be interested in that too, of course.
When I worked with Professor Leuner he was allowed to do therapy only
on treatment resistant severe neurotics, because of all the LSD panic
and phobia in those days. We found that these people can profit from
hallucinogens, no question, but the more healthy the people are the
more they can profit.
That’s what I would expect from the people
I’ve talked to here, and from my own experiences. But why, if these
drugs have such great healing potential, aren’t they available to
There are two reasons that are not often
mentioned but are quite important.
First there are no patents any more. No
pharmaceutical company would finance any study for getting nothing out
of it. This is a major reason why we can’t get money for
our studies and especially for clinical studies which are quite
You mean you don’t get money for saving
the world and helping people but only for making money for
And the other thing is that if you are a
pharmaceutical company you would look for something like a hair
growing ingredient; one which people have to take a pill every day and
if they don’t take it their hair will fall out again. So that’s
what they’re looking for. Say you have a depressed patient, the
physician may say “take this SSRI, anti-depressant medication and
you will be better”. Sure he will be better, 10 or 20 %, but he has
to take a pill twice a day.
But we, as potential future therapists, would
give him maybe three times MDMA and two times LSD. Who could get money
out of it? From five doses? And after psychedelic therapy the patient
may be completely healed – not just slightly improved symptoms and
having to take the medication for years. So the pharmaceutical company
is our enemy.
You’re making me depressed here.
Yes but these are the facts. It’s obvious to
everybody who really knows what the therapeutic implications of
hallucinogens can be.