Imagine that some crazy professors convince a bunch of participants at a five-day mindfulness retreat to agree to take part in an experiment where half of them are given magic mushrooms, and half of them a placebo.
And then they assess them at completion, and for months after the retreat, on a battery of tests that basically assesses how they are going.
And imagine that the results were off-the-scale positive in all ways for those who took the mushies, but particularly in appreciation of life, self-acceptance and sense of purpose.
Imagine another lot of doctors convinced the authorities to allow them to help a group of patients with treatment resistant depression by dosing them up on two lots of psilocybin seven days apart.
These were patients who had exhausted all the standard treatments, including prescription drugs and therapy, and many reported suffering from depression for all of their adult lives.
The results were that 67 per cent achieved remission within a week, and 58 per cent after three months.
In a third experiment doctors picked a group of advanced cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety and gave them a single dose followed by evaluation for months and years.
Lo and behold, there was immediate, substantial and sustained improvement in quality of life and appreciation of death. Until death they did part.
And in case you are wondering, these studies are published in refereed academic journals such as Nature and Lancet – not your trashy fringe dark web psychobabble sites.
Trials and studies in countries including the USA, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada and Israel are all showing great results – way better than other treatments.
To mix my metaphors, there is nothing more boring than a snake oil salesman selling a silver bullet – however, for some it really is and with one or two doses.
Plus of course the associated therapy – a crucial part of the recipe – which means these are not transient, temporary improvements.
In the light of research like this, you would expect the Australian medical profession to be clambering for the opportunity to utilise magic mushrooms for psychedelic assisted therapy.
And some of them are. Mind Medicine Australia is a charity lobbying to improve access for treatment.
They applied to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to permit psilocybin (and MDMA) to be available on a limited basis by prescription, carefully supervised for limited conditions including depression, PTSD and substance abuse.
Their submission was bolstered by more than 80 medical professionals and hundreds of other submissions. Some pointed out that this is just very limited re-legalisation, as these drugs were utilised by the medical profession decades ago.
Others begged for their patient’s lives as they hurtled toward suicide.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has shown itself to be chronically obstructionist in the field of medical cannabis, so I was hopeful, but pessimistic.
Sort of like parking at Torakina.
True to form, the TGA last week refused to budge; retaining its reputation as more paranoid than a Nimbin hangover when it comes to drugs that bridge the divide between illicit and medicinal.
We need more trials, they blather, ignoring thousands of years of traditional use and decades of hippy dabbling.
The effect of this intransigence is utterly predictable.
First, there will be growth of the ‘black market’ in treatment.
Those in the know say that there are multiple options for troubled souls seeking immediate treatment within Australia.
At least the big pharmaceutical companies aren’t involved, I guess.
For those with the money, they can look forward to flying to enlightened countries such as The Netherlands.
Second, even more will seek to self-medicate, and the ignorant need to be oh-so-careful with fungi.
And bad trips.
Third, there will be ongoing unnecessary suffering and suicide in those with untreatable depression. Denying these people an available therapy is simply cruel to them and their loved ones.
This is a potentially lifesaving treatment that could reduce the leading cause of death in young Australians.
The rate of suicide in First Nations people is double that of non-Indigenous Australians.
And lastly there will be the inevitable rise in organised crime taking charge of the supply chain with all the negative consequences for quality, vice and violence.
Think bikies brawling in cow paddocks after drizzle.
Meanwhile, back in TGA-land, other treatments remain legal, including involuntary repetitive electroshock therapy, and addictive pharmaceuticals and opioids creating a tsunami of overdoses.
One interesting consequence of the push to change laws relating to psychedelics is that it has the prohibitionists in a complete frothing frenzy.
‘Those kooks want to legalise what?’ they yelp. Suddenly, the scruffy folk advocating cannabis law reform look almost moderate.
A new friend introduced me to the correct phrase for this phenomenon – shifting the Overton window.
I will leave the final word on this to the Dali Lama who was asked: ‘Are drugs a shortcut to enlightenment?’
His reply: ‘I certainly hope so’.
♦ David Heilpern is the author of For Fear of Favour: Sexual Assault of Young Prisoners, a study of sexual assault in prisons, and has been a strong advocate of law reform and civic rights throughout his career. In 1998, he became one of the youngest magistrates in NSW.