Why are psychedelics illegal in most countries?

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Main topic: Health
Other topics: Science, Psychedelics
Short answer:
  • Due to multiple UN conventions on drugs and substances, including the 1971 UN "Convention on Psychotropic Substances," pushed as part of U.S. foreign policy.

Psychedelics, often known as hallucinogens, are psychoactive drugs that alter perception, emotion, and cognitive processes.

Psychedelics change a person's thought processes, perception of time, and emotions. They may also induce hallucinations, which include seeing or hearing nonexistent or distorted objects.

Common psychedelic substances are Ayahuasca, LSD, and Psilocybin (magic mushrooms).[1]

Psychedelics are generally not considered addictive and may have medical potential to overcome addictions. Still, they have been rendered illegal in several countries due to their inclusion in the list of banned substances by the United Nations.

The U.S. drove the 1971 UN 'Convention on Psychotropic Substances' which included psychedelics in the list of banned substances[edit]

Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, pushed the anti-drug policies, used media to create narratives, and penalized the rehabilitation of drug users through multiple presidencies. His policies paved the way for the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. At the same time, the U.S. agencies experimented with psychedelics as a tool for torture.

In 1970, the USA introduced the new Controlled Substances Act and categorized LSD and other psychedelics as Schedule -1, implying that they had no medical use and the highest possibility for abuse. The following year, in 1971, The UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, modeled precisely after the U.S. legislature, outlawed all psychedelics. Other countries followed through to maintain their international relations with the USA.[2]

Some argue that Nixon used the "war on drugs" to secure a second term after the spectacular failure of the USA in the Vietnam war. There are also allegations that the "war on drugs" was to marginalize black people and hippies.[3]

The current legal status of substances is not based on the harm they may cause[edit]

Most people believe that psychedelics are forbidden because they are harmful as other schedule-1 substances. However, the explanations and narratives have not been proportional with their danger or damage they may cause.

In a 2010 research, experts classified twenty legal and illicit substances based on several criteria related to damage to their users. They encompassed physical harm, criminal activity, and economic losses. Overall, they found that alcohol was the most dangerous substance. While psychedelics like LSD, mushrooms, and MDMA were among the least hazardous substances.[4]

Abuse potential vs toxicity psychedelics
Abuse potential vs toxicity of psychedelics. CC BY: Wikimedia

Recognizing this mistake, the state of Oregon in the USA legalized psilocybin through a voter proposal in 2020. Under the new legislation, Oregon residents and visitors over the age of 21 will have legal access to "magic mushrooms," or shrooms as they are colloquially called, from 2023 onwards. The exact schedule for when businesses will commence selling them has yet to be determined.[5]

Psychedelics are drugs that are not addictive[edit]

In general, psychedelics are not considered addictive. It means that the individuals do not develop physical dependence or participate in obsessive drug-seeking behavior.

In addition, they do not suffer withdrawal symptoms during the discontinuation of the use of psychedelics. Regular LSD use may result in the development of tolerance which means you will need higher dose to have same effect after continued use.[6]

Psychedelics have potential for medical uses[edit]

Psychedelics have shown promise in helping addicts get over their addictions. Several studies have shown that LSD and psilocybin may help people overcome their smoking and alcoholism.

A 2014 research investigated the use of LSD in twelve individuals with anxiety related to life-threatening illnesses. The results suggested that two modest dosages of 200 micrograms reduced anxiety, with the benefits lasting for a year.[7]

A 2015 clinical experiment assessed the efficacy of psilocybin in ten alcoholic individuals. The findings indicated that the medication decreased alcohol cravings and enhanced abstinence. The advantages remained for the most part during the 9-month follow-up period.[8]


  1. "An Introduction to Five Psychedelics: Psilocybin, DMT, LSD, MDMA, and Ketamine". Neuroscience from Technology Networks. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  2. ""Don't Kill My Buzz, Man!" - Explaining the criminalization of psychedelic drugs" (PDF). Scholars' Bank - University of Oregon.
  3. Lopez, German (2016-03-22). "Nixon official: real reason for the drug war was to criminalize black people and hippies". Vox. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  4. Nutt, David J.; King, Leslie A.; Phillips, Lawrence D. (2010-11-06). "Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis". The Lancet. 376 (9752): 1558–1565. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61462-6. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 21036393.
  5. "Oregon psilocybin rules shape who can provide and access care". opb. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  6. Nichols, David E. (2016-4). "Psychedelics". Pharmacological Reviews. 68 (2): 264–355. doi:10.1124/pr.115.011478. ISSN 0031-6997. PMC 4813425. PMID 26841800. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. Gasser, Peter; Holstein, Dominique; Michel, Yvonne; Doblin, Rick; Yazar-Klosinski, Berra; Passie, Torsten; Brenneisen, Rudolf (2014-07). "Safety and Efficacy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated With Life-threatening Diseases". Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease. 202 (7): 513–520. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000113. ISSN 0022-3018. PMC 4086777. PMID 24594678. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. Bogenschutz, Michael P.; Forcehimes, Alyssa A.; Pommy, Jessica A.; Wilcox, Claire E.; Barbosa, P. C. R.; Strassman, Rick J. (2015-03). "Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study". Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England). 29 (3): 289–299. doi:10.1177/0269881114565144. ISSN 1461-7285. PMID 25586396. Check date values in: |date= (help)