Throughout history and across cultures different hallucinogens have been used for shamanic purposes, the common theme is the connectedness to universe and communication with the higher self, or spirit/god. Hallucinogenic use in religion and rituals pre-dates Christ. In the middle ages use of psychedelic substances were used among witches, in some cases this was accidental poisoning by ergot, but there is much evidence that they did intentionally use other plants with psychedelic properties, such as belladonna and magic mushrooms, for ritualistic purposes.
In modern times the use of hallucinogenic drugs is still common, and although many of these are still used for shamanic and ritualistic purposes, psychedelic drugs are now a huge part of the recreational drug industry. Users commonly describe a feeling of connectedness, of feeling at one with the universe, having huge and life changing realisations about themselves and the universe.
It has been claimed that LSD can be used to treat headaches, alcoholism, and has potential benefits in psychiatric medicine. So can LSD improve empathy? In most cases users report increased feelings of empathy and love at a profound level during the trip itself, but do these feelings continue on after the drug has worn off? Could a prescribed course improve empathy long term? Maybe even more profound feelings of empathy, compassion and understanding could be gained from using psychedelics in their natural form, such as mushrooms, DMT, cactus (mescaline or peyote).
From 1961-1963 a series of experiments were carried out in a maximum security facility for young offenders. The study involved the administration of psilocybin to assist group therapy to 32 prisoners in an effort to reduce recidivism rates. Prison records suggested that historically 64 per cent of the 32 subjects would return to prison within six months after parole. However, six months after the psilocybin tests were carried out, only 25 per cent of those on parole had returned, six for technical parole violations and two for new offenses. These results are all the more dramatic when the correctional literature is surveyed; few short-term projects with prisoners have been effective to even a minor degree. In addition, the personality test scores indicated a measurable positive change when pre-psilocybin and post-psilocybin results were compared.
However, the results of this experiment have been largely contested by a follow-up study, citing several problems including differences in the length of time after release that the study group versus the control group were compared, and other methodology factors including the difference between subjects re-incarcerated for parole violations versus imprisoned for new crimes. This study concluded that only a statistically slight improvement could be shown. It was theorised that the key to a long-term reduction in overall recidivism rates might be the combination of the pre-release administration of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy with a comprehensive post-release follow-up program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous groups to offer support to the released prisoners. The study concluded that whether a new program of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy and post-release programs would significantly reduce recidivism rates is an empirical question that deserves to be addressed within the context of a new experiment.
So could hallucinogens be the empathy drug? Could they be effectively used in the treatment of antisocial behavior, and other personality disorders such as MPD, NPD, psycopathy, sociopathy, and maybe even in some cases of autism? The biggest question I have is do these people want to be treated, and is it necessary if they pose no harm to others?