There has recently been a renewal of human research with classical hallucinogens (psychedelics). This paper first briefly discusses the unique history of human hallucinogen research, and then reviews the risks of hallucinogen administration and safeguards for minimizing these risks. Although hallucinogens are relatively safe physiologically and are not considered drugs of dependence, their administration involves unique psychological risks. The most likely risk is overwhelming distress during drug action (‘bad trip’), which could lead to potentially dangerous behaviour such as leaving the study site. Less common are prolonged psychoses triggered by hallucinogens. Safeguards against these risks include the exclusion of volunteers with personal or family history of psychotic disorders or other severe psychiatric disorders, establishing trust and rapport between session monitors and volunteer before the session, careful volunteer preparation, a safe physical session environment and interpersonal support from at least two study monitors during the session. Investigators should probe for the relatively rare hallucinogen persisting perception disorder in follow-up contact. Persisting adverse reactions are rare when research is conducted along these guidelines. Incautious research may jeopardize participant safety and future research. However, carefully conducted research may inform the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and may lead to advances in basic science.
Johnson, M. W., Richards, W. A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2008). Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 603–620. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269881108093587
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