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Re-emerging Magic Molecules: The Medicalization of Psychedelics in the United States

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReMedPsy (Re-emerging Magic Molecules: The Medicalization of Psychedelics in the United States)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-07-31

ReMedPsy explores how scientists and other relevant actors of the current psychedelic revival seek to challenge the legal classification of psychedelics and try to harness their benefits for society. The project traces how the medicalization of psychedelics and other models for responsibly reintegrating these “magic” molecules legally into society are enabled and marshalled through specific actor configurations, fundraising activities, the production and dissemination of scientific and other forms of knowledge, sociopolitical visions, as well as broader socio-political and value-related changes. Since neither the molecules nor regulations have changed since the 1970s, transformations in the scientific, regulatory, and broader socio-political context are expected to have facilitated the psychedelic research and cultural revival. The project seeks to transfer insights from the U.S. to Europe and stimulate debate among European academics, policy makers, and publics.

Using a qualitative research methodology and approaches from Science and Technology Studies (STS), the project focuses on three molecules that are at the center of contemporary psychedelic research in the U.S.: MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine. The three main research objectives are:
O1: Explore how U.S. actors in the re-emerging field of psychedelic research align and produce scientific and non-scientific knowledge that is both shaped by and aims to shape regulatory decision-making.
O2: Investigate the ways in which psychedelic research and other mobilization activities are fueled by and enact personal and collective visions of why and how to re-integrate psychedelics responsibly into society.
O3: Trace the ways in which the U.S. “medicalizing psychedelics” assemblage is embedded and connected globally, as well as gain first insights into how psychedelic research and regulation in the U.S. and Europe mutually impinge on each other.
The project analyzes different sets of qualitative empirical material that have been collected and produced in a two-step research process. Step 1 consisted of the analysis of scientific publications and media representations of psychedelic research in the U.S. context. Relevant scientific literature on psychedelic research and media representations have been analyzed for main themes and framings. Step 2 explored sites where psychedelic research and other psychedelic futures were imagined, performed, and discussed by applying the methods of participant observation and semi-structured, qualitative interviewing. 32 qualitative interviews were conducted. Participant observation and informal conversations were carried out at six psychedelic science conferences, at a two-day workshop co-organized at Harvard, at seven meetings of a psychedelic research network, at about 20 public events on psychedelic research and healing; and at two virtual conferences.

The following main results have been disseminated at conferences such as the Intercollegiate Psychedelic Summit, Breaking Convention, and 4S. In addition an open access article has been published online at Chacruna (https://chacruna.net/why-psychedelic-researchers-should-not-push-back-against-decriminalization/).
- A main result of the project is the development of the concept of socio-psychedelic imaginaries. Four main contemporary socio-psychedelic imaginaries in the U.S are identified, described, and mapped in the contested sociopolitical space: the medicalization imaginary, decriminalization imaginary, regulation/legalization imaginary, and sacramental imaginary.
- An Agenda of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Research in Seriously Ill Patients: qualitative analysis of an interdisciplinary exploratory seminar: Article (co-written with colleagues from the Harvard Medical School and other researchers) on the results of the exploratory seminar organized at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This article identifies and roadmaps key opportunities to advance psychedelic research in patients with serious illness.
- An inquiry into psychedelic subjectivities: A main result is that psychedelics may engender fundamental psychological or broader sociocultural change, if used with a therapeutic and/or spiritual mindset. Psychedelics seem to hold the potential to regain an understanding of the Self as being inherently whole and not in need of change. Mystical experiences are at the core of such changes in subjectivity.
- Psychedelic mind-ecologies in times of (environ)mental crisis: Psychedelics are currently also imagined as potential solution to help humanity tackle the (environ)mental crisis we find ourselves in. The case of psychedelics points to the intertwinement of mental states and their ecologies on several interconnected levels. This strand of the project explores the ways in which psychedelics are understood and applied as deconditioning technologies to arrive at a more sustainable ontology that sees the Self as fundamentally entangled with its environment.
The project moves our understanding of the collective visions and activities to legally reintegrate psychedelics into society and the psychedelic subjectivities that are expected to emerge in the process beyond the current state-of-the-art. The following results are expected until the end of project:
- The first big picture analysis of existing visions as to how to re-integrate psychedelics legally in the U.S. For this purpose the concept of socio-psychedelic imaginaries is developed and applied as an innovative lens to identify, describe, and map these collective visions. This analysis will provide a basis to evalue these imaginaries in society.
- The first critical analysis of positions towards decriminalization of psychedelics currently held by psychedelic researchers in the U.S. (article on Chacruna.net) impacting the way scientists and members of the public relate to and judge decriminalization initiatives.
- First roadmapping of an agenda of psychedelic-assisted therapy research in seriously ill patients: This qualitative analysis lays out the main directions for future research into the application of psychedelics in palliative care, thus impacting the development of this research area significantly.
- Analysis of psychedelic subjectivities and the different ways in which psychedelics are applied to shift subjectivities in medical and non-medical settings. This result will impact the way society might access the potential of psychedelics for human mental health and well-being.
- Carving out of current visions of how psychedelics might contribute to help humanity tackle (environ)mental problems, and how psychedelics enable a recognition of the inextricable entanglement of mental states and their ecologies. These results are expected to impact the way society sees humanity and its relation to the (environ)mental.