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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ReMedPsy (Re-emerging Magic Molecules: The Medicalization of Psychedelics in the United States)

Reporting period: 2020-08-01 to 2021-07-31

ReMedPsy explored how U.S. 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 traced how the medicalization of psychedelics and other models for responsibly reintegrating these “magic” molecules legally into society are enabled and marshaled 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 facilitating the psychedelic research and cultural revival.

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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 main conclusions of the action are that psychedelics are powerful technologies that like any other technology need to be used with great care, respect, and humility. ReMedPsy has shown that it is important to think beyond merely medicalizing psychedelics and also engage with social movements that are forming to decriminalize and legalize psychedelics beyond clinical settings.
The project analyzed different sets of qualitative empirical materials ranging from scientific publications, media representations of psychedelic research, to material collected at sites where psychedelic research and other psychedelic futures were imagined, performed, and discussed (psychedelic research groups, psychedelic conferences, workshops, network meetings etc.). It applied the methods of participant observation and semi-structured, qualitative interviewing to collect data.

- 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 were identified, described, and mapped. In addition to disseminating this result at conferences, an open access article with the title "Socio-psychedelic Imaginaries in the United States: Envisioning and Building Legal Psychedelic Worlds With and Beyond (Bio)medicalization" is in the process of being submitted to European Journal of Futures Research.
- An open access article that critically explores the arguments against decriminalization initiatives in the U.S. mobilized by psychedelic researchers was published (
- An analysis of key opportunities to advance psychedelic research in patients with serious illness, emerging from an exploratory seminar with international experts organized at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Palliative Medicine: Beaussant, Yvan/Tulsky, James/Guérin, Benjamin/Schwarz-Plaschg, Claudia/Sanders, Justin (2021): Mapping an Agenda for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Research in Patients with Serious Illness. doi:10.1089/jpm.2020.0764
- ReMedPsy also inquired into how far the current psychedelic revival may hold potential for reconfiguring the ecosystem of subjectivities, and as a consequence induce broader social change. This contribution to a forthcoming edited volume argues that psychedelic technologies can enable a transgression of three entangled societal taboos but at the same time also run the risk of being co-opted by capitalist forces.
- Based on a two-part conference panel with the title "Re-emerging Psychedelic Worlds: Altered States, Altered Subjects, Altered STS?" organized at the 4S/EASST conference in 2020, a special issue with contributions from the panel and additional solicited articles is being edited for Interdisciplinary Science Reviews.
- An article on the formation of new faultlines inside the morphing psychedelic space will be published as part of the special issue. The article traces faultlines and their respective causes and meanings between and within the following psychedelic segments: non-profit psychedelic science/for-profit psychedelic science/psychedelic decriminalization movements/general drug legalization movements/critical psychedelic thought streams.
The project contributes to our understanding of the collective visions and activities to legally reintegrate psychedelics responsibly into society and the psychedelic subjectivities that are emerging in the process. The following results were achieved until the end of project:
- The first big picture analysis of existing visions and associated practices as to how to reintegrate psychedelics legally in the U.S. context. For this purpose the concept of socio-psychedelic imaginaries was developed and applied as an innovative lens to identify, describe, and map these collective visions. This analysis provides an overview of the current landscape of visions and can serve as a basis to evaluate these visions in society. It is particularly important from a European standpoint to understand the interplay of these imaginaries in the U.S. where these developments are more advanced in order to gain some anticipatory knowledge for how to govern the future of psychedelics in Europe (special relevance for civil society actors, advocates, policy makers).
- The first critical analysis of positions towards decriminalization of psychedelics currently held by psychedelic researchers in the U.S. This result has and is continuing to impact the way scientists and members of the public relate to and access decriminalization initiatives in relation to medicalization.
- First roadmapping of an agenda of psychedelic-assisted therapy research in seriously ill patients was published. 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 and also highlighting the broader application potential for psychedelic for this group of patients (e.g. influencing policy changes such as currently undergoing in Canada that create exemptions for the use of psilocybin therapy for terminally ill patients).
- The analysis of the emerging psychedelic industry and the expectations driving this development will allow a societal assessment of the ways in which psychedelic medicines are shaped by capitalist interests and what regulations and alternative models should be created to ensure fair access for a broad population of patients.