In April 2021, dropped a highly anticipated article in the field of psychedelics. The study, a short essay conducted at Imperial College London and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, investigated the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to treat depression. Led by Robin Carhart-Harris, who now heads Neuroscape’s Psychedelic Division at the University of California, San Francisco, the research compared psilocybin to a standard antidepressant. The findings were somewhat lackluster: the psychedelic was found to be only marginally better than traditional treatments for alleviating depression.
In 2017, Rosalind Watts, author of this paper and former clinical lead of the trial at Imperial, gave a TEDx talk on the power of psilocybin to treat depression, motivated by her time spent working on study In the talk, he shared his belief that psilocybin could “revolutionize mental health care.” But in February of this year, Watts published a Medium piece in which he expressed regret for his initial unbridled enthusiasm. “I can’t help but feel as if I’ve unknowingly contributed to a simplistic and potentially dangerous narrative around psychedelics; a narrative I am trying to correct,” he wrote.
“I just reflected on how I had caught myself in the black and white of like, ‘This is wonderful,'” she says today. “Now having gone through this trial … I’m much more neutral and agnostic.”
We’re firmly in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance, with substances long considered simply recreational drugs, such as psilocybin, LSD and MDMA, being reassessed as potential treatments for a range of mental health issues. At the same time, the legislation and stigma surrounding psychedelics has slowly begun to relax in recent years, and it increasingly seems possible to let go entirely. “Now, all of a sudden, in the last year or so, the pendulum has swung the other way,” says David Yaden, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who studies subjective effects. of psychedelics.
But Yaden believes the field is in danger of overcorrecting. In a new opinion piece published in Journal of the American Medical Association, Yaden—with his co-authors Roland Griffiths and James Potash, two experts in psychedelics and psychiatry, respectively—argues that if we’re not careful, psychedelic research could return to where it started: treated with deep suspicion, if not outright banned. . “I don’t want to be a wet blanket,” Yaden says. “I think there’s a real reason for excitement. But I think it’s a very important message to get out.”
To track the potential future of psychedelics, Yaden, Griffiths and Potash looked to a model called the Gartner Hype Cycle, which can be used to characterize the trend cycle of new technologies, such as virtual reality or 4D printing. The pattern has gone more or less like this: Banned for decades, psychedelics began resurfacing in recent years from fringe underground communities and laboratories as potential breakthrough treatments for mental illness. Then, in 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin “breakthrough therapy” status for depression, giving the treatment the fastest possible route to approval. The media jumped on board and startups emerged, followed by obsessive patenting of psychedelic compounds.
But what began as a welcome glimmer of hope for new ways to treat mental illness (which are irrefutably psychedelics, even if the test results so far have been modest) has turned into misinformation. real, argues Yaden. Claims ranging from the unfounded to the outlandish began to emerge: that psychedelics can “cure” mental illness, solve massive social problems, and create a “psychedelic utopia.” We’re in the middle of what Yaden and his co-authors call the psychedelic hype bubble. And they argue that scientists should be the ones to crack it.