What does the future of psychedelics look like? In this Drug Science webinar, Sarah Hashkes, breaks down the key factors which will influence the future of psychedelics.
Why do psychedelics have so much potential and what does it have to do with ‘predictive coding’?
“Predictive coding” refers to the brain function theory where the brain is constantly reassessing and adjusting its understanding of the environment based on the bottom-up processing of sensory information. Essentially, attempting to fit the current experience into a predictable model based on previous experience. Psychedelics represent a powerful tool in reframing these top-down processes into novel perceptions and expectations via the alteration of neural circuitry.
For example, when walking through a forest, one would naturally expect to see trees, leaves, or animals, in predictable proportions. While an individual under the influence of psilocybin may have a wider and more flexible array of expectations – including some which would be considered far-fetched! In the context of mental health, this creates a potent tool to break down and rework the harmful and difficult-to-break mental frameworks that have been caused by traumatic experiences and memories – creating more optimal expectations or perceptions.
“In the end, you have to climb the mountain yourself – the hard way. Even so, by giving you that first glimpse, the drugs may provide the inspiration to keep climbing”
– Dr Susan Blackmore
With growing awareness of the potential of psychedelics, the field has attracted vast amounts of money – and subsequently, responsibility.
How classification and approach will decide the future of psychedelics
The future of psychedelics can be compared in two major decisions.
Classification refers to whether psychedelics are viewed as a ‘tool for growth’ (eg. cannabis in California), or as a ‘controlled substance’ (eg. SSRI). If seen as a tool for growth, psychedelics are likely to have more accessibility, less stigma, and enable a more diverse economy than if they are to be classified as a controlled substance. As a controlled substance, companies will need a lot more capital to develop psychedelic products and this will limit control to primarily large pharmaceutical companies.
The approach to psychedelics refers to whether developments are predicated on scientific data (measurement-based), or mystical or religious beliefs (story-based). A scientific approach is based in empirical, statistical hypothesis testing, while a mystical/religious approach is rooted in personal, subjective anecdotes. A scientific approach revolves around clear, provable, axioms that promote exploration, while a mystical/religious approach generally involves untouchable ‘ultimate truths’ which are difficult to analyse.
In terms of outcomes, scientific approaches tend to generate technological developments, while mystical/religious perspectives produce art – both meaningful in their own ways. In a greater ethical context, scientific advances have had a mixed history, improving health outcomes for many, but sometimes at the expense of traditional culture. Similarly, the benefits of religious perspectives are not without a difficult history of violence and prejudice. These ethical concerns are of significant concern as psychedelics return the brain to child-like levels of plasticity, and consequently, vulnerability.
How could technology support the future of psychedelics?
Developing technology to empower and educate psychedelics users is key to promoting accessibility and responsibility across the field. Red Light Holland has developed a VR experience intended to educate individuals considering using psychedelics. They are also developing a microdosing journal app that will allow individuals to track their development with personal analytics, as well as giving them the opportunity to share their data, for data collection on a mass scale. Fireside project is providing peer support for people who are under the influence of psychedelics in an effort to reduce the likelihood of a ‘bad trip’.
This webinar was recorded during the Student Psychedelic Conference which included a live Q&A session from the audience. If you want to ensure that you don’t miss any of our events, so that you can ask your questions live, all you need to do is join the Drug Science Mailing List.
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