Moral Psychopharmacology Needs Moral Inquiry: The Case of Psychedelics

This opinion paper (2021) examines the effects of psychedelics on moral flexibility and argues that the context sensitivity of these substances entails that randomized placebo-controlled trials are insufficient for appreciating the full range of their possible effects. In order to understand its effects on moral behavior, the authors advocate a complementary approach of culture-controlled trials that investigate this moral psychopharmacology under different social and cultural circumstances with the help of anthropological, sociological, and philosophical observers, in order to determine what constitutes a good use of psychedelics beyond clinical trials.


“The revival of psychedelic research coincided and more recently conjoined with psychopharmacological research on how drugs affect moral judgments and behaviors. This article makes the case for a moral psychopharmacology of psychedelics that examines whether psychedelics serve as non-specific amplifiers that enable subjects to (re-)connect with their values, or whether they promote specific moral-political orientations such as liberal and anti-authoritarian views, as recent psychopharmacological studies suggest. This question gains urgency from the fact that the return of psychedelics from counterculture and underground laboratories to mainstream science and society has been accompanied by a diversification of their users and uses. We propose bringing the pharmacological and neuroscientific literature into a conversation with historical and anthropological scholarship documenting the full spectrum of moral and political views associated with the uses of psychedelics. This paper sheds new light on the cultural plasticity of drug action and has implications for the design of psychedelic pharmacopsychotherapies. It also raises the question of whether other classes of psychoactive drugs have an equally rich moral and political life.”

Authors: Nicholas Langlitz, Erika Dyck, Milan Scheidegger & Dimitris Repantis

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