Psychedelic medicalization, public discourse, and the morality of ego dissolution

This critical commentary (2021) examines a tendency of psychedelic research and popular media to frame subjective experiences, such as psychedelic ego dissolution, as a pharmacological outcome of using ayahuasca, rather than just one specific or desired outcome for certain societies, cultures, and individuals. This highlights the pitfalls of naturalizing socially constrained orientations towards psychedelics as amoral and objective criteria that conceptualize mental health as an individualized process.


“Emerging from a diverse and long history of shamanic and religious cultural practices, psychedelic substances are increasingly being foregrounded as medicines by an assemblage of scientific research groups, media institutions, government drug authorities, and patient and consumer populations. Considering scientific studies and recent popular media associated with the medicalization of psychedelic substances, this article responds to scholarly debates over the imbrication of scientific knowledge and moral discourse. It contends that, while scientific research into psychedelic medicine presents itself as amoral and objective, it often reverts to moral and political claims in public discourse. We illustrate how psychedelic medicine discourse in recent popular media in the United States and the United Kingdom is naturalizing specific moral and political orientations as pharmacological and healthy. The article traces how psychedelic substances have become ego-dissolving medicines invested with neoliberal and anti-authoritarian agency.”

Authors: Alex K. Gearin & Neşe Devenot

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Psychedelic medicalization, public discourse, and the morality of ego dissolution

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Published in
International Journal of Cultural Studies
June 9, 2021
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Equity and Ethics

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