Research abuses against people of colour and other vulnerable groups in early psychedelic research

This review of early psychedelic studies (the 50s-70s, s=48) finds that most (77%) would not pass ethical review today. The errors made in early research were extensive dosing, lack of consent, inadequate setting, and lack of scientific hypotheses. The authors make restorative justice and cultural competency suggestions.


There is a growing resurgence in the study of psychedelic medicines for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. However, certain early investigations are marred by questionable research methods, abuses against research participants, and covert Central Intelligence Agency financial involvement. The purpose of this study was to understand how and to what extent people of colour and other vulnerable populations, specifically, individuals who were incarcerated or incapacitated due to mental health issues (inpatients with psychotic disorders), were exploited during the first wave of psychedelic research in the USA (1950–1980). To do so, we reviewed available empirical publications according to current ethical standards. Variables of interest included race and ethnicity of participants, population vulnerability, drug administration conditions, informed consent and undue influence. Our findings draw attention to the history of research abuses against people of colour in Western psychedelic research. In light of these findings, we urge a call-to-action to current psychedelic researchers to prioritise culturally inclusive and socially responsible research methods in current and future studies.

Authors: Dana Strauss, Sara de la Salle, Jordan Sloshower & Monnica T. Williams


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Jordan Sloshower
Jordan Sloshower is a research fellow in addiction psychiatry at Yale University. His research and clinical interests focus on therapeutic applications of psychedelic substances and he is currently an investigator and therapist in two clinical trials of psilocybin-assisted therapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD).