This paper (2022) explores the concept of American socio-psychedelics imaginaries i.e., collective visions articulated and enacted to reintegrate psychedelics legally and responsibly into society. Four imaginaries are discussed including biomedicalization, decriminalization, legalization and sacramental imaginaries. These imaginaries diverge and converge around several politics: politics of access, politics of responsibility, politics of naming, politics of assimilation and social change, and politics of epistemic credibility.
“After decades of criminalization, psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and LSD are experiencing their comeback in science and Western culture more broadly. While psychedelic plants and fungi have a long history of use in Indigenous cultures, the Western prohibitionist reality instantiated around 1970 has stigmatized psychedelics as medically useless and a threat to society. Yet studies are increasingly demonstrating their potential to treat widespread mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety in combination with psychotherapy. Most of this research is currently taking place in the US, where additionally decriminalization and legalization efforts and religious exemptions have paved the way to make psychedelics legally accessible. Based on 3 years of ethnographic research in the US (both in-person and virtual), this article explores contemporary US-American socio-psychedelic imaginaries, i.e., collective visions articulated and enacted to reintegrate psychedelics legally and responsibly into society. Four socio-psychedelic imaginaries are identified, described, and interpreted: the biomedicalization imaginary, decriminalization imaginary, legalization imaginary, and sacramental imaginary. These imaginaries diverge and converge around several politics: politics of access, politics of responsibility, politics of naming, politics of assimilation and social change, and politics of epistemic credibility. Contemporary socio-psychedelic imaginaries are co-evolving, mutually shaping, and amplifying each other. Together they function as societal corrective to the politically motivated prohibition of psychedelics. Although enacted by humans, the radical imagination expressed in socio-psychedelic imaginaries has its roots in human-psychedelics entanglements.”
Authors: Claudia Schwarz-Plaschg
Summary of Socio-psychedelic imaginaries: envisioning and building legal psychedelic worlds in the United States
The dominant global legal reality around psychedelic substances is one of prohibition, with the criminalization of the psychedelic empathogen MDMA following in the mid-1980s. The US government consciously devised laws against drugs associated with their perceived enemies, the antiwar left and black people. In 1970, the Nixon administration’s Controlled Substances Act (CSA) placed psychedelics into the strictest category (Schedule I) and the United Nations’ Convention on Psychotropic Substances followed, banning the sale, possession, and transport of a broad range of drugs, including psychedelics.
The situation has pivoted slowly but steadily since the turn of the millennium, when research groups restarted to investigate the neurobiological effects of psychedelics and their clinical safety and efficacy profile for the treatment of mental health conditions. The legitimization strategy of the psychedelic revival’s main protagonists seems to be bearing fruit, as scientific evidence is produced that relies on bureaucratic expertise and elaborated documentation practices. However, medicalization is by far an uncontested phenomenon, and psychedelics have a long tradition of use in Indigenous cultures around the world.
Find this paper
Equity and Ethics
Qualitative Theory Building