OPEN Foundation

Day: 30 April 2019

Making psychedelics into medicines: The politics and paradoxes of medicalization


This commentary considers efforts to turn psychedelics into medications that can be administered through healthcare systems as examples of “medicalization.” I draw on ethnographic research both inside and outside of university-based clinical trials from 2014 to date, together with analogous examples from psychiatry and drug research and development. Rather than taking a normative stance on medicalization, I situate it in a wider political, economic, and cultural context to better understand its logics and effects. I begin by suggesting the resurgence of psychedelic science has been concerned with medicalization from the outset, recently prompting a crisis in the “psychedelics community” over its self-identity and values. Next, against the confident public messaging surrounding psychedelics, I consider how attempts to scale up and market psychedelic-assisted therapy could end up undermining the safety and efficacy of the therapy itself. I then outline the movements to decriminalize, legalize, and minimize the harms and risks of using psychedelics in their currently illicit therapeutic and recreational modalities. Finally, I explore how working toward psychedelic medicalization over the coming years may influence the movements toward decriminalizing and legalizing psychedelics use, focusing on the underarticulated ways in which medicalization may disregard or even hinder, rather than help, decriminalization and legalization efforts. I call attention to how the cost of gaining approval for therapies incentivizes the development of diluted-yet-profitable forms of psychedelic-assisted treatments, and how frameworks developed for “proper use” demarcate what counts as “abuse” and enable those with newly sanctioned access to psychedelics to condemn afresh their illicit use.

Noorani, T. (2019). Making psychedelics into medicines: The politics and paradoxes of medicalization. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 1-6.,
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Effects of MDMA on attention to positive social cues and pleasantness of affective touch.


The psychostimulant drug ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) reportedly produces distinctive feelings of empathy and closeness with others. MDMA increases social behavior in animal models and has shown promise in psychiatric disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How it produces these prosocial effects is not known. This behavioral and psychophysiological study examined the effects of MDMA, compared with the prototypical stimulant methamphetamine (MA), on two measures of social behavior in healthy young adults: (i) responses to socially relevant, “affective” touch, and (ii) visual attention to emotional faces. Men and women (N = 36) attended four sessions in which they received MDMA (0.75 or 1.5 mg/kg), MA (20 mg), or a placebo in randomized order under double-blind conditions. Responses to experienced and observed affective touch (i.e., being touched or watching others being touched) were assessed using facial electromyography (EMG), a proxy of affective state. Responses to emotional faces were assessed using electrooculography (EOG) in a measure of attentional bias. Subjective ratings were also included. We hypothesized that MDMA, but not MA, would enhance the ratings of pleasantness and psychophysiological responses to affective touch and increase attentional bias toward positive facial expressions. Consistent with this, we found that MDMA, but not MA, selectively enhanced ratings of pleasantness of experienced affective touch. Neither drug altered the ratings of pleasantness of observed touch. On the EOG measure of attentional bias, MDMA, but not MA, increased attention toward happy faces. These results provide new evidence that MDMA can enhance the experience of positive social interactions; in this case, pleasantness of physical touch and attentional bias toward positive facial expressions. The findings are consistent with evidence that the prosocial effects are unique to MDMA relative to another stimulant. Understanding the behavioral and neurobiological processes underlying the distinctive social effects of MDMA is a key step to developing the drug for psychiatric disorders.
Bershad, A. K., Mayo, L. M., Van Hedger, K., McGlone, F., Walker, S. C., & de Wit, H. (2019). Effects of MDMA on attention to positive social cues and pleasantness of affective touch. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1,
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4 October - Online psychedelic Q&A with Rick Doblin (founder and president of MAPS)