Programming note: As we mention in the top, we have been posting less frequently this summer. Plus, we only have one more episode in September before we take a longer break. You can find a full production update on our website. Anyways, onwards to this episode.
Psychedelics have gone from the counterculture, to the mainstream. However, can you turn take such an ineffable thing — a tool for personal revelation, cosmic oneness, spiritual enlightenment, whatever people have called it — and make it just another product in late stage capitalism? From something that is potentially radical, to something that is brutally commodified, instrumentalized, hyped, and turned into the next meme stock craze. The venture capitalists and techno-optimist libertarians are certainly trying, but not everyone is happy about that. On this episode, we look at the deep rifts in and around psychedelic medicine, as different camps vie for the future of these drugs.
First, we go back to the beginning. Historian Erika Dyck tells us the little-known story of an earlier period of psychedelic research, led by pioneers in — believe it or not — Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Dyke’s book Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD on the Canadian Prairies charts the early days of this medical research, and reveals important lessons for our current tensions. The book shows that deep rifts have always existed in psychedelic research, because the drugs sit uncomfortably in-between many different ways of knowing.
Then, muckracking psychonaut David Nickles is calling out the mainstream commodification of psychedelics, as well as the bullshit and abuse within the underground. Nickles is an underground researcher, harm reduction advocate, and journalist, who is also managing editor of Psymopsia, a psychedelics watchdog group. In 2018, he excoriated the psychedelic research community for playing nice with the emerging VC-backed psychedelic firms, like the Peter Thiel-funded Compass Pathways (Nickles’ talk is summarized here, but the full talk is available on Youtube). Since then, Nickles says things have only gotten worse. He documents much of that in Power Trip, an investigative podcast series on psychedelic therapy, produced by New York Magazine and Psymosia.
This is part of a series looking at medical controversies and the politics of medicine. It received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Dr. Maya Goldenberg and Dr. Maxwell J. Smith are scholarly advisors to the project, with research from Yoshiyuki Miyasaka. For a full list of credits of Cited Media staff, visit our about page.