Are Attitudes About Psychedelics Changing?

There is psychedelics high fashion. Psychedelics perfume. A psychedelics series on Hulu featuring A-list actor Nicole Kidman. There are psilocybin microdose candies at weddings, replacing alcohol.

Psychedelics of all kinds are working their way into mainstream culture in California and elsewhere. The social elite – Mike Tyson, Miley Cyrus, even Prince Harry – are telling everyone that they’ve not only taken psychedelics, but that it’s changed their lives.

Business conferences about psychedelics are popping up everywhere, including what promises to be the granddaddy – 10,000 attendees in Denver in June for Psychedelic Science 2023 conference.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, NYU, Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, some top California universities – all are studying psychedelics, some with millions of dollars invested in their work. There is even a new psychedelics caucus in Congress.

Psychedelics is back, big time, and here to stay. But is public attitude changing with the times?

According to a 2021 questionnaire given to 99 people about their attitudes on psychedelics and psilocybin therapy, the majority (72%) supported further research, with 59% supporting psilocybin as a medical treatment.

Younger age groups, those with previous psychedelic experience, and those with nonreligious beliefs were more likely to have favorable attitudes towards psilocybin. A total of 55% of the total sample would accept psychedelics as a treatment if a doctor recommended it.

It’s this sort of momentum for psychedelics that is driving the movement to decriminalize and legalize psychedelics across the U.S. There are now about 15 states or cities in states considering legislation or building working groups to decriminalize or legalize psychedelics. Colorado and Oregon legalized medical use of psychedelics, with Oregon’s legalized medical psilocybin program officially started this year.

There will be much more about the general public’s attitude on the practical use of psychedelics coming out of the Oregon program. But there is still a knowledge gap to overcome, even at the highest levels.

For example, in one study, researchers explored the acceptability of psychedelics among psychiatrists and found that, overall, psychiatrists perceived psychedelics as hazardous and “appropriately illegal.”

The data demonstrates misinformation about psychedelics and a lingering cultural stigma even among highly educated mental health professionals.

So are we still stuck with the stigma of psychedelics, sometimes coming from those respected authorities who we think should know better?

A report about psilocybin in the United Kingdom found that 59% of respondents would use psilocybin-assisted therapy if they had a condition for that kind of treatment. But 24% feared that they would get addicted to psilocybin.

Getting more and better information measuring the general public’s attitudes on psychedelics is fleeting at best. Too much is anecdotal, representing smaller groups or smaller subgroup demographics.

One group of researchers is attempting to develop a model for such measurement, reporting that in a rapidly developing research field such as psychedelics, it is important to understand how the general public views the topic, as well as any specific subgroup – professionals in the mental health field, policymakers or patients.

“Systematically assessing and measuring attitudes on psychedelics in a variety of settings and groups could help understand the wider context and implications of their medical use for psychiatry and society in general,” the researchers noted. “Any further developments in psychedelic research may also affect public opinion trends, which should be followed over time. A validated psychometric instrument allows for direct comparison and replication of data and is best suited to this purpose. Poor general knowledge on psychedelics is understandable, as psychedelic research has only recently experienced revival and the information on these topics is slowly reaching the mainstream.”

What they did find out is that a survey of college students’ attitudes on hallucinogens showed a majority thought that hallucinogens cause addiction. A significant number of participants thought that drugs such as heroin belong to the psychedelic group, indicating a poor understanding of psychedelics’ effects and the classification of illicit substances in general.

“Our findings of the association between knowledge and attitudes on psychedelics strongly indicate that assessing educational interventions is a logical next step,” the study concluded.

The U.S. federal government is perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome in changing the public’s perception, because the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act lists most psychedelics as being some of the worst substances on the planet. They are federally illegal, off limits, bad.

There’s a lot to learn still. A lot of misinformation to correct.

After the last 2-3 years of busy psychedelics business development, it feels like the psychedelics industry should be further along in helping the public understand where it’s coming from and where it’s going. The appears not to be the case.


Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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