Breaking Down the Stigma of Psychedelics

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

The interaction between society and psychedelics has a complicated and long history. In the 1960s, they represented peace, love, and freedom. However, due to social and cultural issues, the government and media stigmatized them, resulting in their classification as Schedule I drugs. Luckily, supporting the use of psychedelics, especially for medicinal purposes, is no longer as stigmatized as it once was.

Recent research, coupled with FDA approval and expedited processes, indicates that psychedelics, among others, can be valuable in therapeutic contexts for treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Consequently, policies are evolving to facilitate legal access for research and medical purposes, simultaneously altering the public narrative and diminishing the stigma associated with these substances.

History Behind the Psychedelic Stigma

President Nixon’s drug war was important in classifying psychedelic medicine as Schedule 1 drugs, the most restricted and controlled category under the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This designation, which was replicated globally, significantly hampered ongoing research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic medications for mental health therapy.

In pursuit of the drug war, President Nixon imposed harsher penalties for drug crimes, including mandatory prison sentences and a considerable increase in government financing for drug-control agencies tasked with combatting drug trafficking and usage in the United States. As part of this effort, Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973 as a specialized task force charged with combating illegal drug consumption, entrance, and sale within the country. Initially, the DEA had less than 3,000 agents and a $65 million budget. Today, it has approximately 10,000 agents and a budget of more than $3 billion.

Despite a current renaissance in psychedelic medicine research offering hope to those with mental health conditions, the negative media portrayal of hallucinogens, coupled with the enduring war on drugs and opposition from medical professionals, has tarnished the reputation of psychedelics. Presently, substances like psilocybin and MDMA have regained attention for their potential in treating mental illness, obtaining breakthrough status as therapies for various brain-related disorders.

While this marks a positive shift in mental health care, research into these medicines and their perceived benefits continues to face challenges due to misinformation, fear, and stigma, hindering the progress of psychedelic-assisted therapy into mainstream mental health treatment.

fingers holding a text card saying "fda approve" symbolizing psychedelic stigma

Is There a Future For Psychedelics

Despite federal restrictions, certain states and municipalities have recently enacted laws either decriminalizing or legalizing recreational psychedelic mushroom use. This mirrors the trends seen in the legalization efforts of recreational marijuana, starting with Colorado and Washington in 2012. While 21 states have legalized recreational marijuana, it remains a Schedule I substance federally, suggesting that a shift in the federal stance on psilocybin legalization is unlikely in the near future.

However, despite barriers to psilocybin decriminalization and legalization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved clinical trials exploring psilocybin’s potential in treating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health issues. These trials serve as a crucial preliminary step for pharmaceutical manufacturers seeking FDA approval for new drug therapies. With significant investments from the pharmaceutical industry in psilocybin research and a surge in state and local legislation, the industry is thriving despite psilocybin’s Schedule I status.

Media Can Help Fight the Stigma

Michael Pollan, originally known for his exploration of the socio-cultural aspects of food, underwent a shift in focus in 2018 with the release of his book, “How to Change Your Mind.” This book sparked conversations about psychedelic drugs and their possible impact, which inspired a Netflix series of the same name.

It’s important to note that influential podcasts with expansive audiences, such as The Joe Rogan Experience and The Tim Ferris Show, have featured leading experts in psychedelics and psychedelic medicine. Additionally, our podcast, “Medicine With the Medals,” hosted by Mark and Michele, consistently delivers engaging discussions, experiences, and excellent guests. Through these constructive conversations, which often include personal experiences, these podcasts have played a significant role in advancing discussions around the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. This collective effort is instrumental in pushing the conversation on psychedelic medicine into broader public awareness.

Why Is Psychedelic Advocacy Important

Advocacy is a collaborative work, not a solitary pursuit. Individuals such as advocates, researchers, therapists, and those with lived experiences, as well as organizations, come together to share their knowledge, expertise, and resources. This collaboration is critical for amplifying voices, strengthening advocacy activities, and presenting a unified front for real change. Building bridges and fostering connections allows advocates to broaden their reach, increase their reputation, and have a substantial impact on society.

Psychedelic advocacy acts as a catalyst for change, removing stigma, influencing policy changes, encouraging harm reduction, and destigmatizing mental health. Through the dedicated efforts of passionate advocates, there is a noticeable shift in societal attitudes towards psychedelics. This transformation is opening doors for further research, therapeutic applications, and positive societal change.

The destigmatization of mental health is intricately linked to advocacy efforts for psychedelics. Advocates are actively working to challenge the societal perception that mental health challenges should be shrouded in shame. By emphasizing the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, these advocates aim to shift the narrative. They illuminate the healing capabilities of these substances, showcasing how they can work alongside traditional methods and provide fresh opportunities for personal growth and transformation.

a person talking into the megaphone breaking down the stigma of psychedelics

Final Word

The urgent need to address the rapidly expanding mental health crisis is clear, and the moment to act is now. History has demonstrated that stigma and shame can have a negative impact on people with mental illnesses, limiting their access to appropriate treatment choices. The ongoing drug war and the persistent propagation of disinformation about psychedelics have undoubtedly slowed progress in the development of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

However, there is hope. Recognizing that stigma is often caused by negative perceptions, the most effective technique for reducing stigma is early intervention and education. By proactively addressing myths and giving factual information, we may lay the groundwork for a more helpful and informed response to mental health challenges.

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