Hallucinogens: antidepressants hype, cubed (2023)

by Federico Soldani – 5th Apr 2023

Two covers of Newsweek from 2021 and 2022 show how hallucinogens – called psychedelics by the new hype – are following a pattern that in many respects resembles what happened to so-called anti-depressants mainly during the 90s. Including presenting these medications in conjunction with psychotherapy, for instance during the 90s in best selling books such as Peter Kramer’s ‘Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self’, in which the author was listening to his patients but actually hearing Prozac talking. See for instance, more recently, Stossel, S. (2016). Should We Still Listen to Prozac? Peter D. Kramer Jumps Back Into the Antidepressant Debate. The New York Times.‌

See about the new hype, a call by Members of the European Parliament to push for hallucinogens via the medical route Bencharif, S.-T. (2023). Europe needs faster action on magic mushroom, MDMA therapies, urge MEPs. POLITICO.

Anti-depressant medications such as those acting on serotonin reuptake – known as SSRIs, or serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors, however it is debatable how selective these are – are now largely not patented anymore, so there is less of a commercial interest in keeping pushing for them and it is ok even for the U.S. mass media to talk badly about them, see for instance the 2022 cover of Newsweek below: ‘Hooked on Hype. Antidepressants work no better than sugar pills for most of the 43 million Americans who take them’.

Instead, a Newsweek cover told the public in 2021 of “A new treatment for depression. Psilocybin, aka MAGIC MUSHROOMS, could be the biggest advance since PROZAC” (capitalised in the original).

The two discourses – antidepressants are bad, hallucinogens are good – are complementary to one another and actually promoted largely on the same mass and digital media (two examples here and here), as it is clearly the case with the U.S. weekly magazine Newsweek. The new hype about hallucinogens largely resembles the old one from three decades ago, only cubed given the very potent nature of the molecules involved this time around, known as hallucinogenic or psychotomimetic drugs, since they induce hallucinations and psychotic-like symptoms.

Also, the new rhetoric is not just about relatively minimalist statements such as being able to live a normal life or going back to work, as it was for antidepressants, instead it oftentimes makes statements related to being able – even after trying hallucinogens once – to feel connected with nothing less than the cosmos.

Such hype involves substances furthermore that by their very nature cannot be blinded or masked in rigorous clinical studies – think of masking or blinding a study participant for an hallucinogen – and about which the political hype is very high instead. At the end of each study, participants should routinely be asked a simple question, or a variation of it – entirely free of additional costs or time for researchers – which is not asked in major studies including the first randomised clinical trial published recently on this topic in the most prominent medical journal in the world, the New England Journal of Medicine, April 2021:

“What drug do you think you were given, the actual hallucinogen or the sugar pill?” Such type of question might perhaps help sedating the hype a little.



Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Hallucinogens: antidepressants hype, cubed (2023)," in PsyPolitics, April 5, 2023, https://psypolitics.org/2023/04/05/hallucinogens-antidepressants-hype-cubed-2023/.

Last Updated on April 5, 2023 by Federico Soldani

4 thoughts on “Hallucinogens: antidepressants hype, cubed (2023)

  1. Great analysis of the hype that may be driving some of the overly optimistic treatment results.

  2. on Medscape the following day 6th of April this Harvard psychobiology professor talks about “hallucinogens” and the hype, but not explicitly about the lack of blinding or masking in these studies


    “Enthusiasm Running Ahead of the Data

    Commenting on the findings, Bertha K. Madras, PhD, professor of psychobiology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, said “hallucinogens are an intriguing class of drugs and I support ongoing high-quality research in this area.”

    However, she told Medscape Medical News that the “breathtaking endorsement of this drug is far ahead of scientific data.”

    She cited concerns such as the “narrow demographics” of participants, their previous experience with and expectations of hallucinogens, the “potential for symptom fluidity of enrollees,” such as depression evolving into psychosis, and the “undefined role” of the therapist during a hallucinogenic session.

    “Finally, I am concerned that enthusiasm for therapeutic potential has been, and will continue to be, preempted and directed towards legalization and widespread access for vulnerable populations,” Madras said.

    This, she said, “is occurring at breakneck speed in the US, with scant resistance or skepticism from the investigators engaged in therapeutic assessment.”

  3. happened to see recently this video just released a few weeks ago on YouTube and now with more than a quarter million views:

    The Myth of Low-Serotonin & Antidepressants – Dr. Mark Horowitz

    this is the YouTube channel link: https://www.youtube.com/@AfterSkool/videos

    Contents routinely proposed on this YouTube channel called AfterSkool: classic “psychedelic” authors such as Ram Dass (Timothy Leary’s colleague during the 60s), Alan Watts, Terence McKenna, etc. or more recent propagandists like Joe Rogan, Graham Hancock, Jordan Peterson, etc. talking about LSD, psilocybin / magic mushrooms, Carl Jung, Hermeticism. As well as some cyber topics such as so-called crypto currencies, etc.

    once more, criticism of so-called antidepressants goes with propaganda for hallucinogens, another example linked above in the article being the YouTube channel by comedian Russell Brand with tens of millions of viewers. again, criticism of antidepressants goes hand in hand with propaganda for hallucinogens and related cyber-psychedelic philosophies on a very popular YouTube channel.

    Examples linked above in the article: against antidepressants https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVSogil0Vao , and in favour of hallucinogens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HxLveKBOQE

  4. publication of a randomized trial of psilocybin / magic mushrooms this month, JAMA Sept 2023


    surely improved compared the one in NEJoM Apr 2021


    in both instances the authors “forgot” to ask the simple question, or a variation of it, “do you think you got the hallucinogen or not?”

    however this is now, two years later, noted in the Jama 2023 publication of a randomized trial of psilocybin, in all likelihood thank to the peer reviewers and editors of the Journal:


    Several limitations in this study warrant consideration. First, the success of allocation blinding was not assessed, and it is likely that the acute psychoactive effects of psilocybin produced some degree of functional unblinding that may have contributed to the observed effect in psilocybin-treated participants.

    To help address this issue, the current study used off-site centralized raters to reduce the potential impact of unblinding on the assessment of outcomes. Nonetheless, recent data demonstrating high rates of functional unblinding in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of psilocybin for alcohol use disorder highlight a possible role for measuring blinding effectiveness in future studies of agents with acute psychoactive effects.”

    is such simple but critical message finally getting through?

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