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.
Last Updated on April 5, 2023 by Federico Soldani