Psychedelics have traditionally been associated with countercultures, such as the hippie and anti-war movements of the 1960s. An icon of this association is a 1969 photograph of an anti-war protester holding a sign that says “Drop acid, not bombs”. Last year, a man photographed during the marches protesting the murder of George Floyd held a sign that read “Cops need to do ayahuasca.” These signs illustrate how a subsection of the libertarian left (known to some as the “acid left”) has long endorsed psychedelics as tools for defying state violence. Some go even further to suggest that psychedelics relate to left libertarian views in general.


Is it tenable to consider psychedelics as politically neutral in light of their important part in left- and right-wing movements? Before answering this question, it is important to distinguish between two connotations of the term “neutral”: we could consider psychedelics to be neutral in the sense that they are non-political, or we could consider them to be neutral in the sense that they can be used as tools for any political movement. The former interpretation seems untenable given the ample sociopolitical history of psychedelics. The latter interpretation seems possible, although it requires more evidence. So far, this evidence is scarce, as Matthew Johnson has pointed out. But even Johnson, who appears to be spearheading an attempt to depoliticize psychedelics, admits that they can be used for explicit harm due to their ability to induce “behavioral plasticity.” Brian Pace puts it more bluntly, claiming psychedelics can make people “gullible.”


If Duerler’s findings are confirmed, they could substantiate the idea that psychedelics strengthen the cohesion of political groups by motivating individuals to adapt their opinions to the group norm. This would occur regardless of the group’s specific ideology. Liberals may become more liberal in the context of a liberal movement, and conservatives may become more conservative in the context of a conservative movement. This might make psychedelics look like instruments of radicalization. However, if psychedelics are merely promoting “adaptation to opinions similar to one’s own”, it follows that moderates would become more moderate in the context of a moderate movement. It would also suggest that calls for radicalization would fall on deaf ears if the subject’s opinions were not already predisposed toward such ideas. Finally, it would even explain the lack of changes in opinion in the context of psychedelic therapy — if therapists are instructed not to introduce their own political beliefs, patients would emerge from therapy with unchanged ideological inclinations.



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The MIND Foundation


Building a healthier, more connected world through psychedelic research and education.