Research into psychedelic drugs, including plant based and synthetic substances, has found new force with medical discoveries and legal reforms. What new cultural dynamics does the rebirth of popular and medical interest in psychedelics reflect? Has the rebirth of psychedelic science been met with a renewed anthropological interest in consciousness, or does it point to the death of psychedelic anthropology?
Historically, anthropology has made significant contributions to understanding the social and health benefits of culturally embedded psychedelic drug use (e.g. Coult 1966; Harner 1968; Taussig 1987; Langlitz 2013), and the cultural entrainment of consciousness (e.g. Laughlin 2001). Findings from the last ten years of medical research with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ayahuasca in Peru, Chile, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, for instance, demonstrate the healing potential of these substances across a range of disorders and social settings. However, as psychedelic research moves from the field to the lab, the new science of psychedelics, much like the new science of consciousness, reproduces the Cartesian contract that relegates cultural experience to externality, or assumes a hyper-relativism of drug experience (e.g. Labate 2015). Accelerated research in medical fields appears certain, but the contributions of anthropologists to understanding the cultural and consciousness potential of psychedelics seem far less clear. This panel/round-table critically examines the epistemological foundations of the new psychedelic science in an attempt to re-imagine opportunities for future ethnographic endeavours. The panel elicits discussion on the challenges and opportunities of using ethnographic methods for studying the varieties of human consciousness, and of doing ethnography during different modes of consciousness. The panel aims to open a forum for considering how anthropological research might make greater contributions to the new science of psychedelics, and to debates in the philosophy of mind and the science of consciousness more broadly.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Grave danger and infernal paradise: pejorative power and the psychedelics
Research into human uses of drugs with psychedelic properties, ( plant-derived and the tech- new 'synthetic') finds itself once again with renewed kinetic energy, as the Spectre of Death - the doomsday clock, is reset closer to midnight. But why bother now? Haven't we all been here before?
Historically, anthropology has made significant contributions to human understanding of beneficial psychedelic drug use (e.g. Coult 1966; Harner 1968; Taussig 1987; Langlitz 2013), but a panoply of reasons exists for people to imagine that consuming psychedelic drugs for any reason is downright madness ("Price of Entry - Your Mind").
However, countering this, scientific research findings from numerous institutions, especially over the last ten years, provide a plethora of evidence that psychedelic chemicals constitute an invaluable resource for human beings.
Psychedelic drug use by humans can elicit a variety of experiences, characteristically powerful and profound; importantly, they are classed as non-addictive. Much of the ethnographic data to date characterises psychedelics as tools which are used for healing in shamanic practices which exploit the drugs' properties, with much of the current medical research data concurring with this finding, predicting the likelihood of some of them becoming prescription medicines in the relatively near future, but is "healing and medication" the only valid rubric for their consideration?
Pre-eminent in recent studies are those on psychedelic amelioration of fear of death and dying; it is worth considering what place these drugs might take in future regimes of palliative care and /or in situations where euthanasia is legal.
This paper considers the beneficial future role that renewed anthropological analyses and interest might play in psychedelic research
How anthropology may drive the investigation of context and interpretation of the psychedelic experience
We investigated whether the substance use influences the link between childhood trauma and the severity of depersonalization. The quality of the experience may be responsible for depersonalization. Anthropology might contribute to the investigation of the quality of the psychedelic experience.
In a current study we investigated whether the use of classic psychedelics and dissociatives significantly influences the link between childhood trauma and the severity of depersonalization, a facet of dissociation. Results indicate that there is no mediation or moderation effect for substance use on the link between childhood trauma and depersonalization. We thus hypothesized that the quality of the experience of substance use (see Carhart-Harris et al., 2018; Hartogsohn, 2016, 2017) particularly the context (often referred to as set and setting) substances are used in rather than its sheer quantity may be responsible for the manifestation of depersonalization.
The present paper attempts to outline how anthropological research might contribute to the (multidisciplinary) investigation of the quality of the psychedelic experience particularly regarding intra- and inter-cultural contexts and the subsequent (psychotherapeutic) integration of the experience.
Reducing existentialism: psychedelic-assisted therapy for anxiety and depression in the face of death
Research suggests psychedelics are effective in the treatment of end-of-life mood disturbance. Results are reported in ways that reduce the profound experience of participants to psychometrics and neurobiology. Anthropology may contribute the human and cultural aspects of dying to future studies.
The reawakening of research into psychedelic substances reflects the Zeitgeist of modern Western science. Recent clinical trials utilise rigorous protocols, standardised evaluation measures, advanced technologies and neuroscientific reasoning (Dyck, 2018). Studies consistently demonstrate that psychedelics can be highly effective, safe, and efficient in the treatment of anxiety and depression in individuals with terminal illness (Reiche et. al., 2018). Mood disturbance is common in terminally-ill patients, and negatively impacts patients' quality of life (Gasser et.al., 2014). The results of recent psychedelic studies into end-of-life anxiety and depression are profound, especially given the time-limited nature of the intervention, and the deep existential issues faced by participants. The reporting of the results of the studies feels reductionist, somewhat inhuman, and non-reflective; focusing mostly on psychometric outcome scales and biochemical explanations. Questions regarding the meaning of death, the phenomenology of the experience, and what can be revealed about consciousness are not addressed. Contemporary anthropologists utilise ethnographic methods to study a variety of modern social forms - and the laboratories responsible for conducting this new psychedelic research are no exception (Hendy, 2018). This paper critically evaluates the protocols, outcomes, and theoretical explanations of the studies into psychedelic-assisted therapy for end-of-life anxiety and depression; highlighting the lack of reflective, phenomenological and cultural elements relevant to death and dying. A challenge for new research is to find harmony between rigor and reflection; to connect Western science and the humanities in the context of this unavoidable and increasingly prominent aspect of human nature (Dyck, 2018).
The bush doof, EDM and the psychedelics of the time-image.
This paper will work from my PHD research/fieldwork on bush doofs, focusing particularly on the psychedelic experience in the dance space and how it generates forms of ecstatic consciousness through electronic dance music, dance and drugs.
I am interested in how the aesthetic experience in the dance space at a bush doof works and how psychedelic moments are created, not through the simple use of psychoactive substances, but through musical structures and the structures of the dance space itself.
I will focus on the various ritual dynamics in the dance space, such as music, lights, dance, drugs, to describe the ways in which psychedelic experience is structured at a doof.
I see the dance space as, obviously, about dancing and the intertwining of human movement and musical movement to produce particular ecstatic states. However, following Deleuze's Cinema books, I focus on the ways in which the dance space can create psychedelic states beyond sensory-motor linkages (the entrainment of humans to music through dance), which move beyond the danced imagining of time towards an experience of time in itself (Deleuze's the time-image), which is the most psychedelic moment in the dance space!
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.