The return of psychedelics to psychiatry. Can the therapeutic effects of psychedelic experiences be justified?

By Riccardo Miceli McMillan.

The use of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to treat mental illness is a paradigm which is reattracting significant attention both within medico-scientific communities as well as the public more broadly. After a long hiatus from their controversial debut during the 1960’s, psychedelics such as psilocybin (one of the active ingredients inside so-called ‘magic’ mushrooms) are now being seriously reconsidered as potential tools in combatting the growing mental illness epidemic. However, the complicated history of these compounds, in addition to their infamously unique psychological effects, raises a plethora of ethical questions regarding the justifiability of their use to treat some of our most vulnerable patient populations.

This paper aims to begin the task of exploring some of these questions by analysing psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy through the lens of consequentialist moral theories (i.e. moral theories which locates moral value in the consequences of actions). More specifically, this paper presents an application of hedonist moral theories (i.e. moral theories which locate moral value solely in the consequences of pleasure and pain) to the case of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Furthermore, this paper provides an application of Robert Nozick’s famous anti-hedonist thought experiment – the Experience Machine – to psychedelic states of consciousness. In doing so, this paper aims to provoke further thought regarding both the ethical challenges and promises raised by the return of psychedelics to psychiatry, as well as encouraging the fields of medical ethics and bioethics to start paying closer attention.


Paper titlePrescribing Meaning: Hedonistic Perspectives on the Therapeutic Use of Psychedelic-Assisted Meaning Enhancement

Author: Riccardo Miceli McMillan

Affiliations: Doctor of Medicine, Student: The University of Queensland, Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

Competing interests: None declared

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