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Ethical reflections on psychedelic use

The renaissance of psychedelic research has illuminated these substances’ potential therapeutic uses, catalysing a wave of interest and acceptance not seen since the 1960s. Yet, as the psychedelic sphere expands, it brings forth complex ethical questions on psychedelic use.

Among these include issues of consent, cultural appropriation, and the intersection with social justice.

The ethical practice of informed consent is critical in any medical setting, and psychedelic use is no exception.

These substances can induce profound changes in consciousness, potentially leading to dramatic shifts in an individual’s self-perception and world view.

The transient effects may include hallucinations and distorted sensory perception, while long-term impacts can range from lasting psychological growth to exacerbation of mental health disorders.

To mitigate potential harm, users must fully understand the nature of the substances they are taking, the probable effects, and the associated risks.

Providing adequate information to potential users necessitates a comprehensive understanding of these substances by the healthcare provider, highlighting the need for rigorous training and education.

Lack of informed consent in psychedelic use can lead to harmful experiences, violating the fundamental ethical principle of autonomy.

Ethical psychedelic use and cultural appropriation

Psychedelic substances have been used for centuries in various indigenous and traditional communities for spiritual, therapeutic, and communal purposes.

Western interest in these substances has sometimes led to the appropriation of traditional practices without due respect for their cultural contexts.

Using psychedelics without acknowledging their origins or trivializing their cultural significance can be seen as a form of cultural appropriation.

This disregards the intricate symbiosis between these substances and the cultures that have carefully stewarded them.

It’s essential to respect and honour the wisdom, customs, and rites surrounding their traditional use, ensuring that the engagement with these substances doesn’t erase or devalue their rich cultural heritage.

Ethical psychedelic use and social justice

The historical context of psychedelic use also intersects with social justice issues.

During the ‘war on drugs’, stringent drug laws disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, leading to a crisis of mass incarceration, mainly affecting people of colour.

Today’s shifting attitudes towards psychedelics, and their decriminalisation in various parts of the world, present an opportunity to redress past injustices.

Still, this shift must be approached with caution.

There is a danger that the psychedelic renaissance could widen social inequalities if access to therapies becomes restricted to those who can afford them.

Furthermore, the burgeoning psychedelic industry must ensure fair access and representation, not just in terms of therapy but also in research, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Just as the psychedelic experience often emphasises interconnectedness, the ethical dimensions of its use must acknowledge the interconnectedness of all individuals in society.


As we navigate this psychedelic renaissance, ethical considerations must stay at the forefront of discussions.

The potential of psychedelics to heal, enlighten, and connect must be balanced with respect for individual autonomy through informed consent, respect for cultural heritage, and a commitment to social justice.

This renaissance presents an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and to foster an environment of psychedelic use grounded in ethics.

This is not just about what psychedelics can do for us individually, but about what they can teach us about living in harmony with different cultures, respecting individual autonomy, and creating a more equitable society.

As the interest and acceptance of psychedelics grow, let these principles guide us to a responsible, respectful, and inclusive future.


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