Capitalism on Psychedelics: The Mainstreaming of an Underground

Erik Davis, writing for Chacruna:

Everyone gets worked up about a showdown, especially when the conflict involves colorful characters and positions you really care about. Like many attendees to the conference Cultural and Political Perspectives on Psychedelic Science, I was familiar with the Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis with Psilocybin, MDMA, and Similar Substances, which had been posted earlier this year on Chacruna and elsewhere. The effort was spearheaded by Bob Jesse, a long-time member of the West Coast psychedelic intelligentsia, and a figure whose ethical, intellectual, and big heart bona fides are impeccable. Intervening in the rapidly developing field of psychedelic medicine, the Statement called for a continuing commitment to scientific integrity, data-sharing, and the spirit of service. It also reflected a growing distrust of the for-profit corporate behaviors that have recently been unleashed in the psychedelic space. Though Jesse was too careful to name names, the main sources of concern were two for-profit companies: Compass Pathways, a one-time nonprofit, now moving aggressively into the psilocybin therapy space in Europe, and Eleusis, a less visible but more cheekily-named outfit that has patented LSD for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Scanning the list of names who had signed the Statement, I remarked again on something I noted in a somewhat cranky essay I wrote for Erowid Extracts in 2013: that the science of psychedelics cannot be disentangled from the wider and more multifaceted culture of psychedelics—very much including its underground culture(s). My essay was aimed particularly at MAPS, who at that point had already established its current dominance over the space of “important” psychedelic conferences, all of which stressed the legitimating force of science in their titles and content. My main point was that if the “Multidisciplinary” in MAPS’ name was going to count for anything beyond a groovy brand, the organization had to actually open the doors of the discourse it managed to disciplines other than science and clinical research. Though trained in the humanities myself, I was particularly concerned with the social sciences, which I hoped would provide some of the critical, contextualist, anthropologically-informed, and politically sophisticated correctives to the mainstream juggernaut of individualistic psychedelic pharmaceuticals already in motion.

This must-read essay thoroughly unpacks the ongoing debate concerning MAPS’ involvement with controversial businesspeople, the military-industrial-medical framework, and other elements of mainstream culture. Davis properly recognizes the important role that the underground psychedelic community has played while simultaneously dismantling the idea that this so-called “community” ever existed in the first place. Some people in this space, like DMT Nexus’ David Nickles, are beginning to question the direction that the psychedelic movement is headed, and knowing where we’re collectively going is seemingly becoming more and more important. We ought to make sure that the leaders of this movement have pure intentions and a shared vision of direction, otherwise we run the risk of ending up somewhere we didn’t want to go.