Research Edge

The Mercurial Life of Drugs: Psychedelics as models, risk factors, and treatments for mental disorders

Somatosphere || October 30, 2018
The Mercurial Life of Drugs: Psychedelics as models, risk factors, and treatments for mental disorders
By Johanna Pokorny, Kris De Meyer, Philipp Haueis, Tara Mahfoud, and Sam McLean

The Neuroscience and Society Network organised a workshop on 11-12 July 2018 at the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London (KCL) titled “The Mercurial Life Of Drugs: Psychedelics As Models, Risk Factors, And Treatments For Mental Disorders”. In the workshop, we explored what makes psychedelic research unique, different and potent, and how do (or how might) researchers manage this.

Recent decades have seen a ‘revival’ of psychedelic research, and the interest seems to already capture the potency and potentiality of these substances—they are not just like any other drug. In this research, psychedelics and related compounds – LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, ketamine – are used in different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, ways. In some cases, they are potential risk factors for psychosis and other mental disorders (Arseneault et al., 2002; Henquet, Murray, Linszen, & van Os, 2005). The effects of psychedelics are also used as models of psychotic states associated with mental disorders (Langlitz, 2017). However, more recently, researchers have been exploring their therapeutic value, suggesting that they open up new possible directions for treatments for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016; Vollenweider & Kometer, 2010).

How these drugs treat, however, is still an open question: by what means do the drugs “work”? How do the drugs alter experiments, trials, and therapy? How does the therapist (and researcher) work with the psychedelic experience, both phenomenologically and environmentally? How is the therapeutic potential standardized, if at all? What are the ethics of medicalising and potentially normalising psychedelics? These different uses and questions begin to suggest their ‘mercurial’ quality. There is something changeable, ambivalent but also potent and potential, about these substances in combination with humans, their brains and their surrounds. . . [read more]

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