Can Psychedelics Make Us More Moral?
With a renaissance going on in psychedelic research, is making us better people included?
Psychedelics are experiencing a renaissance. As serious scientific research is occurring with ayahuasca, psilocybin, MDMA, and others, we’re moving away from a prohibitive mindset into a more expansive, open-minded inquiry into the therapeutic benefits of various substances.
In truth, the ban has been brief. While substances are heavily regulated—aggressive policing of a more benign substance like marijuana causes irreparable harm in economically distressed and racially profiled communities—psychedelics have been used for the entirety of recorded history, and probably much longer.
During its half-century stretch of illegality, questioning psychedelics has always been about health, personal or public. Drugs are bad, says the suburban housewife or urban executive as they ingest a daily cocktail of multi-billion dollar pharmaceuticals. Even food itself is a drug. Chemistry informs the foundation of our sense of self, our philosophies, our behavior.
It has always been about marketing. For example, we know sugar kills through its role in the various diseases of affluence, just as we know marijuana has never killed anyone. This misunderstanding of how chemistry affects our bodies not only pertains to health and economics, but morals as well. This is the very question Brian Earp is asking.
For hundreds or even thousands of years, traditional societies have used psychotropic substances to catalyze moral learning to help children transform into morally mature adults.
Earp, a research associate at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, does not limit his discussion to psychedelics. For example, psychopathy is a chemical misfiring: emotional stimuli, such as words like ‘murder’ and ‘rape,’ have no effect on a psychopath’s nervous system. In fact, extreme violence can have a calming effect. No amount of prison time or behavioral therapy will change this.
Could a moral drug enhancement instill empathy in such a person? If so, should it be used? Earp is not ignorant of the ethics of such a drug. Looked at from a broader social perspective instead of an individualist mindset is one important factor. If there’s a possibility that a psychopath could harm members of a society, would such a drug be beneficial, especially if the person desires it? What if they don’t?
Psychopathy is a small but very real instance. What about extending this idea of moral neuroenhancement to people with depression? Anger management issues? Excessive anxiety? This does not imply that a person needs a daily dose. Research has shown that psilocybin has an effect even after one episode:
Subjects also reported, and community observers corroborated, that as a result of the psilocybin experience, they experienced lasting positive changes in outlook and behavior, including “altruistic/positive social effects.”
While Earp’s proposal sounds futuristic, the drugs are already available. “It’s just a matter of in what ways are they used and when,” he says. With microdosing and synthetics booming in popularity, a broader understanding of how a variety of chemicals operate is a necessary step researchers need to take.
Is the day when your doctor prescribes LSD for a bad temperament far off? The possibility looms. While the concept of morals is tenuous and regional, recognizing that certain substances have the capability of positively transforming behavior will help us overcome a longstanding cultural fear of psychedelics. An honest conversation about their potential therapeutic use is at hand. The only thing that isn’t going to help is pretending the conversation doesn’t exist.
Derek Beres is working on his new book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health (Carrel/Skyhorse, Spring 2017). He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.
- Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
- As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
- If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
- Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
- By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap
- The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
- This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
- Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.
- To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
- Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
- There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.