You Have a Constitutional Right to Psychedelics. Academic Freedom, Personal Conscience, and Psychotechnologies, Thomas B. Roberts , 2016


Chapter 1 : You Have a Constitutional Right to Psychedelics. Academic Freedom, Personal Conscience, and Psychotechnologies

Thomas B. Roberts

From: Ellens, H. J. & T. B. Roberts. 2015. The Psychedelic Policy Quagmire: Health, Law, Freedom, and Society. Santa Barbara, CA. ABC-CLIO.

Author’s note: This also applies to the European Charter of Human Rights and to similar national and international statements. Added Mar. 16, 2016.


The problem : we do not suppress books and the ideas they contain; we do suppress psychedelic mindstates and the ideas they contain.

Censorship is the issue of contention here: intellectual censorship. In this chapter, we’ll spot the single-state fallacy as one psychological and intellectual root of this problem, claim a constitutional right to use psychedelic mindstates, and list some of the ideas that suffer a chilling effect because of our current policies. This chapter does not propose a solution to this situation but challenges policy makers and ethicists in hopes that it will help them build one.

Who has the right to rule on what ideas you may and may not consider? Who has the right to regulate how you choose to use your mind? Not the Congress of the United States, not the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). I contend that you, and I, and everyone else have the legal right to determine the contents of our minds, to select our thinking processes, and to explore and develop our minds as we see fit. But as appealing as this idea seems on the face of things, that simple answer isn’t the position we find ourselves in.

Multistate Theory

A helpful twenty-first-century theory helps explain why this is a problem of censorship (Roberts, 2013, pp. 121–134).

  • In addition to our ordinary, awake, default mindbody state, we humans have the ability to achieve and use a repertoire of mindbody states and their resident abilities. Selecting the most efficient state for a particular purpose demonstrates multistate metaintelligence.
  • Using mindapps (psychotechnologies for producing mindstates), we can install these states in our minds. Psychedelics are one family of mindapps.
  • Psychological and bodily processes vary from mindbody state to mindbody state. In this chapter we are paying particular attention to cognitive processes and ideas that reside in psychedelic states.

Given the fact that humans are multistate beings, policy makers and ethicists must consider those states, their respective contents and abilities, and ways to achieve them. In this chapter, we will consider psychedelic instances of this wider idea. Some mindbody states are dangerous to the people who are in them and to others. Some are immensely beneficial. So psychedelic policy quickly becomes complicated as policy makers try to write policies that maximize benefits and minimize harms.

Making matters even more complex, psychedelics are certainly important for psychotherapy and are receiving most of current attention for that purpose. When psychedelics are used in a medical context, it is appropriate to call them “drugs,” but not in nonmedical contexts. In this chapter we’ll sample their intellectual uses, see how they provide insightful ideas about what it means to be a person, and explore ways they enrich our understanding of human culture. For this purpose, we’ll simply use the common language noun psychedelics. Focusing on psychotherapy misses psychedelics’ other major values. Answering this question helps appreciate this quandary:

Which domains do psychedelic fall under?

  1. a) health
  2. b) law
  3. c) science
  4. d) arts
  5. e) religion
  6. f) philosophy
  7. g) humanities
  8. h) business
  9. i) politics
  10. j) education
  11. k) recreation
  12. l) all of the above

Of course, the answer is “all of the above.” To put the question another way: Who owns this topic? Every one of these fields has its legitimate claims. And it’s even more complicated than that. In each of these domains, psychedelics can be both useful and destructive depending on who uses them, how skillfully they are used, and even where they are used.

Set and Setting, Both Personal and Cultural

In trying to understand the tangled and conflicting views toward psychedelics, I find the phrase “set and setting” useful. This phrase goes back at least to 1963 (Leary, Levine, & Metzner, 1963). From a medical perspective, “set” (what is going on in patients’ minds, mind-set) or “setting” (the influence of the location where the patients are when they take a drug) simply doesn’t matter for most medicines. To most medical doctors, when set and setting influenced patients’ reaction to psychedelics (i.e., interfered with it), that just proved that the drugs were unreliable. I find “set and setting” useful not only when we consider the effects on individuals but also on a wider scale as clues to socially established attitudes, official policies, and psychedelic constituencies.

The Freudian Cesspool

Why are psychedelics such a problem, or more properly, such a quagmire of problems? It helps to start by identifying several historical points, then identifying today’s elements of controversy. Psychedelics were born into controversy. In the late 1940s and 1950s when psychedelics were first being investigated, psychology and the mental health professions were split between varieties of psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology. The former (largely Freudian but with other varieties contributing) saw the origins of mental problems other than organic ones as developing from childhood relations, which were largely hidden in each person’s unconscious. From this perspective, rational, realistic thinking occurred only in our normal, awake, conscious mindbody state. In Freudian theory, not only dreams but also all other forms of thinking were flushed down into the Freudian cesspool of fear, lust, and aggression — : the unconscious. Hypnosis, mediation, yoga, and other mindstates resided there, too. Psychedelic experiences belonged in this cesspool.

The Behavioral Black Box

Behavioral psychology, on the other hand, said that who we are was the product of what behaviors we had been rewarded and punished for. Except for physiological problems such as brain tumors or injuries, the interior function of the human brain was “a black box” as behaviorists called it. It was constant, and there was no need and no ability to look “inside.” As stunning as this ignorance seems to us today with our fast-growing knowledge of the neurosciences, that was a powerful belief in the mid-twentieth century. Things that messed up the black box were interpreted as similar to brain damage or tumors, perhaps causing lesions in the brain. When psychedelics came along, this pigeonhole was waiting for them.

The Psychiatric Pharmacopeia

Along came tranquilizers such as Milltown and amphetamines, “uppers” and “energizers,” “Mother’s Little Helper” as the title of a Rolling Stones song satirized them. Freudians and behaviorists didn’t take kindly to psychoactive drugs. “They didn’t cure underlying problems,” many psychoanalysts said, “They simply masked the symptoms.” To behaviorists, they mucked up internal processes and interfered with reinforcement and punishment. Like other psychoactive medicines, psychedelics were tarred with the same brush and seemed even worse.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as new psychoactive medicines began to gain a professional foothold in spite of resistance to them, another specifically psychedelic problem arose. In the emerging psychiatric pharmacopeia, each new medicine generally had specific, more or less reliable effects, but not psychedelics. What good was a medicine that had different effects on different people and even different effects with the same person from session to session? This variability contraindicated psychedelics as a take-home prescription medicine and even as an in-session adjuvant. Doctors were used to medicines that anyone could take anywhere at anytime with fairly predictable effects. Being unprepared to see set and setting as two powerful co-causes of the drugs, it is no wonder that doctors and researchers found psychedelics confusing.