I wrote this article for The Third Wave, where it originally appeared, as a response to an opinion piece in the New York Times from skeptical clinical psychiatrist Richard Friedman. I think it can help address the typical arguments that come from people of anti-psychedelic bias. Enjoy!
A recent article in the New York Times, penned by clinical psychiatrist Richard Friedman, attempts to scare his audience into thinking that LSD might not be a good treatment for depression, despite a barrage of recent studies suggesting otherwise. Friedman appears to be of the opinion that it would be wrong to offer these drugs to sufferers of disease; even though there is no evidence of harm from LSD or psilocybin when given in a clinical setting, and despite the growing body of evidence of the efficacy of these drugs in treating mental health conditions.
Friedman himself mentions the debilitating nature of depression; between a third and one-half of all patients will never find relief from conventional treatments. Hundreds of millions suffer worldwide, and hundreds of thousands commit suicide every year. Most of those sufferers don’t have access to the expensive treatments most commonly handed out by psychiatrists in the developed world.
I’ve spoken a lot on The Psychedelic Scientist about the neurobiological basis of consciousness. I’ve written about how scientific research into psychedelics is helping us piece together how consciousness works. By understanding exactly how psychedelics alter our brain function, we come closer to understanding how consciousness is constructed in our brains, but, as I’ve tried to make clear in my posts, all this fascinating research doesn’t solve the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness – that is, why does consciousness exist at all?
Figuring out what parts of our brain correlate to our experiences, or precisely what organisation of information is required to elicit consciousness, will not solve the hard problem: “Why are we even experiencing any of this in the first place?”
I’ve faced a fair amount of criticism that my posts focus too much on the neurobiological basis of consciousness (let’s call it the ‘soft problem’) – so I think now’s a good time to address the philosophers and psychonauts who want to know what the subjective psychedelic experience can tell us about solving the hard problem.
So let’s leave the research behind for a minute and talk about non-reductionism, idealism, and a psychedelic universe.