Matthew W. Johnson: Pitfalls of Psychedelic Medicine and Science – webinar recording now available!

It is not uncommon for high dose psychedelic experiences to involve “big questions,” for example: What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of reality? Does God exist? In this webinar presentation held in September 2023, Dr. Matthew W. Johnson discussed the responsible handling of such experiences in therapeutic contexts.

Psychedelic experiences are believed to increase suggestibility and to occasion highly personal and meaningful experiences for patients. For this reason, a common but dangerous tendency for clinicians and scientists is to assume that psychedelic therapy constitutes an exception to many accepted clinical and ethical norms. Jonhson argues, however, that the intensity and meaningfulness of psychedelic effects call for even greater attention and adherence to the wisdom of clinical boundaries and norms.

Johnson argues that it is critical in clinical practice to let the patient determine her or his own metaphysical meaning, if any, from psychedelic experiences, rather than to impose or introduce the clinician’s own metaphysical beliefs, even ones that may seem innocuous to the clinician or scientist such as the “perennial philosophy.” Clinicians and scientists must avoid falling into the roles of guru or religious leader, and only introduce concepts grounded in their professional, empirically informed expertise.

Finally, regarding the science of psychedelics, much has been stated on the propensity of psychedelics to “expand consciousness”, and scientists have viewed psychedelics as tools to understand the “nature of consciousness.” Johnson calls for scientists to use precision when discussing concepts referred to as “consciousness” such as phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, and self-concept, and be cautious to not overstate what is scientifically known regarding the relation between psychedelics and these concepts. He argues that scientists should do a better job with phenomenology regarding psychedelics and these concepts, meaning that we need to be judicious in distinguishing insights that people claim to have about, for example, phenomenal consciousness in psychedelic experiences, from what we can objectively claim to have learned about phenomenal consciousness from psychedelic research.

The lecture is now available on our Youtube channel!

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