Aaron_Nesmith-Beck

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Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area
Scott referred to some failures to replicate in his post.

Scott referred to one failure to replicate, for a finding that a psychedelic experience increased trait openness. This isn't one of the benefits cited by the OP.

Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area
most the professional world and voting populace have a very negative view on psychedelics
whilst the potential upsides might be sizeable, they likely don’t compare to the negative damage to EA that EA orgs publicly supporting such work would likely do.

I would push back against this somewhat. It's historically been the case that the general view of psychedelics is negative, but I think a case can be made that this is changing fairly quickly. Media coverage of psychedelics over the past ~5 years has been positive, e.g. The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Vox, CBC Radio, The New Yorker. Michael Pollan's latest book How to Change Your Mind was pretty pro-psychedelic and was a New York Times #1 bestseller. Denver also recently decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, and there are decriminalization ballot initiatives planned for Oregon and California in 2020.

Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area
1.1) There's some weak wisdom of nature prior that blasting one of your neurotransmitter pathways for a short period is unlikely to be helpful.

The data doesn't support this, and generally suggests that 1-3 psychedelic experiences can have beneficial effects lasting 6 months or longer. See for example Carhart-Harris et al. 2018:

"Although limited conclusions can be drawn about treatment efficacy from open-label trials, tolerability was good, effect sizes large and symptom improvements appeared rapidly after just two psilocybin treatment sessions and remained significant 6 months post-treatment in a treatment-resistant cohort."

Griffiths et al. 2016:

"High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety."

Johnson et al. 2017:

"All 15 participants completed a 12-month follow-up, and 12 (80%) returned for a long-term (≥16 months) follow-up, with a mean interval of 30 months (range = 16 – 57 months) between target-quit date (i.e., first psilocybin session) and long-term follow-up. At 12-month follow-up, 10 participants (67%) were confirmed as smoking abstinent. At long-term follow-up, nine participants (60%) were confirmed as smoking abstinent."

I get more sceptical as the number of (fairly independent) 'upsides' of a proposed intervention increases. The OP notes psychedelics could help with anxiety and depression and OCD and addiction and PTSD, which looks remarkably wide-ranging and gives suspicion of a 'cure looking for a disease'.

I would push back against the idea that these upsides are as independent as they may seem. Depression and anxiety are often comorbid (Hirschfeld 2001) and often comorbid with addiction (Quello 2005), OCD (Tukel 2002) and eating disorders (Marucci 2018). It seems that similar neurological states and cognitive processes underly these mental disorders, which is why psychedelics can effectively treat them all.

Carhart-Harris et al 2017, for example, suggest "connectedness" as the mechanism:

"A sense of disconnection is a feature of many major psychiatric disorders, particularly depression, and a sense of connection or connectedness is considered a key mediator of psychological well-being, as well as a factor underlying recovery of mental health. One of the most curious aspects of the growing literature on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics is the seeming general nature of their therapeutic applicability, i.e. they have shown promise not just for the treatment of depression but for addictions, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This raises the question of whether psychedelic therapy targets a core factor underlying mental health. We believe that it does, and that connectedness is the key."

A secondary point here is that substances with different pharmacological and phenomenological effects are all grouped under the term "psychedelic". MDMA, for example, works and feels differently from ketamine, which works and feels differently from "classical" psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. So while it may seem unlikely that psychedelics (understood as one uniform thing) could have a range of benefits, it makes more sense when psychedelics are understood as a category that includes different substances.

Meditation and Effective Altruism

I second the recommendation of The Mind Illuminated, just as wholeheartedly.

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

My take is that it only takes a strong enough worldview to resist this influence, and that most EAs/rationalists have one. I think this mostly just comes down to intuitions about 1) how strong of an influence a psychedelic experience can have on someone's worldview and 2) how strong of a worldview does the average EA/rationalist have. I don't think a strong psychedelic experience alone is enough to create bad epistemology, and that it probably also takes some environmental factors pushing in this direction, which EAs/rationalists generally aren't exposed to.

It seems like our intuitions probably differ on this, so I'm wondering what your take is based on? Also wondering if you can provide more details on the hard-to-describe personality trait, as I'm not sure what you mean there.

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

Thanks, I'm adding this to the original post now, along with some specific reasons an EA-aligned person might want to attend.

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

I agree that openness doesn't seem uniformly good, despite being obviously good in some ways (i.e. all creativity loads onto openness).

I agree it seems possible that psychedelic use could lead to pseudoscientific or unscientific thinking. This is pretty widespread in the psychedelic community, which might suggest a connection, although it's hard to know which direction the causality is going (perhaps both). I don't see this as a risk for EA/rationalist types though, and would argue that pretty strongly.

(Also FYI, the findings from the 2011 paper SSC references haven't been replicated.)

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

Fair enough! I probably should have pointed out those reasons in the original post (although I did link to the paper on psychedelics and creative problem-solving). I probably also unconsciously assumed those reasons are more obvious to most people than they are, because I'm thinking about this stuff all the time.

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