When psychologist Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998, he did something radical. Over the years, he had grown tired of his fields’ constant focus on the negative (mental illness, trauma, suffering, pain) and felt that more attention should be paid to the other side of the coin: happiness, well-being, and flourishing. He called this “positive psychology,” and made it the theme of his one-year term as APA’s leader. Instead of focusing solely on reducing ill-being, Seligman organized researchers and practitioners around the idea that people should also be given the tools to thrive.
According to experts, psychedelics could be on the way to becoming one of those tools. The past few years have brought a renaissance of research into the role of LSD, psilocybin (aka “magic mushrooms”), MDMA, ayahuasca, and other psychedelic substances in treating depression, PTSD, addiction, and other forms of mental illness. Now, there is a growing interest in bringing the purported benefits of these drugs to “healthy” people — those without diagnosed mental health disorders — in order to help them attain more aspirational levels of well-being.
“[Psychedelics] open your mind to a different subjective state of experience, a different way of seeing things, and I don’t see any reason why people should not be allowed to explore that part of their subjective experience if they want to,” says J.W.B Elsey, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who published a review examining existing research into psychedelics for healthy people. “I think it’s totally correct that they should be allowed to be explored in research for therapy, but also that really quite similar arguments apply for [healthy] people using them.”
This idea isn’t new, but it is gaining traction. In the 1990s, researcher Bob Jesse supported the use of psychedelics for what he called the “betterment of well people.” It’s an idea picked up by author Michael Pollan, who wrote the monumental 2018 book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying…