An international ban on psychedelics initiated by the United Nations’ Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971 restricted the clinical use of these ancient psychoactive substances. Yet, in an era marked by rising mental health concerns and a growing “Deaths of Despair” epidemic (i.e., excess mortality and morbidity from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism), the structured psychedelic use that has long been a part of ritual healing experiences for human societies is slowly regaining credibility in Western medicine for its potential to treat various mental health conditions. We use a historical lens to examine the use of psychedelic therapies over time, translate ancient lessons to contemporary clinical and research practice, and interrogate the practical and ethical questions researchers must grapple with before they can enter mainstream medicine. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and its contributions to the global mental health burden, we also reflect on how psychedelic therapy might serve as a tool for medicine in the aftermath of collective trauma. Ultimately, it is argued that a “psychedelic renaissance” anchored in the lessons of antiquity can potentially help shift healthcare systems—and perhaps the broader society—towards practices that are more humane, attentive to underlying causes of distress, and supportive of human flourishing.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health(social science)
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Psychiatry and Mental health