The Naturalistic Study of Psychedelics: Benefits and Limitations

The study of psychedelic compounds, while therapeutically and spiritually promising, has remained consistently and strictly bound by legislative constraints. Yet, while the authorization required to administer a Schedule I psychedelic for research purposes remains extremely difficult for a researcher working in the US to obtain, the “naturalistic” study of these drugs’ effects offers several key advantages (and disadvantages) over the traditional experimental design. Specifically, the naturalistic design is merely observational — without any research substance actually being administered by the researcher; a fact which, while perhaps ethically ambiguous, frees the psychedelic researcher from the years of paperwork, legal obligations, and red tape pending formal DEA authorization of his/her research.

Throughout this presentation, I will give a brief overview of naturalistic psychology and the limitations and benefits of a strictly observational design, as well as discuss several studies which have successfully employed such an approach.

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