About this Research Topic
As research on psychedelic-assisted therapy gains momentum, the traditional focus on psychedelic pharmacology and their effects on individual psychology has been expanded to include the social and relational effects of psychedelic use and the roles of these factors in therapeutic outcomes. The traditional narrower approach of focusing just on pharmacological mechanisms is limiting our understanding of psychedelics, as diverse findings reveal that the contextual and social factors surrounding psychedelic use (set and setting) are essential to understanding their mechanisms of action through the 5-HT2A receptor, which mediates sensitivity to contextual cues. The apparent effects of psychedelics on sociality—broadly construed as the extent of social association, cooperation and group formation among individuals in a population—is of considerable importance since sociality is a survival response shaped by evolutionary pressures.
Clinical and anthropological studies showed that psychedelics can produce acute significant interpersonal and social effects. The increased sociality produced by psychedelics is illustrated by psychedelic enhancement of feelings of emotional empathy, happiness, trust, sense of closeness and desire to be with others, and increased group synchrony. Furthermore, psychedelics are known for producing an animistic and entheogenic mind set, where the natural world is humanized, personalized and socialized with human traits (sentience, relationality, intentionality, cooperation, intelligence). Long term effects of psychedelics on sociality have been widely observed as well. There are overall psychedelic-induced changes in socially-oriented aspects of personality manifested in increases in extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, and enhanced connection of the self with others and the outside world. Furthermore, psychedelics can play a central role in creation of social identity, political identity and in group formation, again suggesting an important role of the 5-HT2A on sociality.
As the mainstreaming of psychedelic research is gaining momentum through a psychopharmacological framework, the field of psychedelic science might neglect the influence of sociocultural effects on the phenomenology of the experience and the outcomes. This is illustrated by the importance of mystical experiences in successful treatment of different conditions with psychedelics. Therefore, psychedelic research must engage in studying extrapharmacological factors and intersubjective dynamics as essential aspects of explanation of their pharmacological mechanisms, pharmacological effects, and diverse and often idiosyncratic outcomes. This type of research on the aspects of sociality activated by psychedelics can contribute to a broader understanding of the function of 5-HT2A receptors in mediating between individuals and their environment and the ancient role of these substances in stimulating the formation of sociality.
Besides the positive social effects noted above, it is important to note that the psychedelic induced sensitivity to sociocultural input includes ethical and moral concerns. Furthermore, psychedelics can sometimes induce alienating affects such as isolation and paranoia. Yet, such psychedelic induced social challenges also hint to the importance of 5-HT2A receptors, and an inquiry into the social dynamics of these effects can also clarify the functional role of 5-HT2A receptors. Therefore, the goal of this research topic is to engage with all relational elements of psychedelic use, including challenging social aspects which might be mediated by psychedelics as well.
This Research Topic will bring together a selection of Original Research, Review, Hypothesis and Theory, Perspective, and Opinion articles, that explore the interaction of psychedelic neuropharmacology with the fields of social psychology, sociology and anthropology. We invite papers which examine this broad interface, specifically how the psychedelic state can have effects on individual and group affectivity and sociality. We also call for papers that examine the effects of the broader contexts in which psychedelic use is embedded, how interpersonal relations can affect the outcome of psychedelic ingestion and vice versa. Our context is pharmacological effects of psychedelics and their interaction with sociality, not only pharmacological-social effects, but also the reciprocal social and interpersonal effects on pharmacological responses and outcomes.
This research topic solicits papers that engage in one of the following three relational themes of psychedelic use:
1) the dynamics and effects of set and setting, how the personal and social contexts structure the psychedelic experience and/or its neuropharmacological response;
2) the immediate influence of psychedelics on group processes, and psychosocial dimensions of one's sense of being and relationships with others;
3) long-term effects on individual personality and social relations, and on societies and cultures at large.
While papers can focus only on one of the above themes, authors are still encouraged to engage to some extent – theoretically or empirically - with all of the above three themes and the interaction between them. Articles may address evolutionary, cultural, cross-cultural, spiritual and religious aspects of psychedelic sociality without specifically addressing pharmacology, but should provide hypotheses regarding possible psychopharmacological mechanisms for their effects.
Keywords: Psychedelics, Sociality, Extra-pharmacology, Set & Setting, Social Neuroscience
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.