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Introducing Enthea

In advance of EA Global San Francisco, I'm launching Enthea, a research project assessing the humanitarian impact of psilocybin. 

All that's on the site so far is a landing page with a statement of intent, which I've cross-posted below. Over the next few months, I'll be updating the site with what I learn.

If you're attending EA Global and want to chat about this, please reach out! It's captured my interest, so I'm eager to discuss.

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Enthea is a research project assessing the hypothesis that the world would be better if more people had experiences with psilocybin.

Psilocybin is the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms; it causes powerful hallucinogenic effects when ingested.

At the start of the project, my belief is that psilocybin is a useful drug. I believe that more psilocybin use would be good, both for the individuals using it and for society at large. The meat of this project is figuring out whether this belief is correct.

My initial positive impression comes from a first-pass look at the literature. In particular, Dos Santos et al. (2016) is a recent systematic review that notes the utility of psilocybin as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and alcohol & nicotine addiction. Griffiths et al. (2006) and its 14-month follow-up show psilocybin use to have powerful, enduring, positive effects on healthy subjects.

The first step of Enthea is a deeper dive into the literature about psilocybin's medical and super-medical impacts. If psilocybin still seems promising after this review, I'll consider paths to increased psilocybin usage (likely decriminalization or legalization). This second step will be less focused on evidence review, focusing instead on learning from members of the psychedelic and drug policy communities.

If you're interested in learning more about Enthea, or want to get involved, shoot me at note at info@enthea.net

Comments (16)

Comment author: geoffreymiller  (EA Profile) 16 August 2017 11:54:36PM 4 points [-]

Psychedelics could bring many benefits, but the EA community needs to be careful not to become associated with flaky New Age beliefs. I think we can do this best by being very specific about how psychedelics could help with certain 'intention setting', e.g. 1) expanding the moral circle: promoting empathy, turning abstract recognition of others beings' sentience into a more gut-level connection to their suffering; 2) career re-sets: helping people step back from their daily routines and aspirations to consider alternative careers, lifestyles, and communities; 80k hours applications; 3) far-future goal setting: getting more motivated to reduce X-risk by envisioning far-future possibilities more vividly, as in Bostrom's 'Letter from Utopia' 4) recalibrating utility ceilings: becoming more familiar with states of extreme elation and contentment can remind EAs that we're fighting for trillions of future beings to be able to experience those states whenever they want.

Comment author: Lukas_Gloor 11 August 2017 12:10:01AM *  2 points [-]

This blogpost seems relevant. Admittedly it's labelled 'speculative' by the author, but I find the concerns plausible.

Comment author: MikeJohnson 10 August 2017 11:23:49PM *  5 points [-]

Hi Milan,

I'm glad to see this sort of project. You may enjoy my colleague Andres's summary of the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference. He notes that:

It should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention that there is a psychedelic renaissance underway. Bearing extreme world-wide counter-measures against it, in so far as psychedelic and empathogenic compounds meet the required evidentiary standards of mainstream psychopharmacology as safe and effective treatments for mental illness (and they do), they will be a staple of tomorrow’s tools for mental health. It’s not a difficult gamble: the current studies being made around the world are merely providing the scientific backing of what was already known in the 60s (for psychedelics) and 80s (for MDMA). I.e. That psychedelic medicine (people love to call it that way) in the right set and setting produces outstanding clinically-relevant effect sizes.

In short, it does seem increasingly like psychedelics aren't just for edgy recreational use, but could be part of some useful medical tradition that can measurably and reliably help people. But it does seem like it would be helpful to have answers to the following questions: 1. How do these things work? If we think they do good things, then what's a gears-level account of how they do good? 2. Are there tradeoffs, and what are they? Are there ways of getting the good without the bad?

Anyway, thanks for doing this!

Comment author: MattBall  (EA Profile) 09 August 2017 10:53:39PM 1 point [-]

This is great. I haven't done a deep dive into the lit, but from what little I do know, this seems like a great course of action!

Comment author: MichaelPlant 09 August 2017 01:20:06PM 6 points [-]

Hello Milan. I've been working on drug policy reform for the last couple of months and have just put up the 1st of a series of posts on the topic on this forum. I'd be delighted to get your input on this, although the potential recreational benefits of drugs are not really what we're leading with.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 09 August 2017 02:41:26PM *  0 points [-]

Hi Michael – we should connect, given your post! (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1d8/dpr/) Will you be at EA Global?

I'm interested in assessing both the medicinal and "super-medicinal" effects of psilocybin.

("Recreational" doesn't really capture the kind of effects in the second category, though "super-medicinal" is very jargony & unintuitive; I'm open to suggestions about what to call this second category.)

Comment author: MichaelPlant 09 August 2017 03:26:20PM 0 points [-]

What do you mean by 'super-medicinal'? I mean 'recreational' as opposed to 'medicinal', where it's taken to solve a particularly health problem like depression.

I'm sadly not at EA global; reckoned it was too expensive to come from the UK.

Just messaged you via the facebook.

Comment author: ChristianKleineidam 10 August 2017 01:22:42PM -2 points [-]

In Europe the European Court of Human right ruled in 2014 that substances that are used recreationally aren't drugs and thus not forbidden under drug regulation.

As a result, there's currently 1P LSD which is legal in Germany and does roughly the same thing as LSD.

Comment author: HenryStanley 28 August 2017 01:19:38AM 1 point [-]

This doesn't sound right... Surely all recreational drugs would be legal Europe-wide in that case?

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 09 August 2017 03:42:47PM *  3 points [-]

By "super-medicinal" I mean beneficial effects in healthy users that go beyond enjoyment of the experience.

e.g. I'd categorize the impacts of the (healthy) participants of Griffiths et al. 2006 as "super-medicinal" because their psilocybin experiences were, according to self-report, among the most meaningful of their lives.

e.g. The benefits reported by some of the (healthy) participants in the Good Friday experiment I'd also consider "super-medicinal" as their psilocybin experiences helped resolve major career and relationship problems.

Calling effects like these "recreational" feels like selling them short.

Cool, I'll follow up with you on facebook :-)

Comment author: ThomasSittler 09 August 2017 11:11:56AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. Why focus on psilocybin and not other psychedelic substances? From reading the abstract, the systematic review you cite seems to claim similar effects for ayahuasca, psilocybin, and LSD.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 09 August 2017 02:48:56PM *  5 points [-]

If psilocybin still seems promising after a deeper literature review, the next step is to think about how to liberalize psilocybin use.

Psilocybin has several qualities that make it a better candidate for liberalization than other psychedelics:

  • it's somewhat less potent than LSD
  • unlike LSD, it occurs naturally
  • unlike ayahuasca, psychedelic mushrooms grow in the US
  • in the US, there's a somewhat more positive cultural view of psilocybin than LSD (which is considered "bad") and ayahuasca (which is unknown). (This is a weakly held belief.)
Comment author: JanBrauner 09 August 2017 09:09:13AM 1 point [-]

Seems interesting, how can one stay updated?

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 09 August 2017 02:50:21PM *  1 point [-]

There'll be an RSS feed on http://www.enthea.net once the site is a little more built out, and I'll be cross-posting bigger updates to the EA Forum.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 10 September 2017 05:50:19AM 0 points [-]

There's an atom feed on the site now, by the way: https://enthea.net/feeds/all.atom.xml

Comment author: HenryStanley 28 August 2017 01:24:17AM *  0 points [-]

Best of luck! I'm skeptical of the neglectedness/tractability aspect of this – after all, there's a long history of groups trying to legalise psychedelics of various kinds – but tide seems slowly to be turning (in the US at least) [http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/how-ecstasy-dance-drug-mdma-one-step-away-being-licensed-us-1636822].