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Preparing for the Psychedelic Renaissance: Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Neuropharmacology in Psychotherapy

Preliminary studies with psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA indicate their potential for treating mental illnesses. Around the world - including at the Charité - research examines its use in the treatment of depression, anxiety, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. If the promises these substances materialize, it is likely that they will be approved for psychiatric use. Market approval for MDMA in the USA is expected in the coming year.

This development raises legal, ethical, philosophical and social issues that differ from those of other medical innovations. Many of the substances are subject to international control as well as the German Narcotics Act and would need to be reclassified before their therapeutic use. At the same time, some of these substances have a complex cultural history; they have been used for different purposes at different times and continue to be used today. In the European Union, there is a significant prevalence of non-medical use of MDMA as ecstasy (around 2% of 15-25 year olds in the EU took it at least once in 2022), sometimes with fatal consequences. Some potentials and risks of classical psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin have been described by literary figures like Aldous Huxley already in the 1950s. They lead to changes in consciousness that are experienced as impressive. In a pioneering study, for example, a majority of subjects stated that the psychedelic experience with psilocybin was one of the five most important experiences of their lives (Griffiths et al., 2006). Critical voices, on the other hand, see these as hallucinations or comforting but deceptive illusions. The epistemic status of these experiences is likely to affect medical-ethical, social, but also legal assessments of the substances that induce them.

The PsychedELSI project examines these philosophical, ethical, legal and social questions of the psychedelic renaissance in order to prepare society and decision-makers for the coming developments. Under the coordination of the Charité (Dr. med. Dimitris Repantis), it brings together expertise from the following fields:


The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a project duration of 2023 to 2026 (01GP2214A-D).


Dr. Repantis


Bublitz/Langlitz/Repantis, Control side effects of the psychedelic renaissanceNature 620, 277 (2023).

Langlitz, N. (2023). The making of a mushroom people: Toward a moral anthropology of psychedelics beyond hype and anti‐hypeAnthropology Today39(3), 10-12.