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Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica 2019-04-17T18:34:48.115Z · score: 16 (26 votes)

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Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area · 2019-05-13T00:23:24.841Z · score: 21 (11 votes) · EA · GW
Scott referred to some failures to replicate in his post.

Scott referred to one failure to replicate, for a finding that a psychedelic experience increased trait openness. This isn't one of the benefits cited by the OP.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area · 2019-05-11T18:10:32.677Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW
most the professional world and voting populace have a very negative view on psychedelics
whilst the potential upsides might be sizeable, they likely don’t compare to the negative damage to EA that EA orgs publicly supporting such work would likely do.

I would push back against this somewhat. It's historically been the case that the general view of psychedelics is negative, but I think a case can be made that this is changing fairly quickly. Media coverage of psychedelics over the past ~5 years has been positive, e.g. The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Vox, CBC Radio, The New Yorker. Michael Pollan's latest book How to Change Your Mind was pretty pro-psychedelic and was a New York Times #1 bestseller. Denver also recently decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, and there are decriminalization ballot initiatives planned for Oregon and California in 2020.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area · 2019-05-11T17:56:26.394Z · score: 18 (16 votes) · EA · GW
1.1) There's some weak wisdom of nature prior that blasting one of your neurotransmitter pathways for a short period is unlikely to be helpful.

The data doesn't support this, and generally suggests that 1-3 psychedelic experiences can have beneficial effects lasting 6 months or longer. See for example Carhart-Harris et al. 2018:

"Although limited conclusions can be drawn about treatment efficacy from open-label trials, tolerability was good, effect sizes large and symptom improvements appeared rapidly after just two psilocybin treatment sessions and remained significant 6 months post-treatment in a treatment-resistant cohort."

Griffiths et al. 2016:

"High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety."

Johnson et al. 2017:

"All 15 participants completed a 12-month follow-up, and 12 (80%) returned for a long-term (≥16 months) follow-up, with a mean interval of 30 months (range = 16 – 57 months) between target-quit date (i.e., first psilocybin session) and long-term follow-up. At 12-month follow-up, 10 participants (67%) were confirmed as smoking abstinent. At long-term follow-up, nine participants (60%) were confirmed as smoking abstinent."

I get more sceptical as the number of (fairly independent) 'upsides' of a proposed intervention increases. The OP notes psychedelics could help with anxiety and depression and OCD and addiction and PTSD, which looks remarkably wide-ranging and gives suspicion of a 'cure looking for a disease'.

I would push back against the idea that these upsides are as independent as they may seem. Depression and anxiety are often comorbid (Hirschfeld 2001) and often comorbid with addiction (Quello 2005), OCD (Tukel 2002) and eating disorders (Marucci 2018). It seems that similar neurological states and cognitive processes underly these mental disorders, which is why psychedelics can effectively treat them all.

Carhart-Harris et al 2017, for example, suggest "connectedness" as the mechanism:

"A sense of disconnection is a feature of many major psychiatric disorders, particularly depression, and a sense of connection or connectedness is considered a key mediator of psychological well-being, as well as a factor underlying recovery of mental health. One of the most curious aspects of the growing literature on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics is the seeming general nature of their therapeutic applicability, i.e. they have shown promise not just for the treatment of depression but for addictions, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This raises the question of whether psychedelic therapy targets a core factor underlying mental health. We believe that it does, and that connectedness is the key."

A secondary point here is that substances with different pharmacological and phenomenological effects are all grouped under the term "psychedelic". MDMA, for example, works and feels differently from ketamine, which works and feels differently from "classical" psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. So while it may seem unlikely that psychedelics (understood as one uniform thing) could have a range of benefits, it makes more sense when psychedelics are understood as a category that includes different substances.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Meditation and Effective Altruism · 2019-04-24T00:29:17.653Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I second the recommendation of The Mind Illuminated, just as wholeheartedly.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-22T22:05:40.973Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

No worries :)

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T23:50:56.461Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

My take is that it only takes a strong enough worldview to resist this influence, and that most EAs/rationalists have one. I think this mostly just comes down to intuitions about 1) how strong of an influence a psychedelic experience can have on someone's worldview and 2) how strong of a worldview does the average EA/rationalist have. I don't think a strong psychedelic experience alone is enough to create bad epistemology, and that it probably also takes some environmental factors pushing in this direction, which EAs/rationalists generally aren't exposed to.

It seems like our intuitions probably differ on this, so I'm wondering what your take is based on? Also wondering if you can provide more details on the hard-to-describe personality trait, as I'm not sure what you mean there.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T19:12:41.985Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also adding this to FAQ page. Thanks!

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T19:01:55.311Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, I'm adding this to the original post now, along with some specific reasons an EA-aligned person might want to attend.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T18:55:19.769Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that openness doesn't seem uniformly good, despite being obviously good in some ways (i.e. all creativity loads onto openness).

I agree it seems possible that psychedelic use could lead to pseudoscientific or unscientific thinking. This is pretty widespread in the psychedelic community, which might suggest a connection, although it's hard to know which direction the causality is going (perhaps both). I don't see this as a risk for EA/rationalist types though, and would argue that pretty strongly.

(Also FYI, the findings from the 2011 paper SSC references haven't been replicated.)

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T18:32:03.873Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Fair enough! I probably should have pointed out those reasons in the original post (although I did link to the paper on psychedelics and creative problem-solving). I probably also unconsciously assumed those reasons are more obvious to most people than they are, because I'm thinking about this stuff all the time.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T17:44:57.840Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

See also Krebs & Johansen 2015 for similar results with a different data set:

Using a new data set consisting of 135,095 randomly selected United States adults, including 19,299 psychedelic users, we examine the associations between psychedelic use and mental health. After adjusting for sociodemographics, other drug use and childhood depression, we found no significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and increased likelihood of past year serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempt, depression and anxiety. We failed to find evidence that psychedelic use is an independent risk factor for mental health problems.
Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-18T16:37:21.046Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW
Maybe I'm missing the point and the post is just saying that there's a cool thing you can do with other EAs, not trying to claim that it's an effectively altruistic use of resources.

Definitely more so the former than the latter, e.g. "I’m posting here because 6 EA-aligned people are planning on attending our first retreats (June 5-8 and June 9-12, 2019) so far."

Like Milan I think there are good arguments for psychedelics as Cause X, and nested in that good arguments for why starting a retreat could be an effective thing to do. But the general purpose of this post was to let people know this is happening, along with what seems like relevant context.

it's pretty unclear how EAs going on a psychedelic retreat is an effective way to make progress in these fields.

FWIW, a couple of the EA-aligned people who've applied have stated they want to attend for explicitly EA-related reasons. We keep applicant data confidential so I can't go into detail, but some reasons an EA *might* want to attend:

  • Creative problem-solving related to a cause area
  • Gaining clarity on altruistic career choice
  • Improvements in mental health (I think you may be underrating the degree to which this can increase personal capacity, or make you a better or more effective person, as you put it).
(or increases your risk of psychosis)

The risk is only if you have a family history and are predisposed. Even so, there's not much evidence for this - it's an exclusion criteria in psychedelic research studies because the researchers are (understandably) extremely risk-averse and being as careful as possible. I've looked closely at the data on this and spoken to several researchers about it because it's relevant to someone close to me.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-17T20:25:23.990Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Understood. I don't spend a lot of time here so may have misjudged appropriateness.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-17T20:24:41.599Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

That's correct (not a deliberate omission). $1700 for 4 days is roughly on par with other, similar retreats. We're planning to add low-income/sliding scale options once we've launched and are holding regular retreats.

Comment by aaron_nesmith-beck on Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica · 2019-04-17T19:52:39.850Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA · GW

That might make sense for people in Europe. For most people in North America, the Caribbean is more easily accessible than the Netherlands.

Other reasons someone might prefer a retreat:

- Have the experience in a group setting with people who share the same outlook and intentions

- Guidance from experienced facilitators

- Optimized setting (pre-selected music, access to private natural space)

- Pre-prepared preparation and integration activities