Psychedelic Innovations and the Crisis of Psychopharmacology

Monday, May 23, 2022, 18:15 - 19:45, University of Zurich, KOL-F-118

Prof. Nicolas Langlitz PhD
Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York

In the 2010s, psychopharmacological research and development experienced a crisis: since no genuinely new drugs for the treatment of mental illness had been successfully developed for decades, major pharmaceutical corporations decided to disinvest their neuropsychopharmacology departments. At the same time, however, one branch of psychopharmacology began to boom. The FDA declared psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy a breakthrough therapy and hundreds of start-up companies began to compete for this potentially emerging health care market. The article looks at the case of psychedelic research to examine three different responses to the innovation crisis in psychopharmacology: (1) the resumption of pharmacopsychotherapy as a half-century old but previously marginalized and discontinued practice; (2) the continuation of self-experimentation as a simultaneously repressed and revitalized method of drug development; (3) computational drug design as a cutting-edge approach currently used to create non-psychedelic psychedelics that reduce psychiatric symptoms without any mind-altering effects. These responses point to conflicting imaginaries of innovation that envisage the future of psychopharmacology and thereby provide different diagnoses of its current predicament.