You’ve decided to run for congress, excited to use your skills to help the people in your state. But after months of a grueling campaign, you feel exhausted. You begin to wonder if the effort is worth it and whether you can really make the changes you promised. The results come in; you have won your seat. You feel elated but also a bit apprehensive. You just have one more task to complete before you can be confirmed in your new public role: psychedelic therapy.
The current psychedelic Renaissance focuses on the many ways psychedelics can treat some of society’s most pervasive disorders. This focus is necessary because, in order to gain therapeutic access to psychedelic substances, researchers must prove the usefulness of these medicines. But many societies believe that psychedelics have preventative benefits as well as curative properties, which is why psychedelics have so often been used in coming of age ceremonies for spiritual, emotional, and mental growth. Could modern Western society also find everyday ways for psychedelics to benefit healthy people and their communities? It is possible that, in the future, psychedelics could be used to invoke deeper levels of compassion and understanding in people in positions of authority, and all public service employees could benefit from the inoculation against anxiety and depression that psychedelics provide.
Ego-Dissolution for Greater Compassion and Understanding of Others
Psychedelics create ego-dissolution (also known as ego-death) which results when certain areas of the brain— the frontal and prefrontal cortex, responsible for your sense of self—decrease in activity. This allows you to see the world from a more neutral perspective without your current preconceptions getting in the way. At the same time, other areas of your brain that normally do not work together begin communicating with each other. This encourages you to make new connections between ideas, recognizing potential cause and effect relationships you may not have realized before. Together, these two aspects of ego-dissolution help you understand the motivations of those around you. In a 2006 study of the effects of psilocybin, participants claimed—and their friends and family confirmed—that their psychedelic experience made them more compassionate and tolerant while increasing their desire to serve others.
Increased empathy and acceptance are excellent traits in public servants. Unfortunately, many who make it through an election also have strong egos, which can blind public officials to the needs and desires of the people they are meant to serve. As a case in point, some psychologists have recognized aspects of narcissism in President Trump, and at least one neuroscientist claims he could benefit from psychedelic-inspired ego-dissolution. But it’s not just high-profile officials who could benefit from this process; even government employees working in law enforcement, social services, and education could perform their jobs more effectively with an increased understanding of the people they serve.
Recognition of Current Beliefs
The current political climate of the United States is showing one of the largest bipartisan splits in history. Many people, especially politicians, hold deep-set beliefs and are unwilling to compromise to work with or for people they disagree with. A more thorough understanding of the personal beliefs that a public servant holds—as well as recognition of the reasoning that create those assumptions—can help public servants make impartial decisions. If public servants can recognize and understand their own mindset, they can set aside their personal convictions to work for the overall good of society.
Many psychedelics help individuals reflect on their beliefs, but MDMA may offer particular benefits for pre-service therapy. MDMA works by increasing the function of the vmPFC and reducing the function of the amygdala. The vmPFC is responsible for the regulation of social emotions such as guilt, empathy, and envy. It is also responsible for value-assessment and can affect your ability to make decisions based on long-term satisfaction. Alternatively, the amygdala is responsible for primal emotions such as anger and fear. This combination allows patients on MDMA to face aspects of themselves they may otherwise try to avoid, ignore, or deny due to shame or fear. During MDMA therapy, a public servant could thoroughly explore their belief system in order to gain a deeper understanding of the forces driving them. The self-awareness they gain can help them be fair and impartial during their service.
Inoculation Against Stress and Depression
While ego-dissolution and increased self-awareness would benefit the people public servants serve, psychedelic therapy can also be in the best interest of the public servants themselves.Simply put, public service is stressful. Because of the responsibility to the public, many public service offices are rife with anger, frustration, lies, and broken promises, which creates stress, anxiety, and depression. Law enforcement officers and emergency responders face particularly high levels of stress.
While psychedelic therapy is currently seen as a way to process stressful events that have already happened, it could also potentially improve an individual’s overall mood, making them more capable of handling stressful situations in healthy ways. Studies have shown that psychedelic use is correlated with reduced suicidal ideation, as well as reduced stress and anxiety. Although the specifics of this correlation are unclear, the subtle shifts in thinking caused by psychedelics may inoculate individuals against negative stress reactions, making psychedelic therapy a helpful way to protect public servants before they enter their field.
We definitely are not ready to require all public servants to sign up for psychedelic therapy before they begin work. Before we could institute pre-service psychedelic therapy, research would need to be conducted to figure out the best course of therapy for public servants. Experts would need to determine the best psychedelic catalyst to use for public officials and each position would need to be evaluated to determine whether psychedelic therapy would be helpful or necessary. But as we go forward, we must continue to think about psychedelic therapy in creative ways. By asking questions and posing different scenarios—such as imagining the preventative properties and self-growth potential of psychedelics instead of focusing on just their curative properties—we will be able to get the most out of these powerful psychedelic substances.