Drugs Education, The Media & The Nocebo Effect

Where the placebo effect refers to a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition that results from a simulated medical intervention, the nocebo effect refers to the opposite.

The nocebo effect shows us that, even when no real drug or cause for harm is present, negative beliefs and expectations can lead to negative physiological, behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive consequences. It demonstrates the very real effects of conditioning and negative suggestions.

The general consensus amongst clinical psychologists is that psychedelic drugs can cause damage when the user undergoes an extremely emotionally negative or traumatic experience as a result of them.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that the dominant discourses around psychedelics in the both drugs education and the mass-media condition individuals to have negative experiences whilst using them where they otherwise might not.

Both the mass media and the prevailing approaches to drugs education emphasise the risks of using the substances and the potential, worst-case scenario, negative consequences. Consequently, users (especially first-time users) are primed to expect negative emotions, to be preoccupied with fears, anxieties and doubts. A self-fulfilling prophecy is set in place: the individual user suffers as a result.

This effect is made especially strong by the unique effects psychedelics have on the minds of many users: making them more sensitive and vulnerable to such negative influences. Seasoned users know the value of a ‘bad trip’, working through such experiences can often be a highly profitable exercise, they can teach you a great deal about yourself: media hysteria has people believing these fleeting emotional experiences are the beginning of the end, that they are en route to the permanent loss of their sanity. According to ‘Acid Dreams, The Complete Social History of LSD’ (download for free at library.nu) the number of ‘bad trips’ recorded by researchers increased during the anti-LSD political-media maelstrom of 60s & 70s America.

Good trips aren’t newsworthy, only the bad experiences and consequences associated with psychedelics ever make it to mainstream journalism. At the Breaking Convention earlier in the year I happened to meet some of the script writers for one of the UK’s leading soap-operas ‘Hollyoaks’: they told me that Channel 4 have a policy whereby any story involving drugs cannot have a happy ending: it occurred to me that I have never seen a story on mainstream British television, fictional or otherwise, that involves psychedelics having a positive effect on some one. Presumable other media outlets have similar policies. Such policies equate to a grotesque censorship of an important truth: many psychedelic users feel their experiences were good for them, caused positive transformations and showed them important insights.

The combined effort of the government and the mass-media can be viewed as a form of propaganda and mind-control. Psychedelics have political implications: they know it, that’s why they try to suppress them.

The battle sometimes seems unwinnable when we look at the size and power of the organisations that work against us: but we have an invincible ally, the truth. The truth will persist despite all efforts to cover it up: the truth will continue to show itself through open-minded personal experiences of psychedelics and through the hard work of academics and scientists around the world.

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