Erik Davis reports on the latest in psychedelic research

Erik Davis says: I recently published my first column for Aeon Magazine's online site, a "post-secular" take on the current wave of psychedelic research. Without plunging into woo, the article attempts to chart the liminal zones that lie beyond brain-based reductionism. It seemed a good piece for Aeon, a new British outfit that is charting a very interesting zone between science, religion, culture, and good writing.

Studies recently carried out at Yale, and published last month in the journal Science, have confirmed earlier reports that ketamine offers remarkable, nearly instantaneous relief for people who suffer from forms of major depression impervious to other treatment methods. Interpreting depression as a hardware problem largely caused by the loss of synaptic connections, the researchers argue that ketamine works by encouraging sprightly neural growth in brain regions correlated with memory and mood. Journalistic reports also linked this research with the development of a new vein of antidepressants, including Naurex’s GLYX-13, that have the neurone-fertilising power of ketamine without, as one report describes them, the ‘schizophrenia-like effects’.

Rarely has the new neuro-reductionism been so naked in its repackaging of human experience. Nowhere in the research or the journalism does anyone suggest that heavily depressed people feel better because ketamine sends them on a first-person voyage through profound, sometimes ecstatic, and certainly mind-bending modes of transpersonal consciousness whose subjective power might itself boot the mind out of its most mirthless ruts.

Return trip: A new generation of researchers is heading into the weird world of psychedelic drugs. It could change their minds