Psilocybin is a chemical compound that has received a lot of attention from medical researchers in recent years (Daniel and Haberman) (Johns Hopkins). However, this research is not merely a medical issue but a social and political one as well. In the 1960s, psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds were widely ingested outside of clinical settings (Johnson et al.). This alarmed some of the American public, resulting in severe legal restrictions on psilocybin use and research (Pollan 217).
Today, many psilocybin advocates hope that it will avoid the negative public sentiment of the 1960s (Haberman). To help gauge public sentiment about other psychoactive compounds, some studies have examined newspaper coverage (McGinty et al.) (Zhang et al.), but there seems to be no similar published work yet on psilocybin. Building on these previous studies, I read and analyzed every article mentioning psilocybin from four regional American newspapers between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 2019. Three main issues were examined: 1) Has sentiment (positive or negative) about psilocybin changed? 2) Has the number of articles mentioning psilocybin changed? 3) Has there been a change in the use of different terms for psilocybin?
My study found that sentiment in these four newspapers fluctuated throughout the 31-year period, and a recent significant rise in positivity was only seen in one newspaper. The number of articles mentioning psilocybin significantly increased in just one newspaper. The only term for psilocybin that saw a decrease in use was “hallucinogenic mushrooms.” These results could be a warning to psilocybin advocates about the risk of negative social and political sentiment eventually growing again, though this is not conclusive. More investigation of this issue is recommended.
1. Daniel, Jeremy and Haberman, Margaret. “Clinical potential of psilocybin as a treatment for mental health conditions.” Ment Health Clin, vol. 7, issue 1, Jan 2017, 24-28.
2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020, https://hopkinspsychedelic.org/index/#research. Accessed 21 Aug. 2020.
3. Johnson, Matthew et al. “The Abuse Potential of Medical Psilocybin According to the 8 Factors of the Controlled Substances Act.” Neuropharmacology, vol. 142, Nov. 2018, 143-166.
4. Pollan, Michael. How to Change Your Mind. Penguin Press, 2018.
5. Haberman, Clyde. “LSD-Like Drugs Are Out of the Haze and Back in the Labs.” New York Times, 16 May 2016.
6. McGinty et al. ” Criminal Activity or Treatable Health Condition? News Media Framing of Opioid Analgesic Abuse in the United States, 1998–2012.” Psychiatric Services, vol. 67, issue 4, April 2016.
7. Zhang et al. “Analysis of print news media framing of ketamine treatment in the United States and Canada from 2000 to 2015.” PLOS One, 3 March 2017.