Understanding Psychedelics Online

In a study inspired by a socio-cognitive approach, we analyzed 689 threads and 4,823 posts from an online psychedelic drug discussion forum to understand how understandings of psychedelics are constructed by forum users. Specifically, we looked at how values, beliefs and assumptions related to psychedelics are reflected in the language that is used in the discussions.

Our analysis revealed that psychedelics online are viewed as having both therapeutic and recreational purposes. The spiritual discourse primarily emphasizes the use of psychoactive plants, fungi and entheogens (DMT, Salvia, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms) for spiritual exploration and often occurs in ceremonial settings. The insights obtained from the psychedelic experience are perceived as sacred knowledge or mystical abilities passed on by a divine spirit or intelligent entity. In contrast, the scientific discourse focuses on the ability of psychedelics to enhance one’s cognitive abilities and provide a deeper understanding of the world around them.

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A common belief is that psychedelics have the potential to help people overcome depression, PTSD, anxiety and addiction by forcing them to examine their underlying mental patterns and beliefs (Hendricks, 2018). In addition, they have the potential to generate a feeling of connectedness with others and the universe.

Moreover, the performance discourse describes the use of psychedelics to improve creativity, work or social performance. This is achieved by micro-dosing and is based on an ideology that values performance and productivity. We also found that a number of forum users have a hedonistic approach to psychedelic drugs, where they are used purely for pleasure or altered sensory perception.

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