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To Prevent Corruption, Psychedelics Researchers Call for Ethics Guidelines

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To Prevent Corruption, Psychedelics Researchers Call for Ethics Guidelines

In the late 1980s, the number of research papers in psychedelic science numbered less than two dozen annually. Last year saw over 600 published, following on breakthrough preliminary studies from Johns Hopkins, NYU, and Imperial College London. 

But along with the revival of interest in the potential of psychedelics to treat depression, end-of-life anxiety, anorexia, addiction and other conditions has come temptations and corrupting influences, according to Rotem Petranker of the University of Toronto Psychedelic Studies Research Program. 

In an opinion article, “Psychedelic Research and the Need for Transparency: Polishing Alice’s Looking Glass,” to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology, Petranker and his co-authors speak of “offers of money with ambiguity around the strings attached” and “offers of illegally cultivated or synthesized substances to help speed our research along.” 

In their paper they propose specific remedies: Pre-registration of experimental design; a commitment to open data and open science; a commitment to replication of data; and a “Constraints on Generality” section for each paper, which details potentially limiting criteria that characterize a study. The paper includes a checklist to guide scientists through the ethical implementation of each suggestion.

In 2017 a similar effort was undertaken by Bob Jesse, former Oracle VP of Business Development. Jesse’s  “Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis” was cosigned by many of the field’s top researchers and institutions, including Robin Carhart-Harris, the Beckley Foundation, and Paul Stamets. 

Petranker lauds this effort but felt an additional initiative was necessary.  “While [Jesse’s] statement was directed generally at the psychedelics space, we tried to focus on specific guidelines for scientists.” The paper does not advocate for a self-regulatory body to oversee this research, but instead seeks to influence researchers and research institutions in the field going forward. “We hope that funding agencies, donors, and charities will adopt our suggested checklist or parts thereof as requirements for obtaining funding,” he adds.

Petranker’s efforts are in sync with a broader movement  to create greater transparency within the field of research dissemination, such as PLOS’s Published Peer Review option. 

Amy Emerson, CEO of MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, is also a signatory of the Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis. She notes MAPS’s early commitment to data sharing and transparency, while observing that all FDA clinical trials are required to post their data publicly on She praises the checklist developed by Petranker and his co-authors, even as she distinguishes MAPS’s role as drug developers from Petranker’s focus on academic papers. 

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But Emerson acknowledges the challenges the field will face in balancing open science ideals with business pressures, including for mission-centered companies. “There has to be some amount of profit, right?” she recognizes. “We don’t know what that looks like yet, but [at MAPS Public Benefit Corporation] we are just starting to enter into that phase of drug development, looking at what our commercial plan would be.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated when “The Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis” was published. The correct year is 2017.

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