Silicon Valley thought experiments can spark lively conversations, but acceptable scientific research standards have a voice, too. Dr. Charles Grob, the author of Hallucinogens: A Reader, is skeptical about an "entertainment pill" becoming a mainstream product anytime soon. After decades studying the effects of substances like ayahuasca, MDMA, and psilocybin, the UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science has a deeper understanding of psychedelic drugs than the starry-eyed enthusiasts envisioning "pharmacological" forms of entertainment.
As he tells me over the phone, he was in college in the late '60s when these mind-altering drugs broke through into American youth culture. It wasn't like a quiet afternoon of binge-watching.
"I may be missing something here," he says when I explain Hastings' comments to him. "I've been doing this for decades, including at a time when it was virtually unheard of that this research was being done. So, I'm way out there. But on the other hand, I've gotten older and I've become a bit more conservative and cautious in my outlook."
He has reason to be: As Michael Pollan chronicled in a revelatory 2015 New Yorker article about psychedelic research, an "exuberance about psychedelics" during the 1960s created a political backlash that made it nearly impossible to conduct legal research that might assist patients with cancer, depression, PTSD, alcoholism, and other conditions. The signing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 by President Nixon made the use of psychedelics by medical professionals even more difficult. Twenty years later, Dr. Grob, along with colleagues at Johns Hopkins, NYU, and the University of New Mexico, brought these substances out of the shadows, one test at a time.