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Research abuses against people of colour and other vulnerable groups in early psychedelic research
  1. Dana Strauss1,
  2. Sara de la Salle1,
  3. Jordan Sloshower2,3,
  4. Monnica T Williams1
  1. 1 Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  3. 3 Psychiatry, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, West Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Ms Dana Strauss, Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada; dana.strauss{at}


There is a growing resurgence in the study of psychedelic medicines for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. However, certain early investigations are marred by questionable research methods, abuses against research participants, and covert Central Intelligence Agency financial involvement. The purpose of this study was to understand how and to what extent people of colour and other vulnerable populations, specifically, individuals who were incarcerated or incapacitated due to mental health issues (inpatients with psychotic disorders), were exploited during the first wave of psychedelic research in the USA (1950–1980). To do so, we reviewed available empirical publications according to current ethical standards. Variables of interest included race and ethnicity of participants, population vulnerability, drug administration conditions, informed consent and undue influence. Our findings draw attention to the history of research abuses against people of colour in Western psychedelic research. In light of these findings, we urge a call-to-action to current psychedelic researchers to prioritise culturally inclusive and socially responsible research methods in current and future studies.

  • research ethics
  • minorities
  • psychology
  • research on special populations

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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  • Contributors MTW designed the study and oversaw its completion by providing mentorship and manuscript revisions. DS and SdlS reviewed the literature, analysed the data and prepared the manuscript. JS contributed to the data analysis and provided manuscript revisions.

  • Funding This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs Program and the University of Ottawa.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.