Repositioning Psychedelics in the Public Mind

Brad Burge, Arianne Cohen, and Lakshmi Narayan



Abstract: Psychedelics are being repositioned in the public mind. Unprecedented media coverage of breakthrough results and Psychedelic Science 2013 itself signal an increased public openness to the scientific, therapeutic, and spiritual uses of psychedelics. Instead of things to be feared and outlawed, they are being redefined as valuable scientific tools and, increasingly, as legitimate medicines and tools for the evolution of intelligence and consciousness. Drawing on our education and professional experiences in three different areas—media relations, graphic design, and journalism—we will explore the following questions:


  • How have psychedelics historically been represented in the media? How are they represented now?
  • Which metaphors are most effective for communicating about psychedelics with a fearful or skeptical public?
  • Are journalists pressured to sensationalize or distort research results? What makes for a good story about psychedelics?
  • How does visual design contribute to public understandings of psychedelics?
  • How can you best discuss psychedelics with the media and public? What traps should you avoid?


This conversation will provide useful tools for anyone who talks about psychedelics in their professional or personal life—whether in the lab, on the news, or at the dinner table.

Brad Burge is Director of Communications for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He earned his B.A. in Communication and Psychology from Stanford University in 2005 and his M.A. in Communication from the University of California, San Diego in 2009. His graduate work focused on the political, scientific, and cultural changes required to make illicit drugs into legitimate medicines. In 2009, he presented his work on the history of the distinction between the recreational and medical use of drugs at the Critical Legal Studies conference at the University of Leicester in the UK. He has also interned for the Drug Policy Alliance and has a longstanding interest in drug policy reform and activism. He began working with MAPS as an intern in 2009, joining the staff in January 2011. Brad believes in the importance of communication for helping people develop honest and responsible relationships with themselves, each other, and their pharmacological tools. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Arianne Cohen is a writer, artist and journalist whose work on smart and boundary-pushing topics appears regularly in publications around the globe, including The New York Times, Elle, The Guardian, Vogue, Marie Claire, and many others. She is the author of The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From On High, a narrative compendium of all things tall, as well as British, Italian and US editions of The Sex Diaries Project: What We're Saying About What We're Doing, a look behind bedroom doors around the globe (

Lakshmi Narayan came to the USA from India in 1982 to pursue a Masters degree in Visual Communication at the University of Illinois. She currently lives in Santa Cruz, California, and has spent the last three decades helping companies large and small to identify, articulate, and enhance their presence in the marketplace through design of their brand and web and print materials. She believes in the power of word, image, and media as a force in conditioning culture, from Stone Age drawings on a cave wall to our present day plethora of communication tools and channels. The company she founded, Awake Media, is dedicated to using media to raise the collective consciousness.


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