Flashbacks: Media representations of illicit hallucinogenic substance use in medical therapies before and after marijuana decriminalization

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2015-05

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Abstract

This paper adopts a social constructionist theoretical framework in examining media representations of medicinal psychedelics before and after the decriminalization, and subsequent legalization, of medical marijuana. The rise, fall, and rise again of schedule I substance use in psychiatric therapy is an ideal topic to use in discussing the role of public arenas, moral panics, and claims-making in regards to the construction-and deconstruction-of a social problem. Using marijuana legislation as both an exemplar of the normalization of a once deviant substance, and an agent of change in rhetoric about other drugs such as MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms, this study analyzes twenty-four years of newspaper articles concerning medical uses for these drugs. After reviewing previous literature on medical and media reports from the inception of psychedelic research in the 1960’s, this paper analyzes more recent coverage of psychotropic drugs in clinical settings to see how overarching themes in media have evolved. Using six of the ten most widely circulated national newspapers in the US, this content analysis finds that while general coverage on illicit substances has not necessarily increased, the focus on therapeutic uses for hallucinogenic drugs has both 1) been substantially heightened since the medicalization of marijuana and 2) been reported with greater overall tones of support or acceptance. In the years to come, longitudinal studies on attitudes towards psychedelic prohibition would aid in allowing us to understand the full cycle of construction and deconstruction of a social problem and integration of once deviant substances into normative use.

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Keywords

Hallucinogens, Marijuana, Medical, Therapy, Claims, Media

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