PhD Defence: Soldiers, Shamans, and Supermarket Brands – A criminological investigation into psychedelic drug use


On 14 June Richard Alexander will defend his thesis Soldiers, Shamans, and Supermarket Brands – A criminological investigation into psychedelic drug use. While there is a renewed interest in the clinical application of psychedelic drugs, their wide use outside of regulated clinical settings remains scientifically uncharted territory. Through case studies of different subcultures, this research aims to shed light on unregulated, non-clinical psychedelic drug use, to help develop socio-cultural and criminological understandings of their place in society.

The early 21st century has brought forth a renewed scientific interest in the clinical application of psychedelic drugs. As this so called ‘psychedelic renaissance’ continues to generate a wealth of psychotherapeutic research and scholarship, scientific discussions around the drugs remain fixated upon medical specifics and neurobiological contexts.

This one dimensional discourse contributes to an epistemological closure as psychedelics are continuously framed within the rigid medicalized jargon of clinically regulated research. In contrast, the small scale, clinical research population that has participated in ‘renaissance’ studies pales in comparison to the number of users ingesting psychedelic drugs outside of regulated clinical settings.

Acknowledging the narrow scope of the dominate psychotherapeutic discourse this thesis expands the scientific discussion by identifying and examining three prominent contexts of unregulated, non-clinical psychedelic drug use: 1) the individual psychedelic drug use of military veterans; 2) the touristic consumption of ayahuasca ‘shamanism’ in Amazonian Peru; and 3) the operation of psychedelic retreat companies within the ‘spiritual supermarket’ realm.

Using qualitative ethnographic methods across three distinct case studies corresponding to these contexts, this thesis demonstrates how psychedelic drug use constitutes a narrative vehicle for identity performance, neo-colonialism, New Age salvation, and corporate commodification.

Future research should therefore move beyond the existing confines of clinical, psychotherapeutic discourse to develop critical socio-cultural (and criminological) understandings of the future societal trajectory of psychedelic drugs and their use.

Start date and time
End date and time
University Hall (Domplein 29, Utrecht) and online
PhD candidate
R.G. Alexander
Soldiers, Shamans, and Supermarket Brands: A criminological investigation into psychedelic drug use
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. dr. D. Siegel
Prof. dr. C. Chatwin
dr. D. Zaitch