Standards Without Labs: Drug Development in the Psychedelic Underground

John Bailey, Joanna Kempner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Standards are useful in the development of medicine because they enable communication and consistency in experimentation. Standards, however, often require expensive tools like laboratories and clinical trials. How, then, might citizen scientists develop standards given the difficulty of obtaining these tools? This article provides one answer, by describing how Clusterbusters, a non-profit organization that represents an online network of people with cluster headache, developed a standardized protocol for using psychedelic mushrooms as a treatment for their disease without the assistance of laboratory equipment or institutional scientific support. In a multi-sited, digital ethnographic investigation of Clusterbusters, we find they used multiple strategies to standardize their experiments. Clusterbusters consumed their medicine in the form of homegrown psilocybe mushrooms because they lacked access to pharmaceutical-grade psilocybin. A dose of a mushroom cannot be standardized as easily as an isolated chemical, yet each individual experimenter needed to understand how much psychedelic they were about to consume. They solved their problem by developing an “embodied standard” for dosage that combined both the weight of the dried mushroom and the subjective experience the dosage produced. This hybrid measure enabled Clusterbusters to develop a collective phenomenological understanding of a standard dosage. Our discussion highlights how the pragmatic goals of knowledge production of citizen science differ from the institutionalized scientists' need to legitimate their findings with academic journals, peers, and regulatory agencies. This insight may be useful not only for those who study citizen science, but also those who work with institutionalized protocols in other domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number41
JournalCitizen Science: Theory and Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Citizen science
  • drug development
  • pharmaceuticals
  • psilocybin
  • psychedelics
  • standardization


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