A brave new world: psychedelics and society
Just like the hippies of old could never have imagined the sorts of discoveries that would come out of cannabis legalization, the emergence of psychedelic therapy will impact our society in ways we cannot imagine.
Matter of fact, it will be shaped solely by our imaginations, if we’re doing right by it. For there’s no question that in some way, shape or form, psychedelics will end up back in the toolkit of mental health. After all, when 2/3rds of a study cohort say that taking mushrooms in a Johns Hopkins laboratory ranks as one of the top five most significant experiences in their lives — AND it’s backed up by feelings of overall well-being reported months afterwards — the rest of the world is eventually going to want in. So now it’s time to ask — do we want psychedelics to change society, or society to change psychedelics?
Right now, the biotech players are essentially working towards the latter. Forget Timothy Leary, the ‘60s and the counterculture, because, they argue, we’re looking at some horrifying mass statistics: 320 million people suffering from depression worldwide, 16.8 US veterans killing themselves a day over PTSD, and nothing to give these people outside of benzos and SSRIs. Most of these people don’t want to drop out; they just want to get well, and go back to living their lives as they always have, just a little bit better.
However, it’s also possible that a lifestyle disconnected to nature and yoked to technology and spectacle plays a major part in the anxiety and depression people face. And psychedelics help reconnect us with that vital component of our mental health. A 2019 Imperial College study found that lifetime psychedelic use was positively correlated with what the researchers called “nature relatedness,” and that “nature relatedness” in turn was also correlated with heightened well-being. This form of environmental consciousness, where people feel they are truly a part of nature, definitely has political overtones. It’s one of the reasons why Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of the British eco-activist group Extinction Rebellion, declared her support of environmentally-oriented psychedelic use as a form of civil disobedience. So there’s still a revolution to be found in psychedelics if that’s what you’re into as well.
But just like cannabis, it’s shaping up to be a very, very big tent. From that, real bonds have to be formed, because community is where the healing both begins and ends. That is where Medicine Box comes in.
Who speaks for psychedelics?
Just last month, we asked this question for cannabis. But you could just as easily ask it now of psychedelics. Just like in cannabis, there’s conferences a-plenty, from Queering Psychedelics to Breaking Convention and Psychedelic Science to Meet Delic in Los Angeles and Psychedelic Liberty Summit. Amongst them, you’ll find some interesting names, from millionaire iconoclast podcasters like Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss to OG researchers like Rick Dobin and even some cannabis vets like Troy Dayton, Dana Beal and Sean McAllister. And of course, there’s the investor class as well, most notably Peter Thiel and Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary.
What worries me the most are the amount of psychedelically-naive people who are all of a sudden jockeying for position to bring this to the masses. Outside of the psychonaut community, most people are still pretty gun-shy when it comes to this treatment. Last year, the Global Drug Survey found that of those psychedelically-naive drug users who were asked if they would avail themselves of psychedelic therapy were it legal, only 18% said yes. When asked why, they mentioned worries about brain damage and bad trips. When you’ve got people onboard who are still themselves struggling with their own hangups about the medicine they’re getting behind, it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Can’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
And just like weed, a stigma that has taken hold after years of propaganda (Wikipedia has a list of a few you’ve definitely heard in your DARE classes, along with their debunking) needs to fade before that happens. Some are attempting to take the trip out of the psychedelic experience altogether, and while the jury is out on whether a near-beer approach will be fruitful, it has certainly not been necessary to gain the results it’s won for itself so far. But what matters most to me is a dismantling of the pharmaceutical approach. While it creates customers, it simply does not prioritize healing, especially on the long-term holistic level all good healing requires, and it doesn’t come cheap. We need both for the new paradigm.
The integration phase
My mentor Michael Hollister often spoke to me about the Systemic Edge — the self-preservation instinct large institutions exhibit in the face of change. Anyone who’s ever dived into the mind-control experiments the CIA conducted with LSD in the ‘50s knows that control of psychedelic experiences have been crucial to this project. And we’ve certainly seen abuse in the underground with these tools as well, from Charles Manson all the way to fraud and assault down in South America.
So while saying this may not make me too popular at parties, I don’t think these substances should be made available at the local 7-11. Recently at the Canadian cannabis conference Lift & Co. Expo, MAPS’s executive director Mark Haden declared that “cannabis is a product and psychedelics are a service.” I’d like to add that ALL healing is a service, whether with mushrooms, psilocybin or maca root, and as I’m always saying here, cannabis and herbal medicine in general means nothing without the proper lifestyle to lock those advances in place. My own sobriety is reinforced by weekly 12-step meetings; without them, I probably wouldn’t be able to hold myself to my commitments. Healing is a lifelong commitment; from post-trip integration to community reinforcement, the emphasis of holistic process is what I hope we eventually see emerge from psychedelic therapy most of all. And that is what truly connects Medicine Box to the psychedelic movement — the process of healing transformation, midwifed by community and nature. The plants have a lot to teach us, and a whole new language of healing is waiting to be built. Anyone can potentially have a transcendent experience, but it is up to US to create the clinics, the healing centers and the culture that bolster these epiphanies. It is no different for us in the larger wellness community as it is for the psychedelic movement. That is the environment and those are the life lessons Medicine Box has committed itself to fostering. So #thankyouplantmedicine. You’re a real life-saver, and whatever we make from here on out, we will do our best to honor that.