In this episode, David interviews Alex Belser, Ph.D.: clinical scientist; author; licensed psychologist; Co-Investigator for a psilocybin and OCD study at Yale University; and co-creator of the EMBARK approach, a new model of psychedelic-assisted therapy that focuses on six clinical domains that typically arise during psychedelic experiences.
Belser talks about the concurrent emergence of the psychedelic and queer communities; the need to research the effects of transphobia and homophobia in psychedelic work (as well as the internalized phobias often realized during an experience); why it’s more important than ever to talk about the psychedelic space’s dark past with conversion therapy; why the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire needs to be updated; the idea of queer people being boundary walkers; recreating the Good Friday Experiment, the immense importance of long-form interviews and other forms of qualitative research, the power of love and community, and the question: how does anyone not want to change after a powerful psychedelic experience?
“When we talk about MK-Ultra and we talk about the abuses of boundary transgressions and sexual transgressions, we also need to be talking about how psychedelics have been used to harm people through conversion therapy and how they have repeatedly been used in this way. If we don’t look to our past and what’s happening currently, then I don’t think we’re ever going to have a truly integral reckoning with how we carry these medicines in ethical ways.”
“I spoke with an Orthodox Priest who said, ‘Before, I used to give sermons to my congregation and I would talk about God’s justice: the justice of the lord.’ And now, after taking psychedelics (he had a really powerful experience), he says, ‘All I want to talk about is God’s love.’”
“[The EMBARK model is] open architecture. It’s multidimensional, but it allows for the therapist to bring in their existing skill sets, and it allows for a patient-centered approach to what might actually emerge or arise, because I don’t think there’s one path for psychedelic healing. What we see are multiple trajectories, and we needed to build a comprehensive theoretical framework for psychotherapy that allows for different expressions of that for different people.”
“I don’t think psychedelics are a panacea or cure-all, but I think that they help us experiment with different ways of being together, and it doesn’t have to be one way. That’s what I’ve learned; it really does not have to be one way, and it does not have to be the old way.”
In this episode, Joe interviews Priyanka Wali, MD: board-certified practicing physician in Internal Medicine, MAPS-trained psychedelic facilitator, comedian, and co-host (with Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace” fame) of the HypochondriActor podcast, where they discuss interesting medical issues in a funny (and hopefully uplifting) way.
She talks about recognizing and protecting the humanity of healthcare professionals, and how medical school is creating a cycle of hurt people trying to help other hurt people. She believes we need to become more holistic, especially in embracing Indigenous ways of thinking, as their frameworks may be the only way to explain phenomena with which Western science can’t yet come to terms.
They talk a lot about ancient psychedelic use: the use of a soma described in the Rigveda; Egyptian culture and mushrooms observed in statues; Plato; the work of Brian Muraresku and Graham Hancock; and Vedic chants, Kashmiri Bhajans, and how singing (especially in a group) can be especially healing to the nervous system. And as Wali experienced first-hand the Kashmiri Pandit genocide of 1990, she discusses how much colonialism has changed cultures, and how much our cycles of oppression relate to our collective inability to experience pain and fear.
They discuss the psychological impact of living through major catastrophes; the special and hard-to-describe feeling of returning to your home (especially in a world changed by colonization and constant conflict); the sad case of Ignaz Semmelweis and hand washing; ghosts of Japan’s 2011 tsunami, the concept of ‘future primitive,’ and more.
“We’re only thinking about it from a certain perspective. And this is where you think about principles of colonization come in: looking at things only from one perspective. If you start to bring in Indigenous systems [and] Indigenous ways of looking at data, then suddenly, we do actually have ways to account for these other phenomenon that can’t be objectively tabulated.”
“In traditional Kashmiri culture, it was routine to gather together and sing together. We humans: we’re supposed to gather around the fire and dance and chant. There’s actually something very healing for our bodies. And let’s not forget how our nervous systems regulate with each other, so being physically together as a group, as a collective, singing, using our bodies: it’s actually very healing for the nervous system. We need more of that.”
“I think the next shift in consciousness is recognizing that we experience fear as part of the human experience, but we can choose not to give into it. We can be with it, we can allow it to be there, we can even honor it, but we don’t have to act on it. And we can, instead, choose the path of peace or love, or not even choose those paths, but just choose not to do anything with the fear; choose not to oppress someone, judge someone, lash it out, [or] numb it. …Unless we, in the present day, begin to start being with our fear, we will continue to perpetuate these cycles of oppression.”
In this episode, on the eve of Bicycle Day, Victoria and Kyle interview two long-standing icons of visionary psychedelic art: Alex and Allyson Grey.
They talk about the LSD trip that saved Alex’s life, connected him to Allyson, inspired his art, and even made him change his name; his decades-in-the-making “Sacred Mirrors” project of 21 7-foot tall pieces depicting the complex layers of human existence; the interconnectedness of life; the history of psychedelic art; how imagination and non-ordinary states help us connect with the divine; and the value of art in conveying the mystical experience.
Alex and Allyson are the Co-Founders of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, an interspiritual church/retreat center in upstate New York that, after years of work, is debuting Entheon: an art sanctuary and psychedelic reliquary featuring much of their art and work from favorite artists, a shrine to Tool (who Alex has worked with for most of their career), and a collection of relics from psychedelic legends that includes Albert Hofmann’s glasses, art signed by Stan Grof and the Shulgins, and even Timothy Leary’s ashes. Entheon opens on June 3, on the anniversary of the first acid trip the Greys took together, which gave them a framework for understanding life and an inspiration for art they still follow to this day.
And in honor of Bicycle Day, Alex talks about two pieces dedicated to Albert Hofmann, and continues his Bicycle Day tradition of reading a statement Hofmann made a year before he passed about psychedelics being the “absolute highest importance to consciousness change.” In celebration of Albert Hofmann and the gift he gave us, and with inspiration from the incredibly complex and beautiful art Alex and Allyson create, have a happy, safe, and creative Bicycle Day!
“I hadn’t had any insight that would prove to me any kind of spiritual reality was really there, even though I was making art. And I think from my perspective now: hey, if you’re being creative, you’re evidence. The creative spirit is what birthed the universe, and you’re an expression here and now of it. You’re evolving on that wavefront of reality that is binding time together and our beings together.” -Alex “We could see the vast vista of fountains and drains of everyone, and every being and thing in the universe was interconnected and made of light, and in that, I think we felt connected rather than disconnected. We felt like we were individual and independent, but also interconnected with all beings and things. [It] makes you feel like there’s some importance to yourself, that you really are necessary in the web of the eternal.” -Allyson “You’re making love with the divine in the mystical experience, in the divine imagination. That’s where the small self meets the larger self and becomes no self. So I think that the mystical experience is the cornerstone of the sacred traditions, and the artistic sacred traditions as well.” -Alex
“It took me right outside of my miserable psychodrama self and immediately, I got a psychic swirlie to show me the way. So that was a confirmation, and all my prayers basically were answered in that, and I got to meet the love of my life, really, because of it. So we’re very thankful, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve always loved celebrating Bicycle Day.” -Alex
In this episode, Joe interviews Graham Hancock: legendary bestselling author and writer and presenter of the new Netflix docuseries, “Ancient Apocalypse,” where he travels the world looking for evidence of lost civilizations likely much more advanced than historians previously believed.
Hancock talks about his early books and how ayahuasca influenced his writing; the similarities in cave art and the common link of altered states of consciousness; how integral these states likely were toward the creation of early religion (especially Christianity); how much the annihilation of religious traditions has hidden history; why his and Rupert Sheldrake’s Tedx talks were originally taken offline; new understandings of Neanderthals’ intelligence and creativity; the Quetzalcóatl; and the concept of the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis: could there have been an advanced civilization 12,800 years ago that we’re just starting to comprehend? Could it have been Atlantis?
He discusses the conflict with mystery and archaeology’s obsession with scientism and materialist reductionism – that we keep trying to force everything into little boxes of approved science and have lost our imaginations and openness to possibility, especially when you realize how often narratives are built based on interpretations of data rather than facts (since the farther back we go, evidence becomes harder to come by). He believes science needs humility, a willingness to listen to Indigenous history, and a much more open mind when it comes to altered states of consciousness: “I’m convinced we’re missing something important from our past, and if we don’t look for it, we won’t find it.
Hancock has just announced that he will be a speaker at UK’s Breaking Convention, April 20 – 22 at the University of Exeter, and some of the PT team will be there too! To save 10% off tickets, use code PSYCHTODAYBC10 at checkout.
“I think there’s a huge amount of genuine mystery in the past, and there’s an attempt by archaeologists to explain away that mystery, …to just drain the past of mystery and to leave nothing there except dry facts (supposed facts) as archaeologists claim, but which, when you dig deep enough, you find are actually interpretations of limited data sets. I don’t know why archaeologists just want the past to be so boring. …Of course there’s a need for rigor and discipline, but there’s also a need for imagination and openness of mind when it comes to interpreting our collective past.”
“Those paintings included the same geometric patterns and the same therianthropic entities construed in slightly different ways, but clearly the same kind of encounter is being documented in the cave art from 30 or 40 thousand years ago and is being documented by shamans in the Amazon rainforest today. And what’s the common factor? The common factor is altered states of consciousness.”
“With extended release DMT, volunteers are going into the DMT state for an hour and they’re making remarkably homogeneous reports about entity encounters and about the space in which they encounter those entities. One reasonable supposition has to be: there are many possibilities for this, but when people from all over the world see the same things [and] have the same encounters in the same sort of space, you have to consider the possibility that that space is real in some way that our science doesn’t recognize.”
“Psychedelics and experiences in altered states of consciousness have actually been foundational and fundamental to human culture, and by pretending that they’re not, as we’ve been doing for the last 50 years, we’re making a huge mistake. We have to change that outlook and welcome and embrace what these gifts of the universe have to give us.”
Psychedelics, once heavily restricted for research, are now being rigorously tested through clinical trials to explore their potential therapeutic benefits. But how are women represented in the search to uncover the efficacy of psychedelic medicines?
While the inclusion of women in psychedelic clinical trials is clearly important – both to understand the effects of these medicines on all genders as well as to develop effective treatments for conditions that primarily affect women – women have historically been underrepresented in clinical trials.
Why has this become the norm? Is it because women aren’t as available as men to participate in studies? Or perhaps women don’t suffer from the illnesses being studied as often as men?
Spoiler: it’s neither.
The Clinical Trial Process – An Overview
The clinical trial process is, largely, a series of research studies that evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, treatments, or medical devices on human subjects. To fit into a pharmaceutical model, a.k.a. develop a drug or treatment protocol that clinicians can prescribe and health insurance will cover, psychedelic medicines must follow the same clinical trial process that all new drugs and treatments undergo.
If it seems like there’s a new clinical trial announced each week – from psilocybin for depression to MDMA for PTSD to LSD for cluster headaches – it’s because these trials are crucial (and non-negotiable) for biotech companies seeking to bring their compounds and modalities to market. These trials aim to prove the effectiveness of a particular compound or method of use, and ultimately secure the holy grail of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Clinical trials are conducted in several phases, each with specific goals:
Phase 1: A small number of healthy volunteers receive the drug or treatment to evaluate its safety and determine the appropriate dosage.
Phase 2: A larger group of volunteers with the condition that the drug or treatment is designed to treat receive the treatment to assess its effectiveness and side effects.
Phase 3: An even larger group of volunteers with the condition receive the treatment in a randomized and controlled study to confirm its effectiveness and monitor side effects.
Phase 4: The drug or treatment is approved and marketed for public use, and ongoing studies continue to monitor its long-term safety and effectiveness.
Throughout the clinical trial process, participants are closely monitored and data is collected to evaluate the drug or treatment’s safety, efficacy, and potential side effects.
Francesca Minale, President of Vici Health Sciences and an expert at working with the FDA to bring new medications through clinical trials to approval, says the lack of gender differentiation in dosing persists despite known differences in disease states by gender.
“There is a lack of incorporation of gender data and generic specific dosing and administration on FDA-approved prescription labels,” said Minale. “This gender bias in the research needs to be addressed, especially as it is well documented that many diseases, such as mental health or heart disease, are recognized to have gender differences.”
Excluding women from early-stage clinical trials led to a vast shortage of data around how today’s drugs affect women – a knowledge gap that scientists are still trying to fill. Even though the NIH now requires women to be included in all clinical research funded by the government agency, there are still many criteria that make it difficult for women to participate in clinical trials.
Women in Psychedelic Clinical Trials
The results of clinical trials play a critical role in informing regulatory decisions about whether to approve new medicines for widespread use. However, in the past, clinical trials often failed to accurately reflect the populations they intended to serve – especially women.
As psychedelic clinical trials seek to determine the safety and efficacy of new psychedelic treatments, it’s imperative we learn from past mistakes. A recent study identified 86 medications approved by the FDA that are more likely to cause complications for women than men.
But yet it’s common practice to prescribe equal doses of medications to men and women – contributing to the overmedication of women and female-biased adverse drug reactions.
In fact, because women were excluded from many pivotal clinical trials, many drugs have been withdrawn from the market or have had their labels changed to include warnings about increased risks for women after they were already approved by the FDA and widely used.
Modern Barriers to Women’s Participation in Clinical Trials
Amy Reichelt, Ph.D.,Director of Neuropharmacology at Cybin explained, “In early-stage clinical trials (i.e., Phase 1) where drugs are tested in healthy volunteers, key inclusion/exclusion criteria can bias genders tested.”
Typical protocol wording includes: “Women of childbearing potential (WOCBP) must be non-lactating and have a negative pregnancy test. Females who are not WOCBP must be either surgically sterile or post-menopausal.” Reichelt said. “This immediately excludes a number of women, particularly when age ranges of trials can have cut-offs of 55-60 years.”
Moreover, it is often written into the trial protocol that a woman of childbearing potential must agree to practice an effective means of birth control/contraception during their participation in the clinical trial, and following the trial for several months. This could impact individuals who are trying to start a family for many months, again discouraging women from participating.
Reichelt pointed out, “Later stage trials (i.e., Phase 2b, Phase 3) can be less restrictive as they are testing in patient populations and initial safety tests are fulfilled in the healthy volunteers in early stage trials, but still there are often requirements for contraceptive use that fall upon the women’s responsibility.”
In addition, body weight restrictions may also prevent women from participating if they are below the protocol threshold i.e., less than 60 kg/132 pounds.
Biological Gender Differences and Why They Matter
The differences between the sexes in circulating levels of sex hormones, such as testosterone and estradiol, can affect pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamic parameters – which help determine how the drug is absorbed, distributed and metabolized in the body, and how the drug affects the body, Reichelt explained.
Body composition can impact how a drug is processed and eliminated from the body, too. “Women typically have a lower body weight than men, so when the same dose of a drug results in a higher level of drug circulating by body weight. As women generally have a greater body fat content than men, some drugs can be distributed through the body differently,” said Reichelt.
This brain phenomena may subtly affect mood and cognition during a woman’s estrous cycle, and could affect clinical outcomes. More studies are needed to fully understand these impacts, especially when it comes to psychedelic medicines which are closely tied to brain plasticity and dendritic spines.
“We don’t yet have a clear understanding of how different biological factors, such as hormonal fluctuations, including menstrual cycle and menopause, may impact the psychedelic experience. However, it does seem that psychedelics may have an impact on menstrual function,” she said.
Gukasyan co-authored a recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs on the impact of psychedelics on menstrual function. While the study looked at only three women ranging from 27 to 34 years of age, the results were significant enough to warrant more research.
“Although phenomena related to menstrual and reproductive function have been largely overlooked in the psychedelic literature to date, these effects may have therapeutic utility and warrant further study,” the study concluded.
Where To Go From Here
In the field of psychedelic medicine, where compounds are being extensively studied scientifically for the first time, the underrepresentation of women in clinical trials could have serious consequences for the safety and efficacy of these treatments. Without data on the experiences of women, it is impossible to accurately assess the potential benefits and risks of these new medicines before bringing them to the masses.
By working to increase the representation of women in clinical trials for psychedelics, we can help to ensure that these treatments are developed in a way that is safe, effective, and equitable for all.
Thankfully, many psychedelic clinical trials are moving forward with this ethos. For example, two-thirds of the participants in the MAPS’ Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of MDMA therapy for the treatment of PTSD were women.
Rick Doblin, the founder of MAPS, said, “When it comes to PTSD, we talk a lot about the veterans, but it’s mostly women who are sexually abused or have childhood traumas that have PTSD. I think that the media attention on veterans sort of distracts people from the understanding that it’s mostly women that we are treating. Two-thirds of the people in the [MAPS] study are women.”
Other groups conducting clinical trials actively seeking women participants include Psycheceutical Bioscience, which has partnered with clinical research organization (CRO) iNGENū in Australia to conduct its Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials of a topical ketamine cream to treat PTSD.
“iNGENū takes gender balance in clinical trials very seriously and the diversity of participants is one of the key metrics we strive to achieve. We naturally want our clinical trials to recruit participants who closely match the intended population who will benefit from the drug when it is eventually approved,” said iNGENū CEO Dr. Sud Agarwal.
While the inclusion of women in psychedelic clinical trials is critical to the success of this new paradigm in medicine, there’s also a whole realm of largely untapped research on the benefits of psychedelics for health conditions experienced only by women.
Felicity Pharma is a psychedelic biotech company focused on women’s health that’s secured a proprietary psilocybin-based drug for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome that affects up to 10 percent of women globally as well as postpartum depression.
Olivia Mannix, Felicity Pharma co-founder and CEO, said “We are passionate about transforming women’s healthcare. Women have been traditionally excluded from clinical trials because of hormonal fluctuations and general biological makeup. We are making a stand to develop female-focused therapeutics, where women will be the only patients used in trials.”
In this episode, Joe interviews artist and photographer, Rupert Alexander Scriven.
Under his brand, Vintage Disco Biscuit, Scriven recently released The Art of Ecstasy: a coffee table book that pairs high definition images of ecstasy tablets he collected over the course of 25 years with interviews and compositions written by himself and a host of other notable names from the 90’s British club scene, documenting the culture and rise of MDMA, while also promoting harm reduction and the work of UK drug charity, The Loop. The book has received some notable high praise, with Dr. Ben Sessa calling it “absolutely fucking awesome.”
Scriven discusses why he started collecting ecstasy tablets and how the book came to be, as well as details behind the photography and writings, which he likes to think of as conversations at an afterparty. And he talks about his days in the club scene and how it was like his church; how MDMA changed culture; UK drug policy; talks with his parents about drugs; differences in the club experience when people are on different substances; and whether or not dancing on MDMA can be the therapy people need. And he asks a question many of us wonder regularly: Why are we, as a culture, so far behind with drug testing?
“It really did change the culture and society as a whole, because at the time, there was ‘Thatcherism’ ([from] Margaret Thatcher, our Prime Minister), and there was a lot of disdain, there was a lot of discomfort. And this was just an outlet for everybody to enjoy themselves, whoever they were. So you could be a street cleaner, you could be an MP, you could be anybody. Everybody came together on a Saturday or Friday night and you just partied.”
“Each of these pills, even though they’re only eight millimeters across, that stamp; it didn’t signify just quality, it signified somebody’s memory of meeting a friend, a loved one, an experience, a time. You can go on any forum and people will go, ‘Oh, can you remember the dove?’ …You can ask them, and they’ll be able to recap a full story or an experience they had just from that one on element.” “A few years ago before the lockdown, [there were] only three festivals that didn’t have The Loop or some form of drug awareness testing charity at them in the UK, and those were the three festivals that there were fatalities. Now that just speaks volumes. It really does.”
In this episode, David interviews published researcher, social entrepreneur, and internationally recognized Indigenous rights activist: Sutton King, MPH.
In New York City alone, 180,000 people identify as Indigenous, Native American, or Alaskan Native, and this community is facing a disproportionate prevalence of mental health disparities, poverty, suicide, and PTSD due to intergenerational trauma from attempted genocide, forced relocation, and the erasure of culture and identity via boarding schools. Her purpose has become to bring light to what Indigenous people are facing due to being forced to live under a reductionist, individualistic Western approach that is in direct opposition to their worldview.
She talks about growing up being instilled with the importance of ancestry and tradition; why she moved to New York; how psychedelics helped her move through the trauma she felt in herself and saw so commonly in her family tree; and capitalism: how we need to move away from our private ownership, profit-maximalist, extractive model into a steward mentality inspired by the Indigenous voices and principles that have been silenced for so long.
“One of the principles that I always was taught is that Indigenous peoples were always taught to be humble and not to be proud and not to be loud. But I have always felt like that was a way to keep us stagnant, to keep us complacent. So I would say I’m definitely a disruptor of this generation.”
“We are dealing with a burden of poverty, we’re dealing with so much chronic morbidity and mortality, as well and our chronic health. There is a number of different issues that we’re facing as Indigenous peoples. However, I’d also like to highlight how resilient we are as well. To be able to survive genocide, forced relocation, boarding school, and the poor socioeconomic status that many of us face [and] our families face, but continue to be a voice for our communities; continue to be on the front lines, advocating for missing and murdered, advocating for the protection of our land and demanding land back – I see a resurgence.”
“When you look at that skyline of that concrete jungle in New York City, I love to remind folks that it was the Mohawk ironworkers who risked their lives on that skyline, to be able to create the world we see around us. The paths that we walk today [and] the rivers that flow have always been used by the Indigenous peoples who came before us.”
“When we think about the economy and this market, it’s not capital that creates economic growth; it’s people. And it’s not this reductionist, individualistic behavior that’s centered at the core of economic good; it’s reciprocity, and being able to make sure that we have a market and an economy that’s inclusive; that’s bringing in all voices, that’s also considering all voices, all of the different parts of the ecosystem – not to silo people, but to bring everyone together, I think, will be the opportunity of a lifetime to really be able to really enact change.”
In this episode, Joe interviews Zach Leary: host of the MAPS podcast, facilitator at Evo Retreats, author, and of course, son of psychedelic legend, Timothy Leary.
Leary was last on the podcast four years ago, so this episode serves as a bit of a check-in and reconnection, and truly goes all over the map. He discusses his relationship with Ram Dass and reconnecting to psychedelics (and himself) after a 13-year spiritually-bankrupt career and not quite understanding his identity outside of his father’s shadow; why the psychedelic facilitation role shouldn’t be standardized; Dave Hodge, Kilindi Iyi, and super high-dose experiences; ancestor work; solo ski trips compared to the Vipassana experience; the ease with which people play Monday Morning Quarterback with the story of his father; floatation tanks and the birth of ketamine; why Ram Dass held a grudge against Dr. Andrew Weil; and critiques of Michael Pollan – how much How to Change Your Mindskipped, how little experience Pollan had before essentially jumpstarting a revolution, and how many people now think they’re ready for a psychedelic experience when they’re likely not.
Leary just recorded with Rick Doblin for the MAPS podcast, he’s finalizing his first book (tentatively titled And Now the Work Begins – Psychedelics in the 21st Century and How to Use Them), and launching an online 8-week course called “Psychedelic Studies Intensive,” which begins February 8. He will also be a guest at our first conference, Convergence (March 30 – April 2).
“I don’t believe that the psychedelic facilitation role or experience should be standardized. There are just so many ways to do it. There’s no one way to do it. Sure, there are some wrong ways to do it, there’s no doubt about that. But it shouldn’t be standardized. It shouldn’t be generic. It shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. It really doesn’t matter to me if somebody has gone through the MAPS training program or CIIS; that doesn’t make them any more qualified than some of the amazing underground visionaries who are doing healing work as well. …No one psychedelic experience is the same. Why should the facilitation experience be the same?”
“It sort of becomes like a catch 22: If you have to ask if you’re ready for psychedelics… I don’t know, maybe you’re not.”
“If you look at every iteration on the war on drugs; every single one, going back to the late nineteenth century criminalization of opium against Chinese immigrants in the bay area, to African Americans [and] cocaine, to [the] Hispanic population and ‘Reefer Madness’ to white, long-haired, anti-authoritarian hippies dropping LSD, African Americans [and] the crack epidemic – every single time (I mean, this list is endless), it always goes back to a war against people [they] don’t like. And once you do that, you create an inherent system of corruption to fuel that, because it’s a civil war. It’s not a war against the drug. It’s a civil war against behavior [and] against consciousness.”
“This isn’t a political issue. It’s a human rights issue. Like it or not, every single society on the face of the Earth since recorded history has used mind and mood-altering chemicals. And that is never going to change, ever.”
In this episode, Joe interviews New York Times best-selling author, pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, and overall legend in the health and wellness space: Andrew Weil, M.D.
As the author of 15 books on health and wellbeing and a regular in the media, you’re probably familiar with Weil and some of his work, but you may not know of his more psychedelic connections: a long history of experimentation, leading Paul Stamets in the direction of functional mushrooms, co-writing one of the first papers about the Sonoran Desert toad and 5-MeO-DMT with Wade Davis, and being a strong advocate for psychedelics being the spark that could spur a global change in consciousness.
He talks about the connection between true osteopathy and integrative medicine; why the traditional Chinese medicine approach to mushrooms made so much sense to him; academia’s lost interest in pharmacognosy; how psychedelics may help people with autoimmune diseases; turmeric (he largely popularized it as an anti-inflammatory supplement); matcha; why we should be studying the placebo effect much more than we are; humanity’s innate drive to experience altered states of consciousness; and why a big part of the psychedelic revolution is so many people starting to believe in panpsychism.
We’re pumped to finally have him on the podcast, and we’re even more excited that he’s spreading the gospel of psychedelics to a health and wellness crowd who may still be a bit apprehensive about something they were taught to fear.
“I’m tremendously interested in [psychedelics’] potential at the moment for therapeutic use and ceremonial use, and actually, if I think about it, I would say I’m really interested in the possibility that they can save the world. I don’t see many other things out there that can do that.”
“I don’t know anything else that is so readily available and that, with at least some attention to how you do them, has such a potential to change how people interpret their perceptions and interpret their experience of the world around them. I’ve seen just such dramatic changes in people and in myself as a result of psychedelic experience. …My first book, The Natural Mind, that was published in 1972, said that only a global change in consciousness could really transform our world, and I think that the psychedelic revolution has the potential to do that.”
“I think the placebo response is the meat of medicine. That’s what you want to try to make happen. It’s pure healing response from within, mediated by the mind and unmixed up with the direct effects of treatment. …The commonest way I hear that word used is things like, ‘How do you know that’s not just the placebo response?’ or ‘We have to rule out the placebo response.’ I mean, we should be ruling it in. You want to make it happen more of the time.”
“Human beings have an innate drive to experience altered states of consciousness, not necessarily through the use of drugs (although drugs are a very convenient way to do it). One of the examples I gave was of kids learning to spin until they get dizzy and fall over and the world changed, and that’s universal as far as I can tell, in all cultures. So I got a lot of crap from people for saying that there was an innate drive toward altered states of consciousness, but I absolutely believe that, and I think that a part of the drug problem in our culture has been our failure to acknowledge that and teach people safe and better ways of satisfying it.”
In this episode, Victoria hosts a bit of a microdosing roundtable, speaking with three champions of microdosing: “The Father of modern microdosing,” James Fadiman, Ph.D.; Adam Bramlage, Founder/CEO of Flow State Micro (a functional mushroom company and microdosing educational platform); and Conor Murray, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at UCLA who conducted the world’s first EEG microdosing study.
Fadiman and Bramlage recently launched a very popular course through our Psychedelic Education Center: “Microdosing Masterclass,” which covers the history and science of microdosing, as well as best practices for microdosing safely and effectively. They discuss the roots of microdosing, decriminalization and concerns over the corporatization of psychedelics, what we’ve seen so far in research, and how we’re finding ourselves in an era where people are going to be allowed to actually help themselves.
Murray is hoping to make big waves in the promotion of microdosing with the world’s first take-home EEG microdosing study: participants will be mailed a wireless headband that will be able to track brain activity in real world scenarios – the citizen science we’ve so desperately needed in comparison to lab studies that couldn’t be more different from how people actually live day-to-day. There is no criteria to participate, and, in contrast to lab studies, they want all data possible: people who are in therapy or not, people following different microdosing protocols, people microdosing for different reasons, etc. Will microdosing improve brain scores on cognition and emotion? Will participants see measurable improvements? And how will these numbers look when comparing scores months after initial peak neurological windows?
If you’d like to participate, head to psynautics.com and sign up. The first 50 people to do so will receive the wireless EEG to track their brain for one month for only $40.
“Because it’s inherently interesting for people to find that their consciousness can be improved (not necessarily changed) and that their whole physical system can also be improved, microdosing has found a natural niche which is: it might be good for you, and as far as we can tell, it’s very, very, very, very, very rarely bad for you. And that’s a nice risk/reward ratio.” -James
“It’s hard to fool the brain. You can maybe have a good placebo effect if you’re trying to ask someone: how much do you think your cognition’s improving today or emotion’s improving today? But it’s harder to fool the brain into having a different answer.” -Conor
“There’s so many people who will not buy into this until it’s proven by modern science, and that’s why Conor and his work is so important, and this new study with the wireless headbands and the idea that every citizen scientist on the planet can write Conor at Conor@psynautics.com and be a part of this study and get a wireless headband – I mean, that is fascinating. That is taking microdosing out of a sterile lab and putting it into the natural environment where it came from, as hunter-gatherers, for hundreds of thousands of years.” -Adam
“That’s really the metaphor, which is: the more windows, the more you see different views, and there’s nothing good or bad about any particular window except how clean it is. …We’re opening up bigger windows in more directions than has been the case in the past.” -James
In this episode, Joe interviews Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and certified sex therapist, Courtney Watson. In just two years’ time, Watson grew from “Psychedelics are white people drugs” to opening a ketamine clinic to serve the marginalized communities she comes from. She shares the work she is doing through Access To Doorways; her Oakland-based non-profit whose mission is to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy to queer, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and two spirit communities.
This discussion is all over the map, from the platform of African traditional religion through the prospect of trauma healing for white supremacists, across BIPOC erasure in psychedelic research studies, and down into the realms of connecting to the spirit of entheogens from our pasts. Watson waxes on Black resilience; Hoodoo; how ALL plants are entheogenic; how conceptualization and talk in the psychedelic space often falls short of real action; ancestral veneration and ways to connect with one’s ancestral past; andthe concept of “spirit-devoid” synthesized compounds actually being the evolution of those plants’ spirits. She breaks down thoughtful considerations for queer and trans people in the psychedelic space, pointing out that while our society places too much emphasis on gender and sex, the acknowledgement of gender diversity and tearing down of the myths of hetero- and cisnormativity is hugely important. She believes that true access to these medicines can lead to true healing, which leads to love, justice, and actual equality. You can support Access to Doorways by making a donation here.
“Our people will talk to us. They will guide us. They will direct us. Especially for folks that don’t have ancestral practices in their day to day and haven’t had for generations; ancestors are starving for attention. They’re like, ‘Thank God you see us!’ Give them some light, give them some love, give them some attention, and they will open roads for you in all sorts of ways that you never knew were possible.“
“I think we also place way too much emphasis on gender and sex in this culture in this way that ends up stigmatizing the fact that there is gender diversity. …Holding all of this knowledge that heteronormativity is a thing and cisnormativity is a thing, and that these are not the default when we’re working with trans folks and folks that do not identify as heterosexual – that is really important.” “Healing could actually help shift what’s happening. It can help turn things in the ways that they need to be turned; in the ways towards love, towards justice, towards actual equality. It’s only when we are healed that we can actually do that; 1) because we have enough energy to be able to do that, but also because we have enough vision and foresight to be able to do that. The clarity of what it means to actually love only comes when we are healed.“
“There’s a lot of conversations, there’s a lot of talk, there’s a lot of conceptualizations, there’s a lot of dreams. But there’s not a lot of action. …So many people get stuck in the conceptualizing piece of it and the philosophizing piece of it that action gets missed. Access to Doorways is action. With $7000, we have given 4 subsidies. I know people that have raised ten times more than us and have not done that much. It is completely about doing what we say that we’re doing. It is completely about action towards healing.”
Courtney Watson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex therapist. She is the owner of Doorway Therapeutic Services, a group therapy practice in Oakland, CA focused on addressing the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous & People of Color, Queer folks, Trans, Gender Non-conforming, Non binary and Two Spirit individuals. Courtney has followed the direction of her ancestors to incorporate psychedelic-assisted therapy into her offerings for folks with multiple marginalized identities and stresses the importance of BIPOC and Queer providers offering these services. Courtney has received training from the Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research at CIIS, MAPS, and Polaris Insight Center to provide psychedelic-assisted therapy with a variety of medicines. She is deeply interested in the impact of psychedelic medicines on folks with marginalized identities as well as how they can assist with the decolonization process for folks of the global majority. She believes this field is not yet ready to address the unique needs of Communities of Color and is prepared and enthusiastic about bridging the gap. She is currently blazing the trail as one of the only clinics of predominantly QTBIPOC providers offering ketamine -assisted therapy in 2021. She has founded a non-profit, Access to Doorways, to raise funds to subsidize the cost of ketamine/psychedelic-assisted therapy for QTBIPOC clients (now accepting donations!!!). When not in the office seeing clients or in meetings for the businesses she leads, she’s watching Nickelodeon with her kids, kinda working on her dissertation and more than likely taking a nap!
The history of kratom’s long path to (mostly) legality shows us that if done right, fighting against prohibition can actually lead to wins. But to truly fight these battles, we can’t fall into the trap of psychedelic elitism.
Ever since Westerners first encountered psychedelics, they have been prohibited, demonized, and considered unfit for civilized folk. Beginning with Columbus’s first encounter with psychedelic-snuff-using natives in Hispaniola, this class of psychoactives has always been relegated to the underground. (Ott, 11) While the recent emergence of psychedelic commercialization and medicalization marks our first flirtation with aboveboard operations in nearly 50 years, psychedelic advocates are all too familiar with prohibition after 500 years of psychedelic distrust and drug war assaults.
The road to our blossoming revival of psychedelic culture has been filled with tragedy and struggle. Even with the decriminalization of some psychedelics in select cities, most Americans cannot trip without the fear of losing their freedom. We are criminalized for possessing a portal to an unordinary state of consciousness. Undoubtedly, psychedelic prohibition has brought with it the tragic ruination of thousands of lives. Passionate advocates, then, have a chip on their shoulder – an urge to close the chapter on the long history of the Western demonization of psychedelics.
For many, this is a noble and moral goal. Yet in shedding the chains of prohibition, we must ensure that we thoroughly scrub ourselves clean of it. In our desperation to leave our struggle behind, we must not fall into the trap of a prohibitionist mindset.
Psychedelics are not becoming legal and mainstream because they are “good drugs” in contrast with the rightfully-prohibited “bad drugs.” There is no such distinction, and it was prohibition which constructed the illogical demarcation between “good” and “bad” drugs in the first place. As the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus mused many centuries ago, the difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose – not whether or not it occasions a psychedelic experience.
What is Psychedelic Elitism and Why is it Bad for the Anti-Prohibitionist Movement?
Despite emerging from the same struggle against prohibition that most other “drugs” face, the narrative around psychedelic legalization has often included an attitude which can be termed “psychedelic elitism.” Psychedelic elitism is the belief that psychedelic drugs (psilocybin, LSD, etc.) are harmless and beneficial, and used by responsible, upstanding citizens; whereas other drugs (such as PCP, methamphetamine, or heroin) are bad, inherently dangerous, and only used by the lowest characters in society. As such, psychedelics are seen as wrongfully prohibited, while other drugs are rightfully prohibited.
Dr. Carl Hart’s 2019 presentation at the Horizon’s Conference in NYC directly touched upon this issue. He warned that any internalization of the prohibitionist mindset would be counterproductive to our overarching goals of creating a more just and equitable society. All drugs, removed from their social context, have potential for both good and bad reactions. For example, in mainstream narratives, psilocybin is used by affluent professionals and underlies the business model for publicly-traded companies, whereas methamphetamine is only used by impoverished individuals without social status. So psilocybin is associated with success and health, while meth is associated with ruin and sickness. This narrative holds sway despite the fact that methamphetamine is legally prescribed under the name Desoxyn, which has helped countless patients live a better life – very much confusing the moralizing mindset which demonizes some drugs but not others.
Psychedelic experiences can be freeing, euphoric, problem-solving, pain-reducing, easy going, recreational, creative, therapeutic, medicinal, spiritual, ad infinitum. While these qualities drive our passion for psychedelic advocacy, we should keep in mind that the broader category of psychoactive substances, including non-psychedelic drugs (a category which is largely arbitrary and subjective), can also bear these same positive traits. Therefore, they should be included in our struggle against prohibition.
Any drug, psychedelic or non-psychedelic, can also be indicted in unpleasant experiences as well. It seems, rather clearly, that psychedelic elitism comes from a positive drug experience with what happened to be a psychedelic. With this experience, part of the propagandist veil which obfuscates our understanding of how drugs affect us individually and on a societal level falls away. We become acutely aware that a drug – in this case a psychedelic – can have a positive effect; a profoundly different narrative than the one peddled by prohibitionists. Yet this newfound knowledge of the contradiction is internalized as simply: “Psychedelics are good.” There is rarely any further research to see if the prohibitionists were lying about all drugs or just psychedelics.
Psychedelics are worth advocating for, but this should never be done at the expense of other substances and their consumers. Removing the risk of imprisonment for psychedelic users but retaining it for other illicit drug users is hypocrisy at its finest. Allowing individuals and organizations to make exorbitant profits with psychedelics while forcing illicit drug merchants into the unregulated underground perpetuates unnecessary user risk while furthering the divide between the wealthy and the poor.
Prohibition didn’t originate to prevent the so-called “menace of drugs on society.” Rather, it was enacted to broaden the range of authority held by law enforcement. From its origin in the Harrison Act of 1914, prohibition has been about power and control – usually with a racial slant. The Harrison Act was passed to regulate and tax opium and coca imports in the US. This effectively made it impossible for Chinese immigrants to procure opium legally, thus making opium users liable for arrest. Cocaine was described in the press as giving superhuman strength to black men while simultaneously making them belligerent and violent. From the get-go, prohibition has never been about protecting people, but rather about protecting the status of the dominant class.
Selectively opposing psychedelic prohibition may be easier than challenging the entire status quo. Focusing on psychedelics means you don’t have to learn about other drugs and why people choose to take them. And speaking out in favor of psychedelics has become increasingly in vogue. In many places you will be positively received when opening up about your psychedelic drug use. But by including all drugs in the fight against drug prohibition, we can selflessly aid others and reduce overall ignorance of pharmacology while raising awareness of sociocultural inequity.
We should step back and remember why we oppose the prohibition of psychedelics in the first place. If we are committed to fighting for freedom of choice, the reduction of non-violent prison sentences, and the liberty to alter one’s consciousness as one pleases, then complete anti-prohibitionism is necessary. What I hope to convey is that being a psychedelic advocate should be no different than being an anti-prohibitionist. Both fight for freedom, the right to dictate one’s own consciousness, and the end to unnecessary violence instigated by the war on drugs.
An extremely relevant case study in fighting prohibition (and winning) can be found in the story of the Southeast Asian tree leaf, kratom.
What is Kratom?
Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is the leaf of an evergreen tree that grows from the base of the Himalayas to the Pacific Islands of Southeast Asia. In Thailand, there is written historical evidence of kratom’s use since the mid-17th century, but many believe it has an undocumented history of use dating back thousands of years.
Kratom also has a therapeutic folklore associated with it. A 350-year-old Buddhist temple in Thailand has a message etched in stone recommending kratom for diarrhea. In the “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” episode on kratom, a farmer mentions that he reaches for kratom leaves to help with coughing.
Thailand has the richest history of kratom use among the Southeast Asian countries where kratom trees grow and traditional use centers around the common laborer. Regardless of what kind of manual work they are performing; the scorching heat, unremitant sun, and long days wear on Thai workers. They chewed kratom long before coffee was introduced to the peninsula, with kratom leaves or tea serving the same purpose of energizing them and pushing them through the physical discomfort of hard work.
Kratom use originated as simple plucking and chewing of the tree’s leaves. People pick a leaf from the tree, tear the stem from the leaf, roll it into a quid, insert the quid into their mouth and lightly chew on it. They express the juices from the leaf for a little less than a minute, letting the juices come into contact with the mucus membrane, before the leaf is spat out and discarded. This chewing and spitting act can be repeated multiple times throughout the day as desired.
Another popular way to consume kratom is as a tea. Usually, teas are brewed for social settings or to be sold in the bazaar. Leaves are taken from the tree and added to a pot of water, which is left to simmer over a fire for around three hours. In the marketplace, kratom tea is frequently sold in plastic bags to customers who seek it with the same intent as an American Starbucks patron – for the boost. There are also groups of friends who gather in the evenings to drink a shared cauldron of tea that they make over a fire. At this time of day, the tea isn’t meant to give an energizing kick, but rather to be drunk socially while taking it easy and relaxing. Consuming a larger portion actually provides an effect opposite to the one desired when laboring.
Kratom has a unique response curve depending upon how much is consumed. One or two tea bags or anything under five or six chewed leaves may have an energizing effect, while stronger tea (or tea consumed in larger quantities) may have an unwinding and sociable effect while comforting the whole body.
Kratom and Prohibition
Despite the abundance of native ethnopharmacological options, many Thai citizens were regular opium users in the early 20th century. The opium trade was blessed by the Thai government, and a 20% tax was passed onto the consumer. By 1940, it was estimated that between 8%-20% of all tax revenue in Thailand came from opium.
In 1942, however, Thailand declared war on Allied forces and entered World War II. With war came economic hardship, and in 1943, the Thai government noticed that their opium tax revenue had plummeted. Usually, opium taxes were a fairly constant source of revenue for the government, as consumers maintained their use continually to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Following an investigation in 1943, the Thai government realized that their former opium taxpayers had switched from state controlled opium to locally-growing kratom after someone had discovered that chewing on kratom or drinking kratom tea allowed them to stop using opium without unpleasant side effects. The word got out and spread like wildfire.
In a special meeting on January 7th, 1943, Police Major General Pin Amornwisaisoradej, a member of the House of Representatives from Lampang, stated “Taxes for opium are high while kratom is currently not being taxed. With the increase of those taxes, people are starting to use kratom instead and this has had a visible impact on our government’s income.” Later that year, kratom was made illegal, marking its first encounter with prohibition. In the 1970s, the war on kratom escalated, and the law changed to require that all kratom trees in Thailand be chopped down. Thousands of people were imprisoned and had their lives ruined, while many more were negatively impacted in other ways.
Terence McKenna and Kratom
In 1987, Terence McKenna was approached by a magazine called Trip to write a column called “Our Man in Nirvana.” McKenna was to be sent to remote locations around the world to relax and report back on the local culture. The magazine closed its doors shortly after he started writing for the column, but he had been sent to Thailand on the magazine’s dime, and had produced a brief article from his journey.
Ever the curious adventurer, he sought out kratom while in Thailand, which he had read about in Richard Evans Schultes’ book, The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens. Impressed with the leniency of Thai culture and permittance of drug manufacture and use – especially heroin – Terence was intrigued as to why the kratom tree was illegal.
According to Terence, “We put out the word, and lo and behold, we got samples of this plant – rootstock. And it was very hush-hush. Everyone was either giggling or looking at us with thin, hard expressions as we scored this plant.” He took the rootstock back to Hawaii and made it “available for certified phytochemists and biochemical researchers to determine what this thing is.” Remarkably, this makes McKenna perhaps one of the earliest kratom vendors in the United States.
Still intrigued by the mystery of kratom prohibition, McKenna continued to look into the issue. Finally he heard a theory that registered with him. “What we learned as we made our way towards it was why it’s illegal. It’s illegal because it inhibits and interferes with heroin addiction.” Referencing how Thailand exported up to “one third of the world’s heroin,” he hypothesized that perhaps the reason it was illegal was due to its threats on their legal opioid industry. “So, who knows, you know, if this is true. But say it were true. So that means, you know, that this is, ethnobotanically, one of the great coups of the decade. And it explains, then, why the Thais are of such an ambivalent state of mind about it, because it’s poised like a dagger at the heart of their economic life if it’s real.”
Kratom Prohibition in the United States
Americans were first introduced to kratom in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, when GIs returning from Southeast Asia brought leaves back with them. While small circles of interest developed, only hardcore nerds like Terence McKenna were speaking publicly about kratom in the 1980s.
Despite McKenna making it available to “phytochemists and biochemical researchers,” public interest in kratom grew slowly. By 2005, kratom was beginning to develop niche appeal on online bodybuilding forums, and by 2016, the ranks of American kratom consumers were swelling. More and more, people were drawn to kratom by the idea that it may give them energy, help them with an opioid use pattern that they wanted to leave behind, or act as a natural painkiller. The DEA, however, challenged these beliefs when it was announced that they would be scheduling kratom as a controlled substance in August of 2016.
Instantly, passionate kratom consumers jumped into action. Petitions were circulated that drew more than 100,000 signatures. The DEA’s bulletin, the Federal Register, was bombarded with tens of thousands of passionate stories from people recounting how kratom made their lives better. Kratom business leaders joined together to form a lobbying group called the American Kratom Association (AKA). In a short time, dozens of members of Congress, including Bernie Sanders, had written to the DEA expressing their concern that a kratom ban would cause more harm than good.
The parent agency of the DEA and FDA, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reviewed the claims put forth by the DEA and concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to make kratom illegal. However, following their receipt of the HHS letter, the FDA maintained for years that their official policy was that kratom was a threat to public health. It took a congressional investigation in 2020 to reveal that the executive branch’s official position on kratom was that it presented no substantiated risks, and that making it illegal would likely cause widespread social harm.
In the years that the FDA knew they were directed to not pursue kratom, they still solicited a number of local municipalities and state governments to prohibit kratom anyway. They ultimately convinced six states to make kratom illegal – Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin – driven by an internal, prohibitionist conviction. The AKA responded, and lobbied five states – Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, and Georgia – to pass protections for kratom consumers with a standardized regulatory framework to ensure the quality and safety of the sales. These legal regulations were filling the void that would normally be filled by the FDA, who, instead of focusing on protecting consumers through regulations, chose to pursue total prohibition.
The anti-prohibition trend has caught wind overseas as well. After over 75 years of prohibiting an ancient, traditional, and naturally occurring tree leaf, Thailand announced they would re-legalize kratom in 2020. Since 2021, 12,000 prisoners have been freed from their sentences related to possession or sale of kratom, and the price of a kratom leaf has dropped by 80-90%. In 2021, kratom was estimated to be a $1.3 billion dollar industry, and with an overwhelming majority of the world’s kratom being exported from Indonesia, the Thai government recognized how much money their prohibition was leaving on the table. After such positive change in global kratom acceptance, Thailand’s legalization news, however, was quickly overshadowed.
In July of 2021, kratom once again narrowly escaped prohibition. After failing to convince enough state governments to ban kratom, the FDA announced that they would be sending an official letter of recommendation to the United Nations, advising them to add kratom to the international list of controlled substances. When it was announced in the Federal Register, the kratom community was once again quick to respond.
Initially, the AKA sent out a mass newsletter to inform kratom consumers that the UN and World Health Organization (WHO) were in the process of making kratom illegal on behalf of the FDA. They concluded that the FDA was likely frustrated with the slow progress of attempts to push kratom prohibition through individual states, so they changed their strategy and decided to take their prohibitionist mission to the international level. Having failed at the federal level in 2016 and having lost the blessing of the HHS, it was no longer feasible to make kratom federally illegal.
The United States is constitutionally bound to UN declarations that it signs. Since the US signed onto the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, Congress is required to make any substance illegal that finds its way onto the UN’s list of controlled substances. This would allow the FDA and the DEA to effectively skirt the need to supply the evidence required to ban a substance in the United States, and render the failure to prohibit kratom domestically null and void.
Kratom advocates submitted over 70,000 comments against the prohibition to the FDA via the Federal Register. The AKA organized dozens of scientists and researchers to present their work on kratom to the WHO. By the time the hearing date came around, kratom advocates were ready for a fight. The strategy at the WHO meeting was to present as much evidence regarding the safety of kratom as possible, and science was on the side of kratom. Point by point, kratom advocates and scientists refuted each false claim made against kratom, proving they were unsubstantiated. On November 18th, 2021, the WHO’s Expert Panel of Drug Dependence concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to recommend a critical review of kratom.”
The KCPA has a distinct focus on health and safety regulations. It recognizes that contamination and adulteration are real and dangerous, and any adverse effects resulting from contamination would be spun by the media and prohibitionists to further harm kratom’s reputation. The strategy, then, is to lean into the robust safety profile of kratom to ensure its longevity. The largest kratom businesses have also banded together to enact quality control measures and perform audits on themselves to prove that they are adhering to food grade cGMP (commercial Good Manufacturing Practice) standards. This is not a cheap or easy process, but the effort is undertaken to show in good faith that the industry is mature and responsible.
Finally, the role of normalizing the use of a substance plays a significant role in the fight against prohibitionists. Generally, getting a majority to oppose prohibition (as 91% of Americans feel towards cannabis) is the goal of all grassroots anti-prohibitionists. As such, there have been a few attempts to personalize kratom, oftentimes through pathos-driven commercials detailing the story of people who can enjoy life again because of kratom. Today, kratom is increasingly being seen as a household object, as products such as kratom tea bags grow in popularity and broaden the consumer demographic.
What to Learn About Prohibition From Kratom
Kratom has successfully defeated every federal prohibition attempt made against it in the United States. Six states have made it illegal, but even those states are now considering replacing their bans with the regulatory framework laid out in the KCPA. Thailand, the country with the richest history of kratom use, recently re-legalized it, likely due to the undeniable economic benefit kratom exportation would bring to their country. The WHO and UN, normally aligned on drug policy with the US, couldn’t ignore the overwhelming outpour of grassroots support and unanimous scientific consensus on the safety profile of kratom.
Still, the most impressive feat performed by the kratom community yet was defeating the DEA in 2016. Normally, the DEA has unilateral decision-making power when it comes to prohibiting substances in the United States. That kratom was able to slip their grip suggests that prohibition at large is defeatable. The methods used to defeat kratom prohibition – hiring lobbyists, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of supporters, and convincing Ph.D.s and MDs to testify – should be taken to heart by anyone who finds themselves standing up against prohibition of any sort.
At this very moment, the DEA is attempting to schedule more than half a dozen psychedelic compounds, including DOI and DOC. Together, they have been utilized in over 2,000 peer reviewed scientific publications and have been indispensable to psychedelic research. 4-OH-DiPT, 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-MiPT, 5-MeO-DET, and DiPT are also slated to be scheduled soon, which would prevent further study of their effects. (DiPT, for example, causes novel auditory distortions which have the potential to elucidate the mysteries of auditory neural-processing.) Some journalists and advocates have stepped up to the plate to fight the DEA for their continuation of prohibition. However, a united psychedelic front hasn’t emerged, which kratom advocates have argued as being essential to stopping these bans.
Like psychedelics, kratom has a storied history of use. Both have been devastated by prohibition, but the true test of their merit is shown in their phoenix-like ability to continually inspire consumers to fight for their legality. Use of a substance – any substance – is not justification to imprison someone. Prohibition exponentially raises the possibility of harm that comes with consuming any substance by preventing education, quality control, and normalization. We must expand our scope to include more than psychedelics in our advocacy. Prohibition needs to end, and the clues to victory may just be found in the story of a tropical tea leaf.
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