Healing with Psychedelics: Legalization and Therapeutic Use in the West
In this episode, anthropologist, Gabriel Amezcua, and psychotherapist, Lisa Wessing dive deep into the integration of psychedelics in Western culture, the history and rituals of psychedelics in therapeutic settings and the ethical issues arising in the commercialization of psychedelics.
Guest Contact Info
Say Hello to Gabriel and Lisa
Anthropologist & Psychotherapist
Gabriel and Lisa have been researchers in psychedelic medicine for almost 10 years. In Mexico, they co-founded the harm reduction and psychedelic care project Espolea and the Universe of Drugs. In Berlin they collaborate with the organization Eclipse, are founders of the Berlin Psychedelic Society, and have also written for the Chacruna Institute. Gabriel is an anthropologist of ritual, and works as a consultant in psychedelic medicine for the Open Society Foundations, and Lisa has a master's degree in psychoanalysis, and has collaborated with projects in intercultural medicine and psychedelic therapy such as the Nierika Institute and the Kiyumi retreat. Both have been preparing for years to become facilitators of sacred plants and entheogenic medicines, currently developing the first intercultural medicine and rituals project in Berlin.
Healing with Psychedelics: Legalization & Therapeutic Use in the West
psychedelics, people, substances, drug, psychedelic experience, cultures, creating, therapeutic, ayahuasca, happening, person, research, psilocybin, medicalization, important, companies, psychologists, process, lsd, medicine
Gabriel Amezcua, Lisa Wessing, Nadeya Hassan
Nadeya Hassan 02:28
Here we are! Today I have two incredible researchers that have been working in psychedelic medicine for almost 10 years, or about 10 years, Gabrielle Amezcua and Lisa Wessing. So, thank you so much for joining me today guys. And we're here to talk about healing with psychedelic medicine. So first, I kind of just want you guys to both to introduce yourselves. Tell us a little bit about how you got started working in psychedelics.
Lisa Wessing 03:01
So my name is Gabriel I'm a Mexican anthropologist. I started researching psychedelics because I started first researching drugs in a general way. So my path began with the path of harm reduction, and drug policy activism. So I was more into the path of cycling festivals, drug information, I was giving talks in festivals too, and started becoming more and more interested in the ritualistic use of frogs through my anthropology thesis. And yeah, little by little, I started connecting with a lot of the people involved in psychedelic movements. And I started also researching shamanism and ritual, my anthropology degree. So yeah, little by little, I started connecting with the two worlds like first with the psychedelic use through shamanism. And then in the psychedelic use, through the medical Western approach, I was also connected with psychedelics in their heart reduction scene. So I would consider that I was connected with psychedelics in three main spheres, which is recreational use, spiritual use, and therapeutic Western medicine approach. So, yeah, right now, in a certain way, I'm researching all of these three bubbles, social bubbles of psychedelics and researching the community of using psychedelics and researching psychedelics in these three approaches. And yeah, now I'm working with my partner to create a holistic understanding of psychedelics, without judgments, with a lot of activism included, and always considering the possibility that all of the approaches have something to give to our understanding of psychedelics. Well, I'm Lisa, and I'm from Germany, basically, psychedelics kind of brought me to psychology and therapy. I started my bachelor in psychology and was quite alienated from how therapy or like the human psyche was seen and treated and wanted more. So I changed my change my major and integrated anthropology also in into my studies. And after I finished my bachelor, I went to Mexico. And there, I started to work on the 100 reduction project that Gabriel had created. And I was quite interested always in these kinds of substances in general. But through working as a sitter, actually having cases and, and helping people through these kinds of sometimes difficult experiences, I realized that I wanted to be doing therapy and working one on one with people or working in with people in these kinds of vulnerable yet, incredibly, now with so much potential. So then I worked in a clinic in Mexico that combines modern psychotherapy with traditional ritual using psychedelics. So I Ayahuasca, Peyote and different psychedelics, and I was able to assist. And in that way, learn more about the process, on a personal level, like a therapeutic level. I'm currently in training to become a psychotherapist. That's my background.
Nadeya Hassan 06:57
Wow, very cool. So there's a lot of overlap just between the both of you, which complements what you're trying to offer. So I kind of want to go back and start with the foundation of psychedelic medicine and the evolution of it. Starting with the integration, well starting with the history of psychedelics, and how that's changed into today, and how we see it. And Gabriel, if you can, maybe just start explaining how psychedelics have changed, and how the different cultures have used it and give us more of a cultural and spiritual understanding?
Gabriel Amezcua 07:41
Yeah, well, I think, first of all, it's important to understand that apparently, human beings have been using psychedelics for a long, long time. And we don't really know how long, but we have a lot of understanding that most cultures have some sort of psychedelic use some sort of approach to a psychedelic drug, or some sort of spiritual relation in a general way with a drug. Some cultures that didn't have access to psychedelics precisely, weren't using drugs. Sometimes such as alcohol, in certain ways, in a similar way as people use psychedelics. And one of these ways was precisely the communication with the gods and with the spirits, like most cultures, use psychedelics and use drugs in general, as a belief system in which they were able to communicate with higher forces. And there are several theories such as the theory by John Allegro about the mushroom cultures or with a stoned ape theory, which claimed that a lot of our evolution as humans, and as cultures were brought by the psychedelic use, and the theory of Allegro portrays that actually like Christianity is built around a mushroom called. In a certain way, we also have a lot of references towards understanding that psychedelics were playing a very big role in the construction of religions, especially like in Mesoamerican cultures, in South American cultures, in Asian cultures, psychedelics were very present. But it's also important to understand that not necessarily the way of using psychedelics was always connected towards some sort of psychological, social, psychological trip, tripping or self-use. It means that people didn't necessarily take psychedelics to heal themselves. But actually like it was more the role of the shaman or as they usually prefer to call themselves, medics, like traditional medics or traditional Doctors, they used to take psychedelics and through the communication with the spirits, they healed people. So, the process in many of the cultures was the person came to see a shaman or a doctor. And these shamanic doctors took the substance and became in contact with spirits that helped him or her to heal the patient. And it wasn't actually like until kind of more recent history, that people started to use psychedelics more to heal themselves. This can be traced back to the use of the Peyote rituals in the Native American culture, or sometimes also like the use of Amanita muscaria in the shamans in the Siberian shamanism, but also like we have a lot of references towards seeing that these substances were usually also primordial used by the priests or by the doctor. But it's also interesting to see and realize that the approach or the modern approach to psychedelics has been more about us, the patient's taking the psychedelic substance, to heal something instead of having someone else take the substance and heal us. And yeah, in a certain way, we have been misunderstanding also that a lot because we tend to believe that cultures always had this ceremonial approach of the shaman giving psychedelics to people to get into the psychedelic state and heal. Well, this is not necessarily true, there are also a lot of references that show people shamanism, or that Native American shamanism in the past, apparently used these substances in the same way in which the priest or the shaman took the drug, and the other person was just a part of the healing ritual. So this evolution is interesting because I think it's connected also to the implosion of Western medicine. And I don't know if only Western medicine maybe also like other medical systems, but in which people started to take the drugs, the substances to heal themselves, or more individualism, it may be a part of this process. And yeah, it's also interesting to see that most of these cultures were connected to the fact that when you take a psychedelic, you will visit some sort of knowledge, some sort of spiritual world, in which you will find the answers to the reason why you're taking a psychedelic, in this case, a disease. And it's also important to understand, for example, that in the cultures in the Amazonian cultures, there was this concept called paneema, which was how people called the diseases and diseases were not actually what we consider diseases, but were diseases of the experience. And this is of the Spirit. We're only able to be cured through the spiritual world. And so psychedelics were a reference to travel to the spiritual world and to heal yourself. But not only psychedelics, and that's why psychedelics comes usually surrounded by a whole scheme of understanding and knowledge, which are the shamanic tools, and each culture has different management tools such as drumming, the sweat lodge, fasting, and meditation. So it's also important to understand that psychedelics are only part of a general traditional system of healing and are not isolated tools, but they are usually in company with many other tools, including also other plants, such as tobacco, and even cannabis, and sometimes non-psychoactive substances.
Nadeya Hassan 14:12
Very interesting. So, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Or maybe if you can speak on how colonization changed the way that psychedelics were accepted in society. And maybe Lisa, you can eventually go into more of the therapeutic history of psychedelics and how that's changed. If you can give us a brief timeline of that.
Gabriel Amezcua 14:41
Actually, from my point of view, it's kind of the opposite. Colonization kind of made psychedelics unavailable for a long period of time. And actually, from my perspective, decolonization has been the process of bringing psychedelics back to society. So I'm going to explain myself when most of the colonization processes have occurred. Usually, the colonization occurred through Western cultures, which were mostly Catholic or Christian. And they were very against drug use, and especially psychedelic use, if you usually read any type of, you know, like priests in the colonization processes, you will realize that they usually interpreted psychedelics as tools of Satan, that were given to the people so that Satan could kind of play his tricks to people. So it was actually more of an anti-drug system. And it's interesting because I would generally say that the anti-drug campaign started with colonization. And it wasn't until the decolonization process began, which was, for me, the interests of Western scientists and Western anthropologists into really realizing the religious systems of cultures. And this especially started with the European mescaline, actually, the first concert with a psychedelic in a general way was mescaline. And it was when the Western anthropologists, some of them actually women, started becoming more into understanding the nature of American societies. And when they got into them, and they actually started realizing how humane, how spiritual, and how harmonical they were, they started becoming actually very interested in their religious rituals. And that's when they discovered Peyote. And it was in this process that of realizing how Peyote was actually used as a harmonical tool for making the community come together. And that actually was helping young people to not drink alcohol, it was helping a lot of Native American communities to feel that they still belonged to something that they started realizing that Peyote was actually a very interesting tool. So from my perspective, actually, the discovery of psychedelics occurred, because of what the decolonization process in which the Western societies actually started giving, understanding and praising the indigenous knowledges. And that's actually when they started to develop their process of understanding psychedelic medicine. And I think this is when Lisa can talk a little bit about what happened then.
Lisa Wessing 17:53
Yeah, I mean, I just wanted to also kind of connect with what you're saying is, I would say that it's kind of a beginning of decolonization. And the start of the subtler kind of cultural appropriation where people go and say, "yes, we actually give importance and understand the richness of your knowledge, but we're also going to take it home and do our own thing with it". On the therapeutic level, we've seen a kind of a wave like understanding of psychedelics. So when these first botanists, anthropologists discovered mescaline, psilocybin, there was actually a great hype. At that moment, at first, it was okay, well, what is this? What can we do with this? It was given to many different people, a lot of artists as well because of the hallucinogenic effect and kind of like "ok what can we do with all these visions" and also in the kind of psychoanalytic psycholytic tradition it was experimented with. So there was this idea that it kind of produces psychosis and by basically creating an artificial psychosis, psychologists and therapists were able to study what psychopathology is. And that was being done for quite a while and in more or less rigorous studies. I mean, at that point, a scientific study wasn't the same as what we do today. So there wasn't necessarily the same kind of record-keeping controls or double-blind. But, it definitely created a great wealth of information at that point. Then during the 60s, we sadly had a kind of retrograde step back, in which even people who are working with these substances, kind of caught on the fear-mongering, I mean, there's still so much to discover about the substances. And there's always this kind of feeling of maybe there's a risk, maybe there's a danger. And we don't know what dangers are implicit within giving these substances. So through legalization, we have the stopping of basically all research. We had Rick Doblin in the 80s, still trying to kind of allow for a resurgence with MDMA. But yes, it was stopped. And, interestingly, you can still find papers on studies. There were studies, for instance, in the 90s, with LSD and ketamine in a therapeutic setting. But that was very low key, you know, universities didn't really want to talk about this, even if they were given the rights to do so.
Gabriel Amezcua 21:16
I think it was mostly also because, you know, when LSD was discovered, in only one year 1000 papers of research were published after the discovery of LSD. There were psychologists sending LSD by post mail to a lot of other psychologists and psychiatrists, and they were like, "Hey, try this" and a lot of them were trying it themselves. I think the problem of what happened is, that seems like the creation of Western medicine since the 1800s, was based on discovering kind of like an obligation of effects of substances. Every substance they tried to discover, like, Okay, this has these effects in everybody. But what happened with psychedelics is that, like, some psychologists were like, "Wow, this is amazing, this is gonna change the world". And then another psychologist was like, "That was horrible". And then another psychologist was like, "this is actually very dangerous". And so there was not a mutual understanding of like, "Oh, yeah, we can use this for this." So there were, there was a lot of research. And there was a lot of understanding that there was a potential there, but no one really knew how to accommodate them. And so when they when, when the random the 60s, revolution, a cultural revolution happened, I think that a lot of people were actually very scared. And they came to the conclusion that, especially like psychologists who were kind of mainstream, that they were experimenting with LSD and they suddenly saw what happened. And a lot of them became, as Lisa said, scared because they actually thought that maybe he had a lot of abuse potential and that he also had the potential of disrupting of general cultural patterns. So many people became scared. And psychedelics became part of an underground school of thought.
Lisa Wessing 23:21
And I mean, there was so much de-legitimization, of the practices. So with Leary returning and giving these substances to his students, and then him not having credibility in front of the university anymore, or doing these kinds of things. So I think there was so many different things that were happening. And now we see a revival. We're seeing a revival in many different ways in terms of therapeutic use and terms of bio neurological understanding of what is happening. We also have new technologies, fMRI studies, so we can actually really see what is happening while people are adjusting to the substance. And it's booming. And I think we'll probably be talking about this for a while. We're also talking about psychiatric drugs in general, but there's been a loss of knowing what to do in therapy to lower the rates of depression and anxiety. A lot of medication is being given out. The pharma industry is just churning out medications, but they're not really helpful and people are continuously having to take them for their whole life and just basically getting a bandaid but not a solution. So, psychedelics right now are, I guess everybody's so amazed and excited about them because maybe they can be part of a solution and not just the band-aid.
Nadeya Hassan 24:59
Yes, definitely. And so through this revival of psychedelic medicine, now we're starting to see a lot of these different medicines being used in the therapeutic setting in assisted psychedelic therapy sessions like MDMA and psilocybin. So what is going on? Like, what are your thoughts on the differences between some of these assisted psychedelic therapy sessions that you're seeing in different universities where people are sitting on a couch with their blindfolds on, and sitting with therapists who are guiding them versus recreational use, you know, maybe just going out into the forest or the woods and taking psilocybin versus the spiritual use? So being in the Amazon jungle and sitting with a shaman, taking this plant medicine? So what are kind of some of the benefits of some of them? What are some of the risks and even just the experiences, maybe even from your own personal use?
Lisa Wessing 26:00
Well, I would say that, first of all, each one of the kind of facets of consumption, are therapeutic or can be therapeutic and can be beneficial. It very much depends on the person and the person's needs, in terms of what is best suitable. So when we look at what was happening right now, with the clinical trials, and the kind of very safe and controlled therapy settings, we are finding great results. They're trying to really control as many variables as possible while allowing the person to gain insight from themselves. And this is kind of padded with preparation, and then integration afterwards, which is very helpful, especially in a western context, because the western context does not have any tradition or ritual around these substances. And therefore, the clinical or more than medical context is quite helpful to gain trust, to believe in the process to feel comfortable during the process. Recreational use, I would say, goes quite hand in hand and kind of what is called somatogenesis. So somatogenesis is kind of not thinking about disease, but more about health and well being. So the aim is not about reducing just symptoms within a disease and focusing on the disease, but we're thinking about health and well being. And this is kind of open to more people. It's the person who basically, we can call them "normal", and doesn't necessarily have a diagnosis with depression or something, but wants to explore, understand the self their own self more and gain wellbeing from that. That can be the person who might have some issues and through self-exploration, gets better. This is kind of a more, I would say definitely is great. It requires more information, more research on the person, on the individual level. So there's no therapist who's there who's been a guide person through the process. You need to acquire knowledge, have a community or have some people that can kind of help you. Self exploration, by yourself, I also think is really great, specifically with kind of a healing intention. But again, you need people around you that can be a safety net, for when things go kind of haywire. The ceremonial context, I think, is also incredibly helpful for a lot of people who feel alienated from society and need a connection to something greater than themselves. I mean, right now in secular societies, especially if we can, there's a lot of questioning of, you know, what's the meaning What's the meaning of all of this and what's the meaning of life and through traditional indigenous views, people can gain this kind of meaning again, and I think it's been quite beautiful seeing people connect on a cross cultural level. However, it's not a magic bullet either going, I don't know German person or American person, going to the Amazon and then drinking Ayahuasca will not mean that it's going to cure you or that it's even going to be a great experience. Because there's a lot of there's, there's a big kind of gap of knowledge in terms of how we understand what these substances are supposed to do, how the person, the facilitator, who administers actually act, what they do, how they act and interact with the person. And a lot of the times there's a lack of understanding of the symbology of the meaning behind the ritual context. And also, different methods. So the idea of integration, integrating the experience, after a ceremony, is more of a Western idea. So when the person goes and is in the middle of the jungle, after having done various sessions of Ayahuasca, it can be really quite dramatic as well. So I think all of them and probably Gabriel will elaborate in are incredibly beneficial, but have their downfalls. So whoever wants to do any of these needs to really understand what they're getting themselves into. And in that way, I think it's important to come back again, to what I said before about that psychedelics don't have homogeneous effects. And that's very important to consider, because sometimes when you talk about psychedelics with people, and a lot of psychedelic researchers, or a lot of psychedelic enthusiasts, they think they have the answer, you know, like, they will tell you psychedelics will let you see your fears, or you're gonna confront yourself, or you're gonna see the spirits. And I think it's important to keep that door open. For example, there is this good friend of ours, he's a renowned psychologist in Mexico, 55 years old, something like that. He never took anything before any sort of substance or anything. And at some point, he decided to do some Ayahuasca, he said "I'm interested." And he was very, he was also very interested in my work. So I was he was really excited and told me like, "Hey, I'm gonna take Ayahuasca". And I was very curious to see what happened. He's not a very spiritual person, but he's a very good human being. And so he took Ayahuasca and he came to me after that, and he was like, you know, go, I'm completely sure that Ayahuasca is definitely like a psychotherapy session, that for me, it was a psychotherapeutic session. I confronted some traumas, I saw some fears. And then I was like, of course, like, he's a psychologist, he will transcribe the information of experience through psychological knowledge. While an indigenous person who is in constant contact with nature, he will transcribe the psychedelic experience through this contact with nature, so he will probably see a lot of spirits in the trees, he will feel a lot of connection with nature. If you're a person with a lot of connection with nature, that's also going to be kind of your experience. There are also people who have their biggest revelations in parties, you know, like dancing, psychedelic trance, and suddenly, like seeing the tissue of reality becoming multiple multiverses. And, in a certain way, for me, that's very beautiful, because what psychedelics also shows is that we are very diverse and that we have very diverse ways of understanding reality. And that's why, from my opinion, we need to enhance all of these processes, and we shouldn't close to one of them, you know, and that's why many people inside the psychedelic therapy world, they're like, "No, no, no". But this is the right way of doing psychedelics, as you say, you know, like the blindfold and the psychotherapeutic session. And for me, it's like, man, like, that's one of the ways and that's going to work definitely for many people, but it's not going to work for all of them. Many other people are going to need more of the enhancements of the recreational experience. And that's why we should invest in harm reduction, or other people are going to have a beautiful experience in a ceremonial setting. And that's why we should also invest in understanding and protecting the traditions. And it's also about access, I mean, the person generally would need a diagnosis to have the western context therapy or the financial means to go to a ceremony. Then recreational use is kind of the one that anyone could have access to, even though it's illegal right now, and can be dangerous. So we have to also think about, first of all, not one size fits all, what can I actually access? Do I need a diagnosis? Should we actually say that the person needs a diagnosis to benefit from these substances? It's a lot of questions.
Gabriel Amezcua 35:18
And I think that in that way, it becomes a little bit sad to see that a lot of very serious professionals, they discredit other experiences because they don't find them compelling to themselves, or because they have never experienced them. So you have a psychedelic therapist who maybe goes to rave and takes acid, and he gets a bad experience. And he's like, No, no, no, this is dangerous. But maybe it was just not for you like the maybe the recreational study is not for you. But I know, many very serious researchers who actually say, that the recreational experiences for them, the best one, and a lot of their patients actually have the same feeling. You also have a lot of researchers who are completely convinced that their ceremonial setting is the best one. And I have many examples about that. There is a researcher in California, who's giving therapeutic psilocybin sessions in group therapy. And he is completely convinced that that's the way in which you should do it, because he trained in Peru and in Colombia, with Ayahuasca. So he actually came to the realization that the group therapy was amazing because the ceremonial setting and the unity with the participants. So he was a little bit against the one to one sessions. And there are also people who come out from the psychedelic therapy, and they maintain their level of happiness and therapeutic value & benefits by going to psychedelic parties. And they suddenly realize, "Oh, this is actually the way in which I feel the best". So I think it's very, very important to remain open to remain especially tolerant to diversity, because diversity at the end is always an issue, especially in these times in which we're talking about Black Lives Matter on about so many things that we need to realize about what diversity means. Well, let's maybe also start with diversity of thoughts and diversity of experience.
Lisa Wessing 37:46
I would also say that I think that's what we're going to be going towards a lot more fusion a lot more acceptance. However, we're still treading within the realms of illegality. And there's this legitimization process within the scientific world where therapists want to really control everything and make it incredibly safe so that it seems legitimate to a greater society, governments to allow this process to happen. And that's why they are a bit more stark within their process. Then you have other people saying, oh, we'll just become like the 1960s. And, you know, crazy hippies and people jumping out of windows or something. And that could be counterproductive to the, to the movement. Yeah. But yeah, definitely, diversity is always very important.
Nadeya Hassan 38:49
Yeah, I'd love to piggyback off of what you guys are talking about. The next thing I really wanted to ask you about is how psychedelics have kind of been progressing through your 10 years of research and seeing how it's really evolved and how it's changed. Now we're starting to see psychedelics being commercialized. We're seeing psychedelic pharmaceutical companies starting to come up like Minded and Compass pathways, for example, and how they're creating synthetic psilocybin. And so I feel like that in itself, like what you're saying it offers this sort of very controlled therapeutic experience. And then if you look at an organization like Maps, who's focusing on the decriminalization of psychedelics so that there's a little bit more open room for recreational use. What are your thoughts on this?
Lisa Wessing 39:49
Well, first of all, I think it's important to go back to what we were saying that every way of using psychedelics should be available as long as it's responsible as long as it has harm reduction tools, information or education, all of this. So in a certain way, if these companies want to create their companies, for me, it's kind of fine. But what is not fine and this is actually like the problem with these companies is that, you know, like, capitalism doesn't reach itself just by creating products, but also by monopolizing and also by concentrating power and money into the means of production and in this way, the means of production are connected to a system or medical system. And so this is what we call medicalization. So, the full-on medicalization of psychedelics is extremely dangerous. We know what happens when medicalization advances its own agenda towards making patterns and creating systems in which people become dependent of a specific substance. So, for example, many people have been thinking, "how could this work" because psychedelics are not very easy to make profitable. You only take them around three times in therapeutic sessions. Therapeutic sessions are usually kind of long, but not as long as it was with LSD. With psilocybin, you have a session of 2, 3, 4 hours at the most. And then that seems like you have a substance that is not so expensive, and not taking it constantly. So what I find interesting is that these companies, precisely Compass Pathways, MindMed, Field Trip, MPO genix, ATAI Life Sciences, Silo Wellness, there's all these venture capitalist companies and they portray themselves as amazingly progressive. But actually, many of them are advancing an agenda of, first of all, patenting substances and advancing the process in which only these patented substances will be the ones that are becoming legal, but also advancing the possibility of also patenting therapeutic processes. So if you're going to train yourself as a psychedelic therapist, then you're going to have to basically pay a lot of money to be able to become this therapist, and these are going to be also patented therapeutic systems. So basically, what's happening is that these companies are just looking for a way of making money with it. Painting themselves is very responsible because they have a very prepared advisory boards. I think what is really wrong with these companies is this way of seeing psychedelic medicine as something that can be monopolized. I would really like our listeners to pay attention to the podcast Plus Three, It's a beautiful podcast that is questioning everything that is related to psychedelic medicine, in the more political and capitalist level, trying to really question what's happening. And I think our listeners should listen to this podcast because for me we are in a state of emergency and this state of emergency requires us as a society to pay a lot of attention to the movements of these companies and to not let them fool us because a lot of people are like "have you heard about these companies, how they are doing amazing things for psychedelic medicine" and it's like, wait a minute do not get fooled these companies are protecting their interests. They will say that they are advancing psychedelic medicine for the well being of human beings because they really want psychedelic psychotherapy to become something new. And they're selling this image of something very progressive and beautiful. But actually, they really want to monopolize practices and to create neoliberals medicalized system around psychedelic medicine. Yeah, as you were saying that a lot of these companies are actually within the boards. People are on each other's boards. So we can actually see that they're creating a kind of Monopoly. Because in the end, as Gabriel stated, we will need companies that produce these kinds of substances. We cannot say we're not going to have any, we're just gonna have underground labs, that's not going to be a possibility either. However, I would say that we specifically have to see the political agenda behind it, so that we can go hand in hand with decriminalization, for instance, the head of MindMed said that he's going to be creating antibiotics for addiction. So basically, he is within the medical track, and he does not want anything to do with decriminalization, because no good science has to be given to the patient. And just for him, saying patients again says, you have to be diagnosed, you have to be part of the health system to have access. So that's a big issue there. Then also, for instances, these companies are creating some pretty crazy stuff. Apparently, LSD neutralizers, which could potentially be really interesting for using LSD in therapy, again, because it's so long. And so generally, it's not being used, because you cannot do a 12-hour session or even longer. But it's also taking away, I would say because he also wants to take away the hallucinogenic effects. And a lot of the effects for a lot of therapists is essential. So we're not just talking about, you take a pill, and it's going to change something in your neurology or physiology, and then you're better. But we have been finding more and more that it's about it's an interplay between your biology and your subjective experience. And what you make out of the subjective experience in itself is healing. So the meaning we give the experience, the meaning you give to the inside game, the way that you harness this kind of experience in your life is part of the therapy process. And if we then have companies who suddenly, you know, chop off here and chop off there, then we might be getting a kind of McDonald's like psychedelic experience that is not valid anymore. It's artificial, and not really doing what its supposed to be doing. Yeah, exactly. I think some of these companies have even publicly said that they are interested in taking away the psychedelic effects from psychedelics, and just leave the neurological effects, which will be presented in neural connectivity and neurogenesis. And I think that's actually a very bad idea, not only bad but it's ridiculous, because these neural connectivities and these neural functionalities and this neurogenesis maybe actually they arise from the psychedelic experience itself, from the confrontation with whatever happens inside you in the psychedelic experience. And, you know, when we focus in these companies were also forgetting about talking about the other companies who are doing the same, but in a much more hippie. And doing the same with Ayahuasca and doing the same with San Pedro and doing these kinds of very expensive retreats in Costa Rica and Jamaica. And they're actually doing the same they are profiting from the psychedelic experience of these plants, they are definitely colonizing techniques in which they are culturally appropriating elements of other cultures to create this very elistist structure and to create this kind of psychedelic experience, which is aimed towards the same. We have a miracle cure, you're going to come and when you leave this place, you're going to be an entirely new person. And then people get really confused, you know, because they come out of these experiences, and they are like, oh, yeah, I feel better, but my life still kind of sucks. Because we are not realizing that the psychedelic experience as the people from ancestral cultures know, the psychedelic experience come, as I was saying at the beginning with many other tools, and some of these tools are also about the social process and natural process, your connection with the natural world, your connection with other people. And if you don't have the tools to reconsider your entire way of living through the psychedelic experience, then maybe you're just treating psychedelics as yours treating with paracetamol, you know, you're just taking it to see if you feel better, and you will probably feel better for a little bit, but that's not going to take your migraine away. There are so many great expectations. And when that expectation is not satisfied, people may then also think, I'm a hopeless case, nobody can help me anymore. You know, this magic little bullet that they told me that's going to take it all away, didn't take it away. So you know, why am I even trying to get better?
Nadeya Hassan 50:36
It's very true. And it's going to start creating these expectations. And so I guess one thing that we can ask is how do we actually stop this sort of capitalist agenda from happening so that we can go back to the root of what psychedelics were put on this earth for, which is to heal. And I really love what the North Star ethics pledge does - creating this pledge so that - if no one's familiar with it, they have a pledge where it sticks to the commitment of making psychedelics, ethical and moral. And so I think that if a lot more of these companies and these organizations were to be taking on this sort of approach, as they develop this sort of therapeutic use, maybe we can hopefully find some sort of balance or equilibrium in this, so it doesn't have to get to the worst of the worst. If it does, we're just gonna have to go back to how our ancestors didn't. You know?
Gabriel Amezcua 51:37
Yeah, well, actually, it's interesting, because I've been researching the North Star pledge, for some months. I'm a good acquaintance of some of the people of the orange projects, who are one of the initiatives that supports this pledge. And I really also like their perspective, I think it's also a very localized perspective. I'm gonna explain myself, I think, the North Star pledge is definitely very culturally speaking, adequate for America, you know, especially American, the UK and Anglophone cultures, in which capitalism has definitely like a big form of corporatism. So in a certain way, it's in a beautiful effort to try to regulate this reality. But, what gives me this as an idea is that I think every culture should, every country in a certain - we should create our own organizations, but adapt it to our own necessities. For example, in Latin America, it's incredibly important to create more organizations that have that creative decolonizing processes in which indigenous people can become closer to the academics and to the medicalization processes on the same level in which they can have a ward in how you develop psychedelic medicine. I think in Europe, it's very clear that it's going to be something more directed towards how can we make psychedelics part of the state health system because Europe is more into state health. And I think this is exactly the question, we need to adapt psychedelics to each of the realities, systemic realities. And that means considering the systemic elements that conformed each of these realities. And, yeah, definitely North Star is pointing towards the fact that in the US corporations are very menacing, and they devour processes. And that's why it's very important for it to exist. But I think that in that way, it's also very important for us to notice other processes that are happening. There are amazing organizations in Brazil, in Mexico, in Peru, that are working with indigenous medicine and that are promoting the advancements of indigenous research. And I think it's very beautiful, how many of them aren't weighted. Some of them have kind of a religious connotation. Some researchers are part of (organizations in South America) that are researching Ayahuasca through the religious perspective, but at the same time researching with people in jails and young people with addictions. So I think it's about also seeing the elements that we have around us and adapting to them. And also in this way, as we said before, being very aware of the realities of this culture includes a lot of diversity. Because in the past year and a half, diversity has become a central issue in the psychedelic community. There were these conferences such as psychedelic liberty summits that are starting to talk a lot about how can we make psychedelics into a more diverse arena, you know, like, how can we treat, for example, traumatized refugees with psychedelics? How would we do it? Can we treat? Who does it? Can we treat women or victims of sexual abuse with psychedelics? How can we do it because until now, psychedelics have been very white and privileged, and only elitist people have been therapeutically accessing psychedelics or going to Peru to have the Ayahuasca ceremony and paying a lot of money. So I think also, the question is, how, how can we make psychedelics into something that is more accessible, and the accessibility of psychedelics is something that requires a lot of political and activist level approaches. So that's also one of the reasons why I respect the work of precisely Chacruna. Also Rick Doblin in Maps, who has been, even if he has been invited many times to become part of the corporation's fights, Rick has always been very transparent that he will not undermine the advancements of corporations, but that he will also support decriminalization and responsible harm reduction use so that's why Zendo Project exists. And I think it's very beautiful to see these kind of like social fighters, and from my point of view, until psychedelics becomes decriminalized, we should all be social fighters, not only psychedelic therapists, we should all be social fighters.
Lisa Wessing 57:00
Talking about cognitive limits. Liberty here is for everyone.
Nadeya Hassan 57:05
Yeah, I love everything that you're saying right now. So I guess for, for those who do choose to take psychedelics recreationally, how can we create safer environments for those who choose to self medicate? What is your advice for that?
Lisa Wessing 57:26
Since we're talking about the individual in this way, the individual has to then also take on responsibility in educating and researching whatever he or she will be doing. Right now, there's more and more organizations that are providing proper information, unbiased scientific information, experiential information that is out there from sites like Erowid, Blue Light, Trip Sit, Roll Safe, I mean, there's loads, there's lots out there. So each person has to kind of do their research before doing a substance. Other than that, I think it's also really important that the person who chooses to take anything has a support structure during and after the experience itself. So you can take it with people, so then you have kind of a support structure there, even if they're high themselves. If you choose to take anything by yourself, always notify someone as well. They might not have to be sitting next to you throughout the whole trip, but they're accessible because you never know what can happen. Or if you need to just you know express yourself and because expression in itself can be the catharsis, it can be so important. And also that you find people that are like-minded in a sense that also know something about or are part of this culture. Because it can be really difficult for a person who had this, you know, mind-blowing experience and then going to their friends or family who do not have any kind of experience and, you know, bumping up against the wall or disbelief or you know, the shame of like, "How could you do this?" There are things online, there's even something like Trips Sit where people help you activity during your trip, and you can find communities.
Gabriel Amezcua 59:34
Yeah, I guess that in a certain way what this means is that we need to promote harm reduction. And I think it's interesting because when you navigate around the drug world, one of the most important phases of drug policy, drug advancement, drug research, one of the most most important is definitely cost reduction, but at the same time, it's one of the most underestimated. When you talk with psychologists that are into psychedelic therapy. And you talk about harm reduction, a lot of them are gonna be like, "Oh, what's that" and usually the harm reduction movements are usually seen as the punks, the rebels, or the punks of the drug world because they are real social fighters. And what they are trying to advance are these tools so that people can have autonomy about their decision of taking drugs. For example, they promote drug information, drug checking. I think, for example, paraphernalia that I think a lot of people don't think about. What you were saying, like, yes, you're gonna take drugs or self-medicated, as you said, you would use these kinds of services of people who take care of you or whatever. But I think, for example, one of the main things that you should do before anything is to check your drug, to make sure that what you're going to take is actually what you think it is. And drug checking services are massively unavailable. And every time that countries start advancing the possibility for drug checking to exist, many government authorities, they undermine it, and they will come and say, "you're promoting drug use", they don't have even a minimum clue about how harm reduction works, and about the fact that usually when you promote harm reduction strategies, people tend to take fewer drugs, less dangerous than actually taking more. So it's the same as what happens with sex education, you know like you give sex education schools...
Lisa Wessing 1:01:59
You won't have the whole school being pregnant.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:02:00
Yeah, people are not just going to make an orgy. You usually incentivize responsible use. And what happens is that many people who are very uninformed about drug policy, but that they are the ones who take decisions about it, they usually tend to think that harm reduction strategies or promoting drug use, when it's the contrary.
Lisa Wessing 1:02:21
We have it here in Berlin. In Berlin, we cannot deny that there's high levels of consumption of substances all around in clubs, etc. and the government is still - they now said we can have drug checking, but there's still no guidelines, we don't know where, when or how we just know that it can be done but there's nothing more that has been done.
Nadeya Hassan 1:02:54
Hmm. Wow, do you guys have any resources that you can share with our listeners that where they can educate themselves on or just learn about?
Gabriel Amezcua 1:03:05
Well, of course, there are loads of beautiful pages with massive amounts of information about how to do drug checking, how to research your drugs, like how to understand what you know, like new research chemicals. Some of them are for example Erowid, which is when one of the most famous and visited. But you also have places such as in my case, as a Mexican, there are 2 beautiful organizations. The energy control from Spain and Echele Cabeza from Colombia, they developed a lot of beautiful tools. Me, Myself, I was working in Mexico in a project called ReverdeSer, which is also giving a lot of resources and we developed an instrument called the universal of drugs. You can look for the universal of drugs still online now. I think the web page had a little bit of trouble, but you can still ee look at it in Youth Rise. And there are other pages about drug information in Germany, like the Alice project.
Lisa Wessing 1:04:19
Alice project, Sonar, Accent. Also, a lot of these projects have kind of different orientations. So some are more about actual information on the action on different substances. But then you can have, for instance, students for Sensible Drug Policy, which is more political or there's Chacruna, which is more ethno, anthropological. There's Symposia.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:04:47
Yeah and for example, in the US there is dance space, which is massive and they work with a lot of different resources. They work with drug checking, and they work with drug education. There is also Zendo, which is more about psychedelics specifically, and they have all sorts of resources about how to navigate a psychedelic experience. So I think in a certain way it's just about making these resources more available, and getting them more funding because oh my God, I've been working in harm reduction for many years and I can tell you, that is the most underfunded organizations in the world. It's amazing how little money they have, and how much they do with it. And that's kind of beautiful, you know, to see all these social fighters that are convinced that's the way. Even if I've been working with shamans or with psychedelic therapists I still have my heart in the harm reduction scene, because, for me, those are the real heroes.
Lisa Wessing 1:05:52
They are open to anyone, so you know, you are, in the end, catering to the world, and not just a few people who decide to do a ceremony or to do whatever.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:06:06
If you're in Berlin, and you go to a festival, you need to check out Eclipse. We collaborate with Eclipse. You can come and have a lot of drug information, psych care paraphernalia. There's a lot of false information about how to use this paraphernalia, like inhale inhalation devices, so that you don't transmit diseases when you inhale substances, all of this.
Lisa Wessing 1:06:37
And also, if you do want to check your substances, there's a project in Poland called SIN. And you can order the reagents that you need to check online so that you can do it at home. Which is also, you know, gives you the power to the people.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:06:55
Yeah, SIN projects, are kind of new, but they are doing also amazing stuff.
Nadeya Hassan 1:07:01
Very cool. So I think some of our key takeaways are, be diverse and very open with the way that you choose to receive the medicine and tests your drugs. Know what you're taking before you take it, and giving more thought and more light and supporting those organizations who are working on harm reduction, and in doing all these other sorts of collaborative efforts.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:07:38
Decriminalization is very important and social justice approaches and all this. And also in that way, like remember that psychedelics are not necessarily needed, they don't need to be only included in the spectrum of medicalization, you know, like "Oh, I have depression", or "I have anxiety, so then I'm going to take psychedelics for them". But there are very beautiful and complex tools. And there's a lot of information available, and you can actually empower yourself or your group of people to use psychedelics in a responsible harm reduction approach way, and that you can actually use these resources to use psychedelics to not necessarily treat yourself but actually to improve your quality of life through the understanding of yourself and of those surrounding you. That's a good closure.
Lisa Wessing 1:08:31
Self-exploration is always good.
Gabriel Amezcua 1:08:38
Thank you so much, you guys. You touched on everything that I wanted to hear and I think as well as our listeners, so thank you once again, so much for joining us.
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.