Online Psychedelic Community Options to Ride Out the Rest of Covid-19

By Michelle Janikian

From virtual psychedelic integration circles to conferences, book clubs, and classes, we’ve rounded up the best of online psychedelic community to help you get through the next few months.

We’re almost a year into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and if you’re feeling quarantine-fatigued, believe us, we get it. We are too. However, like we’ve been mentioning in our Solidarity Fridays podcast, that doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore safety precautions and begin meeting in large groups to do medicine or integration work. But the good news is, there are lots of virtual psychedelic community options to get involved in as we ride out the last of Covid. From online integration circles to events, conferences, and Discord and Facebook groups, there are plenty of ways to meet like-minded folk, both in your area and all over the world. So don’t lose hope and join us in an upcoming online community event that speaks to you – there are plenty of options!

Virtual Psychedelic Integration Circles

One of the best ways to meet like-minded folks and to stay grounded while doing personal psychedelic journey work is to join a psychedelic integration circle. Pre-pandemic, these were often groups of 10 to 20 people who would meet up once a month or so to share psychedelic experiences and insights in a safe and accepting space. Luckily, most of the circles that were already established migrated to online platforms and are still going strong today, which also means that folks who live outside of big cities where these were hosted in-person can now join from anywhere in the world. Plus, there are lots of specialty integration circles for particular groups so you can choose the meet-up that makes you feel the most safe and comfortable.

General Integration Circles Open to Anyone

Before we describe all the speciality integration groups, we thought we’d start with some of the general integration circles we know of and trust. First up, our friends at Mt. Tam Integration host an open circle every Wednesday evening on a sliding scale from free to $30, depending on what you can afford.

The Portland Psychedelic Society hosts an open integration circle called “Community Integration Circle” every other Saturday afternoon.

Lastly, the NYC Psychedelic Society has teamed up with the New York-based Psychedelic Sangha to offer a monthly harm-reduction focused integration circle, called “Global Gathering” with a $5 to $10 suggested donation. 

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San Francisco Psychedelic Society

One of the most active psychedelic societies hosting an array of psychedelic integration circles and other online community opportunities is the San Francisco Psychedelic Society (SFPS). They host a general psychedelic integration circle open to anyone who’s interested on the first Tuesday of every month, but it’s all their specialty offerings that really make them stand out. 

They host an integration circle specifically for those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) on the second Monday of every month, a women’s circle called “Sacred Sisters Spaceship” on the third Friday of every month, and a circle for BIPOC folk on the fourth Sunday of every month (each circle has its own link, so visit the main page for more details). 

SFPS, along with MycoRising also hosts a group specifically for mushroom people where folks can discuss both mushroom cultivation questions as well as any entheogenic mushroom concepts and experiences on the first Thursday of every month. They also host a group for microdosing support, The Microdosing Movement, on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. 

For those in addiction recovery, SFPS have an addiction-focused circle for asking questions and sharing experiences, which is more focused on harm-reduction than following the traditional 12-step program. They also offer a dream circle for folks to come discuss and integrate their dream work in a safe and open-minded space. 

One of the best things about SFPS is their affordable pricing model. They only ask for a donation of around $10 for groups and will not turn anyone away if they can’t afford even that. 

More BIPOC Circles: The Sabina Project & Others

Feeling safe, seen, and heard is so crucial to psychedelic integration work, which is why a lot of psychedelic societies around the country have started their own specifically BIPOC integration circles led by and open to people of color. The Sabina Project, a community that supports “radical self-transformation in the name of collective liberation,” also hosts a BIPOC circle on the first and third Sunday of every month, co-facilitated by their founders, Charlotte and Dre. 

Other local groups also host BIPOC circles, like the New York City Psychedelic Society, which hosts a virtual integration circle for people of color once a month. The Portland Psychedelic Society also hosts a monthly BIPOC integration circle. 

More Women’s Integration Circles

Another popular choice for people to feel safe and heard in integration spaces are women’s integration circles (which are often also opened up to non-binary people). Mt Tam Integration hosts a virtual women’s circle on the first and third Thursday of every month. The Portland Psychedelic Society also hosts a Womxn’s Support Group every other Wednesday. 

Men’s Integration Circle

The Portland Psychedelic Society doesn’t only have a womxn’s support group, but also one for men on Mondays.

Trans and Non-binary Circle

The NYC Psychedelic Society hosts a peer-led circle specifically for trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and gender-questioning folk called “Transdelic” once a month on Tuesdays. 

Psychedelic Integration Circle for Parents

There is also a virtual integration group specifically for parents, the Plant Parenthood Integration Circle, facilitated by Rebecca Kronman, LCSW (founder of Plant Parenthood) and Andrew Rose. This group meets virtually once a month to discuss issues such as talking to children about psychedelics, including children in the integration process, understanding intergenerational trauma, coping with stigma and shame in parent communities, and much more. 

Psychedelic Integration for Neurodivergent Folk

Folks with neurodivergence or who are on the autism spectrum also have a few of their own spaces to integrate psychedelic experiences. Aaron Orsini, author of Autism on Acid, hosts a group with Justine Lee called The Autistic Psychedelic Community (APC). They meet on Thursdays and Sundays for folks to share experiences, receive support, and ask questions.

The Portland Psychedelic Society also hosts a virtual space for neurodivergent folks (facilitated by Orsini and artist Nathan Cooper) called “Spectrum of Experience.” The next free/donation-based event will be on March 11th.

Psychedelics in Addiction Recovery

In addition to SFPS’s recovery circle, there is also a 12-step based group that hosts multiple meetings a week for those in addiction recovery who are curious about or engaging with psychedelics. Founded by writer and addiction counselor, Kevin Franciotti, Psychedelics in Recovery (PIR) has 15 meetings a week and even host a couple meant to cater to those in European and Australian time zones. You can sign up for their weekly meeting newsletter for days and times, and they also have a private Facebook group for people to continue to form and engage in virtual community in between meetings.

Psychedelic Societies: Beyond Integration Circles

There are loads of psychedelic societies and clubs around the country and globe continuing to form psychedelic community through other online activities, like live talks, events, Facebook and Discord groups, and other saloon-type virtual meetups. Some of our favorites include:

·     Psychedelic Club of Denver

·     Minnesota Psychedelic Society

·     Psychedelic Sangha

·     Psychedelic Society UK

·     Cascadia Psychedelic Community

There are many more psychedelic clubs and societies with virtual offerings around the world that you can find on and around the US on

Online Psychedelic Courses

Another great way to build community and learn some valuable info at the same time is by enrolling in an online course related to psychedelics. There are a lot of different courses out there, with some popular topics including learning how to become a psychedelic therapist, how to grow your own mushrooms, and how to use psychedelics safely.

Of course, if you follow our work, you’ll know we’re very proud of our online course offerings here at Psychedelics Today, which you can browse in our course catalogue here. But one of our biggest contributions to the psychedelic movement is our “Navigating Psychedelics for Clinicians and Therapists” course, which is an 8-week intensive class on everything interested mental health professionals need to know about psychedelic substances. The course is super handy for clinicians and coaches who want to deepen their knowledge of entheogens so that they can help support their patients and clients who might be considering a psychedelic experience or already experimenting (plus we offer CE credits!). The course is also a great way to form community and valuable working relationships with other professionals because it includes weekly live 90-minute group discussions and Q&A sessions to explore the reading and lecture of that week in more depth, as well as a private Slack group for clinicians to continue to network, problem-solve, and educate each other on psychedelic and mental health topics.

Of course, we also have a whole catalogue of other courses, not limited to offerings for doctors and therapists. We have all sorts of offerings for the curious-minded, like our class that explores how to view the psychedelic experience through a Jungian lens, called Imagination as Revelation, and a deep dive into shadow work called Psychedelics and the Shadow. We also have great entry-level classes for those looking to experiment with psychedelics in a safe and responsible way, like our in-depth Navigating Psychedelics: Lessons on Self Care, and our totally free 8 Common Psychedelic Mistakes: Exploring Harm Reduction & Safety. And that’s just a taste – we have other offerings (some that are even free!), and we’re always working on new ideas, like our upcoming free webinar exploring the legal side of psychedelics, Religious Use of Psychedelics in the United States. You can always sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with all of our offerings!

If you’re interested in learning how to grow or use mushrooms, then we’d recommend checking out the virtual courses our friends down at the Fungi Academy host. Their mushroom cultivation course is the most in-depth online class we’ve seen; a go-at-your-own-pace class, it covers everything beginner and intermediate home-growers need to know, from equipment, inoculation and sterilization, to more advanced techniques like working with liquid cultures and maximizing yields. Plus, students also receive access to their Discord channel to continue to socialize with and learn from other mushroom people from around the globe.

They’re also about to release a class on using psychedelics in a safe way called Psychedelic Journey Work, which I’ve had the privilege to peruse. It’s a super in-depth and unbiased approach to psychedelic use that I found fascinating and helpful, especially for the newly psychedelic-curious person in your life!

Over at DoubleBlind Mag, they’re also dipping their toes in online courses, events, and community. They also teach a 101 mushroom cultivation course that is great for total beginners because it uses one of the easiest and most fail-safe “teks” (mushroom people lingo for techniques) out there. And they’ve recently released a more advanced 102 course co-taught by Dr. K. Mandrake,  co-author of the popular books, The Psilocybin Mushroom Bible and The Psilocybin Mushroom Cookbook.

The Sabina Project also hosts monthly masterclasses with a social justice slant. In March, they’re offering “Microdosing to Dismantle Your Oppression,” which will not only teach the basics of microdosing, but moves away from the “productivity” benefits of microdosing and instead, focuses on creating a healing practice that “honors your spiritual, mental and physical wellness” to “help dismantle White Supremacy.” The 90-minute master class is open to anyone, only costs $22, and is a live group gathering.

There are many more online courses related to psychedelics out there, especially for those looking to learn about becoming a psychedelic therapist or facilitator. You can find a bunch on this website Aaron Orsini created, Psychedelic.Courses, and through our post: How to Become a Psychedelic Therapist.

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Virtual Psychedelic Conferences

In pre-pandemic times, one of my favorite ways to forge new psychedelic community was by attending conferences. These kinds of large events will probably be one of the last types of gatherings to start up again in person, but that doesn’t mean they’re going extinct! In fact, with so many conferences going online, it’s actually opened up a new opportunity for folks in small towns and big cities alike to attend conferences they never would have been able to in person. While the bulk of conference season is usually in the fall, there are a few fun ones coming up around Bicycle Day (April 19th) that we’re already getting excited about.

First up, our friend Daniel Shankin from Mt. Tam Integration and who organizes the fun and pleasantly weird Psilocybin Summit in September, will be hosting the first-ever conference focused entirely on psychedelic integration (and everything in between), called the Mt. Tam Psychedelic Integration Family All Star Jamboree. It’ll be a totally virtual 3-day event from April 16-18th, packed with fascinating talks, panels, experts, and music! Our team here at Psychedelics Today is already plotting our involvement and we’re so excited to share more info with you all soon!

Earlier that week on April 14-16th, the Philosophy of Psychedelics conference will also be 100% online and feature talks from some of the greatest thinkers in psychedelics (including our very own Joe Moore and Kyle Buller, who will be moderating some fascinating discussions). Plus, the conference plans to facilitate many virtual group discussions open to the public that will be a great way to forge community and learn from other psychedelically-inclined new friends. More info will be released shortly and you can stay up to date by visiting their website.

The next week, our friends over at will also be hosting their own online conference, Sacred Plants in the Americas II from April 23-25th. This multidisciplinary event will focus on psychoactive plants of North and South America and will spotlight the Indigenous communities who have kept their healing wisdom alive for generations.

Lastly, our friends at Psychedelic Seminars are also hosting a three-part series of online talks called CryptoPsychedelic Flashback. These three online events are a look back at the first CryptoPsychedelic Summit, which took place in February of 2018. Now, those involved are reconvening to discuss cryptocurrencies through a psychedelic lens, and how blockchain technology has grown in the three years since the original summit. Tickets are on a sliding scale and unsurprisingly, they accept cryptocurrencies!

Psychedelic Facebook Groups, Discord Channels, and Clubhouse Rooms

Another way to build some form of community in these weird times is by joining psychedelic message boards, Facebook groups, Discord channels, and most recently, Clubhouse rooms. We moderate a very active Facebook Group called Psychedelics Today Group where our listeners share psychedelic current events, ask questions, share experiences, and engage in healthy discourse. 

There are tons of other groups out there on Facebook and sites like Erowid, Shroomery, Reddit, and others. Mt. Tam integration also has a Discord group, and I saw recently they’re on Clubhouse as well. Speaking of Clubhouse, there’s a bunch of psychedelic clubs already on there, and it seems to be really easy to start your own. We’re looking into joining soon, so stand by for more info!

Other Fun and Weird Psychedelic Online Events

For the book nerds out there, my friend Bett Williams, author of The Wild Kindness, has started a psychedelic book club that meets monthly. Every month, they read a different psychedelic classic, curated and hosted by Williams herself *squeals in fan girl*. Next up on March 11th, they’ll be discussing one of my favorite sci-fi, gender-fuck classics, Dawn, by Octavia Butler.

There are seemingly endless ways to get involved with virtual psychedelic community, and here at Psychedelics Today, we’re always trying to find new ways to grow our community and keep our listeners and readers involved. We recently hosted a “happy hour” panel discussion for the new psychedelic film, Light Years, with director Colin Thompson and co-host Joe Moore, where we invited all of you to come hang out and discuss whatever you want.

We plan to keep providing these kinds of online community events because we know how important “finding the others” is and how much more sense the world of psychedelics makes when you can share it with fellow travelers. So continue to seek out and attend virtual community events, and by the time we can all meet-up again, it’ll be an epic party.

About the Author

Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends, and education, and the editor of the Psychedelics Today blog. She’s also the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion and her work has been featured in Playboy, DoubleBlind Mag, High TimesRolling Stone, and Teen Vogue, among others. One of her core beliefs is that ending the prohibition of drugs can greatly benefit society, as long as we have harm-reduction education to accompany it. Find out more on her website: or on Instagram @michelle.janikian.

Bipolar and Psychedelics: An Investigation into the Potential and Risks

Is there more to the issue of psychedelics and bipolar disorder than the psychedelic science community would make us think?

By Michelle Janikian

For decades the consensus of the psychedelic science community regarding bipolar disorder is that folks with manic depression should avoid psychedelics as to not aggravate their condition. They’re one of the few groups, along with those with a psychotic spectrum disorder or a heart condition, who are told sorry, psychedelics are not safe for them. In the case of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the fear is that the psychedelic experience can cause them to go manic, a state characterized by grandiose thinking and over-extending oneself (and often one’s bank account) that can lead to reckless, dangerous, and intrusive behavior that’s essentially out of character and can cause folks to lose control of their own lives or put themselves and possibly others in life-threatening situations. And it’s not a myth, there are case studies, like this one from 1981, of people going manic during or after psychedelic experiences, but there haven’t been any trials controlling for things like the type of substance, set and setting, and dosage.

Will Barone, PsyD who’s worked in research and clinical settings with therapies involving MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, says classic psychedelics and other medicines like MDMA work largely by affecting the brain’s serotonin system, especially the 5-HT2A receptor. For most people, that’s not a huge risk. It’s not physically dangerous unless mixing different substances or taking super-high doses. But for folks with bipolar disorder, the serotonergic activity may be what poses the problem – that increased activity could potentially trigger mania, or at least “increase the likelihood for mood episodes,” as Barone puts it. 

Most bipolar folks can’t even take SSRI anti-depressants without the risk of hypomania or a manic episode, and it’s how many of the folks I interviewed and who filled out a survey on bipolar and psychedelics I created got diagnosed in the first place. They went to their doctors feeling depressed, got prescribed an SSRI, and instead of feeling better (or nothing at all), they went manic, some even bordering or breaking through to psychosis. And so, to most in the psychedelic community that’s the end of the story. If an SSRI can cause mania, then surely it’s unsafe to give these folks psilocybin, MDMA, or ayahuasca, for example. Sorry bipolar diagnosed people but you are excluded from the incredible and mystical insight, perspective shift and depression relief that psychedelics can grant others. But what if it’s not as open and shut as the community would make us think? 

Before I dive any deeper into what I found investigating this subject, it’s important to say that I am in no way encouraging anyone to take psychedelics or get off their prescription medications. But living with bipolar can be hard. Not only can mania be dangerous but the depression is also life-threatening; folks with manic depression are much more likely to attempt and commit suicide than the general population. Yet, the hypersensitivity that is sometimes a handicap can also be a gift, one that many are unwilling to give up. And traditional pharmaceutical medication often suppresses empathy, creativity, spirituality, and concentration, among a host of other natural processes. So are there other options for folks living with this condition?

“Ketamine is the primary substance I would feel comfortable working with for a bipolar client,” says Barone. “It doesn’t seem to have the same risk for inducing a mood episode as MDMA or psilocybin.” He explains that ketamine doesn’t work nearly as much on serotonin as other entheogens, that instead, its primary action is on the glutamate and NMDA receptors, which has made many researchers theorize how ketamine produces its rapid antidepressant effects. “We’re still figuring out a lot about how ketamine works,” Barone explains, but the risk of inducing a manic episode from clinical ketamine treatment seems to be very low. “That’s one of the interesting things,” he says, “so far in clinical ketamine treatment, we haven’t seen mania develop in people with bipolar disorder, even with a history of mania. I haven’t personally seen any cases.” However, it’s important to note, many bipolar clients of Ketamine assisted therapy or infusions are also staying on their medications, likely mitigating the risk. “Ketamine is one of the only medications with psychedelic properties where it is appropriate for a patient to remain on their mood-stabilizing medications,” says Barone. “This is important for patients with bipolar disorder who can be destabilized by stopping medication too abruptly.” 

In the program where Barone practices, Healing Realms Psychotherapy, clinicians sometimes utilize ketamine assisted psychotherapy (KAP) for individuals with bipolar disorder. It’s on a case by case basis, but essentially ketamine can be offered at different doses in conjunction with talk therapy, which can “use that psychedelic or altered experience to better understand your situation,” says Barone, “to have better awareness of your ego functioning and how to manage mood, in addition to the mood-stabilizing properties of ketamine.” Then, clinicians often increase the amount of follow-up sessions for bipolar clients to continue to monitor changes to mood or cognition, Barone tells me.

A Ph.D. candidate at Flinders University, Benjamin Mudge, is looking into this phenomenon for his thesis and believes the type of substance plays a large role in mitigating the mania risk and providing the most balanced depression relief for those with manic depression. Mudge himself is bipolar, and at 48 has been through the wringer in attempts to treat his condition. Over a three hour Skype conversation, he tells me about being institutionalized and medicated on 17 different pharmaceuticals over 10 years with varying degrees of negative side effects, from weight gain and hair loss to losing his ability make art (a practice many thought he’d pursue professionally as a young person), capacity to make and perform music, and complete numbness to the rich world around him.

“I don’t feel suicidal, manic, or crazy [on the drugs the psychiatrists prescribed me],” Mudge explains. “But I don’t feel pleasure, fun, or arousal. I don’t feel a spiritual connection with nature. I can be sitting in a sacred ceremony, church, music festival, or forest, and everyone that’s around me is feeling something deep. But I just feel numb. And as a result of that, I then feel a sense of frustration and alienation from other people, and a sense of pointlessness.”

Eventually fed up, Mudge stopped taking pharmaceuticals cold-turkey (a practice he does not recommend to others) in search of a more natural remedy. After failed attempts with herbs like St John’s Wort, a friend asked if he had heard of ayahuasca. Now, 15 years later, Mudge drinks ayahuasca every couple of months to manage his condition (in addition to being careful with nutrition and avoiding other psychoactive substances) – and has never felt better. Even though, he tells me repeatedly throughout our conversation that this path isn’t for everyone and he in no way recommends folks stop taking their meds in favor of ayahuasca.

But his Ph.D. in psychiatry gives him the opportunity that many don’t have: he is systematically recording his moods and other reactions to ayahuasca, along with analyzing each tea he drinks in the lab to try and figure out the optimal brew for those living with manic depression. And he’s formulated a few fascinating theories that are catching the eye of psychedelic researchers around the globe.

Image 1
Benjamin Mudge theorizes that the risk of psychedelics triggering mania in bipolar brains is not a function of the intensity of the psychedelic experience, instead is a function of the duration of the psychedelic experience. In this diagram, different psychedelic substances and serotonin (which all plug into the 5-HT2A receptor in human brains) are shown to have different receptor binding times, and cause different escalations in mood.

For one, substance matters, and Mudge believes DMT might hold the most benefits for those with bipolar disorder because of its incredibly short binding time to the 5-HT2A receptor. Most psychedelics “plug into” the 2A receptor, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT included, but the length to which they stay there determines the length of a trip. So for example, (see image 1) LSD stays plugged in for the longest, which explains why it’s such a longer-lasting trip than psilocybin or simply smoking pure DMT. But Mudge theorizes the binding time also matters when determining the mania risk for the bipolar brain, that the short binding time of DMT poses less of a risk of pushing bipolar people into mania, while substances that bind for longer, like LSD, present a higher risk. 

Image 2
Mood swings are caused by modulations in the frequency of the Phosphoinositide
turnover cycle in those neurons responsible for cognition, memory, and mood:
mania = cycling too fast   /   depression = cycling too slow.
(ref: Adolfo Sairdi & Anne Mudge 2018)

His theory gets more complicated than this and some of his mechanical ideas are based on findings of his mother, Anne W. Mudge, a Professor of neurobiology at University College London. In 2002 she discovered the bipolar brain has a malfunction in its inositol phosphate metabolism, which is a key regulating function that helps average folks regulate their moods, speed of their thoughts, and other related actions. In a nutshell, she discovered that instead of the bipolar mind being “too high” or “too low” (aka manic or depressive), that in reality, it was functioning at speeds that were too fast or too slow because of its missing regulating mechanism, thus explaining how medication like Lithium comes in to help regulate that speed (see image 2).   

Now when we add serotonergic psychedelics or SSRI medication on top of a “dysregulated” brain, there’s a chance it could overextend itself and go too fast for too long, which could look like mania. And often, depression follows the mania in these cases, hence, the “disorderly” moods. However, this gets back to the binding time in Mudge’s theory, because what if shorter-acting psychedelics didn’t push people over the edge into mania, but rather, jump-started them out of depression and left them with more self-awareness to notice when their moods are fluctuating, giving them the ability to be more proactive in that process? 

Mudge has found that ayahuasca and DMT help him the most (in carefully curated circumstances that we’ll discuss below). It brings him depression-relief and healing from a long list of past traumas, plus incredible awareness of the internal signs of a rising manic episode and how those behaviors have affected others. “One of the most fundamentally valuable things about ayahuasca for bipolar people is that it’s helped me understand how the manic episode is damaging people around me and damaging myself,” Mudge explains. “There is a sort of heightened sense of conscience, a social conscience that comes from the psychedelic awareness. That principle is perfect for getting bipolar people to understand how problematic the mania is, even if it feels amazing at the time.”  And with the right brew of ayahuasca in a supportive container, this insight and healing come without pushing him into mania. He says after an ayahuasca ceremony he feels a “humble happiness” rather than a speedy or bordering on manic one.

Part of his research is interviewing others and collecting qualitative data of folks with bipolar disorder who use ayahuasca and DMT to try and determine what’s happening. And it’s beginning to prove his theories. For example, of the 10 bipolar people, he’s interviewed that smoke or vape pure DMT (without any MAOI inhibitor-containing plants or substances), “none of them went manic.” He says, “All of them reported the same thing, which was that it was mildly antidepressant. But it was also calming and grounding. As in, if they were on the manic end of the spectrum [which three were], it would bring them back to the center. And if they were depressed, it would bring them slightly up, but it wouldn’t keep pushing them and escalating into mania.”

This is a shocking finding, but not a surprising one. Psychedelics in the right dose and a prepared set and setting are known to give people a new perspective on their lives and behaviors, so why couldn’t they help folks increase their self-awareness around their mood? In a survey I conducted of bipolar diagnosed people who have tried psychedelics, I came to a similar finding. Of the 42 bipolar people who continue to use psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca, DMT, mescaline and even LSD, 35 found the experience helped them manage their symptoms, including not only depression-relief but more awareness to ground themselves during mood shifts and ability to recognize manic behavior. 

“I am aware of my manic episodes when they are taking place. I am also able to recognize them faster after they happen. Maybe I can’t change what I did in those moments, [but] I am able to hold compassion for myself and understand that I am still learning and growing because for so many years I just numbed myself with Pharma and alcohol,” described Mary* a 31-year-old with Bipolar I who no longer takes pharmaceutical medication but has been using psilocybin in varying doses since January 2019. “The manic events are shorter and less severe. For example, instead of spending $1,000 at a store, I’ll spend $100 and then recognize it and am able to hold compassion that I am making progress. (My manic episodes tend to lean towards over-spending, over-eating, over-everything). Also, it has helped my binging and purging, and my depression. Obviously, all are related, but I am just more aware of everything and also the plant medicine helps me see where everything is stemming from so I can re-parent those sides of myself.”

Interestingly, some who reported more awareness and ability to manage manic behaviors pointed to mania being a very “ego-driven” experience, perhaps explaining how psychedelics are helping folks deal with it rather than aggravate it further. “When I am starting towards a manic episode, psychedelics kind of smack me back down to earth and help me remember that I don’t have all my shit figured out. It humbles me and relieves the burning anger and irritation with compassion and connection to the ‘other’,” explained Sarah*, a 37-year-old with Bipolar 2 who is now off pharmaceuticals and instead uses psilocybin truffles about once a month in different doses, which are legal in the Netherlands where she lives.  

Admittedly, the responses to the survey I created have a bias because most folks found the Google Form through my social media where I’m very pro-psychedelic (especially psilocybin mushrooms) and so my followers are more likely to report positive experiences than negative ones. However, considering the lack of options beyond lifelong medication for the bipolar population, it’s an interesting finding in need of more investigation beyond anecdotal reports. Could one psychedelic experience every few months “ground” bipolar folks, allowing them to experience and manage their full range of feelings without heavy meds like Lithium? Even in Barone’s practice with ketamine, he tells Psychedelics Today that when appropriate, the goal is to wean some patients off their pharmaceutical medications eventually and instead, manage their moods with the help of intermittent ketamine-assisted therapy sessions and building skills to independently manage mood fluctuations.

It’s super controversial, especially considering unmedicated bipolar folks are at a much higher risk for suicide. Plus, going off psychiatric medication quickly without a doctor’s supervision is also dangerous, especially when combined with psychedelics. Barone, who’s volunteered at Burning Man’s Zendo Project for seven years and supervised for four, explains the combination of stopping medication to take psychedelics has caused numerous attendees to have a psychotic break at Black Rock City. Plus, Barone says that for some people, “It may be the intensity of the experience or having insufficient support during and after a trip that shifts mood or cognitive process beyond the effects of the substance.” 

At the same time, mixing bipolar medications with psychedelics seems to be contraindicated, although getting a clear answer from doctors on this is hard. While it’s pretty common knowledge that SSRI’s shouldn’t be combined with psychedelics for several reasons, including the potential risk of Serotonin Syndrome, there’s less info out there about common bipolar medications like lamotrigine and lithium. Some doctors, like a psychiatrist Mudge, knows of in New York and those I interviewed for my book on mushrooms, seem to think lamotrigine doesn’t pose a huge risk when mixing with psilocybin or ayahuasca, however, lithium seems to be in a class of its own. I’ve personally heard of two instances where lithium mixed with LSD caused such negative reactions (including a seizure) that both people were sent to the emergency room to the despair of their tripping friends. There’s more info on mixing Lithium and LSD in this Erowid vault

To make matters even more complicated, even some of those who responded to my survey saying psychedelics help them reflect on their manic/hypomanic behaviors and ground themselves often also describe a singular incident where they did go manic and even psychotic or deeply paranoid after particular psychedelic journeys where they either “took too much,” had a “bad trip”, or took substances in less than ideal set and settings. Which brings us back to Mudge’s theories, that the bipolar brain is more sensitive and can’t handle certain substances or situations, like frequent psychedelic use or poly-drug mixes, without possibly heading into mania. 

Image 3

And so, Mudge has created harm reduction guidelines for bipolar diagnosed people who want to drink ayahuasca, although he tells me multiple times he is not advising anyone to take ayahuasca or do anything illegal, but instead to please wait until his research and other community initiatives are completed. Yet, if people ignore his advice, the guidelines (see image 3) do provide a lot of interesting information to reduce harm and the risk of mood episodes. For instance, while the ayahuasca tradition is to partake in multiple ceremonies over a week or two, Mudge says that puts the bipolar brain at a much higher risk for mania. Instead, participating in one ceremony and getting enough sleep afterward will provide folks with a lot more benefits than continuing to drink – and stimulate their 5-HT2A receptors – night after night. 

Plus, he’s seen this high frequency of psychedelic use play out badly with other substances as well in his interview subjects, even at microdoses. For example, he tells me of a bipolar man who was microdosing psilocybin every day to manage his mood and had the worst manic episode of his life – at 40. Mudge believes it was the repeated stimulation of taking a serotonergic substance that binds for six hours that induced mania – similar to what an SSRI would do to a bipolar person.

When it comes to safe ayahuasca practices for those diagnosed with manic depression, Mudge believes mixing with other substances – even if they’re presented in ceremony as holy tools, like rapé, cannabis and even cacao or chocolate – poses a higher risk for pushing the bipolar brain into mania. I ask if there should be a specific bipolar “dieta” (a concept in the ayahuasca tradition where you adhere to a special diet in preparation for your ceremony) and he says absolutely. “This is why you’re not supposed to eat overripe bananas and soy sauce. Because it’s chemically reactive,” Mudge explains, and for bipolar folks, the dieta will have to be even more restrictive to provide the maximum benefits and the least amount of harm.

Lastly, when it comes to ayahuasca, not all brews are created equally, and Mudge also believes some brews that pose a higher risk than others based on their chemical composition. For example, ayahuasca prepared in the Amazon jungle can have a different combination of herbs and precise species of vine depending on the shaman, culture, and retreat center. While most psychedelics have a single type of molecule causing the experience, there are at least four psychoactive ingredients in ayahuasca: harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine, and DMT. Therefore, brews can have different ratios of MAOI inhibitors to DMT molecules, and Mudge believes the bipolar brain responds better to a brew that has more DMT because the MAOI inhibitors can push people into mania (just like MAOI pharmaceuticals are known to do). He also says ayahuasca prepared in other parts of the world that use Syrian Rue instead of the ayahuasca vine also poses more of a risk because it has a different ratio of harmala alkaloids than the Banisteriopsis caapi vine used in genuine ayahuasca. 

Plus, lots of the ayahuasca that is consumed isn’t brewed fresh, but brewed once and is carried around for months to over a year, and in that time it begins to ferment and produce alcohol. And Mudge believes fermented ayahuasca poses a problem for the bipolar brain where a depressive hangover can follow rather than a humble afterglow. “I think it changes the qualitative experience for everybody,” he elaborates. “I think it makes the ceremony more intense, more into the shadow.” But for the bipolar brain, “which is more sensitive” it can leave people feeling agitated and depressed. He explains there is a trick to getting rid of the alcohol in aged ayahuasca, basically cooking the brew on a very low heat for 10 to 20 minutes so that it steams the alcohol off but never starts to boil or even simmer. “It should start to smell like a vegetable soup when it’s ready,” Mudge says.

And it’s not like bipolar people don’t ever go manic after drinking ayahuasca, it happens, and 17 of his 62 interview subjects experienced it. But, after investigating each situation further, it seems many, if not all, of the 17 were mixing substances, drinking fermented ayahuasca or brews with Syrian Rue and participating in multiple ceremonies in a week, and so in terms of his research, are technically false negatives. Although, these situations only further prove the need for his research and more like it.

But what about other psychedelic substances? If Mudge’s theory is correct, is DMT the only option that’s less likely to cause mania? What about mushrooms, LSD, or MDMA? Could they all have a place with specific safety guidelines? And what would those guidelines look like for a person diagnosed with manic depression? Cynthia*, a clinical therapist specializing in spiritual emergence and psychedelic integration who was trained in the transpersonal paradigm at the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS), thinks bipolar clients not only need a lot of preparation and integration support for a psychedelic experience, like with a professional therapist or spiritual guide, but they need to be able to sustain their stability without medication first, which she realizes just isn’t possible for everyone. She’s come to this belief not only as a clinician but as someone who was diagnosed with bipolar herself over 20 years ago, although she doesn’t identify very strongly with the diagnosis. 

She views bipolar, and all mental illness, through a very spiritual lens. “It’s not just our biochemistry and our diagnostic criteria, but it’s really our souls,” she says. She tells me about her only manic-psychotic episode which was brought on by SSRI medication in the late 1990s when she was only 20 years old. “It absolutely was also a very spiritual experience and very much a healing crisis.” She explains, during her episode, she had trauma from her early childhood come up and other painful material that needs resolving, but she didn’t get the support to really examine it until years later. I ask her if she thinks mania can be thought of in terms of Stanislav and Christina Grof’s idea of “Spiritual Emergence(y)”, a theory that views some non-ordinary states of consciousness as healing processes that could be supported for the most positive gain rather than suppressed with tranquilizing medication.

“I do think mine was a spiritual emergence. And I knew that at the time, but I didn’t have the language for it,” she says. “And what I’ve come to conclude is I think it’s not necessarily a completely ‘either-or’. I think there’s both, or it’s almost like two different languages used to describe a similar thing. Because, if you go through the checklist, I definitely fit the criteria for manic psychosis. And I definitely was having trouble, just at the very end, not eating and sleeping and not being able to use words, things that were dangerous. Now, if I had had sitters and 24 hours of support and a bunch of space to wander around, I probably could have rode it out and had the support to just be in that state faithfully until it ran its course. But I didn’t, and most of us don’t.” 

It’s a curious and radical idea that insight and healing can come from some natural non-ordinary states of consciousness, like mania and psychosis, if they could be “sat with” and supported as they played out, just like a psychedelic trip. And it’s not the first similarity between manic depression and the psychedelic experience that I came across researching this piece. Two other bipolar diagnosed people I spoke to pointed to mania being very much like a entheogenic journey. “So much of my mania feels like tripping,” said Pam* a 39-year-old woman with Bipolar 1 who no longer takes prescription mood stabilizers but uses different psychedelics to deal with her depression, “If the tripping will end, so will the mania.” 

However, in our society, we very much view these states as needing to be “cured” and suppressed rather than explored and supported. And in Cynthia’s case, she ended up in a psychiatric hospital and then on Lithium for five years after her episode. But during her first semester of grad school at CIIS, she began working with a holistic psychiatrist, part of the Grofs’ Spiritual Emergence Network, who helped her confront her trauma, wean off the medication, and learn to feel and manage the full range of her emotions through the use of spiritual and Eastern practices. Which admittedly, right after years of Lithium, was hard. She essentially had to relearn how to feel and it was overwhelming at first. “And then I was terrified of doing anything spiritual. I was terrified to meditate. I had a chance to do holotropic breathwork and I was like, I don’t want to rock the boat.” But she did learn and developed other spiritual practices, like yoga, which helped her understand how to regulate her own energy. And, even though she’s not currently on daily pharmaceuticals, she definitely still thinks they have a place, like to regulate mood for a shorter time and to control “breakout” symptoms of mania, such as trouble sleeping.

For Cynthia, psychedelics were not part of this re-learning for 20 years. Instead, she spent that time integrating her spiritual emergence/manic episode, learning how to recognize the “edges” of hypomania and ground herself naturally. But two years ago, she finally felt ready to go back into the psychedelic space with spiritual guides, and now she manages all types of psychedelic experiences, even the ones Mudge warns against like LSD, MDMA, 2C-B and others I had to look up like 3-MMC and 2C-E. She says it’s not the psychedelics that keep her grounded like some of my survey participants reported, but since she’s learned how to ground herself, these experiences are manageable and beneficial for other healing. 

“I’ve had a lot of stuff come up from around my episode, like fear of my own greatness. It’s like I’m scared to go visionary because they’re going to label me as manic. But I had to reclaim my comfort with that.” Cynthia admits, after a trip, especially with “heart medicines” like MDMA, she does have increased energy, “It’s exciting, I have this sort of energy of how wonderful everything is. I just have to make sure I’m sleeping and intentionally doing things to stay grounded.” She says there was a time recently where she was taking empathogens a little too often – once a month, sometimes more – and she started to have “more depressive dips and more anxiety.” But she was able to recognize that and back off. “Now I’m trying to keep it like once a quarter or even less than that.”

However, she says as a clinician, “I don’t feel super comfortable if I had a bipolar client doing classic psychedelics. I might, but it would be very case by case because I do think there is that potential risk.” She also believes bipolar to be a spectrum, and those with more severe cases with recurrent manic episodes might not be able to stabilize themselves like she’s learned to. But the connection between spiritual emergence and bipolar disorder, psychedelics and mania seem too close and full of such vast potential to not be investigated further. And of course, Mudge has a plan for how to proceed. 

Once Mudge figures out the ideal recipe for brewing ayahuasca “in a balanced way” that is medicinal but “not dangerous in terms of triggering mania,” his mission is to create the “Manic Depressive Community Church”. It would serve as a community for those with bipolar and those affected by the condition (like parents and spouses) where ayahuasca, served in the safest possible way by understanding facilitators who are bipolar themselves, is the sacrament. His vision is that this church would be a non-profit organization that’s local to people so they wouldn’t have to travel to the Amazon to take this medicine. And of course, being the academic that he is, he also envisions setting up a clinical trial or having the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) come in to do an observational clinical trial so the community can finally get some hard data on this population other than assumptions, anecdotes, and old case studies. 

Mudge also insists that bipolar folks wait for him to accomplish this goal before they start drinking ayahuasca or taking other kinds of psychedelics. He says his safety protocol and recipe are still about two years away from being complete, and in the meantime, he encourages folks to prepare by getting their lifestyles in order. He explains that it means accepting their diagnosis and getting on medications that work, like lamotrigine and a low dose of lithium. It also means getting enough sleep and stopping other recreational or self-medicating drug use like alcohol, cannabis, or whatever else. “That’ll help you in the next year or two in a massive way,” says Mudge, “and then you’ll be ready to drink safely.”

But the weight of the bipolar community’s desire to heal shouldn’t be all up to one man. The psychedelic science community should also step up and start investigating the potential benefits and harms for this large and desperate population. “There’s a massive potential of psychedelics, but bipolar people have unique brain chemistry,” says Mudge. “They need the psychedelic experience to be chemically tailored to their brains’ needs.”

*Names changed for privacy

About the Author

Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends, and education. She’s the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, and her work has also been featured in Playboy, DoubleBlind Mag, High TimesRolling Stone and Teen Vogue. One of her core beliefs is ending the prohibition of drugs can greatly benefit society, as long as we have harm reduction education to accompany it. Find out more on her website: or on Instagram @michelle.janikian.

Psychedelics and Addiction Recovery: Taking a Deep Look at ‘Sober’ Communities that Use Psychedelics

Psychedelics in Recovery

By Michelle Janikian

Could it possibly be safe, ethical or even beneficial for psychedelics to have a role in addiction recovery?

The recovery community is huge and diverse, but the thing most members of AA and NA subscribe to is the complete abstinence from all mood-altering substances. Yet, there’s a small and controversial movement within the community that looks to loosen the strict boundaries of sobriety by allowing for the intentional use of psychedelics.

Psychedelics for Addiction in Clinical Trials

In clinical trials with classic psychedelics like psilocybin, a high dose, monitored entheogenic experience with clinical support is being shown to help people break addictive relationships with substances like alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine. For example, at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, clinical psychologist and researcher, Peter Hendricks, and his team are finishing up a study on psilocybin-assisted therapy for cocaine addiction, and their preliminary results are quite striking. Although they haven’t completed their data collection yet, Hendricks says they have looked at the first 10 participants, six of whom received psilocybin and four a placebo. And those who received the magic mushroom compound used cocaine much less frequently than those who received the placebo following their dosing session. 

Hendricks believes the psilocybin group received greater benefit because of the vast insight the psychedelic experience gave them, specifically regarding their own cocaine use. “There seems to be this change in mindset, this very specific realization that ‘my cocaine use has had a very negative impact on the people I love. And the people I love are what’s most important to me. That’s what life is all about. And I can’t let my behavior continue to impact the people I love. So I am committed to stop this,’” describes Hendricks. “In the back of their mind, there’s this sense that I’m going to get back into it [sobriety]. I’m going to be abstinent. I’m going to make a change, no matter what I have to do.”

On the other hand, many in the placebo group reduced their cocaine use, but still “continued a certain pattern of use,” says Hendricks, rather than the extended periods of abstinence and drive to stay sober they saw from the psilocybin group. “I don’t know that it’s ever really a reasonable goal that someone would stop using any given substance and never ever use again, but we want to reduce as much as we can,” says Hendricks. “And if there are lapses or bumps in the road that those lapses would not turn into a full-blown relapse where folks return to their previous use patterns.” 

Psychedelics in Addiction Recovery Support Groups

Although taking psilocybin in a clinical trial context is a bit different than taking mushrooms at home or out in nature, the insight psychedelic experiences provide, including the lasting motivation to prevent relapse, is a major reason folks in recovery are turning to psychedelics. Danielle Negrin, Executive Director of the San Francisco Psychedelic Society and Founder of the “Psychedelic Recovery” support group in the Bay Area explains most of the participants in her group are looking to sustain their sobriety from certain substances that cause them the most harm – like meth, opioids, or alcohol – in a practice called “targeted abstinence”. And they’re curious if psychedelics could be a part of that.

“I think that psychedelics can highlight really how harmful other substances and those behaviors can be and help us look introspectively at our lives and at our past to really reflect on the actions that we were taking and help us wake up to the fact that we are addicts and alcoholics and that recovery from that is possible,” explains Negrin.

Kevin Franciotti, who’s involved in a similar group on the East Coast, Psychedelics in Recovery, that’s now mostly an online community, tells me many members of his group are seeking out psychedelics for similar reasons. Although he couldn’t get into too much detail to protect folks’ anonymity, he says psychedelics have been helpful for people in recovery for a number of reasons, including “cultivating a conscious contact with a higher power of their understanding, which is a key component of 12 step recovery. And admitting powerlessness and then seeking the guidance from a trusting and loving power greater than oneself.” Franciotti also says he’s heard of a member using mushrooms for deeper insights into AA “step work”. For example, when it’s time to make amends with the people in their lives who they hurt with their addiction and related behaviors, they go to a mushroom trip to help them realize who else they might have hurt that they’re forgetting. 

Yet even though intentional psychedelic use can seem like a good compliment to recovery, bringing this stuff up at an AA or NA meeting is risky. Most members of the program won’t want to hear it, it’s not an accepted part of the program, regardless if AA Founder Bill Wilson had life-changing LSD experiences, and so could get you ostracized from recovery communities. But that’s why groups like Psychedelics in Recovery are so important, to give a support network to folks who are trying to navigate this delicate and controversial landscape.

The Psychedelics and Addiction Recovery Movement

A new non-profit in the psychedelic community, Project New Day, is looking to support these recovery groups. Founded by Mike Sinyard and Allison Feduccia, PhD, Director and Co-Founder of Psychedelic.Support (a psychedelic integration resource), they’re inspired by psychedelic experiences helping folks overcome their addictions, and want to give back to that community. For their first order of business, they created an advisory board of four clinicians and five people who are already involved in psychedelic recovery support groups, including Negrin and Franciotti. 

Feduccia says their next step is to create tangible materials, like pamphlets, for folks that go to these support groups and their family members who might be concerned about using one substance to get over another. They’re also planning on helping these support groups develop exercises they can engage participants in, as well provide referrals to clinicians for group members with more severe issues. Overall, Feduccia says they want to establish and promote best practices for such groups, and then help to promote them to a wider audience. She explains part of the plan is to expand Psychedelic.Support to include more support groups and to allow reviews. They’re also planning on providing grants to people who want to start these types of groups in their area, and to eventually expand beyond talking circles to more nature-based integration groups, like hiking or biking together.

“We’re just really in that phase of [exploring], what does the community need? How can we provide resources, information, connection to other people in a way to advance these groups?” says Feduccia. “[We’re] thinking of it as a way of modernizing an AA type program, which is really abstinence-based. We want to make this a little bit more inclusive for people as these [psychedelic-assisted] treatments become more readily available.” 

Psychedelics and Addiction Recovery—A Deep Personal Journey and Decision

And a modernized, more harm-reduction focused approach to AA is desired by many in the community. Either because they find AA to be too restrictive, or like in the case of Ethan Covey, photographer and co-Founder of the Psychedelic Sangha group in NYC, they get the help they need from AA, but eventually outgrow it and are ready to move on. In Covey’s case, after four and a half years of following the program, he felt confident that his mindset and lifestyle had changed enough – away from his destructive addictive behaviors that opioids caused him – to cautiously dip his toes in psychedelic waters for personal and spiritual growth. Perhaps, psychedelic experiences could augment his new sober lifestyle. “I really felt like I learned the lessons that I needed to learn [regarding my own addictive behaviors]. And I started questioning whether the appropriate response to that was just to continue to check off time,” he says. 

Covey explains, to get to that point, he really needed those four and half substance-free years to work on himself and change his lifestyle. “But as years went by doing that, I got to a point where I became very confident in my ability to not do the things that I know I shouldn’t do.” For Covey, that means maintaining an opioid-free, and for now, alcohol-free lifestyle. While telling me this story, he’s super cautious and stops himself more than once to tell me, “This is very difficult to talk about because I most definitely don’t want to say that my experience is what anyone else would experience, you know?”

And he’s right, everyone who struggles with addiction and substance misuse/abuse is on their own very individual journey. While consciously augmenting sobriety with psychedelics might work for some, it certainly doesn’t for others. For example, even though Franciotti is passionate about psychedelics in recovery, and has helped to write safety guidelines for such use, he tells me he’s not currently using psychedelics (or any substances) since his last relapse in 2018. 

Ibogaine in a clinical setting helped to get him clean, but a few years later, he helped to organize an ibogaine conference in Mexico where he would have the opportunity to take a low dose. He debated with himself for months leading up, and at the same time, was going through a period of distance from his recovery community. So when the iboga opportunity fell through at the last minute, he instead spontaneously took an unknown amount of LSD in what he sees now as impulsive drug-seeking behavior and a “fear of missing out.” Even though he considered that LSD experience to be reckless and he tried to adhere more closely to an abstinence approach afterward, it was a catalyst to beginning a full-blown relapse. Not long after, he purchased a kilo of Kratom because he heard the DEA planned to ban the substance and that eventually led him back into the arms of his problem substance: opioids. 

This type of narrative is a main concern for folks who attend Psychedelics in Recovery groups, that psychedelic use is considered a relapse or can push them over the edge back to the substance that causes them the most problems. Or, another related fear that Negrin points out, that they’ll replace one substance with another, like get off prescription anti-anxiety or depression meds, only to become reliant on microdosing psychedelics. 

There’s also some concern around the addictive potential of psychedelics. Unlike other substances, classic psychedelics like magic mushrooms aren’t really considered addictive because they don’t promote compulsive use like opioids, meth, or alcohol. Plus, with most psychedelics, you can’t really use them to numb yourself and escape your problems like other substances. Instead, many psychedelics offer a deeper dive into those feelings, or a new perspective on your deeply held beliefs, and that can be too uncomfortable to dive back into day in and day out.

Yet that’s not to say people can’t develop problematic relationships with psychedelics. Not to stigmatize any substance further, but there’s definitely cases of people developing problematic relationships with LSD, MDMA/ecstasy, and Ketamine, particularly. But people can become “addicted” to all sorts of things, including food, sex, sugar, exercise, shopping, stealing, gambling, the list is endless. It really depends on the person and how they’re actively engaging these dopamine-releasing activities. And that’s another reason why support groups specifically for psychedelics in addiction recovery are so important, to help people navigate this tricky landscape and hold themselves and each other accountable.

If you’re in active recovery or addiction and this resonated with you, everyone I spoke to for this story recommended really checking in with yourself before engaging in any psychedelic use and taking a harm reduction approach. So be honest with yourself on your motives or intentions for use, and seek ample community support. Whether that’s your sponsor, close friends, family, partner(s), or support groups like Psychedelics in Recovery (or a combination of all of the above), because honesty, openness, and community are crucial to avoiding old, problematic, addictive behavior patterns. But psychedelics aren’t for everyone, so really do your homework before embarking on any kind of chemically-induced journey, and always practice safe use.

About the Author

Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends, and education. She’s the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, and her work has also been featured in Playboy, DoubleBlind Mag, High TimesRolling Stone and Teen Vogue. One of her core beliefs is ending the prohibition of drugs can greatly benefit society, as long as we have harm reduction education to accompany it. Find out more on her website: or on Instagram @michelle.janikian.