Psychedelic Capitalism and Other Myths: Is the Joke On Us?

By Simon Yugler

Is psychedelic capitalism a myth?

The week I am writing this, author and psychedelic philanthropist Tim Ferriss poised a very direct question (via Twitter) to the public and various leaders in the psychedelic community, including Michael Pollan, Rick Doblin, and Robin Carhart-Harris.

Ferriss asked about how best to navigate the apparent “patent land grab” occurring behind the scenes within various private companies, many of which have received millions of dollars in investment capital and stock valuation.

This was in no doubt a response to the bizarre move by the British psychedelic startup Compass Pathways to patent, according to a recent VICE article, “the basic components of psychedelic therapy,” including the use of “soft furniture and holding hands.”

The internet being what it is, Christian Angermayer, a venture capitalist representing both Compass Pathways and a biotechnology company called ATAI Life Sciences, chimed in. Downplaying Ferriss’ philanthropy efforts and deeming his concerns as “wrong,” Angermayer defended the business strategies that Ferriss, along with many other leaders in the psychedelic community, called into question.

Instead of continuing to communicate through tweets, Ferriss wrote this extensive reply.

We are in the midst of a psychedelic gold rush. This comprehensive article from VICE addresses the nauseating pace at which psychedelic patents are springing up, including everything from psilocybin-infused cannabis to Phillip Morris e-cigarettes containing DMT and patents for psychedelic treatment of food allergies.

As if our world wasn’t getting strange enough. 

If the $1 billion initial public offering (IPO) of Compass Pathways tells us anything, it is that we are well into witnessing the birth of an unwieldy and unpredictable psychedelic capitalism–a phrase which would likely compel the Huxleys, Hoffmans, and McKennas of the world to roll over in their infinite cosmic graves.

With multiple decriminalization measures passing this past year across the US, along with Measure 109 in Oregon that will allow the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the trip train is moving fast.

This news is worth celebrating. Personally, I am overjoyed, especially due to the fact that psychedelics played a central role in why I became a psychotherapist. Yet at this very moment, the future of psychedelic medicines is being bought and sold through high-level investment pitches delivered in sleek board rooms across San Francisco, London, and beyond.

Along with it is the potential for equitable and affordable access to psychedelic treatment for millions of people desperately seeking their healing effects–the very same people these companies claim to want to “help.” Forgive me for being skeptical.

Because here’s the thing we all must keep in mind as we trudge along into this wild new century: 

Psychedelic Capitalism Doesn’t Exist.

There are psychedelic substances, experiences, music, art, and literature. There are psychedelic philosophies, ethics, worldviews, and sub-cultural communities. And there is psychedelic healing, treatment, and indigenous traditions. Psychedelics dissolve boundaries and reveal the soul, as the Greek definition of the word indicates (psyche soul, delos – to reveal).

And then there is capitalism: an economic system controlled by private corporations based on infinite growth, resource extraction, consumption, and the bottom line of financial profit. Capitalism engulfs, confines, and extracts the soul from what it consumes.

Like “military intelligence” or the “music business,” the two words create a philosophical conundrum. We are currently witnessing how these paradoxical concepts will mesh in the here and now. The balance will undoubtedly be precarious.

In the heart-wrenching internet comic, We Will Call it Pala, artist Dave McGaughey tells the story about one woman’s vision to start a psychedelic healing clinic colliding with the hyper-optimized ethos of Silicon Valley and the cold-blooded demands of her venture capital investors.

As the story progresses along its all-too-likely trajectory, she faces the monstrosity she has unwittingly created. Grieving for her seemingly naive vision, the heroine laments, “There is no medicine strong enough to blow a corporation’s mind.”

This is because, despite their legal standing in our society, corporations are not conscious beings. By definition, a corporation will never have a mind-altering or heart-opening experience. And though the etymological roots of the word inevitably boils down to “body,” a corporation will never feel a thing.

Art may be one of the best arenas where we might be able to predict how the weird, alchemical vinegar of psychedelics will merge into the oil-laden waters of capitalism. 

It is said that art can serve either as a hammer or a mirror for society. Even once a great work has been absorbed by the market–a Banksy or a John Cage or a Van Gogh–the impact of that work can still continue to resonate within the psyche and catalyze an imaginal or inner shift, no matter how many coffee mugs it’s been plastered onto.

Art is able to, at least partially, escape the trap of capitalism because it exists between two realms.

Art takes a form in our physical, time-bound reality, but also lives within the imagination, and is formless. Art can embody and transmit ideas, imparting rare messages that transcend the tangible and time-bound. Art changes culture. Art evokes emotion, even if we’ve seen the same image a thousand times. Art can shock, uplift, or crush us. Art is dangerous.

The Art of the Trick

Lewis Hyde, in his book Trickster Makes This World, argues that artists have evolved to become the mythological trickster figures within our modern culture, previously relegated to ritual and story.

Charting the work of figures as diverse as Marcel Duchamp, Bob Dylan and Frederick Douglass, Hyde explores the very nature of the words “art” and “artist,” tracing their etymological origins back to the Latin “artus,” which means joint, or juncture.

As Hyde playfully elaborates, the “artus-workers” of our modern era now play the role that Hermes, Raven, and Coyote played in their own cultural mythologies, as gods of the threshold, the trick, the lie, and the oft-misunderstood bearer of culture.

These were celebrated beings who, often unwittingly, upset the established and most likely stale cosmic order, and introduced a bit of divine chaos, thereby creating a new cosmic law, sacred technology, or a new world entirely.

Despite their humble or comedic natures, tricksters, like psychedelics, are not to be taken lightly.

Take the Greek myth of Hermes that Hyde uses as an example in his book. Hermes, through stealing and then slaughtering the golden cattle of his brother Apollo, performed the first sacrificial offering to himself and made himself a god. He clearly made a fool of his brother, who had a thing for fancy board rooms in the sky. The other Olympians thought it was hilarious and let Hermes stay.

Another example, Coyote, comes from Native American tradition, as told in the 1984 book, American Indian Myths and Legends. In thousands of tales told across many languages, Coyote creates the world, teaches hunting and tracking, or travels to the land of the dead, amongst other adventures. Up north, Raven brings fire to humans, invents the fish trap, and perfects the art of theft. He also travels between the earthly and heavenly realms, bringing messages across the divide.

Eshu and Legba, trickster gods from West Africa and the Carribean, are invoked before all other gods, for it is understood that every act of divine communication and exchange must pass through their hands. According to Hyde’s book, even though Eshu and Legba are not the most powerful beings in the Afro-Carribean pantheon, these lords of the crossroads are feared above all others because of their pivotal cosmic position. And you never know what you are going to get.

Even the Loki, dark trickster of the Norse pantheon, sets into motion events which would result in the destruction of the very gods themselves–Ragnarok. But what is often forgotten is that Ragnarok is not just about the fiery end of all things. It is also the beginning of the new world, all of which was put into motion because Loki couldn’t help but push a few buttons up in Asgard.

Come to think of it, trickster myths seem to have a lot in common with the role that psychedelics play within the psyche and the brain. Stay with me here.

Neurology and New Worlds

Neuroscientist and psychedelic researcher Robin Carhart-Harris’ landmark 2014 article, The Entropic Brain, highlighted the ways in which psilocybin decreases blood flow to an area of the brain called the default mode network (DMN), enabling novel connections to be made between neural pathways that are normally routed through this cognitive superhighway.

Psychedelics upset the applecart of our normal cognitive functioning, and by introducing a bit of pharmacologically mediated chaos, make room for new and different neural connections to take shape.

Of additional interest here is Carhart-Harris’ discussion of psychedelic states being “poised at a ‘critical’ point in a transition zone between order and disorder” in terms of consciousness. The place between two places, often called the liminal, plainly invokes the many trickster gods we have been speaking of, for all dwell on this same precipice, and can be found anywhere that roads, worlds, and perhaps even neural networks, collide.

Even the many studies showing the promise of psychedelics to treat addictions can be seen in the light of trickster myths (e.g. de L. Osório, et.al, 2015, and Hamill et.al, 2019). Whatever epiphany is granted during the psychedelic experience that might finally help someone kick a long-held, potentially lethal habit, marks a shift from one world to another, mythologically speaking.

True recovery marks an end and a beginning. Such an epiphany, especially in the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, is seen as a message from a higher power, which the Greeks and the Yoruba knew was always mediated by the trickster.

Lastly, let’s not forget the reason why psychedelics were made illegal in the first place. As Terance McKenna famously said, “Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”

Just like art, psychedelics have the potential to change culture, and can be dangerous to the established order of things. The 1960’s and 70’s proved that with a spectacular flair. It is not difficult to imagine why Nixon deemed Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America” at the onset of the drug war.

The simple fact that a naturally occurring plant or fungus could impart such soul-revealing visions may even be “the best kept secret in history,” according to Brian Muraresku in his revelatory book, The Immortality Key. Who needs priests to talk to god when you can do it yourself with the help of a plant? But that’s a story for another time.

Even if these awe-inspiring revelations are “occasioned” (to use the words of psychedelic researcher Roland Griffiths) through a psychopharmacological trick of serotonin agonists, if the above mythologies teach us anything, it is that sometimes a trick is exactly what’s needed for real transformation to occur.

Standing at the Crossroads

Psychotherapy, it has often been said, is both an art and a science. And now as psychedelics firmly make their way into the field, it may require those facilitating this work to embrace the deeper dimensions of what such a sentiment actually implies.

Perhaps the evolving art of the psychedelic therapist or facilitator will be to more deeply embrace the fact that these medicines are as unpredictable as the tricksters we’ve just met, and that their true implications for both individuals and culture lay far beyond simply feeling better and having a nicer day at the office.

To believe that psychedelics can be confined to the clinic, the lab, or the corporate body not only ignores the volatile history of these compounds in the 20th century, it ignores the fact that the very function of these substances is to dissolve boundaries and dismantle familiar, long-held structures on neurological, psychological, and cultural levels.

To bring this all to a close, and to end where we began in true trickster fashion, it seems that Hermes has one last ace up his sleeve. Not only was he the divine messenger, bringer of dreams, guide of souls, and lord of the crossroads, Hermes was also the god of the marketplace. Any time money is exchanged, Hermes is said to be there. The true “free market” is imbued with the spirit of Hermes, and involves much more than the simple exchange of currency and intellectual property rights sold to the highest bidder.

Emerging philosophies, religions from far off lands, rumors of wars, and village gossip were all exchanged in the markets of old. They were places of excitement, cross-pollination, unpredictability, and community–things I think we could all use a bit more of these days.

There’s one last thing. It was said that one could ask for Hermes’ help by leaving an offering at his shrine, located at the heart of the market, covering one’s ears, and walking away. The first thing you heard when you opened your ears was Hermes speaking to you. The fine print is that one had to be firmly outside the hustle and bustle of the market before listening for the winged messenger’s reply. I believe the modern term for uncovering one’s ears too soon is called an “echo chamber,” and we all know how helpful those can be.

What does this mean for our purposes here? I haven’t the slightest idea. Only that the god of the marketplace requires us to maintain a certain distance from his domain to be clearly heard. Just because Hermes rules the marketplace doesn’t mean he lives there.

So just like where we find ourselves today, peering over the precipice of this new psychedelic capitalism, there’s no map for where we must go before listening for Hermes’ synchronistic response. Go far enough out and we might encounter the language of owls, moonlight, and whoever else prowls those liminal wilds. Stay too close, and we risk repeating just more of the same.

And if we get lost, and find ourselves back at the crossroads where we first began, perhaps that is the message we were needing all along. Because ultimately, the joke’s on us.


About the Author

With a masters (MA) in depth counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, Simon Yugler is a depth and psychedelic integration therapist based in Portland, OR. Weaving Jungian psychology, Internal Family Systems therapy, and mythology, Simon also draws on his diverse experiences learning from indigenous cultures around the world, including the Shipibo ayahuasca tradition. He has a background in experiential education, and has led immersive international journeys for young adults across 10 countries. He is passionate about initiation, men’s work, indigenous rights, decolonization, and helping his clients explore the liminal wilds of the soul. Find out more on his website and on Instagram , Twitter (@depth_medicine) or Facebook.

Group Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Practice and Promise of a New Frontier

Sea stones laid out in the form of a circle to symbolize ketamine group therapy

By Sean Lawlor

Could taking and integrating ketamine in groups make psychedelic therapy more accessible?

As psychedelic-assisted therapy continues marching into the mainstream, the issue of how absurdly expensive the treatment is continues to present countless difficulties. Of the strategies practitioners are taking to circumvent this problem, one of the most promising—and underreported—approaches is offering psychedelic-assisted group therapy.

Despite promising preliminary research using psilocybin in small groups to treat depression in cancer patients and MDMA-assisted therapy for couples where one partner has PTSD—and ignoring the fact that psilocybin-containing mushrooms are traditionally taken in group ceremonies in Mexico—ketamine is the only psychedelic medicine that’s already legally used in  psychedelic-assisted therapy. Let’s take a look at the emerging world of group ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, its benefits as well as drawbacks.

Group Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Though traditionally used as an anesthetic, ketamine, an Essential Medicine of the World Health Organization, is now widely being prescribed off-label by qualified practitioners to treat a host of mental health diagnoses, including depression, addiction, PTSD, and chronic pain.

Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy—“KAP” for short—is a growing mental health treatment option for people who meet diagnostic criteria. In line with most psychedelic therapy protocols, KAP involves a sequence of medicine sessions, in which clients take the substance with the mental health professional present, and sober therapy sessions referred to as “preparation” and “integration.” Through KAP, many people are finding healing where prevailing mental health treatments have fallen short.

Also in line with most psychedelic therapy protocols, KAP is really freaking expensive.

Though ketamine’s effects are relatively short-acting compared to MDMA and psilocybin, therefore requiring fewer therapist hours to pay for, sessions still cost several hundred dollars. Ongoing treatment can quickly climb into the thousands.

Even ketamine “infusion centers,” which involve no therapy, tend to charge $400-$600 for each intravenous infusion—and they typically make it clear that lasting symptom relief only occurs after several rounds. At such centers, folks may receive infusions in group rooms, but oftentimes it’s more akin to the way you’d find yourself sitting on a sterile lab chair next to some stranger at a plasma donation center, while someone who doesn’t want to hear about your problems sticks a needle in your vein and leaves. While this might help some folks, costs remain abundant.

Group ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is different. Though there is currently no published research on group KAP’s efficacy, ketamine’s legality via prescription allows therapists to smoothly translate the modality into groups. As group members can then split the price of the therapist’s time—the largest contributor to high costs of treatment—the overall cost decreases significantly.

Raquel Bennett, Psy.D., is a psychotherapist and researcher who specializes in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, who also teaches our masterclass on ketamine ethics as part of our Navigating Psychedelics for Clinicians and Therapists course. She practices in Berkeley, CA, where she runs the KRIYA Ketamine Research Institute. Bennett has been studying the therapeutic properties of ketamine since 2002, when a personal encounter with the medicine sparked her awareness of its powerful antidepressant properties. That was over a decade before infusion centers started popping up, well before “ketamine-assisted psychotherapy” was a term.

“I was studying this long before it was cool,” Bennett tells Psychedelics Today with a laugh.

Motivated by a desire to lower cost and increase accessibility, Bennett began facilitating ketamine groups with her medical partners in 2016. The same motivation also prompted the Wholeness Center, a leading ketamine therapy clinic and psychedelic research site in Colorado, to offer ketamine therapy groups as well. Scott Shannon, M.D., who founded Wholeness in 2010, teamed with colleague Sandra Fortson, LCSW, to offer the clinic’s first ketamine therapy group last year.

“One of the most prominent reasons why I endorse and am exploring group therapy is that it solves one of the greatest drawbacks of the psychedelic model right now, which is that psychedelic therapy is a treatment of the affluent,” Shannon tells Psychedelics Today. “Instead of offering KAP for three or four hundred dollars a session, group therapy brings the cost down closer to a hundred dollars a session, which is a big difference.”

Fortson elaborates on how significant that difference can be: “Clients are looking at a savings of almost 50% for a 5-week KAP group curriculum—including medical clearance, intake, 3 experiential sessions and final integration session.”

At the time of writing, Shannon and Fortson have facilitated two groups, each spanning five sessions. They are currently planning for a third and foresee group KAP as an important option in the Wholeness Center’s future psychedelic therapy offerings.

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What Group Ketamine Therapy Looks Like

Bennett breaks down the process of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy into four essential steps: 

  1. Patient selection 
  2. Patient preparation 
  3. The medicine session  
  4. Follow-up care

At the preliminary level of patient selection, legal concerns must be taken seriously. “In order to participate in a ketamine group, you still have to fully meet the criteria for a clinically necessary treatment,” Bennett explains. “It’s currently not legally defensible for a person to participate in a group just because they want a ketamine experience.”

Both Wholeness and KRIYA use a cohort model where the same participants come together at scheduled times, and their series of sessions begins and ends together. Throughout that process, the group engages in both ketamine and non-ketamine sessions together, the latter of which involves working through their challenges and implementing insights into their lives with the support of the therapist(s) and fellow group members.

Shannon and Fortson have limited their cohorts to four people due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing protocols. Going forward, Shannon envisions groups of eight participants, which would require two therapists present. At KRIYA, Bennett has found that five or six participants with two clinicians is an optimal ratio.

At the Wholeness Center, participants sit on bean bag chairs in socially-distanced corners of a large room. During the ketamine sessions, members are given eyeshades along with their measured doses. Specifically-curated music plays through speakers, and Shannon and Fortson remain present in the space, supporting as needed and facilitating conversation if appropriate—and if possible, for at higher doses of ketamine, folks often temporarily lose their capacity to form words with their abruptly-nonexistent mouths.

There are three primary routes of administration in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy: 

  1. Lozenges (held in the mouth)
  2. Intravenous (IV) administration 
  3. Intramuscular (IM) injection

All three require an MD’s prescription, and the latter two require a nurse or doctor for administration. Dose ranges vary significantly in each route—though low-dose sessions are often orally administered, while high-dose sessions typically come through IV or IM.

Each route yields a unique experience in terms of onset, depth, length, and intensity. Different routes of administration and doses are associated with the treatment of different conditions—in individual KAP, for example, high-dose IM treatment is often regarded as uniquely effective for suicidality. At KRIYA, doses and routes of administration are determined based on individual and group assessments.

“As providers, we need to be clear about what effects we are going for, and then make our dose recommendations based on that,” says Bennett. “That varies depending on the needs of the group and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Regardless of dose and route of administration, ketamine sessions at KRIYA follow a consistent protocol. “Our ketamine groups include an opening ritual, time for sharing, the ketamine administration, quiet rest, and a potluck meal, with more time for sharing,” Bennett explains. 

The frequency of group sessions at KRIYA varies. “For some cohorts, the participants come once per month for four consecutive months. In other cohorts, the participants come once per quarter, four times in a year,” describes Bennett.

A capacity for fluidity and openness is called for on the part of the therapists, along with a willingness to learn from the groups and attune to the members’ needs.

“Sometimes, we ask people to share something that feels heavy on their heart, and that usually opens a conversation,” Bennett says. “Then, we move to something they feel grateful for—it’s very helpful to invite people to enter a positive mindset as the medicine is wearing off, because that then seems to linger. Other times, we are quiet and simply hold the space as people spontaneously work on what they need to work on.”

At the Wholeness Center, ketamine groups have thus far followed fixed, five-session structures. Shannon details the process:

“We start with a prep session, where we get to know each other and build rapport. The second session is a low-dose oral experience, which doesn’t put people in a full, dissociated state. It reduces their inhibitions, opens up their heart; what we find is that people actually bond very well during that session. They feel safe and secure. In the third session, which is a moderate-to-higher-dose oral session, they begin to have deeper, fuller psychedelic experiences. We really encourage people and give them the instruction that they can come in and out at will. If they want to come into more consensual reality, they can talk with us, connect with us, or their peers even—or they can go inside if they’re feeling pulled to explore.

“That third session begins to give them the taste of the more full-fledged psychedelic experience,” Shannon continues. “In the fourth session, they have a high-dose IM experience, where they’re going to fully dissociate and go into their personal inner space. People reenter the group space at various times as they’re ready and able, and come back and process it. Then, the fifth session is an integration session.”

Unlike the varied frequencies of KRIYA’s groups, the Wholeness Center’s groups meet once a week. Shannon is not attached to that model and expresses that future groups may follow different formats. Likewise, Bennett remains open to new possibilities. Even after all her years of ketamine research, she reflects, “We are always learning and trying things to find the most effective strategies.”

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How to Establish a Safe Group Culture

For an effective group, a culture of safety and trust must be established. One way of doing that is to create “homogenous” groups, where all members share common struggles, such as depression or anxiety. The Wholeness Center, for instance, is in the process of creating a KAP group to treat PTSD experienced by COVID first responders, as well as a group for alcohol addictions.

At KRIYA, Bennett is not attached to homogeneity as a necessity, yet she recognizes that disregard for commonality among group members can be detrimental to the group’s safety, and therefore efficacy. 

“It is possible to have somebody in the group who is on such a different page than the other folks that it really puts the group out of balance,” she explains. “We try not to do that.”

Bennett circumvents issues related to group imbalances by focusing on preliminary assessment. She describes the assessment process as an under-regarded component of psychedelic healing, the “magic for helping people to get better in the fastest and most cost-effective way.” If therapists take a first come, first serve approach to their groups, imbalances are bound to emerge, negatively impacting trust and safety.

“Not everyone is a good candidate for group treatment,” Bennett candidly states. “Ketamine is a fickle medicine. People need to feel physically and emotionally safe in order to have big and beautiful and expansive experiences. They need time to relax into the space and develop trust with us.”

For example, Bennett has found that people with complex trauma are better suited for individual work, noting that these folks “are often better served by having the individual attention of the therapist.”

Shannon underscores the necessity of a detailed intake process to ensure safety. When group safety and assessment are sufficiently prioritized, however, he has found that ketamine presents very little risk to individuals or groups in a therapeutic context.

“People are screened ahead of time for concerning medical or psychiatric issues,” Shannon says. “We haven’t seen any safety issues in our groups so far. I think that reflects our experience with KAP in general—that it’s a low-risk, quite safe medical process.”

For folks who have been properly screened and assessed, Shannon has found that the drop in individual attention from the therapist that groups entail does not negatively affect the healing process.

“I think we overrate the value of having an expert in the room, and we underrate the importance of connection and community in our current mental health paradigm,” he reflects. “My observation is that although the attention of the practitioner is more divided in a group, that is more than enhanced by the sense of community and safety and support that comes with it.”

Healing in Community

On top of assessment, non-ketamine preparation sessions help establish the safe and supportive group environment.

“People spend time getting to know each other in the preparation sessions before the medicine is introduced,” Bennett explains. “We’re not just throwing people in and shooting them up. That would be totally unethical.”

The cohort model contributes to participants’ sense of safety through rapport and consistency. When safety is established, Bennett has found that groups are not only consistently effective, but offer a host of benefits she did not anticipate.

“In individual treatment, people often felt very alone, that they were the only person on earth dealing with whatever problem they were living with,” she explains. “In the group, people quickly found that there were other people who had similar issues and challenges. That in itself is healing.”

Shannon and Fortson have observed the same trend. Fortson shares, “While it is difficult to explain, there is something about the sense of connection and support that is fostered in a group environment, specifically as it pertains to KAP, that seems to greatly expand the therapeutic benefit experienced by participants.”

Shannon notes this “enhanced response” is influenced by participants’ magnified expectation of hope, as well as something more primordial.

“With the pandemic, and really just in modern society, one of the major plagues we’re facing is a sense of disconnection, isolation, and removal from our social roots as herd animals,” he reflects. “A primary reason I like group therapy so much is that it really makes use of the power of community and group process.”

This unmeasurable component of community healing is emerging as a trend of group psychedelic therapy. The Forbes article linked in the introduction indicated that the cancer patients who receive psilocybin treatments together “frequently develop a sense of community and mutual support that can enhance their recovery and overall well-being.”

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Implications of Ceremony in the West

An intriguing argument sometimes leveraged on behalf of group psychedelic therapy hinges on its potential correlation to group entheogenic healing ceremonies practiced by countless cultures for millennia. While it would be imprudent to propose a generalized, catch-all comparison between the two, given drastic differences in cultural context, traditional plant medicine healing ceremonies testify to both the safety and the power of group psychedelic journeying when held in an intentional and meaningful container. Base-level similarities between these processes—i.e. community healing through visionary journeys—suggest the possibility of a ceremonial, rite-of-passage element to group psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Now, I am not advocating for psychedelic therapists to buy rattles and drums and chant songs from other cultures they do not understand. That would be very bad. My suggestion—which I am not the first to make—is that outside the boundaries of important issues related to appropriation, there are archetypal processes of ceremonial rites of passage that have factored prominently into countless cultures through the ages, and their general lack of existence in Western society may have some connection to the rampant isolation, existential confusion, and struggles of purpose and maturity afflicting so many people in this hyper-individualized capitalist paradigm.

It strikes me as significant that countless Western people are traveling to distant countries to experience sacred plant medicine ceremonies of cultures about which they know nothing, seeking a kind of spiritual healing and renewed sense of meaning their lives lack. Could group psychedelic therapy play a role in patterning these forsaken archetypal ceremonial processes into Western culture?

What kinds of ceremonies could fit into and emerge out of a Western therapeutic context? Can such rituals respectfully incorporate wisdom shared by other traditions, while establishing a unique and authentic identity? How might ceremonial rites of passage, held in a safe therapeutic container, help heal the complex, multitudinous mental health struggles unique to our techno-capitalist world?

These questions are way too massive to attempt to answer here. The fact that group psychedelic therapy raises them, however, highlights an added layer of its potential significance.

Diversifying the Psychedelic Space

The decrease in cost has the obvious benefit of making the treatment accessible to more people. A hope is that such increased access will invite more diversity to the space of psychedelic healing, which remains strikingly un-diverse. In 2018, Dr. Monnica T. Williams and her co-authors demonstrated that between 1993 and 2017, 82.3% of participants in psychedelic therapy trials were white. While no research has been conducted on diversity in the practice of ketamine-assisted therapy, it is unlikely that results would be much different.

It would be erroneous, however, to suggest this lack of diversity is related exclusively to cost and implicit bias among practitioners. It’s also about safety. In my recent interview with MAPS-trained therapist Dr. Joseph McCowan, McCowan reflected, “People of color desire to do what is safe prior to contributing to research or science, or even healing themselves. Right now, psychedelic spaces, due to their illegality and the stigma they carry, are not safe.”

While offering more affordable treatments is a great start, white therapists must educate themselves on unique struggles and barriers related to mental health in communities of color, as well as the socio-political factors—i.e. the ramifications of the War on Drugs—that keep these barriers standing. Further, they must use that education to create more safety. Only then can the decreased cost offered by modalities such as group KAP really help diversify the landscape of psychedelic healing.  

Training and Ethical Considerations for Group Ketamine Therapy

As the field currently stands, there are no regulated training requirements for clinicians to facilitate ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Theoretically, so long as an M.D. prescribes the medicine to the client, any therapist can offer ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Many are disturbed by this lack of regulation, and an increasing chorus of voices is calling for higher ethical standards for ketamine therapy practitioners to abide.

Bennett is a leading voice on the ethical front. She recently authored this article on ethical guidelines for ketamine clinicians that was published in the Journal of Psychedelic Psychiatry, which establishes the importance of assessment, medical safety, preparation, training, and maintaining professional conduct for providers.

As with other psychedelics, ketamine should not be taken lightly or offered carelessly. It is a powerful substance that can consistently facilitate healing experiences when offered with care; at the same time, it can have destructive consequences when handled carelessly. If facilitators are unprepared to work with deep and painful unconscious content that can unexpectedly erupt in clients under its influence, they are putting clients at risk of retraumatization that could leave them in a far worse state than before. At a broader level, reports of such egregious harms could do significant damage to the still-vulnerable field of psychedelic therapy in general.

Many practitioners advise therapists who intend to offer KAP to experience the medicine themselves. Both KRIYA and Wholeness have run groups for mental health professionals who meet specific criteria; Bennett shares that KRIYA’s professional participants “reported that their direct experiences with ketamine vastly increased their understanding of how to use this tool with their own clients.”

If therapists do not meet criteria to experience ketamine therapy themselves, a number of trainings in KAP now exist, many of which involve an experiential component. Shannon and Fortson, for instance, helped found the Psychedelic Research and Training Institute (PRATI), a nonprofit organization that currently offers several KAP trainings each year. Over the course of the three-day intensive, therapists are given the opportunity to experience both a low-dose and high-dose ketamine session while dyad partners practice skills in the facilitator role.

“For clinicians who want to do group work with ketamine, it is strongly recommended that they get specialized training,” Bennett emphasized. KRIYA has compiled a list of reputable trainings for those interested in learning more.

Group Ketamine-Assisted Therapy: Summarizing the Journey

In the new mental health frontier of psychedelic-assisted therapy, group psychedelic therapy represents an even newer frontier. With its potential to lower cost and invite the healing power of community into psychedelic therapy, group ketamine-assisted therapy calls for more attention in both research and ethically-minded practice. It will not be for everyone, and it is far from a panacea, but the modality holds tremendous promise to help people with a whole lot more than lowering their bill.

And even if a lowered bill proves to be the sole benefit, that’s still a huge accomplishment for the current landscape of psychedelic therapy.


About the Author

Sean Lawlor

Sean Lawlor is a writer, certified personal trainer, and Masters student in Transpersonal Counseling at Naropa University, in pursuit of a career in psychedelic journalism, research, and therapy. His interest in consciousness and non-ordinary states owes great debt to Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, and Hunter S. Thompson, and his passion for film, literature, and dreaming draws endless inspiration from Carl Jung, David Lynch, and J.K. Rowling. For more information or to get in touch, head to seanplawlor.com, or connect on Instagram @seanplawlor.

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 Psychedelicexperience.net and around the US on Psychedeliclub.com

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 Chacruna.net 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: michellejanikian.com or on Instagram @michelle.janikian.