Religious Practice Under Oregon Measure 109

By Jon Dennis, Esq.

Jon Dennis, Esq. looks closely at what Oregon’s Measure 109 really says, and provides a possible framework for the fair treatment of religious-use sacrament.

Oregon’s Psilocybin Services Act, aka Measure 109, is currently undergoing a reputational makeover. Although primarily advertised to voters as “psilocybin therapy,” clinical use of psilocybin is only one of the many modalities of psilocybin services that may soon be permitted in Oregon. Nearly all of the media reporting on M109 have echoed the messaging of the M109 electoral campaign, creating a narrative that Oregon voted to legalize “psilocybin therapy.” But now that people are beginning to write and speak about M109 in a more careful and nuanced way, many are surprised to find out that the psilocybin law passed in Oregon allows people to take psilocybin for virtually any reason.

If there is still any doubt about whether M109 is a “therapy” program, Tom Eckert, one of the chief co-petitioners of Measure 109 and now the chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board (“OPAB”) (as well as a practicing therapist), said in a recent interview that “The idea [of M109] is to create safe space under the facilitation of licensed professionals to explore [the psilocybin] experience for personal benefit.” According to Eckert, taking psilocybin under M109 is “about your consciousness and using psilocybin however you really want to, whether it’s creative, spiritually, or for a therapeutic benefit.” 

This means, of course, that psilocybin may be used pursuant to religious or spiritual exercise. It means that psilocybin churches might soon become commonplace in Oregon. 

The intersection of M109 and religious liberties is an important and complex topic that so far has received very little attention during the meetings of OPAB and its 5 subcommittees. Religious exploration is already a large part of this so-called “psychedelic renaissance,” and all signs point to religious use of psychedelics becoming more prevalent over time. Because the “Oregon model” of psychedelic services has become one of the leading models in psychedelic policy reform, it is paramount we build religious protections into the model.

In response to public comment, the Oregon Health Authority (“OHA”) recently published the following statement:  

Q: Can the psilocybin services be offered within a ceremonial or religious context? 

A: Yes, if psilocybin services take place at a licensed service center and is otherwise compliant with statute and rule requirements. 

In other words, OHA intends to allow the religious use of psilocybin if performed in accordance with Oregon’s regulatory framework for psilocybin. The preceding sentence constitutes pretty much everything we know so far about how Oregon intends to address religious practice under the measure. This is particularly concerning in light of the fact that OPAB has many complex issues to still resolve, and it must issue its final recommendations by June 30 – meaning there are only 15 hours of full OPAB meeting time remaining. Time is running out for Oregon to create thoughtful and nuanced policy on this matter of great importance. 

Fortunately, serious conversations about religious practice are about to begin. The February 2 meeting of the Equity Subcommittee and the February 3 meeting of the Licensing Subcommittee and the Equity Subcommittee will address religious use. 

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What is Essential to a Religious-Use Framework?

When considering what a religious-use framework might look like under M109, I identify six elements that are essential:

  1. It must permit a broad range of religious practices and ceremonies without unnecessary interference from the government. Protections should accommodate practices and beliefs ranging from traditional Indigenous practices to contemporary Western, Eastern, and neo-shamanic religions that incorporate psilocybin into their practices;
  2. It must create a pathway for religious practice that is affordable to marginalized communities;
  3. The regulations should allow special rules around the growing, storing, handling, and testing of psilocybin mushrooms that reflect the view common in many entheogenic communities that the mushrooms themselves are sacred objects worthy of reverential treatment;
  4. The regulations must provide meaningful oversight of and accountability for religious practitioners, particularly in:
    1. Screening new members;
    2. Disclosing risks/obtaining informed consent;
    3. Preventing abuse; and
    4. Ensuring that religious practice is conducted in a safe manner;
  5. Given the Oregon constitution’s protection of both the religious and the non-religious*, the regulations must not give preferences to “religious” over “non-religious” organizations or individuals. Accordingly, the criteria for who may operate within the “religious framework” should be framed in terms of sincere practice relating to one’s deeply-held values, beliefs, and convictions, rather than affiliation with a religious organization;
  6. It should be simple enough to administer that it does not cause a substantial burden on OHA. 

With these considerations in mind, I have taken the liberty of drafting a proposed model regulatory framework for how religious practice could be protected under Measure 109. My proposed framework may be found here:

I am actively seeking stakeholder feedback. Please email me with questions or comments. To execute this project well means compiling and assembling a wide range of stakeholder input, so please do reach out.

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One of the fundamental assumptions underlying the model is that if religious-use privileges are only affordable to a small subset of the population, it might actually be better to not grant special religious privileges at all. Perhaps the most iniquitous aspect of M109 is that access to psilocybin will be unaffordable to a lot of people. Luckily, as we will see, religious use privileges can be structured in a manner that creates new pathways to affordable access. 

Several key features of this framework may be aided by some explanation.

Peer-Support Assistance

Measure 109 requires that all psilocybin be purchased, possessed, and consumed “under the supervision of a …facilitator” (Section 57 (2)). The measure does not otherwise describe what that supervision should look like, which leaves open many possibilities. 

Currently it appears that Oregon is poised to require that the majority of assistance given to clients must be provided by paid facilitators, who are prohibited from taking psilocybin while serving as a facilitator. If this is the case, even if Oregon adopts liberal rules that require lower amounts of paid facilitation, I estimate that a “cheap” group session, offered by a nonprofit, will not be available for less than $500 per person, including the costs of psilocybin. This is inequitable. We can do much better. 

Luckily, Indigenous and other religious and spiritual communities have substantial history and experience using plant medicines as sacraments in ceremony. They provide clear proof that ceremony can be safely conducted without the need for paid facilitators who abstain from fully participating in the ceremony. Accordingly, religious communities who operate under M109 should have the option to provide their own peer-support assistance through community members that have been certified by their community as being qualified and capable to provide that assistance. 

Reasonable minds could disagree about how much the state should regulate that certification. Regulation could be enacted to encourage the slow and sustainable growth of these organizations and to ensure that the clients who provide peer-support assistance are familiar with and oriented to the community in which they intend to serve. Successful implementation of this system will require relationship-building within each community, and the regulations could require that a client be involved with a community for a period of time (which could be defined by a minimum number of ceremonies attended) before they begin providing peer-support assistance. Or the regulations could simply trust the community to responsibly manage itself, particularly in light of the fact that its licensure could be lost if it behaves irresponsibly. 

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The freedom to exercise one’s religion means little if paywalls keep most people out. However, if  peer-support assistance is allowed, it could avoid having to pay unneeded facilitators to “supervise” ceremonies. The number of facilitators that are needed to safely supervise a ceremony may vary by community, but well-organized communities could conceivably conduct ceremonies safely with only one facilitator present. By reducing the number of facilitators that must be on hand for a ceremony, we drastically reduce the cost of the ceremony. 

Additionally, many entheogenic religions do not permit people into their ceremonial space who have not consumed at least some amount of their sacrament. The idea in some communities is that the presence of people who are on a different vibrational wavelength (i.e., who have not partaken of the sacrament) fundamentally prevents participants from receiving certain religious benefits. Facilitators are prohibited from taking psilocybin while serving as a facilitator, so allowing facilitators to supervise from outside the ceremonial space is the only option if this view is to be respected. This could be safely done if peer-support assistance were permitted by clients who are participating in the ceremony. This permits a higher degree of self-governance and self-reliance, which is healthy. 

This peer-support assistance model was inspired in part by the practices of the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen (“CHLQ”). CHLQ is the Santo Diame church who successfully sued the federal government for the right to use Daime (which some people call ayahuasca) in their religious practices.** In their 25 years of practice, it is my understanding that CHLQ has never had a safety situation which they were not able to safely manage internally. For people interested in learning more about that, I interviewed Padhrino Jonathan Goldman, the spiritual leader of CHLQ, on Episode No. 6 of Eyes on Oregon.

Religious Manufacturing Privileges

The religious manufacturing privileges contemplated by the framework are severalfold:  

1) Religious communities are granted permission to grow mushrooms in a less-regulated (i.e., far less expensive) manner than is required of standard manufacturers; 

2) Religious growers may grow the species of mushrooms using techniques and substrates that are consistent with their beliefs and convictions, provided that products are safe; 

3) Testing of religious products is not required, unless indicated by a client’s adverse medical reaction; 

4) Religious products may not be delivered to a service center that is not a religious service center; and

5) Religious growers are under a duty to provide safe products and avoid creating nuisances and other environmental hazards.  

The policy considerations behind the proposed religious manufacturing privileges are two-fold: 1) it gives communities the option to offer very low-cost products (mushrooms are famously cheap to grow); and 2) it creates space for Oregon plant medicine communities who believe that the mushrooms themselves are sacred and must be handled with reverence.

Product safety can be maintained without the need for expensive laboratories. Unlicensed, unregulated mushroom growers – many of whom grow in their basements or closets using improvised laboratory equipment – currently create the bulk of consumer psilocybin products. This matters because it serves as a counterpoint to the concern that “under-regulated” manufacturing operations pose a threat to public health or safety. In truth, reports of adverse reactions to unsafe psilocybin products are exceedingly rare, particularly in light of the amount of mushrooms being eaten nowadays. 

While the idea of permitting a religious or spiritual community to have homegrown sacramental mushrooms might make some people uncomfortable, it’s worth remembering that you can buy myceliated grow kits for gourmet mushrooms virtually everywhere, and society allows that practice without question. Moreover, the practice of a religious or spiritual community handling its own sacrament in accordance with their beliefs and convictions is a practice that predates Oregon statehood.

Relaxed Testing Requirements

Oregon is required by M109 to consider the costs of testing to the client when deciding its testing rules, and testing may not be more onerous than is reasonably necessary for health and safety (Section 96 (7)). Moreover, testing standards must be different for different “varieties of psilocybin products” (Section 96 (1)(d)), which could presumably include mushrooms grown for use in religious ceremony. Relaxed testing rules for religious products will help the state achieve its statutory mandate of striving for an affordable system, while also respecting practitioner beliefs. While this could create greater imprecision in dosing, this is the current state of things in our existing unregulated market, and people safely manage that imprecision. 

Affordability

In addition to providing meaningful autonomy of religious practice, the combination of peer-support assistance and less-regulated religious manufacturing and testing starts to get us close to an affordable system. If all three are adopted, a lower and more satisfying price point begins to emerge. The costs for services may even be as low as the combination of one facilitator’s time that is spread across multiple clients (or which may be donated by volunteer facilitators), low-cost products sold by a nonprofit manufacturer, and overhead costs of running a nonprofit service center. 

To drive costs lower still, OHA could adopt a progressive fee structure that permits nonprofit service centers and manufacturers to pay a little less than their “fair share” of the program’s fees. Additionally, onsite manufacturing centers could possibly create a direct manufacturer-to-client sales pipeline that might allow entheogenic service centers to avoid the application of that pesky tax rule, 280E (which disallows tax deductions or credits attributable to businesses that “traffick” controlled substances). This appears to be allowed under M109, as sales by manufacturers must be either “to or on a premises” licensed as a manufacturer or service center (Sections 53 (1)(a) and (2)(a), and Section 57). 

With all of these cost-savings measures in place, it is foreseeable that a psilocybin ceremony under M109 could cost well under $50 per participant. That’s still too expensive. But it’s considerably better. 

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Reciprocal Exchange Program

Participation in reciprocal exchange programs should be required of all who engage with the M109 program, from clients to testing laboratories. Involvement with a reciprocal exchange program is important because the programs help minimize the harmful impacts that extraction of cultural and natural resources have on the Indigenous plant medicine communities who have stewarded plant medicines for centuries or longer. It also helps ensure that Indigenous knowledge and wisdom do not become lost or forgotten. 

The proposed model framework requires entheogenic practitioners to have an unspecified level of involvement in a reciprocal exchange program, and an annual public report of that involvement. This doesn’t punish bad actors for negligible involvement, but it provides social incentives for people who can demonstrate meaningful participation.

Discipline of Entheogenic Practitioners

Because this framework gives entheogenic practitioners a considerable set of privileges, it also creates a reciprocal set of duties to use those privileges safely and responsibly. To achieve this, the proposed framework borrows language from the Oregon law that protects the religious use of peyote. In order for religious use of peyote to be protected in Oregon, the use must be done “in a manner that is not dangerous to the health of the user or others who are in the proximity of the user (ORS 475.752(4)).” Oregon should adopt the same standard for psilocybin religions who operate under the measure. 

Ultimately, if a religious practitioner engages in conduct that is unsafe or irresponsible, the practitioner risks losing their special religious privileges, as well as their general psilocybin licensing. Given the significant financial and personal investment that will go into opening any psilocybin business in Oregon, this provides powerful incentives to operate within the bounds of the regulatory framework.  

Conclusion

In conclusion, if we think of M109 not in terms of “therapy” vs. “not therapy,” but rather (as Tom Eckert put it), a “safe space under the facilitation of licensed professionals to explore [the psilocybin] experience for personal benefit,” it appears the best way for Oregon to reduce the most harm to its people is to invite all beneficial use of psilocybin to come and operate within the relative safety of the M109 container. This includes religious use. 

The model framework proposed herein would create a type of partnership or alliance between religious practitioners and OHA. In exchange for paying licensing fees and submitting to administrative oversight, religious communities who use psilocybin gain mechanisms of accountability*** and the freedom to practice with substantially less fear of criminal repercussions. However, in order for entheogenic practitioners to accept Oregon’s invitation, the M109 religious container must not be unduly restrictive in what it allows, and it must be affordable. If these interests can be balanced, psychedelic religious practice could soon find its way out of the shadows of the underground and into the full light of day. 


The following is my presentation from the February 3 Oregon Psilocybin Licensing Subcommittee Meeting. Bob Otis of the Sacred Garden Community also presents.


*See, e.g., Meltebeke v. Bureau of Lab. & Indus., 322 Or at 147. (Oregon’s constitutional religious protections “extend[] to religious believers and nonbelievers alike.”) This also avoids giving nonreligious clients a financial incentive to seek religious services from a religious provider, which is important. For more information about the inappropriateness of confusing religious and non-religious containers of psychedelic use, see Matthew Johnson’s article entitled “Consciousness, Religion, and Gurus: Pitfalls of Psychedelic Medicine.

**It’s worth noting that Oregon regulatory agencies have already granted religious exemptions to religious organizations that use controlled substances. See the Oregon Board of Pharmacy’s 2008 letter to CHLQ.

***The need for greater mechanisms of accountability in psychedelic communities is described in horrifying detail in a new podcast series called Cover Story, which is produced by a collaboration of New York Magazine and Psymposia.


About the Author

Jon Dennis, Esq.is a principal and consultant with Psychedelics Now and an Oregon lawyer. He is the co-host of a Psychedelics Today podcast series called Eyes on Oregon, which follows the developments in Oregon’s psilocybin rulemaking process. He has a law degree from Lewis & Clark Law School and a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Kansas. 

Taylor Loyden and Pat Donahue donated free legal research assistance that was used in this article. Their contributions are gratefully acknowledged! 

Introducing Vital: Immersive, Inclusive, and Personal Psychedelic Training for Professionals

By the Psychedelics Today team

Education is not the filling of a pot, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

The interest in psychedelics as a therapeutic tool is growing at a rapid pace, both by individuals looking for better solutions outside the current medical regime, and by practitioners looking for new and better ways to help their patients. 

Even though regulatory systems lag behind, a paradigm shift in healthcare is clearly under way. The demand for safe, ethical, and effective treatment and integration is growing exponentially. Now more than ever, it is vital that educated, informed practitioners are ready and equipped to provide care when called upon.  

After enrolling over 9,000 students in our eLearning platform and graduating over 500 in our eight-week, 47-hour program, Navigating Psychedelics, we’ve heard a lot about what people want and need from an in-depth training program – and also, what isn’t being offered out there. Our students have told us that training can be overly prescriptive, rigid, and clinical, with logistical hurdles and barriers to acceptance.

That’s where Vital comes in. Our new 12-month certificate program fills gaps in the current landscape of psychedelic training – both in course content and structure – and takes a holistic, experiential, and reflective approach to psychedelic practice and integration. 

Here’s how Vital is different: 

  • A truly inclusive training program. Vital welcomes students of all backgrounds – licensed or unlicensed clinicians, medically-trained healthcare professionals, legacy operators, and integrative wellness practitioners. All previous experience, informal learning, and formal training will be considered when reviewing applications.  
  • A drug agnostic approach that equips practitioners with the knowledge to work with clients who use or are interested in exploring a range of psychedelics. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to psychedelic therapy, and the potential benefits are not limited to a handful of substances.
  • A holistic curriculum balanced between clinical and scientific research and protocols, while also focusing on philosophical self-reflection, transpersonal psychology, Indigenous traditions, and somatic approaches to healing trauma.
  • An opportunity to learn from and interact with world-renowned researchers at an economical scale. 
  • A modular and malleable curriculum with finance and scheduling flexibility, designed to accommodate a global student population. 
  • An open forum on harm reduction that encourages honest discussion on personal experiences with substances in a safe space. 

Vital at-a-Glance:

Vital was created by Psychedelics Today Co-Founders Joe Moore and Kyle Buller, M.S., LAC, and a team of people dedicated to helping others master the elements of psychedelic practice and contribute to the healing of the world. The culmination of over 15 years of work in psychedelic practice, the first Vital cohort of 100 students kicks off on “Bicycle Day,” April 19th, 2022.

Course content is packaged into five core modules, covering: psychedelic history and research; clinical therapies; the art of holding space; medical frameworks; and integration theories and techniques. Each comprehensive module spans between seven to ten weeks of specialized lectures led by guest expert teachers as well as more intimate study groups facilitated by our instructors.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.

-Alexandra K. Trenfor

World-Class Teaching Team:

Over the years, Psychedelics Today has developed relationships with a humbling number of leading researchers, historians, clinicians, and bright minds working in research and application, advocacy, spiritual practice, and patient care. We’ve assembled some of the very best to work with Vital students, including:

View the full list of instructors here.

A Personalized Approach

We believe that no amount of learning from clinical studies, reading textbooks, or listening to an instructor can make up for first-hand experience with holotropic states. Furthermore, we believe openness and sharing of experience validates clinical evidence, helps inform research and the approach to patient care, and helps undo stigma and misguided perceptions caused by the war on drugs.  

Throughout the course, students will be challenged to deepen their personal understanding of psychedelics and reignite their transformation by attending one of six experiential retreats (in either the United States or abroad). Stay tuned for more details on dates, locations and pricing. 

While the deeply experiential nature of the course supports the growth of practitioners, the course is also designed to equip participants with the knowledge they need to establish a psychedelic-informed practice from the ground up. For coaches, facilitators, mental health and complementary health practitioners, Vital provides a thriving community of specialists to support their mission. 

Promoting Equal Access and Career Development:

Fair access to psychedelic medicine begins with fair access to essential education. In addition to flexible payment plans for all students, we’ve committed to provide scholarships for 20% of students from each cohort, sponsoring up to 100% of tuition to support their mission. 

Scholarships are awarded on a case-by-case basis, and are reserved for people who: 

  • Are in demonstrated financial need
  • Identify as BIPOC
  • Identify as LGBTQIA+
  • Are military service members/veterans
  • Serve marginalized or geographically underserved communities

At the end of the program, graduating students receive a certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Integration. CE credits will be offered, but stay tuned for more details.

Full details on scholarships and credits are in the extended course brochure, available on the Vital website

Program registrations are open now, and close at midnight EST on March 27th. Acceptance will be offered based on eligibility and order of submission (with priority to students receiving scholarships). Once all seats in the initial cohort are filled, subsequent approved students will be placed on a waitlist and invited to join the course when a spot becomes available. Interested students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Apply here.

For more information on Vital and how to register, visit the program website or connect with our team at Vital@psychedelicstoday.com

Link to Press Release

Horizons: Grounds for Collective Effervescence

By Jessica (Jaz) Cadoch, MA

Gathering as professionals in psychedelics has taken on new meaning. It’s more – a lot more – than just networking now.

In early December, Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics (an annual conference often referred to just as ‘Horizons’) re-emerged from the proverbial ashes of COVID-19; a pandemic that led to the dismantling of social connectivity and a general feeling like we were moving with momentum. With the pandemic came distance: social distance, emotional distance, and psychological distance. We stopped going to work together, we stopped learning together, we stopped moving and growing together. Reconvening at Horizons was therefore much more significant than just attending a regular conference.

Pandemic or not, the Horizons conference already played the role of a psychedelic sandbox where the psychedelic community convenes each year – a place where we get to see how widespread the community really is, and where each conversation is an opportunity to learn from our peers. It is a place where we can learn together, cry together, break bread together, and dance together. It is a place where we can be our most authentic selves, see others, and be seen. And it is a place where difficult conversations are encouraged to be had.

I heard a colleague explain that at other conferences, we are often introducing psychedelics to a new audience that sometimes lacks the capacity to grasp the shadow of psychedelic therapy. Contrarily, Horizons seeks to shed light on our shadow. It seeks to broaden our collective dreams of what is possible in the psychedelic space while learning from our past. By having those difficult conversations in front of 2,000 people, we get to grow collectively – as a community, and as a movement. And this year’s Horizons, more than ever, was an opportunity to rebuild a sense of collective effervescence. 

Collective Effervescence

Sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “collective effervescence as a “shared state of high emotional arousal related to intensification of emotions by social sharing, felt in religious and secular collective rituals, irrespective of their content (joyful feasts or sad funerary rituals), which empowers the individual.” Essentially, collective effervescence occurs when there is a shared sense of engagement with something bigger than the self, warranting a personal sense of empowerment. In developing the Perceived Emotional Synchrony Scale, psychologists Anna Wlodarczyk, Larraitz Zumeta, and their fellow researchers determined that some of the key conditions for collective effervescence to emerge are a “shared attention on one or more symbolic stimuli” and a sense of “intentional coordination or behavioral synchrony among the participants in a given gathering.” Ultimately, they argued that “the relevance of emotional synchronization in collective gatherings [is] conducive to strong forms of social identification, particularly the overlapping of the individual with the collective self.” 

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By blurring the lines between the individual and the collective self, Wlodarczyk and her colleagues suggested that a sense of collective effervescence ultimately “pulls humans fully but temporarily into the higher realm of the sacred, where the self disappears and collective interests predominate.” It is no surprise that a conference discussing the ethics and future of the psychedelic movement would incite a collective effervescence so strong that a perceived sense of emotional synchrony may occur, where there is indeed a “co-present other” that becomes closer and closer to a perceived sense of self. 

This is how I want to see the psychedelic movement evolving and growing, with the collective interest dominating a sense of self. The uniqueness and radicalness of this movement will only come from our ability to enter into this shared sense of togetherness, and into a “higher realm of the sacred” and not to bypass it. How can we do this?

“Shadow work” is a term those in the psychedelic movement have heard countless times. In psychedelic healing, shadow work is not about eradicating the shadow. Rather, it is about shedding light on it and getting to know it deeply, so that when it shows up, it is not unfamiliar. By working with the shadow, we become better equipped to handle what may come up as a result of trauma. If we do not have a safe space to have these conversations, to be held in our confusion, and to be educated on our blind spots, then how can we move forward? How can we call ourselves a revolution if we are not rethinking the way we engage with our work each and every year?

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Horizons is a place where we learn about cutting edge research in science and in the clinic, new models for approaching business, and cultural matters. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to converge as a community and reflect on the previous year together, shedding light on our blind spots and engaging in shadow work to build a sense of collective effervescence and a unified goal. While there were many great presentations this year, three in particular really encapsulated all of this.

Doing the Work with Laura Mae Northrup

Without a doubt, the most impactful talk of the weekend for me was from marriage and family therapist, Laura Mae Northrup, who, in light of recent events, spoke about sexual misconduct in the psychedelic space. Shivers ran down my spine as she powerfully proclaimed these words into the microphone: “Mental health clinicians self-report engaging in sexual violations with their clients at rates of 7-12%. We don’t have data on corresponding rates of psychedelic therapies, but we have no reason to believe it would be any less than our non-psychedelic counterparts.” She spoke with conviction, with grace, and emotion. She had us all in tears, reflecting on the very real fact that the clinicians who are at a higher rate of sexually abusing their clients are male clinicians who were sexually abused as kids.

Northrup highlighted that we are in a cycle of abuse; that healing trauma is painful, and without doing so effectively, we will continue to cause harm to others. She did not name names, and she did not stand on that stage building a pedestal for herself (regardless of how compelling it seemed, as she noted). Instead, she served her community and said what needed to be said. If there was one takeaway from her powerful talk, it was that “we need to heal ourselves.” She took what was frantically scrambling around everyone’s minds and hearts, and put it into powerful and sensical words. She made it make sense.

Tears continued to flow down my face as Horizons founder Kevin Balktick approached the podium, applauding Northrup for the outstanding courage it took for her to get on that stage and speak from her heart. He then declared that sexual abuse and misconduct should not be a “women’s issue”; that it always has, and certainly should be, a men’s issue as well.

Check out our episode with Laura Mae Northrup from 2019: “Healing Sexual Trauma With Psychedelics and Entheogens.”

Eradicating the Promise of a “Miracle Cure” with Juliana Mulligan

The second presentation that captivated my attention was from ibogaine treatment specialist, Juliana Mulligan, who spoke of her experience of being sent to jail for using heroin, being thrown on the streets in the middle of Bogota, Colombia, and finally seeking refuge in what she was told was a miracle “cure” for opioid dependence. She then shared her own horrifying journey of getting off of opioids by going to an ibogaine center that did not have the proper protocols in place. 

She brought about gasps in the crowd when she told us that the clinic did not have a heart monitor and that they gave her twice the safe dose of ibogaine – certainly enough to kill anyone, she clarified. When the clinic noticed her abnormal EKG readings and decided to seek professional and medical help, she was refused by three hospitals largely due to a lack of understanding on how to handle her situation, being overwhelmed with patients, and not believing that someone her age could be having a heart problem. Finally, when the fourth hospital almost turned her away, she had her first of six cardiac arrests due to her high dose of ibogaine. She explained that she remembers very little about her experience on ibogaine, but that she woke up with a tiny fraction of the usual opioid withdrawal symptoms, the feeling of a huge weight lifted from the guilt and shame of years of substance use, and a newfound clarity around her life’s mission.

Despite her experience at this ibogaine clinic, Mulligan has not turned her back on the promise of ibogaine in treating opioid dependence. In fact, she has dedicated part of her career to ensuring that people are equipped with the tools and knowledge on how to choose an ethical and effective ibogaine clinic – something she realized was necessary due to the many vulnerable people who don’t know what to look for when choosing an ibogaine clinic. Often, people do not take the time to learn about the proper protocols needed to provide this treatment, with many acting out of desperation in an attempt to “fix” their issues as quickly as possible. Her main point was to remind us of the dangers of selling ibogaine as a “miracle cure,” and how damaging it can be for people to have the idea that Ibogaine will fix their issues overnight. 

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Speaking Softly in Recollection with William Leonard Pickard

Finally, ex-convict William Leonard Pickard held us all in a state of awe as he eloquently and captivatingly shared his story of spending 21 years in prison for allegedly producing 90% of the United States’ supply of LSD. He spoke softly, and took long pauses between his sentences, his descriptive tone allowing me to truly visualize the scene where a CIA agent pointed a rifle at his forehead while uttering, “I’m going to blow your brains out.” He told us about the violence that occurred in prison, and how he became desensitized to fights and killings while he would quietly sit and eat his lunch. He showed us photos of a prison cell, and told us about how he fell in love with American Literature, and that without that – coupled with deep meditation, he may have not survived. 

Pickard reminded us all why we were sitting in that room and why we need to change the way psychedelics have been viewed since the 1970s. The majority of the people in that room are privileged enough to never experience going to jail for psychedelics, and getting a glimpse into that reality reminded us why rewriting the psychedelic script in America is critical.

Composting Emotions into Inspiration

In exploring rituals where collective effervescence is powerful, Wlodarczyk and her team discuss the way in which both positive and negatively valenced rituals ultimately lead to a shared sense of emotion and heightened well-being. Indeed, what truly comes through in these rituals is “the creation of a positive emotional atmosphere in which grief, sadness, anger, and fear are transformed into hope, solidarity, and trust.” 

Contextualizing these experiences –sexual misconduct in psychedelic healing, the wrongful advertisement of ibogaine as a miracle cure, and the harsh realities of the drug war and the American justice system – provides our collective community with the opportunity to transform these emotions of grief, sadness, anger, and fear into a shared sense of solidarity. We were provided with the opportunity to compost these moments of disappointment and turn them into something productive, where the unified goal of ethically bringing psychedelics to modern American lives empowers each and every one of us, both on a collective and individual level. This is how we can heal and move forward as a collective movement. 

These three presentations are simply a glimpse into the moving stories that were told on that stage. The breadth of content shared allowed us the opportunity to reflect on what the world could look like once we systematically dismantle the war on drugs, and what is effectively involved in doing so: the clinical trials for which researchers have put their careers on the line, the endless volunteer hours that policy makers and lawyers have been putting toward changing legislation, the repairing of relationships with Indigenous communities through the work of the Native American Church and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the importance of doing our own work in order to help others heal from their trauma, and the dangers of presenting psychedelics as a magic bullet. 

There are many pathways to attain psychedelic healing. Horizons provides a space for the entire range of themes that ought to be considered in bringing psychedelics to the modern world. In order to achieve this goal, we must do so collectively. We must reimagine what it means to be successful, and we can only do this by building a collective sense of self. To do this, we must continue to have these conversations, processing fear and anger into hope and solidarity. If we want to see the psychedelic movement radically change the world we are living in, we must face the music by continuing to have these difficult conversations and seek to elevate collective effervescence.  


About the Author

Jessica (Jaz) Cadoch, MA is a Medical Anthropologist working at Maya PBC as a Research & Operations Manager. As the former Executive Director of the Montreal Psychedelic Society, Jessica is passionate about bridging the non-for-profit and for profit world of psychedelic initiatives. With a particular interest in the intermingling of 12-step methods of managing addiction and psychedelic-assisted therapy, Jessica is concerned with ensuring that psychedelic practices are carefully and ethically integrated into modern Western society and culture. Email her at: jessica@mayahealth.com

Hear her thoughts on drug exceptionalism and 12-step recovery on episode PT265 of the podcast: