Capitalism, Commodification, and Consumerism In Psychedelics
Updated: Jan 9
We are in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance that is poised to revolutionize mental healthcare, addiction treatment, and drug policy legislation in the coming years. The long-due lifting of draconian drug policy laws that had hampered scientific research for decades allowed scientists to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and kickstart a new era in mental health research. The massively promising results of the clinical trials have sparked international interest in research, development, and investment in psychedelics.
While these developments are incredibly promising and are projected to alleviate human suffering at a mass scale through both treatment and drug policy reform, they present a new and inevitable challenge; solutions that can positively impact the lives of millions and disrupt the $19 Billion global psychiatric pharmaceuticals market translate to a massive economic opportunity which in a capitalist system quickly translates to big money investments, commodification, patents, profiteering, and consumerism.
For thousands of years, psychedelic plants and traditions were safeguarded by indigenous communities who held these compounds as sacred; approaching them with deep reverence, respect, and mindfulness. In some traditions, the access was limited to wisdom keepers and shamans, while others required their members to go through certain rights of passage rituals to gain access to these medicines. When access was granted, it was done so in a ceremonial container and mostly on rare occasions.
Psychedelics preset a potent opportunity to help heal chronic mental health challenges at a rapid scale and restore the soul of humanity towards more peace, tolerance, acceptance, and resilience during one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history.
As psychedelic research continues to demonstrate consistently positive outcomes for mental health, it attracts massive investment interest into this space which if not approached mindfully can perpetuate significant challenges that will hamper equitable access, conscious consumption, and inclusion and reverence for the indigenous cultures and traditions that have carried, protected, and gifted us these potent and healing compounds.
The extractive capitalist machine is designed to seek profiteering opportunities to extract more at a faster pace and lower cost; that is its nature. It is up to the psychedelic pioneers and enthusiasts, mindful observers, conscious providers, sustainability activists, and social justice advocates to remain informed and diligent in practicing and promoting ethical cultivation, consumption, and commerce.
With all the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the psychedelic renaissance, we are at a high risk of overlooking critical facts and considerations that can support appropriate education, representation, and inclusion in this space. However, with mindful awareness and deliberate design, we can not only ensure equity, sustainability, and inclusion but also enrich the industry and enhance individual outcomes by incorporating ancient shamanic wisdom with modern science in service to a higher good.
As psychedelic consumers, practitioners, investors, therapists, and researchers, we are all able to influence and shape the future of this space by holding strong ethical boundaries, standards, and codes of conduct.
Here are some critical areas of consideration when purchasing, consuming, providing, and investing in the psychedelic space:
Equity & inclusion
In a capitalist society, maximizing profits is the #1 objective. As of a couple of years ago, there has been a major surge in economic activity in the psychedelic industry, although it is still in its infancy. Multiple patent applications for psychedelic compounds, molecules, and formulations have been filed in anticipation of future demand and profits. Psychedelic commodification is in full swing as professionally manufactured and packaged psychedelic products have been popping up in the Canadian retail market and certain U.S. states where psychedelics have been decriminalized. Investors can now bet on psychedelic options in the Canadian stock market. Meanwhile, psychedelic-assisted therapy has been gaining momentum across many North American regions with hefty costs of thousands of dollars per treatment, not covered by any insurance provider.
While some of this is inevitable in a capitalist system, prioritizing equitable access for the marginalized communities who are far more in need of access to these solutions must be a foundational priority for anyone seeking a regenerative and equitable approach to developing platforms and solutions to expand the reach and impact of psychedelic medicines for the global human family.
Furthermore, the communities shut out of economic opportunities in this space due to significant barriers to entry are often the very same communities that have historically carried and protected the psychedelic medicines often at great risk and cost to their liberty.
While early research and development are costly, there are ample models and solutions that provide equitable and inclusive access to these communities across both patient access and access to economic opportunities with the potential to support these communities to both heal and flourish. Organizations such as the Chacruna Institute, and North Star are examples of conscious and aligned groups working towards ethical business, sustainability, equity, and inclusion. These organizations offer channels and solutions to advance these causes.
Consumers are also empowered to lead by example and utilize their dollars to support products, services, and providers who are from marginalized communities and/or those who prioritize equity and inclusion through models of reciprocity, profit sharing, and supply chain design that help bring prosperity to communities in need.
The state of our global ecology is an undeniable representation of the extractive capitalism that has contributed to massive deforestation, left natural resources drained, rivers dried, entire species extinct, and tectonic plates destabilized due to fracking, to name a few... In the absence of deliberate design, conservation, and policy-making, a thriving psychedelic industry is likely to further contribute to the massive global sustainability challenges we face.
While it is simple to point fingers at the extractive capitalist system, what keeps it moving is consumer demand. A balanced conversation about sustainability in psychedelics must also take into account the significant rise in interest in psychedelics that fuels demand.
Although some psychedelic compounds like varieties of psilocybin mushrooms are easy to produce in a sustainable manner, others like the ayahuasca brew, natural 5Meo-DMT, and the San Pedro cactus take years and some even decades to replenish. Merely less than half a decade into the psychedelic renaissance and many of these medicines are already endangered due to over-harvesting. This is a form of imperialism; to extract ancient medicines and wisdom for a profit and devastate the local ecology and communities with no ethical regard and sense of responsibility.
It is imperative that providers, investors, and consumers alike recognize the significant risk over-harvesting presents to both the lands and peoples that have nurtured these medicines for thousands of years. It is an ethical imperative to consider these factors when designing, promoting, and investing in psychedelic solutions.
Furthermore, the psychedelic renaissance is not immune to the unconscious consumerism that has fueled such ecological devastation on our planet. While famous podcasts, Netflix shows, and even mainstream news channels have played a significant role in driving up significant demand for a large variety of psychedelic medicines, overconsumption of psychedelics has been an ongoing issue in western underground psychedelic communities for decades even in the context of conscious and ceremonial use.
It is not surprising that a culture that believes "more is better" is likely to bring that unconscious approach into every aspect of life even in the context of the ceremonial use of endangered psychedelic medicines. Conscious consumption is a simple, mindful, and effective way to contribute to the long-term sustainability and survival of these psychedelic medicines and the communities where they are cultivated and harvested.
With the psychedelic renaissance, we have a potent opportunity to craft and promote regenerative frameworks that honor the plants, animals, communities, and lands that have gifted us these healing solutions with great promise to support the well-being of humanity for generations to come. Each and every one of us is empowered to take active steps towards ushering in this new way of approaching, practicing, and promoting sustainable and equitable solutions in service to the health and prosperity of all.