Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Psychedelics
As we experience the second renaissance of psychedelics fueled by scientific research and legislative decriminalization efforts, it is imperative that we pause and take a tally of our ethical responsibilities as leaders, entrepreneurs, healers, practitioners, and seekers of psychedelic medicines.
While the increased funding in research and development of psychedelic medicine solutions for debilitating mental health conditions is a much-needed and welcomed development, it is also crucial that we pause and consider our ethical responsibilities related to both the origin and the history of psychedelic medicines as related to marginalized communities.
These days, my mailbox is saturated with psychedelic investment and funding updates, new drug research updates, legislative news, podcast interviews, and a multitude of newsletters, reports, and downloads promising anywhere from "market forecasts" and "stocks to buy" to Go Fund Me campaigns for microdosing journals, yes, that's a thing!
Although a part of me is beyond joyous in witnessing, celebrating, and contributing to this renaissance with massive cultural and scientific ramifications, I find myself frustrated, disappointed, and concerned. Here is the thing: a very significant majority of "experts", "leaders", and "entrepreneurs" profiled are white men with an occasional white woman profiled as an integration specialist. Coincidence? I think not.
Yes, conversations around race and equity can be confronting and triggering but isn't that precisely what psychedelics train and prepare us for? I remember the first time I brought up the topic at a psychedelic community meeting: at that point, I had been studying with psychedelic medicines for nearly a decade, was an active organizer of psychedelic retreats, and sat on the board of a psychedelic church. My community consisted of a kind, loving, conscious, grounded, and humble leadership many of whom I still consider my soul family. However, on that day, as we sat in community counsel, I looked around and noticed that the room was exclusively filled with white, upper-middle-class, and economically privileged individuals. When I brought that to the group's awareness as a point of concern around equity and inclusion (none of which were buzz words back then), the room went silent. I knew I had made everyone feel uncomfortable with my assertion but as a migrant middle-eastern woman, I was deeply aware of my unique position and privilege in that space.
Here is the thing, I have personally attended criminal trials of loved ones arrested with small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms who landed in state prison for many years. I have reached into my savings to fund access to psychedelic ceremonies for indigenous youth who couldn't afford the price tag for a properly facilitated experience. I have personally benefited from the labor of people of color who have jeopardized their liberty to provide me access to psychedelic medicines when I was battling addiction many years ago.
Yet today, as I review my mailbox of news from founders, investors, experts, and change-makers in psychedelics, I rarely if ever come across people of color. I find it deeply concerning that we have predominantly white male investors openly discussing millions of dollars in funding for exclusively white-male founded psychedelic pharma companies while there are entire populations of predominantly black and brown people serving long prison sentences for cultivating and distributing the same medicines.
While criminal justice reform and addressing the devastating impact of the "War on Drugs" on communities of color requires decades of organizing, campaigning, legislating, and funding, those who are pioneering the psychedelic renaissance can take active steps NOW to prioritize, design, and implement solutions that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in psychedelics.
Although it is true that the communities who are actively supporting, funding, and expanding the psychedelic renaissance are not responsible for the inequities and injustices perpetrated by both history and legislative failures, they are actively benefiting and profiting from the many centuries of indigenous wisdom and knowledge of cultivation, preparation, and facilitation, and are therefore ethically responsible for highlighting, acknowledging, and actively working towards balancing the scales.
As the psychedelic renaissance takes off, all of us are empowered to support, empower, and demand that our communities, leaders, and providers understand and prioritize these ethical responsibilities. Recently, I was approached with an opportunity to consult on the development of psychedelic-powered solutions for mental health. My #1 condition was ensuring that the company had a robust and fully integrated plan to support equity, diversity, and inclusion. While this was not a subject of our engagement, the conversation sparked a wonderful exchange and brainstorm that will hopefully shape the future of this organization. Here are some ways you can inspire and support these critical objectives:
Support, invest and purchase from organizations founded by BIPOC communities
Support, invest and purchase from organizations that have a clear structure in place to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion, AND have BIPOC members in leadership positions
Work with BIPOC facilitators or facilitators who invest back into indigenous communities
Stay aware, informed, and engaged with the legislative decriminalization efforts in your local community
If you are an industry content creator, prioritize diverse voices and backgrounds! (For the love of God, diversify your podcast!!)
If you are a service provider to the industry, bring these critical perspectives into professional engagement conversations
If you are a business leader in this space, make sure you have BIPOC members in your leadership and hire an equity, diversity, and inclusion expert to craft and weave a comprehensive and coherent plan into the fabric of your business. "A percentage of proceeds go to Pachamama Alliance" is not a comprehensive plan. A great equity strategy guides product, marketing, staffing, and funding to name a few.
With the psychedelic renaissance, we have a potent opportunity to walk the talk and actively work towards laying a foundation for balancing the scales of justice, acknowledging and supporting indigenous communities that have kept these traditions alive in the face of unrelenting adversities for many centuries, and ensure equitable access to these sacred medicines for marginalized and underprivileged communities.