What are Psychedelics?
According to the Psychedelic Society, Psychedelics are substances that induce a heightened state of consciousness The best known psychedelics are psilocybin (found in Magic Mushrooms), DMT (found in Ayahuasca), mescaline (found in Peyote and San Pedro Cacti) and LSD.
Studies suggest psychedelics could be a breakthrough therapy for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, and PTSD through their ability to work on a deep emotional as well as biological level.
Psychedelics can also bring about profoundly positive and meaningful experiences for people who aren’t facing any particular issue or difficulty. Many participants in a Johns Hopkins study said they were left with the sense that they understood themselves and others better and therefore had greater compassion and patience. Psychedelics may also improve creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Ok, But Why Don’t More Black People Use Psychedelics?
1. We Don’t Know About Them
The only thing I knew about psychedelics growing up was that one time in college, my hippie Mom tripped on LSD with a bunch of frat guys wearing togas. She smoked her fair share of pot which gave me a familiarity with drugs, but not psychedelics.
My own personal high school and college drug experiences didn’t involve hallucinogenics either. I attended an HBCU for college which is more than likely why I never ran across LSD or MDMA.
It wasn’t until this year when I heard the term “Psychedelic Renaissance” that I knew drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms even still were still being heavily used. Research facilities such as MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has started to receive substantial grants to run clinical trials studying the effectiveness of psychedelics in treating depression, PTSD and social anxiety.
How can we change the secrecy around psychedelics?
Well, we can start by decriminalizing drugs (many of which are naturally occurring eg: magic mushrooms) that actually help people. Once the threat of jail time is taken away, people will be more open to sharing our experiences with each other and learning more about how psychedelics can improve our own mental wellness.
If you’d like to get involved with decriminalization efforts, you can join an organization called Decriminalize Nature.
Their Mission: To improve human health and well-being by decriminalizing and expanding access to entheogenic plants and fungi through political and community organizing, education and advocacy.
But for now, the majority of Black people that are curious about the benefits of entheogenic plants are also scared, and I can’t say that I blame us.
It’s me, I’m Black people.
2. Disproportionate Rates of Incarceration
“Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.”
— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (2010)
White people write books about using psychedelics, they make documentaries that show them openly consuming magic mushrooms (this man literally picked a handful in the park as he skipped past a bunch of kids on swings), they post pics on Instagram with their latest shroom harvest and then go record Tik Toks with their bongs and rolled up dollar bills in plain view.
I recently finished a book in which a woman said “I will never go to jail for my psychedelic use and neither will my children because we are white.”
Let my Black ass try that.
According to www.drugpolicy.org
- The percentage of people arrested in 2017 for drug law violations who are Black: 27% (despite making up just 13.4% of the U.S. population)
- People of color experience discrimination at every stage of the judicial system and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record. This is particularly the case for drug law violations.
- Research shows that prosecutors are twice as likely to pursue a mandatory minimum sentence for black people as for white people charged with the same offense. Among people who received a mandatory minimum sentence in 2011, 38% were Latino and 31% were black.
How can we change the inequity in incarceration rates?
- Get involved with organizations that are working towards decriminalization
- such as Decriminalize Nature which promotes drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights.
- Contact your elected officials using this handy script.
- Attend events where you can learn from experts and coordinate with activists in the drug policy reform movement.(Many of these events have now been moved online which makes them even more accessible.)
- Become a vocal advocate in your family, community and peer group for drug decriminalization and sentencing reform for drug offenses.
- Educate yourself by reading books such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. (If you are interested in this title please consider purchasing it from your local independent bookstore.
All that to say, get involved, boo.
Your voice can make a difference.
3. Lack of Diversity
While we’re on the right track with the clinical trial, the issues that I have with the research being conducted is that it rarely involved, Black people, PoC or LGBTQIA+ Individuals.
For the most part, the participant studies are white. As a result, the data that is being obtained does not include us. There are so many questions that have yet to be answered of even explored.
What role does racial and ancestral trauma play?
How do the communities we come from and live in impact the long range effect of the treatment?
Does the race of the clinician or guide make a difference in the level of healing that the participant is able to access during the session?
If you seriously want to dig into this topic with a scientific lens, then this article breaks it down quite effectively.
For the rest of us though, let me keep this simple.
There are two aspects that are crucial when you are about to take a psychedelic trip: Set and Setting.
According to PsychonautWiki, set and setting describe the physical, mental, social and environmental that an individual brings into a psychedelic experience.
Set refers to the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, desires, feelings, general mood, and any preconceived notions or expectations about what they are about to experience.
Setting refers to the physical and social environment that the trip takes place in. It is able to guide or influence the course of the experience on both conscious and subconscious levels. Since psychedelics often enhance the emotions or mood one is currently feeling, stress, fear, or anxiety due to an unfamiliar, uncontrollable or otherwise disagreeable environment may result in an unpleasant, better know as a bad trip.
On the other hand, an environment that provides a sense of safety, familiarity and comfort is more likely to result in a pleasant experience. An ideal setting would be a comfortable room at home or a friend’s house or apartment which would offer privacy, relaxing music, comfortable seating/bedding, a nearby bathroom and readily available food/water.
In other words, the idea is for you to be comfortable emotionally and physically in order for you to have a good trip.
How can we add more diversity to the psychedelic community?
We need to be included in clinical trials.
We need more trained therapeutic professionals and trip sitters (guides) of color.
We need more organizations like People of Color Psychedelic Collective and groups that are centered around our needs and concerns.
Camille Barton, an artist, writer and somatic educator working on the intersections of wellness, drug policy and transformative justice. In 2017 she was awarded a Perspectives Scholarship by MAPS to attend the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference (psychedelicscience.org) to help deliver a Community Forum called “White Allies and Anti-Racist Practice in the Psychedelic Community.
Towards the end of the forum, she went into a separate space with all participants of color and asked them what they would change at future Psychedelic Science conferences and in the research being undertaken in the community. The feedback included but was not limited to:
- Include more POC researchers to present at the conference.
- At future conferences, include numerous panels that consider oppression, intersectionality, and intergenerational trauma experienced by POC, indigenous, and LGBTQ communities.
- Find ways to honor and pay retribution to indigenous communities who have historical ties to plant medicines that are being threatened by Western approaches to psychedelics.
- MAPS could invest a percentage of its profits to indigenous communities/projects that are led by them such as peyote conservation initiatives.
- Offer reduced cost tickets to conferences for POC.
- Prioritize making psychedelic medicine more accessible to POC, LGBTQ, and indigenous people once it is legal.
- Do outreach to include more POC and LGBTQ people in research studies.
- Acknowledge the stigma and disproportionate incarceration rates experienced by POC due to the war on drugs as well as the impacts of psychedelic prohibition for indigenous communities.
- Develop a committee at MAPS to focus on equality and inclusion. Ensure that white people engage in this work so it does not remain the sole responsibility of POC.
- Have a POC-only space at next conference and at least one meet and greet.
My past guide was a white woman. I decided to work with her because she was nearly impossible to find and I was just so damn grateful to find anyone. Our energy didn’t connect from the start but out of desperation, I ignored my intuition. The first was lovely even if I felt a bit guarded and unsafe.
The second (and last session) was an absolute hot mess. The protests had just started that week and our conversation naturally turned to that topic while we waited for the medicine to take effect.
We should have both kept out mouths shut.
After a handful of micro-aggressions (that she was oblivious to) and a few well intentioned “harmless” statements from her, I was over it.
*Stares in Black woman bewilderment*
The only problem was that I was tripping balls at that point and was physically unable to leave.
I was supposed to trust this woman to care for me emotionally and physically but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t even let her help me to the bathroom, choosing instead to crawl even though I could no longer feel my body. I was so distressed that in the middle of the session, I energetically snatched my consciousness out of the altered state that I was in to ask her if she was a supporter of you know who. She took a tad too long to answer for my comfort level but whatever.
As I said earlier, we desperately need Black trip sitters and guides.
I can’t say much about accessibility because, this shit is illegal.
With that said, if you are out in these streets trying to find psychedelics on your own please be mindful, discreet and safe.
- Be mindful about who you share this information with. Everyone isn’t going to understand that many of you are using these substances for healing purposes, not just to get high. All folks hear is “DRUGS!” and the next thing you know the DEA is at your door thanks to your weed selling cousin that took a deal and set you up. Don’t go out like that.
- Be discreet when you do find a potential source. Allow the topic to come up in conversation and see where it goes. Don’t force any connection. And as trite as this sounds, when you’re ready, the medicine will find you. Trust me. A good way to find like minded psychonauts is to join your local psychedelic society. This extensive list recommends groups all over the world. You can also try your local Meetup group. I have just recently started a Meetup for Black Women interested in psychedelics which you can join here. And again, since we’re virtual, you can join from anywhere!
- Lastly, be safe. If you aren’t buying from a trusted source (and even if you are) always use a kit to test the quality of your substance. There are test kits for magic mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, DMT, MDMA and basically any psychedelic that you choose to ingest.
How can we make psychedelics more accessible?
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
The encouraging news is that there are legal avenues.
The discouraging news is that the legal routes are generally expensive as hell ($3000 to $5000), usually involve traveling to a different country and are largely attended by white people who :
- Can afford it
- Are just curious
- Simply want to trip the fuck out
- Or actually are in search of emotional healing.
Whatever their reason, it is still typically a very white washed experience. If you able to attend one of these retreats, be prepared to be the only one in the room. If you don’t feel emotionally safe, then babe, please wait. The spaces that will welcome and nurture Black women are being created by and for us.
I intend to be a part of that creation. Trust and know that I am committed to this cause and to our collective healing.
My former guide (a white woman) shared about her experience attending an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru. At one point, she looked around and noticed that all of the attendees were wealthy white people who were there more for the “cultural experience” than the sacred medicine.
How can we make psychedelic therapy less cost prohibitive?
- For, clinics and therapists: on every intake form, I want to see a box that says “check here if you’d like to sponsor a session for a woman of color or donate to our fund which helps us offer services at a reduced rate.”
Therapists deserve to be fairly compensated. With that said, we have to find a way to bridge the gap between those that can easily charge $3000 on an Amex for a ketamine clinic and those that are living paycheck to paycheck.
- Every program that offers legal psychedelics would have 2–3 dedicated spaces for Black women, People of Color and individuals that identify as LGBTQIA+ at a discounted rate or on scholarship. To take it a step further, they could offer certain sessions that are only attended by the marginalized groups listed above and that have facilitators of color on staff.
- As for my personal contribution, I am currently writing a book that is geared towards Black women interested in Psychedelic use. The aim of the book will be to raise awareness, offer harm-reduction techniques as well show them how to create their own communities and become self-sufficient, for example, by growing their own mushrooms. By sharing this information, it will lessen the need to seek costly outside sources.
If you are interested in supporting this project, you can become a patron of my work here.
In addition to the book, I created a community called Black People Trip. Our mission is to raise awareness, promote education, teach harm reduction, promote self sufficiency and destigmatize psychedelic use for recreation or healing among Black women. You can join us on Instagram here.
We deserve healing as well, it shouldn’t be a privilege.
Why am I such an advocate of psychedelics?
Because my own brain is broken.
I’ve been depressed since I was twelve years old. I’ve self-harmed since I was fifteen years old. I’ve been in therapy (with different therapists) for over twenty years. I’ve been on ten types of psychiatric drugs. I’ve been institutionalized three times in my life for depression. I’ve tried EMDR, spiritual baths, inner child retreats, EFT (tapping), Vision quests and solo cross country trips to attempt to find and fix my mind.
At the end of all that draining emotional work and soul searching, I still felt as though I was the most useless human on the face of the earth. I hated myself and my brain had me convinced that everyone else did as well.
In the middle of my first psychedelic session with my guide, I bolted upright after laying down for hours, held my face in my hands like a child and said “oh my god, I am a good person.”
I then proceeded to sob uncontrollably and pass out on the bed.
That six hour psilocybin trip did more for me than any of the hundreds of hours of therapy I have ever had.
My patient as fuck therapist has been trying for two solid years to convince me that I’m a decent ass person, and all it took was a mushroom.
While there are hundreds of invaluable resources on psychedelics, there are very few by Black teachers, seekers and authors. Below I’d like to share a handful that have impacted my own journey.
Baba Kilindi Iyi was a teacher, explorer and pioneer in the psychedelic world who was known for the high doses of mushrooms he consumed and the unimaginable altered states that he reached as a result. The community lost a prolific leader when he passed away from COVID in April of 2020.
Podcast with Tonya Pinkins (You Can’t Say That) interviewing Kilindi Iyi
Podcast with Tonya Pinkins (You Can’t Say That) interviewing Ifetayo Harvey. Harvey first joined the Drug Policy Alliance as an intern in 2013 and has been an integral part of the Communications staff since 2016. She has shared her experience of being personally impacted by the drug war, and plays an instrumental role in developing DPA’s voice and perspective with LGBTQIA+ audiences.
Ifetayo Harvey lecture on why People of Color Psychedelic spaces are important. You can watch here.
The People of Color Psychedelic Collective recently hosted a panel discussion on psychedelic healing for people of color. This discussion showcased the many ways POC are accessing psychedelics and using them as tools for healing. How are people of color using psychedelics to heal pain and trauma? What are issues and roadblocks to that healing? How do you engage with psychedelics in an intentional way? How can psychedelics help us gain a better understanding of our ancestral trauma?
Watch the video replay here.
If you would prefer to read the transcript, then you can do so here.
We are in a Psychedelic Renaissance.
My hope is that this resurgence of entheogenic medicines will bring inclusivity and compassion for People of Color that are interested in psychedelics for both recreational and healing purposes.
Our voices deserve to be heard.
Our hearts deserve to be held.
We deserve healing.