By Risha Groner
On October 27, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act. Some of these substances had already spawned many studies into their potential healing properties. But psychedelics had already become associated with the countercultural movements of the 1960s. Decades of study faded into the background against the legal and cultural onslaught of the War on Drugs. Psychedelics policy essentially became prohibition.
For the years that followed, psychedelic research either disappeared entirely, or burrowed deep underground. But the times they are a-changing, and since the 1990s, we’ve witnessed a resurgent clinical interest in the medicinal properties of psychedelic-assisted therapies. In 2018, the FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to the use of psilocybin against treatment-resistant depression. In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin, followed shortly by Oakland and Santa Cruz, CA. The recent decriminalization measure that passed in Oregon was another huge step. But the War is far from over.
As research and investment develops, there is still work on two major fronts: legislative and cultural. Leaders and advocates in the psychedelics space have work to do beyond setting up business models, conducting research, and raising funds. Pushing psychedelics policy forward is doable in small, concrete steps with the potential to make a broad global impact through a united effort by industry leaders.
Align with Activists
Local activist groups have been working on a grassroots level across many states and cities for years. They’re seeking the support of industry leaders to work alongside them. Rather than lobbying based on business interests alone, it’s important to connect with cultural advocates and community leaders who have been engaged with legislative work for many years and understand the terrain.
Invest in Education
While activists work to lobby local legislature, advancing psychedelic policy also involves widespread educational initiatives across medical and social communities. This means disseminating important research results, creating niche interest groups for educational sessions, and exchanging ideas with local community leaders. Providing education and information is key to combating stigma and preparing the ground for legislative approval.
Advocate Local Legislature
The nitty-gritty of advocacy requires the work of relationship building, door knocking, phone calling, and much more. Investors, entrepreneurs, and researchers in the psychedelics community are busy with their own agendas. Remember the importance of paying attention to all areas of policy which impact practice, patients, business, and the local community. Aligning with activists early on provides a greater understanding of priorities for different sectors of the community, and while your business interests may not be the priority, having these allies on your side will result in a more successful business in the long run.
Connect with Community
Psychedelics have been used for thousands of years for religious, ceremonial, medicinal and ritual purposes. To this day, there are indigenous tribes who have stewarded these medicines and kept them in use. Their knowledge and wisdom in growing and preparing plants for medicine, setting up ceremonial environments, administering the medicines, and after-care and integration has been integral to modern researchers. It is imperative to honor the traditional roots of these healing modalities and forge relationships with their indigenous source communities.
In addition, industry leaders must take the time to become aware of particular sectors and their specific needs. Some examples include veterans who suffer from PTSD, disadvantaged communities with high rates of addiction, and people suffering from depression or loneliness as a result of COVID-19. Each group has a different need, which may translate into varying medicinal types and methods.
Commit to Core Values
In any fledgling industry, it’s tempting to take shortcuts in the hopes of appeasing shareholders and gaining market share. The psychedelics sector, however, must be built on ethical principles of building a better world in tandem with financial success. With a strong emphasis on conscious business practices and societal betterment, the industry shifts from being just another competitor with pharmaceuticals into a new market paradigm.
From legislative policy to cultural acceptance, the world of psychedelics is on an exciting path to a new model of mental health treatment. As passionate and committed people work toward building this industry, they must remember to build the new avenues upon which it will rest. Public relations, policy promotion, and cultural awareness will pave the way.