DoubleBlind Co-Founder Madison Margolin On the Future of Psychedelics

We had the pleasure of recently interviewing Madison Margolin, co-founder of DoubleBlind Magazine. Our discussion ranged from the magazine’s aesthetic to Ayahuasca for peace in the Middle East and the future of psychedelics.

PsyTech: You’re the co-founder of DoubleBlind which is a beautiful magazine. You have such an elevated aesthetic and the production value is high, it’s really singular. And you have a unique voice in the industry. I wanted to get inside your head a little bit to get your perspective on the industry. Let’s start with you describing how you got into the psychedelic space.

Madison: I’ve always been really curious about psychedelics, ever since I was 18, essentially I was kind of obsessed with them. I did this whole research project when I was a freshman at UC Berkeley – a whole research paper on psychedelics before I’d ever even tried them. And then after having done all of this research and reading about psychedelic experiences, I finally did mushrooms and it was life-changing. I grew up in a sort of psychedelic culture, you could say. My dad actually defended Timothy Leary when he escaped from prison, back in the day.

madison margolin

I didn’t really know Leary myself. I was a little kid when he passed away. But I grew up with hippie parents. They were also friends with Ram Dass, aka Richard Alpert. Ram Dass and Timothy Leary were professors at Harvard together studying psychedelics and their research went too far and they both got kicked out. Alpert went to India and met a guru and became Ram Dass and went on his own spiritual journey, which was really, by and large, I would say, affected by his psychedelic experience.

Ram Dass’s spiritual outlook had a lot to do with psychedelics and that mix of spirituality, this Hindu Jewish spirituality, is how I was raised. So this is my foundation, and it informs why I’m so interested in psychedelics, it’s the spiritual, scientific, religious overlap. Then when I went to journalism school, I focused on cannabis mainly, but psychedelics were on my radar and I would take stories on psychedelics when I had the opportunity to. For a while, I was freelancing for Vice and Rolling Stone and others… and now here I am doing DoubleBlind.

The idea for DoubleBlind was my co-founder Shelby’s. She was meditating and the concept of a psychedelic magazine just sort of popped into her head. We knew each other through journalism school and through working together. She called me up and she said, “Hey, do you want to do this magazine with me?” And I was like, “Sure, that sounds fun.” Little did we know we would be co-founding a whole startup.

DoubleBlind co-founders Shelby Hartman and Madison Margolin

PsyTech: Psychedelics were part of your youth, part of growing up and almost like a real natural marrying of some of your different talents. You definitely beat me on the Timothy Leary reference because I used to live in Millbrook, New York, and he had gone up there at some point. They had a retreat there and whenever we would drive past, it was a big, old, stone, haunted-looking house. My father would say, “That’s where Timothy Leary does his stuff.” I didn’t know who Leary was then. And you’re also connected to his partner in crime so to speak, Ram Dass who sadly, recently passed away.

Madison: Yes he did, he “left his body,” as they say. He was pretty awesome and he had an amazing life. If you look at the trajectory of his life, I find it very relatable, coming from a Jewish background. At the heart of it, he was a nice Jewish boy who went to India like the rest of them. It’s very, very close to my heart.

PsyTech: So you evolved into the cofounder of DoubleBlind which is so much more than a magazine. Walk me through like a typical day, what does a psychedelic magazine co-founder do all day?

Madison: I focus on editorial and my cofounder is focused on the business development side. Every day I’m corresponding with writers, I’m editing, coming up with my own story ideas, working on my own stories. 

We just closed Issue Three, which is going to print now and will come out in early summer.

Issue 3 is available to order now

The magazine itself comes out twice a year, and every day we’re publishing a story on the website. We also just launched a course on how to grow your own mushrooms and we’re going to be coming out with more online courses. We’ve been doing webinars and Instagram Lives, as well. The events we had on the calendar have been canceled or postponed due to COVID. We also have an e-commerce section of our site, where we promote small business owners in the plant medicine space, selling products like locally grown kava from Hawaii

The best way to keep up with DoubleBlind is through our social media. We have all of these things that we’re doing and we’ve been making adjustments since quarantine.

PsyTech: What frustrates you about the industry?

Madison: I wrote a story a few months ago for Playboy, actually. The editor titled it, something like “The Rocky Road to Legal Psychedelics”. The main character was David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Their ethos is all one; “All one or none” I think is how it goes. What’s frustrating is that there are so many passionate people in the psychedelic space and sometimes that ‘all one’ ethos gets a bit obscured. I think it’s important to say that this notion of oneness is definitely a psychedelic principle or value. Scientists have identified the criteria for a quote-unquote mystical experience when you’re under the influence of psychedelics. And oneness is one of those criteria.

So what’s frustrating is that it looks like there are all these different approaches to bringing about a post-prohibition world. So you have FDA approved research, you have grassroots campaigns to decriminalize. You have a number of companies now that are creating synthetic versions of psychedelics. I think what’s important to keep in sight is that it looks like it’s so fractured and people disagree all the time and there can be trauma and controversy around psychedelics. The reason I made Bronner the main character in that story is that he does a lot to fund all of these movements that seem like they might not necessarily be aligned. And it shows that it’s one singular movement, which is to make psychedelics more available. David Bronner definitely embodies these psychedelic values.

PsyTech: Moving away from the frustration, tell me what you see as the biggest opportunity in psychedelics right now?

Madison: People are opening the conversation around mental health and it has never been so relevant I would say. The opportunity is that psychedelics are forcing people to have honest conversations about trauma and about depression and anxiety and addiction. The conversations are centered around psychedelics as solutions. I’m not saying that psychedelics are a panacea and that you’re gonna trip or go through a clinical trial and then feel completely better. But I think there are really de-stigmatizing topics that have been difficult to approach before, especially because of the quote-unquote pharmaceutical solutions that we already have, aren’t really working. I would say that the opportunity is that the paradigm shift is forcing people to focus on what it means to be mentally healthy.

MAPS has done a lot (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) to open up the conversation around trauma, helping people recognize trauma in themselves or in their genetics, and that is so relevant. Even in the Jewish world, people are starting to acknowledge that we have all of this trauma and it’s been so powerful for me personally to recognize that this inherited, ancestral trauma exists in my family.

PsyTech: Are you speaking about epigenetics?

Madison: Yes. I am referring to epigenetics, which is how trauma affects genetics; how your genes act differently based on the traumatic experiences of your ancestors.

PsyTech: There is research that shows that DNA is affected by the experiences of your ancestors My father was a Holocaust survivor, so I would love to understand, that perspective. It seems a particularly Jewish concern. I don’t want to get political, but let’s just say that Jews are not the only people that have trauma, especially not in Israel.

Madison: There are political implications. For example, MAPS is doing a study right now. Natalie Ginsberg, their policy and advocacy director, with a researcher from Imperial College, London, and a Palestinian peace activist are looking at Israelis and Palestinians who are in Ayahuasca circles together and seeing how that can promote conflict resolution. It’s a self-selecting group of people who want to sit in mixed circles, but even that they’re dealing with trauma that’s coming up is incredible. I’ve heard different anecdotal reports, a woman was triggered by Arabic, just hearing someone speak Arabic triggered her. She was sitting next to a Palestinian woman in ceremony and the woman started praying in Arabic and the Jewish woman had to empathize with her at that moment. That’s such a powerful thing and could have huge political and social ramifications if people really could acknowledge their trauma, get past it, and then stop making decisions out of these existential threats that they feel.

Can Ayahuasca help people in conflict regions make peace?

PsyTech: That’s fascinating, I’ve done some Jewish-Israeli Palestinian interfaith work with New Ground in LA and with Roots in Israel, it’s something I find deeply compelling. I feel like if we could deal with the trauma, then we can make way for solutions and creativity. That surprises me, it never occurred to me to use psychedelics for peace work here in Israel. What would you say has been your biggest surprise since getting into the industry?

Madison: I don’t know if this is a surprise per se, but one thing that I think is really an interesting notion is that a lot of companies are trying to synthesize pharmaceutical-style psychedelics minus the trip. It’s a bit controversial in this space because some people say that the journey is the medicine. Like the experience of getting through a trip is the thing that is healing you more so or as much as the chemical play that’s going on in your brain. 

I would say it’s surprising that it’s become a conversation whether tripping is something that you can dispense with. I recognize that different pharmaceutical companies want to make them more accessible and more digestible to people who don’t necessarily want to have the experience of a full psychedelic trip. When this conversation first became a bigger conversation in the discourse, that was surprising to me.

PsyTech: Is that like the CBD without the THC?

Madison: You could make that comparison. Like, for example, there’s one company that is focusing on a compound found in magic mushrooms called aeruginascin. It is sort of like the CBD of magic mushrooms in that if you manipulate the chemistry of what you’re dealing with, you might not have a bad trip or it might make you less anxious. It’s very similar to the way people now are playing with cannabis chemistry and trying to enhance certain aspects and tone down others.

Some companies are trying to synthesize pharmaceutical-style psychedelics minus the trip

PsyTech: Looking ahead to the near future, what’s your prediction for the next 12 months?

Madison: We have a few measures that people are going to be voting on in the U.S. in November. My prediction is at least one of them will pass. There’s a lot of momentum currently. Last year we saw Denver decriminalize psilocybin and then about a month later Oakland decriminalized all entheogenic plants. Then six months later in January, Santa Cruz did it. Right now there are more than one hundred cities in the U.S. trying to get their own initiatives and legislation together.

The movements are all very, very small, and grassroots. The group is called Decriminalize Nature, it started in Oakland. And the concept is to decriminalize psychedelic plants. Not only psilocybin but ayahuasca, peyote, et cetera. What’s interesting about Decrim Nature is that it’s not one organization that now has an agenda in all these other cities. It’s grassroots activists all over the place – in Chicago, New York, Dallas, wherever, and they’re like “Hey, we can do this too.” After Oakland passed a decrim measure, a lot of people reached out to Decriminalize Nature to ask them “how can we do this? What does your bill look like? What’s your model and how can we write a model that is custom-tailored to our city?” There’s momentum right now. For instance, Washington, DC, has an initiative. Decrim Nature has been really successful. In DC they’re now able to collect signatures online.

In California, they were trying to have the whole state decriminalized and that was specific for psilocybin, but because of COVID, they weren’t able to collect enough signatures in time to qualify for the ballot. So now they’re trying to petition the state for an extension. But the point being is that the legislators in DC actually helped the activists before it was too late by enacting emergency legislation so that they could continue their efforts digitally. That didn’t happen in California. 

PsyTech: When you look ahead, what are you most excited about in the psychedelics space?

Madison: I am excited to see all of this grassroots organization. I think that it’s extremely encouraging. I think, in talking about this as a singular movement, “both sides” of the movement, need each other. What I mean by that is the presence of grassroots activists all over the country or world, really, make it so that the FDA approval approach seems a little bit more conservative and buttoned up. And I think we need that contrast. Psilocybin and MDMA are making their way through the FDA approval process to becoming prescription medications in assisted psychotherapy, and that is a very specific process. The patient intake will be very specific, you’ll have to have a qualifying diagnosis, and the way that they’re able to experience the medicine will all be under certain protocols.

It’s exciting to me that there are people who are working for greater access; questions of insurance coverage are a big issue, who’s going to have access to the medicine, whether enough therapists of color are going to be trained in order to kind of tackle race-based trauma. I’m excited that the conversation is starting to diversify.

PsyTech: Madison, is there anything else you want to talk about? Anything you want the audience to know? Something you’re working on at DoubleBlind you want to use some time to talk about?

DoubleBlind offers grow your own mushrooms courses

Madison: At DoubleBlind, we have courses out on growing mushrooms. We just actually closed that first course, but we’re coming out with another course shortly. Follow along at DoubleBlind Mag on social media and check our website every day for new content. Our third issue comes out in just over a month, you can order it, and I’m excited to share it with the world.

PsyTech: In case people don’t know DoubleBlind Magazine, I want to share my favorite recent story because I think it sets you apart from every other psychedelic content site or magazine out there. My favorite recent piece is the one about threesomes and psychedelics. So it’s not like your average perspective. How do you describe your ethos? Where are you coming from?

Madison: We say that we’re using psychedelics as a jumping-off point to talk about mental health, spirituality, social equity, queer culture, environmental justice… all of the above. We do have news and especially since we’re going to be publishing more frequently and our readers are interested in sex and mushrooms (yes, there are penis envy mushrooms) and all of these niche topics that haven’t been covered in the mainstream and maybe are a little too elementary for a deep science psychedelic publication. We’re sort of trying to capture an audience who isn’t already in the psychedelic world, but they’re definitely curious about that world; maybe they have tried it or haven’t, they’re open to it.

DoubleBlind uses psychedelics as a jumping-off point to start a dialogue about psychedelics.

PsyTech: That leads me to my last question, which is what do you wish more people knew about the psychedelics movement?

Madison: I think that psychedelics are sacred and that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun and that doesn’t mean they have to be overly clinical. I think the cannabis conversation has forced us into thinking about these medicines through this dichotomy of medical marijuana versus recreational adult use. I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate. I think you can have a medicinal therapeutic experience. Whether you’re dropping acid at a concert or in a forest, medicine can be fun. At the same time, it’s nothing to take lightly, you might be going for a fun experience and processing all this trauma in your relationship with your mother and all of these things that you’re not necessarily in the mood for while you’re on a camping trip with friends. I want people to heed the set and setting before you take it. And to be prepared to have a mystical experience or to have a scary experience and to embrace all of that. Knowing that it’s really just a way to get more in touch with your soul. And I am excited that therapists are starting to use words like soul, which is really fun for me.