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This week’s newsletter is all about Decriminalize Nature (Decrim Nature) DC and Initiative 81 - the proposal to shift enforcement of laws against entheogens to be among the lowest law enforcement priorities.
What is an entheogen, anyways?
I’m so glad you asked!
An entheogen is a natural plant or fungi substance that initiates non-ordinary states of consciousness which can inspire cognitive, emotional, relational, and spiritual growth and healing. Entheogens are naturally occurring and have been consumed for millennia by humans. In many cultures they are sacred and some entheogens are already recognized as such by existing U.S. law. Leading medical researchers have clinically demonstrated that entheogens have significant healing outcomes for individuals suffering from conditions including addiction, depression, trauma and terminal illness.
The most basic entheogenic species include: any cacti, any mushrooms, any plants containing ibogaine, and any plants containing DMT (a substance that occurs in many plants and animals -- both a derivative and a structural analog of tryptamine). For a more comprehensive list of species of entheogenic plants and fungi, click here.
What does this mean??
It means that if Initiative 81 gets passed this November, this change would help thousands of D.C. residents suffering from anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or depression who currently fear arrest or prosecution for pursuing healing through natural, entheogenic substances.
But let’s be clear… Initiative 81 does not legalize or reduce penalties for entheogens. However, if passed, Initiative 81 would make entheogens among the lowest law enforcement priorities of the MPD and create a non-binding public call upon the DC Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for DC to cease prosecution of criminal charges involving entheogens. Initiative 81 does not change the legal status of entheogens or alter existing penalties.
Breaking news: just last night, Ann Arbor became the third city in the U.S. to decriminalize all-naturally occurring psychedelic plants and fungi. The city follows in the footsteps of Oakland, which became the first city in the U.S. to pass a resolution like it, in June of last year -- and Santa Cruz, which followed in January of this year.
Cool, cool, cool…. But why do you care about this Jesse?
Where do I even begin?
Well… for starters… I think it’s pretty clear from my xylophone instagram videos that I am a big believer in the power of entheogens for increased creativity, concentration, connection and self-expression. But these days you could listen to a Goop episode to understand that. Beyond the fun that they provide, as a Black woman earning a doctorate in clinical psychology who is dedicated to advancing health equity and social mobility for BIPOC facing U.S. systems of oppression, I see the decriminalization of plant medicines as a social justice movement.
Not only is it cost-effective to grow these natural plants, but they are proved to produce long-lasting decreases in depression and anxiety. While conventional treatments like talk therapy may take years and tons of money to help someone manage symptoms adequately, a typical psilocybin session lasts somewhere between four and six hours. I also believe that plant medicines have the power to motivate activism -- if the values they inspire are integrated after an experience and put into practice in daily life.
For most people who are safely using plant medicines, at some point during the experience, there is this deep sense of knowing that everything and everyone is connected. For some, this manifests in feeling deep empathy for others -- believing love is the answer, and the thing that connects us all. For some, it’s this physiological realization that we’re all tiny little atoms on this huge planet -- and my atoms and yours intermingle because everything is in motion. On the most basic level, it’s a feeling of oneness.
If that’s a little too woo woo for you, let’s bring neuroscience in for a sec:
In several recent research studies, entheogen use was associated with a lower rate of anxiety. A recent study at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich has shown that psilocybin (the bioactive component in magic mushrooms) influences the amygdala, weakening the processing of negative stimuli. The amygdala is a component of the limbic system, and is thought to play important roles in emotion and behavior. It’s best known for its role in the processing of fear. The results from various research studies demonstrates that acute treatment with psilocybin decreased amygdala reactivity during emotion processing and that this was associated with an increase of positive mood in research participants.
But wait… there’s MORE:
A landmark study conducted by the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme has provided the first clinical evidence for the efficacy of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to treat depression and suicidality, even in cases where all other treatments have failed.
The study found that psilocybin may effectively “reset” the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression. The analysis of participant brain images focused on the amygdala. Activity in the amygdala was stronger in response to being shown fearful faces after the psilocybin session that it was in response to those fearful faces beforehand. This means that psilocybin actually enhances the response to negative emotional stimuli. This might sound surprising -- wouldn’t you imagine that successful antidepressant medication would reduce or dampen such activity? Well… researchers have found that the strength of this increased response was actually correlated with greater improvement. This implies that psilocybin-assisted therapy treats depression by enhancing emotional responsiveness. Many of the participants in the study said that they attributed the effectiveness of the treatment to “a greater willingness to accept all emotions.” And they went even farther to say that they felt previous depression treatments had worked to “reinforce emotional avoidance and disconnection.” The psilocybin experience itself, by contrast, had precipitated an emotional “confrontation”: a challenging return to old traumas that had led to emotional breakthrough and resolution. To be clear: the therapeutic process described was by no means pleasant or easy however it felt to have been pivotal to achieving a therapeutic transformation.
But wait… are you advocating for illegal drug use?
No…. well… no, I’m not. What I’m advocating for, is an understanding that people are going to continue to find and use plant medicines, whether they are decriminalized or not. So while it would be great for everyone to have access to medical grade psilocybin like the kind I reference in the studies above, that’s unlikely to happen. What is likely to happen is that people educate themselves on the healing benefits of these plant medicines, and find ways to procure these plants in whatever creative, safe way works best for them. However, I don’t think the process should stop there. We also need supportive environments and trained professionals to specialize care to transform psychedelic experiences into valuable learning opportunities, leading to healing and growth. This is where psychedelic integration therapy comes in.
Tell me more, tell me more!
People who have done or are going to use psychedelics, including the entheogens listed above, are likely going to have both positive and negative experiences. Positive experiences from a psychedelic journey are often not applied when people return to everyday life and negative experiences can leave a negative, sometimes traumatizing impression.
As a result, what is often missing in the psychedelic experience is planning, intention setting, psychological preparation and care, trauma resolution, recovery work and pre/post-psychedelic session integration.
Psychedelic integration therapy supports, when appropriate, a harm reduction approach, providing accurate psycho-educational information regarding the use of psychedelics as a healing practice while ensuring healing and enhancing one’s life’s performance. The therapist is never administering psychedelics to the patient (as is the case in psychedelic-assisted therapy) but instead, is providing a safe and trusting place to process, heal and integrate one’s findings from a psychedelic experience into their everyday life.
Now… back to Initiative 81.
The mainstream psychedelic movement, much like yoga was in the 90s, has been geared towards mostly affluent white people. As Dr. Monnica Williams--clinical psychologist and psychedelic researcher notes in an interview with Double Blind Magazine, “We cannot talk about the advancement of psychedelic research without considering the impact of the War on Drugs on people of color and the inequitable policing system that leaves Black people incarcerated or dead.”
This is a time for reexamination and reckoning. As psychedelic advocate Kufikiri Imara calls it, this is an entheogenic emergence, because what is emerging are opportunities where work still needs to be done, which can reflex the spirit of these medicines put into action.
Historically, most of the research and culture of psychedelic science has largely excluded people of color, and left important questions unaddressed for these populations. But as the current cultural moment brings global awareness to the issues of police brutality, systemic racism and race-based trauma, there is a vital need to find ways we can promote equity and access for people of color to participate in psychedelic medicine, both as recipients and providers.
Research has linked experiences of racism to countless variations of psychological distress, including: depression, anxiety, binge drinking and disordered eating. To be Black in America is to have experienced race-based trauma. Period. It’s important to understand that race-based trauma extends beyond the direct behaviors of problematic individuals. We are surrounded on a daily basis that race-related danger can occur at any time, anywhere, to any Black person. We see clips on the news featuring unarmed Black people being killed in broad daylight, by viruses of police brutality, covid-19 and white supremacy. Learning of these events brings up an array of painfully racially-charged memories. Even if the specific tragic news has never happened to us directly, we have parents or aunts or sisters or brothers or cousins or friends who have had similar experiences. We know people in our communities who have had these experiences and their stories have been passed down. Over the centuries the Black community has developed a cultural knowledge of these sorts of horrific events, which them primes us for traumatization when we hear about yet another act of violence. And nowhere, not even spaces dedicated to healing, feel completely safe.
To address these injustices in the psychedelic movement, Dr. Williams recommends amplifying Black voices within the movement, putting more people of color in leadership positions, and viewing anti-racism as a standard psychedelic principle and practice. But anti-racism as a psychedelic principle goes beyond simply checking off the necessary action items. As Williams says:
“Anti-racism as a psychedelic principle requires a paradigm shift to decolonize our minds from systems of oppression (in which we identify with a dominant class -- if we’re white or white-passing, or otherwise, a marginalized class) and to revolutionize the mentality that got us here.”
If Initiative 81 gets passed, this change would help thousands of D.C. residents suffering from anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or depression who currently fear arrest or prosecution for pursuing healing through natural, entheogenic substances. But we can’t stop there. We need ALL OF US — medical professionals, lawyers, teachers, social workers, small business owners, scholars, teachers, stay at home parents, clean energy business owners, stay at home parents, entrepreneurs to join this movement. If you are receiving this email, you hold some power and influence. It’s time to use it. Not tomorrow. Not in an hour. Right now. And if you are a registered voter in DC, educate yourself on the benefits of these plant medicines. Start conversations with friends and family. If you’re a person who has experienced first-hand the profound healing these medicines can offer, share that knowledge with someone else. The power of these plants lies in the hands of the beholder.
You’re Invited: this Thursday, 9/24, from 10 -10:50 AM, I will be speaking on a zoom panel hosted by Decriminalize Nature DC to discuss my support of Initiative 81 as a medical professional (in training :)) If you’re free, I’d love for you to join!
Registration link below:
& if you’re a DC registered voter, this November:
Some additional resources below: