Sustainability, Reciprocity, & Regenerative Strategies for Psychedelic Research
Sustainability, Reciprocity, & Regenerative Strategies for Psychedelic Research
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:00
Of course, the enthusiasm about psychedelic assisted therapies has a dark side. There's increasing evidence these therapies have incredible healing power, but what about the origins of these plants and the people who've cultivated them? Many plant medicines come from indigenous cultures, and his interest from the western world grows were contending with medicalization, commercialization, and in some cases good, old-fashioned greed, the same ugly drivers that haunt our history riddled with colonialization, exploitation, and slavery. There is real risk for these healing substances to become endangered and the psychedelic experiences decontextualized from their ceremonial roots. So how can modern people benefit from the psychedelic treatments without exploiting the communities that have discovered these treasured medicines?
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:39
Welcome to MIND CURIOUS, a podcast for those looking to explore the potential of psychedelic compounds. In this show will dive deep and test our understanding of what consciousness is while talking to experts in the field who are no strangers to tapping into the curiosities of the mind. I'm your host, clinical psychologist, Dr. Sherry Walling. One common sense reminder that the podcast does not constitute medical or legal advice. The perspectives of the guests are theirs alone, and they don't represent me, my opinions, or those of our sponsor Mind Cure Health.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:01:21
Let's dive in. I want to set the stage by considering the term reciprocity. Lots of psychedelics come from indigenous cultures in Central and South America, and Africa. Those cultures can be severely impacted by a sudden Eurocentric interest in their traditional medicines. In order to address these concerns, people in the psychedelic community sometimes reference the Andean concept of Ayni, which is roughly translated to mean reciprocity or same.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:01:51
I asked Leia Friedman about her interpretation of Ayni. She's a teacher trained mental health professional, permaculturist, and the host of The Psychedologist podcast. Leia is deeply invested in her relationship with the Earth and her understanding of Ayni reflects a lifelong commitment to sustainability.
Leia Friedman - 0:02:17
Reciprocity or Ayni in the Quechua language, there are a lot of different ways to interpret this term, but what Ayni means is today for you and then tomorrow for myself. So it's like thinking about how not just to give back, but how we can be in an ongoing reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving 'cause we are receiving all the time. I mean, every single breath we're receiving from the trees that breathed it out back to us. So reciprocity is important. This can be to indigenous communities that have stewarded these medicines for a long time.
Leia Friedman - 0:02:52
For example in Huautla in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, is the town that the sacred mushroom, psilocybin mushroom, that was where Maria Sabina, a curandera, a healer with the mushroom shared it with the western world but not fully consensually. She was tricked by these white guys that came down, R. Gordon Wasson and his associates, and they deceived her. Thus the mushroom was brought to the United States and now it's grown in lots of people's closets and and heals lots of people. I'm so grateful for that medicine and at the same time have to recognize the story like the origin story of that, and also listen to the descendants of Maria Sabina and folks in Huautla, which speakers I've listened to, they say that they want the mushroom to be shared, but with this spirit of for the healing of all. I'm aware that the psychedelic tourism to that area destroyed the local economy.
Leia Friedman - 0:03:55
Maria Sabina herself died in poverty. Being conscientious I think about sharing. If we are fortunate to have access to resources like financial resources, sharing those with communities from where these medicines have been shared with us.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:04:21
When we talk about taking responsibility for the consequences of the psychedelic industry, we have to talk about global capitalism and systemic oppression. When westerners use psychedelics, they usually don't picture the indigenous communities who have preserved these medicines and who are suffering from economic instability, food insecurity, and ecological destruction. In our individual pursuit of alleviation from suffering or even spiritual growth and development, it can be hard to contextualize that within these larger communities that are perhaps far away or unknown to us. The indigenous reciprocity initiative is a network that allows people to connect with and give back to these communities. My next guest, Joe Mays, is the program director of the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative or IRI.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:05:07
He is a background in ethnobotany, the study of relationships between people and plants that emphasizes biocultural conservation. Tell me about the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative.
Joseph Mays - 0:05:27
So just a brief summary that the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative is a online resource that allows people to connect with and donate to grassroots indigenous organizations, so groups and communities and and initiatives that are indigenous-led and community driven and address everything from environmental remediation like ecological restoration, reforestation, food security, water security, land tenure struggles, cultural conservation, whatever the community has determined as their priority. This was really trying to empower the communities themselves and stress their autonomy and agency and so just building this grassroots network and then providing a pathway or an avenue for, yes, people in the global North, enthusiasts of psychedelics, people who maybe have traveled to South America or have used plant medicine in those kind of contexts, they feel the benefits in their life, they feel a need to give back. Everybody recognizes that there's a need for support in indigenous communities, but also we need to care for the environment, and how can we use our resources to do that in the best way and the most impactful way. So just taking all those lessons from biocultural conservation, understanding that indigenous land has all these different markers for ecological health that are in greater abundance than in protected areas, that this is a way to achieve sustainable change, and so just trying to provide a pathway for that. It's trying to create a conversation around reciprocity.
Joseph Mays - 0:07:11
I don't want to mischaracterize it and say that this is like a panacea that's going to heal, because really there's the monumental injustices that are still being suffered by indigenous communities, can't be solved by a few donations and the problems are structural and institutional and and need to be addressed on a governmental level. But this is just a way for immediate direct action in lieu of all those other things happening which I still want to change. This is getting towards an idea of reciprocity. So reciprocity, what does that mean? I mean, it's thrown around a lot I think these days. I come to that word from the Andean and Quechua word Ayni, which was often translated as reciprocity.
Joseph Mays - 0:08:01
But it's not like equal exchange. It's more like looking at the imbalance that exists in every moment and trying to constantly reorder and re-balance, and understanding that it's a constant flux and it's never equalized. But it involves acknowledging your place in this network of relationship that we've been talking about. Whoever you are, whatever community you're in, you have a unique perspective and place in this story and in this network of relationships. So what can you do from that position?
Joseph Mays - 0:08:39
We're all part of this psychedelic renaissance right now. There are many businesses that are going to be making enormous profits from plant medicines from psychedelics. Even synthetic and second generation psychedelics, they can still be traced back to indigenous communities. All this wealth is going in one direction. This is trying to bring some of that back towards indigenous communities and it's not equal.
Joseph Mays - 0:09:02
It's not going to fully repay the debt, but it's a start.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:09:16
As the conversation about sustainability and reciprocity develops, synthesis has become an important conversation point. I asked Leia Friedman for her take on synthesizing psychedelics, specifically, Ibogaine. If you're unfamiliar with Ibogaine, it's a powerful psychoactive alkaloid found in the iboga plant of central West Africa. Among other things, Ibogaine is a potentially effective treatment for opioid addiction and traumatic brain injury. This medicine can save lives, but its clinical use is controversial.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:09:45
The iboga plant is at risk of extinction, which would be devastating to the Bwiti spiritual practitioners who have been safeguarding it for generations. Leia also mentions 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic compound found in the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad. I guess one of the challenges that comes up is, seeing things like iboga being potentially incredibly powerful for helping to alleviate really the horror of addiction, and also recognizing that that comes from a very specific plant in a very specific place, and so one way around that that might be more sustainable is in synthesizing the compound, creating it in a lab so that it mirrors the same chemical reaction but doesn't have to be harvested from Gabon. How do you weigh the pros and cons of that 'cause I think that's probably where some of this world is going, at least in the laboratory? What concerns do you have, or what benefits do you see?
Leia Friedman - 0:10:49
It's a great question, I appreciate it very much, and I've been thinking about it this week in fact. Not about iboga, but about 5-MeO-DMT. I actually didn't know that you could synthesize Ibogaine, I thought that even when it's administered not in whole plant form, that in some way it was derived from the plant at some point. That's really cool to know 'cause the plant is endangered and it takes, like 7 plus years to reach maturity. Synthetic versus organic (laughing) Hamilton Morris from Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, he was saying that synthetic from the toad it's the same and that we should really like, please everyone use synthetic, these toads are suffering, they're endangered. It's just the thought of taking medicine that came from an animal that's being tortured is like really giving me goosebumps right now.
Leia Friedman - 0:11:34
That's valid. Also I'm in a few psychedelic forums on Facebook and online, and some people were saying like no, it absolutely is different. There's a spirit in it when it comes from the toad, there's no spirit in the synthetic. This is bringing to mind. I read an article in Psymposia about how crude oil is required to make MDMA.
Leia Friedman - 0:12:00
It's like MDMA has a carbon footprint and so yeah all of this just makes me want to run off the grid right now.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:12:16
It makes it really hard to think about how do I engage in this world in an ethical, sustainable way that honors where things come from, but also is minimizing the impact that each of us as individuals, and then as a collective community, may have. So instead off the grid, what do you think? (laughing) Don't run away. We need you.
Leia Friedman - 0:12:38
(laughing) I might traipse off the grid but I won't run away. I'd say, the relationship to the medicine is a part of the healing, and so whether the medicine came from your backyard and your garden, or your closet, or from a friend, or you don't know where it came from, whether it was created in a lab or not, we can create relationship with it by, for instance, making an altar and putting the medicine on the altar to charge it up with all that good stuff that's there. I have friends who work with Ketamine and say that Ketamine has a spirit and that they can feel, and they know the spirit of it. I'm hopeful that folks can get solid healing experiences from lab derived medicines. Then, I think I'd like to say it is of great importance that medicines that come from indigenous traditions that those people still have access to those medicines and that way of life which is about protecting land and sovereignty of indigenous peoples.
Leia Friedman - 0:13:39
When it comes to peyote for example, if I'm invited to a peyote sit by a native person, I would consider going in that case, that would be very special. But if I want to have a healing experience, then I will take San Pedro and they both contain mescaline and I'll be content with that. Yeah, I'm open to things that come from the lab. You talk about sustainability and I have a permaculture background and something I learned from my teacher Starhawk is that sustainability will keep us functioning. You know where we are?
Leia Friedman - 0:14:14
It's like sustaining the level that it's at and we really be-
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:14:18
Being in the same place at homeostasis.
Leia Friedman - 0:14:20
Exactly. Yeah, staying in the same place which on a global level, we're not really at a homeostasis right now. I like to think about regenerative solutions, which are actually repairing the depletion that has been caused by human activity. I think about not just how psychedelic medicines can be sustainable, but how can they be regenerative. There's a lot of directions to take that in.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:14:47
Do you have a couple of examples 'cause I love that, I mean with that term generative solutions?
Leia Friedman - 0:14:53
Yeah, well, here's one. We were talking about the mushroom and it's relatively easy to grow mushrooms at home. It's even easier than keeping a garden in some ways, and the materials required are fairly accessible, so that's one thing with psychedelics. But just talking about growing food in general, there are, some people call it plant guilds, there are things that love to grow together and that will actually keep each other going in a closed system for instance like aquaponics where the fish will be eating from the plants that are growing and then they will poop in the poop will be feeding something else in the water and so it's all sustaining and then from that, the products of that can feed the people that are living there and then maybe there's a compost system to make soil out of the human waste humanure. This is one example of regenerative solutions where rather than like there's no waste because nothing actually is waste and that's a permaculture principle. It's just about our lack of creativity to figure out how to use it.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:16:09
If you're interested in the ongoing discourse about Ibogaine, we have an episode on the topic that features Hamilton Morris of Hamilton's Pharmacopia. He's joined Mind Cure as a scientific advisor. In that episode, Hamilton talks about the cultural rituals surrounding these medicines and how those rituals can be lost as we bring psychedelics into clinical settings. Joe's work with the Indigenous reciprocity initiative also focuses on the preservation of rituals and the traditional medicines within indigenous communities. Could you talk about one or two of the communities that are part of the IRI project and maybe share a little bit of their story?
Joseph Mays - 0:16:54
Sure, yeah. One of the communities, the organization is called Alianza Arkana. It's a Shipibo organization. They're based in Peru. They're very (inaudible) people and they're very concerned with the overharvesting of ayahuasca, for example, so they have started a medicine garden to try and replenish their own sources of these medicines, because one of the issues with this new interest and exploding interesting ayahuasca is that it's become such a valuable commodity that indigenous communities that normally use it aren't able to use it. It's too valuable for that. There are non indigenous people who are paying to have huge amounts harvested and brought into the tourist centers, they're unsustainably harvested, they're cutting trees down to get to the vines, and so there are a lot of issues that they're trying to address. There are other initiatives that they're involved in too besides the medicine garden.
Joseph Mays - 0:17:57
They're also doing some cultural conservation, doing some women-led co-ops to try and come up with other revenue streams that are not just dependent on tourism, which is especially important when you have things like pandemics going on. That's one one group.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:18:20
For people who may not know, could you say a little bit about the ayahuasca or how ayahuasca comes from a plant, how it's cultivated, harvested?
Joseph Mays - 0:18:30
Yeah. So the ayahuasca is the name of the psychedelic brew that comes from the Amazon, but it really it's a casual word and it actually refers to only one plant in the brew but for some reason that's just the name that many people call it. It is also called yage in other parts of South America. Banisteriopsis caapi is the vine and it is what contains the alkaloids that are MAOI so monoamine oxidase inhibitors and then the other part of the brew which has many plants and ingredients. But these are usually the two main ones, is Psychotria viridis and that's called chacruna which is another cultural word. Those two combined, the chacruna has the DMT alkaloids and so that is the psychoactive component, and then normally that's broken down by your stomach by monoamine oxidase.
Joseph Mays - 0:19:23
When you take it with the vine, it prevents it from being broken down and allows it to act on your brain and stay in your body for a longer time. And this is just one example of the brilliant sort of ethno pharmacological knowledge that is found in these communities. Just that that mechanism is so complicated and combining those plants and in that way so difficult, it's just a testament to that deep knowledge. Yeah, so the vines grow, they take several, I don't know how many years to mature, but they're difficult to cultivate and they grow very high up in the canopy, they become lianas that grows so high up. People would climb them, climb the trees, and harvest small portions of the vine.
Joseph Mays - 0:20:15
But now people just cut the whole tree down, take the whole vine from the root to the tip. Another one I would love to plug is YAKUM there in Ecuador and also Sacha Warmi, another great one in Ecuador. A lot of the really cool work that they do is community mapping so the community maps their own territory and is able to see where they have different resources for different useful plants and crops, They're also building nurseries so that they can reintroduce useful species, native species of timber of various different medicines and including psychedelic but not all exclusive to that. YAKUM is Shuar, Kichwa, Cofan, and Siekopai peoples. Sacha Warmi is primarily Kichwa. But a lot of the projects also stressed women's groups and women's issues which is really important for sustainable change I think.
Joseph Mays - 0:21:03
About half the projects are led by indigenous women in general,
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:21:18
If you could speak to the capitalists, the people who are working to make money but also to help make psychedelics more accessible to people around the world, what would you say or what are the things that you think are important for people to keep in mind in the midst of this psychedelic renaissance, and these medicines are becoming so much more accessible in mainstream, and people are going to make a lot of money on them? What are you want to say about that or to those folks?
Joseph Mays - 0:21:54
Well, I'd say, first of all, I think it's important for everyone to educate themselves on the history of these substances. I think it's great that they're becoming more accessible and more popular. I think that they all have so much potential to help people with so many different things. That's part of the wonder of many of these medicines is that they can help with such a wide variety of issues that we have. I think it's important to recognize that there is a continuity between indigenous use of these plants and these compounds and then the clinical use.
Joseph Mays - 0:22:28
If you synthetically produce psilocybin, you're not removed from that continuity. The fact is that we know about it because of the massive tech and ayahuasca and their use, and that relationship goes back thousands of years and those communities are some of the most marginalized in the world and so I think if you're making so much money, there's a need for reciprocation and for giving back. So yeah, the ceremonial use and the traditional use of sacred plants, the underground use of plant medicine and then these psychedelic assisted therapies, they can't be dissociated. Everybody I think even before this landmark changes in the legal status of these plants and this psychedelic renaissance, people were learning about them and traveling and taking them in various contexts. But I think we can all be more conscious and aware of the consequences of what we do and our effect on the communities that we interact with.
Joseph Mays - 0:23:36
Wherever you are in the world and if you do travel, learn about that relationship, learn about the history of the people you're interacting with and acknowledge your position in that constellation. If you're a business owner, understand where your profits are coming from and who they're coming from because it's not from you, it's from the people that work for you and from the resources that you that you're using, and so there must be a more democratic or more equitable way to operate I think. There's some hope, maybe naive, that psychedelic business is different than other business, that psychedelic capital is different. Is it? I think that remains to be seen but it would require that the people in charge would recognize that they're in a position to do things differently.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:24:55
Investment in synthetic psychedelics does not absolve individual psychedelic users, companies, or the larger psychedelic community, of responsibility to the original medicine keepers. Synthesis may be a step towards sustainability but there must continue to be good faith efforts to give back to those who shared their traditions with the Western world. I encourage everyone listening to look into the indigenous reciprocity initiative, see what you can learn about where these medicines come from. I want to thank my guests Leia Friedman and Joe Mays. Please visit mindcure.com podcasts for the full inventory of episodes that we have released this season.
Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:25:30
As always, we welcome your comments, feedback, suggestions, reactions via all of the normal social media channels. I am Dr. Sherry Walling. I appreciate you listening. Be well and stay curious.