Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Psychedelic Science and Therapy

Race and Psychedelics

As in all other aspects of society, issues of race impact the Psychedelic Renaissance. First, recent research on psychedelic-assisted therapy that has been partially responsible for the recent popularity of psychedelics has been comprised of mostly white male researchers with mostly white participants. Because of this, the current format of psychedelic-assisted therapy is likely to be less applicable to BIPOC.

Second, many communities of marginalized people have historically experienced harm perpetrated by mainstream medicine and science, and consequently have a lack of trust towards medical providers and scientists. From the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiments, to forced sterilization, to ongoing racial disparities in medical access and outcomes, there is a significant history of harm inflicted upon communities of color that continues to have effects today.

Finally, because psychedelic-assisted therapy is likely to be initially expensive and not covered by insurance companies, issues of access are important to address. Due to systemic disadvantages, people of color are less likely to be able to afford this treatment once it is approved by the FDA. This repeats a dynamic found throughout medicine where people of color are less likely to access health care services.

Thankfully, there are many people within the psychedelic movement that are proponents of equity and anti-racism and who are attempting to bring these issues to the forefront, particularly when it comes to important decisions that will impact the dissemination of psychedelic medicine. Given the recent cultural events in the US, there is an opportunity to learn from the past and move towards a health care system that is more fair, equitable, and accessible to all individuals.

Use of Psychedelics in Indigenous Cultures

In the US and other Western countries, we may think that psychedelics are a “new” form of treatment. However, psychedelics have been used by indigenous cultures for thousands of years and continue to play a central role in many cultures around the world.

Understanding this is important for many reasons. First, the modern advancement of psychedelic medicine includes elements of cultural appropriation and colonialism. For example, the increase in tourists traveling to South American countries for ayahuasca ceremonies has led to negative consequences resulting from changes to local economic communities. In addition, due to increased demand, many native communities are seeing a loss of ability to sustainably cultivate plant medicines such as peyote. Second, there is much to learn from cultures that have sustainably and effectively integrated the use of plants medicines into their lives. Increasing our awareness of these cultures and their practices will help provide perspective in implementing them into our own culture. Creating partnerships with such communities based on an attitude of respect and collaboration can help minimize the potential for exploitation and harm perpetuated by the Psychedelic Renaissance. A great resource for learning more about the indigenous use of psychedelics is Chacruna.

LGBTQIA+ and Psychedelics

While psychedelics may be associated with “opening the mind” or liberal values, there is an anti-LGBTQIA+ history within the area of psychedelics. For example, psychedelics were once thought to be useful in conversion therapy – a controversial intervention designed to alter a person’s sexual preferences that has been proven to not work and has been shown to be harmful to clients. While the “hippie culture” of the 60s was associated with the expansion of attitudes around gender and sex, there was a stronger preference for traditional gender roles than most people realize within the counterculture of the 60s.

Though attitudes towards gender and sexual minorities have changed significantly over the last decade, there remain systemic factors that point to the need for more growth. For example, in recent research on psychedelics, clinical trials have not been inclusive of gender and sexual minorities and in some cases, have even failed to measure these identities in their participants. In addition, many people who identify as LGBTQIA+ have reported feeling uncomfortable in some ayahuasca circles where traditional gender roles are maintained or homosexuality is denounced.

Fortunately, there is a movement within the psychedelic community to bring LGBTQIA+ issues to the forefront of the Psychedelic Renaissance. In 2019 there was a two-day conference called Queering Psychedelics that included a range of speakers and topics in the intersection of sexuality, gender, and psychedelics. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a conversation about how to make psychedelic spaces more inclusive to individuals who have been historically marginalized. 

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