Can you tell us about yourself and what brought you into the field of drug policy reform?
I got into drug policy reform in 2013. I was an intern at the Drug Policy Alliance in New York and that is where I started writing about my experience of having a parent in prison and deported. A few months after interning they invited me to speak at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Denver Colorado where I gave a speech about the impact that my father’s incarceration had on me. It is there that I first learned about the therapeutic uses of psychedelics. Later at that conference, a panel where the topic was end of life care, end of life anxiety with psychedelics, that opened my eyes up to the therapeutic uses of psychedelics. That is what convinced me to try psilocybin mushrooms. A few weeks before I was diagnosed with depression and was seeking alternative treatment to prescribed anti-anti-depressants, so this really put the wheel back in motion for me. I was a senior in college at the time and went back to school and consulted with other students who were using psychedelics recreationally. I wanted to see what I should do to prepare. I took 3.5 grams on a Saturday morning, went out in the woods for a walk and it totally changed my perspective on a lot of things. After I graduated college I got a job with MAPS, I was with them for a short period of time - It wasn’t a good fit for me career wise so I ended up leaving after 8 months. I then moved back to the East Coast and got a full time position with Drug Policy Alliance. In 2017 is when I really started organizing and writing about the inclusivity and platform for folks of colour in the psychedelic space.
You founded People of Color Psychedelic Collective, please tell us about this empowering organization.
This organization, The People of Color Psychedelic Collective, I founded along with a few others and we are in the process of getting our 501(c)(3) (US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations). Our goal is about education and community building in the country and internationally. We have done a lot of partnerships with other psychedelic societies, panels and talks. We have also done a lot of online workshops during COVID. In the future we hope to continue doing a lot of this work. We’ve also had a conference in DC in 2019 and a retreat in Santa Fe New Mexico, which was amazing. It’s really about empowering people, educating people and not only education about psychedelics, but political education on the War on Drugs and other forms of oppression.
We’re in the midst of a global renaissance of psychedelic research and growing acceptance of psychedelics, however the mainstream psychedelic movement is not very diverse. In your opinion, what will it take to make inclusion and diversity a reality?
I think that starts with a lot of psychedelic research organizations answering the question of ‘what is your commitment to ending white supremacy?’, if you can’t answer that then we can’t talk about making inclusion and diversity a reality. We all have a place in figuring out how we have been perpetuating white supremacy, how do we unpack that in our spaces and everyday lives. That is a long process of answering those questions and thinking those things through. It shows up in many ways.
How can psychedelics help us gain a better understanding of ancestral trauma or systemic trauma?
I think that psychedelics help you see your life and yourself in a different context. When looking at trauma in a sober state of consciousness, it is very hard to look at that trauma. Psychedelics make it a bit easier to look deep into that trauma, and how it has affected you, your people, your communities and countries. Psychedelics make it easier to accept our trauma and our pain, and empower us to take care of ourselves and realize that - a lot of us come from strength and resilience and we can be grateful for that. We can realize the ways we care for people and the systems we have in place around that especially in the U.S.
How can people of color use plant medicine to learn about their ancestors because many don’t know their history due to the educational systems in place?
You can learn about your history through talking to your elders and doing research but with psychedelics they help you feel connected naturally, in my experience.
How are you continuing to work towards ending the War on Drugs?
I am continuing to do work with People Of Color in Psychedelics Collective to raise education and awareness on the War on Drugs and ending the War on Drugs. I am also a writer and have started to write with Lucid News, so I am hoping to continue exploring the issues around The War on Drugs.
If people are interested in getting involved in ending the War on Drugs what is a good place for them to start?
Education is a big one! The Drug Policy Alliance has a lot of good research on their website. They did a report on municipal drug strategy, which is basically how to impact drug policy reform on the local level. And of course there are organizations like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and they are great for young college students. There are a ton of other organizations out there whose mission is to end the War on Drugs.
What are you most excited about the future potential for psilocybin?
I am excited for more and more people discovering its value and its power, it’s impact. Not to say it’s ‘cure all’ but it can have a positive impact on people’s lives when it is used in a safe environment.
Answers by Ifetayo Harvey
Questions by YAWN