Plant medicines in indigenous cultures

A version of this article was first written for the Synthesis retreat. I have re-worked it to remove the advertising – now, this is a brief overview of the way that plant medicines are viewed in the indigenous cultures that are still intertwined with them.

The growing awareness of the medicinal benefits of psychedelics in the West has been dubbed the “psychedelic renaissance.” Unlike the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, this psychedelic emergence is fuelled by contemporary science and the potential for psychedelics to treat the rising tide of mental health conditions in our societies.

But psychedelics have been familiar to humanity for much longer than the past few decades. Plant medicines have been a part of some cultures since their beginnings.

So is our view of the benefits of psychedelics somewhat narrow? What lessons can we learn from studying the history and culture of psychedelic use outside of our immediate awareness?

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Mystical Experiences in Religion

This is a modified excerpt from an article I co-wrote for Synthesis, the full version of which you can find here.

Mystical experiences have been the cornerstone of religious and spiritual practices for millennia. From early Christian mysticism to Zen Buddhism, almost every religious path allows space for experiences that give a more direct connection to the more mysterious aspects of reality.

Broadly speaking, a mystical experience is anything that is hard to comprehend or describe with rational or simple language. Generally, it is short-lasting, feels immensely meaningful or profound, and shatters some of your preconceptions. You may encounter paradoxical or alien concepts firsthand, such as non-duality; a realization that nothing in the universe is truly separate, or impermanence; an awareness that pretty much everything is temporary.

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Leaving The Third Wave: Team Statement

For the past two and a half years I’ve been working as the content manager for The Third Wave, an organisation that educates about psychedelics and promotes microdosing. Recent events have prompted the majority of the team to leave, including myself.

Here is the full statement from a few of us regarding the decision. It is followed by a personal statement from myself.

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Is there something divine about gender and psychedelics?

“See, Pat, the thing about me – I have a very masculine energy. I like building and creating. I’m good at opening doors but not so good at closing them after me.”

“So, I have a very feminine energy, Pat. I like organising, tidying, putting things in order.”

These were statements spoken to me a few days apart, both by colleagues who also work in the psychedelic community, and both times it surprised me.

I would not have expected these people to use gendered terms to describe their personalities, because it felt so thoroughly unnecessary. And it made me start thinking about why they had decided to use the terms masculine and feminine to describe their personality traits. It was one of a string of events that made me start to seriously reflect on the prevalence of gendered concepts in the psychedelic space.

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Alcohol prohibition serves as a lesson for our attitude towards drugs

This article was originally posted on TheDial.co but is no longer there. I’ve posted it here for posterity.

“Prohibition worked best when directed at its primary target: the working-class poor.”

“A rich family could have a cellar-full of liquor and get by, it seemed, but if a poor family had one bottle of home-brew, there would be trouble.”

“Although [Warren Harding, US President] voted for Prohibition as a senator, the whiskey aficionado hypocritically kept a fully stocked sidebar in the White House.”

These quotes could just as well be describing the injustice of current drug policy – rather than the failure of alcohol prohibition in North America.

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The Failure of Physicalist Psychedelic Science

This article was originally published under a different title on The Third Wave.

Psychedelic research has given us so much. Thanks to the revival of psychedelic science, we’ve (re)discovered that psychedelic therapy can benefit sufferers of severely debilitating conditions where current treatments fail. We’ve started to develop an understanding of what psychedelics do to the brain, and how psychedelics can have such transformative power…

But there’s still something missing.

The “physicalist” view of reality struggles to explain the phenomenological aspects of the psychedelic experience.

Why is the mystical or spiritual experience so valuable for healing? Why does our mindset matter so much in determining the effects of a psychedelic? Why, after all is known about the brain, can we still not explain the correlation between physical structures and subjective experience?

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Psychedelics and Male-Perpetrated Violence

A version of this article was originally published on The Third Wave

WARNING:This article describes violent acts, and links to discussions with hateful violent language.

In April this year, a man drove a van across busy pedestrian streets in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring more. It was the deadliest mass homicide in the city’s history.

The murderer identified himself with the growing “incel” movement – a term with origins in sexual frustration (the word “incel”  is a portmanteau of the misnomer “involuntary celibate”) that has now been appropriated by a nebulous group of disgruntled men who believe that society is rigged against them, dooming them to a life without the sex they’re entitled to.

Mostly confined to online forums, the number of people defining themselves as incels is hard to pin down – although a recent surge in searches for “incel” and the media attention following the Toronto attack suggests that its popularity is on the rise.

The online gathering-places for the modern incel are littered with calls for misogynistic violence, rape, and coercion. When incels aren’t praising the violent actions of mass murderers, or urging others to act in a similar fashion – they’re spreading brutal misogynistic propaganda promoting rape, domestic abuse, and pedophilia.

The reasons behind the surge in incel ideologies are many and complex: harmful patriarchal gender conventions; the normalization of aggression in young boys; the struggle some men encounter in connecting with their emotions. There are dozens of models to explain the attractiveness of incel philosophies to the modern man. But no matter what psychological and societal reasons for incelhood, the movement is inarguably associated with violence.

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Male-perpetrated violence is, unsurprisingly, soaked throughout culture and history. It’s not just a phenomenon confined to the bloody sands of ancient battlefields or the slave trade of America and Europe’s shameful legacies. It’s reflected in modern domestic violence statistics, showing that male-perpetrated domestic violence accounts for 91% of all domestic abuse prosecutions, and that 87% of all domestic homicides are perpetrated by men.

There is clearly a very current, prevalent, systemic issue with male-perpetrated violence in society. The incel movement is just another way in which this problem is being highlighted. And we need to do something about it.

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New Clues In The Psychedelic Treatment Of Depression

A version of this article was originally published on High Existence, and The Third Wave.

Depression, despite affecting millions worldwide, is still a condition that we don’t fully understand.

In fact, we understand it so poorly that typical pharmaceutical treatments indiscriminately target whole neurochemical systems, resulting in unstable effectiveness and a host of side-effects.

Up to 44% of people suffering from depression have not found relief from typical antidepressant therapies. Even patients who find some form of relief from the usual prescribed antidepressants need frequent doses, sometimes causing unpleasant side-effects, and these drugs often lose their effectiveness after several years of treatment.

But where pharmaceuticals are failing, psychedelics could be a new hope.

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Can Ayahuasca Prompt Neurogenesis?

This was originally published on The Third Wave – you can read the original article here.

The past few months has seen an explosion of research into the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca, the traditional psychoactive brew used by indigenous South American peoples for generations. It’s now looking highly compelling that doses of the plant-based drink have antidepressant qualities, and could also be used to combat addiction and PTSD.

Earlier last year, the announcement that scientists had discovered a potential mechanism for ayahuasca’s antidepressant properties was met with great anticipation. Researchers reported that under laboratory conditions several compounds found in ayahuasca could encourage the growth of new brain cells. Since that announcement, we’ve been excited about getting our hands on the full study!

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How Psychedelic Therapy Could Shift Our Understanding Of Mental Health

I know, it’s been a while! I’m sorry! I’ve been busy working for The Third Wave and other ventures… the psychedelic movement is constantly gaining ground these days.

This latest (ghost-written) article of mine is intended to explain why we need to change the way we treat mental health issues, and how psychedelics could be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in mental health therapy.

Read it here!