The 21st century has seen remarkable progress in our knowledge about psychedelic substances and their benefits – and 2019 was no different!
From a wave of psychedelic decriminalization in the US, to the protection and restoration of indigenous rights, it’s been a whirlwind year for the burgeoning psychedelic renaissance!
So let’s take a look at some of the most pivotal psychedelic moments of the last year of the 2010s, and what lies ahead of us in a new decade of psychedelic revolution!
1. Decriminalize Nature Makes Waves!
In what will possibly be looked back upon as the triggering point of the revolution, Denver, CO became the first city in the US to decriminalize possession and use of magic mushrooms, after a campaign by grassroots organization Decriminalize Nature. After almost half a century of being a Schedule I narcotic, psilocybin slid down to a deprioritized illicit substance in the eyes of the local law enforcement on May 16th, 2019, putting the capital city of Colorado at the forefront of US psychedelic policy reform.
Shortly after, in June of 2019, Decriminalize Nature had another success in Oakland, CA, where they passed a bill that decriminalized all natural hallucinogens. This means that possession of personal-use-amounts of all psychoactive plants and fungi is not subject to criminal persecution anymore, and selling/growing psychedelic plants and fungi will be the lowest priority of law enforcement.
Finally, in February of 2020, Decriminalize Nature activists in Santa Cruz, CA took the path paved by Denver and Oakland, and became the third city in the US to amend its drug law.
A few other cities and states are already considering implementing the same changes. Oregon is poised to legalize psilocybin therapy statewide, Chicago is considering decriminalizing the use of entheogens, and Iowa Republican state representative Jeff Shipley called for removal of psilocybin and psilocin from the list of Schedule I controlled substances, and reclassification of ibogaine, MDMA and psilocybin for use in clinical purposes.
Successful passing of each of these measures makes it easier for the next one to be implemented. And, although a nationwide policy amendment is still very far fetched, the ice has been broken and we can already see the emergence of a trend which should drive more cities and states to change their attitude toward psychedelics.
2. Novel Psychedelic Treatments and Breakthrough Therapy Designations
On March 5, 2019, the first new major class of depression medication in the last three decades was approved for use; and it just so happens to include esketamine, a stereoisomer of ketamine. Ketamine has been used since its discovery as an anesthetic on both humans and animals, but it gained notoriety as a recreational psychedelic.
Esketamine has much the same effects as ketamine, and its approval as a depression medication may mark the start of a paradigm shift in the public perception of psychedelic substances. Six years of clinical trials after its designation as a breakthrough therapy, the esketamine nasal spray Spravato finally became a legitimate alternative method for managing treatment-resistant depression.
A few caveats important to note: Spravato is only used as a complement to standard depression treatment, and this process needs to adhere to strict regulations. The nose spray is exclusively available through a restricted distribution system, meaning its application will be done only under the supervision of medical professionals. Currently, treatments also come with a hefty price tag, which may be prohibitive for many patients. Still, it’s a step in the right direction; with positive results, the availability and price should become more favorable.
Another psychedelic poised to become a depression therapy aid is psilocybin. Near the end of 2019, a second psilocybin study was granted breakthrough therapy designation. This FDA approval of the research conducted by the Usona Institute in Wisconsin follows the support given to the clinical trials run by the company Compass Pathways in 2018. Granting psilocybin breakthrough therapy status twice can only mean that the FDA is fully on board with authorizing it for therapy sooner rather than later. The Agency’s support comes as a response to favorable psilocybin study results which are becoming overwhelming and undeniable.
Psilocybin and esketamine are two of the three psychoactive substances currently in the process for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. The third one is MDMA, which was granted the breakthrough therapy designation in 2017, and is currently undergoing phase 3 of clinical trials run by MAPS.
Getting a psychedelic regulated as a medical option is a slow, costly, and arduous process. It takes years for the clinical trials to validate a compound’s effects and years for it to actually reach the market and be integrated into standard therapy. However, with the cooperation of the FDA, this process seems well underway and hope for psychedelic therapy to become reality in the 2020s may be justified.
3. Indigenous Victory
Moments of justice triumphing over greed are not common enough in these times, and an especially endearing one occurred in April of 2019. A legal battle between the Waorani nation and the Ecuadorian government ended in favor of the indigenous people.
The Waoranis sued the government in response to Ecuador’s plans to offer their land up for oil exploration and, ultimately, extraction. Without consultation with the inhabitants, the government divided its resource-rich land, much of which belongs to the Amazon basin, into blocks and has been auctioning it off to international mining companies.
The trial was swift, although the final hearing needed to be postponed due to the Waoranis shutting down the original date with song, protesting against unjust judicial conditions. After less than three months since the filing, justice was served to the indigenous.
Unfortunately, as heart-warming as this victory may be, it’s a grimly lone positive chapter in the sad story of the destruction of the Amazon. Big mining companies are after the tremendous natural resources of the pristine rainforest land not only in Ecuador, but in all of South America. Mining is not the only weapon; it’s well known by now that the massive fires which burned over two million acres of the Brazilian Amazon in 2019 were started on purpose with the aim of increasing available land for agriculture.
None of this bodes well for the largest rainforest on the planet, home to unparallelled diversity of fauna, myriad indigenous cultures, and countless healing plants such as ayahuasca.
So, the Waorani victory should draw our attention to more profound issues lying beneath why that trial even needed to happen. The near future holds a monumental test for humanity–will we be able to transition to more sustainable resources and conserve our environment, or will we let greed continue to devour us and ultimately be the end of our collective home?
4. Cannabis Reevaluated
It’s not news that cannabis is experiencing a legal revival in the 21st century, not only in Western societies, but also in the far East. Even Thailand, a country with traditional views and notoriously strict drug laws, has legalized medical marijuana and cultivation for personal use in 2019, and recently opened up their first cannabis clinic.
As the most popular psychoactive substance in the world, cannabis has proven beyond doubt not only that it’s harmless, but that certain compounds in it can be therapeutic for a range of psychosomatic problems. This helped get it decriminalized or legalized in 33 states and DC in the USA.
The latest states to join the cannabis legalization efforts in 2019 are: Illinois, which became the 11th state to legalize recreational use, and New Mexico, Hawaii, and North Dakota, which decriminalized recreational use to add to the already existing legal medical use infrastructure.
Additionally, and admirably, San Francisco committed to expunging the records of 9,362 marijuana-related felonies and misdemeanors, allowing those who were convicted better chances of work and community involvement. The city is further working with Code for America, an organization which aims to clear some 250,000 past marijuana-related crimes throughout California.
It is interesting to recall that, in the US, cannabis was in the same legal position just a few decades ago that psychedelic substances are in now – with indications of therapeutic value and on the precipice of being approved for medical use. With the benefits of psychedelics becoming obvious and preserving past regulations just for the sake of doing it inconsequential, there is little doubt that the same bright fate soon awaits psychedelic substances, too.
5. Psychedelic Research Gets Dedicated Centers
If there is a convincing reason 2019 was monumental for the psychedelic renaissance, it is this: psychedelic research has shifted from a position on the margins of science to established, acknowledged, and long-awaited new quarters. Last year saw the launching of not one, but two major pioneering institutes dedicated to the research into the potential of psychedelic substances.
The first Center, operating under the auspices of the Imperial College London in the UK, opened its doors in April. The Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research aims to look into the potential of psychedelics in mental health care and what psychedelic states can tell us about consciousness. The head of the Center and one of the most highly acclaimed psychedelic researchers of today, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, stated: “This new Centre represents a watershed moment for psychedelic science; symbolic of its now mainstream recognition. Psychedelics are set to have a major impact on neuroscience and psychiatry in the coming years.”
The second Center is also the first of this kind in the US, and the largest in the world. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD gathered an incredible $17 million in investment for its launch. The Center will aim to understand how psychedelics affect brain chemistry and function, including behavior, learning, memory, and mood. The ultimate goal is to be able to create personalized psychedelic treatments tailored to individual patients’ needs. Their research will focus on psilocybin and will look into its effectiveness as a therapy for alcohol and opioid addiction, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and anorexia.
The launch of these two centers is a milestone for the psychedelic community. It heralds a new age for psychedelics and lends enough legitimacy to psychedelic research, making future involvement of medicine and psychology likely. Dedicated institutions for exploring the potential of psychedelic substances; creating and validating procedures for using them for therapeutic purposes; training the first generations of therapists who will apply these procedures… At the start of the century, this may have been science fiction; now, it’s here.
6. Psychedelic Conventions
A few major events which gathered interdisciplinary researchers, scientists, cultural anthropologists, activists, indigenous people, and psychedelic experts and enthusiasts from all walks of life took place in 2019, showcasing the findings, power, and connectedness of the psychedelic community.
The largest conferences drawing international speakers and crowds were Breaking Convention in London, UK; the World Ayahuasca Conference in Girona, Spain; INSIGHT in Berlin, Germany; and Horizons in New York City, NY.
These gatherings offer important opportunities for psychedelic aficionados to network and exchange experiences and results of their research, as well as to get involved with various movements centered around psychedelics legalization, therapy, or study. Over the next decade, as the psychedelic community becomes more numerous and psychedelics themselves less stigmatized, hope is that these kinds of conventions will grow in size and number and attract an even more diverse array of guests.
7. Psychedelic Documentaries
Films documenting transformational journeys of individuals without an effective legal cure are vital for changing the stigma that surrounds the use of psychedelics. Bringing them to a global audience is a direct way for the general public to get acquainted with the benefits of entheogenic substances by connecting with stories of real people whose lives were transformed by psychedelics.
Just remember the impact that “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” had on the awareness of natural psychedelics worldwide!
Last year saw the official release of several documentaries focused on examining the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics on mental disorders. Two of the most notable ones are Dosed and From Shock to Awe.
Dosed follows the story of suicidal opioid addict Adrianne, who turns to underground healers to treat her depression, anxiety, and addiction with psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and iboga. This film shines a light on how rapidly and effectively psychedelics can help with deeply debilitating issues. It won several awards in local film festivals in the US and Australia.
From Shock to Awe looks at the lives of two combat veterans suffering from severe PTSD. Failed by conventional pharmaceutical treatments, they turn to psychoactive substances such as ayahuasca, MDMA and cannabis, finding effective and lasting healing in them. It recently got picked up by Forbes.
Among many psychedelic documentaries in development right now is “The Psychedelic Renaissance,” a film project being developed by the UK Psychedelic Society in collaboration with a number of big-name psychedelic researchers and cultural icons. Hopefully the 2020s will see many more psychedelic films continue the spread of psychedelic awareness!
8. Psychedelic Industry
Over the last few years, and especially with the seedlings of legalization and decriminalization of psilocybin sprouting up in 2019, psychedelics have been entering the focus of the healthcare and biotechnology industries. Many companies are racing to research and develop novel mental health solutions based on the biochemical activity of psychedelic substances.
This research often involves using complex AI platforms for analyzing huge amounts of data in order to arrive at a complete pharmacological profile of a substance and predict its interaction with the human proteome. The result would yield custom compounds for treating specific illnesses in specific individuals. Companies like ATAI Life Sciences, CaaMTech, and Entheon Biomedical are just a few of the emerging giants promising to put an end to mental disorders with safe, legal, and optimized psychedelic-based treatments.
To sum up the situation, psychedelics seem to be the next hype in business. Capital holders are being sought out to invest in up-and-coming ventures, and websites such as Shroom Stocks and Psilocybinvest are showing up to follow and support the emerging psychedelic market.
As welcome as mass supply of psychedelic medicines would be though, we should be wary of, and critical toward the likely pathway these ventures seem to be creating – the corporatization of sacred plants.
Like with marijuana, the regulations that will inevitably be implemented to control the production and consumption of psychedelics may end up suffering from some serious designer flaws. And, like with marijuana, the big players may end up monopolizing the market (like some concerns which have already emerged about Compass Pathways, the pioneering company researching psilocybin). As Carlos Plazola, chair of the board of Decriminalize Nature, says: “We can learn from [the mistakes made in legalizing cannabis] to make sure we don’t destroy our relationship with our plant allies of the entheogenic type.”
On another note, once psilocybin does enter the market, hopefully we will not see its stocks succumbing to the same kind of fanfare that has been surrounding and continuously building/breaking the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
What’s that, you say? Psilocybin is already a cryptocoin? Oh boy… Interesting times lay ahead.
9. Psychedelic Pioneers Leave the Earth a Better Place
Finally, 2019 has marked the passing of several notable pioneers of psychedelic research and advocacy. The world has bid farewell to some of the most well-known and loved minds and souls who terraformed the psychedelic community by sharing wild knowledge and spiritual guidance.
These heroes include:
- Ralph Metzner (1936 – 2019) – a pioneer of psilocybin and DMT research, perhaps best known for putting together two of the, to date, seminal psychedelic publications: Sacred Mushroom of Visions: Teonanacatl and Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca. Metzner was a dean and faculty member of the California Institute of Integral Studies since its early days, the founder of the Green Earth Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing essays, articles, online courses, and books on the topics of psychedelics, entheogens, mystical experiences, consciousness, psychology, mythology, and other spiritual domains.
- Ram Dass, previously Richard Alpert (1931 – 2019) – he would describe himself as the “spiritual uncle to a movement – to a consciousness movement bringing the east and west together.” Ram Dass worked alongside Ralph Metzner and Tim Leary on the infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project, which got them fired after the school realized they were using students as subjects. After years of active psychedelic experimentation, he headed off to India, where he found enlightenment. He condensed the wisdom into his seminal work Be Here Now, which is in large part responsible for the popularization of yoga and Eastern spirituality among the baby boomer generation in the US.
- Claudio Naranjo (1932 – 2019) – Dr Naranjo was one of the pioneering researchers of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Under the guidance of Leo Zeff, he was among the first to experiment with LSD, and likely the first to research the phenomenology of harmaline and iboga. He later unearthed the clinical benefits of MDA and MMDA as well. Naranjo shared volumes of insight into the human personality based on the Enneagram model, and started the Seekers After Truth (SAT), now a global program for spiritual empowerment. He was a loved and respected researcher, educator, and paradigm breaker, a gladly seen speaker at countless conferences worldwide. His last public address was at the World Ayahuasca Conference 2019, just a month before his death.
These three giants lived long and accomplished lives, fulfilling their missions of transforming the landscape of our knowledge and understanding of altered states of consciousness. They all lived through the discovery, popularization, criminalization, and, ultimately, resurgence of psychedelics, and their wisdom-filled words will be teaching generations to come. The world is grateful for their time with us.
Wishing for a Psychedelic 2020s
2019 was a busy year for psychedelic progress. But there is so, so much more work to be done!
Hopefully the huge leaps forward we saw last year will carry on their momentum into the decade of the 2020s, bringing more indigenous victories, more entheogenic freedoms, more therapeutic breakthroughs, and more psychedelic gatherings!