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  • Author or Editor: Monnica T. Williams x
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Although it is exciting to witness the culmination of decades of drug policy advocacy and clinical research, the psychedelic science movement struggles with many of the same social issues that plague healthcare in general. The healing properties of plant medicines and their derivatives were originally brought to Western consciousness by indigenous cultures from all over the world. These practices are now being adapted to Western models of healthcare, in part, to achieve governmental approval as medical treatments. The current models of psychedelic psychotherapy being utilized in clinical trials are resource-intensive and therefore likely to remain out of reach for the socioeconomically disadvantaged if approved as medical treatments. Moreover, people of color and women are uncommon in leadership positions in the psychedelic research community, and few people of color are included as research participants in psychedelic studies. This piece introduces a special issue with a focus on issues of diversity, equity, and accessibility in psychedelic medicine.

Open access

Recent research suggests that psychedelic drugs can be powerful agents of change when utilized in conjunction with psychotherapy. Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy has been studied as a means of helping people overcome posttraumatic stress disorder, believed to work by reducing fear of traumatic memories and increasing feelings of trust and compassion toward others, without inhibiting access to difficult emotions. However, research studies for psychedelic psychotherapies have largely excluded people of color, leaving important questions unaddressed for these populations. At the University of Connecticut, we participated as a study site in a MAPS-sponsored, FDA-reviewed Phase 2 open-label multisite study, with a focus on providing culturally informed care to people of color. We discuss the development of a study site focused on the ethnic minority trauma experience, including assessment of racial trauma, design of informed consent documents to improve understanding and acceptability to people of color, diversification of the treatment team, ongoing training for team members, validation of participant experiences of racial oppression at a cultural and individual level, examination of the setting and music used during sessions for cultural congruence, training for the independent rater pool, community outreach, and institutional resistance. We also discuss next steps in ensuring that access to culturally informed care is prioritized as MDMA and other psychedelics move into late phase trials, including the importance of diverse sites and training focused on therapy providers of color.

Open access

Abstract

Equity and diversity are essential to the development of inclusive psychedelic research. However, oversights and misattributions are common, particularly when it comes to accounts of important psychedelic moments and key figures. Dr. Valentina Pavlovna Wasson is an important early contributor to the growth of Western psychedelic science but remains under-recognized. Psychedelic researchers must continue to address the glaring need to ask questions and examine the foundations of what we think we know about psychedelic studies—to question our assumptions with a critical and intersectional eye to resist replicating social and cultural inequalities in psychedelic research and history.

Open access

Abstract

Psychedelic medicine is an emerging field of research and practice that examines the psychotherapeutic effects of substances classified as hallucinogens on the human mind, body, and spirit. Current research explores the safety and efficacy of these substances for mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although current studies explore psychotherapeutic effects from a biomedical perspective, gaps in awareness around cultural issues in the therapeutic process are prominent. African Americans have been absent from psychedelic research as both participants and researchers, and little attention has been paid to the potential of psychedelics to address traumas caused by racialization. This paper examines cultural themes and clinical applications from the one-time use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as part of an US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved clinical trial and training exercise for three African American female therapists. The primary themes that emerged across the varied experiences centered on strength, safety, connection, and managing oppression/racialization. The participants' experiences were found to be personally meaningful and instructive for how Western models of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy could be more effective and accessible to the Black community. Included is a discussion of the importance of facilitator training to make best use of emerging material when it includes cultural, racial, and spiritual themes. A lack of knowledge and epistemic humility can create barriers to treatment for underserved populations. Implications for future research and practice for marginalized cultural groups are also discussed, including consideration of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP) as an adjunct to the psychedelic-therapy approaches currently advanced. As women of color are among the most stigmatized groups of people, it is essential to incorporate their perspectives into the literature to expand conversations about health equity.

Open access

Abstract

Background

Few studies have assessed the epidemiology of hallucinogenic substance use among racial and ethnic groups of varying age cohorts. Use of psychedelic substances may differ among people of color (POC), due to factors such as stigma and discriminatory drug enforcement practices against POC. The lack of inclusion of POC in psychedelic research further underscores the importance of identifying differences in use among racial/ethnic groups and age cohorts.

Methods

Data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) was used for this analysis (N = 56,313, unweighted), representative of the non-institutionalized U.S. population. Proportions of lifetime hallucinogen use by race/ethnicity were compared. Proportions of past year rates of use were compared to examine differences by race/ethnicity and age cohort.

Results

Approximately 15.9% of the U.S. population over 12 had used a hallucinogen at some point in their lifetime and 2.0% had used in the past year. Lifetime hallucinogen use was most prevalent among non-Hispanic White and multi-racial individuals, while Black/African Americans reported the lowest rates of use. White and multi-racial groups also reported the highest proportions of past year use among 12–34 year olds, and White individuals reported the highest proportions among 35–49 year olds. Hispanic individuals reported higher proportions of use among the 12–17 cohort, but lower proportions among the 26–49 year old cohorts. Black/African Americans reported the lowest rates of past year use among the 12–25 year old cohorts. 50+ and older cohorts reported the lowest rates of hallucinogen use in the past year.

Limitations

Data is cross-sectional and self-reported. “Race” is a social construction is subject to change over time, and NSDUH ethnoracial categories are limited. Institutionalized populations are not included in the study.

Conclusions

Significant differences in hallucinogen use among ethnoracial groups by substance and age cohorts were observed. Findings from this work may inform education, interventions, and therapeutic psychedelic research.

Open access

In recent years, the study of psychedelic science has resurfaced as scientists and therapists are again exploring its potential to treat an array of psychiatric conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. The scientific progress and clinical promise of this movement owes much of its success to the history of indigenous healing practices; yet the work of indigenous people, ethnic and racial minorities, women, and other disenfranchised groups is often not supported or highlighted in the mainstream narrative of psychedelic medicine. This review addresses this issue directly: first, by highlighting the traditional role of psychedelic plants and briefly summarizing the history of psychedelic medicine; second, through exploring the historical and sociocultural factors that have contributed to unequal research participation and treatment, thereby limiting the opportunities for minorities who ought to be acknowledged for their contributions. Finally, this review provides recommendations for broadening the Western medical framework of healing to include a cultural focus and additional considerations for an inclusive approach to treatment development and dissemination for future studies.

Open access