Psychedelic Sisters In Arms is an ongoing series inspired by women who have recently come forward to speak their truths about the sexual violence they’ve experienced in psychedelic communities, and is indebted to the whisper network that continues to ensure the safety of the outspoken survivors to this day.

This series is a collection of personal stories on violence against women and marginalized people, dealing with issues of consent, gender, and sexual violence. It’s been led by women, and each writer is a member of the broader ‘psychedelic community’. If you have any interest in sharing your story, please reach out to oriana@psymposia.com

Psychedelic Ethics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Katherine MacLean

During the past year, I’ve been exploring whether psychedelics can actually make someone a better person; meaning more compassionate, less selfish, more kind and caring toward those in need, more open to change and to being wrong, and more tolerant of others’ experience and viewpoints. The research suggests that all these things “should” be true, but it isn’t always the case. Sometimes, psychedelics just help sociopaths and narcissists be better sociopaths and narcissists.

Happily, I’ve seen people rise to the challenge of being the best version of themselves, during a month-long course I led on “Becoming a Psychedelic Good Samaritan.” Informed and empowered by their past psychedelic experiences, people in the class volunteered in soup kitchens, nursing homes, hospice, and online support groups for people with chronic pain. By setting an intention toward helping others, we found that psychedelics could be used as fuel to promote a more compassionate and fearless engagement with life, and in particular, with suffering. Rather than turning away from others’ pain or inward toward our selfish needs, psychedelics can help us turn toward and embrace the world in all its glory and ugliness.

Sadly, I’ve also seen people in our psychedelic community stoop to the lowest common denominator when it comes to defending perpetrators of sexual misconduct, and failing to support and believe survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Earlier this year, I organized and moderated a panel on “Male Supremacy & the Psychedelic Patriarchy: Oppression, Repression and Abuse in Ritual & Research.” The panel wasn’t my idea and the lead-up to the event was distinctly unpleasant: I was targeted as a “rabid feminist” or a “crazy man-hating bitch” simply for creating a platform for survivors to speak about their experiences. Several times I tried to cancel or back out or delay. But every time I wanted to quit, I remembered what it was like for my friend who came back from the Amazon after being drugged and raped by a shaman, and how so many people told her to just shut up and not “ruin things” for ayahuasca. I remembered how easy it was to rationally dismiss her story because it was so scary and terrible as to be unbelievable. I remembered how she moved halfway across the world just to find some peace and acceptance, to simply live her life. I remembered how our community turned its back on her.

Since the patriarchy panel, I have supported several individuals in seeking healing and justice following sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Over and over, I have been simultaneously amazed at the power of psychedelics to promote healing, and I have been deeply disappointed and angry at both men and women in our community who would rather sweep these experiences under the rug and avoid all criticisms that could make it harder for the mainstream to “accept” us and our drugs of choice. I remain deeply concerned for the safety of therapy clients, particularly women, who are so much more likely to be harmed when unethical therapists are able to legally use powerful drugs like MDMA and psilocybin to take sexual advantage of individuals in the most vulnerable of settings. I can barely contain my rage at influential men in our community standing up for known perpetrators and sending the message to all survivors: you don’t matter.

But every time I wanted to quit, I remembered what it was like for my friend who came back from the Amazon after being drugged and raped by a shaman, and how so many people told her to just shut up and not “ruin things” for ayahuasca.

I often think about my own experience healing from trauma and grief, and how easy it would have been for the persons guiding me through that experience to take advantage of me when I was at my most vulnerable. I think about how hard it was to utter certain truths out loud for the first time in front of a few trusted friends, or with my therapist, let alone what it would be like to speak those words in public (which many men in our community are demanding of female survivors). I can see how easy it would have been for my therapist or shaman to make my trauma so much worse, to elicit my trauma only to hurt me or use me for selfish gain. I am so grateful that when I needed to be a hurt child, I was in the room with real adults.

I have a certain amount of credibility in mainstream circles because I went to an Ivy League college, I have a PhD, and I was on faculty at Johns Hopkins. I’m also white, heterosexual and married with kids, which means, in our culture, that I’m seen as naturally more believable. I suppose the only thing I don’t have going for me is that I’m not a man, although I can control my tone of voice and emotions enough to be taken seriously even by powerful men. It would be quite easy for me to live a comfortable life, make a decent living for myself, take care of my family, and generally ignore the ugly side of psychedelics. But I believe that it is my responsibility to use my privilege and natural abilities to help give a voice to survivors of injustice, including sexual violence and abuse.

I think about how hard it was to utter certain truths out loud for the first time in front of a few trusted friends, or with my therapist, let alone what it would be like to speak those words in public (which many men in our community are demanding of female survivors).

Did psychedelics give me this sense of integrity and concern for truth and justice? No. Did psychedelics make me more empathic? Perhaps. I do know that when I was suffering and spoke out, desperate for help, people helped me. When I was at my most vulnerable, people did not shame me or take advantage of me. I have to remain hopeful that we can each choose to use psychedelics to be the best versions of ourselves. I have to also be realistic that the most evil and violent aspects of our nature may be way more powerful than any drug.

Support for survivors: hello@psychedelicwomen.com
Psychedelic-friendly therapists: psychedelic.support