Third Wave staff quits, writes open letter, over work environment created by founder Paul Austin

By Russell Hausfeld|March 3, 2019

Eight staff have quit The Third Wave and issued an open statement.

Paul Austin

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The Third Wave is a platform which aims to change the way that mainstream culture perceives psychedelic substances through hosting events, and promoting microdosing as a way of popularizing psychedelics. 

The Third Wave’s founder Paul Austin was recently criticized for planning an event with author Daniel Pinchbeck. 

Eight members of The Third Wave staff have now stepped down, and released the following open letter to the community:


A Collective Open Statement From The Third Wave Team

March 1, 2019

The following letter serves as a collective statement from select former employees of The Third Wave.

We feel it is of vital importance to publicly address a number of issues that have arisen within the organizational structure of The Third Wave, culminating in the events surrounding the cancellation of a planned, public event in New York City platforming author Daniel Pinchbeck, and hosted by Paul Austin. It is our intention to clarify our perspective for the benefit of everyone involved.

Within the last month, over half of The Third Wave team has stepped down from their respective roles. While each of us hold a number of valid personal and professional reasons for exiting at this time; collectively, we agree that the manner in which the situation with Daniel Pinchbeck was handled by Paul Austin, both internally and externally, created a catalyst moment in what has been a perpetual struggle to foster a working environment built upon the shared values of respect, compassionate communication, grace, and humility; values that we agree are vital for anyone who places themselves within a leadership role, and values that we feel should be at the cornerstone of everything that The Third Wave stands for.

The Cancelled Pinchbeck Event

To briefly summarize the Pinchbeck situation: It appears that, without prior consultation or communication with the Third Wave team, Paul scheduled an event in NYC with Pinchbeck as the sole guest. It seems that Paul was aware of Pinchbeck’s abusive behavior, including Pinchbeck’s admitted history of using psychedelics as a “tool of seduction,” prior to considering him as a guest for the event.

Upon learning the information regarding Pinchbeck’s behavior, and Paul’s decision to host an event with him, we began voicing our concerns internally, both with Paul and amongst ourselves. It appears that Paul had anticipated receiving “push-back” from the team, and as such decided not to communicate the details of the event with us prior to making the executive decision to host the event. Subsequently, after listening to the concerns of the team on a long group call, Paul informed us that he would not be cancelling the event.

We feel that Paul’s internal address of the legitimate team-wide concerns surrounding platforming Pinchbeck reflected a deep lack of understanding and respect for the views held by his staff – people whom he had directly hired due to their competence, experience, and perceived shared values. Additionally, Paul’s documented communication with members of the psychedelic community on social media platforms appeared to show what we feel was an unsettling degree of apathy for legitimate concerns and criticisms surrounding the event. Ultimately, following considerable public backlash on social media, and continued pressure from certain team members, Paul cancelled the event.


Previous Issues at The Third Wave

This was not the first time that Paul had caused issues within the organization. Previously, and unbeknownst to many of us, other staff had voluntarily left The Third Wave due to Paul’s poor communication skills. These particular staff members had felt like they were not respected, frequently spoken to rudely, and in general treated inappropriately.

Importantly, while Paul’s response to the team’s concerns not only showed a failure in leadership, it also showed a failure to understand the very nature of psychedelic community. The introduction of psychedelics into the Western world was quickly followed by racial persecution, and psychedelics are still illegal because of oppressive societal structures. We feel strongly that our community must always remain vigilant regarding social justice issues, and never turn a blind eye to oppression. Paul, on the other hand, would often question the importance of social justice issues, sometimes referring to them as “distractions,” and on occasion, would disregard team members who raised these concerns.

Regarding Pinchbeck, we felt that it was especially important to refuse a platform to a known abuser – something that, due to the prohibition of psychedelics, is going to have to be a community responsibility until we can feel safe bringing law enforcement into our circles.

These problems, which created an uncomfortable working environment, had been brought up internally several times. As a result, in the months prior to the Pinchbeck situation, there was an attempt made to put processes in place that would make sure Paul was not involved in day-to-day operations and strategy decisions. Paul himself agreed that he was not good at managing people, and that he would like to step back into a “figurehead” role that would allow his team to work with more freedom. Unfortunately, it appears Paul has been unable to honor this intention.


Our Stance

Because Paul has struggled to separate his personal political opinions from The Third Wave, the organization has started to become synonymous with his values. The majority of the team simply find this deeply uncomfortable, and regret his apparent refusal to give his team the respect they deserve.

For most of us, the working environment at The Third Wave is not sustainable or comfortable. Under the circumstances of the Pinchbeck situation in particular, it was made clear to us that Paul was both unable to demonstrate the skills required for healthy leadership, nor willing to step down from The Third Wave, leaving us with the difficult decision to resign from our roles.

We have decided to share this statement so that the community is aware of what has happened here, and most importantly, so that any potential future employees of The Third Wave are aware, and informed, of what transpired before them. We want to help Paul realize that while he  may not be ready for leadership, there is a large community of people who have the capacity to support him to develop The Third Wave into an organization that upholds what we feel are the authentic values and goals of the psychedelic community.

Echoing our previous sentiments regarding the community’s responsibility in bringing attention to inappropriate behaviour, we also feel it is important to acknowledge that we are concerned for Paul’s well-being, as well as compassionate to the strain that this situation may be having on his mental health. We hope that he is able to receive the necessary guidance and support that he needs from his peers and Elders, in order to mindfully navigate the challenges that may lay ahead.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to support the initial development of The Third Wave, and we are proud of the incredible amount of work involved from all team members in launching The Third Wave into existence. We feel there are important lessons that can be gained from this experience, for everyone involved, and for the psychedelic community as a whole.


Patrick Smith (Content Manager)

Mercedes CA Grant (Community Engager)

Haya Al-Hejailan (Community Engagement – Volunteer)

Maddalena De Beni (Graphic Designer)

To Note // Four other core team members have also departed The Third Wave in the wake of this situation, but have decided not to sign their names to this statement for personal reasons.


Personal statement by Patrick Smith, Third Wave Content Manager

Please be aware the following few paragraphs are solely my own opinion. Many people on TTW team will disagree with my statements that follow here. Please do not take the following as representative of the larger team’s opinions (those are represented in the statement above).

In addition to all the information above, I also want to add that I am deeply concerned at the fact that all four women in the organisation have now left. The two people who had previously left because of Paul’s poor communication skills were also women. There is clearly something about the working environment at The Third Wave that does not make women feel comfortable.

Paul was always difficult to work with, often communicating unclearly and contradicting himself; but he was not rude to me at first, in the way I’d heard he had been to my female colleagues. However in the past few months he insulted me several times, referring to me as a “left wing nut” and refusing to retract that term as it was “my fault” if it offended me.

My motivation for continuing to work at The Third Wave over the past year had been to contribute what little I could to prevent the organisation from becoming a corporate, misogynist, racist, ignorant cash-grab that fails to express the core values of psychedelic culture. However, Paul’s belittling of my personal values and his clear indifference towards important social justice issues made me question whether I would be able to have any impact at the organisation.

Paul’s attitude reflects a worrying trend in the psychedelic space for an interest in the “intellectual dark web.” Characters like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, whose proselytising appeals to privileged white men in our psychedelic community, attract people who desperately want to believe that oppression is a myth and that the only thing preventing them from being happy are social justice movements.

Paul has clearly bought into this narrative: “if we heal ourselves, we heal the world,” and he has framed people who fight against oppression as being in a “victim mentality.” The way he dealt with the Pinchbeck situation shows this clearly. He was more concerned with Pinchbeck’s healing journey than the protection and recognition of Pinchbeck’s victims.

Since Paul is keen on enforcing these views on the organisation, I decided I would not be able to make any difference from my very limited position of authority, and I did not want to work for an organisation that totally rejects the core social issues surrounding the persecution of psychedelic users.

I’m sure Paul will consider the mass exodus of his team to be an opportunity to take The Third Wave in the direction that he wants. But I’d like to ask him to deeply and seriously reflect on what that direction is, where it could end up, and what kind of people he will find himself surrounded by.

– Pat

In response to Psymposia’s request for comment, Paul Austin said, “Both myself and The Third Wave as an organization express tremendous gratitude for the contributions of all past and current team members. The success of our work is, in large part, due to the sacrifices made by those who chose to take a risk, believe in our mission, and help develop The Third Wave in these early stages. With that being said, there remains significant growth ahead, particularly for my own management and leadership style. It is part of my own path and process in understanding this, addressing it, and committing to learning from past issues and mistakes.”

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Russell Hausfeld


Russell Hausfeld is an investigative journalist and illustrator living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Religious Studies from the University of Cincinnati. His work with Psymposia has been cited in Vice, The Nation, Frontiers in Psychology, New York Magazine’s “Cover Story: Power Trip” podcast, the Daily Beast, the Outlaw Report, Harm Reduction Journal, and more.