#1 - We Hope Michael Pollan Changes His Mind

May 19, 2019

Michael Pollan thinks we’re not ready to decriminalize psilocybin, despite his media tour where he capitalized on the rising wave of psychedelic normalization. The team critically examines his New York Times op-ed where he urges caution, and why we think he’s wrong.

Co-hosts: Brian Normand, Neşe Devenot, David Nickles, Brian Pace. Editor: Matt Payne.

Plus Three goes deep into the world of drugs, from local decriminalization and emerging psychedelic corporations, to leftist politics and mass incarceration. Each week we attempt to make sense of the complex connections between drugs, science, capitalism, policy, and culture.

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Brian Pace: So how do we want to start here? Michael Pollan put together a response to the recent Denver decriminalization vote, very close ballot measure. Any thoughts?

David Nickles: I felt that the op-ed as a whole indicated viewpoints and positions from someone who maybe hasn’t spent a lot of time around drug policy questions, engaged with some of the nittier grittier issues and seems to represent, I think, the perspective of someone who’s been very immersed in the medicalization and sort of mainstreaming perspective of a lot of the major figures and institutions in the space. And I think as much as those dynamics more generally deserve critique, I think in this case they came together and were sort of articulated by a relative newcomer to the space and evidenced a lot of shallow thought around some really complex topics.

Neşe Devenot: It’d maybe be helpful to just do some really quick macro context for what we’re talking about. So first of all, Michael Pollan as you were saying…well Brian Pace, maybe you could just maybe say a word about Michael Pollan because you know…you were calling him a tastemaker, and he’s…

Pace: Yeah. I will talk about Michael Pollan because I actually really love Michael Pollan’s work. Michael Pollan was personally influential on my own career as a plant evolutionary ecologist, as somebody who’s spent a lot of time thinking about things like the plant’s-eye view, and talking about organic agriculture in a cogent way…walking people through how they should feel about genetically modified foods, or veganism, or any number of things.

He wrote first I think about drugs in some of his essays, he’s somebody who wrote about growing poppies in his garden and being paranoid about it. In Botany of Desire he devoted a quarter of his book to cannabis as a pleasure plant. So he has written about drugs for a while but he has a voice that’s really attractive to Middle America, Bohemian kind of intelligentsia. When Pollan came along to the psychedelic world it was actually a cause célèbre. There was a lot of anticipation to How to Change Your Mind. I was there as well.

Neşe: It was pretty much a guaranteed New York Times Bestseller, as well off the bat because his other book was and definitely did get to that status, so people knew ahead of time. I just wanted to provide some context. It was going to be a potentially big book for the mainstream.

Pace: And it was. It definitely was.

David: I would suggest that folks in the broader psychedelic community, particularly people who work at a couple of the more notable, visible psychedelic institutions, recognized precisely that it was going to be that visible and contributed and engaged in ways that likely affected the narrative that was presented. Not just those folks but also some particular corporate actors and things like that where I do think it’s important to recognize those dynamics and the fact the he was a known quantity as far as being that sort of popularizor and amplifier.

Neşe: Yeah and speaking from my own experience of working in the field for almost a decade now…when I started my new post-doc at Case Western, the beginning of this academic year, suddenly any time I mentioned that I was working in psychedelic studies people would say, “Oh like that Michael Pollan book.” I saw how much it actually did work to put psychedelics and the recent renaissance on people’s radars who otherwise would not be aware of these goings on.

It’s just important context because of how the community, I think the psychedelic community responded to that op-ed. Because they really had largely embraced the book and embraced him coming into the field. There were definitely critiques about the whitewashing of psychedelic history… some of the book was not including acknowledgement of Indigenous use and the history of psychedelics etcetera, so there was critique but it was in a good-hearted way for the most part of people feeling like this was a good thing to have in the field and to help mainstream it.

Pace: Absolutely.

Neşe: So then the op-ed came and the reaction was different.

Pace: Yeah I think the reaction was dismay. I think that the reaction was dismay because it’s incongruency…some of the very arguments that he makes in the op-ed that “maybe we’re not ready to have this cultural conversation,”…I think a lot of people see Michael’s work as starting this conversation, even though those of us who’ve been following these issues for a long time know that’s not true. It’s certainly incongruous.

David: To some people. And I know I’m generally…I know certain people view me as a bit of a misanthrope, but I think to me, in seeing a lot of, both the narrative presented in How to Change Your Mind as well as the narrative presented in the op-ed, it all feels to me to be a part of what I would consider to be prohibition-lite, which I would guess define as being this sort of, “Ah psychedelics have been sort of wrongly criminalized and we need to figure out a way to bring them back in society, but, we’re not going to acknowledge that there was no scientific or evidentiary basis for prohibition, so we’re still gonna have arguments for why these things should be controlled or penalized.”

And this isn’t by any means limited to Pollan. In fact there are very notable figures within the field such as psychedelic chemist David Nichols making a statement in a recent Psymposia piece where he basically said that even after legalization or the end of prohibition that… I think he said something like psychedelic manufacturers and traffickers should still face penalties, but penalties that just aren’t as severe as the ones that exist now, because those are too harsh.

Now, obviously Dr. Nichols is himself a manufacturer of psychedelics, so the only distinction there is he has this state authority. You kind of wind up with this weird appeal to the authority of the state which, considering that prohibition, again, wasn’t enacted as the result of any evidence or science or what-have-you, it was actually the result of racist and classist and super oppressive policies, it doesn’t really hold.

So for me I was perhaps less surprised than some…to see some of the logic being deployed and some of the narratives presented in the op-ed, I think Brian Pace you had mentioned some contradictions between the op-ed and the book, and I would suggest too if you read through the book there are certain points which the histories or the statements about actors like Leary and whether or not he was responsible for the backlash against psychedelics, those contradictions play out and get articulated in the book as well, so perhaps I didn’t find it so surprising to see the continuation of some of those.

Brian Normand: Yeah and I think that there’s been…I think some of us who have been following this story for a little while right now, we weren’t surprised because there’s been a vocal minority of people who have been discussing this amongst themselves for a while. David you recently made a post on Facebook that got a huge reaction from people, and my thought when I saw that was ok, more people are coming around now. They’re starting to starting to see what I think that you’ve seen for a while since at least last summer. So I was not surprised.

Brian Pace: I think as somebody who interfaces a bit on a community level with individuals in Columbus, Ohio who are interested in psychedelic society efforts, I think that the perspective of people who have not been following things very much…Michael Pollan has been elevated as an expert. He wrote a book, he clearly has great journalistic chops, he’s got excellent cultural pedigree, and so when I mentioned dismay and the community reaction I was talking about my community, people who definitely aren’t in the know and folks who haven’t engaged in the level of critique that David is up to his neck in and has brought us all along for the ride.

David: Laughter.

Brian Pace: But I gotta say that the interesting thing about this op-ed for me is that we’ve watched…so ok…Michael Pollan by his own admission at the time of publication of How to Change Your Mind had about a half dozen, give or take, psychedelic experiences to his name. In the psychedelic community Michael Pollan, while we appreciate all he’s done, and his good-faith effort to understand the landscape and communicate it, he is a neophyte. And then to the public-at-large, he is an authority on the topic of psychedelics. With this op-ed, we now are seeing him step into the role as gatekeeper. I think for some of us who’ve watched this, there’s a bit of whiplash.

Neşe: Yeah and even the title like “Not So Fast…”, on psilocybin, I think that the wording, the specific wording of the op-ed, was responsible for the extent of the emotional…when we were talking before the word betrayal came up, a lot of people felt that this was a step too far into that role of gatekeeper, in this very paternalistic way that he, as you were just mentioning, doesn’t really have…he’s new to psychedelics… by his own admission said he kinda skipped over his adult life not really taking psychedelics until he decided to write this book.

Brian Pace: But plenty of cocaine.  

Neşe: Yeah which is openly mentions casually in the introduction.

Brian Normand: Why would he being saying “not so fast”? Is this 50 years of prohibition? What does not so fast mean? We look back at prohibition that happened in the 20’s; and what was that from 1920 to 1933 or so? This is since was 66 or or something and then the controlled substance act…I think psilocybin was made illegal just before that, correct me if I’m wrong…but to say not so fast is…I don’t get it.

[Psilocybin was made illegal in 1968]

Neşe: To me the rhetoric of that sounded like the fears about followers of Bernie Sanders being “Bernie Bros”. There’s this idea that “Oh these are just some kids that wanna trip and they’re riding on the coattails of the scientists, and now they’re gonna try to party hard and ruin it for everybody.” I feel like just the wording of it…

Brian Normand: Ruin it for the sanctioned researchers as David likes to say.

Neşe: Laughter.

David: Well there’s two things that come up in that vein right? There’s a statement in that op-ed that that says something like “Let’s wait until the researchers finish.”

Brian Normand: Complete the research.

David: To me, I think, if I wanted to take that to the most sort of, absurd extreme, I could contend that it presents a fundamental misunderstanding of research, right? When is research ever done? There’s literally always another question to ask. So in the abstract that’s a really disturbing statement…

Neşe: Right.

David: …because you could use that logic to justify, “Hold on we’re still not ready 20 years from now because all of the research questions haven’t been answered.” And guess what? They never will. And then on the flip side of that, there’s this line in here where he states:

“For the first time since psychedelics were broadly banned under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, we’re about to have a national debate about the place of psilocybin in our society. Debate is always a good thing, but I worry that we’re not quite ready for this one.”

So it’s not even that we’re not ready for legalization or decriminalization…

Neşe: It’s such a contradiction…

David:…But that we’re not even ready the debate.

Brian Pace: It’s always good though.

Neşe: Yeah it’s always good but it’s not good to have now.

Brian Pace: Definitely not now but always.

Neşe: It’s literally a contradiction. Yeah I feel like he’s worried that some psychedelic demagogue is going to rile up the masses in the wrong direction and derail it … like a Leary figure, like it’s this phantom …

Brian Normand: It’s the ghost of Timothy Leary.  

Neşe: …spectre of this possibility…. [Laughter] Yeah it it is.

Brian Pace: Neşe, can you speak to that because I know you’ve thought deeply about Leary and he [Pollan] has a treatment of Leary in his book that I thought was interesting. But I mean, how likely is that?

Neşe: Well I feel like we are at such a different point in history now. Leary happened because of the confluence of social cultural factors that were going on then. And now that we have this example of having gone too far in various ways or seeing the pushback, I feel like we, as a community, have matured to a place where, if somebody is going to try to be some psychedelic messiah, other people are going to come and say “Chill out man.” It’s not like…

Brian Pace: Not so fast! [Laughter]

Neşe: Not so fast! [Laughter] It’s not like one person can derail it…but I feel like it is this fear of the ghost of Timothy Leary coming that is causing that specific reaction. With the research issue, does it imply that research being “done” means now we know these are the side effects? And these are …this is how it’s going to be integrated in therapies. Is it like a capitalist definition of of “done”? We’ve determined as researchers how to integrate it into Western biomedicine.

Brian Pace: The bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has been solidified.

Neşe: [Laughter] Because I feel like there are still people researching … there are scholars of Shakespeare every year still. You’d think… shouldn’t Shakespeare have been done by now? There’s enough books on it.

David: If only.

Brian Pace: [Laughter]

Neşe: [Laughter] So I feel like that just the logic behind “The researchers need to finish,” implies that this capitalist sort of integration that he’s envisioning, that he’s worried that the populist movement in favor of decriminalization is going to ultimately undermine.

Brian Pace: So here’s the thing, and I’m going to pose a question to David on this as well. I want to get everyone on the same page here because I think Michael has been listening to some people who are pretty convinced that if you pass psilocybin through the FDA you can pass something without a single vote, and we can get something medicalized and get the science behind it, you have that “deep respect” in play. Conversely, we have the pathway that cannabis, the only real model we have actually took. So, I don’t view those as mutually exclusive processes. But how about you? David can you speak to that?

David: Yeah, I definitely don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. And I think we can also look at what’s going on with MDMA right? Again, Psymposia just ran an article where talking to Rick Doblin of MAPS. Rick, having talked about for years about how MAPS’ mission is to legalize psychedelics, Rick finally comes out and says actually no, MAPS isn’t even going to be legalizing MDMA. What MAPS is going to be working on is getting their particular pharmaceutical company branded, MAPS Public Benefit Corporation branded, Good Manufacturing Practice standard, MDMA-product, as scheduled differently from generic MDMA. And when asked about ‘Well what happens with the generic MDMA”?, Doblin leaves it up to drug policy activists to rattle the cages, and make the noise, and advocate for that change. So even there we see that Doblin doesn’t see these as being all or the other. And actually it sounds like if we leave it up to the institutional approach, that doesn’t do anything for most of us who maybe aren’t, or maybe it’s not most of us, but those of us who aren’t looking for therapeutic approaches, or those of us who aren’t looking to be dosed by a doctor or whomever.

Just to touch real quickly on some of the Leary stuff as well. As Brian Normand pointed out a little bit ago, the narratives around the ghost of Timothy Leary are really disturbing, and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of a lot of the histories. By no means is this limited to Pollan, this is actually I would say…a number of the prohibition-lite folks as well as folks who haven’t given time or put in the effort to do some of the research. I’d recommend books like Acid Dreams as a great starting place to understand the various senate hearings that took place, and the role of psychiatrists and the CIA as far as pathologizing bad trips, and really creating that as this cultural scare.

Brian Pace: And causing them sometimes.

David: Absolutely. Earlier Dr. Casey Paleos wrote this completely counterfactual narrative article that was featured in Chacruna where he attempted to advance this whole myth about the criminalization of psychedelics essentially being squarely on Leary, and I wrote a piece with Psymposia trying to debunk some of that. What I would suggest is actually Pollan echoes that argument really clearly. I find it a little troubling that even as this debate is taking place publicly within the broader psychedelic community, it seems that he’s unaware of that. Right? So he makes this assertion that:

“There is, too, the risk of inciting the sort of political backlash that, in the late 1960s, set back research into psychedelics for decades. Think of what we might know now, and the suffering that might have been alleviated, had that research been allowed to continue.”

Now I’m going to point out exactly what I said for that section in rebuttal to Paleos, where I said,

“Paleos’ suggestions that suffering would have been ameliorated by preventing psychedelics from spilling out of clinical settings and into the real world seems unlikely. I would contend that the amount of global suffering stemming from the unchecked systems of American capitalism, imperialism, and militarism would have been far greater without the catalyzing impact of psychedelics on the psyches of those involved in resistance movements. To lament the loss of a mythologized “research monopoly” is to turn a blind eye to the really-existing histories of suffering in the real world.”

I think that that’s a point has not only escaped a lot of researchers and prohibition-lite folks, but to then find Pollan straight up rearticulating it after there’s been significant dialogue around some of this is really troubling.

Neşe: We were talking earlier, we talked about the fact that there’s a shift in how he talks about Leary versus this new “not so fast” rhetoric that suggests that certain actors in the community have had his ear over the interim time, because he seems to be going in this slightly more party line direction with with it. Brian Pace you were saying that, if I remember correctly, that when he was discussing Leary.

Brian Pace: I think I have the quote you’re referring to because I knew we were going to get here, and I also want to talk about it briefly because I’ve had some of these conversations about Leary’s legacy with a number of people in the psychedelic community both at the Psychedelic Society level and also with other researchers. The consensus at least at the time when I was putting together an organization; a simple project called Find the Others, which is a very clear Leary…it’s an unapologetic Leary reference…there were a number of people who expressed directly that they were sort of uncomfortable with that. For some of the good reasons I would say like Leary was kind of a narcissistic asshole at times and wasn’t the most PC dude in the light of the 21st century. That said, many things that we’re talking about right now probably wouldn’t have been possible without his contributions.

So I think it’s useful especially because I wanted to know how Pollan thought about Leary; how Leary was treated in How to Change Your Mind because I was thinking about Find the Others in the context of knowing that Pollan’s books was going to come out and that Psychedelic Societies were going to grow, they were going to see a bump. In fact, there was some coordination between Pollan’s book tours and the various Psychedelic Societies and the communities that he went to. I just want to give what I would consider in How to Change Your Mind what Pollan says as sort of his final word, maybe not the final word but but the distillation of his thoughts on Leary.

He says, “So perhaps Leary’s real sin was to have the courage of his convictions—his and everyone else’s in the psychedelic research community. It’s often said that a political scandal is what happens when someone in power inadvertently speaks the truth. Leary was all too often willing to say out loud to anyone in earshot what everyone else believed but knew better than to speak or write about candidly. It was one thing to use these drugs to treat the ill and maladjusted—society will indulge any effort to help the wayward individual conform to its norms—but it is quite another to use them to treat society itself as if it were sick and to turn the ostensibly healthy into wayward individuals.”

So I thought that was telling. Particularly about having the courage of one’s convictions, and I think…I’m not sure if we’ve witnessed an evolution of Pollan’s convictions but we may have witnessed a revealing of his convictions with this op-ed.

Neşe: It just seems the op-ed seems like a different person to me than that quotation. Because that quotation seems to be really different from the spouted oversimplified version of Leary, as just he was this reckless guy who couldn’t play by the rules and ruined it for everybody. But it seems that that is more of what he’s gotten into with that New York Times op-ed.

Brian Normand: Yeah I think it’s indicative of the circles that he’s involved with. I think it’s indicative of the talking points that are generally…the agenda that’s set, to the extent that there is an agenda set…but the mainstream rhetoric that’s bubbling in certain groups…the messaging that’s done. I think it indicates where he is and who he’s speaking to; you tend to mirror things from people you’ve been speaking to.

Brian Pace: I think it’s interesting that Pollan thinks that there is a kind of debate that we’re ready to have, and yet the gears turning in the FDA that’s fine; the bureaucrats doing what they do, breakthrough therapy, medical researchers; that we’re always ready for and we’re definitely here for and we should make room for. But certain debates we’re not ready for? I don’t know.

David: No I think what Brian Normand just said. It sort of has the potential to sound slight conspiratorial; sort of what the agenda is and who’s talking to whom and how’s that playing out. But I think it’s really important to acknowledge that Pollan has been used in some cases I would say as sort of the billboard of mainstreaming. He was a keynote speaker at Horizons. He was taken to the MAPS dinner and used to sign books and sort of drum up all sorts of excitement and to be blunt, if he wasn’t Michael Pollan famous author I really don’t know that we would be talking about the things he’s saying about psychedelics, because to my mind there’s not a whole lot of novel or insightful content there. There’s a lot of celebrity for sure but the talk that was given at Horizons, to my mind, didn’t belong at Horizons, it belonged at like a bookstore, signing books, giving a general overview of psychedelics to a broader public that’s not going to a psychedelic conference.

I would say even beyond that, Pollan hasn’t disclosed or discussed any of his contacts with major corporate or “corporadelic” players in the space. I thought it was really telling that in the last chapter of his book, after he’s gone to the MAPS conference in 2017, he makes this statement that, “When I asked conference goers which session they deemed most memorable, almost invariably they mentioned the plenary panel called The Future of Psychedelic Psychiatry. Now, The Future of Psychedelic Psychiatry was essentially what I would consider to be a sponsored-content panel that consisted of three Compass Pathways actors. It was George Goldsmith, Tom Insel, and Paul Summergrad.

In his bio I guess Goldsmith disclosed his Compass connection. But Insell who was the former head of NIMH, who briefly worked at a Google Company called Verily doing predictive AI healthcare before spinning off his own predictive AI healthcare called Mindstrong…and Mindstrong is now a Compass partner…and rather insidious for a bunch of reasons that we’ll likely touch on in a future episode. I find it really troubling to see the assertion that people almost invariably focused on this panel. I would suggest that at a conference that featured folks like Kat Harrison, the Mitthoeffer’s, Gabor Mate, Ann Shulgin…true psychedelic celebrities…people who have put in the time, the effort, the research, who have really pushed the fields forward in notable ways. I’m sorry, if you talk to most plant heads, or drug nerds, or whatever, there’s no way they were saying that was the most insightful, enjoyable, compelling panel.

Particularly concerning is the fact that, as far as I understand it Goldsmith and Malievskaia, the Compass founders, flew Pollan out to the Isle of Man. They’ve had numerous engagements and none of that has been revealed, none of that has been disclosed, that’s literally stuff that I basically unearthed doing some really obsessive compulsive research. It’s a major issue in my opinion. Which is to point to the fact that it’s not as conspiratorial or…

Brian Normand: Look, Michael Pollan has an agenda.

David: …it’s not baseless conspiracy, there are actual things that seem to be linking up. Sorry Brian.

Brian Normand: I was just saying he has an agenda. The agenda is the building of this certain model, this medical model. I think that it’s a valid model. You and I David, we’ve discussed this, we’ve had disagreements to a certain extent.

David: Absolutely.

Brian Normand: I think that model is a very valid model for certain people, and I think it should be there for certain people. The concern is that being the only model for people, and I think in this piece he’s pushing that this…I don’t know if he’s saying this…

Brian Pace: Yes.

Brian Normand: …is the only model. I’m not going to say that. But…

David: But we can’t have the debate [Laughter].

Brian Pace: He’s careful. He doesn’t say it’s the only model.

Brian Normand: But he implies it through his reasoning.

Neşe: Yeah because that’s what I was gonna say. It’s like having an open conversation about different approaches and different ways of thinking about these things…it’s like he’s worried that that will encroach upon the hegemonic status of the medical model as being the natural way that most people think about these things. He’s not actually having the debate, he’s saying “No I don’t want my model and my priorities challenged”, or as David was suggesting “My friends priorities” challenged. Because there’s a lot of power over who’s controlling this narrative and I think one reason that we all feel compelled to speak up and have this conversation is just to help multiply the narratives around what’s going on, so it’s not just the legalization, medicalization, the medical framework is the one that most people are assuming is the way to think about these things.

Brian Normand: And we’re not ready because one, that the research hasn’t been complete, right? And two, where he says, I’m gonna read you this quote, “My worry is that ballot initiatives may not be the smartest way to get there. We still have a lot to learn about the immense power and potential risk of these molecules. Not to mention the consequences of unrestricted use.” It’s ALL unrestricted use. The whole thing is unrestricted use. The only restricted use is if you..

Brian Pace: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brian Normand:…if you were lucky enough to get into a clinical trial.

Brian Pace: So I just wanted to say real quick that I think that this speaks a little bit to …so you said that Pollan has an agenda, Pollan’s speaking to certain people who have and idea about how this should go, and it definitely follows this medicalization model, and that’s clearly something that if he doesn’t say is the only way, he implies that strongly that it is an important way that would be a shame to destabilize with a backlash. I’ve thought deeply about a backlash. I think that’s one of the reasons why I think the Psychedelic Societies are so powerful. They can start that cultural conversation about psychedelics from the grassroots.

I often say that 20% of Americans have had some kind of psychedelic experience in their lifetime according to federal statistics. So I believe that of course we’re ready to have a conversation if that quantity of people have some level of entry into the conversation. But going back to the cannabis models, here in Ohio we have passed legislation that is currently the implemented law of the land, that says that only 24 growers can do wholesale grows. So this is very far outside the policy norm when it comes to cannabis. You have on the west coast, there are laws that you can do home grows, there’s recreational grows, anybody can join, to the point where Oregon has had a glut of cannabis.

I think that what’s happening with players like, for instance, Compass Pathways…there’s a strong push to corner the market. Psychedelics are going to be something that people do not use with the frequency that they do cannabis. I mean this is true in the underground world just as much as it will be with the medical model or any potential spiritual model. So how do you make money? Well you certainly don’t do it by allowing everybody to the party. I’ve spoken with certain folks who are critical of what’s happening with Compass and they have stated that if they wanted to create a monopoly they would be acting the way that Compass is acting.

The medical model…can I open up a pharmacy? No I can’t. But the idea is that the ballot box is what allowed cannabis, in particular, to be prescribed as medical marijuana in the first place. So your doctor wouldn’t have ever been able to do it because the currently existing, or the existing model at that time, was such that it was a single molecule model; that was the only thing that would ever be approved by the FDA. In some sense psilocybin has that going for it but cannabis opened the door. So to turn our backs on the ballot process that actually got something done that was the leading edge of the wedge, in what I hope anybody that I work with, that I hang out with, is the ultimate goal of dismantling the drug war. That’s who I want to champion, that’s the direction I want to see we’re going. Neşe you were talking about somebody’s take the other day about psychedelic exceptionalism rather than dismantling the drug war and ending prohibition.

Neşe: Yeah. Dominique Coronel of SSDP posted a really disappointed reaction to the Denver vote because many of the same people who voted to decriminalize psilocybin also voted to uphold a criminalization of homelessness in the city. Thinking about the bigger picture here, is the end goal to be able to have privileged tripping parties and just sit in your house and enjoy your life, or is the end goal to make a more just, equitable, fair society for all of us? I think he rightly pointed out that there is a big question raised of why are we not thinking about this in terms of the bigger picture of breaking down criminalization across the board for people who don’t fit in with the normal dominant mainstream?

David: Totally. Frankly, that fits into some of the critiques I’ve been trying to advance over the past number of years, and I think finally crystalized a little bit within the past year about mainstreaming. To me it’s this black box process whereby we strip out all of the antagonistic components of psychedelic histories, all of the radical politics, all of the underground outlaw ethos, and even though we then have stripped out all of the components that make it antagonistic towards dominant culture, and capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, all of these other things that are causing so many problems, causing so much suffering and oppression, somehow then psychedelics will still magically transform society into a better more just, more equitable world. I’ve requested, at least going back to 2014, so coming on 5 years, that if any of these advocates wanted to present the actual political mechanisms by which their stated preference for mainstreaming would achieve those political goals, I’m happy to hear it. So far nobody has produced a coherent presentation of those dynamics.

One of the things that really strikes me about this is that…I’m at a loss for understanding how, when we look at the history of things that capitalism and dominant culture have recuperated; whether we talk about punk, or the internet, or any subculture or glimmer of liberatory technology, and see see how it’s played out, as soon as those revolutionary potentials have been stripped out, we don’t have a blueprint that shows that working. In fact, we see quite the opposite.

I’m kind of surprised in some ways to see that so many people tend to buy in to that narrative. I do think it’s important and think it’s one of the reasons I have at times unapologetically held down that more antagonistic or radical critique and praxis, because it feels necessary to push back. I’m happy to put my evidence in my historical perspectives on the table and would invite anyone else to do the same. Let’s have those discussions and see what holds, what matches with reality. If we’re looking to create an effective model or strategy or blueprint I would suggest it should have traction in the real world.

Neşe: I feel like there is a big parallel in looking at what’s going on in the democratic party right now between the establishment democrats and the…

Brian Pace: Totally.

Neşe:… and then the democratic socialist progressive wing of the party, in the sense that the establishment democrats have this same, “Slow down kids, not so fast” approach to everything. They still want to take money from corporate interests, allow for the back and forth between government and corporate interests and maintain the status quo with these incremental changes. They do a similar thing. You saw this with Hillary and Bernie during the last election. The Hillary camp was trying to frame the terms of the debate as if the only thing that made sense was to do the standard thing that fit with the status quo of society. Then there’s this other perspective that you’re seeing in the progressive wing of the party right now that saying capitalism is incompatible with living sustainably on this planet, we should not be adapting ourselves to the interests of capitalism to maintain existing power structures when that is not in the long term interests. I feel like there’s a huge parallel to the psychedelic conversations.

David: [Laughter]

Brian Pace: It’s not in our short term interests either.

Brian Normand: This is the achilles heel of liberal politics, the slow, weak incremental change that results in weak compromise when you’re dealing with another party who doesn’t give a shit. They don’t play by the rules, they don’t play by any of these rules. That’s what I think you’re seeing with Biden right now, a little bit of this, I’ll take that, taking ideas from the fringe, taking ideas from the progressives. It’s the dominant mainstream absorbing the margins in. In this case the commodification of psychedelics, the commodification psilocybin. They look and feel a certain way. We’re gonna erase all the transgressive elements. We’re gonna make them look like a certain thing.

Brian Pace: Yeah. I wanna speak briefly to that…I would hold that psychedelics are neutral tools; they produce profound experiences, they’re very important, they can be huge catalytic changes, but do want to get away from this idea that I think largely is an artifact of when they came on the scene in the West, that somehow psychedelics are going to, as David was alluding to, change society in such a way that we’re all going to end up agreeing after we’ve all seen the light. [Laughter]. I don’t see that happening at all.  

Brian Normand: Only a madman sees that happening.

Brian Pace: You’ve all been to psychedelics conferences. There’s a bunch of different takes that one can take away from these experiences. I see these as cognitive tools that are rusting in the box as we are challenged with literally existential threats to civilization. I spent the better part of a decade studying climate change. Climate change is a much bigger deal that anybody in the establishment of either party of the United States, and really establishment parties all over the world are willing to acknowledge publicly. The action that is necessary to do something that will relieve suffering, prevent massive breakdowns of social structures, ecological cycles that have been cycling as they have been for all of human history. The reluctance to do what it takes..if anything the deepest condemnation of the status quo that I can think of. The fact we are unable to adapt to the material conditions of reality in front of us is extremely bothersome.

It’s also one of the reasons why I am interested in psychedelics because I think Michael Pollan’s book is quite apt. Psychedelics are a great way to change your mind. That can be used in a lot of different ways. We’ve seen people, mad men like Charles Manson and others, exploit them to influence people for their own agendas. If we as a society are having a hard time as Žižek said envisioning a future that doesn’t include capitalism, Žižek says Hollywood directors, they’re having a better time envisioning a million different ways that the world can end, than a future without capitalism. I think that if we don’t want to see which way the world ends, at least for us, imagining a different way to distribute goods and services might be a good idea.

Neşe: Yeah I feel like so much of, and again the psychedelic experience can go so many different ways as you were saying, but there’s a lot of people who have been trying to figure out maps for helping people navigate towards this, what Richard Doyle would call “ecodelic insight” about how interconnected we are, and how our ideas of ourselves as these isolated individuals are actually… the Default Mode Network from our understanding from recent neuroscience is an organ, part of our brain that produces the narration of who we think we are and what we think the world is. There’s an actual part of your brain that creates these stories, but we are not those stories.

People don’t understand for the most part, they’re not able to distinguish the stories that are in their heads, and where they came from, and whether or not those stories are serving them. Psychedelics happen to be a tool that’s really good at getting people to unstick from old stale stories. So the fact that we have this tool that’s rusting away, we have this house on fire that we need to figure out what to do with, it just seems a little bit much to me to have someone like Michael Pollan, a newcomer to the field, saying, “You know what? We should be sitting back and letting the house burn down until the men in the white coats,” because it’s mostly men in white coats, “finish what they would like to do according to the game that they’re playing.” It just seems a little over the top.

Brian Pace: The house on fire metaphor and the generational gap you mentioned earlier Neşe, it makes me think of the young teenage activist Greta Thunberg. She says I want you to panic. I want you to panic and do something. I want you to act, with regard to climate change. She says everybody is telling me that I’m doing such a good thing and that you give me hope. She says I don’t want you to hope, I want you to panic. Because the house is on fire.

David: As we’re talking about the plurality of stories that can come out of these things, as we talk about the way that psychedelics are effective catalysts, and really profound catalysts….making space for that diversity of views and then having the debates, having the discussions…making an absolute mess and seeing what gets traction, what is effective, what matches up and fits into the real world, I think is a really great approach to have a sense of what tools can we, and what approaches can we garner as a result of these insights and this sort of psychedelic engagement for addressing the myriad of problems that are cascading around us.

As much as there’s a diversity of views as we talk about the way that the underground and mainstreaming interact, and frequently come together and diverge, let’s be real, any sanctioned researcher that’s doing stuff on psychedelics, they’re doing so in the context of prohibition. Tell me, why did they become interested in psychedelics? Was that as a result of legal engagement with it? I suspect not. Similarly, if we then take that and consider the Indigenous…something that I found really troubling about this op-ed is that after giving the Indigenous, various Indigenous groups, next to no acknowledgement in the book, suddenly Pollan is now citing Indigenous histories, not so say look there are long track records that show that there can be all types of engagement and that it’s really safe. In fact, Pollan essentially creates this notion that of a monolithic Indigenous culture that he ties between…

Brian Pace: Too true.

David: … pre-conquest South and Central America, and ancient Greece, which seems like such an absurd thing to bring together. He says, “Whether in pre-conquest South or Central America where psilocybin has been used for centuries, or ancient Greece, psychedelic substances were always approached with deliberateness and care.” Making absolute statements is always going to get you in trouble but in this particular case we can see if we look at Central and South American use, that Indigenous psychedelic use included, or was done in very close proximity with ritual human sacrifice. I’m quite certain that in the context of those rituals, that yes, care and consideration was given, but surely Pollan isn’t arguing that ritual human sacrifice is safe or desirable.

Similarly, we can see the ingestion of all sorts of dangerous compounds; tropane alkaloids, oral nicotine. If we go to Africa we can see iboga which has certain contraindications. As Bett Williams pointed out, she cited Maria Sabina making statements that she ate psychedelic mushrooms as a child because she was hungry. This notion that the Indigenous folks are always the magical brown people who have the perfect way to do it, and if it’s not the Indigenous approach we might be straying from the path, or not presenting the proper intentionality…when people were…

Brian Pace: That’s crazy though.

David: I think so.

Brian Pace: It’s multiple paths. Anybody who has spent any time with the literature or with the people themselves, these are vastly different cultures. It’s cool to mention them in the same breath, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that there’s a rich history that spans continents of humans interacting with psychoactive plants and fungi and even animals, but the idea that any of this was all…first of all…that it was always codified even if it was sanctioned in some kind of way…well when did it start? Because it probably started because somebody accidentally stumbled into it, or somebody brought it from a different region and people had to integrate some new practice. It didn’t sit well with me to see ancient peoples somehow displayed as a monolith, as a single thing when if anything it’s a diversity.

David: One last point I wanted to make sticking with Central and South America, sticking with well known psychoactives, and things that have the longest history of use, maybe not the longest but a very long history …let’s be clear… according to Stephen Beyer…ayahuasca we can trace maybe back to a mixture of beta-Carbolines and DMT-containing plants in a brew, we can trace that back to maybe four to five hundred years according to the research he’s done. There are people who dispute that. I haven’t seen a better…

Brian Pace: There was a very recent case in Bolivia where they found in the Andes a bundle that was very well preserved and did some great forensics…

David: Right but was there any evidence for it being used as a brew? If we go prior to that, the folks who were snuffing of tryptamines and beta-Carbolines far predates ayahuasca as far as I understood. One of the things about that is, how do you think those first folks that were messing around with that figured out, well gee you mix crushed shells with these seeds and you put it together and you add in a little bit of admixture and, oh when you got some beta-Carbolines from this plant that potentiates the snuffing mixture but the snuffing mixture is active and perhaps more active with the base, the slaked lime or calcium hydroxide. I would suggest that in those cases…whoever figured that out that was likely experimentation rather than some sort of clear cut codified this is how you do it.

Brian Pace: I would like to bring things back real quick to some of Pollan’s statements and assumptions and really the positioning of Pollan as an authority and gatekeeper on the topic of psychedelics, and whether or not we’re going too fast on policy changes that were really a grassroots effort.

One of the things that strikes me in particular as Michael Pollan enters the scene, as this this apparently drug policy expert now, is that he’s actually pretty far outside of the position of most of the people that I know who aren’t on board with the drug war, ok? There’s certainly people who work for the DEA who know a lot about policy who are architects of the drug war, they are the mainstream idea, but of the group of people who are critical of the drug war,  most I think, are arguing for total decriminalization, or some kind of relax of the carceral treatment of all drugs.

When Michael Pollan objects rapidly in the paper of record, to a decriminalization ballot initiative, where he states in the middle of this opinion piece that, no one should be criminalized or go to jail for having consumed or grown a mushroom of any kind. Then he goes on to say that while that’s true right now, and he says that only 11 people have been prosecuted in recent history in Denver. The point is, that’s that law of the land. The law of the land says that you go to jail if you’re a manufacturer, distributor, or consumer of these substances…

Neşe: And those laws impact minorities disproportionately we should also emphasize.

Brian Normand: Look, he doesn’t have a comprehensive view of drug policy reform. He trying to cover all the bases here. He’s trying to not get the flak of having these contradictory statements.

Neşe: Yeah we need to really emphasize the fact that if you were to chart of the argument, he contradicts himself in multiple places, but he does it quickly and breezily in a way that if you’re not really looking into it, it might seem like he’s making a coherent statement, but the Indigenous have it right and yet we have to listen to the white-coated researchers, all debate is good and yet we can’t have this debate yet. That needs to be stressed.

It also needs to be stressed that this message was really rushed out. The vote was very close it was a 2,000 vote margin where actually the first call of the night was it lost, it was turned down, and people were expecting it to lose. It was that narrow that had Pollan put this out ahead of time it could have actually influenced the outcome of the election.

He’s really conflating in I think an irresponsible way decriminalization with reckless irresponsible use in a way that in itself is irresponsible.

This could have been an opportunity for a totally different kind of op-ed that Pollan could have written. The same person, with the same experience, with the same motivations, and the same allegiances in the field. He could have said this is great that we’re having this conversation now. This is an opportunity to scale this debate, to kick it up a notch and to bring these larger themes into the public eye. He could have emphasized, let’s not forget that psychedelics can be dangerous and that it’s important not to conflate decriminalization with saying everyone and there baby should be out in the streets tripping their head off. There’s so many things he could have said in a careful respectful way that did not come across in the way that he actually worded his statement.

Brian Pace: I want to talk briefly as well about something he raised. We just touched on it but I don’t think we really dug in. Which is the fear, and it’s a very real fear. We can just look at who is in the White House right now and know that a backlash is not just possible but it’s probably likely.

Whenever change happens in society there’s going to be some segment of people who just don’t like it. Maybe they don’t like it for good reasons, maybe they don’t like it because they don’t like change. It’s fair and it’s a concern I share when it comes to talking about the cultural changes that are possible when psychedelics are decriminalized, when the fear is reduced.

When we’re talking about what might happen, about hypotheticals, it’s important to look for examples that already exist. Psilocybin mushrooms were legal for a very long time in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. They are not anymore. What is available now are psilocybin containing truffles. There ultimately was a backlash that did occur in Amsterdam, which mind you is sort of a party city, with a lot of tourism, with a lot of people specifically going there to sample drugs that are scheduled in other countries. There’s a certain segment of the population that has a moral reasoning that conflates things that are legal wherever they are with things that are good. So a lot of people will smoke pot in a country where it’s legal and they’d never dream of it in a state where it wasn’t.

What happens is you get people who go to Amsterdam, they consume mushrooms with very little information and bad things have happened. In the case of Amsterdam, I think mushrooms were outlawed in 2007, correct me if I’m wrong but it’s right about there, maybe 2008 the latest, but the commonly cited case that sort of sealed the deal was a 17 year old French tourist who was visiting Amsterdam with her parents, jumped off a building while on psychedelic mushrooms. It just wasn’t just that incident, there were a couple other headline grabbing kinds of instances that precipitated a reversal, a ban of psychedelic mushrooms.

Looking at that, what is the frequency of these kinds of events? I was at a party where a man ran out under the influence of psychedelics and committed suicide. But how many of us know people who have died because of drunk drivers?

The idea that we can have powerful mind altering substances, that we can have substances that change our fundamental physiology, the parameters that we’re comfortable at and have zero casualties is naive. What I want to point to since we’re talking earlier about the climate change debate that’s happening right now, and the healthcare debate that’s happening right now; the divide between the establishment older generation and those of us who are coming into our own right now, is that the cost of how we’re doing it now is not always adequately accounted for in these discussions.

Brian Normand: It’s missing in the discussion entirely. This is the point that I was making before is that he is implying that the irresponsible horrible use is only going to happen after decriminalization happens. It’s happening now. We all know…we’re all connected with people who have had terrible experiences, terrible prolonged experiences. What I’ll say to that is this is why we need education programs…

Brian Pace: Yes.

Brian Normand: …this is why we talk about these things. That’s why we have these conversations.

Brian Pace: That’s why we have Psychedelic Societies.

Neşe: You see the same thing with sex ed. When they have abstinence only versus only harm reduction education where you’re actually giving people information. The abstinence only education only drives risky behavior and leads to more harms. The same thing is happening with drugs where you’re driving it underground, you’re making it taboo, you’re making it so that people can’t openly share information and best practices. And then of course there’s going to be people using it recklessly and in ridiculous ways.

If you think about it like cave diving, if you’re going to compare the people who are not trained to cave dive, maybe they’ve gone diving in open water in the Bahamas, and then suddenly they’re going into underground caves where they can’t go up to the surface; if you look at those fatalities compared to the people who actually trained in the best practices in how to go about doing this, those numbers are going to be dramatically different. The same thing will apply to something like psychedelics where the people who are just recklessly throwing themselves into something with no preparation, no planning, no one talking to them saying hey you might want to have a line that leads you back to the entrance of the cave, you might want to have stickers of arrows to point you in the direction you want to go. It’s such a strong parallel in my mind. That larger conversation…

Brian Pace: I love that metaphor it’s great.

Neşe: …needs to happen and it’s not helped by people like Pollan making this black and white distinction between outside of the laboratory use and irresponsible reckless use.

David: That’s the perfect segway to a point that I wanted to make real quick. If you take prohibition, criminalization, and try to apply it to other things it becomes laughable. Could you imagine somebody proposing the idea of meditation prohibition? Recently, there was a study published Plos One, it’s called Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. This came out May 9th, 2019. One of the takeaways I thought was really interesting is this quote which says, “The small body of literature on meditation-related difficulties and extreme states associated with meditation consists mostly of case reports and case series that have linked meditative practices with instances of anxiety, panic, depersonalisation, mania, psychosis, suicidality, and an exacerbation of clinical symptoms.”

If I recall they said a quarter of meditors have had these difficult experiences. A total of…

Neşe: One in four yeah.

David: And yet I would content that the notion of prohibiting or criminalizing meditation would be laughable to most people.

Brian Pace: Yeah and maybe ifwe dug deeply enough we could find some meditators that triggered a latent psychosis, they triggered a permanent shift in their consciousness.

Neşe: There was a news article about girl who did a Vipassanā meditation retreat and then committed suicide right after. It triggered something for her. It does happen outside of the psychedelic content and the more that we can actually speak rationally with evidenced based data behind this, I think that clearer, safe, and productive path forward will be, but that doesn’t happen by limiting the ways that we’re allowed to talk about these things.

Brian Pace: Michael Pollan’s now weighing in on drug policy issues and I think those of us who’ve been paying attention for a long time know that a lot of headway, with say for instance Zendo at Burning Man, in the realm of harm reduction and the fact that it just doesn’t cross the level of debate in this New York Times article that …well I guess the thing is…I’m a bit disappointed because we’re not ready to have this debate and yet Michael Pollan has been the standard bearer for many such debates. He has shown in his very collegial and friendly and “I don’t really know but I’m gonna take you along for the ride while I find out kind of way,” I believe immersion journalism is the brand of Michael Pollan. He takes you along for a ride. He took us along for a ride with How to Change Your Mind, and I liked it, I thought it was a good book, all the critiques and all. I think that it was an honest account of somebody literally trying to understand a very complex topic in a short period of time.

That said, to not continue that conversation, to not continue taking us along the ride for this cultural conversation that isn’t going away, we’re not going to stop talking about these things just because, what, it’s going to destabilize some medical model? I wanna have my cake and eat it to. I want people who have treatment resistant depression to sit down with a therapist and do it, and I want people to have psychedelic experiences that are more akin to the way most people already have had them, which were in settings of their own choosing.

Brian Normand: The cultural conversation that we need to be having is how do we decriminalize all drugs and how do we create sensible policies surrounding them that leads to legalization?

Brian Pace: Absolutely.

Brian Normand: That’s the conversation we have to be having. For some of Pollan’s stature, of his notoriety to come out and have this, “We need to put the brakes on here,” is backwards. It’s a backwards thing and has no place. And it should be called out. We need to be having the conversation how about how we adopt Portuguese and Spanish models and what the best policies that minimize harm and maximize health outcomes. That’s what we need to be having.

Neşe: I just want to circle back real quick along those lines to what Dominique was saying about the psychedelic exceptionalism, that we can’t be trying to say our drugs are the good drugs and we want to be able to do our drugs while supporting the fact that other communities are being ravaged by the war on drugs for bad drugs.

Brian Pace: Enslaved.

Neşe: Yeah exactly. That framework isn’t going to hold up. It doesn’t acknowledge the history and the reasons that people are having these dependencies in the first place. It’s not about these mind, soul destroying, substances and the devil coming to get you, it’s about people are suffering, they don’t have healthcare, they don’t have reliable income, they have to wake up to their children hungry every day and they don’t have any sense of self worth because of that. We have to be able to address those larger questions and stop demonizing the drugs in particular. I feel like the only way forward is going to be this intersectional approach of trying to cut through the bullshit as much as possible, and try to dismantle systems that are oppressing different people for the purpose of maintaining the status quo.

Brian Pace: On these topics, if I may allow myself something cheeky, I really hope Michael Pollan, because I’ve appreciated his work, I think he’s influential, he’s a smart guy, I really hope Michael Pollan changes his mind.


Brian Pace: I just wanted to chime in real quick to point back to a major player in the field which would be the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies…

David: Are they though? [Laughter]

Brian Pace: Well yeah that’s the thing. I bring them up because I wanted to ping the multidisciplinary nature of the psychedelic question. I think that it’s impossible to understand psychedelics and I think it’s one of the reasons why the four of us here are having a conversation trying to get at, trying to understand the shape of it. We are a couple of blind people feeling around and then talking to each other trying to get at something. Psychedelics cannot be…they refuse…to be pinned down by a scientific model, by simply a subjective model. You need all of these perspectives. I just wanted to give space to that.

Hopefully, talk a little bit about what we hope to achieve with these kinds of conversations.

Neşe: Richard Doyle talks about how psychedelics are “extraordinarily sensitive to initial rhetorical conditions” is the way he phrases it. The cultural concepts, expectations, experiences, are inseparable from the experience. There’s no way to just purely talk about psychedelic experience from the perspective of neurotransmitters. It’s not possible. You can’t separate culture. Which is what makes this field feel so exciting and I feel like that’s something that should be embraced as a really exciting aspect of the field instead of trying to make ourselves more fitting into the box of what we think of as science and neurology and all of these different categories.

David: Yeah absolutely. You can’t really have a psychedelic experience without the human being that’s attached as the experiencer. That obviously brings all the baggage of the human being in its cultural context, and its economic context, and its historical content. Which is one of the reasons I think it’s super important have those explicit lenses and criticality through which to view the content, the experience, the implications.

One of the reasons why I lament the general lack of class consciousness…I mean in the US as a whole, by and large, as a result of brutal class war over however many decades, but also directly within psychedelic spaces. I think it’s something that leaves us very vulnerable to the “corporadelic” actors as we’re unable to say, yes there is class antagonism, there is antagonism along racial lines when we look at the war on some people who use certain drugs. As we go through these various things we can’t pretend this is objective or happening in a vacuum, or that the statistical myth of the average person or average experience actually has any validity on the experiences that you, or I, or any of us have alone, together, or however.

Brian Normand: I think that’s what we wanna to with this podcast. We want to be able to inject these ideas into this discourse that we, I think, feel on some level, in some way or another, is a little stale.

Brian Pace: There’s too many sacred cows.

Brian Normand: It’s stale.

Brian Pace: Ah, a fuckin herd of em.

Neşe: I remember what I was younger and more idealistic and kinda crazy and entering the field. I used to joke around with people that on a cosmic level the MAPS conferences, the real work that was happening was the people coming to the conferences. It was like a bat signal in the sky for people who were interested in psychedelics, but ultimately the biggest impact was not going to be coming from the MAPS studies, it was gonna be coming from those people coming together and collaborating and thinking outside of the medical box, outside of the capitalism box. Moving forward, creating spaces for the community to have its own conversations that are not beholden to any of these corporate actors is going to be, I think, where the fruits are going to grow.

Brian Normand: That’s why after two and a half conferences that you end up in the hallways the whole time.


Neşe: That’s so true.

Brian Pace: Yeah, that’s where those conversations….

Brian Normand: Yeah, I thinks it’s two and a half. Around there. Go ahead Pace…

Pace: No I was really just gonna ask where those conversations happened and you beat me to it.

Brian Normand: That’s the biggest secret.

Neşe: I think there’s the people in the know who have been going for years, and I think there are people who are really interested and want to be a part of those conversations. I think part of what we’re all interested in is creating a way for those conversations to become accessible to more people. Because there’s so many people who reach out to me and they’re like, “Oh I really wanna be involved in psychedelic studies but all the that I see around is MAPS, and I don’t really wanna just be a paper pusher for MAPS, that’s not really why I’m excited about this stuff.” So just letting people know that that doesn’t have to be all that psychedelic studies is. There’s a whole universe out there of options and different ways to think critically about these things and rigorously.

Brian Normand: Yeah and more recently you can go out and get some VC right now and get in the game.


Brian Normand: That’s the new option that we have available now.

Brian Pace: I just want to mention that the narratives that we have received from…I would say it’s fair to say that the traumas of earlier generations dealing with very rigid, very difficult government repression of psychedelics as they came into society in any kind of way, there’s a certain reticence to talk about certain things directly, which is why these conversations in the hallway have been so interesting. You talk to people somewhat unguarded.

Obviously, we’re still talking about scheduled substances. David recently said, “Oh this is so great that we’re all having these conversations, but I’d like to remind us all that we’re basically members, at least on the periphery, of criminal subcultures.” I’d like to talk about things in this podcast that are part of the landscape to the best of our abilities. To talk about the incarcerated people, where certain substances are harvested for export, for certain markets. I would like to get into it. Let’s get dirty.

David: Definitely.

Brian Normand: You can’t talk about drugs without super dirty. You can’t. We try to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We try to pretend that communities aren’t devastated. Its horrifying, it’s gruesome, it’s all those things and if we want to talk about drugs we need to talk about what’s actually happening to the people who are growing those drugs. It’s much deeper than just being decriminalized.

Brian Pace: And consuming them.

Brian Normand: It’s communities being destroyed.

David: And there are social and political and economic reasons why it happens. We don’t go to war because mommy and daddy didn’t love us enough, contrary what certain people in the space may think. I would suggest there’s a reason when Rick Doblin sent MDMA to a bunch of different religious leaders it didn’t end the various conflicts that he was hoping it would.

Without having some sort of sociopolitical analysis of why are corporate actors engaged in the things that they’re doing and how does that affect us through the various social systems and institutions that have been built over generations. If we can’t speak coherently about that we’re never going to be able to engage with drug policy in a coherent manner because the two are intimately  interconnected.

I think as much as…and I’ve had people…Neşe was at Entheogenesis Australis in 2017 when somebody literally got up on the mic during my Q&A and said, “Why are you bringing your ugly politics into our beautiful psychedelic space?” Because it’s already here. Because if we don’t acknowledge it we’re going to be perpetually at the mercy of these dynamics and so I think it’s time to put at least some of this front and center and see what comes out.

Neşe: Yeah a Jung quote of “Whatever remains unconscious will play out in your life and will seem like fate.” If we’re not acknowledging this stuff…because I deal with this same thing when I’m saying why is there another psychedelic anthology with only white male writers? And then people say “Oh but we’re all one,” and “Why are you bringing your aggro perspective into this blissful cloud I live in?”  


Neşe: It’s not realistic. So I think we really need to create a space for radical psychedelic critique that’s not just about transcendence and singing Kumbaya.

Brian Pace: Yeah I 100% agree with all of this. I think that the idea of a sitting around talking to each other, but also bringing other folks who have unique perspectives. Neşe you were saying, why are we having yet another anthology with only white men with their perspectives. I sort of pivoted into this thread here talking about multidisciplinary. That means multiperspective. I’m trying to figure…I’m trying to understand these things and I need people to explain it to me. That means that I need multiple perspectives to do that. I know my perspective.

Neşe: That’s the fun part of it. It’s like you get to acknowledge and embrace the fact that you can’t do this alone.

Brian Pace: We need each other.


Neşe: Yeah we need each other. To find the others.

Brian Normand: Alright I think that’s a wrap.

David: Cool that was great.

Brian Pace: Yeah that’s a wrap.

Neşe: Cool.


Neşe: I think it was a good first go. I feel like as we do it…there’s no amount of talking about it that’s gonna make us experts. We have to just dive in.

Brian Pace: I have a PhD! I am an expert. So are you Neşe. You gotta keep it…don’t let em know, don’t let em know.

So I have to confess. I realized halfway through that that, Neşe, for the first like 25 minutes, all the video is your face.

Neşe: Oh really? Oh no.

And so it was like, it was like, glitched words and then beta-Carboline, and then more glitched words and so I feel like …

Brian Pace: And then crushed sea shells.


Neşe: I feel like it will probably be easier once we’re all on the same continent.

Brian Pace: So unfortunately I made a boo boo. I don’t have my file. We’re gonna have to do something in the future that is a real professional sound check type thing.

Neşe: That’s what they do in spaceships and airplanes. They go through all the systems go so we can ritualize that.

David: I mean that’s what this first episode is for. So you don’t do it again!