When I started MykoNet in 2020, my goal wasn’t to become a psychedelics startup. I certainly was not interested in drug development. Nor was I interested in becoming a therapist. In fact, the last thing I wanted to do was support psychedelic-assisted therapy as it evolves into a branch of mainstream psychiatry and psychological practice.
As much as I celebrate and champion the introduction of psychedelics into the mainstream, I don’t like the trend towards medicalization.
I have used the term “psychiatric survivor” to refer to myself. It’s not a term I made up, but one I heard in an online forum on the subject of falling through the cracks in the system. I launched MykoNet in response to a growing need for alternatives—a parallel system, perhaps. The goal of MykoNet is to initiate global systems changes, foremost of which is changes to the mental health care system.
And this is why I want to talk about Black People Trip today, as well as the Black Psychedelic Equity Fund.
If you’re not following Robin Divine on LinkedIn yet, go do it now. Really, I’ll wait, because her posts are powerful. Recently she mentioned the proliferation of “flashy conferences” and other white-dominated events and spaces in the psychedelic scene. She mentioned also the pervasive barriers to entry for non-whites, and especially black people, into not just the business of psychedelics but barriers to entry into treatment—which is categorically unethical.
When you go to one of these flashy events, there will be talk about BIPOC, equity, and social justice. Yet representation of BIPOC people is so sorely lacking that we have a vicious cycle in which black people do not feel like they belong in the space, and if they show up anyway and deal with the discomfort, they self-censor or sit on the margins.
Oddly enough, my experiences at a psychedelics conference in 2021 echoed my experiences growing up in Miami. I went to an almost all-black school (75% black), and the majority of the other 25% of the student population was Latin or Jewish or a combination thereof, with several bicultural people like me thrown in (my dad is Jewish and my mom is Parsi, from India). So anyway I'm at this nearly all-black school but there were no black kids in the honors and AP classes. For real. There was one black girl, no black boys. Can you believe that? Mind you, this was in the 1990s and I know things have changed. But that kind of thing made a heavy impact on me, and when I finally learned how to talk about these things in college, I became passionate about social justice and equity, and what we now call anti-racism.
Anti-racism also ties in with being a psychiatric survivor. The first time I was institutionalized, I was 17 years old and therefore had no rights. Most of the other kids in the institution were BIPOC. At the time, I didn’t think much about it since I came up in a multicultural environment. Only in college when I started learning about systemic racism and structural inequities. So now I owe it to the world to leverage what I’ve learned to break down the barriers that are holding all of us back from Humanity 2.0.
One of those barriers is the war on drugs. Obvious to anyone reading this, a good number of black people do not feel safe talking openly about medicines.
Another is access to plant medicine and healing.
Many people, like me, mistrust the system. That’s why people like me have fallen to the wayside as we watch the psychedelics industry become an arm of big pharma. Or if it’s not in the hands of big pharma it’s just a trendy yuppie thing. Yawn no thank you, even if I could afford it.
What’s more, these treatments and services are provided in a specific cultural space, and that space is a white space. It’s a hippie space, or a Burner space, or a psychiatric space. It’s not a black space. Those spaces can and will be created if we stop paying attention to the mainstream psychedelic news (and we can actually call it that now) and start paying attention to the underground.
As a psychiatric survivor who does not trust the system myself, I fully support the growth of black-only, underground psychedelic support networks like the one featured in an article published in The Guardian.
We need alternatives to the blindfolded on a sofa listening to new age music thing—that really does not appeal to a lot of people. I personally want nothing to do with that model.
Then we have the fact that black people need black guides and therapists. To this end, Robin Divine offers the Safer Space Guide (bit.ly/SaferSpaceGuide). This, my friends, is huge. Buy this guide because we need to start melanating the psychedelics space.
Robin’s work also addresses the barrier to entering the capitalist system, ie. starting a psychedelics business. I don’t just mean access to startup money (although that is an obvious one) but access to social capital, too. We need more equity funds for BIPOC startups in the psychedelic space. We also need training programs that help BIPOC entrepreneurs go from ideation to manifestation.
Finally, we are going to need some more grassroots organization. There is a lot of this already going on, but more can be done. The big ticket conferences are still homogenous and cliquey. Lots of Burners (almost all white), lots of hippies (almost all white), and lots of venture capitalist types (even whiter). Huge barriers to entry. We have to address the cultural barriers that are preventing this movement from changing the world. The best way to do this now is to create gorgeous parallel universes that shine and glow and spread light to the world.
Fixing the system from within is not always possible. Sometimes we need to build a new system, one strong enough to provide quality services for the populations not being helped by the existing one.
Call to Action: Meta-Fund for BIPOC startups in the psychedelic space, including free coaching and business development workshops to help take ideas from seed to tree
Call to Action: Meta-Fund to provide pro-bono psychedelic treatments for black people, including pro-bono training programs for black therapists and coaches
Call to Action: Meta-Fund for community pilot projects to address meso and macro-level needs, which are not being met at this time
Call to Action: Grassroots organization and underground networks, empowering individuals and small groups to host small gatherings in safe and supportive environments that bypass the dominant culture in psychedelics