Psychedelics and Systems Changes
Psychedelics catalyze change for individuals and for societies. Consider Season 2 of the MAPS Canada webinar series Examining the Psychedelic Renaissance. Speakers refer to the way psychedelics have initiated a new paradigm in mental health care, noting it’s not about the substances themselves, but about what they can help us achieve as individuals and societies.
In this article, you’ll learn about how psychedelics can be used to facilitate deep changes to organizational and public policies, values and ethics, power structures.
Seems far-fetched at first, but the neuroscience data shows that psychedelics ease growing pains and reduce resistance by dampening the default mode network.
As a call to action, you can consider possible futures for stakeholders in the mental health care and criminal justice sectors, in academia, research institutes, and technology companies.
We’ll conclude with specific suggestions for how you can take action to promote social justice through psychedelics.
What is Systems Change?
Nothing should be viewed as sacrosanct if our goal is to improve the human condition, should it?
Systems change involves examining processes, procedures, and paradigms and noting what is working and what isn’t, so that we can be more effective.
We should question our values and beliefs.
Sometimes systems change is proactive, and often it is reactive to a complex problem.
Therefore, systems change takes time, partly due to the arising resistance within you and your teammates.
During systems change, we need to be honest about what works and what doesn’t and we need to listen to people we don’t like or even those we don’t trust.
Many people will have legitimate reasons for resisting your ideas. Through dialog, skillful means, and mindfulness, change can be disruptive in a good way.
And that’s where psychedelics fit in!
Psychological Systems Change
At this very moment, researchers are studying how psychedelics can be used for treating a wide variety of mental health problems, including treatment-resistant disorders.
Psychedelics have recently been hailed as “a potential breakthrough treatment for several types of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction,” (Belouin & Henningfield, 2018, p. 7).
The reason why psychedelics work where other pharmacological interventions do not is psychedelic healing “actively engages the sufferer in addressing root causes of illness,” (Slowshower, 2018)
Root changes = systems changes. With systems changes, we may even question our identity as individuals or groups.
Root causes of psychological problems like depression or anxiety may be brought to light during psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, which is why psychedelic-assisted therapy can be somewhat tricky. A person needs to be ready and willing to change. Band-aids may be better for those who are not yet ready to face their deepest fears or to let go of who they thought they were.
Sociological Systems Change
The root causes of social problems can be acknowledged and addressed.
In some cases, a system might even be deemed defunct and abolished.
Examples of systems in our society include the health care system, the education system, and the criminal justice system. These systems are entrenched and bureaucratic. Therefore,
changing these systems takes a lot of time and effort.
Even with the shock of COVID, we should not expect miracles but we should at least start laying the foundations for systems change that can flower over the next few generations.
We are on the brink of big systems change in mental health care with psychedelic-assisted therapies. Key areas of research include the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD, which could lead to systems change not just in mental health care but also in law enforcement, the military, and other sectors with high PTSD prevalence.
Also, preliminary research and pilot projects highlight pending systems change in end-of life care, with the use of psychedelic-assisted palliative care.
Systems Change and the Labour Market
Without proper preparation for decriminalization, we risk overburdening the mental health care system.
When decriminalization occurs in Canada, the mental health care system should be ready, able, and resilient. Now is the time to boost enrollment in psychiatric nursing and other mental health care professions.
Likewise, decriminalization and the destigmatization of psychedelics will require curriculum overhauls in education. Higher education systems will also change with the introduction of new departments and new courses of study including Psychedelic Psychiatry and Psychedelic Neuroscience.
Psychedelics for Peace
Perhaps the most surprising systems change of all involving psychedelics has to do with their possible utility in international diplomacy, given the promising initial results of a pilot project for psychedelic-assisted peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
How it Works
Once a problem has been identified and leaders have become willing to change, we can fairly well plan that change in order to solve specific problems. See this guide to systems change for an excellent overview of how it works.
Psychedelics and Systems Change
Psychedelics epitomize systems change because they actually change the way the brain functions, altering perception and cognition like no other psychoactive substance. Most of the perceptual and cognitive alterations are temporary, but their effects can be long-lasting just as seeing an impactful film or reading a good book can have lasting changes in a person. Long-lasting effects of psychedelic experiences include greater openness, compassion, willingness to listen, enhanced creativity, and a sense of interconnectedness.
In the psychedelic space, organizations like MAPS have been historically concerned with the ways psychedelics can improve personal psychological systems. Only recently have we begun to consider the broader systems changes that psychedelics initiate. Even from the most conservative standpoint, psychedelics are on track to be decriminalized and their use in clinical psychology will continue to increase.
The state of Oregon decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2020, and legalized some types of psychedelic-assisted therapies. This is an important first step towards dismantling the War on Drugs, which has had a deleterious effect on multiple systems including the criminal justice and mental health systems. The time has come to conceptualize a way forward, post-War on Drugs.
This is where MykoNet fits in. We want to build bridges, connect dots, and start conversations now so that by the time decriminalization occurs in Canada, we are ready.
Systems Change in Mental Health Care
The FSC call for proposals asked for ideas t
o “shock proof the future of work.” MykoNet responded with a proposal to promote psychedelic research as a way of opening up new career pathways while strengthening existing labor market systems. Viewed from a human resources lens, the decriminalization of psychedelics presents opportunities for job creation and entrepreneurship in mental health care and consumer services.
MAPS is already training clinical psychologists in psychedelic-assisted therapies. Similar training programs can also be integrated into existing professions almost seamlessly. The next step for mental health care systems change would be the creation of new professional pathways. One would be psychedelic psychiatry. It will take many years to build the knowledge base and conceptualize programs of study for this and other emerging fields.
For example, we may see a new class of licensed professional called a psychedelic guide. Psychedelic guides draw on the substantial knowledge base in indigenous communities, using multidisciplinary methods of research. Indigenous communities have a substantial evidence base that can be used to inform best practices in clinical psychology. Organizations like Chacruna should be contacted with regards to developing effective training programs and protocols for certifying psychedelic guides.
Chacruna is also an organization that can be
contacted for advice on how to create inclusive, supportive, and diverse teams in the psychedelic space to help us achieve social justice outcomes.The current mental health care system is not nearly as successful as it could be, and its strengths and weaknesses have been exposed even more since COVID-19. Now would be a great time to initiate panel discussions with mental health professionals on what they believe the biggest problems are and how to best address them through systems change.
Psychedelics also have great potential for transforming organizational cultures and achieving social justice goals.
Harm reduction will become a guiding principle as we move forward with ending the war on drugs.
The Zendo Project is the pre-eminent harm reduction organization and can be contacted for insight into this crucial aspect of systems change. While the Zendo Project strategy has historically been to provide peer support at festivals and other social gatherings, it may be possible to expand its reach. There is a wealth of untapped potential for Zendo to facilitate broader systems change in almost every sector. For example, Zendo could work with educational policy administrators, with corporate leaders, or with the military.
Science Research and Innovation
With decriminalization, researchers will have fewer barriers to studying the effects of psychedelics on the brain or on human perception and cognition.
Breakthroughs in neuroscience are likely to occur, which will enhance our understanding of human consciousness. Research breakthroug
hs will stimulate systems change. Psychedelic neuroscience may inform innovation in brain-to-computer interfaces and technologies as yet undreamed of, fueling a new era in product design and engineering. Products designed for use with psychedelics may be therapeutic, recreational, or both.
Psychedelics are one of the keys to future-proofing the job markets in Canada. For example, a proliferation in psychedelic clinics, retreat centers, and spas is likely to occur in conjunction with decriminalization. This sector of the industry will employ countless individuals both in public service and in the private sector.
Systems Change in Criminal Justice
Deep systemic change in the criminal justice system will ensue once drug possession and use are no longer crimes. Officer retraining alone will require substantial investments of human and financial resources. Retraining civil servants, using psychedelic-assisted therapies in rehabilitation programs, and using psychedelics in restorative justice programs are only a few of the ways we can help.
Rehabilitation programs need to be bolstered as individuals are diverted from criminal justice to mental health care. Psychedelics are being studied already for PTSD and trauma, and also have promise for use in treating drug addiction.
Systems change in the criminal justice system should involve a switch to a strengths-based, solution-focused, and trauma-informed rehabilitation strategy that may or may not use psychedelics. Now is the time to assemble a team of clinicians to plan and strategize the most effective programs and services, building the evidence base with case studies and pilot programs. Pilot projects using psychedelic-assisted restorative justice and victim restitution should also be on the horizon. If successful, such initiatives would build community resilience while also facilitating systems change in criminal justice.
Social Justice and Responsibility
Social justice is slowly but surely replacing the pursuit of profit as the fundamental purpose guiding the marketplace.
One of the reasons MykoNet was founded was to reveal the potential for psychedelic-assisted leadership training and organizational development. With psychedelic group therapies or a team retreat, leaders can work
on deep levels to unravel problems and collaborate on solutions.
Psychedelics can also be used to foster trust and teamwork, to reduce discrimination, and to eliminate toxic work environments. Resilience in business depends on a healthy, happy work force. Yet resilience in business also requires a willingness to take risks with radical ideas; psychedelics may help stimulate innovation and creativity, leading to timely breakthroughs.
If psychedelics have been used to foster Israel-Palestine dialog, they can surely prove effective elsewhere with conflict resolution, peace, and reconciliation. Possibilities for applying psychedelic interventions in global g
overnance promise us a better future.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Here’s what you can do right now as we move forward:
1. Assemble diverse teams to design
and implement pilot projects in all domains such as using psychedelics for restorative justice, international diplomacy, and organizational change.
2. Write guides for using psychedelics in organizations. Here, it might be a good idea to create a bridge between iONS and MAPS for a psychedelic leadership initiative.
3. Expand harm-reduction outreach by moving into the education and law enforcement spaces. Start composing harm reduction manuals now, in preparation for decriminalization. In fact, clinicians can partner with established organizations like Zendo to author self-help manuals.
4. Partner with technology innovators on opportunities for revenue generation. Work out a means by which to design tools, toys, and technologies that have therapeutic as well as recreational value.
5. Speaking directly to philanthropists to make MykoNet the hub of psychedelic-assisted systems change. MykoNet spearheads ambitious projects and programs that practically guarantee ROI.
Thanks for listening!
Belouin, S.J. & Henningfield, J.E. (2018). Psychedelics: Where we are now, why we got here, what we must do. Neuropharmacology 142(2018): 7-19.
Friedman, H. (2009). The renewal of psychedelic research. The Humanistic Psychologist 34(1): 39-58. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15473333thp3401_5
Sloshower J. (2018) Integrating Psychedelic Medicines and Psychiatry: Theory and Methods of a Model Clinic. In: Labate B., Cavnar C. (eds) Plant Medicines, Healing and Psychedelic Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76720-8_7