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What is Psychedelic Justice?

What is Psychedelic Justice?

As psychedelics integrate into dominant culture, the question of what forces will shape the direction of the psychedelic renaissance is front and center. Those of us who believe that psychedelics can help transform society by allowing us to operate out of the sense of interconnectedness they inspire are being challenged to define and embody, the values that drive this growing movement. 

In the past few years, the term “psychedelic justice” has surfaced in a multitude of psychedelic spaces as a lens for addressing deep-rooted injustices within the community, and cultivating a movement that serves the needs of everyone – particularly those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed.  

In this spirit, the upcoming anthology Psychedelic Justice: Toward a Diverse and Equitable Psychedelic Culture, edited by Bia Labate and Clancy Cavnar, compiles essays written for the Chacruna Institute that examine a myriad of issues facing the psychedelic community through the lens of psychedelic justice, and offer solutions for mending them. Among the wide spectrum of topics explored in this anthology are diversity and inclusion, reciprocity, abuses of power within psychedelic spaces, policy, sustainability, capitalism, and colonialism. 

Below are some instances of the term’s usage, and is by no means an exhaustive list of when and how the notion of psychedelic justice resonates.

Psychedelics and Drug Policy 

Back in 2017, Jag Davies, at the time the communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance, used the lens of psychedelic justice to discuss why decriminalization is a necessary step towards repairing the harms of the drug war, which has incarcerated thousands of people yearly for using psychedelic substances, and disproportionately impacts “young, nonwhite and socioeconomically marginalized” people. 

As research into the therapeutic benefits of these medicines becomes legitimized, heading towards legal medicines for those who have access, the notion of psychedelic justice begs the question that Davies posed: 

“What would it mean if we end up in a world where psychedelics are legally accessible for a privileged few, while communities who have historically suffered the worst harms of prohibition remain criminalized? For social change to be truly transformational, mustn’t it lift up those who are the least privileged among us?”

Since 2019, movements to reform drug policy have sprung up across the country, and psychedelics have been decriminalized in Oakland, Washington, DC, Santa Cruz, Somerville, Ann Arbor, Cambridge, and the state of Oregon, with currently active decriminalization bills and ballot initiatives in motion across the country. Many of these movements have broadened their scope to include all drugs, not just psychedelics, a move that aims to dismantle psychedelic exceptionalism and the hierarchy of drug users, and seeks to protect all forms of altered consciousness. 

Capitalism and Psychedelics 

The question of what values are shaping this renaissance is of particular concern regarding the booming psychedelic industry, which is projected to reach $10.75 billion by 2027. What does it look like when psychedelics enter a competitive market whose strictly profit-driven logic dictates that ruthless competition trumps the spirit of open-sharing and cooperation? 

Historically, psychedelics have been researched and developed by those in the underground – the “outlaws,” as Erik Davis puts it in his essay “Capitalism on Psychedelics.” The “writers, healers, freaks, and wizards” who made up the underground and gathered at psychedelic conferences oriented themselves around the values of sharing information, mutual respect, and operating out of service for the community of substance users, explains Davis. 

Today, the emergence of psychedelic companies that operate in the traditionally capitalist spirit of snuffing out competitors and monopolizing a profitable product is enormously troubling to many in the psychedelic community who align with the values described by Davis, including Johns Hopkins researcher Bob Jesse, who spoke about the merging of psychedelics and capitalism at the 2018 “Cultural and Political Perspectives on Psychedelic Science.”  

“When given under propitious circumstances—with a measure of grace,” Jesse said of psychedelics, “some would say they fairly reliably lead to experiences which are frequently beyond words and frequently change lives. When that phenomenon occurs, it is my wish that that happens in the best possible, cleanest space, being held by people who are very clear about their motives.”

Psychedelics and Reciprocity 

While some companies profit off psychedelics, they lack, as Celina De Leon writes on Chacruna, “any clear channel for reciprocity toward Indigenous and traditional communities where these practices originate.” The ritual knowledge surrounding these sacraments is foundational to Indigenous communities in the Americas that continue to this day and inform the Western medical perspective of psychedelics. 

“The very protocols that exist today draw upon many of the perspectives and insights that leaders in the field experienced while engaging with these substances, either directly with Indigenous communities or in so-called ‘underground’ settings,” writes De Leon. Directly supporting projects that are “indigenous-led or facilitated by individuals that have long-standing relationships in indigenous and traditional plant medicine communities is a great step,” suggests Leon, who points to these initiatives

Listening to Indigenous voices is crucial as we continue to benefit from the plant medicines that play an integral role in their traditions. This has been made abundantly clear in the realm of drug policy, where the justice of decriminalization is complicated by the issue of peyote scarcity, which affects the Indigenous communities for whom the cactus has served as an ritual sacrament for centuries. 

The National Council of Native American Churches (NCANC) and the Board of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) definitively voiced their stance on the matter in a 2020 statement, saying that due the peyote shortage, which is impacted by the peyote black market and unsustainable harvesting practices, peyote should not be included in decriminalization efforts, which would likely lead to further destructive behavior. 

As they write in their statement, “For non-native persons who want to avail themselves of relationships with entheogenic healing medicines that don’t harm the very fragile peyote population in south Texas or disrespect the spiritual and cultural norms of our Indigenous peoples, they should look for alternative medicines.

Prejudice and Abuse within Psychedelic Spaces

Although the psychedelic experience may contribute to increased empathy towards others, psychedelic communities are not immune to prejudice and abuse. Now, as society faces a reckoning for the oppression and abuse that marginalized groups have faced for decades, the psychedelic community, too, is being tasked to co its own shadow side, and address these inequities. 

Up until recently, the public face of Western psychedelic discourse has been dominated by white men. While the likes of Terence McKenna, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts are formidable voices, a movement whose representation reflects the same biases of Western society at large, can only be stunted by such a limitation in the long run, as it only reinforces the same age-old structural inequities. Whether conscious or unconscious, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are still prevalent and are structurally embedded within these communities. 

Psychedelic science, for example, is still plagued by a lack of diversity and representation, both among researchers and participants. “People of color and women are uncommon in leadership positions in the psychedelic research community,” write clinical psychologist Monnica T. Williams and Chacruna founder Bia Labate in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, “and few people of color are included as research participants in psychedelic studies.”

And as psychologist and psychedelic researcher Alex Belser points out, psychedelic research is still informed by heternormative stereotypes about gender roles, with research from past 15 years treating cisgender, straight people as the default.

Although it is exciting to witness the culmination of decades of drug policy advocacy and clinical research, the psychedelic science movement struggles with many of the same social issues that plague healthcare in general,” write Williams and Labate.

Psychedelic spaces are not immaculate respites from abusive behavior, either. Sexual abuse at the hands of shamans in traditional ceremonial contexts is unfortunately not uncommon, with a number of individuals sharing their accounts of being sexually exploited by someone they entrusted with their healing journey. Even in clinical psychedelic therapy, sexual abuse is not unheard of. 

It may be difficult to reconcile the bathed-in-pure-love sensation of a psychedelic experience with abusive, toxic behavior at the hands of those facilitating it, especially when they are perceived as being part of a more spiritually evolved tradition. 

Increasing awareness of sexual abuse and exploitation by ayahuasqueros and other healers has been disconcerting for the psychedelic community, where ‘shamans’ are often idealized and romanticized,” writes somatic sex educator Britta Love on Chacruna. “The medicalization of psychedelics will no doubt mean we soon find our legitimized Western psychedelic gatekeepers just as imperfect as their indigenous and underground counterparts.”

***

“If the psychedelic renaissance is to grow and be able to bring healing and benefits for humanity, it has to include everybody,” shared Labate at the 2019 Bioneers Conference. 

Her words reflect a core essence of psychedelic justice: the commitment to transmuting the blissful oneness felt by any one individual during their psychedelic journey into an enduring ethical compass with which they navigate and serve their communities, and the values they are unwilling to compromise as the psychedelic movement grows. 

 

***

More about Psychedelic Justice 

Cover of Psychedelic JusticeRadical, cultural transformation is the guiding force behind this socially visionary anthology. Its unifying value is social justice. It guides us in cultivating a psychedelic renaissance that represents everyone, honors voices that have been suppressed for too long, and envisions a more beautiful tomorrow through a psychedelic lens.

Psychedelic Justice highlights Chacruna’s ongoing work promoting diversity and inclusion by prominently featuring voices that have long been marginalized in Western psychedelic culture: women, queer people, people of color, and indigenous people. The essays examine both historical and current issues within psychedelics that many may not know about, and orient around policy, reciprocity, diversity and inclusion, sex and power, colonialism, and indigenous concerns. We believe the book can be another tool to help Chacruna and its allies continue to push for justice and inclusion in the greater psychedelic culture.

Get your copy

Bicycle Day 2021: The First LSD Trip

Bicycle Day 2021: The First LSD Trip

In order to help you celebrate Bicycle Day 2021, we’re publishing an excerpt from the comprehensive biography on Albert Hofmann, Mystic Chemist, written by his close friends, the recently deceased Lucius Werthmüller, and the late Dieter Hagenbach, with a foreword from Stanislav Grof. Additionally, we are offering a 20% discount on the book with the coupon code “bicycleday2021”. The offer is valid until May 1st.

Bicycle Day: LSD Finds Its Discoverer 

Albert Hofmann had to know and decided to undertake a series of experiments, beginning with a test on himself on April 19th, 1943. Again he proceeded with great caution and chose a dosage of 250 micrograms, the smallest amount of ergot alkaloid deemed to have a noticeable effect.

But once again, strange and, initially, decidedly frightening images overcame the chemist, this time more acutely than before. According to his lab journal, his experiment began at four twenty in the afternoon when he ingested “0.5 cc of ½ pro mil tartrate solution of diethylamide peroral = 0.25 mg tartrate. To be taken thinned with ca. 10 cc water.” At five pm he notes: “Beginning dizziness, anxiety, disturbed vision, paralysis, urge to laugh.” Two days later he adds: “Cycled home. Severest crisis from six to eight pm” and refers to a special report because he can barely record the last entry. He is at once certain that his experiences on April 16th stemmed from the unintentional ingestion of a small amount of LSD-25. The experiences were the same, but this time more intense and profound.

During the war, fuel was difficult to find. Gasoline was rationed and available for very few private vehicles. Indispensable commercial vehicles such as tractors and trucks were fitted with wood gasifiers. At that time, even in Switzerland, only a few wealthy could afford an automobile and taxis were not available. That is why Hofmann did not have someone drive him home; instead, his lab assistant, Susi Ramstein accompanied him by bicycle. He had the impression that they made little headway, but she later assured him that they cycled very fast and she had to pedal hard to keep up with him. The rows of houses took on threatening forms, the street seemed wavy, and the few persons they met changed into distorted shapes. The distance between the laboratory and his home was ten kilometers, with a few gentle inclines on the way.

Once they reached his house, Hofmann asked Ms. Ramstein to call his doctor and to bring him a glass of milk from the neighbor woman as an antidote: He feared a fatal poisoning. Dizziness and faintness alternated. Exhausted, he went into the living room and lay on the sofa. Just as on the way home, the familiar surroundings in the cozy home looked distorted and eerie. The walls and ceiling appeared to bend and arch, furniture took on grotesque forms and appeared to move. He asked for more milk. He hardly recognized the neighbor who brought him more than two liters of milk. Instead, he perceived her as “a nasty, insidious witch with a colored mask.”

Hofmann found the transformation of his inner world at least as unsettling as those in his surroundings: “All my efforts of will seemed in vain; I could not stop the disintegration of the exterior world and the dissolution of my ego. A demon had invaded me and taken possession of my body, my senses, and my soul. A terrible fear that I had lost my mind grabbed me. I had entered another world, a different dimension, a different time.” His body seemed to him without feeling, lifeless and foreign. “Was I dying? Was this the transition?” were the agonizing questions that pressed in upon him and persisted.

Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann showcasing the molecular structure of LSD

He thought of his wife and three children who, precisely on this day, had driven to visit his in-laws in Lucerne. Would he ever see them again? Would he die without being able to say farewell? How would posterity judge him? That a young head of a family had been recklessly careless and risked leaving his young family fatherless? Had his obsession with research-driven him too far? Hofmann was certain that he had not acted carelessly, and had always conducted his research prudently. Did this mean the end of the career that had begun with such promise and meant so much to him and promised so much more? “I was struck by the irony that precisely lysergic acid diethylamide, which I had brought into the world, was now forcing me to leave it prematurely.” His situation struck him as a most appalling and terrifying, hardly comprehensible tragedy.

It seemed an eternity had gone by for him before the doctor arrived and Ms. Ramstein could report the self-experiment at the Sandoz laboratory. Although Hofmann believed the worst of his desperate experience was over, he was not able to formulate a coherent sentence. Dr. Beerli, who had come in place of Hofmann’s regular physician, Dr. Schilling, found no indications of any abnormal condition or poisoning. Respiration, pulse, and blood pressure were normal. He helped Hofmann move to the bedroom to rest, but refrained from prescribing any medicine as none seemed indicated. This reassuring diagnosis had a positive effect. Within a rather short time, the anxieties and terrifying images subsided and gave way to “feelings of happiness and thankfulness.” Hofmann began to enjoy his involuntary excursion into unknown and unfamiliar realms of consciousness. With closed eyes, he saw a wonderful play of color and forms: “a kaleidoscopic flood of fantastic images dazzled me; they circled and spiraled, opened and closed again as fountains of color, reorganizing and crisscrossing in constant flux. Particularly remarkable was how any acoustical perception, like the sound of a door handle or a passing car, transformed into optical perceptions. For each sound, there was a corresponding, vividly shifting form and color.”

By late that evening, Hofmann had recovered sufficiently to describe his remarkable adventure to his wife, Anita. She had left the children with her parents and returned home after receiving a telephone call about her husband’s breakdown. With the return of some tranquility to the Hofmann house, the exhausted chemist went to sleep. The following morning, he felt physically tired, but mentally refreshed and fit. “A feeling of well-being and new life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted marvelous, an extraordinary pleasure. When I went outside, the garden was still damp from a spring rain, and the sun made everything sparkle and gleam in fresh light. The world felt newly created. All my senses vibrated in a state of high sensitivity which lasted throughout the day.” All in all, Albert Hofmann’s experiment on himself, the first LSD trip in history, ended gently. He had discovered the most potent psychoactive substance yet known.

Hofmann’s first experience contains many elements and descriptions that would be found in thousands of later reports of comparable trips. This first self-experiment contained two decisive factors in the course of any psychedelic experience, later designated as “set and setting” by the American psychologist Timothy Leary. “Set” referred to the mental and physical state and expectation of the consumer and “setting” to the atmosphere and surroundings during the session. Hofmann’s experience became a positive one after his doctor told him that he need not fear he was on the threshold of death or permanent damage from a life-threatening poisoning. He had no frame of reference for what was happening to him and no certainty that his condition would normalize a few hours afterwards. He at least remained aware the entire time that he had undertaken a self-experiment. “The most frightening thing was that I didn’t know if I would regain my normal state of mind. It was only when the world slowly began to look normal again that I felt exhilaration, a kind of rebirth.”

Albert Hofmann Bicycle Day 2020 (Photo- Jakob Krattiger; illustration from “Das Basler Buch”)

Photo by Jakob Krattiger; illustration from “Das Basler Buch”

Albert Hofmann was impressed by his discovery10 and by the intensity of his experiences during that first self-experiment with LSD-25 which would long resonate for him. He knew of no other substance with such profound psychological effects at such a low dosage that so dramatically altered experience of the inner and outer worlds in human consciousness. Hofmann found it remarkable that he was able to recall details of his LSD intoxication and explained it with the hypothesis “that no matter how perturbed someone’s worldview was at the height of the trip, the part of consciousness that registers experience was unimpaired.” He was equally amazed that he remained aware of it as an experiment on himself yet was unable to voluntarily alter it and banish the “LSD-induced world.” Just as surprising and welcome was the absence of any noticeable hangover afterwards; rather he felt left in excellent physical and mental condition.

Three days later, Hofmann presented his detailed report to Arthur Stoll and Professor Rothlin, the director of the pharmacological department. “As might be expected, it met with incredulous astonishment,” he recalled. They both immediately asked him whether he had made an error in dosage. It was clear to them that no psychotropic substance was known to be that effective at a micro dosage level. The last doubts were erased only when Rothlin and Stoll both cautiously tried dosages of LSD one-third the strength of Hofmann’s trial dose and had nearly as impressive results. In subsequent trials, Hofmann never ingested a comparable dosage again and described 250 micrograms as an “overdose.” He was astonished that the “tripping generation” of the sixties considered his first dosage to be the standard measure.

His spectacular bicycle ride from the Sandoz factory through the outskirts of Basel and on beyond the city limits to his house became the stuff of legends. Since 1984, April 19th has been celebrated as “Bicycle Day” among pop-culture LSD fans. It was initiated by Thomas B. Roberts, emeritus professor of educational psychology. Americans in particular found the idea of a bike ride while on LSD amusing and admirable. Back then, hardly anybody in that land of boundless possibilities used bicycles and certainly not in the condition Hofmann was in on his original trip.

Looking back, Hofmann thought about the circumstances and significance of his discovery: “From a personal perspective, without the intervention of chance, I think the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide would not have been discovered. It would have joined the tens of thousands of other substances that are produced and tested in pharmaceutical research every year and are relegated to obscurity for lack of effect and there would have been no LSD story.

However, in light of other significant discoveries of the time in medical and technical fields, the discovery of LSD could be considered less a matter of chance than of being called into the world as part of a higher plan.

In the 1940’s, tranquilizers were discovered and proved to be a sensation for psychiatry. As their name expresses, tranquilizers cover up emotional problems whereas LSD is at the opposite pole of pharmacology; it reveals problems, making them more accessible to therapeutic intervention.

About the same time, nuclear energy became technically usable and the atomic bomb was developed. A new dimension of threat and destruction had been created compared with earlier energy sources and weapons. That corresponds to the increase in potency in psychotropic drugs such as mescaline to LSD, of a factor of 1:5,000 to 1:10,000.

One might suppose that the discovery of LSD was not a coincidence but drawn to attention by the Weltgeist. From this perspective, that would make the discovery of LSD no longer a matter of coincidence. Further reflection might lead one to think that its discovery was predetermined by a higher force and emerged as people began to contemplate the prevalence of the materialism of the past century; LSD, an illuminating psychotropic drug, appearing on the way to a new, more spiritual age.

All of this could suggest that my initial decisions leading up to finding LSD were not a product of free will, but were guided by the subconscious mind which links us all to the universal, impersonal consciousness.”


20% Discount on Mystic Chemist

mystic chemist albert hofmannMystic Chemist begins at the start of the twentieth century, in the Swiss town of Basel which is evolving from a popular health spa into a major industrial city. The story concludes more than a century later, after celebrating Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday. It tells the unique story of a soon to be famous scientist, highlighting his academic journey, his research at Sandoz, and then, as the discoverer of LSD, his meetings and interactions with illustrious writers, artists, and thinkers, from all over the world, whose common interest is a fascination with the new wonder-drug. Luminaries like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Richard Alpert appear on the scene and Hofmann begins a prolific correspondence with them and other interested parties. Sometimes he sends a sample, other times he hears of their “trips” on LSD or other psychedelic substances, like mescaline or psilocybin. From the beginning, he takes a positive view towards efforts by physicians and psychotherapists to include LSD in new approaches to the treatment of illnesses. He sees the “psychedelic” potential of this “wonder drug” as beneficial to all. And he expresses his conviction that mystical experiences and trips to other worlds of consciousness are the best preparation for the very last journey he and every one of us well must eventually make. At the age of 102, Albert Hofmann dies at home. His vitality and open-mindedness stay with him until his last breath. The life of Albert Hofmann, the Mystic Chemist, is a testimony to how one can reach a great age all the while remaining physically and mentally fit and spiritually aware.

Get 20% off the paperback version of the book using the discount code “bicycleday2021”. Offer valid until May 1st, 2021.

Get Mystic Chemist 20% off!

Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva, the Indian scientist, and activist stands for social justice and uncompromising sustainability. The Alternative Nobel Prize winner gained worldwide attention through her fight against the agricultural giant Monsanto. But Vandana Shiva does not only want to fight patents on seeds and give the seeds back to the farmers who grow them. She is a well-known critic of globalization, speaks out publicly against the concentration of wealth, and fights for better coexistence on earth.

Vandana Shiva: From Physicist to Activist

A public lecture and press conference by Vandana Shiva and meeting with young farmers, NGOs and activists (2013)

Before Vandana Shiva became a world-renowned social activist, she studied physics in India and Canada. As early as the 1970s, she became involved in the first Indian environmental movement, the Chipko movement. It was mainly supported by Indian women who were fighting against commercial deforestation. In the 1980s, two major events finally led her to look into agriculture. Several tons of poisonous gas escaped into the atmosphere from a US pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. The worst chemical accident in history occurred, killing thousands of people. Also, riots broke out in Punjab, a predominantly agricultural area. Industrial fertilizer, pesticides, and new seeds from the USA promised higher yields for the local farmers, but at the same time led to dependence on large corporations and fatal environmental damage.

Fighting Patents on Seeds and Protecting Diversity

As a critic of globalization, Shiva was active against the monopoly position of transnational agricultural corporations like Monsanto, which were trying to exert increasing influence on Indian agriculture. In her home village of Dehadrun, she founded the institute “The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology”, which observes the influence of the world market on Indian farmers. In 1991 Shiva founded the organization Navdanya, which stands for the protection of the biological diversity of seeds. Navdanya collects regional varieties and saves them from extinction. In addition, the organization promotes organic farming methods and protects farmers from dependence on patented seeds.

Seeds Belong to Those Who Grow Them

Shiva refers to what is happening in agriculture as “bio-imperialism“. Companies make seeds their property by making them easier to patent through the use of genetic engineering. Shiva’s life work has largely been devoted to fighting patents on seeds and she strongly criticizes this practice:

“Some Western companies remind me of a doctor who performs a c-section and claims he also made the child.”

The preservation of indigenous seeds in the hands of local communities and chemical-free agriculture with local markets are among Vandana Shiva’s most important goals. Her vision of ideal agriculture is based on fair trade and solidarity-based commerce, as well as on biodiversity and organic farming. For her commitment to environmental protection, women’s rights, and sustainability, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Oneness vs the 1%

But Vandana Shiva’s activism is not only focused on agriculture: In 2019 she published her book “Oneness vs The 1%“. The 1%, is the symbol for the concentration of wealth according to the rules of neoliberal economies. She calls billionaires like Bill Gates bio-pirates, who act mainly in their own interests. Their engagement serves primarily to acquire resources and to collect and sell data. In an interview, she makes it clear:

“They cause all this destruction in the name of feeding the world, but has the world been fed? We need to take a step back to understand the true meaning of economy and ecology.”

Vandana Shiva: “The earth belongs to all of us, not to corporations like Monsanto”

On the occasion of Earth Day 2020, her organization Navdanya called for making peace with the earth. A global economy based on the myth of limitless growth and appetite for the earth’s resources, as corporations like Monsanto practice, is at the root of the current health crisis and future crises. It is important to learn to adequately protect the rights and ecological spaces of different species and peoples again. We must move from an economy of greed, competition, and violence to an economy of care: for the earth, for the people, and for all living species.

In an online interview with Right Livelihood College, Vandana Shiva talks about her visions for the future. In her opinion, one of the many reasons for the current crisis is our lack of respect for the environment. People should stop focusing on consumption in order to become true earth-citizens. When Vandana Shiva was asked about long-term changes for the time after the crisis, she says:

“We have to realize that we are not alone on this planet and that we have a responsibility towards others. We have a duty not to take more than our share, because when we are all connected, we all have a share.”

This article was republished from Scoop.me

A Year of Transformation

A Year of Transformation

A Year of Challenge and Transformation

As we welcome in a new year, we look back on 2020 with a desire to digest and transform challenges we faced as a species. We have seen people come together to support those in need, voices for justice raised, and calls to act in ways that are for the common good. We hope you will find the landscape of ideas presented by our authors books will nourish your minds and inspire you in your pursuit of happiness and wholeness.

A Look at the Books Ahead

Last July, we signed a co-publishing agreement with the pioneering publishing company, Transform Press,  founded in 1991 by the renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin with his wife, Ann Shulgin, to publish books that focus on pharmacology, psychedelic medicine, and states of consciousness. The Shulgin classics, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation, are cornerstone books in these fields. 

Our first co-published title with Transform Press is The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact. Volume One (of three) is transcribed from the course Dr. Shulgin taught at San Francisco State University in the mid-eighties. Forthcoming in May, it will be the first Shulgin book released since 2011.

In June, we are proud to introduce the wise work of Dr. Kile Ortigo in Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. Ortigo’s book presents a framework for understanding and experiencing psychedelic-assisted therapy including foundational therapeutic approaches, the psychospiritual aspects of the psychedelic journey, and integration of the insights gained. He answers questions regarding legal access to care, ongoing criminalization, and medical restrictions which limit the therapies available.

In August we have Psychedelic Justice, an anthology of writings from the Chacruna Institute, highlighting the Institutes’ ongoing work promoting diversity and inclusion by prominently featuring voices that have been long marginalized in Western psychedelic culture: women, queer people, people of color, and indigenous people. The essays examine both historical and current issues within psychedelics that are not well known, and orient around policy, reciprocity, diversity and inclusion, sex and power, colonialism, and indigenous concerns. 

In the Fall, we look forward to The Mind of Plants, a collection of essays, narratives, and poetry on plants and their interaction with humans edited by Monica Gagliano, John Charles Ryan, and Patricia Viera. Contributors include Alex Gearin, Luis Eduardo Luna, Jeremy Narby, Robin Wall Kimmerer, to name a few. From the ubiquitous rose to the ugly hornwort, from the Amazonian ayahuasca to tobacco, the texts reflect the multifarious interactions between humans and flora. These personal narratives, filled with anecdotes, experiences, and musings, offer cutting-edge insights into the different meanings and dimensions of “the mind of plants.”

Learning How to Live-In in 2020 

While the world stayed-at-home last year, we have also been working from home to bring out thought provoking books on human evolution, the rights of Nature and how to live sealed up with seven other people for two years in a glass house! The last one came out by coincidence as we all learned how to live in our own bubbles and pods. These titles continue to be highly relevant to the heart of the challenges facing people and planet.  

Claudio Naranjo was a Chilean-born psychotherapist, medical doctor, and pioneer in the areas of transpersonal psychology, psychedelic therapy, and hThe Revolution We Expected book coveruman development. The Revolution We Expected, his last written work before he died, speaks to the issues of our age in a penetrating way, suggesting that the current crisis of humanity is a crisis of awareness. 

At present, we seek superficial remedies for the problems of our world. However, Naranjo warns us that “even the most complete treatment of the symptoms of an illness will fail if not enough attention is paid to the root.” 

And that is precisely what Vandana’s Shiva book Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Rights of Mother Earth encourages us to do, looking at one of the multiple roots of our human crisis. Namely, Reclaiming the Commons presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights. 

Arguing in favor of nature as common property, Shiva emphasizes the importance of gradually tracing our way back into a future that embraces the “liminality and inseparability between the communities and their common resources. Between us and our environment.”

Similarly, Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2  hones in on the imperative need to see the Earth as a closed ecological system where everything must be recycled. Crew members, Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone tell the story of their two remarkable years living inside the structure. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, we are 

offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. As well, a feature-length documentary, Spaceship Earth, was released unravelling the compelling tale behind the Biosphere 2 experiment. 

Thanks to You, Our Readers, We are Growing!

In a climate of collective hardship, we feel so grateful for our vibrant community of allies and readers that have enabled us to expand our publishing operations. We’ve gone from publishing a single book a year to being able to publish several thanks to your continued support! This growth has enabled us to expand our team over the past couple of years. Meet the people who form our synergetic whole.  

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Synergetic Press is excited to announce that we have very recently signed a co-publishing deal with Transform Press, and are set to publish a new series of Transform Press titles by Alexander and Ann Shulgin, in continuation of the Shulgin legacy. Transform Press books are now distributed through Publishers Group West, effective July 1, 2020

Transform Press LogoSynergetic Press Logo

Since 1984, we at Synergetic Press have published in the areas of ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology as well as psychedelic history and research. Transform Press was founded in 1991 by renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and his wife and co-author, Ann Shulgin, to publish their groundbreaking classic, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and has specialized in works on psychopharmacology, psychedelic drug research, and other material relating to psychoactive compounds, states of consciousness, and society.

“Over the past three decades, both Synergetic Press and Transform Press have been publishing pivotal books in specialized topics of plant medicine and psychedelic psychotherapy, each cultivating important hubs for scholarship and public discourse through events and symposiums,” said Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO of Synergetic Press.

“We are honored to work together with Wendy Tucker, Publisher, and CEO of Transform Press, her mother Ann Shulgin, and their team to bring out more of the pioneering work by the Shulgins’.”

“Transform Press has many projects in the pipeline. We’re very happy to be able to work with the team at Synergetic Press to broaden our reach to the public and to contribute to the ever-expanding field of psychedelic research and its history,” said Wendy Tucker.

“This is an exciting time, as information about psychedelic drugs is not being demonized as it was before,” Tucker added. “Instead it is being seen more through a lens of curiosity as to the potentials for healing and growth.”


Our First Co-published Book:
The Nature of Drugs The Nature of Drugs Cover - The Shulgin Legacy

The first co-published title, to be released in Spring 2021, will be The Nature of Drugs: A Course on Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, Societal Responses, and Social Impact based on a lecture series that Sasha Shulgin taught (by the same name) at San Francisco State University (SFSU). 

The full text was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987 and will be published in two consecutive volumes. Volume I covers the first third of the course and presents Sasha’s views on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in The Nature of Drugs lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volumes II. The book chronicles the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.

“For those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend Sasha’s classes, this book is a fantastic second chance to learn from a brilliant, principled, courageous, idealistic psychedelic chemist whose creations were molecules for psychotherapy, spirituality, and celebration, to help humanity wake up and save ourselves.” — Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 

Beyond this, there are plans for three additional books carrying on the Shulgin legacy, including a second volume of The Nature of Drugs, a book of letters from the Shulgin archive, and a third volume of work joining the PiHKAL-TiHKAL series.

Sasha Shulgin in his labAlexander Shulgin, The Most Prolific Psychedelic Chemist in History

The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, world’s first biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran (mexacarbate). 

Whilst working at Dow in 1960, Shulgin had his first mind-altering experience. He ingested mescaline, a psychedelic compound that is naturally found in the peyote cactus, finding it so astounding that he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring psychedelic chemistry. 

“I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin said in a 1995 interview. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.”

Dow, pleased with his work, and the high profits generated by Zectran, gave him the freedom to pursue his own research program, and thus his experimentation with synthesizing psychoactive substances began. 

Shulgin left Dow in 1966, supporting himself thereafter by becoming a scientific consultant as well as a lecturer and teacher. Setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. Perhaps ironically, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave him permission to do so, even calling on Shulgin to serve as an expert witness in drug trials.

A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. 

Wanting to ensure that his life’s work researching psychoactive compounds did not disappear with him, he and his wife Ann, co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. ‘PiHKAL’ is an abbreviation for  “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychoactive properties, including the naturally occurring mescaline, and the synthetic methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. 

PiHKAL, jointly written by Sasha and Ann Shulgin, is the fictionalized autobiography that blends the personal history of their falling in love with carefully detailed descriptions for how to synthesize 179 psychoactive compounds.

In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamines include well-known psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Similar to PiHKAL, TiHKAL is divided into two parts and is a blend of personal history and chemical recipes. 

Shulgin is most often remembered for his re-discovery and synthesis of a chemical called 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. MDMA was originally synthesized by German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912, however, when Shulgin resynthesized the chemical, he discovered that it had potent psychoactive properties. 

Discovering its effects, Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy, and by the late 1970s, some of his colleagues were evaluating the drug’s use in therapeutic settings. However, MDMA soon escaped the therapeutic setting, rising to popularity amongst young partygoers where MDMA’s euphoric effects were soon rebranded by dealers as “ecstasy” and MDMA was reclassified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.

Shulgin lamented the reckless recreational use and ensuing prohibition of psychedelics in that it hindered the possibility of their legitimate use in psychotherapy. 

“Use them [psychedelics] with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” ― Alexander Shulgin, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story 

These books, combined with Shulgin’s association with MDMA were responsible for his rapid rise to popularity, and his becoming a celebrated chemist world over.


Exploring the Shulgin’s Chemical Legacy

A new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs set out to investigate the economics of six illicit substances, including synthetic drugs like MDMA. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake. 

“The century of the synthetic drug begins but doesn’t end in the shadow of the late Alexander Shulgin. In the 1960s, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a renegade chemist reimagined the study of drugs, and by extension human consciousness. He is recognized as the “spiritual father of psychedelics”, creating over two hundred substances from scratch, but he also, however, inadvertently set off the billion-dollar race to control the synthetics market.”

The episode navigates the dangers of synthetics, but continually circles back to the fact Shulgin saw breakthrough therapeutic potential in MDMA, the synthetic drug that brought him his fame. Shulgin never suspected that MDMA and other substances that he synthesized would become popular amongst young partygoers. Rather, he saw them as revolutionary psychotherapeutic tools that the “War on Drugs” wrongly forced underground.

Image: Ann Shulgin with daughter, Wendy Tucker, Publisher at Transform Press (Photo by Audrey Tucker, 2020)

Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship

Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship

What was it like to be “quarantined” inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months? Our new book Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 tells the inside story of Biosphere 2, presenting the only account written inside of the two-year enclosure. 

Eight volunteers placed themselves in the world’s first mini-biospheric system, a facility that included a range of wilderness biomes as well as farm and human living area. This biospheric laboratory designed to be a new kind of experimental ecological apparatus research is where they lived separate from Earth’s biosphere for the first two-year closure mission. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for and studying their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food. 

We interviewed author and biospherian crew member Mark Nelson to better understand the insights gained from living in Biosphere 2, and how we can move towards being better planetary stewards individually.

Jasmine Virdi: Undoubtedly the greatest lessons that emerged from the Biosphere 2 experiment have a lot to teach us when it comes to planetary stewardship. How would you describe planetary stewardship?

Mark Nelson: Planetary stewardship is not necessarily about managing the biosphere [Earth], rather it has to do with managing ourselves and the human impacts on our planetary biosphere. I think Biosphere 2 has a number of teachings that are of crucial relevance to what is probably the greatest challenge of the 21st century. First, Biosphere 2’s lessons should motivate us to reassess how we design our technosphere; how we do business, how we farm, how we ranch, how we manufacture, and how we transport. We are coming to understand more and more, that everything we do has consequences for our global biosphere, our underappreciated life support system, affecting its natural cycles. Biosphere 2 was an amazing experiment in how to redesign and re-engineer a non-polluting technological system that is truly in service to the betterment of all life. 

That being said, what are simple, affordable, and easy steps that we can take on the individual level toward becoming better planetary stewards or better biospherians?

I get emotional when I give talks and people ask “What is the first thing that I can do to become a better biospherian?” My advice is to start by falling in love with the biosphere. In order to want to save something, you have to love it. Beyond falling in love, you need to rid yourself of the illusion that you are not in every moment of your life being supported and interacting metabolically with Earth’s biosphere. Literally every breath of air that you take is a product of our biospheric system. Our current ideas about the biosphere feed into an erroneous, dualistic, dyadic vision in which us humans are separate from the Earth. Even to imagine that the technosphere is opposed to the biosphere is incorrect – it is an integral element of the Earth’s biosphere. We need to move past the idea that the biosphere and the environment is something outside of ourselves. We need what the Greeks called metanoia, a profound change of thinking to come to realize that we are all biospherians. Stepping back from the illusion that there is the world of life separate from you is a great beginning for understanding what it means to be a biospherian. We will only be motivated to take care of our biosphere if we change our illusion that we’re not part of the systems and that it is something outside of ourselves. Biosphere 2 offered this understanding in a very experiential mode in that all of the biospherian crew members, and even those who went into our test module, grasped on a somatic, bodily level that they are connected to the biosphere. And what a great realization that is!

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.

Do you see any parallels between your two-year experiment in Biosphere 2 and the current global situation of being quarantined due to COVID-19?

Many people have been asking me about the parallels between our two-year experiment in Biosphere 2, and the COVID-19 quarantine. For us biospherians, we left an unappreciated and daily degraded biosphere (Earth), and entered a new world with the objective of assisting that new world to grow up to be beautiful, and maintain its biodiversity. In Biosphere 2, we went into as clean an environment as engineers and ecologists could possibly devise, motivated by the self-interested goal of becoming good stewards of that system. We also had the knowledge that the health of our biosphere was inextricably interconnected with our bodily health. We knew that we were metabolically inseparable from the Biosphere, having a real sense that Biosphere 2 was our lifeboat.

However, in the current situation, people are in quarantine because there is a dangerous disease agent that is out there. Despite the gravity of the situation, we are looking out of our windows at a more beautiful world. We have finally slowed down our assault on the biosphere and stopped taking for granted the miraculous processes that give us clean air, water, and food. The ‘business as usual’ approach has slowed down as a result of our quarantine, and our biosphere has become a cleaner, healthier place. We are seeing wildlife regain some confidence, pollution is decreasing, and we are finally meeting greenhouse gas and climate change goals. People are really waking up to the fact that we have a tremendous impact on our biosphere and that there is not an environment external to us. There are no small actions, everything we do has an impact for good or for ill. That truth was super obvious in Biosphere 2, but is equally true on Earth. The current situation with coronavirus serves as a good shock point for the global cadre of biospherians. Being temporarily locked out of business as usual I deeply hope will allow us to rethink what will happen when we resume “normal” life. 

What are some of the main lessons that came out of Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2 presented a challenge to the exploitative and extractive way that modern business i.e.,  large-scale capitalism thinks about our earth. Biosphere 2 made a big statement as it included a range of wilderness biomes like a tropical rainforest, a desert, an Everglades marsh, and even an ocean with a living coral reef. Each biome had intrinsic value because it made our mini-world more beautiful, and provided habitat for some of the other species that share our biosphere. Like nature does on Earth, those natural biomes contributed to the quality of our air and water as well as the joy of living in a wondrous world.

It was recognized that each biome had its own integrity and was not free for humans to convert to farm or ranch land or exploit for natural resources. Our role within each biome was to protect its integrity, to protect against loss of biodiversity, and to keep an eye on their overall health because we knew our bodily health depended on the health of the system as a whole. People who came to Biosphere 2 saw its biospherian crew taking tender, loving care of their environment. We learned by listening to our biosphere. I think that is a very powerful lesson in planetary stewardship that can be extrapolated from Biosphere 2. This new edition of Life Under Glass is a great way to appreciate the drama, the joy, the adventure we had during the two years.

Another great lesson was that even in a mini-biome using technology to supplement the natural functions that weren’t present, it was clear that humans and technology were not dominating or “controlling” the environment. Ultimately the microbes, fungi, plants, animals, and atmospheric cycles that we were helping to maintain were responsible for our health. Nowadays, we are so in love with the technologies that we have invented and sometimes become very grandiose, running away with the notion that humans run the biosphere. Thank goodness we don’t.

“Spaceship Earth” the Film 

The film Spaceship Earth chronicles the true, stranger-than-fiction adventure of eight visionaries who in 1991 spent two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem called BIOSPHERE 2. As the current pandemic forces us to confront the fact that the narratives that inform our modern-day existence do not serve us, this tale of dreamers reimagining a new world may inspire our own vision of the future. The film is now available to stream in the US and will be released in Europe this July.  

“To have a research station on another planet, we have to figure out how to recreate a tiny biosphere for humans. That’s what the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona was trying to do in 1991. I was so interested in this experiment that I spent time locked inside their test module. But this $150 million structure was built by a theater group instead of scientists, and therein lies the drama worthy of a film. Skip the comedy (Biodome, 1996) and watch Spaceship Earth (2020), a new sympathetic documentary on this remarkable project. What they learned, of life support and human dynamics, should be better known. (Imagine being really locked down for 2 years.)” — Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine

Watch Spaceship Earth


Life Under Glass coverLife Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 

Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle

Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.

For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

“Life Under Glass details an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.” – Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

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