In the early months of 2018, the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was still millions of dollars short of raising the funds needed to complete Phase III of the clinical trials needed to gain FDA approval for MDMA-assisted therapy. Unexpectedly, the money came to MAPS through cryptocurrency. An anonymous person using the name Pine created the Pineapple Fund, a philanthropic project that has made donations in the form of Bitcoin cryptocurrency to 60 charities. Pine donated $5 million dollars worth of Bitcoin to MAPS, which allowed their MDMA research to continue.
In a 2018 MAPS Bulletin, Pine said that he suffers severely from bipolar disorder. In his quest to ease the pain in his life, Pine says he came across ketamine therapy. Just one experience with ketamine made his life more manageable. Under the influence of a ketamine treatment, Pine decided to donate a portion of his Bitcoin. Later, he discovered the work of MAPS and their MDMA research and decided to transfer some of his cryptocurrency to support their work.
The Pineapple Fund’s contribution to psychedelic research is just one example of how psychedelic and cryptocurrency communities overlap. Out of this intersection emerged the CryptoPsychedelic Summit, a conference that took place in Tulum, Mexico in February 2018. Leaders in the fields of both psychedelics and cryptocurrencies converged to present their ideas on the symbiosis of these movements. Participants examined how psychedelics encourage us to expand our definition of how healing takes place, while cryptocurrencies allow us to question money and how financial systems work.
Bitcoin is an open source peer-to-peer cryptocurrency system with no central organization. The first major users of Bitcoin were black markets such as Silk Road, which was known as a platform for selling illegal substances. Since the original Bitcoin code was developed in 2008, a growing number of companies have emerged to provide services to Bitcoin users in above ground economies, such as Bitcoin wallets that allow users to store cryptocurrencies. Some who work for these companies have been outspoken about the connections between Bitcoin and psychedelics.
Sterlin Lujan, former Communications Ambassador for Bitcoin.com, which has developed a Bitcoin wallet, talked at the CryptoPsychedelic Summit about a life-defining transformative experience that psychedelics catalyzed for him. In 2009 he was involved in the rave scene and an MDMA experience catalyzed “what the Zen Buddhists refer to as an experience of satori,” says Lujan. “I was completely shaken to my core by MDMA because it allowed me to look at myself from a birds-eye perspective.”
Months later, Lujan was arrested for selling MDMA. The experience empowered him to become an activist focused on expanding social freedom. While delving into Libertarian culture, he became aware of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. “Blockchain technology, cryptocurrency in general, this trend towards decentralization is extremely important, because in my opinion, the greatest impediment to healing and health and wellness are these government bureaucrats,” said Lujan at the summit.
Bitcoin has had quite a run over the last year, with a value of $3,850 per Bitcoin in March 2020 escalating to $58,367 in February 2021. Bitcoin pushed past the $50,000 mark after Tesla invested $1.5 billion. Forbes reported in February that in addition to Tesla, PayPal, Venmo, and Visa have all announced that they are in the process of integrating Bitcoin. The business intelligence company MicroStrategy has been one of the largest investors in Bitcoin, investing a total value of $4.45 billion by the beginning of March 2021. MicroStrategy and Tesla are in the top nine public companies with the largest Bitcoin portfolios. Grayscale Investments, the largest digital currency asset manager, owns $30 billion in Bitcoin currently under management in the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust. Despite large investments by major companies, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile. During the last week of February, the price of each Bitcoin dropped by about $15,000. It met resistance at about $42,000 and recovered within a few days almost back up to the $50,000 benchmark.
On February 7, 2021, three years after the CryptoPsychedelic Summit, Psychedelic Seminars and Tam Integration kicked off a three-part CryptoPsychedelic Flashback series. At this online event, the groups began releasing videos from the original 2018 Summit and bringing back panelists for live roundtable discussions to reflect on how psychedelics and cryptocurrencies have evolved in the last three years.
“The things preventing both of these movements … from reaching maximum potential is the social-political limitations that are external and generated by the people within them because of a lack of imagination… or a lack of full-spectrum consciousness,” said Ismail Ali, Policy and Advocacy Counsel at MAPS, during the first event of the CryptoPsychedelic Flashback.
Matt McKibbin, a cofounder of the CryptoPsychedelic Summit, is founder of Decentranet, an investment and advisory firm specializing in blockchain technology, which is central to cryptocurrencies. McKibbin said during the 2018 event that he believes psychedelics and blockchain are very intertwined. He also thinks that blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies could be used as a new way to fund and direct resources to psychedelics which have great potential to positively impact humanity and provide effective healing from trauma.
“Over the last six years I think there are a lot of people that can think outside the box because of psychedelics and thinking about new systems of money and new systems of governance and how we build incentive structures and things you can’t be thinking inside the box about,” said McKibbin. “You can’t be saying, ‘I am going to design you a new system,’ and yet be using the same tools and structures of the old system.”
The Blockchain Council defines blockchain technology as “a peer-to-peer decentralized distributed ledger technology that makes the records of any digital asset transparent and unchangeable and works without involving any third-party intermediary.” The Council and other advocates of blockchain assert that the technology has a capability to reduce the risks of financial transactions and possible fraud in a way that scales.
Merete Christiansen, Associate Director of Development at MAPS, said at the CryptoPsychedelic Summit that she believes blockchain technology can help support the integration of psychedelics into society. “Blockchain technology has the potential to help us in the regulation and control of substances so that we don’t have to have a central governing body doing that,” said Christiansen, who says it would allow users to see the supply chain and control of custody of these substances. “We can use the technology possibly to help us guarantee the purity and quality of a substance. We can use it to help verify the qualification of the people who are administering treatment, whether it’s a peer review system or whatever else it may be.”
Mike Margolies, co-founder of the CryptoPsychedelic Summit and founder of Psychedelic Seminars, who also reports for Lucid News, also notes parallels between blockchain and psychedelics. “The decentralized networks created by blockchain are interestingly analogous to the way researchers have described psychedelics as decentralizing the brain,” says Margolies.
Neuroscientists such as Robin Carhart-Harris believe that psychedelics disengage the default mode network in the brain, the neurological representation for our experience of a central self. Carhart-Harris told the NPR radio show Science Friday in 2018 that, “As the brain develops and we develop and mature, our thinking becomes more sophisticated, more specialized, more analytical. And all the systems start to parcellate off and specialize. What happens on psychedelics is that there’s a kind of de-specialization in a way, and the brain sort of operates in this more sort of rudimentary, freer, more hyper-associative and plastic kind of way.”
According to researchers, subsystems within the default mode network appear to be over-developed in people with severe depression and anxiety. Some neuroscientists believe that the dissolution of the default mode network, correlated with the hyper-analytical and more repressive part of the self, allows more information to arise from different systems within the brain and encourages creation of new neural networks. In a similar way, blockchain, as a decentralized system, encourages the creation of new financial structures. According to The Harvard Business Review, “The blockchain will do to the financial system what the internet did to the media.”
Liana Sananda Gillooly, Development Officer at MAPS, expanded on the similarities between blockchain and psychedelics at the CryptoPsychedelic Summit. “There’s something extremely psychedelic about the way in which the blockchain works,” said Gillooly. “It’s borderless. It’s virtual. It’s decentralized. It’s distributed trust. It’s all of these things that we find in the psychedelic experience naturally.”
How Cryptocurrencies Could Improve Our Current Financial System
As the sociologist Jeremy Rifkin points out in his book Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, the structures of historical societies depend on the technology of their time. As a response to the 2007–2008 economic crisis, blockchain emerged as a potential way to reorganize informational and economics systems. “Blockchain could represent the very first time that human society has a system for creating an unbroken historical record,” writes Michael Casey and Paul Vigna, former and present writers at The Wall Street Journal, in their 2018 book The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything. “… blockchain is seen as capable of supplanting our outdated, centralized model of trust management, which goes to the heart of how societies and economies function… The broad idea is that by deferring the management of trust to a decentralized network guided by a common protocol instead of relying upon a trusted intermediary, and by introducing new, digital forms of money, tokens, and assets, we can change the very nature of social organization.”
The World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cryptocurrencies believes that “Bitcoin, for example, is more than just a technology – it is a powerful social, political and cultural movement that asks us to imagine money, banking and payments in new and novel ways.” Currently, money is created from debt. There now exists three times more debt globally than there is money. According to Ben Dyson, founder of Positive Money, 97% of the financial wealth in the world is already digital. The current narrative surrounding Bitcoin is that it functions as a store of digital value, serving a similar financial function as gold. As governments increasingly continue minting fiat currencies which they accept for taxes or debt, traditional currencies begin to lose value. According to Newsweek, “Bitcoin appears to be a good hedge against inflation because, unlike government-issued fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the British pound, and the euro, the supply of crypto-currency is limited.” Forbes reports that Bitcoin is the best performing asset over the last decade.
Bitcoin’s steep ascent in value over the last few months has prompted financial organizations to reevaluate the cryptocurrency. “Citi thinks bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point’ and could one day ‘become the currency of choice for international trade’ as companies like Tesla and PayPal warm to it and central banks explore issuing their own digital currencies,” reports CNBC. If cryptocurrencies reach widespread adoption, it’s possible that they could provide standard global units of financial measurement and potentially offer greater worldwide financial stability in comparison to inflating fiat currencies.
The European Business Review notes five advantages cryptocurrencies have over fiat currency including low storage and transfer costs, support for small transactions, global reach, and strong barriers to government interference and the ability to falsify. As there will never be more than 21 million Bitcoins in existence, supporters say this cryptocurrency cannot be used to support a debt driven financial system. Bitcoin won’t solve all problems with current financial systems. Unlike banks or credit card companies, there is also no easy way to reverse a Bitcoin purchase. Because Bitcoin is being used as a store of value, like a savings account, it may encourage hoarding of wealth instead of currency circulation. Cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin that are better designed for moving money through economies may better serve day-to-day transactions.
According to Futurism, blockchain can make “Universal Basic Income a reality.” Universal Basic Income, an idea first put forth by American revolutionary Thomas Paine, asserts that a government, in service to residents of a nation, can disperse funds needed for basic economic survival of its citizens. In such a world, all citizens in a country are guaranteed the basic requirements for existence, such as food and rent. This may support greater equality and social stability. Several blockchain projects such as MYUBI, ZeroPoverty, Circles, GoodDollar, and Baza have begun working towards these kinds of systems.
The World Bank notes that about 1.7 billion adults worldwide are unbanked. Without an account at a financial institution or mobile money provider, most of these people are disqualified from receiving government benefits or participating in our global economy. IBM believes that blockchain can help this significant portion of the human population and reports on its website that “blockchain is more than capable of creating an environment that can finally bring inclusivity to banking.” According to Nasdaq, two-thirds of the unbanked own a smartphone. People could use their phones or a public terminal to begin building verifiable data to receive cryptocurrencies that may enable them to live a life with less suffering.
Psychedelic Insights and the Blockchain Structure
Supporters of blockchain technology have pointed out some of the similarities between blockchain, psychedelics, and structures found in nature. In his article Bitcoin is the Mycelium of Money, entrepreneur Brandon Quittem writes at length about the similarities between fungi and cryptocurrency. One the many commonalities he points to is that fungi and blockchain technologies such as Bitcoin are decentralized intelligence networks. This means that like mycelium, cryptocurrencies have no centralized points of failure. Any individual part can be removed, and the system still survives. Quittem also notes that like mycelium, the structure of blockchain makes cryptocurrencies less fragile than traditional financial systems.
Quittem likens Bitcoin’s fluctuations in perceived and financial value to that of fungi reproduction. The majority of fungal life exists underground as mycelium and most observers do not see the consistent growth happening behind the scenes. It is only when the conditions are right that a mushroom quickly forms above the ground and spreads its spores before disappearing again from most observers.
Bitcoin appears to follow a similar pattern. Months go by and for most people, nothing big is happening with cryptocurrencies. Then, relatively quickly, Bitcoin appears to hijack public consciousness as the price quickly mushrooms and the cryptocurrency spreads like spores to a larger environment of adopters. The Bitcoin mushroom may fade, but it has already reached into a larger territory, allowing greater growth and awareness for the next cycle. Quittem points out that as mycelium acts as a resource transport layer and communications network connecting organisms in an ecosystem, blockchain technology provides similar services. He believes that both mycelium and Bitcoin are catalysts of human consciousness and that they evolve through symbiotic relationships that can further evolve entire ecosystems.
Like blockchain and mycelium, the psychedelic movement and culture is decentralized. Psychedelics are boundary dissolving and blockchain dissolves economic borders between nations. There are currently 180 fiat currencies, which largely work only within national regions. Blockchain could potentially help create more resilient and globally interconnected economic systems, supporting more fluent economic communications between markets and nations.
Like psychedelics, cryptocurrencies may also have a unifying effect dissolving ethnocentric ego-identification between nations and governments. Researchers, including those at the Harvard Business Review, believe that blockchain encourages the distribution of power and information allowing all people to act on the same data. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings cannot collectively reach a level of self-actualization and self-transcendence until their basic requirements for resources and safety are widely met. When these needs are met, people might have more freedom to move towards greater expressions of creativity and sense of purpose – and more fully receive the benefits psychedelics can offer. One fundamental problem people encounter on that journey is access to resources. Some researchers and advocates believe that blockchain can be one of our greatest allies in solving this problem.
Image: Nicki Adams