Nearly a year into its existence, the voice-only social media app Clubhouse has seen the sort of viral growth sought for by countless founders, venture capitalists and would-be influencers, with 10 million users and growing. At the moment, it’s still invite and iPhone-only, although developers are currently working away on an Android app. In the meantime, the app has made headlines for facilitating conversations on the Tiananmen Square uprising amongst its China users — a feat unprecedented in the country due to its strict censorship laws — and guest appearances by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.
Happening just under the surface of these headlines are the ongoing conversations held daily by the app’s psychedelic community. Made up of practitioners, integration counselors, investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, visionaries, and a lot of ordinary, curious people, the app provides a platform for all kinds of dialogues around psychedelics. In a sign of the times, the app supports a space for marketing and brand building among professionals drawn to the psychedelics field, who speak with an openness about their experience with psychoactive substances that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.
“Conversation is healing, and one conversation could literally change your life, because you will change the way you view something,” says Bo Lee (@leebox), a Los Angeles-based creative consultant who co-moderates an open chat on psychedelics on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. PST. However, Lee does acknowledge that there is a learning curve for the app, as there is no formal onboarding. A town hall to welcome newcomers takes place every Sunday at 9 a.m. PST co-hosted by Clubhouse co-founder Paul Davison (@paul) and Clubhouse staffer Anu (@anu), and there are occasional orientation sessions, but they’re catch-as-catch-can. So if you’ve got iOS and an invite, here’s how one gets started in the psychedelic Clubhouse scene, and what to expect.
ENTERING THE HALLWAY
The first thing members do upon registering is create their profile.
Before proceeding from here, it’s prudent to be aware of the widespread concern around Clubhouse’s potential privacy issues. The app will ask to be granted access to your contacts, so you can easily connect with other users. This has alarmed some, with critics concerned that the app, which relies on having access to a vast database of contacts to connect its members, has access to the names and numbers of users who are not members through the contacts of those who are, and even creates profiles for those non-members.
Creating a catchy bio helps members get noticed. Lots of people, such as the venture capitalists and startup founders among the app’s early adopters, include in their bios bullet points and a brand-building narrative, as well as any cash apps, hosted rooms or websites they want to point people towards. Oftentimes in the rooms of clubs where discussions take place, people will click on each other’s avatar. If they like what they see, they can follow you without you even realizing it. Silent rooms abound on the site for all communities, including psychedelic, where people leave their avatar to sit so they can rack up followers and contacts.
Next up, select and follow clubs. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can now create your own club in-app, but unless you’ve already got a sizable following going in, it’s best to work your way up to that. Some of the better-established clubs are Eamon Armstrong’s Life Is a Festival, Psychedelic Integration and Ayahuasca. Perhaps the best-established and busiest of them is Psychedelic Clubhouse, whose members include Davison, Anu, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Rick Doblin, and poet, lyricist and activist Aja Monet. Founded by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. David Rabin and physician and Stanford lecturer Dr. Molly Maloof, this club hosts many different weekly rooms, including The Psychedelic News Hour, which features Rabin and Maloof interviewing a wide cross-section of personalities in the psychedelic space. Future guests will include psychologist/microdosing pioneer Dr. James Fadiman, Tupac Shakur/Earl Sweatshirt manager Leila Steinberg, and physician Dr. Diva Nagula.
“I personally was really attached to the way that radio used to be. You could have audience participation in a conversation with experts,” says Rabin of the club’s foundation. “So when we started this, we were like, ‘Oh, this is an amazing opportunity to allow for a community conversation.’”
When you join the club, you’re either a member or a follower. Currently, there are no real distinctions between the two — either way you receive indications on your Clubhouse calendar and in the app’s hallway which displays the clubs recommended by the app’s algorithms. It can seem pretty arbitrary, but it’s based on who you follow and who they follow. Following the Psychedelics topic, which is located under Wellness in the search screen, can also help. Once you search for either “psychedelic” or 🍄, you’ll find your tribe soon enough.
Inc. also cites other concerns around privacy, including: not being able to easily delete your profile, not being able to delete information others share about you, and sharing your personal information without notifying you. A recently published article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which examined the Turkish government’s crackdown on free speech, and in particular students using Clubhouse, made note that the app’s design “potentially allowed government actors or other network spies to collect private data on its users, en masse.”
So bear in mind while conversations around psychedelic usage unfold freely on the app, there’s always the possibility that law enforcement may be hanging around, or will gain access to the company’s database.
For those willing to tolerate Clubhouse’s shortcomings, the rewards have in some cases proved substantial. Over the past year, psychedelic professionals have utilized the app as a means of building their brands. One example is Kole Whitty (@psychedelic), who jumped into the app in December. A former raver-turned-anti-drug-youth-campaigner who has worked as an underground integration coach since 2008, Kole joined up alongside her husband Tah, in part to promote her upcoming psychedelic practitioner training course. Building up her rep as a well-informed audience member onstage led eventually to invites to moderate rooms. Users can invite, or “ping,” mutual follows into rooms that they currently are listening to, which happened frequently enough for Kole to become a constant presence.
“Before I knew it, I was in like every room and getting pinged into every room, because of my perspective. We’ve created systems and ways to identify it and explain it that very few facilitators had,” Kole recalls. She estimates that 90% of her current signups to her Psychedelic Space Training seminar have come through Clubhouse.
The conversations on Clubhouse span a global range of topics, including Jewish and Mormon interpretations of psychedelic rapture; discussions of 10-20 gram psilocybin therapies for the Black community with the sons and daughters of the late Detroit-based psychonaut Kilindi Iyi; Russian-language psychedelic rooms; and a forum on psychedelics in China.
Early on, Clubhouse focused on growing an African-American user base by courting Black investors to fund the app. Those investors brought along their networks in turn. They’ve since become a strong presence in psychedelic rooms, shaking up a psychedelic community whose core assumptions about psychedelic practices is embarrassingly monochrome. Aubrey Howard (@_spiritmedicine) has focused on bringing psychedelics and breathwork into the POC community through her work with Dr. Hannah McLane’s (@hannahmclanemd) SoundMind Center and Decrim Philly, and acknowledges how important the Clubhouse conversations are for breaking down durable stigmas in the community. “Even therapy in Black communities, still, is sometimes not shown in the best light. So on Clubhouse, specifically, I have seen so many different minority groups having this dialogue around psychedelics and entheogens. For me, what’s really important is, as a woman of color, to share my story. Because I think that sharing stories —that’s really how we learn.”
Of course, wherever the psychedelic community is, MAPS is sure to follow. Tim Ferriss’ appearance on the Psychedelic News Hour preceded MAPS’s successful completion of their $30 million Capstone Challenge by just a few days. Jade Netanya Ullmann (@jademaps), whose title at MAPS is Major Gifts Maven & Connector , also runs the app’s Philanthropy Club. Ullmann has emerged as a power user whose clout carries well beyond the psychedelic community within the Clubhouse ecosystem. Asked about MAPS’s overall strategy for Clubhouse, she says, “MAPS’ strategic priorities are defined by our values, so we focus on platforms and educational channels that center equitable access and participant safety. MAPS looks forward to exploring a strategy once we’ve seen Clubhouse meaningfully address those fundamental issues. For now, [other MAPS] colleagues and I are enjoying the social benefits of Clubhouse and embracing the experiment.”
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Psychedelic rooms are filled with plenty of testimonials and trip reports. However, the first adopters of this app were Silicon Valley startup founders and venture capitalists who have a strong interest in data and evidence about the efficacy of psychedelic use, alongside storytelling about personal and transcendent experiences. “The general conversation that was being had about psychedelics was a dangerous one — people talking about going on these shamanic journeys with untrained practitioners,” says Rabin of the Psychedelic Clubhouse’s founding. “We saw a really unique opportunity to educate this audience, which is mostly composed of influencers and investors.”
As the app has grown, many of the better known names in the nascent psychedelic industry have been cycling through. Field Trip’s Ronan Levy and Mindbloom’s Dylan Beynon have recently stopped by to discuss their business ventures. They even create their own content, such as angel investor/business mentor Angel Gambino (@angelgambino), who hosts a noon PST Q&A for aspiring entrepreneurs every weekday. “It’s a very welcoming room. It’s not a tech bro room where people get roasted,” she says. So far, however, not one psychedelic startup has approached her using Clubhouse. For now, Clubhouse’s main value for the industry is in education. “When you’re creating the market, a huge component of it is education,” she says. “For example, cannabis businesses spend a lot of time and resources on educating the consumer, from dosages to the difference between CBD and THC, from really basic stuff to more personalized or sophisticated stuff.”
Monetization on the app is one of the many items on the Clubhouse development team’s to-do list. Currently, room organizers donate their time and energy to the app for no monetary compensation, although it could potentially pay off as a marketing effort. Just like users currently have to DM people on connected Twitter and Instagram accounts, people will often avail themselves of a user’s cash apps if they feel like tipping. So room hosts are not quitting their day jobs.
Time will tell if the serendipity that characterizes some of the app’s most memorable exchanges will abide as the community scales. Yet one can’t help but see lasting impact in people sharing their psychedelic experiences — in some cases for the first time ever, to anybody — and gradually gain confidence, perspective and strength in communities that validate their experience. As Aubrey Howard says of her own time on the app, “Honestly, for me, it’s just being present, in a space where we are all students, and we are all teachers in some capacity.”
Suggested Recurring Shows on Clubhouse
• The State of Cannabis: Psychedelic Science & News, Monday, 7 p.m. PST: Dr. Del Potter, Jahan Marcu, PhD and Nigam Arora, PhD discuss the latest psychedelic research. Great commentary that goes deep under the hood without going over your head.
• Psychedelic Weekly Deep Dive, Monday, 6 p.m. PST: For those interested in business and mental health developments, this show brings in some of the industry’s biggest names.
• Psychedelic News Hour, Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. PST: Dr. Molly Maloof and Dr. Dave Rabin speak to a wide cross-section of movers and shakers in the space
• Ask a Psychedelic Doctor, Thursday, 3 p.m. PST: Dr. Hannah McLane and a rotating cohort of integration facilitators host open hours for testimonials and requests.
• Shroom Room, Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m. PST: Because everyone wants a place to chill eventually. No frills, just an open, welcoming space.
Image: Nicki Adams using adapted photo by Marco Verch
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Dr. Dave Rabin and Dr. Molly Maloof are co-founders of Psychedelic Clubhouse. The headline has been changed, and the language has been updated for accuracy.