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New Professional Associations for Medical and Legal Practitioners Emerge for the Psychedelic Space

New Professional Associations for Medical and Legal Practitioners Emerge for the Psychedelic Space

Not long ago, the founding of a Psychedelic Bar Association would have struck many people as far fetched. But with the swift mainstreaming of psychedelic medicines and a growing national decriminalization and legalization movement, legal and medical professionals seeking to play a role in the unfolding of this emerging field are coming together to form new associations and offer innovative services.

Lucid News reached out to seven recently established medical and legal associations in the psychedelic field – from organizations bringing together practitioners to develop standards of care, to attorneys banding together to face the legal complexities arising from shifting drug policy – to learn more about how they’re serving psychedelic communities as these substances transition from the underground. 

Psychedelic Medicine Association

During her practice as a physician for the Veteran’s Association, Lynn Marie Morski observed that despite the increasing number of patients suffering from PTSD and suicidal ideation, none were offered psychedelic treatment options. It wasn’t just because it was illegal, says Morski, but because most of her fellow physicians didn’t even know those options existed. 

“As I was on my own healing journey through psychedelics at the time, I realized that it was crucial to share the therapeutic aspects of these medicines with those who we entrust with our health: primary care providers,” says Morski. 

That’s why Morski developed Psychedelic Medicine Association (PMA), a public benefit corporation of healthcare providers looking to advance their education on the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, for which Morski serves as president. “Patients are going to start asking about [psychedelic] therapies, and healthcare providers will want to be informed to have those conversations with patients,” says Morski. 

According to Morski, PMA’s mission is to “ensure that when other lifesaving psychedelic therapies are made available, clinicians know enough about them to feel comfortable discussing them with patients, referring them to psychedelic therapists when necessary, or prescribing the medicines as appropriate.

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PMA is intended for physicians, therapists, and healthcare professionals, and “any clinician working with patients,” says Morski. But their main target, she explains, are clinicians who have yet to learn about psychedelic medicines. “These are the ones it is most important to educate so that patients around the world are presented with the full range of therapeutic options when seeking medical care.”

PMA’s focus on clinicians who don’t already work with psychedelic medicines makes the organization distinct from other psychedelic medicine associations that orient primarily around psychedelic practitioners. 

“Our association is mainly to educate those who may never wish to do psychedelic therapy in their practice, but who know that this is a groundbreaking area of therapeutics on which all healthcare providers should be educated to do the best for our patients,” says Morski. “We know of no other group aimed at that segment of the clinician population.”

Education is just the first step, says Morski. PMA also intends to address issues around accessibility. “Getting these medicines to patients requires getting healthcare payers to cover them, and ensuring that those who use them don’t lose their benefits based on the varying legalities of the substances,” she says. PMA has opened its membership to key stakeholders in the psychedelic industry, like groups focused on addressing healthcare concerns, and research organizations, she explains, “so that they can collaborate with practitioners to solve a number of ancillary issues around these medicines, like how to get them covered by insurance or how to further research in these areas.”

Building community between practitioners and stakeholders is integral to PMA’s mission. Fostering and exchange of dialogue between practitioners, researchers, and clinics can help psychedelic medicine advance faster, says Morski, rather than if they were separate. 

Down the line, Morski hopes to see PMA’s members feel more comfortable recommending psychedelic medicine, having discussions with psychedelic therapists, and working towards equitable access for all. 

American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists and Practitioners

Founded in 2016, the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists, and Practitioners (ASKP) brings together medical professionals dedicated to the safe clinical usage of ketamine for mental health disorders and pain conditions. 

The non-profit organization was “borne out of the need for a true medical, scientific conference… something evidence-based, and focused on the research,” says ASKP president Sandhya Prashad, adding that ASKP has now gravitated towards “creating opportunities, collaborations, and setting standards for care.” 

A Standards of Care section exists on ASKP’s website, one that Prashad describes as multidisciplinary, holding space for the multiplicity of perspectives co-existing in the ketamine space. 

Initially developed as an anesthetic in 1970, ketamine “changed the landscape” within the operating room and the battlefield, reads ASKP’s Standards of Care. Since ketamine became much more widely used for mental health treatments in the 2000s, the field includes a wide variety of practitioners, from anesthesiologists and critical care physicians to mental healthcare professionals. Currently, there is debate within the ketamine space about optimal methods to provide ketamine-assisted therapies. 

“At ASKP, we acknowledge that no one field of medicine can appropriately cover all of the bases, and there remains a need for continued learning and collaboration for all of us,” reads the website. 

ASKP intends for its membership to reflect this wide range of medical professionals with interest in ketamine. “We want to have a big tent for everyone to feel welcome – physicians of all specialties, psychotherapists working in the space, advanced practitioners, even pharmacists and researchers,” says Prashad. “There’s a pharmacist that does research in this space. They don’t actively treat patients, but have wealth of knowledge.”

ASKP hosts an annual conference, in which a multidisciplinary array of speakers discuss ketamine for mental health and pain conditions. In addition to learning from experts in the field, attendees can also receive medical education credits, says Prashad. 

In the future, Prashad foresees ASKP branching out to other psychedelics, while remaining a space for an ongoing exchange of ideas and best practices. 

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International Association of Psychedelic Nursing

In 2013, after recovering from an illness, Taylor Hayes felt inspired to become a nurse, so that she could help introduce the healing power of plant medicines to a greater audience. Seven years later, following the boom in mainstream awareness of psychedelic medicines, Hayes officially founded the International Association of Psychedelic Nursing (IAPN), an international non-profit nursing organization. IAPN’s mission, as stated on their website, is to promote global awareness around psychedelics, and to develop safe standards of nursing practice within the emerging field of psychedelic medicine. 

“There is an increasing global need for the assessment, planning, and implementation of standardized, evidence-based best nursing practices within the psychedelic medicine delivery system,” says Hayes. “IAPN looks to cutting edge technologies, traditional cultural medicine practices, and the most up-to-date data to bridge gaps in nursing knowledge and current practice.”

The organization follows in the footsteps of other active nursing associations, such as American Holistic Nurses Association, American Cannabis Nurses Association, American Nurses Association, and American Psychiatric Nurses Association. However, it is unique in its psychedelics-oriented focus. 

IAPN is open to anyone, says Hayes, but nursing students and registered nurses are “most likely to benefit from the continuing education, networking, involvement, and employment opportunities our organization offers.” 

The organization offers an invaluable opportunity for networking and education, says Hayes, and many members commonly report the connection to a global, like-minded professional community as one of the most valuable aspects of the organization. 

IAPN also provides a haven for nurses seeking innovation in the field of healthcare.

“Most members arrive to IAPN from an experienced professional background in a variety of healthcare specialties including surgery, psychiatry, hospice, critical care, and more. Sadly, many nurses are facing burnout, stress, disillusionment, and unfulfillment seeking innovative opportunity in the nursing field that resonates with their personal values,” says Hayes. “Psychedelic nursing provides both patient and caretaker hope for improved outcomes with a refreshing, effective approach to care.”

Hayes stresses that the IAPN does not exist with the intent of excluding Western medicine practices, but rather to work with and expand upon that treatment. 

“We do not advocate for the invalidation of valuable pharmaceutical medications but instead we seek to empower patients and providers who are seeking alternate routes to therapeutic outcomes,” says Hayes. “The safe integration of psychedelic medicines into health care is a necessary step in pursuing the global advancement of human health, growth, and potential.”

Hayes hopes to see IAPN grow into one of the largest healthcare organizations, and says their ultimate mission is to overcome barriers in accessibility, ensuring that every person on earth can receive “local access to safe, affordable, cutting edge care with desirable outcomes.”

Medicine Midwives

Medicine Midwives (MM) is a group of clinicians (including nurses, therapists, and doctors) from multiple lineages helping birth what will become a professional association for psychedelic practitioners. The group – which includes family psychiatrist Alexander Cardenas and family therapist Lia Mix – refers to itself as the “midwives” because, as their website reads, the group is “acutely aware that this is not our baby.” 

The vision for this national, professional association is to bring together a broad, diverse group of practitioners to work towards establishing standards of care, engaging the health care system towards the adoption of evidenced based psychedelic care, advocating for policies that ensure safe and accessible care, and providing education, mentorship, and cross pollination for this multidisciplinary community of practitioners.

The effort behind Medicine Midwives formalized in September 2019, following a few years of discussion around the need for such a group in anticipation of FDA approval and federal rescheduling of MDMA and psilocybin, say Cardenas and Mix in an email.

Currently, MM serves as a pre-steering committee that, through an ongoing stakeholder engagement campaign, will assemble a final steering committee. That final committee will go on to formalize the rules and standards of the organization, along with nominating board members, and eventually launching a formal association. 

Cardenas and Mix tell Lucid News that MM has not formed “from a place of authority or with a self-assigned mandate,” and is not intended to constitute the final board members, but rather to lay the foundational groundwork for establishing a board and formal association. It’s akin to the Continental Congress, explains MM’s website, referring to a group of delegates that gathered during the American Revolution, establishing the rules by which our federal government was initially formed. 

The MM see such a nonprofit institution as crucial infrastructure to safeguard and legitimize the field. With that in mind, the midwives have prioritized engaging stakeholders and building a representative elective process for the founding leadership in order to be consistent with the values of honoring the many contributions, lineages, and lived experiences that make up the practitioner community.

“We’re making an organization to represent practitioners,” says Cardenas. He explains that for the board to have legitimacy, it can’t be appointed by the founders, but rather formed gradually with the participation of as many people as possible from the get-go. 

MM held their first stakeholder meeting last fall, and their second, and final, meeting last month. Over 80 people were invited to the last one, says Cardenas, who adds that MM is making a concerted effort towards ensuring diversity among those involved. 

“We want to make this group look like our society looks,” says Cardenas, referring to the broad scope of medical practitioners asked to take part in the meetings. “Not just in terms of gender, race, or economic background, but also professional lineages – doctors, nurses, psychologists.” It’s about community, adds Mix, “a space for different models to coexist.”

Cardenas and Mix expect the steering committee will be finalized by mid-February, and say that those who’d like to participate in the process can still reach out.

Association of Entheogenic Practitioners 

Dan Peterson recalls a plant medicine ceremony he attended years ago, during which a young woman received a message from her estranged mother threatening to call the police on the gathering. 

“I learned that night that the psychedelic prohibition, even as it seems to be winding down, is still causing fear that shapes the entheogenic experience,” says Peterson. “And not, I think, for the better.”

Peterson, a lawyer who began participating in entheogenic ceremonies to address depression in 2014, is now the founder of the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners (AEP), a newly founded vocational organization for educating medicine practitioners about legal safety. 

The intended participants are practitioners, defined by Peterson as those who facilitate entheogenic rituals for other people. 

“The most acute need of practitioners is security against governmental interference,” explains Peterson. “We educate practitioners on the legal status of their practice. We help them to comply with the law where possible. And where it is not, we help them prepare to defend their practice on the basis of religious freedom.” 

In addition to legal education and benefits, Peterson says AEP is “hoping to offer practitioners community, ongoing education and information-sharing. And possibly down the line, training and credentialing.”

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Applicants must complete a list of enrollment requirements to be considered members of AEP, including sponsorship by a current member, an interview, and a written statement. They must also consent to the AEP Code of Ethics and Ritual Guidelines and Principles. Both the codes and guidelines exist on the AEP website, delineating standards of care for entheogenic practitioners to commit to. The Code of Ethics outlines ethical principles for protecting the safety, autonomy, and confidentiality of participants, while the Ritual Guidelines outline best practices that make for AEP-qualified entheogenic rituals – such as how to prepare for a psychedelic ceremony and establish set and setting.

Peterson describes AEP as interfaith, uniting practitioners from many different traditions and lineages, and sees the organization running parallel not only to conventional law and medicine associations, but to clerical orders, guilds, and interfaith aid organizations.

For Peterson, the long term vision of AEP is to serve as a “nationwide, self-regulating, interfaith community of practitioners, participants and supporters, seeking to expand safe access to transformative experiences for all.”

The Psychedelic Justice League

In 2019, Clinton Ginn, a medicinal mycologist with over 10 years experience, found himself threatened with a 15 year maximum prison sentence after being arrested for having psilocybin mushrooms in the backseat of his car. 

“That’s when everything shifted for me,” says Ginn. “Because I got a real taste of what it’s like in America to be charged with a crime. To be assumed by the community to be guilty until proven innocent.” He was also confronted with the justice system in action against something he says is “clearly a medicine that has helped me through so much in my life.” 

Ginn turned to the psychedelic community for help. “Thankfully, there were people that were interested in talking with me, and helping me through the process.” With that support, and a lawyer, Ginn was able to negotiate for treatment instead of persecution, and get all charges dismissed. 

The following year, Ginn founded The Psychedelic Justice League (PJL), an organization of psychedelic advocates providing legal defense to those persecuted for their use of entheogenic substances primarily within the US. As their website states, the PJL works on current legal cases, as or in conjunction with defense attorneys, to “work to decarcerate those already serving sentences, and advocate for policy change.” 

So far, the nascent organization has assisted Paul Corbett, a 63 year old nature lover who faced five years in prison for possession of wild harvested psilocybin mushrooms, fight his legal case. PJL has also raised awareness that helped support the release of William Leonard Pickard from his 20 year prison sentence for what the DEA once called the largest LSD bust in history. 

According to their website, the cases PJL selects to work on are determined by an advisory committee made up of psychedelic law and harm reduction experts. The site notes that the PJL defends individuals targeted by the war on drugs, and not cartels or drug gangs. Their focus is primarily on the psychedelic community, says Ginn, who adds “but we’re going to take it on a case by case basis.” 

In addition to legal defense, the PJL supports individuals and their loved ones in other ways. According to their website’s FAQ, the organization offers educational materials on the legal standing of psychedelics in different regions, along with harm reduction services.

Any arrest, no matter how seemingly minor, can be disruptive to an individual’s life – especially if they have children, explains PJL’s legal director Chiara Juster.

“There is no such thing as a minor arrest,” says Juster. “It has consequences. The fact of the matter is, when parents are affected, families are affected.” In these cases, PJL can help alleviate the impact of an arrest by, for example, helping pay for a child’s extracurricular classes, or a utility bill, if the court costs are too overwhelming for the persecuted parent. 

PJL hopes not just to support those facing legal prosecution, but also to raise broader awareness around drug policy. There is a need for “present policy that takes into account a plethora of considerations that we’ve just stamped away during the war on drugs,” says Juster. 

“Decriminalization is never going to be enough. And any sort of alternative method of the system being involved in your life, like mandated drug therapy from these private clinics – when you’re forced to go to drug counseling, or jail, or pay a big fine, and you have to pay all this money for this private counseling service – that’s not okay,” says Juster. “We’re creating a debtors prison. We’re creating inequities in a system that’s already unjust.” 

Juster says she hopes that in the next five years, with advances in drug policy, there won’t be a need for an organization like PJL. For now, she says PJL has its sights set on those targeted by the government for exploring their own consciousness. 

“I hope that we can build a broader coalition and work with other groups to make sure that psychedelic justice is for everybody,” says Juster. 

Psychedelic Bar Association 

Bringing together accomplished attorneys from many different fields of expertise, the website of the Psychedelic Bar Association (PBA) explains that they are dedicated to “solving legal and policy issues impacting the emerging psychedelic sector.” 

According to their website, the organization addresses “psychedelics-related ethical, policy and legal issues faced by diverse groups in the United States and worldwide, including indigent people, Indigenous communities, state and local governments, first responders and veterans, professionals across all sectors, for-profit companies; and countless others.” 

Along with following the standard model of bar associations, such as providing education and networking, the PBA hopes to go even further by actively working in collaborative and cooperative ways within the ecosystem, to create a more holistic and positive outcome for society in general,” says founding board member Ismail Ali, who also serves as policy and advocacy counsel for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). 

“Lawyers inevitably shape the ecosystems they participate in. We recognize that being tasked with interpreting and changing the law is a tremendous responsibility,” says Ali. “It can be used in a way that maintains the status quo, or that it can be used to create lasting social transformation.”

PBA was formed over the course of last year, after its founders recognized the need for a group of legal professionals to discuss the psychedelic space. “About a year ago, it became clear that the field needed a stable, independent legal organization to help coordinate and create a container to discuss and respond to the many issues that are emerging as psychedelics come out of the underground,” says Ali. “Over the last year, we’ve crystallized that vision and we’re excited to launch this spring.” 

PBA includes lawyers from many different areas of practice, says Ali, including corporate, constitutional, intellectual property and regulatory attorneys, impact litigators, in-house counsel, policy analysts, and criminal justice reformers. It is, he says, the first bar association focused specifically on plant medicines. 

Update: Additional information has been added to this article to clarify the role of Medicine Midwives.

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