It’s likely that for many millions of people, the Amazonian tea ayahuasca first entered their consciousness thanks to Prince Harry. In “Spare,” his bestselling memoir, he shares that he had some reality-bending experiences with the jungle brew, as well as magic mushrooms. “They didn’t simply allow me to escape reality for a while, they let me redefine reality,” he wrote. Any reader looking for telling details about his mystical experiences with ayahuasca will be disappointed, however. Those descriptions are brief. He spends more pages talking about eating mushroom chocolates at a party – a “delightful trip,” as he recalls.
But it seems that Prince Harry’s main intention is to advocate for the potential of psychedelics to support healing. On 60 Minutes, Prince Harry told Anderson Cooper that psychedelics can work as a medicine for those suffering from grief. Referring to his own trauma after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, he says, “For me, they cleared the windscreen, the windshield, the misery of loss.”
Not so Prince Charming. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the backlash. While most celebrity psychedelic confessions escape public admonishment, Prince Harry has faced harsh criticism from the UK press. The Daily Mail, in particular, has sunk its tabloid teeth into Prince Harry, not-so-subtly framing him as a reckless law-breaker who “STILL smoked drugs” at age 36. One barbed headline speculates, “Are psychedelic drugs to blame for Prince Harry’s blistering attack on the royals?”
Another Daily Mail headline declares, “Medical outrage at Harry for claiming psychedelics like ayahuasca have any medicinal effect for grieving relatives as experts accuse Prince of ‘trying to justify drug-taking with flimsy notions of therapeutic value.’” That’s some click bait. But those who read on will find that the article itself takes a different tack. Most of the medical experts quoted cautiously considered psychedelics’ potential benefits, and one was outright optimistic. Only one physician expressed “medical outrage,” the source of the headline’s quoted accusation.
Piling on, Conservative Parliament members have branded Prince Harry’s words as “incoherent psychobabble” and “massively irresponsible” in their supposed promotion of drug use, a sentiment echoed by a Dorset police commissioner as well. Some American conservatives, too, would like to see an example made of the “disgraced prince” of the UK.
No regrets. Prince Harry may have been attempting to shield himself from such criticisms with his circumspect statement on 60 Minutes: “I would never recommend people do this recreationally.” But in his memoir there is no hint of regret during his fond remembrance of eating mushrooms with friends. You can sense him smiling as he regales the reader with charming vignettes, like his brief chat with a garbage can that left him giggling, and being promised by the moon that the year ahead would bring “something special.”
The controversial royal must have realized that any admission of use, no matter how he qualified it for public consumption, would invite a downpour of criticism from certain camps. But he did it anyway. Perhaps he was aware that a majority of UK citizens, across age and demographics, support the relaxation of restrictions on psychedelic research – and he wanted to lend the movement more momentum. While it doesn’t seem like he’s yet to change any minds in parliament, his honesty may usher in even more support for psychedelic research among the general public.
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Featured Image: Nicki Adams using adapted photo by Raph PH