While talking with a client or a colleague, or listening to a psychedelics podcast or webinar, I often hear myself or someone else use the phrase “psychedelic space” to describe the emerging market and legacy underground that are rapidly intertwining. Not the psychedelic community, not the psychedelic industry, not the psychedelic scene, not the psychedelic sector, but an ambiguous placeholder — the psychedelic space.
Thoughtful observers will immediately register the tension that exists between the various classifications that we artfully avoid using: divine spirituality is at odds with a capitalist marketplace; an underground network of therapists operates differently from a bureaucratized and commodified health care system; the bravado of a marketing campaign clashes with the care and precision of a scientific researcher.
It’s as if we are all uncomfortable with the garish commodification that “industry” or “sector” connotes, and we’re also aware of the disingenuousness of using “community” or “scene” to describe a constellation of healers, researchers, doctors, shamans, wizards, weirdos, and increasingly, policy advocates, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investors.
So we use the word space, because its ambiguity grants us permission to gloss over the contradictions inherent in the alternatives, if only for a moment. It is a convenient place-holding term, an equivocation, for a network of people, companies, and organizations who haven’t yet come to consensus on what our web of relationships really signifies, how we ought to conceptualize it, or what we’re supposed to call it. The lack of a meaningful word to describe what we are all doing here signifies a lack of agreement on what exactly it is that we’re doing. I do not have an alternative word (although sometimes I think “dimension” would be appropriate), but I think it is valuable to query this semantic trend.
It is also important to acknowledge the odd, somewhat oxymoronic, and often uncomfortable situation that we are in: the counterculture is becoming mainstream, yesterday’s criminal conspiracy (for which many people are still serving time) is today’s business plan, and the sacredness of ancient medicine is dancing with the mundaneness of social media. The mere fact that we’re having to petition the government for permission to access substances that have existed in nature (and in the case of DMT, in our own bodies) for thousands of years feels farcical.
We should all recognize that, by virtue of being part of the psychedelic renaissance, we are walking contradictions. If we are to be intellectually and spiritually honest, we have to recognize that complexity and nuance. We’re in a transition phase, in which what used to be radical is becoming commonplace at a pace that is both exciting and alarming – alarming because moving quickly often comes at the expense of moving carefully.
It is not only important that this transition happens. It is also important how this transition happens, because the way in which psychedelics get mainstreamed will materially impact who gets to participate in, and benefit from, the new normal that is being created. Entrenched power structures have a way of shapeshifting to preserve themselves, even when a radical unpending of those structures feels inevitable. Cultural hegemony is by definition unyielding.
As a lawyer, my formal education was supposed to turn me into a protector of social and legal hegemony, a perpetuator of a system that preserves the power of few over the participation of the many. Attorneys are trained to be soldiers of the status quo.
But there is a growing need for lawyers who can guide companies and organizations in a way that fosters innovation and the design of a more equitable, sustainable, compassionate world. A new legal landscape is emerging quickly, and now is the moment to impact it.
As lawyers, we can do this by bringing psychedelic values into the lawyering process, leveraging our skills in service of the changes we support. Through a profession that is based on competition, fear and conflict we can foster collaboration, communication and healing. We do this by building supportive relationships with clients and colleagues, participating in the psychedelic communities that our work effects, and remembering that our work begins within ourselves.
I recently co-founded a law firm with two other immigrant women, specifically because we felt that given of our perspectives as minorities, our diverse legal experiences, and our relationships to plant medicine, we have the requisite humility, skills, and insight to be of service amidst all of this complexity. As immigrants, it is second-nature for us to act as translators, and we leverage that programming by working to bridge the many overlapping realities that come together to form this “space.” We intend to work with companies that want to contribute to the collective, rather than extract from it; we represent clients in a way that honors their respective cultures and customs; we facilitate win-win relationships, rather than winner-take-all outcomes; and we help founders and investors navigate alternative capital structures.
We’re building a firm culture that mirrors the culture of dignity, creativity and interconnectedness that we want to promote in the world. Our thesis: if the psychedelic renaissance is to be truly inclusive, it must be shaped by people from all populations who want to be included. We have to support the wide range of people we want to see empowered and engaged in the psychedelic world.
This means supporting people who are moving beyond White-centric medical research; who are making an effort to destigmatize drug use in communities that have been ravaged by the war on drugs. I want to support people like Sara Reed, who is empowering therapists of color to promote accessible and culturally sensitive psychedelic-assisted therapy. I want to support Dawn Davis when she tells us, in no uncertain terms, that “it is [her] obligation and responsibility to preserve this revered natural resource,” by which she means peyote grown wild in its native habitat. I want to support the companies led by people who are often silenced in the broader conversation; or worse, heard and then dismissed. I want to be welcoming to those who don’t yet know how to navigate this space, and I want to be humble enough to know where and when I myself am a new-comer, a guest in need of guidance.
When it comes to exploring psychedelics, many of us are guests in the realms we’re entering. A gracious guest doesn’t take advantage of hospitality, but rather reciprocates however she can. As the writer Francoise Bourzat, explains, Western people are being “welcomed into the experience of indigenous wisdom and practices through the sacred use of […] entheogens.” It is worth asking ourselves what reciprocity for access to life enhancing, and in some cases lifesaving, ancient technologies looks like.
Conversely, many indigenous people, people of color, underground practitioners, and others are now seeing more opportunities to enter territory that had been largely off-limits, such as capital markets, or speaking publicly on drug use without fear of state violence. In this way, those who have traditionally occupied the domain of building industries and making laws are being given the opportunity to be gracious hosts. In Judaism, Islam and Christianity the practice of welcoming guests calls for inviting strangers into your home and making them feel relaxed and honored. What does it mean to welcome people who have been historically excluded from the upper echelons of business and law so that they feel relaxed and honored?
There are far more questions than there are answers, and the theoretical answers that we do have are complicated. The practical application of these answers will be similarly complex, full of contradictions every step of the way. My personal intention is to walk carefully, intentionally, and shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone who wants to build bridges of respect, trust and honor between all of the worlds that comprise what we call the psychedelic space.