When Mother Nature Becomes Big Business

During The PSYCH Symposium in November 2020, a panel of leading experts operating in psychedelics sector, discussed the cultural challenge of commercialising the likes of psilocybin, DMT and LSD.

This discussion, featuring a number of leading voices from across the psychedelics spectrum, focused on the problems which may arise as a result of removing the spiritual and ceremonial elements of psychedelic experiences.

The panel featured:


 

 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Hi everyone and welcome to our question on when Mother Nature becomes big business. Thank you prohibition partners for inviting us and for hosting this session. My name is Anee Kartin, I am head of research at drug science where we deal with drug regulation and drug policy of all kinds of drugs illicit as well as visit and very relevant to the current session in July, this year we have launched our medical psychedelics working group addressing some of the issues that hopefully we will be talking about today. So with the financial boom in natural products, especially cannabis as well as some psychedelic plants, there firstly comes across a question in terms how far the commercialization of nature should progress? Who should benefit? What we should look out for? And how we can make sure that all stakeholders are really involved in the decision making as well as the eventual outputs of these? Very exciting, new medicines are not so new, so it is really an exciting panel to host exciting times. I know we have you as guests here. So, loads of exciting things happen in the elections. One of the exciting things for us, here is the changes in drug policy which seems to have taken on quite progressive perspectives in relation to both cannabis as well as psychedelics medical as well as in terms of recreational, and of course, especially related to psychedelic plants. So, very exciting and I think a very timely and hot topic which I am looking forward to hosting. I am going to give the panelists a minute each to introduce themselves starting with Victoria. Please. 

Victoria Hale 

Thank you everyone it is a delight to be here, I develop medicines, I have founded and run to not-for-profit pharmaceutical companies, one in human parasitic infections and the second in reproductive health or contraception. I joined the maps board some time ago also on not-for-profit entity. And I am co-ceo and co-founder of sacred medicines. We are developing ayahuasca tea for use in the world.

Kuauhtli 

Yes. Good day, my name is Kuauhtli, I am a native of Texas from the native nation of the cuavidecos and my family has a tradition of using peyote among other plants for ritual purposes in the traditional indigenous ways. And I have been conducting ceremonies for like, 25 years and I visited like, 36 countries where we do rituals and also use other methods such as the sweat lodge and traditional dancing but the primary plant that we use in our ceremonies is the peyote cactus. And I am currently the, what you would call? The medicine keeper for the Native American church chapter of the… which is called the theocali and it is based in Texas.

Keith Abraham 

Hi! Good evening, my name is Keith Abraham. I am a military combat veteran and I am ceo of a charitable organization called heroic hearts project UK and we are aimed at helping UK military and emergency services veterans gain legal access to psychedelic therapy and I found myself in this position as head of this charity after struggling with my own traumatic experiences in my war fighting career and found a profound healing. Thanks to ayahuasca in the Peruvian amazon basin. So, now I am a huge supporter of plant medicines and it is great to be here today on this panel. So thanks for having me.

Carlos Tanner 

Yeah. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this conversation. My name is Carlos tanner I am the director of the ayahuasca foundation which is a non-profit located in Iquitos Peru. Obviously, we work with ayahuasca as our primary core of plant medicines but we work closely with the ship Ibo tribe and their coronderos or their healers working with a wide variety of plant medicines centered on the use of ayahuasca. Last year we were fortunate enough to host the only ever government-funded study on ayahuasca specifically with regard to treatment of trauma and depression and anxiety that was hosted. I mean, sorry that was funded by the British medical research council. The ayahuasca foundation is one of the founding members of the psychedelic medicine association as well. And, we offer healing retreats to people from all over the world but we also offer training courses and have done so for over 10 years to teach the principles of the ship Ibo, healing tradition called corendurismo centered on the use of ayahuasca in traditional ceremonies.

Anne Katrin Schlag  

Thank you Carlos, Thank you everyone for introducing yourselves. I am very proud and very happy to have such a diverse panel and so many interesting opinions and stories and different plant medicines as well which is amazing. I am going to fire off a general question that is really for all of you and before we get into more specifics and please, you know, jump in as well. Hopefully we can actually get a discussion going on this so when you think of the common commercialization of nature and natural plant medicines what comes to mind for you and kind of is it a positive thing? Is it a negative thing? Would you like to start? 

Kuauhtli 

Well the history of commerce and the continent which you call America has been pretty disastrous for nature. And basically it is the ravishing of the rivers, the lands, the trees and it is been pretty devastating. There are some efforts I think the, you know, individual efforts for organic methods of harvesting the bounties of nature. But, I think when commerce as commonly known has profit as the primary motive, most of the morals and the conscientious decisions are not respected, you know, where, when profit is the bottom line. So, I think our experience here as native people has been that whenever business comes in and begins their development disasters for, I can pre grows naturally, and there is millions of plants. What has happened is because of cattle industry, oil industry, ranching, you know, this type of businesses has devastated the natural habitat of peyote and many people think that is the overuse of peyote that is causing the depletion and the supply but actually has nothing to do with overuse because peyote is a plant that when you harvest it properly by cutting the root it produces more. Like if you cut one of the bottoms, it produces three or four, so it is not that the plant is being over harvested is that the natural habitat of the plant is being reduced by industrialization.

Anne Katrin Schlag  

Victoria you are nodding your head. 

Victoria Hale 

I can see with everything you have said it. We need to be careful and conscientious in our decisions to move forward. The benefit of, the possible benefit of commercialization is broader access and I think we all would agree that there are many people in the world who would benefit from these medicines. We have had 50 years of prohibition, so we have a backlog, one could say of people in crisis. So how do we do this in a sustainable manner? How do we bring in reciprocity? Which I hope is a topic we can speak of as well in this conversation today. 

Carlos Tanner 

You know, I think that what we are talking about, you know, in terms of commercialization we tend to, like lean towards perhaps the industrialization or even, you know, corporatism but if you want to just look at commercialization, you know right? When you said what that brings to mind like my first thought of commercialization of nature was farming, and, you know, of course the industrialization or the corporatist nature of the current farming industry, I would call devastating. But, if you go back to when farmers were, you know, family owned and, you know, farmers basically sold nature to sustain people that needed food, you know, I do not think many people would have a problem with that and so, you know, I think what we are faced with is the challenge of having a commercialization of nature that is in resonance with it and that is sustainable. And, you know, even if you look at the lumber industry, if you go back far enough, just a couple generations in the united states, it was actually quite sustainable. But then a clear-cutting, you know, took over for the sake of profits and, you know, immediate profits without thinking of the future and, you know, I think we are at a point now and maybe this conversation is an example of that. We realize that there are certainly detrimental ways of doing things and we are trying now to figure out what the best path forward is. But, I know I am not sure if I would blame it on commercialization but rather, you know corporatism or industrialization. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Yes. Thank you. I mean I agree and I, you know, the thing is the topic is wider than just the psychedelic plants and just the healing plants that we are talking about it is really about nature in general about the fruits. You know, psychedelic plants and plant medicine are one example and one very hot and current example which is where, there is a lot of commercial interest and I think it is absolutely vital that we have discussions as today to really see, you know, how to progress in a way like victoria said to actually to be able to provide access to patients in need to people in it but still do it in a careful and ethical manner to, you know, so that everybody can benefit hopefully and nobody suppose… Keith you are nodding your head. 

Keith Abraham 

Yeah, I mean, I agree what is to argue with that sustainability is key support of the indigenous people and their knowledge is key, at least from my perspective. The first thing rightly or wrongly, actually the first thing that popped into my head when you said commercialization was actually the changing these compounds and these substances and synthesizing these substances and then make turning it into the pharmaceutical industry which is where I find a danger because the way that I feel about these plant medicines is that they are actually medicines of the spirit and if you start to synthesize what is a natural product. And I am not saying that that will always be the case but this is just what popped into my head if you start to synthesize these things and putting them in pills or things like that. I would then the spirit might be removed from that process and I think that is fundamental to the healing process. But, also we miss out the ritualistic and the ceremonial aspect of our healing experiences which I also think is fundamental.

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Well Kuauhtli, would you like to add to that. I mean you are obviously the most knowledgeable about us from US, I think in terms of the healing and the sacred animal elements of at least the peyote is there, you know, is there a risk of using it in the wrong way basically… 

Kuauhtli 

Masculine was isolated from the peyote plant about 100 years ago by a German scientist that initiated kind of the chemical analysis of plants that are called psychedelic and then later mushrooms were analyzed for their molecular components that have the metallic effects and so forth and then… and I agree with the other panelists that this is not necessarily the best way to utilize the knowledge of these plants by mimicking their molecular structure… 

Kuauhtli 

And then using them as pharmaceuticals and there is a direct connection with the rituals and the plants. And the plants are used to gain a better understanding of how humans can exist on the planet and serve as stewards of nature rather than exploiters of nature and I think this is where the panelists are focusing on is the ethical, the moralistic, the conscientious behavior of human beings in regards to nature. And, I think this is the essence of it, you know, in our culture if you take something you need to give back. Reciprocity is I think key in this discussion, reciprocity for the indigenous peoples, reciprocity for the plant themselves, you know, you cannot just harvest plants without offering something then ensuring their constant reproduction. So, I think it is a matter of, it is kind of a human dilemma now that humans are taking, they want to make money, they want to sell, they want to do things but many times they do not give back in proportion to what they are receiving. 

Victoria Hale 

Yeah, yes I am American you can tell from my accent and when we speak of reciprocity within the pharmaceutical industry, people use or think about corporate social responsibility CSR and it is quite different. Reciprocity is not simply writing a check or giving money, reciprocity is as it was just previously spoken so well, it is about engaging so that, you know, how to give back and what to give back and in what form. I would add as well on a slightly different topic that these medicines have been used in sacred ceremonies by communities for centuries, by individuals who are experts and what is missing as well in the west in some cases is those experts that bring ways of healing those westerners namely Europeans and Americans cannot fully understand right? So, therefore perhaps are not embracing so it is not just the plant but it is how in? What setting it is used? And we use that word a lot in this sector right? But who is administering the medicine? And are you with other people? Is it ceremonial? Is it sacred to go to the spiritual comment earlier by Keith to get the most benefit right? 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Yeah, I mean, Carlos you mentioned earlier that you were actually training in traditional medicines and the traditional uses is that right? You are trying westerners as well who want to be able to use the medicines in a traditional context. 

Carlos Tanner 

That is right and, you know, I agree completely with the need to at first acknowledge and then to understand the importance of the traditions that surround the use of these substances which is unfortunately something that is almost entirely devoid in our current medical understanding. And like, Keith mentioned as well like the western paradigm if you want to call it that or the modern medical paradigm, you know, does not have the word spirit exist within its description of reality and therefore it is incredibly challenging to comprehend the concept of spirit within the paradigm of healing that simply does not acknowledge its existence. And so, you know, you have two literal separate realities where one maybe we could just call our ancestral paradigm or the indigenous paradigm and the other we could refer to as the western paradigm or the modern medical paradigm and they are vastly different and that lends itself to the ancestral traditions looking at the spirit and the consciousness of a being as an aspect of nature of which we all are. And then the contrast of a group of chemicals that somehow accidentally produce consciousness in a completely isolated and separate, you know, landscape that has no coherence…

Carlos Tanner 

You know, you really could not get further from being two separate realities and, you know, we have been able to kind of take a good look at the separation paradigm where it is me against the world. And I am just a collection of molecules and see how that has played out for us. And then we can also see the 1,00,000 years of harmony that the earth had with its ancestral paradigm and, you know, it is not hard to see which one was more successful if you are looking at it in terms of sustainability. And so how do we like bring the western modern medical paradigm over or close enough to have that benefit that resulted in sustainability, you know, back into what we call reality today and to me like the tradition or at least what we refer to as the tradition which is the methodologies and the rituals that surround the use of it is, like this shining light of a bridge to build between those two paradigms because we have medicines in both paradigms but one lacks a method of use and the other has this incredibly complex and well developed and, you know, just magnificently wise system of use and so can we learn from that tradition as to how we can use consciousness activation and consciousness enhancement through the tradition of use. That essentially creates the optimal setting or what I call the optimal inner environment for which we plant the seeds of medicine and nourish that soil through this ritualistic practice that we refer to as tradition. And that to me is not just going to answer the question of how can we make our medicines work better because it will essentially connect us to that ancestral paradigm and then create a channel. Like I said, like a bridge for the rest of this wisdom to come across into our reality of understanding and so to me that should be our greatest center of focus with regard specifically to the use of plant medicines or psychedelics because we have, you know, it just lends itself so perfectly to having the highest outcome in the use of the medicine. But, yet is intricately connected to our own ancestral wisdom and that to me seems to be one of the greatest steps forward we could make in our attempt to achieve balance.

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Thank you. Keith, you are nodding your head is there anything you would like to add to that? 

Keith Abraham 

There is not much I can add, no, I just, no I agree with, there is been great points I have not really got anything to add to that at all. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Well, I just mean because you obviously have experience with both kind of medicines. I presume for the thing and I also wonder often how, you know, or can you actually include the sacred element of the traditional use and of the traditional plant medicines in our modern science or is it, you know. 

Keith Abraham 

Well, I suppose much like Carlos is doing is, it is through education and, immersion in the original culture, the original cultural setting with the original populations as well and learning educating yourself or a community that way that is, I mean, that is got to be the best starting place instead of just totally isolating and living in one aspect as Carlos was just describing that does not seem sustainable. It does not sound like; you are going to get anywhere near the sort of percentage of healing that you would otherwise. And so I suppose the way forward is through education and connectivity and yeah development of relationships and knowledge and sharing that as widely as possible as authentically as possible. I should add as well it is not book learning, it is not something that you will be able to Google, it is something that you need to experience from the masters themselves, be that plant or human. 

Victoria Hale 

Well, so, just one more point, yeah, to follow. I agree that immersion in the settings that have such ancestral right history right? And power are ideal but I do not see a practical path and I do not believe that bombarding, you know, indigenous communities with so many visitors is sustainable. So, what we are working toward is trying to bring with ayahuasca through sacred medicines as close to indigenous ceremonies as we can and even the bold desire of our team to figure out how to bring ayahuasca healers or shaman to the United States legally right, to make this happen. And one of my concerns with the decriminalized nature movement which I am very supportive of in concept is that we are not bringing the knowledge keepers and the true healers, you know, with these plant medicines into the United States and what has started here in terms of opening up cannabis. Although Canada really led there, but the u.s and now the psychedelics will spread to other parts of the world. And I feel we need to work on the knowledge keepers and the healers aspect it is not just the medicines right? It is the true knowledge and everything that we are talking about here. I do not know how to do that exactly but that compels our team. 

Victoria Hale 

We have slowed down sacred medicine’s work to be sure that we get it right. Ayahausca being a sacred medicine with just a profound number of individuals, who have carried it forward in the world, how do we do it in a way that honors right, those who know so much more than we do. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Kuauhtli, are you able to share a bit about the work that you doing in Mexico? Are you able to hear? 

Kuauhtli 

Actually yes, a big bird, well, what I found by traveling around the world and I visited all the continents you know, and different social groups, you know, including, billionaires from the oil industry, native people in the jungles of amazon. So, I mean, I have kind of traveled around the planet and shared peyote with many different strata people and what I have discovered fundamental aspects that connected with the elements a ritual setting, for example if you have a fire, if you are, you know, drinking water and, you know, if you are in nature sitting on the earth and this helps to connect, I guess you could say to connect back with nature. The elements can be very essential and it does not really matter where you are you could be in the Giza pyramids or you could be in, you know, on a mountain in Alaska or Russia somewhere in Norway wherever. If you have these elements present it is always beneficial for the participants. Now peyote has 52 alkaloids or even more sometimes, they are discovering other ones at one point, they thought they had like 30 something and then other scientists researched it. I am not a chemist what the information is some of these are directly designed to help the endocrine system. So, the pineal gland, the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the thymus, the adrenals and the gonads to produce the proper amount of hormones to regulate the physical and the energetic aspects of a person.

Kuauhtli 

And what I also found is that the endocrine system is a related body to the chocolates of a person. They are connected. So, by taking the peyote it, for example if a person is depressed they are probably lacking certain chemicals that are produced in the pineal and the pituitary gland and, if a person is stressed then they probably have, you know, too much core adrenaline and etc. even in terms of sex the… 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

It is a bit wobbly today, I think… 

Kuauhtli 

So, these are scientific ways able to affect human beings all over the planet.

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Okay. I am not sure if it is Mea but I am going to speak. Okay. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Thank you. Okay. And, you know, I have just received a message, just only have 10 minutes to move on, so I have a few more questions. Thank you Kuauhtli, Sorry, because it seemed to cut off a bit so I did not understand every word that you say but I never very much, thank you for that. Just going back in terms of what is obviously very important for all of us here present. So just to discuss is there enough being done in terms to make sure that indigenous communities are not left behind from any kind of scientific development or as we just discussed the kind of commercialization of nature and what can be done about it what can we do to ensure that nobody is left behind. Victoria you are nodding. 

Victoria Hale 

I do not think there is enough being done. My understanding of the community this is very simplified but it is that there sort of is a distinction between whole plant medicine where people can see more of a necessary link to communities that have kept these plants alive and thriving for centuries and pure synthetic tryptamines, where they are seen as separate and that there is not necessarily a connection, that is needed. That needs to be nourished or supported and I believe that is an artificial distinction and we should bring those a little closer together. I also feel as someone who spent my entire career in the pharmaceutical industry although over the last 20 years founding my own non-profits. That industry can take up a new model and begin to work in a different way but particularly with these medicines as there are so many for-profit companies in this space. The first few companies who bring medicines to market and they will be synthetic, could develop significant reciprocity programs and then that puts pressure on everyone to do that and as we develop these psychedelic medicines for use. Right now in Europe and US, Canada, that we should state that is our expectation this is how we as a community come together to honor and support and respect those who came before us and gave such profound gifts to us. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Excellent! I mean, I very much agree, I am keen to hear more maybe at a different time victory about the different pro or not-for-profit models that you have developed you are just very important. Anybody would like to add on this in terms what can be done to ensure that nobody is left behind and people who should benefit really can benefit from the medicine. Carlos.

Carlos Tanner 

Yeah, I am not sure if I am a fan of the term left behind, at least from where I stand we are the ones who are behind and the indigenous people are the ones leading the way at least that is my understanding and the way that I have been so blessed to have my path unfold for me, you know, I think that it is very complicated when you are talking about the production of synthetics especially, you know, my first thought about a synthetic psychedelic would be lysergic diethyl amine, LSD. I am not sure, you know, who owns the intellectual property rights of LSD but if you were to attribute it to ergot then you would have to look at European ancestry and the indigenous people of Europe and Dionysian and those practices which again the rituals and the traditions were all completely lost even though the substance somehow found its way and, you know, I wholeheartedly believe that we need to have that reciprocity, you know, and we need to take care of each other because we are all part of the same living organism. It seems like a no-brainer but again I think that harkens back to the same conflict of paradigms, where you have one paradigm, where someone is like I am going to, you know, rise above everyone else for my own purposes in a selfish manner because I do not consider myself a part of something much larger. And then you have our ancestry and all of our human ancestral understanding which can denies that perspective completely and says that benefiting yourself as an individual is futile because it is a detriment to the organism that you are a part of. So, you know, I guess what I would hope is that through a paradigm shift from learning from indigenous cultures the rest of the details will fall into place but it requires that paradigm shift and the key to that paradigm shift. I would say is the recognition or remembering of our core identity as spirit rather than a collection of molecules and so I, you know, I do feel like we should be educating ourselves with the ancestors who still have that paradigm intact which tend to be indigenous people. Although not necessarily and, you know, and then again like something that Victoria was talking about, you know, traditions have to adapt. And so, you know, if you take a plant from the amazon and you plant it in Europe, it is going to change according to the needs that it finds in its environment and that is a quality that is probably the most important quality for survival that we recognize in nature and so too must it change with traditions and even if we did not have anything like LSD, we completely lost the tradition but I guarantee you that traditions have already been in development, you know. Shamanic traditions are already in development and so, you know, I am not so worried about that to be honest. I just think that if we have access to the tradition which we do not with LSD, you know, we lost it completely but we do have it with other plant medicines like peyote and iboga and ayahuasca and so why not take advantage of the opportunity to learn. The most effective way to use those substances and then translate that over to the use not only of other psychedelics but all medicine as a whole and that to me should be our goal really is to recognize the wisdom of our ancestral traditions and to learn as much as we can about them because the reality is that they might not be there in the future.

Anne Katrin Schlag 

I mean wise words absolutely and I mean you can only hope that industry takes all these things into account that you say. So, I have just got to know that we have only got three months, three week minutes left and I wanted to ask really each of you quickly. And so what is the best path forward I think you outlined it very clearly Carlos and I very much hope that it is a realistic option. Keith would you like to add to that? 

Keith Abraham I would agree to be nice. I think the way forward Victoria made a valid point about we do not want to flood these native communities, these indigenous communities with like tourists. Definitely not tourists but even really sincere seekers but at the same time if we go into, if we are going to introduce this into our culture then we really need to do it by educating and immersing ourselves in the original culture and setting and we cannot trust it when profits are the primary driver, we cannot trust ourselves, we have shown that we are untrustworthy when that happens. So, it is going to be really difficult to self-govern ourselves as a western civilization.

Victoria Hale 

A conference like this one where we voice our opinions and then we act and bring people together and speak particularly when we come from different places, when we have different educations and histories and coming together to figure this out. And we have a few years just a few years before these medicines begin to come forward, it will probably be MDMA. First which is an amphetamine not from this, these plant medicines but let us not stop talking and let us meet despite this pandemic right, and propose and let us write, let us put out there what we want? Let us not be quiet individuals but really make powerful statements and expectations that others can rise to. 

Kuauhtli 

Well, yeah I do not know if you are having difficulty here. I am here at a location where maybe the Wi-Fi is not the best but I really enjoyed the comments and I understand a little more clearly what the focus is and I think that, the modern society is interfacing with the indigenous civilizations. I think a careful analysis of the indigenous people’s use of plants it goes, would help the modern society because there is a whole, it is used in the context of, I think, the word this was paradigms, you know, it is using an entirely different paradigm. And it would be beneficial to establish some form of commercial relationship with the people and I was in the amazon regularly and they have categorized 2000 plants just in a small garden and they know all the uses of what they are for, you know, for good eyesight for, you know, for everything. Each plant has its use, it is categorized and this would be of great benefit for modern society. This knowledge could be used not only for the benefit of the people living in the cities but also of the people that are growing the plants. They do need an economy they have been forced to develop economies. And they need to develop economies and in the lands where they are living in order to interface with the rest of the world’s business model. So, yes, I would say, sharing some of the economic profits of the use of these plants and traditions, their traditional methods. But, at the same time sustain themselves and yeah I think that this is I think we started, in a good spin. I am sure there is a lot more to talk about now, you know, that we have opened up the dialogue. 

Anne Katrin Schlag 

Yeah, absolutely, I mean, I thank you all. Thank you all so much for joining and for taking part. I think it was super interesting. I think really we should take these things forward, these discussions forward, we are already a good group but of course there are many more really great people from all kind of different areas so… and hopefully work together on that I think that is one of the things that we also agree on, you know, it is not, yeah it is not going to be an individual for themselves, it is something that needs to be done together and we say, yeah with indigenous medicine and the western of you as well. So, thank you very much. I think we have finished, received a message, we are finishing.