THIRD WAVE PODCAST
The Legal Landscape of Psychedelics: Churches, Decriminalization, & Legalization
Dan Peterson, Esq.
Dan Peterson, Esq. is a DC-based attorney, entheogenic practitioner, and depression survivor who uses his legal background and personal experience to expand equitable access to responsibly-administered transformative experiences. He is the Executive Director and Founding Member of the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners while also running his legal practice, Peterson Law, LLC. In this episode of the Third Wave podcast, Dan talks with Paul F. Austin about the evolving psychedelic legal landscape, including the role of religious freedom in protecting practitioners and how to build community and accessibility through the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners.
- From conventional D.C. attorney to psychedelic legal advisor.
- Tracking psychedelic legal developments in the US.
- The likelihood of getting arrested in the psychedelic space.
- Creating the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners.
- Building a culture of responsible practice, reciprocity, and accessibility.
- Ensuring DEI in the psychedelic space from a legal perspective.
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0:00:00.1 Paul F. Austin: Welcome back to the Third Wave podcast. Today, I am speaking with Dan Peterson, a DC-based attorney and entheogenic practitioner who’s gonna join us to talk about the evolving psychedelic legal landscape.
0:00:16.8 Dan Peterson, Esq.: The culture that emerges when you are functionally outlaws; it becomes one of greater secrecy. It becomes one of paranoia. It becomes… There are greater concerns around trust with every new person you meet. And I began working with practitioners who wanted to come out of the underground. They wanted to practice more openly.
0:00:48.4 PA: Welcome to the Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting-edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs, and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So, let’s go, and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
0:01:25.8 PA: Hey, listeners. I am so excited to have Dan Peterson on the podcast today. We are going deep into the topics of the legal landscape of psychedelics, churches, decriminalization, and legalization. We’re gonna talk about how Dan went from being a conventional DC attorney to a psychedelic legal advisor. We’re gonna track some of the legal developments in the United States, talk about the likelihood of getting arrested in the psychedelic space. We’ll talk about Dan’s journey in creating the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners, as well as about building a culture of responsible practice, reciprocity, and accessibility. So, a little bit more about how I know Dan. I was introduced to Dan a little bit over a year ago, and he initially joined us for our coaching certification program as a faculty and has given a couple of lectures in that. He was also involved in our virtual summit that we hosted several months ago. And that all led to this more extended podcast interview to dive deep into all the topics around psychedelic legal landscape. But before we dive into today’s episode, a word from our sponsors.
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0:04:27.9 PA: Hey, listeners. Welcome back to Third Wave’s podcast. Today, we have Danny Peterson. Dan is a lawyer and entheogenic practitioner, as well as the co-founder of the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners, and frequently consults on the blurry line between “drugs” and sacred medicine when used in a religious context. And Dan has and will, today, give us a necessary perspective so we can all protect ourselves and our businesses as we navigate the complex evolving legal status of psychedelics in the United States. Danny, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you.
0:05:05.7 DP: Thanks, Paul, it’s great to be here.
0:05:08.1 PA: So, we’ve had quite a budding relationship over the last year or so. We were introduced through a mutual friend, and you came in and helped to lead a couple of sessions for our coaching certification program and the coaches that we’re training as it relates to this emerging legal landscape. And I find that your approach is both backed by legal precedent as well as adaptable to this emerging framework that we’re going into with psychedelics, and really rooting in that, that religious freedom, which I think is so central to the spiritual, mystical healing of psychedelics. But before we dive all into that, I just wanna sort of place you into time and space. And I’d love if you could just tell our listeners a little bit about how you ended up in Washington, DC, the basic… The home of the evil empire since I [laughter] work in… On psychedelics.
0:06:00.6 DP: How I ended up here. Whenever I get asked a question like that, the first place my mind goes is, “Well, 15 billion years ago, less than nothing exploded into everything for no apparent reason, and there’s a bunch of stuff that happened in between. And I’m here today.” So, I’m not quite sure where to start in the midst of that but I was born in the DC area. I’ve lived my whole life here, barring time away from college and some trip… Some longer experiences abroad. So, yeah, I…
0:06:34.3 DP: In even going to law school, it was like I didn’t consider it until about nine months before I went. And I went to Georgetown Law up here in town because it was just in the water all the time. 10% of the population of DC is lawyers, or something like that so all of my friend’s parents and everything. It was very common but truthfully, to me… I wrote one of my law school essays about how… It was almost like a clergy class, as I understood it. The people who understood these weird phrases engraved into the marble around us, these giant monuments to ideas, principles, to the American version of democracy. So, yeah, the… How I got to be here is more or less that I kinda was always here, I think. [chuckle]
0:07:36.8 PA: And then where do psychedelics start to enter the picture for you?
0:07:40.9 DP: Well, they first entered… I had one truly transcendent experience in college. Actually, the New Year’s Eve 2000, I had MDMA for the first time at the Fish Festival down in Florida and it was a transformative moment. I stepped away… I had been studying part sciences at Yale, and stepped away from all of that and began focusing on philosophy and literature and writing at that time. But I didn’t even have the vocabulary to say then that I lacked integration, that I came back to a world system that didn’t have a way of making sense of this outlying data point of peak experience. And so, I think I treated it as a statistical anomaly, ultimately, and felt, for a long time, “Oh, maybe I was just taking drugs and it wasn’t what I thought.”
0:08:47.3 DP: So, it was 14, 15 years later when, in 2012, I got a depression diagnosis. And even at that time, saying that word in relation to myself was so stigmatized in my mind. But over the next couple of years, I tried out talk therapy. I found an SSRI that worked for me for a while. So, I was actually doing okay and had really interesting and rewarding work that I was doing when a friend said, “Hey, I… My family is inviting over a shaman, essentially, for the weekend in one of the nice suburbs of DC. Would you like to join?” And I was cagey. I was definitely cagey. I had heard about Santo Daime, the Ayahuasca church out of Brazil which had recently had some success in the courts. And I’ve read these articles about them on NPR and I remember the closing line saying that the reporter who had have been invited into a ceremony, which was a pretty big deal, a coup, and he finishes the article saying that the ceremony continued with all the excitement of watching a family fall asleep in front of a television. [chuckle] So, I was definitely like, “Okay, what’s gonna… What’s this gonna be like?” My experience was with mushrooms, actually, though, with this practitioner. And someone who… I’ve made many new dear friends that night that I’m still in touch with. And one of them said it was like watching water poured over dry ground, seeing me soak up the experience.
0:10:43.6 DP: And it very quickly kinda became the first thing in my adult life that I would call a spiritual practice. It was something I was doing on about a quarterly basis, something like that, usually two or three nights at a time, but about on a quarterly basis. And that was 2014. It was two, maybe three years later when I… During that time, I looked in… I started looking into the legalities just for my own safety and licensure, and I wanted to hold onto those things, and started learning about the religious freedom cases that had happened, the UDV, Santo Daime, in greater detail. I was working as an outside general counsel for small businesses, startups, other small, weird organizations at the time. So, there was a pretty natural convergence there, as practitioners. This was in a time when there was nothing but underground, essentially, with the exception of these two churches. And everyone was… There was just a lot of fear. And not just the personal discomfort, but the culture that emerges when you are functionally outlaws becomes one of greater secrecy. It becomes one of paranoia. It becomes… There are greater concerns around trust with every new person you meet.
0:12:37.5 DP: And I began working with practitioners who wanted to come out of the underground. They wanted to practice more openly, precisely because if… Not only do we wanna live in integrity … I don’t wanna keep secrets from my neighbors about what I do with my work and my life, but because it’s actually good for participant outcomes, that it really matters just as it did for me in college, that you’d be able to talk about these extraordinary experiences and recognize them as humans experiences and I’d go so far as to say our birthright. We deserve to have these moments in our lives. We’re all capable of them, and psychedelics are the path for some of us, not all of us, but for some of us, it’s the first and best path.
0:13:42.1 PA: So, one thing you brought up in that response was around these two churches who are legally protected. And I think when we consider psychedelics, set and setting means a lot, which is getting to your point about when there is a culture of paranoia and secrecy and being outlaws, that in itself will inform the experience in a way. And I’ve experienced this myself. Sometimes when leading experiences for other people, when it’s down here in the States, there’s a paranoia of, “Oh my gosh, what if we get caught?” Right, which is not a great juju to go into an experience with. So just so our listeners have a little bit more context on the legal landscape, I’d love if you could track for us legal developments in the United States, let’s say, over the last 25 years. What led to that RFRA Supreme Court thing? What even was that for our listeners? I think it was in 1994 that it happened, and how has that helped to set the groundwork for what you’re now doing with AEP?
0:14:58.4 DP: Sure. Well, I’ll touch very briefly on the pre-history of the period that you mentioned and say that as far as the law goes in the United States, most of this goes back to the Native American church. And the precipitating moment I think you might have been getting to is 1990, the… There was a case in the Supreme Court, Employment Division versus Smith, where much to the surprise of most of America really, the Supreme Court imposed a much lower standard in scrutinizing government actions that infringe on religious freedom. They suddenly said, “Well, if a law is neutral, if it just says nobody’s allowed to do mushrooms, then the government’s allowed to enforce that law even if it affects religious groups.” Congress pretty promptly and soundly, I think it was a 97 to nothing vote in the Senate, passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, raising that standard back up to say that at least as far as the Federal Government is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the law is neutral. If it burdens… If a government action burdens a sincere religious exercise, then it is unlawful except if in rare circumstances where there’s what’s called the compelling interest, and that the means of imposing the law are narrowly tailored to the circumstances. It can’t just be, “Nobody’s allowed to do mushrooms and mushrooms are dangerous in anybody’s hands. Paul, as you use them, that’s a problem.”
0:16:54.9 DP: The government has to prove that against you specifically so a pretty high bar. This law was first tested for purposes of entheogenic practice in 2006 with an organization called the UDV. I won’t try to pronounce the Portuguese, but it means something like the union of sacred plants who went to the Supreme Court and were the first to secure their exemption. Santo Daime, who we mentioned earlier, didn’t have to go to the Supreme Court. They got to the 10th Circuit and got confirmation that they were exempt as well. And both of those organizations then moved into some settlement arrangement with the DEA where they’re doing ongoing reporting. The DEA, at the same time, announced an application process saying, “Alright, if you wanna do this, first you gotta stop practicing, you gotta send in your application, you gotta wait for us to get back to you, and maybe we’ll give you a license and we’ll go from there.” In the 12 or 14 years that this program has existed, the DEA has provided zero exemptions. They’ve strung along a few different organizations for years at a time, and a good number of the lawyers in this space think the whole process may be unconstitutional and that’s being challenged in some courts right now.
0:18:28.0 DP: So where we are today in terms of securing religious exemption is that there’s no way to communicate with the American government or state governments about this except through the criminal justice system. And that’s the fearsome challenge we face here because we look at this test and we say, “Okay, we’re sincere. We know we’re sincere because we’re being sincere.” It’s religious in nature. We’ve looked at the definition under law of what religion is, and while that’s very clear in the cases for where this is happening in existing Jewish and Christian and… Communities… Those of us who come from more of a New Age transformational culture space may have a few more questions to ask ourselves about whether what we do qualifies as religious.
0:19:29.8 DP: But we do that and we’re doing it as well as we can and safely as we can. We know we care about the well-being of the people we’re doing this with and for, because we were in their shoes at one point and the whole reason we’re doing this now is a matter of reciprocity and kinship and paying it forward. But there’s no way to know that we’re going to win in court until we get there. And in the meantime, there are people who are hurting and there are people waiting for those moments of transformation that are in our inboxes and text messages. [chuckle]
0:20:13.3 PA: Especially yours, I imagine as a lawyer in this space I’m sure there’s inbound… In fact, before we went live you were mentioning that you were just quoted in The Guardian about a client that you are supporting who’s currently going through some of these challenges. And I’m curious just to help crown this a little bit more. What recent cases have popped up over the last few years that basically show that the DEA does still care and the DEA is still pursuing certain things or even state law enforcement?
0:20:46.5 PA: What’s the balance there? Because my sense of having been in this space now for seven years publicly talking about psychedelics is, I’ve never had any sort of issue from any law enforcement. And I know that there have been plenty of quotes from law enforcement and even the DEA around psychedelics are really not a priority for us. That they’re much more interested in things like fentanyl and cocaine. Particularly fentanyl that are tied to opioid overdose or organized crime. So there’s clearly this gap and yet people are still getting arrested. What type of cases are we seeing within that? And… Yeah, let’s just start there and we can further…
0:21:34.5 DP: Yeah, well, I think the most natural place to start is a case I’d love more people to know about. This is a state case in New Hampshire. New Hampshire versus Mack I believe in 2020, I wanna say. And what’s really interesting about this case is… So as we said earlier. [0:21:56.9] ____ Ruffer came in to re-raise the standard of judicial scrutiny of government action when it infringes on the free exercise of religion. And in this case in New Hampshire, the defendant, his home was being searched for other reasons. They found mushrooms, I believe, and he presented credentials of the organization that he was working with.
0:22:29.4 DP: And what the New Hampshire Supreme Court took it up to discuss was whether the New Hampshire constitution actually held the government to that higher standard as opposed to the US Constitution, and they decided that it did. What it came down to was the interpretation of this specific language in that Constitution as it happens. It’s very similar to what we have here in Maryland, saying that the free exercise of religion can’t be infringed on unless it offends the good order of peace or safety of the state. And the government, the prosecution in New Hampshire was arguing that breaking a law is always an offense to good order. And the Supreme Court in New Hampshire disagreed, they said, “No breaking good order is… ”
0:23:26.5 DP: It’s drumming at 3:00 AM. It’s disrupting your neighbors’ lives. It’s doing harm to people in some way. Breaking rules is not by itself an offense to the government and the people of New Hampshire. And to me, that sort of gets to the core of this. Yes, I’m representing Rabbi Benjamin Gorelick in Denver, who was arrested in February in connection with a raid on his mushroom growth facility.
0:24:00.5 DP: I’m also representing a friend and a member of an above-ground community here in DC who was arrested in one of Maryland’s rural counties, basically for driving while Black. There’s not really another way to get around this. It’s a pretty upsetting situation on the whole. And this is what we’re seeing right now. The DEA, I hear through back channels, is keeping its eye on the situation. They are aware of the names of everyone that we’re aware of who may be working in this space. They have their own criteria for when they’re going to pursue things. And again, this is hearsay, but as I understand it, they’re respecting the law on this. If it tracks with the American government’s understanding of what a church is and for a pretty good bit of guidance on what that is, looking at it further than the IRS, they have an official classification, a bunch of criteria that go into making that determination. Then the DEA is generally not going to be concerned with it.
0:25:17.3 DP: They do still have some of that principle in them though, it seems, that breaking the law is a problem no matter what. And that’s what I’m definitely seeing at the state and local level. And district attorneys are elected frequently. They’re accountable to the public in that way. We have a long history of a war on drugs. A lot of people have not been updated on the information that we in this space are aware of in terms of the shifting landscape and the knowledge of how safe and effective these substances are.
0:26:00.6 DP: So the default position essentially is tough on crime. If someone’s breaking the law, we gotta deal with it, especially if it looks like… If we can’t tell the difference between a drug dealer and a medicine man, then we’re going to enforce.
0:26:22.9 PA: And so how then has that led to the development of AEP the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners? That sort of context in that landscape. Why is it that you started the AEP? Tell us a little bit about the AEP, the type of members that are joining and what your hope is in terms of what it could provide from a legal protection perspective.
0:26:46.0 DP: Well, it was in anticipation of cases like these essentially. I was looking at, “Okay, how do we manage this risk like any other for an organization?” We have a possibility that our practitioners may face at the very least, significant legal fees and possibly incarceration and loss of property and so forth for doing their good work and just trying to make a living of it.
0:27:22.0 DP: And you can’t… In traditional insurance, you can’t insure against an illegal risk, essentially. You can’t insure an illegal action. So most insurance companies are going to look at this kind of thing and say, “There’s nothing we can do here.” But what did we do before we had those organizations? Well, in the Middle Ages and more recently, guilds emerged, fraternal organizations that were the origins of insurance. They were self-insurance. The stone cutters… And periodically giant rock dropped on them and it was helpful to know your family was going to be taken care of if the worst happened. So that’s essentially how we came to the idea of organizing in this way. It’s a very… It is, from an organizational perspective, the key element of why we need a legal vehicle to do this, to begin to kind of self-insure against that kind of risk.
0:28:42.3 DP: At the same time, I wanted to form a community that I wanted to be a member of. That was thing one. And I was noticing how, again, very much as a function of the secrecy and paranoia of working in the underground, practitioners were really isolated. And when one becomes the functional leader of a spiritual community, you’re carrying a lot of a fear for the community. The people are coming to you with their anxieties, with their concerns. And even if you’re as transparent as possible and saying, “I don’t know.” And… Or, “We’re going to have to see.”… There are just uncertainties in all of this. Being that grounding presence takes a lot out of you. Or to put it another way, it requires a lot of energy. And now we’re seeing practitioners burning out as a result of it and myself included.
0:30:03.9 DP: So in addition to managing our own fears in a very practical way. And the way we’re going about that essentially is creating a legal defense benefits program where we can’t promise a good legal outcome, but we can promise that you’re gonna get the best subject matter experts on religious freedom, as well as the budget necessary to handle local criminal defense, ’cause those are sort of separate lanes for lawyers. Then in addition to all of that that we needed a space to come and continue to heal ourselves. Because one of the easiest ways to get off track in this work, for me at least, is to think that you’re ever done. That you’re done growing, that you’re done healing, that you are finished and you have something that the participants you’re working with don’t. It is always a mutual unfolding, and we’ve gotten there.
0:31:19.8 DP: Last weekend, we had the first anniversary of our first ceremony. And I don’t like to use the word retreat, I like gathering. Our first gathering, and it’s been really extraordinary to be able to lean into a culture of responsible practice. That it’s not just, this is this person’s ceremony and this is how we’re doing things. That we rotate. We have different people coming in and holding space for our ceremonies because ultimately it’s about building the know-how of the group, the collective intelligence. And I see that as the end game here.
0:32:26.8 DP: There are many reasons that practitioners can be cagey about sharing their sacraments, their know-how, their knowledge. And I was fairly surprised to learn that for many of them, it’s a sense… And I’m speaking here of indigenous practitioners, in that a sense that it’s sort of like giving powerful technology to children. That we’re not… We’re in a cultural adolescence about these… About this work in general, about these substances. And that… A practitioner I worked with, he began facilitating… I say with air quotes, to some degree, when he was about 15 years old, but he was facilitating people in his community who had been journeying for decades. And so it was as much for his growth as it was for theirs, even if he was the person nominally in charge of the experience. So that’s what we’re building toward. Is building that culture of responsible practice.
0:33:49.8 PA: And reciprocity as well. That’s another word that comes up in terms of that collective intelligence, engaging community. There’s power in solidarity, especially when it comes to medicines like this. So many people that I’ve talked to who have even enrolled in our coaching program say one of the core reasons that they’re enrolling is because if they were just sort of out there by themselves doing this work, it would be very intimidating and scary, but knowing that there are people beside them who are looking to also pioneer into this sort of uncertain unknown space provides that additional layer of sort of motivation and commitment to be able to do this. Because any time that… Fear exists for a good reason. And what I’ve often checked myself on the last seven years as Third Wave has been developing is, am I making a decision out of fear of an external consequence, or am I making a decision out of sort of a trust in that what needs to unfold will unfold.
0:34:56.5 PA: And if you look at some of the greatest people of our sort of… The last several generations, Tolstoy and Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela—they knew that there were significant external consequences for what it is that they did. But that’s where courage is, I think, required to still commit to what it is that needs to happen. ‘Cause I think we both agree that these are powerful medicines that need to be more accessible.
0:35:26.2 PA: And that, I think, gets to my next question for you, because you mentioned this when we had the virtual summit about a month ago at the time of this recording, around accessibility. And I’d love if you could just open that sort of context up for our audience. How do you define accessibility as it relates to journeys and psychedelics and medicine, and how does that sort of map onto the emerging legal landscape for plant medicines?
0:35:56.6 DP: Two things emerge immediately. I hope I’ll keep track of both of them. One is accessibility is in part just… It’s knowledge that it exists. We’re not even at a high penetration rate in people being aware of this work at all and its power. My dear friend, Sonatta Camara, who runs the Temple of Mother Earth here in DC that I mentioned earlier… This is sort of an abbreviation of her origin story, but it in part, literally came from, a family member of hers was struggling and she read an article about ayahuasca and Googled “ayahuasca near me.” And the thing that came up for her was Soul Quest down in Orlando. And that was the beginning of her journey. But that’s one community a thousand miles away.
0:37:01.4 DP: And I started thinking about what does it really practically mean to have accessibility, if… Just try to do the back of the envelope math… As I said earlier, there are some people who psychedelics is not the path for them, and that’s great. There are some like myself, and I’m guessing you as well, who were immersed in it and many experiences is gonna be about right for us.
0:37:37.4 DP: So, ball-parking it, I said, alright, what about one experience per person per lifetime? Maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s what accessibility looks like. To be able to have that experience in a container that is meaningful to you. We’re seeing this emerge in some of the research coming out of Johns Hopkins and other places, that the… That scientific or clinical approach thinks it is neutral in some way, but it is bringing in a lot of cultural assumptions that become very apparent when people from certain religious traditions have those experiences. If there is a Buddha sitting on the window sill, that might not create the right container for someone raised in a Christian fundamentalist context, just for a simple example. So the diversity of the kinds of experience becomes a piece of it. But, yeah, one experience per lifetime, well, the math on that works out in the United States with 330 million people to 10,000 experiences a day. And if it’s going to be… We can’t really track the underground. But if it’s going to be openly operating experiences that are responsibly administered, then I’d say we’re in the area of dozens per day and maybe hundreds, but I’d be surprised if we’re really putting 1,000 people through.
0:39:15.5 DP: If you look at the clinical studies and everything, we’re still talking about really small numbers of people. And again, we only have a handful of openly operating churches, entheogenic communities right now. There are 20,000 cities and towns in the United States, so another way that I’ve thought about this is a church in every other town just handling 30 people a month, one a day, we need 10,000 of those communities in the United States to have something that looks like real access for everyone. But yeah, sort of as an included piece of this is diversity, equity and inclusion, there’s no way around that. And we hear, [chuckle] to ostensibly white guys doing this, psychedelics are pretty monochromatic right now on the national stage. And that’s changing. And it’s not that BIPOC communities are not out there and other communities as well. They, the ones I’ve encountered at least, are well aware that it’s… At many times in US history, it’s been risky just to be running a black church, period. You don’t have to do anything so radical as include psychedelics or… Or even approach radical, new ideas or ways of being in the world to face that danger. So it’s not merely a matter of creating space and being mindful of inclusion, it’s the safety is a necessary requirement to create that accessibility. So yeah, the legal angle, and ask a lawyer, get a legal answer. But the legal edge here seems to be the wedge to greater accessibility right now.
0:42:08.9 PA: And so just to dive a little bit more into that, there’s a couple things that are popping up. One is just the sheer number of experiences per day, as you mentioned, we’re probably at dozens per day, maybe hundreds. 10,000 experiences per day, that’s an exponential growth, right? And I think one consideration is how do we manage that growth? So to say, and I don’t even, manage isn’t the right word. But how do we ensure that things don’t spin out like they did in the ’60s? Right? Where accessibility is there, and there’s this slow, organic growth to it so it doesn’t spin out? And how do we juxtapose that with the fact that millions of people are suffering, we’re facing a climate crisis, and we know that the one well-held, safe, meaningful journey could be that shift, that catalyst that people need? So it’s holding a number of things in tension. And I think, to your other point about diversity, equity and inclusion and how the space is largely monochromatic, one thing that I’ve talked about on the podcast before but I’ll emphasize again, is one of the reasons I felt very comfortable being so public is because I’m a white male who’s straight, comes from a middle-class family and am pretty well-spoken and healthy, so to say.
0:43:32.4 PA: So the sort of perspective that I give off is one where I felt like I could take a few arrows if necessary, whereas, like you said, people who come from black and brown or indigenous families, they don’t necessarily have that same privilege. So there’s also an element of those who have that privilege, they also carry more responsibility, they carry more burden, back to your point before about holding the responsibility and burden can be a lot, and yet that almost seems necessary to help move this space forward. So to ground and root that in your expertise, we’re now noticing there are lots of states that are coming out with new policy around psychedelics. Oregon legalized psilocybin as of our conversation yesterday. Colorado got enough signatures to put it on the next ballot. Washington State is talking about it. California’s talking about it. Connecticut, New York, Texas, Florida… some are more medical, some are more adult use, but there’s a lot of states that are currently discussing it.
0:44:32.8 PA: And then at this point, I think 15-20 cities have decriminalized plant medicines, including Washington DC, including Seattle, Detroit, Oakland, Denver has decriminalized psilocybin. And we also have all the FDA approval happening with MDMA for PTSD and psilocybin. So when we think about the growth of experiences per day from dozens to 10,000, and when we also think about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, what’s your sense of where we wanna put our energy from a legal perspective. What structure the FDA, the state by state, the local decrim, what structure is gonna be best to support to ensure that we hit those markers of accessibility? To ensure that the space remains diverse, equitable and inclusive? And I don’t think this is just one or the other, but I sense there’s probably some nuance that you could really help us to understand about the orchestration.
0:45:37.9 DP: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you how I think of it, which is, I’m very inspired by a writer named Adrienne Maree Brown, who’s… She’s based out of Detroit. She wrote a book about five years ago now called Emergent Strategy. And Emergent Strategy, it’s inspired by science fiction as well as the natural world. When she says emergent strategies, she’s talking about, for example, the intelligence of colonies of bees. How do they… How does extraordinary complexity emerge from simple interactions? And it’s the fractal nature of this work that I think is the answer to your question. That, to me, the religious freedom route is the most important, because it needs to be the most important to me. It doesn’t need to be the most important to everybody. We need people for whom the therapeutic route; for whom the decriminalization/legalization route is the most important piece. We’re all members of an ecosystem, and you don’t need the trees to be foxes. We have our roles to play here.
0:47:10.9 DP: So I’ll tell you why the religious path that’s the most important to me though. It’s because… I can tell you the conversation. It was my mentor. I was catching up on the law for the first time. This would have been about five years ago, that I was looking into all the risks, and she was stepping into this work in a bigger way, and I laid it all out for her what the risks were and what would happen if she were arrested and so forth, and what the chances were in court. And with not so much as a pause, she was like, “Yeah, well, this is the hill I’m willing to die on, so okay. Thank you for letting me know.” And it’s that simple. The AEP, right now we don’t do anything in the way of credentialing, our membership application process really comes down to… There are different steps, but it really comes down to three questions for me. Is it this sincere? Are you comfortable talking about this work in religious terms? Are you interested in lifelong learning and do you care about the well-being of others? As simple as that.
0:48:43.3 DP: And that first one, I’m in no position to decide what is calling for somebody else. If they tell me it is calling for them, that is the answer, and those are the people I found myself with and have chosen to immerse myself with because there’s not a human authority right now that can decide that for anyone. And for some of our members who come from clinical and therapeutic backgrounds, they think of this work as a continuation of the Hippocratic Oath, that it is in their power to provide relief and healing as well as transformation and wonder and inspiration. And people are asking them for that help. And if they’re approaching that moment with humility and aware of how we are always stepping into the unknown, as you say, together, then I wanna help them. That’s what it comes down to for me.
0:50:20.9 PA: So there’s a sense of willful participation. Right? And just to track this, let’s say neuro-biologically, I listen to a lot of Andrew Huberman, who is a phenomenal podcaster.
0:50:37.9 DP: Oh yeah.
0:50:39.7 PA: All sorts of physical health things, and he talks a lot about how, let’s say ice baths in particular, a huge part of the benefit of the ice bath requires that you are willfully participating in that experience. And that’s where you get the dopamine hit, that’s where you get the norepinephrine hit, that’s where inflammation drops. If there’s a sense of you are being forced against your will to do something, then the benefits aren’t as great necessarily. And I think this is especially true for psychedelics. And just to bring that point home, I think religious freedom for you, like for many is so important because the healing of psychedelics comes from that mystical experience, comes from that connection to source, that connection to the mystery, and we can couch it in all this different clinical or therapeutic language to make it more acceptable for the FDA or to make it more tenable for a mainstream media, but at the end of the day, the thing is the thing.
0:51:38.8 PA: And it often comes back to that, and so I sense in the work you’re doing with AEP and more broadly with the things that have been passed with religious freedom, there’s a deep sense of integrity and authenticity with that that is not necessarily present and available in the clinical or overly therapeutic route, because it’s a lot of dressing something up as a trojan horse to get it passed, whereas religious freedom is religious freedom, and it’s something that we should always and will always ideally have access to in the United States and hopefully in the Western world.
0:52:12.5 DP: Yeah. Yeah. Well, someone like Matthew Wood Johnson outta Johns Hopkins would be able to tell you more about this, but my understanding is that that very first paper that came out of Johns Hopkins in 2006, Psilocybin may occasion mystical-type experiences, that the inspiration for that was very much an understanding that there was something going on that existing medical models of mental health could not adequately explain. And bringing in the inherent subjectivity of mystical experience was part of the strategy to almost educate the existing system on what it was missing. There was a part of your question earlier that I wanted to come back to, and I’m losing it now. Can you remind me where you started? [chuckle]
0:53:20.9 PA: Well, I was talking about the sort of truth and authenticity of the religious freedom pursue or path where…
0:53:28.9 DP: Huberman, it was something about Huberman.
0:53:31.0 PA: Huberman and cold plunges and willful participation.
0:53:32.4 DP: Well, yeah. Okay. Yes, that’s what it was. And here, I’m gonna do something that I don’t do very often here, but I’m actually gonna…
0:53:40.1 PA: Magic?
0:53:42.3 DP: I’m gonna speak a trigger warning here, ’cause I wanna talk a little bit about suicide, and that’s a challenge for some people but… Because that willful choice, the choice to jump in the cold bath, or to go out and run a huge distance in 100-degree heat for no reason, which happens to be one of my practices, these are all to me, like, tiny metaphors for that general question of, what makes life worth going on through? Why do we continue to choose the suffering? It’s very practical for those of us who have wrestled with suicidal ideation, to think about it in those terms. David Foster Wallace talked about this beautifully before we lost him to suicide, saying that the experience from the inside is, he likened it to the people jumping out of the World Trade Center. It’s not that they want to die, it’s just that they need to get away from the fire. And the… ‘Cause the fire has been here before, it’s likely to come again, and yet we persist. And the thing I love about melancholy music is the same thing, it’s this feeling, “Alright, I am here with these circumstances and they won’t go away and my mind returns to them, so where is the beauty in this? How can I relate this to the unspeakable gorgeousness of a minor chord and choose that as why to continue, why we might be joyful though we’ve considered all the facts as… ” I’m quoting somebody, but I can’t remember who here.
0:55:51.0 DP: But yeah, that’s really what it comes down to. And the body takes these metaphors literally. The cold baths, the long runs, and, yeah, the challenging journeys as well. That’s a piece of this. I had a really challenging experience 10 days ago, probably the most challenging I’ve had. And the extraordinary thing about it was the experience I needed and wanted ultimately really began as I was done metabolizing the sacrament. It was about the coming back from that, that ultimately was the… We frequently get the answers to questions we didn’t even know we wanted to ask going into these experiences, and that was one of those for me.
0:56:48.7 PA: And that’s often the intention or the un-tension, as sometimes I say. It is when you choose to enter that ceremonial space and you choose to surrender to something greater, utilizing the psilocybin or the ayahuasca or the 5-MeO, whatever the medicine is, to open that up, that I think that commitment of knowing that you’ve chosen this makes a huge difference in terms of what the actual outcome is and what it is that you choose to do with it.
0:57:19.6 DP: Yeah. And that’s why informed and enthusiastic consent is so, so important to this. At least 80% of the people I have known, in their having gone through their first experience, come out on the other side with like, “Well, why don’t we put this in the water,” right? “Couldn’t we just… ” As was one of the missteps of the ’60s, and we’re getting clarity on this because the choice matters. It’s really important that you know what you’re… You know what you’re not… You know what you don’t know, at least, right? You’re stepping into the unknown on purpose.
0:58:08.8 PA: Yeah. And that in some way, I think it speaks to some of the challenges that we’re currently facing. We’re recording this about a week after, even less than a week after the Roe versus Wade decision was overturned. There’s clearly a lot that is shifting in the air in terms of American politic, world politic with the Russia-Ukraine situation. People were certainly thrown off through COVID and all that uncertainty, and I don’t think the uncertainty is gonna stop any time soon, and so there seems to be a sense of psychedelics are that… They’re that training ground that help us to remember that we do have the capacity to navigate uncertain times. And to go back to the point that we made earlier in the podcast, to do that in community is often what makes the difference between, let’s say, success and failure about how we navigate uncertainty. And so I think this religious freedom and the importance of psychedelics within that is so central to how we choose to create the emerging legal landscape.
0:59:18.7 DP: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I have daughters. I have a nearly seven-year-old and a nearly 11-year-old, and I have no idea of what their future is gonna look like. What the world could possibly be when they’re 30 is by turns exciting and terrifying. And as someone who was born in a house that had one landline with… It generated busy signals when someone else called. Remember busy signals? To getting onto the internet as a teenager and I’m 42 now, and now I’m friends with digital natives who have never known a world without every song in the world at their fingertips. The approach of preparing people with yesterday… What do they say in the military? Fight using yesterday’s technologies to fight tomorrow’s war or something like that. There’s just no way about it. So yeah, the best word I have is wisdom, it’s cultivating wisdom, it’s relevance realization. It’s not a matter of knowing everything anymore, it’s about knowing what is relevant now. And the best tool I know to cultivated it is simply presence, to come to each moment without expectations and with curiosity and listen to ourselves frequently, the quietest part of ourselves as we listen to the world.
1:01:41.8 PA: I love that. Great note to end on. Dan, just as a final wrap-up, people are interested in learning more about the AEP, learning more about your work, what can they check out where what would be some good next steps for them?
1:01:58.0 DP: Yeah, yeah, aep.community is our website. That’s kind of the main way in. That will point you to our Telegram group and has all of the information about how to enroll with us. I am a very… I’ve experimented with social media and have stepped back, so where we are emerging as a community, we’ve just elected our first board of managers, this thing now has a life outside of me, it’s not like I can die now if I need to and the work will continue. But we’re slowly opening up our voice, and I think you’ll be hearing more from us soon in other ways.
1:02:51.4 PA: Beautiful. Well, Danny, thanks again for the work that you’re doing, for the protection that you’re providing, for the innovative solutions that you’re coming up with, it’s been a pleasure to have you as part of the coaching certification program and also for the summit, and how to do a podcast. We were able to touch into a lot of other things, so I just appreciate your time and joining us for today’s show.
1:03:11.2 DP: Absolutely, thank you, Paul. And, hey, thank you for what you’re doing. It is so cool seeing the… I know a number of your graduates now, and they are fired up and they are prepared and they’re knowledgeable, and they’re doing the thing, and that they’re doing it in community, in connection with each other. And as I’ve seen it so far with great responsibility as well, so thank you. And this was fun. This was a lot of fun.
1:03:40.2 PA: Yeah. It was a lot of fun.
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