Updated: Sep 24, 2019
From the clinical trials at John's Hopkins and the Imperial College of London, to the forests of Southern Mexico women are moving to the forefront of psychedelic medicine.
As a portion of the population, women make up over 50%. However, we are desperately under represented in many areas, and sacred medicine/psychedelics is no exception. How do female leaders in the field of psychedelic and plant medicine help to shape the new psychedelic renaissance and what vital perspective are they contributing to this global plant medicine movement? This article introduces a few women on the forefront of psychedelics today.
Recently an article in BUST magazine interviewed Zoe Helene the originator of the term Psychedelic Feminism. (read the article here.) Helene is founder of Cosmic Sister (@cosmicsister) which "advocates for women, wilderness and wildlife," championing "our right to work with sacred plant and funghi." A'ho Zoe Helene! We couldn't agree more. Helene points out that when we are "in the medicine space" (under the influence of psychedelics) "political issues become personal and vice versa." They also help us, "make sense of unhealthy personal choices," thereby helping shift into more beneficial future behavior patterns. Her work with her organization Cosmic Sister provides safe access to sacred plant medicine ceremonies. They also strive to promote inclusivity within the medicine community by promoting women of color working with psychedelic therapies and promote organizations such as the People of Color Psychedelic Collective (www.pocpsychedelics.com) who host the Empyrean Conference, one of the first conferences to highlight the work of people of color in the field of psychedelics. (September in Washington, DC)
No doubt there is mounting evidence that the use of plant and funghi medicines have a powerful effect on treating the effects of PTSD, depression and anxiety. After 30 years of research and hard work by MAPs (Maps.org,) clinical trials using MDMA, Ketamin and Psilocybin are showing hopeful results in the field of psychology and some impressive women are leading the charge. Annie Mithoefer's work using MDMA therapy for sufferers of PTSD has demonstrated that the drug decreases the activity of the Amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear. By slowing down the fear centers of the brain "love chemicals" like dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin flood the body and prevent triggers that cause an emotional fear response or the "shut down mode" that is a classic symptom of panic disorders associated with PTSD. Her continued research provides hope for trauma survivors from all walks of life. Psilocybin advocate and researcher, Kathrine Maclean Ph.d began studying the effect of psychedelics and meditation during graduate school at UC Davis. Her post doc research as a lead scientist and facilitator of the John's Hopkins psilocybin clinical trials has been critical in illuminating the healing benefits of high dose psilocybin experiences to treat depression, anxiety and have shed light on end of life care for cancer patients among other important benefits. Maclean has since launched her own projects in NYC (katherinemaclean.org) and works to educate and train people working with psychedelic medicine for integration and harm reduction. As a leader in the field of psychedelic research Maclean had this to say in an article for Bitch Media,“when you see only men at the podium or leading the groups, whether or not the men have a sexist orientation, the visual fact that women aren’t being represented matters." She also points out the shift in cultural consciousness regarding psychedelics in general, “we’d always been taught these things are drugs; they’re dangerous, they can cause addiction, they don’t do anything good for you, and then you all of a sudden learn there are these cultures who used what we’re calling drugs as medicine for thousands of years,” she says. “My interest was the intersection of the neuroscience, and also…I was really curious to find out more, from that more anthropological perspective.” Absolutely. As we shift out of the lab and into more traditional ceremonial use of these ethno-botanical entheogens there is another layer to discover.
In the case of psilocybin, what scientists are only now documenting and "discovering" has in fact been used by as a "sacred medicine," by traditional cultures all over the world as a way to heal the mind and the body. Perhaps the most famous example is the Mexican mushroom curandera Maria Sabina from the southern state of Oaxaca. She unwittingly popularized psychedelic mushrooms in a, now famous, article published in 1 1957 issue of Life Magazine by Gordon Wasson. (Interestingly, it was Wasson's Russian wife Valentina who prompted her husband to begin his research into the ceremonial use of mushrooms in Mexico.....just saying) The release of this article was a sensation that promoted a wave of psychedelic tourism to the Mazatec region of Mexico. Over the years the small town of Huatla de Jimenez has embraced its status as a "pueblo magico," but has largely remained untouched by excessive outside influences. However, as psilocybin therapy gains momentum, there is a second wave of psychedelic tourists headed to towns such as Huatla de Jimenez anxious to have an "authentic" mushroom ceremony for themselves. The drawbacks and benefits that an influx of psychedelic tourism will have on local culture is the subject of a lively unfolding debate. However, the traditional inclusion of women working with "the holy children," is undoubtedly a mechanism for economic independence in a region where opportunities for women are limited . From the people wild harvesting mushrooms in the mountains, to those guiding traditional mushroom ceremonies or "veladas," there is a strong female presence in the mushroom regions of Mexico that is virtual unheard of in other medicine traditions. And Oaxaca is one of the last places on earth where it is still possible to connect with traditional women healers working with sacred mushroom medicine in ceremony. However, unlike Maria Sabina, modern day curanderas are virtually unknown to those outside of their small communities. The times are most certainly changing and as science begins to recognize the healing benefits of the "mystical" effects of psilocybin, interest in guided psilocybin ceremonies grows along with it. It is about time that the powerful and skilled mushroom curanderas of Mexico take their place as leaders in the field of spiritual medicine. Viva!
In both good ways and bad, the world as we know it is in flux. Marginalized groups like women, and people of color are slowly being recognized for their many contributions and are taking their rightful place as leaders in all areas, including the emerging world of psychedelic medicine. It's an exciting time with some inspiring opportunities to grow and to heal. Psychedelics provide the opportunity to expand our minds and question societal norms ushering in fascinating new voices and perspectives. Many thanks to the leaders of the new psychedelic feminist renaissance who inspire us along the way. (For more information about women leaders in psychedelic medicine or to join a psilocybin retreat for women by women in Mexico contact firstname.lastname@example.org)