LOS ANGELES (CN) – Southern California resident Paula Kahn says she began exploring the use of psychoactive drugs as a teenager to help her heal from past trauma, a practice that health researchers – and health-tourism entrepreneurs – have begun studying and promoting in recent years.
Kahn said that as a survivor of sexual violence, psychoactive drugs gave her a sense of empowerment and control over her own body by tapping into practices used by indigenous communities as part of their religious ceremonies and medicine for thousands of years.
She began researching the potential widespread application of medicinal plants in public health, especially for people who experience multiple oppressions in their life. She looked up a psychotherapy training program at the California Institute for Integral Studies but didn't see any people of color or indigenous educators in the program.
Kahn also found that along with being classified as a controlled substance and therefore illegal to possess, many of the medicinal plant treatments – often used in a space described as a ceremony – are unaffordable.
One known as ayahuasca, a plant-based beverage, gained media attention for relieving depression in patients who did not respond to conventional treatments.
A company called Temple of the Light leads a 14-day ayahuasca retreat, which includes yoga and mindfulness training. Participants pay up to $1,800, or nearly $3,000 for a 23-day retreat, for a guided ceremony deep in a Peruvian jungle.
The company website says participants will gain a “new sense of self that is more resilient and peaceful.”
“I couldn’t afford these medicinal plants or guided ceremonies,” Kahn said. “I wonder whether these healing practices are accessible to folks most experiencing state violence. People in these spaces tend to be well-resourced white people.”
Kahn said she is concerned that in what she called a “very white drug policy movement,” medicinal plants outside of cannabis will remain out of reach for those who don’t have the time and financial resources to seek them out.
A good venue for discussing expansion of access to these substances was the Los Angeles Psychedelic Science Symposium, a conference that took place over the weekend at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Psychedelic science advocates promoted the history of medicinal plants and their application in public health. Presenters discussed the recent ways Western science has analyzed psychedelic plants’ impact on public health issues like depression, opioid addiction and mental illness.
The conference, however, featured no discussion of expanding access to low-income communities and people of color.
Dr. John Drimmer, clinical psychologist and board member of LAPSS, said in an interview with Courthouse News that he agreed with Kahn.
The movement to embrace psychoactive substances from a public health sense is dominated by white people and is out of reach for many who stand to benefit, potentially the most, from treatments, he said.
Drimmer said inaccessibility is a result of the “illegal” classification by federal regulators.
“These substances are illegal, that’s why they’re inaccessible,” said Drummer, who formerly taught at UCLA’s medical school. “Even for a well-to-do white person from the Westside [of LA], it’s hard to access these treatments.”