There are myriad compelling reasons for parents to use psychedelics. Some desire to shift behaviors learned in their own family—especially when trauma is present—and are seeking a means to subvert the strong forces of entrenched patterns. Others are looking for a more spiritual life in an age that rewards material stuff over soulful substance. And some seek to dull the discomfort of tedium, overstimulation, and exhaustion, using substances that lead to altered states of consciousness for a reprieve.
But, ask most people with young children about their polite conversations among peers, and familiar patterns emerge: School choices, sleep or lack thereof, toileting, eating habits, and horror stories of persistent ailments are regular fodder for parental peer cohesion. Disclosing their experience with psychedelics is rarely mentioned.
And for good reason: Modern parents are measured against impossible standards in the media, subject to frequent unsolicited advice from strangers, and face scrutiny from their peers for nearly every decision they make. For parents who use psychedelics, the decision to publicly disclose it must be made within this social context; bound by implicit behavioral codes that dictate how responsible parents should behave. Parents of color are often subject to even more rigid expectations.
As an integration therapist, I talk to many of these parents. Fearing judgment around their use of psychedelics, they’re led to silence. Since shame is one of the greatest risks for psychological distress after a psychedelic experience, I realized there was a need for these parents to connect. And so I founded Plant Parenthood to serve this need. Online and in person, the group brings together parents who take psychedelics, plant medicines, and cannabis, with the intention to build community.
“It’s so stigmatized in our society,” says a Brooklyn-based mother of a two-year-old, who declined to be identified. “As a white mother I feel a tremendous opportunity to help destigmatize it, and at the same time I am guilty of judging myself and I know that means judging others.”
“As a white mother I feel a tremendous opportunity to help destigmatize [psychedelics], and at the same time I am guilty of judging myself and I know that means judging others.”
Despite countless headlines the past few years about “weed moms” becoming the new “wine moms,” there’s been less media around psychedelic parenting. Beside the stigma—in part due to decades of fear and misinformation spread throughout the Drug War—parents may also face the legal consequences or loss of custody if they come out about their psychedelic use. (There’s already precedent for parents losing custody for marijuana use: In a Texas case from 2013, a two-year-old was removed from her parents’ home for “neglectful care” because her father admitted to smoking marijuana while she slept. The young girl was placed in foster care and killed by her foster mother.) Black and Latino parents whose communities are more heavily surveilled and disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, are at even greater risk than white parents.
Still, despite the risks, parents are quietly using psychedelics. While exact figures do not exist, a 2013 survey found that around 10 percent of the US population has tried a psychedelic, with the greatest lifetime use among people aged 30 to 34. It is likely that the recent surge in media attention has impacted their popularity. As decriminalization efforts continue and research creates a pipeline to medicalized usage, parents’ usage may also increase.
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Parents use psychedelics in a variety of ways, but many I’ve spoken to trend towards a more therapeutic approach, or a hybrid of therapeutic and recreational. This is in part due to the cost associated with undergoing therapeutic experiences, which may require traveling long distances or taking time away from their children, such as to participate in a psychedelic retreat. Many parents have prior experience with psychedelics since before they had children, which helps them better understand how they might be affected by the experience. First-timers, on the other hand, tend to take a more cautious, researched approach before diving in.
The psychedelic experience may offer plenty of insights, but for parents looking to integrate afterwards, finding community can be a challenge. Online, the Psychedelic Parenting Facebook page (and its associated podcast, started by Jonathan “Djinn” Thompson in 2013), counts more than 2,700 followers. The podcast covers questions like “How old is old enough” to take psychedelics, and topics like how to talk to your teens about psychedelics and how to come out to your parents about psychedelics. In person integration opportunities specifically for parents are not yet existent, although I’ve seen many parents have seek this out explicitly, and already develop informal alliances at psychedelic integration circles or other community meetups.
Another challenge to integration is more pragmatic: Parents of young children simply have less time to devote to the self. Even in conversation, they frequently lament the inability to complete a full sentence without needing to prevent a safety crisis, break up an argument, or respond to their children’s physical needs. The psychedelic experience itself can be a deep-dive into the self. Thorough integration necessitates a great deal of focused attention for contemplative practices like meditation or yoga.
Integration in-person among peers may allow for more accountability in following through with commitments. Plant Parenthood provides a structure for this, and is also a resource for integration techniques that parents can do alongside children like spending time in nature and music journeying.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to integration is stigma. To address it, parents can look to other traditions that have used psychedelics for thousands of years to understand how their paradigms about plant medicines differ significantly. Steven Benally, board director of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative, tells DoubleBlind that in indigenous traditions that use peyote, the plant is simply a means to pass on sacred knowledge and tools for a better existence. And this is information specifically that can be used to teach children about their own wellness and relationship to self.
In this framework, there is no attempt to shield or protect children from peyote, but rather to incorporate the teachings that the plants offer into every element of their lives.
“We teach them [children] how to take care of their body, their mind, their spirit, and use what is available for them to survive, help one another and live a fulfilled life,” he says. In this framework, there is no attempt to shield or protect children from peyote, but rather to incorporate the teachings that the plants offer into every element of their lives. Peyote becomes part of the cultural context in which these children are being raised. At Benally’s presentation at the Horizons conference in 2019, he showed a photo of a community elder and a young child harvesting peyote buttons. This experience, he said, was intended to teach children that when they take from the earth, they must also give back.
Though non-Indigenous people may not live in a society that supports this seamless integration between parents who use plant medicine and their children, they can benefit from a cultural perspective that fosters open discourse about the psychedelic experience. Once we remove stigma, we create more opportunity for better understanding and appreciation for what these medicines have to offer.