This year marks 53 years since Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) into law, federally prohibiting classic psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. June marks 52 years since Dick declared the War On Drugs, designating people who use drugs as “public enemy number one.” Formal U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended at the same time, in 1973. And yet, as psychedelics go “mainstream,” we often miss crucial information on how the industrialization of psychedelic research is occurring within this greater historical context—and the ethical implications that that has for how we source, synthesize, distribute, sell, and consume these substances.
The federal government’s design and orchestration of domestic, social policies of war on the governed, as a response to popular dissent to the Vietnam War, must be remembered and accounted for in the movement to legalize access and regulate economic relations around the production and distribution of medicinal psychedelic treatments and therapies. As Millennials and Generation Z, we are inheriting a life-threatening socio-economic, political, ecological, and atmospheric paradigm shaped by suppression of the Civil Rights, Black Power, Third-World Liberation, Anti-War, and American Indian movements through the War On Drugs. Now, if the psychedelics industry won’t speak to this historical-material context but is ready to invest and profit with no policy for historical repair, what does that say about the psychedelic boom and what its stakeholders stand for?
Just fifty-two years shy of Nixon’s war on counter-cultural revolution, cognitive liberty, racial justice, and peace, President Biden’s Federal Budget Proposal for fiscal year 2024 requests $886 billion for Pentagon and military activities. Out of $1.6 trillion in discretionary spending, the National Priorities Project calculates this amounts to 52 percent of all discretionary spending directed towards the military and war rather than funding being equitably distributed among education, health, food and agriculture, energy and environment, transportation, housing, etc. The Cost of War Project calculates that the Pentagon has spent over $14 trillion since 2001, with as much as half being paid out to private military contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. The U.S.’s war economy is the political-economic backdrop of the psychedelic “gold rush” to research, industrialize, legalize, medicalize, patent, and regulate psychedelic compounds. Can these processes uphold integrity and abide by a code of ethics that centers humanity’s healing and freedom from violence without openly addressing how our national government uses taxpayer dollars to sustain a global military industrial complex responsible for ongoing genocide, mass atrocities, resource extraction, greenhouse gas emissions, forced migration, mass incarceration, and deportation? Across the roles of venture capitalists, philanthropists, research institutions, researchers, health practitioners, psychonauts, advocates, journalists, artists, and harm reductionists, what is our responsibility to create structures that usher in historical memory, reparative justice, freedom from violence, and peace? What adjustments do we need to make in our economic models, policy design, and advocacy strategies to do justice to humanity’s transgressions of historic mass violence (genocide, ethnocide, epistemicide, ecocide, femicide, infanticide)? A great start would be to mobilize resources among the psychedelic ecosystem to catalyze a lobbying wing to play a visionary role in the growing federal budget advocacy movement calling for divestment from the Department of Defense and Immigration Customs Enforcement and Customs Border Patrol to reinvest in the essential structures of public health.
One of the casualties of living in a normalized war economy and war on drugs is the loss of cultural rights, spiritual/religious freedom, intellectual freedom, and life-saving research. After a decades-long ban, contemporary psychedelic research resumed lawfully early in the 21th century at Johns Hopkins University, where early landmark research on psilocybin and mystical experiences paved the way for research on psilocybin’s potential for treating depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, and other psychological-behavioral conditions. As a person of mixed race, with Indigenous ancestry rooted in the geographical regional cultures where psilocybin-containing mushrooms were and continue to be administered ceremoniously and according to Meso-“American” Indigenous cosmogony, I often reflect on what has been sacrificed and at whose expense when psychedelic research and industrialization is kept within the gates of governmental institutions and ivory tower institutions within close proximity to the state (Hopkins & DoD), philanthropists, and venture capitalists. The rights of Indigenous peoples and those subjected to violence enabled by the normalized global military industrial complex are sacrificed for an industrialization of psychedelics that remains silent on this nation’s war economy.
Can these processes uphold integrity and abide by a code of ethics that centers humanity’s healing and freedom from violence without openly addressing how our national government uses taxpayer dollars to sustain a global military industrial complex responsible for ongoing genocide, mass atrocities, resource extraction, greenhouse gas emissions, forced migration, mass incarceration, and deportation?
The current economic landscape of the financing of psychedelic therapy research depends substantially on the will of actors in philanthropy, venture capitalism, and research institutions. Community-based and community-driven models exist that reflect the emergence of economic solidarity between detribalized peoples, Westerners, and Indigenous communities, and, sure yeah, the percentage of profit that some psychedelic entrepreneurs will allocate to charitable “Indigenous Reciprocity” initiatives are responsive to the iterative invocations calling for reparations, rematriation, and resource redistribution. But what if we rethink Indigenous Reciprocity the way it is currently adapted as a market behavior to perform corporate social responsibility and reclaim Indigenous Reciprocity as the generational assignment to focus the healing potential of psychedelics to demobilize, demilitarize, reintegrate, and rematriate our national population from being in a state of war since its inception? What paradigm shifts can we catalyze for future generations by reclaiming billions and trillions spent on the Pentagon to be redirected into public health, including psychedelic, epidemiological research on violence? It is our collective right to mass mobilize to redirect our taxpayer money to prioritize expedited research on the ideologically, bias and hate-motivated violence that drives inter-group conflict and mass violence and how psychedelic-assisted behavioral interventions may offer an opportunity for prevention. The legal and regulated supply chain of psychedelics can and should be crowdsourced or publicly funded with taxpayer dollars rescued from the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security’s budgets.
The growing research findings on psychedelics’ efficacy in treating PTSD in the military community draws attention to the structural factors and social determinants of health that shaped the environments where PTSD was incurred while also demonstrating that there may be an antidote to this vicious cycle of diverse forms of violence. Emerging psychedelic research with the military population reinforces the mandate on actors within the psychedelic ecosystem to transform the national structures that sustain global war. The contemporary psychedelic legalization and research movements inherit a generational mandate issued from the counterculture revolutionary movements of the mid-20th century to address war and the military industrial complex by prioritizing research on psychedelic-assisted behavioral interventions that support conflict transformation and violence prevention. We and the next seven generations deserve freedom from ongoing, historic mass violence in all its deadly forms. May we heed the calls of the pan-Indigenous, 7 Fires/Generations, and Eagle and Condor prophecies to demand our public resources be rightfully divested from the arms and military industries and reinvested in violence prevention research, health, and human rights.