Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in psychedelic research and therapy, particularly the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and iboga. Western science has enthusiastically adopted these substances; yet Western scientists must also remember the Indigenous voices within this burgeoning field and respect Indigenous traditions and knowledge systems when considering such research/therapy strategies. This summary offers key insights from recent articles and resources which emphasize the necessity of including Indigenous ethics into such endeavors.
Indigenous Knowledge and Psychedelics
Indigenous communities have established close ties with psychedelic substances for millennia, such as ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms and iboga. These substances hold spiritual and healing significance within Indigenous culture but the recent interest shown by Western science for these drugs has resulted in clinical trials showing their efficacy against depression, addiction, PTSD and end-of-life anxiety; further fuelling market growth for global psychedelic drugs market.
Yet, amidst this scientific enthusiasm, Indigenous voices have largely been sidelined, and their contributions ignored. Yuria Celidwen, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, highlights this issue, particularly the stark contrast between the profiting Western facilitators and the often impoverished Indigenous medicine practitioners.
Ethical Guidelines for Inclusion
To address these concerns and promote ethical engagement with Indigenous communities, Celidwen and Nicole Redvers, along with a group of Indigenous researchers and activists, have crafted eight principles outlined in their paper. These principles serve as a foundation for respectful and equitable collaboration between Western researchers and Indigenous communities in the field of psychedelic research and therapy.
1. Reverence for Mother Nature: The guidelines emphasize the importance of acknowledging the sacred relationship between Indigenous communities and the natural world. This perspective recognizes that Western science is just one way of understanding the world and invites diverse viewpoints.
2. Acknowledging Harm: Exclusion from psychedelic research and therapy has deep emotional and cultural consequences for Indigenous peoples. It disrespects their communities and sacred medicines, compounding historical and contemporary traumas.
3. Building Respectful Relationships: Establishing respectful relationships requires Western researchers to educate themselves about the harms of colonization and understand Indigenous viewpoints independently. It is not solely the responsibility of Indigenous communities to educate others.
4. Collective Decision-Making: Decisions involving sacred medicines should be collective and community-driven, with the input of Indigenous communities and elders. The involvement of an Indigenous person should not be seen as automatic consent.
5. Local Context Consideration: Recognizing the diversity among Indigenous peoples worldwide, the guidelines advocate for discussions at the community level to determine context-specific approaches to psychedelic research and therapy.
6. Open Dialogues: Open conversations are crucial for addressing issues like intellectual property rights, benefit sharing, and cultural appropriation. These discussions should be led by Indigenous voices.
7. Time and Care: While relationship building takes time, there is a need for simultaneous action to reduce the harms occurring in psychedelic-assisted therapy. Initiatives led by Indigenous communities can help mitigate these issues.
8. Indigenous-Led Discussions: Engaging with Indigenous individuals experienced in working with Western systems can be more successful in facilitating discussions about ethics, intellectual property, and reparation. These conversations should prioritize Indigenous leadership.
A Path Forward
The authors emphasize the importance of open and careful dialogues between Western researchers and Indigenous communities. They envision a future where Indigenous wisdom and Western science complement each other, acknowledging that each perspective contributes to a broader understanding of the world. Ariel Clark, an Odawa Anishinaabe attorney, and other advocates are actively hosting discussions on ethics, intellectual property, and reparation. These conversations, led by Indigenous voices, are essential for building bridges and creating a more equitable and inclusive approach to psychedelic research.
The articles and resources highlighted underscore the significance of including Indigenous voices and respecting their knowledge within psychedelic research and therapy. They stress the significance of ethical principles and community-led decision making processes in using sacred medicines in ways that support Indigenous communities while respecting their cultural and spiritual significance. As the psychedelic industry expands, it must recognize its obligations towards Indigenous communities and strive towards building an equitable and harmonious future. Integrating Indigenous ethics is not only a matter of ethical responsibility – it also acknowledges the centuries-old knowledge held by indigenous communities that could provide a path toward more equitable and compassionate approaches to mental health and healing.
“How to fold Indigenous ethics into psychedelics studies”
“Why Indigenous ‘Spirit medicine’ principles must be a priority in psychedelic research”
“Chacruna Launches Indigenous Voices in the Psychedelic Renaissance”