What happens when you take two heavily criminalized and stigmatized activities and put them together. For many clients — and their sex work providers — it’s nothing short of magic

Ahead of a psychedelic trip, Malakai likes to do a lot of preparation. He curates a playlist to serve as a “rough indication” for how long he’s been tripping. He formulates a custom lighting set-up to avoid disrupting the mise en scène. He cleans the house so his mind won’t wander to the meaningless chores of a mundane reality. 

Basically, when it comes to planning, Malakai doesn’t skimp on the details. But when he asked his regular sex-work provider to trip-sit him, a million more practicalities emerged. “What if I started crying?” Malakai, a pseudonym, recalls asking himself. “Would I fall in love with her? Would she get bored while I become detached from reality?” As it turns out, he needn’t have worried. “Rachel [also a pseudonym] saw no barriers to my concerns and seemed determined to turn my fantasy into a reality,” Malakai tells me. 

trip-sitter is a common phenomenon among psychedelic drug users, and it’s just a person who babysits you while you trip (most routinely with magic mushroomsacid or DMT). The practice is credited as a form of harm reduction, offering those on the trip a sense of safety, and hopefully, a peace of mind for a more positive trip (though experts are quick to warn that this isn’t guaranteed). Typically, you might ask a friend or family member to trip-sit, or even hire a professional trip-sitter. Or you might knock on the door of your regular sex-work provider.

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How COVID-19 Opened the Door to a New Era in Psychedelic Medicine

From Wall Street to Hollywood, psychedelics are having a cultural moment. For those of us who grew up in the “this is your brain on drugs” era, it’s hard to let go of stigma—and the mental image of an egg sizzling on a hot pan. But as a growing number of states and cities move to decriminalize drugs, and investors flock to an emerging market for psychedelic health care, substances like psilocybin, ketamine and LSD are edging into mainstream culture—and setting the stage for a paradigm shift in modern medicine.

Within the next few years, we could see psychedelic therapies prescribed for refractory depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or used in palliative care among those facing a life-limiting illness. But first we need to more deeply understand the benefits of psychedelic treatments. Right now, we are in the perfect storm to accelerate continued study—and health care workers are on the front lines.

It’s no coincidence that psychedelics are entering the conversation at the moment we most sorely need new ideas in mental health care. The world is experiencing mass trauma from COVID-19. It’ll take years for us to truly understand the magnitude of the pandemic’s toll on our collective mental health, but on the front lines, the picture is much clearer. In a recent survey of more than 20,000 frontline medical workers, 38% reported experiencing anxiety or depression during the pandemic, and 49% suffered burnout. Another survey found nearly one-quarter of all health care workers showed signs of probable PTSD.

When the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses surveyed 6,000 of their members this year, 66% said they had considered leaving their jobs because of the pandemic. “No amount of money could convince me to stay on as a bedside ICU nurse right now,” a Seattle-area nurse wrote in a resignation note posted on Twitter. “I can’t continue to live with the toll on my body and mind. Even weekly therapy has not been enough to dilute the horrors I carry with me from this past year and a half.”

Among health care workers, the prolonged battle against COVID-19 has intensified a long smoldering problem. Facing a fragmented medical sytem with frequently misaligned incentives, health care workers have been grappling with anxiety and depression—even before COVID, the suicide rate among doctors was more than twice that of the general public. From support groups and training to apps that monitor mental health, there are a number of programs that aim to solve and treat the problems leading to clinician burnout. But most have barely scratched the surface, and the prevalence of burnout during the pandemic has led researchers to explore alternative solutions—including psychedelic therapies.

A new study at the University of Washington is evaluating the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy using psilocybin for frontline health care workers experiencing COVID-related distress. “The situations that frontline doctors and nurses are facing is unprecedented,” says Dr. Anthony Back, who’s leading the study. “The symptoms of depression, burnout and moral injury call out for research that looks at whether psychedelics can play a role in healing the healers.” The U.S. is not alone in seeking alternative therapies for the growing number of health care workers in crisis: at Vancouver Island University in Canada, the Roots to Thrive ketamine-assisted therapy program treats health care providers and first responders with PTSD, depression, anxiety and addiction.

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In a First, Texas Passes Law to Study Psychedelics to Treat PTSD in Veterans

For years, the Free Thought Project has been reporting on the beneficial effects of psylocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics ranging from treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to addiction and depression. In the land of the free, however, in all places except for Oregon, Oakland and Denver, cops will kidnap and cage you for using them. Tens of millions of people are denied the potentially life saving effects of this medicine based solely on the fact that ignorant government enforcers threaten to use violence against you for having it.

All that is changing, however, and one of the most conservative states in the union is realizing it. While psychedelic research has expanded over the years, veterans with PTSD face a unique hurdle as these alternative therapies are not available for them. Instead, VA clinics dish out SSRIs like candy and hope for the best. But thanks to a new law in Texas, we could soon see that paradigm shift.

This month, Gov. Greg Abbott (R), approved a bill that will require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics on veterans with PTSD.

The state, in partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center, will study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans.

The new law also mandates a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.

“It’s said that ‘as goes in Texas, so does then nation,’” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alex Dominguez, in a press release. “While states across the country consider how best to address the mental health crisis facing our nation, I hope they once again look to Texas for leadership.”

As Dominguez stated, there is indeed a mental health crisis facing America as thousands of veterans commit suicide every year.

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How a Psychedelic 12-Step Program Is Saving Lives

In 2002, Dimitri M. was ready to die. He’d been addicted to heroin for over 20 years, and his once-promising artistic life had collapsed into a series of banal pit stops: from the methadone clinic, to the valet parking gig, to the coke dealer, to the dope dealer, to the bed, and over and over again. Eventually, his longtime partner succumbed to intravenous drug use, and, though they were married by common law, he was barred from attending her funeral.

Dimitri was ready to finally let the drugs carry him away, like an undertow. He planned to take a trip to Greece as a last goodbye to his ancestral homeland, but while researching his farewell voyage, he was reminded of a conversation with an old friend about a hallucinogenic plant with the purported power to heal opioid addiction. He embarked on his trip as planned, but scheduled a brief detour in the Netherlands to be treated with this so-called miracle drug: Ibogaine. Though the alkaloid extract of the Tabernanthe iboga plant with psychoactive effects is illegal in the United States, Ibogaine has been used for decades by the Bwiti people of Gabon as a sacrament in a coming-of-age ritual, akin to a Bar Mitzvah.

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400 years ago, visitors to this painted cave took hallucinogens

RESEARCHERS HAVE DEBATED for decades over the relationship between hallucinogens and rock art. Ancient cultures around the world have left an intriguing legacy of abstract, even psychedelic-looking images on cliff faces and cave walls, but modern researchers argue over the motivation behind the creation of such artworks.

Until now there has been no physical evidence of the use of hallucinogens at rock art sites. But a surprising discovery at a site in southern California now provides proof that at least some people experienced the site in an altered state of consciousness centuries ago.

In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international research team reports that 400-year-old chewed-up wads of datura, a plant with powerful psychoactive properties, have been found stuffed into the cracks of the ceiling of a sacred cave. Located near the edge of the traditional territory of the Chumash people, the cavern had been dubbed Pinwheel Cave after the swirling red painting on its curved ceiling. Researchers think this artwork might represent a datura flower, which unfurls in a pinwheel shape at dusk, and that the site may have been a place for group ceremonies where datura was consumed.

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