The psychedelic renaissance and the limitations of a White-dominant medical framework: A call for indigenous and ethnic minority inclusion, Jamilha R. George et al., 2019

The psychedelic renaissance and the limitations of a White-dominant medical framework: A call for indigenous and ethnic minority inclusion


Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 2019

DOI: 10.1556/2054.2019.015


In recent years, the study of psychedelic science has resurfaced as scientists and therapists are again exploring its potential to treat an array of psychiatric conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. The scientific progress and clinical promise of this movement owes much of its success to the history of indigenous healing practices; yet the work of indigenous people, ethnic and racial minorities, women, and other disenfranchised groups is often not supported or highlighted in the mainstream narrative of psychedelic medicine. This review addresses this issue directly: first, by highlighting the traditional role of psychedelic plants and briefly summarizing the history of psychedelic medicine; second, through exploring the historical and sociocultural factors that have contributed to unequal research participation and treatment, thereby limiting the opportunities for minorities who ought to be acknowledged for their contributions. Finally, this review provides recommendations for broadening the Western medical framework of healing to include a cultural focus and additional considerations for an inclusive approach to treatment development and dissemination for future studies.

Keywords : psychedelics, indigenous medicine, minorities, psychiatry, cultural humility



“We can’t start history of psychedelics in the ‘60s in the Americas; that needs to stop. We [indigenous people] used this medicine before Jesus Christ walked this Earth.”
– Lisa M. Macias Red Bear, Injustice, Intersectional
Trauma, and Psychedelics, 2017

Psychedelics as medicine

Those unfamiliar with the history of indigenous or traditional healing practices may falsely assume that psychedelic science began during the 20th century when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann’s work with LSD and advocacy for its psychotherapeutic ability made him popular and admirable within the psychedelic community (Hart & Ksir, 2012). Although Hofmann and others certainly deserve credit for their contributions to psychedelic science, this narrative fails to account for the histories, traditions, and ritualistic practices of indigenous people whose contributions and expertise often go unnoticed and unrewarded in Western medicine. In this article, our use of the term “indigenous” will be used to refer specifically to members of ethnic groups who are original settlers of or native to a particular country or region, as opposed to more recently settled
groups who may have colonized the area. Colonization disconnected indigenous people from their
communities, land, narratives, and their medicinal and religious practices (Carocci, 2009). Before the Europeans’ arrival, indigenous people in the Americas maintained their own holistic system of care consisting of spiritual practices, plant-based medicines, and community involvement (Sessa, 2016; Taylor, 1971). It is a testament to the strength of these communities that, despite the unspeakable injustices during colonization, many original traditions remain relatively well-preserved. Owing much to this tradition, although frequently not acknowledging such roots, modern medicine has embraced the potential of psychedelic substances for the treatment of psychological disorders. This has included the
administration of a range of substances, including LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), and ibogaine, in conjunction with psychotherapy for the treatment of depression, anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Goldsmith, 2007; Mithoefer, Grob, & Brewerton, 2016; Winkelman, 2014a). The scientific progress and clinical promise of the modern psychedelic medicine movement owes much of its success to the history of indigenous healing practices. While some Western researchers acknowledge the cultural origins of psychedelic medicine and some effort has been made to involve members of indigenous communities in the design and development of clinical trials, few people of color have benefited from participation in such research (Michaels, Purdon, Collins, & Williams, 2018). While the White-dominant culture borrows from the cultural practices and ceremonial expression of often marginalized and disenfranchised indigenous groups, members of these groups end up alienated from the practices informed by their own cultural traditions (Wallace, 1992) and in this case, the medical benefits therein. Unless the predominantly White
Western mainstream field of psychedelic medicine recognizes its role in cultural appropriation (Herzberg & Butler, 2019), the perpetuation of systemic inequities, and the limitations of current treatment protocols for ethnic minority populations, it is poised to not only repeat the mistakes of the past, but is also at risk of severely limiting the dissemination of this novel treatment modality.