On the final episode of Cover Story: Power Trip, collaborators Lily Kay Ross and Dave Nickles answer the question that’s been top of mind since episode one: “Should you do psychedelic therapy?” Discussing this idea with individuals they’ve spoken to throughout the process, like Meaghan Buisson, who shared disturbing video footage from her MAPS trial with us, the answer varied. The one thing everyone agreed on: There’s much to be done to make psychedelic therapy safer.
To hear more about the “complainers group” and how more experienced individuals advise their loved ones who’re interested in psychedelics, subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and find the full transcript below.
Just a quick note: This series deals with sexual assault, so please keep that in mind when you decide when and where to listen. Also, to protect their identities, we’ve changed the names and voices of some of the people we’ve interviewed.
LILY KAY ROSS: Last year, I got an email from somebody I had known years ago — somebody I look up to and respect — and they were asking me about doing psychedelic therapy. Like, “what do you think?” They had no idea I was working on this project. And they were like, “Lily, you always told me that if I was interested in psychedelics, I should contact you. And I’m interested in working with this person and I’ll give you their name.” And like, it turned out it was someone that had trained with Françoise and Aharon, Yeah… Françoise Bourzat, the Singing French Shamaness. And I was like, “Oh, uh, don’t … don’t do that. Don’t do that.” It was just this feeling like an infection has spread everywhere and could touch anybody that I care about. Now at this moment where the floodgates have opened people will ask, “what do you think of psychedelics?” Or, “do you think this might be something that I could check out?” And it’s a question that a lot of our sources get.
DAVE NICKLES: We’re curious, what do you say to friends or other people who might be considering psychedelic therapy?
LILY: Do they ever come to you and say, like, I’m thinking about…?
SUSAN: Yeah, when people come to me now being like, “Oh, Susan knows all about that,” or whatever, I kind of go: “I might not be the person you want to talk to.”
LILY: It’s been a long road and for some people, the story keeps going.
SUSAN: I’m filling out the declaration—
LILY: The last time that we spoke with Susan—
SUSAN: —to give to the Board of Behavioral Sciences, about my therapist Eyal Goren.
LILY: She was printing out a form that she was going to submit to the California board that oversees
SUSAN: Okay, I’m just grabbing a pen.
LILY: She had to write out this summary for the investigator to explain exactly what Eyal had done to her while he was her therapist.
SUSAN: Okay. I wrote on January 5th, 2019: “After giving me mushrooms, Goren proceeded to lie next to me in bed. He then put my head into his lap and wrapped his legs around me.” Oops. Maybe I have to rewrite this again.
LILY: Eyal Goran was Susan’s mentor and therapist. She met him when he was her TA and he brought her into this underground training to be a psychedelic guide. And the training was run by Françoise Bourzat.
SUSAN: “Goren also engaged in sexualized touching, hugging me repeatedly and stroking my sides and stomach. He also kissed my cheek.” Now I’m going to say: “throughout his time as my therapist Goren repeatedly told me I needed to give into erotic transference. He said that all his clients try to have sex with him and I needed to give into it.” Okay. All right. I guess that’s that.
LILY: Susan was looking through her records to find the dates of her therapy sessions and reading all these text exchanges with Eyal. Dave and I checked in with her while she was right in the middle of writing down her allegations. She told us the investigator needed evidence that Eyal was her therapist.
SUSAN: I was like, “I have a plane ticket I bought for him, I have text messages.” And she was like, “Don’t send me everything. I can’t use all that stuff.” She’s like, “I need something that states that he’s your therapist.”
LILY: Eyal has since told New York Magazine that Susan’s allegations are false and that he never provided her with therapy. But Susan found out another of Eyal’s former clients was also in the process of reporting him. And Susan was ready.
SUSAN: I made a list of what I do have.
LILY: One piece of evidence that Susan had was the check and that little place that’s the memo, where you’re supposed to fill out what the check was for, well she’d put “landscaping” and he had texted her to be like, “why did you do this?”
SUSAN: And I just was like, “Oh, it’s just a joke, man. You just didn’t get it.”
LILY: What did he say, by the way, when you said, “it’s just a joke man” and he didn’t get it?
SUSAN: Wait let me pull up the actual text. Okay. Here we go. He said, “Next time, write ‘therapy,’ not ‘landscaping’” Smiley face. “Although, it might seem like landscaping sometimes.” I don’t know how to describe that emoji. That one [laughing].
LILY: Tongue dangling from the side of the mouth.
SUSAN: Yeah, different size eyes, tongue out. I said, “No, no, it’s just a dumb thing I do when I write people checks. Put a memo for something that it is not for. All good.” And he said, “Okay” with, like, a side smile emoji, “we don’t have that thing in Israel, so I wasn’t sure if anyone cares about what you write there.” I’m so grateful that I wrote that stupid joke. And grateful that he was so confused by it.
DAVE: [laughing] For sure.
SUSAN: I’ve been trying to find someone who gives a shit that this is going on and it’s just so wonderful to have someone who gets it.
DAVE: I feel that on this end too, it’s just kind of wild to be along for the ride.
SUSAN: Yeah. It’s amazing. I’m glad you all are here.
LILY: All right. Well, I guess we can sign off for now.
SUSAN: Okay. So I’m going to scan this off. Let me get the case number. “In the matter of Eyal Goren.” I attached the documents, and I’m going to press send. And it got sent.
LILY: So, that conversation with Susan was almost a year ago.
SUSAN: Yeah, I had filed the reports in 2021.
LILY: We recently caught up with her again. And she had just gotten another update from the investigator.
SUSAN: So she just submitted my case. And my evidence against him.
LILY: Do you know what happens next?
SUSAN: She said that it’s going to be a long road. It takes a lot of time. It can take a couple of years for it to pan out.
LILY: Eyal still has his license and he’s still able to practice therapy. The same is true for his mentor, Aharon Grossbard. We’ve heard several allegations against them in the last six months. So it’s pretty worrying to know that they’re still out there and who knows what they’re getting up to. But as the licensing board gets more complaints against them, they have more evidence to get digging. And if there’s something we’ve learned in this project, it’s that a lot is going on under the surface. It may take a long time for this to all pan out, but Susan’s pretty optimistic.
SUSAN: Like even just the fact that the podcast came out and at least things are being looked at — that feels like a huge win to me.
LILY: What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of filing complaints and reports?
SUSAN: Just this feeling of like, I’m not alone. I know we’re still doing it. It’s still happening. But I’m like, great. I already feel fantastic about it. We are not alone. It’s like there’s a whole group of us! Like, if it were just me alone this whole time, would I have done any of this stuff?
LILY: Susan is a therapist now, and she also has people asking her questions about psychedelic therapy.
SUSAN: And now like, regular people who never used psychedelics before are being like, “Oh my God, this looks so cool!” Even my dad emailed me something on psychedelics he saw in something. Or the worst is when people come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, I read that book by Michael Pollan.” And I’m like, “Huh.” (laughs). You know, they’ll email me the New York Times article or whatever. And I’m like, “yeah, I saw it.” I don’t feel good about it. I’ve done some really deep work with psychedelics and I’ll remember those experiences for my whole life. And it’s helped me with grief. It’s helped me with all kinds of things. It’s helped me to grow. It’s helped me to break down rigid maladaptive structures in my brain and then reform them in healthy ways. But I think I did those things. The psychedelics didn’t do those things. And it’s hard because if you have an ethical therapist, it can be great. But it’s a case-by-case basis. You can’t make every person ethical.
DAVE: Do you think that there’s a way to do it safely?
SUSAN: I think there could be, potentially. I think there’s something to be said for responsible adults using these substances in intentional ways and then going in and talking to their therapist about that experience. But not putting the power in the therapist’s hands.
SUSAN: I think there might be a way to do it. But it takes the power away from the therapist and makes it less sexy for the therapist and doesn’t make it into this shamanic thing, but makes it into more like a sleep study where you’re just observing someone doing their thing. People act like the psychedelic world is open and beautiful and all about love, or whatever, and that’s not true. All these narcissists use psychedelics and it just makes them into bigger narcissists. I don’t know what the right answer is, but what I’m seeing out there right now, I don’t want to be a part of.
ASHLEY: Hey, how’s it going?
LILY: Yeah, good. How are you?
ASHLEY: Good. Nice to see you.
LILY: Yeah, likewise.
ASHLEY: It’s funny. We’ve been talking a long time, but we’ve never really met.
LILY: Yeah. Well, I wanted to chat through a couple of questions that I had and, we’re trying to bring this beast in for a landing.
ASHLEY: Seriously, oh my gosh.
LILY: This is someone I haven’t told you much about. Her name is Ashley, and we’ve been in touch with her for a while. Ashley is someone else whose guide was trained by Françoise and Aharon. And she’s like a lot of people we’ve talked to, where she had a history of abuse as a kid, and she was having a really hard time when she sought out psychedelics to try to feel better. She’s one of the people who helped me see the scope and the magnitude of the problems in this underground world.
ASHLEY: I boil it down to there’s nothing wrong with psychedelics. There are things wrong with people. And yeah, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. More so than normal. So I think it’s important that people realize that part of it. Because that’s something I didn’t fully grasp.
LILY: To be honest with you, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about some of these subjects, but it’s really in the last two years for me, of doing this project, that it’s hit home just how vulnerable people are in these states.
ASHLEY: I think that anything that is a risk, there are ways to do it that are safer than others. You can go in a wingsuit down the edge of a mountain and you can do it at the ultimate risk or a bit safer, but that’s something that you have to assess for yourself, like what you’re willing to put on the line. But I think that if you’re relying on someone else within those states, it just, you know, might be good to know who they are.
LILY: Ashley was living on the east coast, and her regular talk therapist had recommended this psychedelic guide from Françoise and Aharon’s circle. And this guide swooped in with his magical shamanic combinations of mushrooms and MDMA and 5-MeO-DMT and these professions of support and compliments, and then love, and then … touch. And at first, the touch seemed reassuring. But then it seemed alarming. Like a lot of the people we’ve talked to, Ashley said no and resisted in a lot of different ways. And then during her fourth drug journey, her guide started circling her anus with his finger, and she confronted him, and eventually, she stopped going to him. Ashley also tried to report this guy. Because, like Susan, she wanted to stop him from hurting other people. She started with the state licensing board, but he wasn’t licensed. From there, Ashley goes on this strange and farcical trip — from members of an underground ethics council to Françoise Bourzat and more. We’ve seen her emails, but it was the phone and Zoom responses she remembers as being comically inconsistent and unhelpful.
ASHLEY: They told me things like, “oh, we’ve never had a complaint like this.” And then on the next phone call, they’d say, “oh, well, when we get complaints like this, we usually do…”
LILY: We got no response from the ethics council she was communicating with. Ever since we and other outlets have reported allegations of abuse in that circle, they’ve put out a message that they’re disbanding their underground network. But in the emails with Ashley back then, at one point they ask her what to do, like, “should … he stop working with women?” “should he get help?” She wrote to them that she was worried he was going to manipulate them. She remembers in calls:
ASHLEY: They wanted to tell me how sorry he was. I mean, it was just such bullshit. And it’s all about rehabilitating him and making sure he gets educated.
LILY: Françoise writes to Ashley saying, basically, “I don’t know the guy but my husband Aharon trained him. You want to talk to him?” And the ethics guy emails to say he’s asked Aharon to tell the guide to stop working until further notice. But her guide was based in New York.
ASHLEY: And I replied, “And where does his supervisor live? California, right?” And they said “yes.” And I said, “As far as I’m concerned, he’ll do whatever he wishes.”
LILY: She even talks to someone at MAPS, which at the time was the fiscal sponsor of the group Françoise co-founded with her daughter. Ashley wrote to MAPS because they’re the most visible above-ground group dealing with psychedelic therapy so she thought maybe someone there could help.
ASHLEY: He greets me with a tobacco pipe in hand and dogs barking in the background.
LILY: He declined to comment to us — either to deny or confirm — because of privacy. But Ashley says their conversation left her with a feeling he was ill-equipped to talk to someone who’d experienced what she had. And she told him so.
ASHLEY: It was so weird. He was asking me that maybe he could call me in the future to ask me some questions about how to be better at working with people who’ve dealt with trauma.
LILY: There’s some amazing scholarship around complaint. And one of the ideas is that when you pay attention to complaints and what happens when someone complains in an institutional setting, you learn a lot about the institution that they’re complaining in and complaining about.
ASHLEY: It was very clear to me that they were not going to be useful or helpful in any way. So that’s when I found you.
LILY: I just feel grateful to you for helping me to see that bigger picture and get other people to see that bigger picture. So we could shake that tree and like find the other things we found. And so, thanks.
ASHLEY: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I have had to play this balancing act between processing this stuff and then also just trying to survive and to get by. I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to think about these things and trying to just kind of move on with my life. Even listening to the podcast, I’ve just really had to listen from this very detached point. I’ve also just wanted nothing more than to go back in time and have not done this.
LILY: I hear you and I’ve been in that place. Where’s the fucking time machine? I had like a moment, it was two years after, and I’d just shipped all my stuff back from back east to LA and was figuring out my next move. I remember when my stuff showed up at my dad’s house and I opened up the container and looked inside and just had this moment of going, “what if I’d just never gone, and none of that had happened?”
ASHLEY: Just such a huge range of things in my life have changed because of this. My ability to connect with people has changed. My ability to trust people has changed. My career has changed. My marriage has changed. My friendships have changed. It has reached every part of my life. I expected to be changed differently. I didn’t expect to be changed like this.
LILY: Since all of this has happened, what are the things that have helped you the most to move forward, if anything?
ASHLEY: Nothing has helped in the way that I wish it would. I spent two months alone in the woods. Didn’t help. It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s just something that I have to deal with.
LILY: Yeah. I hear you.
ASHLEY: I think the thing that I have noticed most pervasively in the last couple of years has just been a constant … I don’t want to say numbness because it’s not numbness, it’s very painful. Just like, deadness. I went to eight national parks and stood in some of the most beautiful places in the world and it never really touched me. And those are the kinds of things that I used to feel the most. That always was like my saving grace. For all of the things that I’ve experienced in my life, I always felt like if I was somewhere beautiful that I felt connected to in some way, it would take away all the pain. I just thought that was built into who I was and that that was always gonna be something I could rely on and always have. And now I don’t get that anymore. We’re all quite permeable.
LILY: A lot of the people that we’ve talked to have been through hell. But most of them have made it clear that they don’t blame the drugs. Some of them are continuing to use psychedelics on their own terms.
MEL: I’m all for decriminalizing it. To make it accessible.
LILY: When we first talked to Mel, she told us one of the big reasons why she decided to participate in clinical trials for MDMA-assisted therapy was because it was a medicalized setting.
MEL: In the clinical setting, they’re supposed to have all the answers. They have a way to fix me. If I follow their path, they’re going to tell me what to do, and then it’s going to lead to this. You need these people with the letters, after their names, to give you something and to guide you through something.
LILY: Mel is the one who described her experience in the clinical trial as having open-heart surgery, but then everyone just walked away from the table with her chest ripped open. After going through that experience, she couldn’t figure out a way to put that back together. So she started doing psychedelics underground. And at this point, she’s kind of done a 180 on the whole idea of medicalized psychedelic therapy.
MEL: There is healing that happens, but it perpetuates the damaging belief that there is something about me that is broken, that someone and something outside of myself has the answers to bringing those pieces back together. My underground guide truly, and genuinely, did not believe that they are an expert on me in any way, shape, or form. I remember one time I wanted to kill them. They sat down in front of me with a cup of coffee, all serious at the end. And they’re like, “All right, you want to know what the fuck just happened here?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” And they look at me and they’re like, “I don’t know what the fuck just happened here.” And I was ready to kill them. I’m expecting answers. I’m expecting you to give me the answers, but that’s the beauty of it. No someone outside of myself knows me better than me. The medicalization of this is going to take something very powerful and put it into the hands of power. There is nothing more dangerous than placing power into the hands of power.
LILY: When we come back … the Complainers Group.
LILY: How are you doing? How are you feeling?
MEAGHAN BUISSON: So the short answer is I’m doing good and that I’m eating, sleeping, walking. I’m just really drained and kind of on the cusp of weeping. It’s weird being public about everything I’ve been public about.
DAVE: We talk with Meaghan Buisson pretty regularly. She’s the speed skater who had that terrible experience in the clinical trial. And then brought us a pile of data, plus the footage of the horrible things her therapists did to her during the MDMA therapy sessions.
MEAGHAN: Okay Zoey, stay. My dog’s like, “what are you doing?”
DAVE: A lot is going on for her right now. But one undeniable bright spot in her life at the moment is her certified PTSD service dog, Zoey.
MEAGHAN: We’re just practicing a stay as I’m talking to you. Oh, my goodness, she’s drooling. Good girl! Zoey, stay. Waking up in the morning to this wagging tail bundle of energy who is ecstatic to see me because we’ve been asleep for seven or eight hours, and every single morning she’s like, “Human, you’re awake!”
LILY: Have you had people come to you asking your advice on whether they should give psychedelic therapy a go?
MEAGHAN: First, there’s no such thing as safety. Let’s just be clear on that. The only question is, “can you feel safe enough to take that risk?” And I have zero desire to take psychedelics, any kind of drug. I don’t want anything in my body that will ever again make me that vulnerable. The advice that I always give people is the only way to be safe in a psychedelic space is if you bring someone with you, someone who is not tied to whoever your guide or shaman is. Someone who is sober and not taking anything and whose sole purpose in that space is to watch your back. These drugs rip you open. And I think people need to be aware of that and to understand that there’s no way to be prepared for that. And when it’s open, you can’t put the stuff back in the box. I’m sitting here now and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t do or try or a regulatory agency that didn’t call. And the answers I got were either, “Oh, this is so horrible, I’m so sorry this happened to you” and then silence. Or, “it’s not our problem.”
LILY: The process of complaining is hard, and it doesn’t often yield the kinds of outcomes that it should.
DAVE: After Meaghan reported what her therapist did to her, she did get a little bit of help from MAPS. They gave her a modest sum of money for the therapy she was struggling to pay for.
LILY: But to get that sum, Meaghan had to sign a document that waived her rights to ever sue MAPS.*
DAVE: At the time, Meaghan hadn’t seen the recordings of her MDMA sessions. And her memory was kinda fuzzy.
LILY: MAPS has given us conflicting answers about whether or not they reviewed them back then.
MEAGHAN: What my therapist did to me was horrific. How MAPS reacted and the trauma that has come as a direct result of MAPS’ response have been far worse.
LILY: It could sound counterintuitive at first, but it’s a well-documented phenomenon in the literature. Sometimes the ways that people and institutions respond to harmful compounds it and make it a whole lot worse. And there’s even this concept called institutional betrayal. So, there’s been findings that, like, in university settings where that’s been studied, it made people’s PTSD symptoms worse.
DAVE: For example, Leah, the phase three participant who rattled the cages and dropped F-bombs in an attempt to get people to pay attention to what happened to her. She tried to tell her therapists, she tried to tell the principal investigator of her site. She submitted an account of her experience that she was told would go to high-level MAPS staffers.
LILY: She even complained to the IRB, which is the oversight body responsible for making sure MAPS’ research is done safely and ethically. And none of it culminated in anything that she’d hoped for. Complaint teaches us about power.
DAVE: When you file a complaint, you get to see what the institution cares about. What does it protect? What does it pursue? What is it willing to reveal and share? And I think looking at these experiences, it comes back to this problem of institutional betrayal. Meaghan sat on her experience for months before starting the long process of reporting her therapists to various authorities. And then she thought long and hard again before making her name and her face and her story public.
MEAGHAN: I think that putting a face and a name to what is unimaginably horrific makes it harder for people to forget it, makes it harder for people to ignore it. I understand why people wouldn’t. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard and this long and this awful.
LILY: Like a lot of the people we’ve talked to, Meaghan wanted to speak out to stop this from happening to somebody else. Like her niece, or your daughter, or you. Or the kids that she takes on backpacking and kayaking as a wilderness guide.
LILY: Why is it worth fighting?
MEAGHAN: Why is it worth speaking out? I look at these last four years of my life and I see absolutely nothing more important than what I’m doing right now. And hell, it’s kind of fun to fight. Are you kidding? I’ve got so much fury over what happened!
LILY: Can we talk a bit about the Complainers Group?
MEAGHAN: I love the Complainers Group.
EMMA TUMULTY: Morning!
LILY: What do you think of the name?
MEAGHAN: I like it in the sense that complainers have such a pejorative term to it. “Oh, she’s complaining, can’t stop complaining.” I like the reclaiming of the word. Just saying like, “Hey, there’s something here. Let’s make this better”
LILY: For the last six months or so, we’ve had this group…
DAVE: …Which we’ve nicknamed the Complainers Group.
NEŞE DEVENOT: Hi!
LILY: Neşe, Dr. Neşe Devenot, this is Dr. Emma Tumulty.
EMMA: Lovely to meet you!
NEŞE: Hi! Yeah, I’ve heard great things about you.
DAVE: A bunch of the people that we’ve talked to along the way for this show have kind of gotten sucked into it. And now we’re all talking with each other.
LILY: So I put together an agenda. I have some different items to kind of talk through, but before jumping down to business, I wanted to just create a little extra space…
DAVE: Everyone has sort of their area of expertise, and Emma Tumulty’s nerd kingdom is research ethics and misconduct, and she knows a lot about the FDA and how drugs are approved.
LILY: She didn’t know anything about the psychedelic research before we reached out, but we pulled her in.
EMMA: Almost purely selfish for intellectual reasons. This is a trickier research problem to me than other research ethics problems. How do we keep people safe in this very complex kind of research ethics setting? That’s really why I’ve ended up down this rabbit hole [laughs].
LILY: Emma told us that once she started getting into the research side of psychedelic therapy and clinical trials, she really couldn’t stop thinking about how little the regulators knew or were equipped to deal with this new psychotherapy.
EMMA: I think, honestly, a lot of regulators and people reviewing this kind of work are probably not well-prepared. I didn’t feel well prepared for it and I’ve sat on ethics committees and reviewed very complex kinds of projects.
DAVE: One of the things that we did sort of pretty early on actually was to draft this complaint to the FDA. This 30-page rundown of the ethics and research issues.
LILY: And of course, we included some of what happened in Meaghan’s clinical trial.
MEAGHAN: We’ve got legitimate concerns here. We have articulated them clearly. And there is video footage. There is actual footage of real-time harms happening and here it is, FDA! Here is the video of this happening in real-time that a drug company sat on.
DAVE: It was a summary of all of the things we’d learned about the MAPS clinical trials. And it pretty much said why we were concerned about them. And that we hoped that the FDA would take a look at this litany of problems.
LILY: We were pretty confident that if they looked beneath the surface, they would find a Leviathan.
DAVE: So we sent off the complaint and for months, didn’t hear anything back. But we did get a reply two days after Episode 7 came out.
LILY: It was a bit unsatisfying.
EMMA: They’ve essentially said, “We understand you have concerns, we’ve identified similar concerns. We had a workshop about it — a workshop that includes MAPS as a speaker, speaking on the issues that we think they don’t do well and if we find any safety problems, we’ll do something about that. But we can’t let you know that we have, or what those things look like.” As an expert, I’m scratching my head about what you do next. I’m pretty stumped at the moment, disappointingly.
You can keep trying to address the individual problems. Where we can find evidence that undermines a paper, you can try and have a paper retracted. Where you find that a practitioner has done something egregious, you can have something about that single practitioner, and those things build up. But again, it doesn’t address the programmatic problem of the thinking that doesn’t think about safety properly, that is just doing what the bare minimum it can think of to pass the hurdle so that it can go to market. A lot of pharmaceutical companies could be thought of as doing that.
EMMA: How were they recruiting people?
LILY: And do we wanna do it at the same time?
EMMA: … one of the things I was thinking about was…
NEŞE: … just how unacceptable it is and meager…
LILY: The Complainers Group has had some real victories a little while back. We read an article about touch and consent in psychedelic therapy that set off a lot of alarm bells, and we decided to do something about it.
DAVE: We wrote this article in response to the patterns of abuse in psychedelic therapy, how different narratives of touch have been normalized, how a lot of those narratives aren’t evidence-based but are simply things that psychedelic practitioners said back in the fifties.
LILY: We just figured, “Hey, like if that’s getting published, we should probably try to get our 2 cents on the record.” So we did. The piece was published in the Bill of Health, which is a Harvard bioethics publication.
LILY: How does it feel that that’s out?
MEAGHAN: So cool. Both in terms of fighting back against the inappropriate messaging that I’d received about touch. And just taking a stand in a way that was recognized academically, as accurate and legitimate, and being deserving of being in that space. That was cool. Most of all, I appreciated how cohesive and collective it was. There was not a single sentence in that paper that came from any one person.
I need community at a level that I don’t think I appreciated in a life that has just dealt with loneliness by isolating myself. The difference between when it was just me for a bunch of years, like creating this binder of emails and sending out emails and phoning the 74 lawyers I called. It’s so different when I wake up, there are 52 messages from the Complainer Group and they’re heartbreaking and hilarious, and insightful. And like I’m just going for a walk and then like, boom insight bomb. It’s so incredible.
LILY: I feel you in a big way. Like, finding other people who are willing to take a stand and fight and do this work together — what a feeling.
RICK DOBLIN: When I was 18 years old, I was a college freshman. I was experimenting with LSD and mescaline, and these experiences brought me in touch with my emotions and they helped me have a spiritual connection.
DAVE: For weeks and months now, we’ve been telling you to beware of the narrative that people are pushing to promote psychedelics. Whether we’re talking about Rick Doblin from MAPS or Peter Hunt from the Australian organization, MMA.
PETER HUNT: Mental illness is the leading cause of non-fatal disease in this country. What more do we need to realize that this is an epidemic?
DAVE: This narrative’s about how everyone is suffering right now, and how psychedelics can solve all of their sufferings.
MICHAEL POLLAN: I think one of the things these drugs do is make it possible to break out of all the different, uh, forms of addiction.
DAVE: By giving people psychedelic therapy, we’re gonna eradicate trauma.
DOBLIN: I think by 2050, we hear so much in terms of climate change about net-zero carbon, but our goal is net-zero trauma.
DAVE: Psychedelics will heal everyone and everything.
DOBLIN: These experiences have the potential to help be an antidote to tribalism, fundamentalism, genocide, and environmental destruction.
LILY: A lot of folks don’t take these organizations or these wild claims seriously. But MAPS is for real. They just hired a new COO off Moderna and they got a $70 million investment.
DAVE: And MAPS told us they’re planning to do MDMA studies on children, as young as 7 years old, who have PTSD. So our goal, with our watchdog group Psymposia, is to investigate what’s going on behind the glitz of the psychedelic industry.
YARELIX ESTRADA: Hello!
DAVE: And that’s why we want you to meet a member of our team who works with the populations that so many people in this industry claim to care about.
LILY: Yarelix Estrada and Dave met because they were both throwing some similar critiques at some panelists at a conference. Like everyone on the Psymposia team, Yarelix has her own story of getting into psychedelics.
YARELIX: In college, it took me a long time to make friends.
LILY: She was a teenager from Miami and feeling really out of place at Johns Hopkins University. She heard about these studies Johns Hopkins was doing around psilocybin for depression.
YARELIX: I remember having hope. This is something that’s been happening and that’s been helping people get out of those holes that they’re in. And at that time, I remember knowing that I was probably depressed and thinking, “Oh, maybe this is something that could help me.”
LILY: She had her first mushroom trip at a friend’s house.
YARELIX: I remember laying in bed, listening to an artist that I liked at the time called Toro y Moi, and feeling happy, but also crying. And then I would touch my face and be like, “why am I crying? I’m not sad right now. I’m happy” but still feeling tears. That experience just opened me up. First of all, I don’t cry. So why was that? And second of all, why was I crying when I was feeling happy?
DAVE: Eventually, she became a psychonaut with her best friend.
YARELIX: Because we found suppliers and were like, “We’re going to do it all!”
LILY: I love getting a window into this version of you.
LILY: Nowadays, when Yarelix is talking about drugs, it’s not, “how do we solve all trauma and shift human consciousness?” For her day job, she works on the streets doing harm reduction in New York.
YARELIX: Working with people that have been justice impacted or unhoused or immigrants or low income. For some people, the idea of helping people get a safe supply of drugs is crazy. But that’s the bare minimum of something that we do so that they don’t end up in prison or die from using them.
LILY: So we asked Yarelix the question we’ve been asking everyone. Do you think people who are hurting should do psychedelic therapy? And do you think they can do it safely?
DAVE: What do you think these therapies might offer to some of the populations you work with? What potentials do you see?
YARELIX: In an ideal world, if there were frontline workers that were used to working with that population, that were trained to give psychedelics to them, I think that would work. Because they already have those relationships with them. But those are not the people that are leading these efforts, these studies, these programs.
LILY: When you say that that would work can you just say a bit more? Like, work to do what? What do you think it could do for people?
YARELIX: I think it could lead them to have a pleasant psychedelic experience. I think everyone deserves to have access to an experience like that because it’s beautiful — it’s like traveling. Traveling is awesome. You get to meet new people and have different experiences and see different places. And everyone should be able to have that in the same way that these experiences should be available.
I think that there could be healing that can help people realize that they can get out of whatever situations they’re in. But without fixing and addressing the outward circumstances that people are facing that put them in those situations in the first place, what are we doing? I heard this great analogy that was like “you have a river and it’s a toxic river, lots of trash and toxins in it. If you take the fish and you treat it, now you have a treated fish, it’s healthy or whatever, but you put it back in the river…what’s going to happen?”
MEAGHAN: Hey, Lily, Dave. I just wanted to loop back. Oh, you can hear Zoey. We’re in the car before a run. I just wanted to loop back to the interview last night because I was thinking about it and when people ask me about psychedelics, what comes up for me, and I’ve said it all the way through is, I do believe that we have a right to be an active voice in our treatment and our care. But for that to happen, we need to have access to the information, to make an evidence-based ethical decision. There are so many things that can go wrong in a psychedelic session. And the people who are positioning themselves as experts, for the most part, are not trained to deal with that. So it’s a fallacy to equate that to medical care. If you’re choosing to walk into that arena, go in with that curiosity and that skepticism, and recognize your own biases and what brought you there in the first place, and how does that put you at risk and how does that make you vulnerable? And bring someone with you who you can talk to, who you can trust, and who can really engage in skeptical conversations, supporting you, but also really caring about you. So that’s about it from me. My dog is starting to whine, looking at me longingly. I do need to go take her for a run, so thanks for listening.
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*In an earlier version of episode 9, we stated that as part of an agreement Meaghan Buisson signed with MAPS she waived the right “to ever sue MAPS again,” mistakenly implying she sued MAPS in the past. She has not. We’ve updated the episode to say she waived the right to ever sue MAPS.