When we sat down with Paul Stamets in Miami, the godfather of psilocybin advocacy gave us his take on the increasing normalization of the mushrooms he’s dedicated his life to.
The conversation took place the afternoon prior to Stamets winning Microdose’s Pioneer Award at its Miami mega-conference Wonderland. The conference was the biggest gathering of psychedelics-meets-pharma yet and Stamets was one of the stars of the show.
He started our chat by noting we have entered into a new cultural revolution.
“A revolution that is based on the fact that psilocybin is a medicine for the masses,” Stamets told L.A. Weekly. “Multiple meta-studies are out, and increasingly more clinical studies show that one experience with psilocybin is associated with a reduction of violence. It’s the only psychedelic associated with a reduction in opioid use disorder.”
The research is getting pretty wild and it’s easy to understand Stamets enthusiasm after the decades he put in. A 2020 John Hopkins psilocybin study of 24 people with a history of depression found 67% of the group showed more than a 50% reduction in depression symptoms at the one-week follow-up and the number bumped to 71% after a month. The researchers noted that one month after treatment, 54% of the group was considered in remission from their depression and no longer qualified for that diagnosis.
Stamets would expertly flow through other various medical and societal conditions that have been found to have positive results from psilocybin. He offered a quick encapsulation at the end saying, “Psilocybin makes nicer, healthier people.”
One of the things Stamets was most excited about was the microdosing possibilities for seniors. There is increasing evidence of psilocybin’s postive impact on brain health. Last year, Research from Yale found a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections after dosing mice.
“We not only saw a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10% larger, so the connections were stronger as well,” Alex Kwan, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, noted at the time. Kwan was the senior author of the paper.
There are obviously some pretty heavy implications at scale in an era where we better understand neurodegeneration.
“Think about our elders. If they could be at the top of their game cognitively at the end of their lives, the knowledge they can pass to the next generation is huge,” Stamets said. “We lose our body and the knowledge is being eroded. Not only from age-related diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, not only from accidents like traumatic brain injury and concussions, now we have neurotoxic viruses and it looks like repeated exposure to coronavirus shrinks your brain.”
Stamets argues all of this is addressed by psilocybin.
“All these neuropathies, psilocybin addresses them. So this is truly a medicine for the masses. What government official does not want to reduce crime? What position does not want to reduce dementia?” Stamets asked.
This led to our next question. Stamets has been at it a long time. What’s it like dealing with the policymakers of today compared to his many years of activism through the heart of the war on drugs?
“Before it was standoffish: ‘Stay away. I don’t want to hear it,’” Stamets said, impersonating the politicians of the past. “Now it’s like a light bulb goes off. Because there’s so much research by respected clinical institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Imperial College. It’s phenomenal.”
Stamets said the combination of those factors has put us at another cultural tipping point reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the sudden availability of new powerful psychedelic drugs.
“We were kids in the playground doing powerful drugs, psychoactive substances, without the guardrails that so many indigenous cultures ritualized,” Stamets said.
He called the rituals themselves very practical in maximizing benefit and minimizing harm. He feels combining the psychedelic medical principles of the last few thousand years with this moment in medicine is where we are going to see a lot of benefits.
“We are now benefiting and this concept of two-eyed seeing, which is really important. It is an indigenous-originated concept,” Stamets said, explaining it’s when you use one eye for indigenous knowledge and one for modern knowledge.
The discussion of where indigenous meets pharma was a popular one in Miami. We asked Stamets about equity in whatever is to come for tribes and peoples sharing their knowledge. Especially given that many of the traumas those people are trying to heal are a direct result of colonization.
“We need reconciliation. There is multi-generational trauma and there’s no doubt about that,” Stamets said. “Rather than reading the observations, let’s build a circle around building bridges. We’re all a community of one on this planet. We’re made up of diverse sub-communities.”
He emphasized that we have our mutual health in common and that of our descendants.
“I think the concept of seven generations really hits with the psychedelic community. We have a responsibility beyond our own self-enrichment. We have a responsibility to leave this planet in better shape than we inherited. And we have a lot of work to do in that regard,” Stamets said.
The conversation moved back to the power of potential and hope leading to this moment. Stamets noted he was both a pragmatist and an idealist but had the fortune of being an idealist first.
“We have to have something economically sustainable and ecologically rational,” Stamets said. “When I say ecologically rational I’m not just talking about the ecology of the environment, but also your ecology of consciousness. And we’re gonna have a deliverable of these medicines to benefit the common people and survive in a capitalistic system. I think, fundamentally, our bill of rights should include the freedom of consciousness.”
Stamets would go on to speak to some of the biggest roadblocks in the movement toward that freedom of consciousness. The biggest was people contacting their politicians. He noted that since there are currently 21 states exploring psychedelic medical and decriminalization bills or ballot initiatives, people have the opportunity to be more involved than ever.
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