How Psychedelic Trips Can Impact The Experience of Racial Trauma

Psychedelics can help BIPOC communities overcome racial trauma, a recent study suggests. A single psychedelic trip or experience can help lower stress among Indigenous and Black communities who have faced racism in North America.

The study on improvements in racial trauma following psychedelic experiences among people of colour is the first of its kind, laying the groundwork for further studies to develop a clinical solution, and for the field to be more representative of BIPOC communities. 

While the ongoing studies in psychedelic substances like psilocybin and MDMA are showing positive results in dealing with mental health issues like anxiety and PTSD, there are no significant studies in psychedelics that are inclusive of BIPOC communities so far.

“Research studies that are looking at psychedelics for problems like PTSD have not included people of colour, so there’s a lot we don’t know,” Dr.  Monnica Williams, co-lead author of the research and Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Disparities at the University of Ottawa, shares. She added that there needs to be some research focused on people of colour and psychedelic substances.

313 participants signed up for the survey study from diverse BIPOC communities in Canada and the U.S., sharing their insights on the use of psychedelic substances and lowering effects of race-based trauma. 

“Their experience with psychedelic drugs was so powerful that they could recall and report on changes in symptoms from racial trauma that they had experienced in their lives, and they remembered it having a significant reduction in their mental health problems afterward,” wrote Alan Davis, who is co-lead author of the study and an assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University as well as adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

The lack of representation on the Black, Indigenous, and women’s groups have been addressed in studies for years. While diverse voices are taking shape within the psychedelic community, the process is prolonged and delayed. 

Lack of BIPOC Representation In Psychedelic Research 

The work of ethnic communities, Indigenous peoples, and women are generally overshadowed by white, western, male researchers. A paper published in March 2020 mentions, “In the recent bestseller by Pollan (2018), How to Change Your Mind – which, despite acclaim in both psychedelic communities and the mainstream public, omitted virtually all mentions of the historical and present contributions of women and people of colour.”

While talking about the challenges of the study, Dr. Williams shares, “There are a lot of white people who are in the research, and they are not really being very inclusive in terms of their own research teams.” She further explains, “it also means that they don’t have very diverse participants because they don’t think about it and they don’t know how to reach out to the communities of colour.” 

As researchers struggle to strike a balance in inclusivity, BIPOC participants are also understandably hesitant to be a part of these experiments and studies. 

“[There is] a cultural memory and knowledge that abuses have happened and they happen,” Dr. Williams says. She goes on, “A lot of this was abusive research that happened to vulnerable populations without their knowledge. I think that contributes to some anxiety, fear and reluctance.”

The Issue of Systematic Racism

‘Systemic racism includes the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups,’ a civil liberties research centre defines. 

Racism, either individual or systematic, is a broad subject and practice that continues to result in disparities in wealth, well-being, criminal justice, and education. Despite the relentless push for recognition in white-dominated society, there is still a long way to go.

Mona Chalabi, a data journalist from New York, has drawn from data on racial injustice and disparities to help communicate the gravity of the issue in blunt, illustrative terms.

Multiple studies have shown the grim effects of racism among people from BIPOC communities, leading to issues like substance abuse, PTSD, or internalizing beliefs. There are helplines available, similar to any other mental health crisis helpline, guiding people suffering from racial trauma to cope up with their experiences. However, Williams’ study suggests that psychedelics can be helpful to a diverse set of people who are not currently being included.

As psychedelic research expands, bringing forward medicinal solutions for many mental health issues, that research will be expected to be considerate of marginalized communities and would need to gain their confidence.

“Having more BIPOC people leading the research will help. When people see people like me doing the study, they feel safe and more comfortable,” Dr. Williams says. Williams is African-American, and currently lives in Canada.

Psychedelics Can Be a Potential Solution

The positive results of psychedelic-assisted therapy can be extended to treat anxiety, depression, and other symptoms resulting from racial trauma. “Our study shows that psychedelics can ameliorate symptoms of racial trauma, and several psychedelics seem equally effective for this task. As long as discrimination exists, there will be a need for effective treatments to help people suffering from racial trauma,” the study concludes. 

That need is tragic and continuous.

Dr. Williams shared that she would continue to devote her time to BIPOC-centric psychedelic research to help find better, more inclusive mental healthcare solutions.

“The next important step in this work is to conduct clinical trials to determine if the results of this investigation would be replicated in a controlled setting,” the paper says.

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