1.2 Treating Psychedelics as more than a ‘trend’
The wellness industry moves quickly — offering new, exciting trends for us to gulp up, smooth on our skin and invite into our blood-stream. But as these trends move rapidly, there is a risk that their deep-rooted historical and cultural context is shedded purely for profit. Referring to the co-opting of Eastern medicine by Westerners, journalist Jessica DeFino suggests that practices are often explained in part or contextualised in a way that helps to appeal to the western gaze. Yoga, for example, is a practice that has often been commercialised and simplified with a focus on lycra and toned bodies vs. its holistic physical, spiritual and psychological benefits.
Do psychedelics risk going the same way?
Maria Sabina, a Mexican healer, is noted as the woman who first introduced magic mushrooms to the world. In 1957 her village was publicised in a Life Magazine article, which led to a host of research that resulted in a great destruction to her local community. Researchers and practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to ‘decolonise’ the wellness industry — moving away from this mindset of taking- from and destroying natural habitats for personal gain.
But decolonising wellness needs to be more than changing the words we use — it requires infrastructural changes to shift the balance. As Rebeckah Price, a wellness and anti-racism advocate puts it — ‘it’s not enough for people to just be aware of the history of traditional practices, it’s about ensuring the communities where these practices were derived reap the benefits’.
What responsibility does the creative industry have?
According to Surface Magazine: ‘Designers are tripping over themselves to market psychedelics’, which is unsurprising given the hallucinogenic swirls, abstract shapes and fairytale mushrooms that have become synonymous with the aesthetic. More than this, as a collective, it’s exciting for us to imagine a world where we are able to reach a higher level of calm and creativity via natural means.
But if a psychedelics brief were to land on our desks, we’re determined to not be blinded by excitement. Below are only some, by no means all, of the questions we would need to ask:
Is the product based on a consensual and truly mutually beneficial agreement?
Are we genuinely reflecting authentic traditions and practices? Or are we twisting or amputating them for a Western audience?
Are we doing all we can to prevent damage to natural habitats and instead helping to proactively conserve them?
How can we elevate individuals and communities who actually know about psychedelics vs. taking it as our own?
How can we move away from branding traditions that only consider brand strengths and consumer needs?
By treating practices as ‘trends’, we apply a sell- by date that is both diminishing and destructive. When thinking about the positioning of psychedelics, there is a clear ethical, economical and cultural layer that needs to be interrogated —. well beyond the creation of an aesthetically and verbally pleasing veneer.
‘The myth of good skin, with Jessica DeFino’,
Doing it Right with Pandora Sykes
‘Inside the movement to decolonise psychedelic pharma’, Neo Life
‘What does it really mean to decolonise wellness’, Refinery29
‘Designers are tripping over themselves to market psychedelics’,
Image by Diana X. Munn-Estrada
Still from María Sabina – Spirit Woman, 1978