Fresh Perspectives on Psychedelics with the Founders of DoubleBlind Magazine
This week we interviewed Shelby Hartman and Madison Margolin Co-Founders of DoubleBlind Magazine, a bi-annual print magazine and print media company covering timely untold stories about the expansion of psychedelics around the globe.
Listen to the Interview or read the transcription below
How Did you Two Meet?
Shelby: Madison and I attended Columbia Journalism School at the same time but didn’t know each other. After we graduated, we had similar trajectories. We both were reporting on cannabis. I was doing a story for LA Weekly, and I contacted Madison’s dad, who was a cannabis attorney, Bruce Margolin.
I wanted to interview him for the story, and at the end of the interview he said, ‘I don’t know if you know this, but my daughter Madison is actually a cannabis reporter also for LA Weekly, and she went to Columbia Journalism school at the same time as you.’
So, I looked her up on Facebook, and we had a bunch of mutual friends. I said, ‘we have to get coffee!’ We did, and we hit it off. That’s the beginning of how our professional relationship began.
Tell Us About DoubleBlind and your Inspiration to Get Started?
Madison: In general, both of us have a love for long-form deeply reported stories, and we’ve connected over that. For DoubleBlind, Shelby was meditating, and the idea just popped into her head!
Shelby: It’s so funny because – I’ll get a little philosophical here – we talk about getting messages from the universe and Madison and I both have one foot in the New Age-y world and one foot in the fact-based reporter world. I’ve never quite known whether I really believed in the idea of messages from the universe, but I was no joke sitting on my zafu, and it felt like this message beamed down from the universe and into me. I opened up my eyes, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I gotta call Madison.’
We had no idea how we were going to do it or make it happen, but she said yes, and from there we’ve just figured out the details.
Madison: I see DoubleBlind as its own entity. If you believe in souls, DoubleBlind existed, and it is kind of channeled through us.
Why psychedelic drugs? What value did/do you see in them?
Shelby: Well, gosh! It’s hard to articulate why I feel that psychedelics are so important. Psychedelics themselves transcend words, anyone who has ever done one knows that.
From a reporting perspective that I knew I wanted to cover psychedelics and drug policy reform more broadly the first time that I went to a drug policy conference. It was the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Atlanta. I realized the conversation around drugs and medicine and how we treat our bodies touches every aspect of everything.
Psychedelics have been shown to increase our empathy towards nature, so it touches on this important conversation around our current climate crisis. Psychedelics and plant medicines are working their way slowly through the FDA approval process. They’ve been used for millennia for medicinal purposes that haven’t been widely accepted by the Western medical community.
This brings up fundamental questions around what are we putting into our bodies and what does it mean to be well and who do we look to as the authorities on medicine and wellness in our society?
There haven’t been large numbers of people incarcerated for psychedelics, the way there have been for cannabis and opioids and other drugs. But it touches on this critical conversation around mass incarceration and criminal justice and who controls our minds and who controls what we put into our bodies.
For me, psychedelics are a way to talk about all of the most critical issues that we’re facing in our society now.
Madison: The psychedelic movement is where cannabis was 10- years ago. What’s different about psychedelics is they’re far less casual than cannabis. If/When these substances end up being decriminalized/legalized for medicinal or recreational use, the ramifications could be far more profound in both good and bad ways. To have responsible reporting around psychedelics keeps the industry accountable and raises questions about who has access to these medicines.
Good journalism is going to be more and more important as the conversation really takes off.
As a human being, I see psychedelics as this intersection of science, spirituality, and the law and where they all come together. The mechanism by which people are getting well with psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is often that they have a “mystical experience.” All of a sudden scientists are acknowledging spirituality because of psychedelics, and I think that’s fascinating and what really inspires me to keep going and writing about this.
Do you Have Personal Experience with Psychedelics?
Shelby: Madison mentioned responsible reporting. You never know as a journalist how open you’re really supposed to be about your own personal experiences. I have done psychedelics, and they’ve had a very profound a profound impact on my life and the way that I see the world.
That being said, Madison and I are committed to abiding by all of the journalistic standards that we learned in graduate school from incredible mentors that come from newsrooms across the country.
When people say that psilocybin is showing promise for treating depression, we think it’s important to really look at that study, at who’s funding it, and how many people were in it. Also, to be honest about all the things we don’t know and the potential risks of taking these medicines.
At the end of the day to come out and say things that are sensationalistic or to blow the movement or the potential of these substances out of proportion without data, that can harm the movement. We’re committed to covering every side of this topic and to listen to everyone, including people who may think that psychedelics are the worst and should remain prohibited forever.
Could you share with us some of the potential cures that you’re seeing with certain psychedelics?
Madison: There are studies now that are looking at psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Shelby: There have been so many studies in the US looking at psilocybin and MDMA. MDMA from post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for a whole range of things.
A lot of people talk about psilocybin as a cure for depression. Depression is an epidemic with millions of people around the globe with treatment-resistant depression – meaning that they’ve taken a couple of different drugs on the market that haven’t worked for them.
But there isn’t a lot of research right now looking at psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Compass, a for-profit psychedelic research company, just got breakthrough therapy status from the FDA to research psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. But most of the data we have right now is looking at psilocybin among people suffering from end-of-life distress – so people who are terminally ill.
Madison: There are also political ramifications to the concept of people getting well. For instance, Natalie Ginsburg from MAPS has been working on a study that looks at ayahuasca for conflict resolution among Israelis and Palestinians.
We’re looking at the way policies or socio-economic relations are informed by trauma, anxiety, or an existential fear of, ‘am I going to be able to exist’?
A lot of people who are using psychedelics suffer from inherited trauma. Whether that dates back a couple of generations or several hundred years. Being able to reprogram your nervous system through psychedelics and an embodied practice of breathing through the psychedelic experience can really have enormous ramifications for interpersonal relationships, individual and collective.
Can you Expand a Little on History of Psychedelics?
Madison: Humans and plants have always had a symbiotic relationship. We’ve seen that with cannabis. That plant has been used everywhere from the Americas to Asia to Africa. Humans have been finding ways to use plants for medicine and spirituality for millennia.
Whether it’s iboga, which comes from a West Africa or the way people in South America figured out to combine different plants to make ayahuasca. In the Middle East, you have a combination of plants similar to ayahuasca called Harmala or people eating the leaves of the acacia tree which had DMT in it and is responsible for a lot of biblical prophecies. In India, people have been using hashish, which is very strong, can be psychedelic, and it’s a sacrament for a particular sect of Hindus who are devotees of the god Shiva, the god of mind-altering substances.
Even in Europe and America, we’ve always had medicine people. Sometimes they were called witches, sometimes they’re called shamans, it really depends on the region.
From the 50s onward, it’s as if Western society had ‘discovered psychedelics’ when really at least in plant form these have been an integral part of the human experience forever.
From the middle of the 20th century going forward when LSD was discovered and MDMA, there were studies at Harvard looking at psilocybin and LSD. That’s where the history culminates and where it became part of pop culture at large. That’s how the sixties got their reputation.
When people talk about the Psychedelic Renaissance what they’re referring to is scientists reappraising these substances, in a much more mature and tamer way then say Timothy Leary did back in the sixties and seventies.
Not to dis Leary – I think that the trajectory of the psychedelic history really needed in characters like Timothy Leary to get the word out.
Do you Think These Spiritual Drug Experiences Will Ever Have a Place in Modern Medicine?
Madison: Modern medicine has failed us in a lot of ways. If you think about all the treatment-resistant depression or PTSD and the cocktail of pills that people are being prescribed. The opioid epidemic. What we think of as medicine, the pills that the FDA approves and that pharmaceutical companies are creating and pushing through are not working.
There are medicines in both organic and synthetic form that work – and that have a history of working in a cultural and spiritual and medicinal context that predates the FDA or any sort of agency that would approve or prohibit these medicines.
Shelby: MAPS the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies has been pushing to get MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on the market by 2021 for post-traumatic stress disorder. I believe that if they succeed (and they’re on track to, they also got breakthrough therapy status by the FDA) that MDMA will be able to be prescribed off-label. That means that not just patients with post-traumatic stress disorder will have access to it.
Compass is aiming to get psilocybin on the market by 2021. Psychedelic medicine is right around the corner. Ketamine clinics are already expanding all across the country. Ketamine infusions for depression are showing a lot of promise, and the FDA recently approved ketamine for depression.
The very-very first FDA-approved study looking at ayahuasca is slated to get started in the next couple of years. A researcher named Leanna Standish at Bastyr University has been working for years to get that going.
My understanding is that LSD and psilocybin can be used for a lot of the same conditions. Researchers during the beginning of the psychedelic Renaissance made the strategic decision to invest in psilocybin instead of LSD because it doesn’t last as long. It just takes a lot more resources to sit with someone for 10 to 12-hours instead of six to eight. Also, because of the cultural baggage that comes along with LSD.
1, 5 and 10-year industry predictions – what would you like to happen in psychedelics?
Madison: I definitely think we’re going to see more on the wave of decriminalization at least within the year. Denver decriminalized psilocybin, and then Oakland went one step further and decriminalized psilocybin and other natural psychedelics.
In the next five years, we’re going to see likely FDA approval of MDMA and possibly psilocybin.
In ten years, I don’t know. I just want everything to be legal and decriminalized in an equitable, fair industry that includes everybody.
Shelby: Ten years is so hard to predict. Rick Doblin, the founder of MAPS, often says that medicalization proceeds legalization. We have seen that with cannabis, and I know that it’s a dream of MAPS and longtime psychedelic researchers to see psychedelic clinics across the country. Places where people can go and take psychedelics legally in a supportive setting.
The Oregon Psilocybin Society are aiming to get psilocybin legalized for medical purposes next year. If that bill goes through then there actually will be. psychedelic clinics in Oregon.
Let’s Talk About What’s Going on Outside of the US?
Madison: There are already Ibogaine clinics in different parts of the world – like Kabul where there is a lot of opioid abuse going on.
Shelby: What’s happening outside of the United States – there are lots of psychedelic retreats and journeys are popping up. There are so many people who are interested and they don’t want to wait until it’s legal in the United States.
We have ibogaine clinics in Mexico, a psilocybin retreat in Jamaica, Amsterdam has an exploding psilocybin retreat/ceremony center scene. Of course, there are all of the ayahuasca retreats that are happening in the Amazon, and that will continue to grow.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about these drugs that maybe could change people’s opinion if they were slashed?
Madison: I think a lot of people have been traumatized by this sixties. A lot of people were taking psychedelics in dubious environments. It was so casual and there is still this whole rhetoric around the ‘bad trip’ where people are scared to have a bad trip and go crazy and lose their mind.
I want to acknowledge that in its face. I’ve been through my own challenging trips, I’ve seen people end up in the psych ward after difficult psychedelic experiences. It’s not a joke, and it is something to be afraid of. I think we need to change the rhetoric from ‘bad trip’ to ‘challenging experience.’ I think there needs to be more of a harm reduction approach and how we approach and how we talk about psychedelics.
Set and setting, which is basically psychedelics 101. Make sure you’re in a good headspace make sure you don’t have any pre-existing psychological conditions like schizophrenia that could be triggered and make sure you’re doing it with the right people. The more people integrate into doing psychedelics, the more people are going to have more responsible experiences and hopefully, more profound experiences.
These substances should be treated not as party drugs but as really profound entheogenic plants that have the power to change your life. When you respect them and revere them, you’re more likely to have an intentional, conscious experience whether or not that’s blissful or challenging.
Treating them as medicines rather than as drugs can shift the way people go into the experience.
Your new magazine DoubleBlind just came out. What can people expect to see and where they can get one?
Shelby: The first weekend of June, we launched at the world ayahuasca conference in Spain. I have to give a shout out to ICS, the NGO that that facilitated that conference. 40-plus indigenous people from the Amazon were there talking about plant medicines.
Madison was at Chacruna’s Queering psychedelics conference in the bay area which is the first conference highlighting queer voices in the psychedelic community. Thats an amazing organization – Chacruna run by anthropologist Bia Labate.
Our issues are available online, and there’ll also be available later this summer in various brick and mortars in major metropolitan areas New York, LA, New Orleans.
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