May 18, 2023 UC Berkeley
Yuria Celidwen, a UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute senior fellow, sheds light on how Western institutions can ethically approach the use of psychedelics. (Photo illustration by Neil Freese)
- Indigenous people have used psychedelics for centuries for spiritual and healing purposes.
- The psychedelic industry is poised to become a multibillion-dollar trade, but Indigenous communities have not benefited from this economic potential.
- Western psychedelic practitioners and facilitators earn significantly more than Indigenous medicine practitioners.
- Indigenous people live, on average, 20 years less than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
- A consensus of ethical Indigenous principles has been developed for psychedelic researchers to consider.
- These principles include reverence, respect, responsibility, relevance, regulation, reparation, restoration, and reconciliation.
- It is important to prioritize Indigenous principles in psychedelic research to ensure that Indigenous communities are not further harmed and that they can benefit from the potential of these medicines.
- Indigenous people have a right to self-determination and to control the use of their traditional medicines.
Yuria Celidwen was born into a family of Indigenous mystics, healers, poets and explorers from the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.
“I grew up with one foot in the wilderness and another in the magical realism of Indigenous culture,” said Celdiwen, a native of Indigenous Nahua and Mayan descent. “My Elders’ songs and stories enthralled my childhood. They enhanced my mythic imagination and emotional intuition, which became the fertile soil where the seeds of kindness, play and wonder dig their roots.”
“[But] we carry intergenerational trauma, and also intergenerational bliss,” she added. A result of Indigenous communities’ historical colonial oppression, genocide and “the exploitation of our Lands and age-old traditions, and the resilient, Mother Earth-oriented and tightly weaved communities and traditions we preserve.”
Those great disparities, Celidwen said, are formative to the research and work she has pursued for the last two decades, collaborating and building coalitions with Indigenous communities from around the world to create community spaces and policy that promote Indigenous Peoples’ voices and their time-honored principles.
Today, as a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Celidwen is exploring how Western institutions can ethically approach the growing research and use of psychedelics as viable medical therapies. She recently led a study published in the journal The Lancet Regional Health — Americas.
The paper, “Ethical principles of traditional Indigenous medicine to guide western psychedelic research and practice,” highlights how the new Western psychedelic movement can embrace and collaborate with the Indigenous plant medicine traditions that preceded it.
“The authority of the Indigenous Peoples must be recognized and respected as equal holders of sophisticated systems of contemplative insight,” said Celidwen, who previously served as a liaison of Indigenous affairs at the United Nations. “Indigenous voices bring forth actions of reverence, kindness, and compassion. So, my research is committed to the reclamation, revitalization and transmission of our Indigenous wisdoms.”
A burgeoning industry
Psychedelic medicines — which are still federally criminalized in the U.S. — have been engaged as “Spirit medicines” by Indigenous communities around the world for centuries. Sacred Indigenous traditions include ceremonies that practice these medicines not only to heal people, Celidwen said, “but to heal our planet by opening the spiritual gateways to the Ancestors (past and emerging) and promote transcendence through deep connections with Nature, the Universe, and Spirit.”
Recently, in the West, these medicines have been used as therapies for depression, anxiety, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), creating a burgeoning multibillion-dollar industry. Recreational use of psychedelic plants, like psilocybe mushrooms, peyote cactus and ayahuasca, have also created a market for Western psychedelic practitioners to charge thousands of dollars for facilitation. […]
Continue reading: Why Indigenous ‘Spirit medicine’ principles must be a priority in psychedelic research