Growing up in a Narcocracy

This is an article I co-wrote with my partner Sam about the international impact of cocaine use. It was originally published on Medium.

By Samuel Jaramillo Arango and Erica Avey

@magic.theatre.studio

The year is 1991. It’s still two years before Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death, but 20 since Nixon started the so-called “War on Drugs.” I was born in the month of August in Medellín, Colombia — known then as one of the most violent cities in the world.

It took 27 years for me to realize my very first memories are tinted by the life and death of one of the world’s most notorious criminals in the illegal drug trade. However, long after Escobar was shot dead, hope for peace remains a utopian dream for the inhabitants of the paisa capital.

The cocaine market didn’t die when Escobar was killed, nor did the drug itself cease to exist. The protagonist changed, demand rose, delivery routes multiplied, victims increased, and the business model adapted to the guerrillas’ open war. Colombian history since the late ’70s follows a series of cartels that fluctuate between control of drug production, circulation, and the next “patron” to dictate the law of the jungle.

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Bioethics topics to explore

Migration as a bioethics issue — not allowing people to migrate physically (from asylum seeking to relocation for better opportunity and simply travel) and mentally (with psychoactive substance or mind-altering experiences) is a bioethics issue. Regulations on migration, travel, and drug use serve some and harm many.

The ethics of psychiatric diagnosis/prescription vs. self-medication — the current psychiatric system also serves some, but hurts many, and moving from the doctor-patient power imbalance to patient empowerment could be a solution. This research would seek information about people who do not receive psychiatric treatment (for reasons from ability to financial), who do not benefit from current pharmaceuticals, and who already know which drugs they want to try — whether from their psychiatrist or from the street. Do you know people who go to the doctor knowing what they’ll be asking for? Isn’t this doctor-approved self-medication? Do you know people given drugs by doctors that they wouldn’t take on their own, that might even make them seem worse? (Thinking strictly re: psychiatric medicine, not for example, cancer treatment.) Is self-medication really the problem authorities should fight or should they provide wider education and harm reduction instead? Reference: Portugal. Will the information age cut out doctors as the middle men between patients and their preferred medicine?  This would reference Our Right to Drugs by Thomas Szasz, among others.

Migrate

3 am, can’t sleep. Don’t want to think about it anymore. Him, her. Is it possible to care and be happy? Considering place. I don’t want to label and critique every moving object. Get into debates in a digital web of 1s and 0s. So reactive by surroundings. Neurons scanning a screen won’t fix the anthropocene. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about what I think on that podcast. Me, me, me. I, I, I on the byline. Why even put it in a book? Thoughts keep coming anyway. Maybe someday I’ll write them away. Mental predispositions mix with chemical compounds. Exposing patterns in unseen conditions. Role play the foreplay ‘til climax; the end. A crisis, the meeting point. Rather read and listen. Get high and take notes. Entering a stealth mode to heal head and heart. Still migrating physically and mentally. Something I don’t take for granted. Something all humans should be able to do. Freely.

Notes from the mycelium

Also published on Medium with a new title from the editor: The Future of Psychedelics is Inclusive: Why we need to have more than one conversation about the potential of psychedelics

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Sketches from the audience, by Sam.

Last night I attended the Women and Psychedelics Forum at CIIS, organized by Bia Liabate of Chacruna, with support from MAPS. Topics of conversation included the ethics of psychedelic therapy, sexual assault in ceremonial settings, the current state of crisis/division, and our history in a dominator system. We talked about psychedelic-assisted pattern-seeking, deconditioning, education, and healing. For individuals and societies. We talked a bit about the War on Drugs and how it has been used against black and brown people to benefit a few white people. This has been and still is our reality.

Speakers addressed the fact that these cultural problems of social inequality, sexual violence, and greed also exist in this psychedelic bubble. Surprise! (Well not really.)

But I left overjoyed that this space even exists, and while I’m still processing everything from the seven hour conversation — the many lines of thought to be continued — I am almost certain that last night’s gathering pushed me and other attendees a little further into our own hope/work. For ourselves and this community.

Compared to other conferences I’ve attended in the last few years… this gathering was different. The psychedelic space can be an inviting bunch, but the female psychedelic space provided a uniquely thoughtful, stimulating, and progressive mixing of minds.

I loved when Kathleen Harrison compared women’s work in this space to mycelium: a growing underground network, working from the bottom up. A web of connections highly aware that our current system is not collectively caring and compassionate (like it could be!). A group of voices that have chosen not to succumb to attempted silencing and “be quiet”s. We met here and chose otherwise, just like people before us did during the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. Psychedelic medicine can help us carefully gather information, come back, and share.

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Cosmic Travel in 20 Minutes

Originally featured in Michael Pollan’s ‘Trips Worth Telling’ series
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www.magictheatrestudio.com

Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”

At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.

That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.

Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.

On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.

Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically. Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.

Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.

That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but that single experience gave me the reassurance I needed to simply be as I am. To stop trying to embody a personality or mimic a state alien to myself. To stop worrying about what others are thinking and feeling at all times. This is not a story of ego loss, but a story of ego restructuringA moment of solitude that allowed my mind to better prioritize what matters and what doesn’t. What deserves attention. Especially for women, who may exhaust too much mental energy outside of themselves, constantly thinking about how others are feeling, thinking, and perceiving, this return inward can be especially therapeutic.

People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit. DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.

The effects of microdosing LSD

Originally featured on Medium

It’s 7am on the uBahn. Eyes still puffy from the night before. A woman slowly nibbles her morning brötchen while staring into the static on the broken TV above. Everyone is silent. And in this crowd of straight faces, there I am: grinning like an idiot. Why? I have a little secret. There’s acid under my tongue.

This slightly mischievous feeling is familiar to me. I’ve taken 1P-LSD (a legal LSD analog in Germany) over 50 times in the last six months. Most doses have been small. So small that they’ve merely lifted my mood, generally speaking. But somehow each and every time still feels brand new.

These ritual doses have drastically improved my life and reshaped my perception, but what’s really been going on inside my head? It seems my brain has been especially malleable these last few months. I’ve been able to untangle the knots of thought that eclipsed my reality and made everything a little darker.

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