Co-Founder of Sci-Com, Psychedelic Comedian & Advocate
We sat down with Sarah Rose Siskind — co-founder of Sci-Com and psychedelic comedian and advocate. She not only is a regular at many psychedelic conferences, Sarah uses her previous experience as a comedy writer to assist scientists in communicating their findings to audiences less literate in the field they are speaking on.
How and why did you get involved in the psychedelics?
I got involved with psychedelics out of desperation. Nothing else had worked to cure my depression and through 23andMe’s partner site, Prometheus, I found that I was less likely to respond to SSRIs, much like two-thirds of the population who are treated with SSRIs. Something about psychedelics appealed to me because it was answering the why of mental illness, rather than the how. “How do you get by?” is what SSRIs try to answer and “why are you depressed?” is sometimes what psychedelics can answer. So, that appealed to me greatly, but it’s a black market. With unregulated black markets comes great risk. I found I was at the short end of the stick. So I decided I would teach drug education. The drug education we all receive in high school is essentially “don’t do them.” We learned that “just say no” doesn’t work for sex-education and that absistence only doesn’t work for sex-education, but we haven’t learned that with drug education. There are no good safety precautions. So I got involved in that. Then I got passionate about communicating the science of the medical side of psychedelics as well as the spiritual and recreational side. Honestly, it was a gateway drug into the hardest drug of all which is the community of brilliant, beautiful weirdos that is the psychedelic community. And so I’m hopelessly addicted to hanging out with these people.
What are you currently working on and what do you hope to achieve?
I’m currently working on continuing to do a lot of comedic performances at psychedelic events and venues to make sure that the feeling of joy is not lost from our understanding of getting caught up in the science and medicine of everything. My show was a live show, called DrugTest, and it was cancelled in March — you’ll never guess why. I’m looking now to turn that into a podcast or a web series. I have a regular blog at PsychologyToday that’s about psychedelics, it’s a comedy column.
What’s lacking in the public discourse surrounding psychedelics?
Joy. You don’t have to sacrifice every ounce of happiness in your demeanor in order to communicate the scientific benefits of psychedelics. And frankly, sometimes, what happens is just weird. Scientists are getting more and more comfortable with lightening up a little bit when they are talking about psychedelics and can discuss the things that don’t make sense, that are beautiful in their illogical ways. We can talk about the cultural relevance of psychedelics for the modern era. As science becomes more secure, this sense of joy is starting to spread or improve, but there is still a lot of work to be done and that’s why I am here.
What are common misconceptions you come into contact with when talking to outsiders about your work?
One of my strangest gratitudes is how unaccepting my parents have been about psychedelics. Because the more secure I become in my usage and profession, the more I value their place as outsiders and their perspective as outsiders. My mom still warns me against “shooting acid.” I think one of the greatest misconceptions about psychedelics is the lack of emphasis on integration. A lot of the psychedelic experience is very confusing and the real work of gaining insight from the experience happens in the sober hours, the next week. Which is why there is a huge cultural component of psychedelics, because they sort of necessitate a group or a community of people with whom you can share these intimate strange experiences.
Also, the ready availability of drug testing kits. I get them from DanceSafe, it’s a great organization. They range from $50–100 depending on how deluxe you want to be and they will really help, they can save your life. And the availability of Narcan, that may be helpful to you. There are so many city services that distribute these for free. That’s my little PSA — misconceptions about how easy it is to test the substances you’ve been given.
Based on your observations, how does comedy affect the public’s learning process and interest in psychedelics?
Comedy is a backdoor into consciousness, it’s a humble way of getting people to pay attention and remember fondly the information you’re giving. It’s an extremely effective communication tool. I have a company where we advise scientists on how to be funny. So many scientists kind of drone on without conveying the passion they have for their own company. Certain studies have shown audiences retain more information longer when they are receiving it, laughter increases energy and interest in approval of a topic, and also it’s just fun. Mostly I’m interested in comedy’s role because I think the tone is sometimes as important as the subject matter itself and that can often get lost. I think that it’s important to be humble and comedy conveys humility. It is important to be humble because psychedelics can also seriously inspire mania or senses of delusions of grandeur and I think of it almost as a tactical and strategic move to combat some of the side effects and disadvantages of psychedelics. Beware the person who becomes sanctimonious for a lasting period after taking psychedelics.
You should have empathy for your audience. What are terms that may be esoteric for your audience? There is usually a dry and difficult part, at the top, where there’s a lot of material you have to get through almost like exposition in a show. And so the question is: how do you sweeten the deal? How do you incentivize someone within a lecture to stay until the end?
A way to keep people on their toes is to say “I’m going to slip a lie into the next paragraph and you need to figure out what it is. There’s all these different ways to get people to sit up and pay attention. I got inspired because issues like climate change and coronavirus are front and center in the news but we have a very difficult time explaining the science. There’s a lot of arguments that are frankly born out of ignorance. People not understanding and not knowing how to deal with uncertainties. It would be better if people were frankly more educated about this kind of stuff and it was more entertaining, to sort of take the sting out of things.
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about the work you’re doing?
I’m very affordable! That’s up there because it is a passion project of mine. Everybody gets the family discount. I’m in it to meet people. If you’re interested in psychedelics I’m interested in you. It’s small enough still that I’m fascinated to see what drove you to try something illegal and shamed and where you come from, what your story is. And I’m always looking for collaborators.