The Conscious Fund Talks To… Shelby Hartman

Editor-In-Chief at DoubleBlind Magazine

We sat down with Shelby Hartman, co-founder and editor-in-chief of DoubleBlind Magazine, a publication devoted to reporting on all things psychedelics.

How and why did you get involved in the psychedelics?

I got into psychedelics when I was 18 and I did mushrooms in college. And I was like “wow, really something here.” Out of college I embarked on a path in journalism and that’s what I spent most of my career doing. I started as a producer at CBS news. I was a reporter at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, which is the legacy newspaper there. I was the cannabis columnist at LA Weekly. Alongside that I continued to explore psychedelics, and plant medicines, and altered states of consciousness in my personal life. And in 2019, I decided to launch DoubleBlind.

What are you currently working on and what do you hope to achieve?

There are like two pillars to what DoubleBlind is doing. The first pillar is journalistic, given that my co-founder and I are journalists by race. We have the print magazine and a steady stream of online content that is coming out on our website that covers all things pertaining to the psychedelic movement from FDA approved research to the decriminalization initiatives happening in a number of jurisdictions across the country. And the second pillar is educational. We’re really aiming to be the one-stop-shop for folks who want to safely embark on a journey with plant medicines. So we have webinars with leading experts like Paul Stamets, Jim Fadiman, Rick Strassman, Gabor Maté, and Michael Pollan coming up in the new year. We also have online courses, including a course on how to grow your own mushrooms, which is taught by five mycologists who are on the DoubleBlind team. And a course called “Using Psychedelics for Growth” which covers every stage of the psychedelic journey from choosing the right psychedelic for you, preparing for the journey, navigating it, and integrating it once it’s over.

Where do you see psychedelic media headed?

Psychedelic media is already becoming mainstream and we’re seeing it follow a similar trajectory as cannabis. We have news outlets that cover a variety of things from national to international politics to science to health, etc. Our legacy outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and the newswires that inform most of the breaking news that is reported on in major newsrooms. We also have our digital media outlets like Vice, Rolling Stone, BuzzFeed, they cover a variety of things. Psychedelics is definitely something increasingly of interest to all of these outlets. Obviously Michael Pollan wrote a very long story in the New Yorker that preceded his book called “The Trip Treatment” that was kind of the first story in a legacy magazine or newspaper on the psychedelic movement. And since we’ve seen the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Guardian cover psychedelics more and more.

DoubleBlind has a joint column with Rolling Stone. Madison and I report quite regularly for Playboy. So we have all of that. Then we also have media outlets that are specifically devoted to covering the psychotic movement like DoubleBlind. There aren’t a lot of outlets like this right now. It’ll be interesting to see how the landscape evolves as the psychedelic movement grows. There are just so many opportunities and stories for a media company that is devoted to talking just about psychedelics.

Do you feel that there are tensions inherent in the commercialization of psychedelics? For example, in relation to indigenous communities?

I wrote a long story looking at this in the recent issue of DoubleBlind called “What Comes After the Plants’’ in which I interviewed sort of all the leading drug development companies about the various novel psychedelic compounds and delivery systems that they are bringing to the market and how these will be accessible to those who need them the most. It’s a complicated question because we can all say we want everyone to have access to medicine and we can all say that we support indigenous rights and basic human rights.

When we look at how this all plays out in the capitalistic paradigm we live in now where drugs cost hundreds of millions of dollars to get through the FDA approval process things get a little more complicated. I’ll say at this point there are for profit drug development companies like ATAI, Compass, and Numinus, and then there’s also non-profit companies like MAPs. There are a lot of varying opinions about whether psychedelics should be developed in a for-profit context or not, but it’s not as simple as saying people in the for-profit sector just care about patenting and profiting off compounds and the people in the non-profit sector only care about healing.

How do you think the psychedelic industry can address the concern that the current pharmaceutical model will perpetuate racial and class related healthcare gaps? What are your thoughts on how these therapies can reach communities that are historically underserved and may not have access to new groundbreaking technologies and therapies?

Monica Williams is a psychedelic researcher and therapist who is at the forefront of aiming to diversify psychedelic trials. She’s working for MAPs doing MDMA for PTSD trials that are only enrolling black participants looking specifically at potential for MDMA to address racial trauma and also only working with black facilitators and researchers in that trial. MAPs in generally has been making an effort to recruit more therapists of color because Monica has identified that part of the problem with people of color feeling comfortable in psychedelic trials is that they don’t want to have psychedelic experiences with people who doesn’t understand them, their pain, their trauma, and their lived experience in the world. Monica Williams did do a study that found that more than 80% of participants in psychedelic trials going back to 1993 have been white. Also mostly white educated men.

We’ve also published a couple of pieces by some really incredible racial justice activists who are in the psychedelic space. A lot of the lack of diversity of course has to do with the war on drugs, there’s a fear there around the inherent risk, but there are a lot of people doing important work trying to change that. We also partner with the Sabina Project which is a black led organization that holds integration circles specifically for black people. Chacruna which is a non-profit led by anthropologist Bia Labate that gives people of color in the psychedelic space a platform to talk about their experiences, because that’s a big problem too. There are a lot of incredible white educated men who have done a lot for the psychedelic community, but oftentimes we do see at conferences and in the media that these same voices are being platformed over and over again and a lot of people are not included, not invited, or not platformed.

What’s lacking in the public discourse surrounding psychedelics?

The Washington Post recently came out with a piece that was all about the debates around access to psychedelic medicine when it comes to market and how we can diversify the space, which was really really amazing and passed around widely. I was so surprised to see that story in the Washington Post.

For the most part the way newsrooms operate is they have decided before they read a pitch what is news and what isn’t news. Decriminalization and bill passing is news. Anything that has a lot of money attached to it or a prominent name attached to it it’s going to be news. What we don’t see so much is people who are really deeply embedded within particular industries presenting ideas that are more nuanced. At psychedelic conferences we are having a lot of conversations around inclusivity, sacred reciprocity and indigenous rights, around heteronormative framework around FDA approved clinical trials. I just would say, more nuance, more of everything that is not necessarily considered breaking news. That’s not a problem limited to the psychedelic movement, but a problem in the way newsrooms operate.

What over the past year have you accomplished that you are most proud of/shows the most promise regarding the future of the psychedelic industry?

I think all the bills that passed in November are exciting. I’m particularly excited about the legislation that passed in Oregon. The legalization of medical psilocybin for the first time anywhere in the United States. The decriminalization of all drugs in Oregon is a huge win for the criminal justice reform movement. I’m very hopeful about that.

In regards to DoubleBlind, the fact that we’ve been able to make a print magazine profitable in 2020 and not compromise our values feels like a huge win.

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Investing in global early-stage ventures in psychedelic medicine, helping deliver better outcomes for mental health, addiction, and pain.

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The Conscious Fund

Investing in global early-stage ventures in psychedelic medicine, helping deliver better outcomes for mental health, addiction, and pain.