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The Power of Psychedelics: Micro-dosing, trip facilitation and more with Psychedelic Passage [Interview]

Psychedelic Passage is an organization bringing new found support and facilitation to those embarking upon an intentional experience with psychedelics. As we begin to chip away at the stigma and propaganda created to surround these plant medicines for generations, we wouldn’t have made this much progress if it weren’t for those who are advocating to make it possible. In addition to providing in person support to those looking to experiment with psychedelics, Psychedelic Passage also focuses on helping you integrate the insights gained into your everyday life. 

Read on as I dive in with Jimmy Nguyen, co-founder of Psychedelic Passage on trip facilitation, how to approach micro-dosing, where decriminalization stands, and more.

Tai Carpenter: I personally thank plant medicines for changing my life, especially in  conjunction with live music experiences. I truly think everyone should experience psychedelics at least once in their lives. The work you all do is fundamentally important in making this more accessible for those who need it. Tell me about the seed that planted Psychedelic Passage. Was it a singular event or experience?

Jimmy Nguyen: Psychedelic Passage was founded by myself and one other person, Nick Levich, who is also a lead facilitator here at Psychedelic Passage. We’ve known each other for nearly a decade and a half and we each had our own separate but parallel paths of spiritual and personal development. Over a period of 12 to 14 years respectively for each of us, we went through this process of using psychedelics in a way that started off really recreational and unstructured, but then turned into a much more intentional and ceremonial approach in which the plant medicines came into our lives in a way that has become really meaningful to our value, purpose and how we want to be in this world. So we’ve always been really attuned with plant medicine. A few years ago, Nick and I were at a concert and he turned to me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to help people through these experiences and actually make that our life’s work?’ And that was a really pivotal moment for us, maybe about three or four years ago. We’d both already been working in cannabis – I was working in Cannabis Operations and Nick was involved in a CBD company – when we turned our efforts towards psychedelics. 

I think most of our first psychedelic experiences tend to be spontaneous and not very well supported. How would you approach the idea of microdosing to someone who is unfamiliar with using psilocybin?

It’s first important to recognize that all types of individuals approach their work with psychedelics in different ways. Depending on the intention, ones’ current life circumstances, physiology – all of that adds up to having the right support surrounding a psychedelic experience. It’s very true that our default way of experiencing psychedelics in the US is very much recreational and unstructured. There’s a benefit and a time and a place for that, but for the most part there’s a lot that can go sideways as well. 

There’s a notion in our Western society that if you’re not feeling well you can take a pill to relieve the symptoms. So many folks approach microdosing in that same regard as well, but the number one thing to know is that everyone is different. With microdosing, a normal amount is anywhere from a 0.1 to a 0.3 of a gram, and that’s of a dried psilocybin mushroom which contains anywhere from 15 – 30% of actual psilocybin. That’s usually enough every 2 or 3 days; the Fadiman protocol is pretty popular, the Stamets Stack as well. But the most important thing is to identify what you’re looking to get from microdosing – some folks approach microdosing for mood or sleep stabilization while some are using it to address certain mental health conditions or for their spiritual practice or even performance at work. So your dosage is going to be relevant to the goal you’re trying to achieve. If you’re one of those individuals on certain medications, like SSRIs or benzodiazepines, other things like that, your tolerance may be higher because psilocybin is a serotonergic psychedelic, meaning it works on your serotonin receptors so you may need higher doses such a 0.5 – 0.8g, typically every 3 to 4 days to achieve that same effect. There is certainly an interplay between what medicines you’re taking, what your physiology is like and what your intentions are. From there, you can determine if microdosing is appropriate for you. Tracking is also important – the amount of dosage, the time of day, how it was prepared and processed, if it was sourced from somewhere else, and then taking notes on how that experience was like: Were you out of balance that day, or did you achieve the results you wanted to take place that day? And then tweaking that slightly to find what works for you.

 Are there other herbs you’d suggest ingesting with psilocybin for an overall better experience, or for those concerned with nausea? 

On a microdosing level, you won’t have much of a nausea issue – I’d say that’s usually associated with larger macro experiences as I call them. But some folks like to also add what’s called a nootropic stack, like with the Stamets protocol, coined by Paul Stamets, a premier mycologist in the US. He likes to add other mushroom compounds such as Lion’s Mane, Reishi and Chaga, in conjunction with his psilocybin microdose. Some folks may add or remove other things, but all that is to say that it really depends on your intentions. If anyone is taking an existing MAOI or other medications, it is certainly worth exploring how those might interact or contraindicate the psilocybin experience. 

How involved are you in the policy side of things in regards to plant medicines? Could you tell us more about where the federal status stands?

So at a very broad stroke, most psychedelics are still illegal, meaning that they are designated as Schedule 1 on the Drug Enforcement Agencies’ narcotics list. Ketamine is pretty much the only one scheduled differently as a Schedule 3, which means it’s approved for off label use. With it now being listed as a Schedule 3, we’re seeing the emergence of legal ketamine clinics where you’re administered ketamine either orally in your own home or under the supervision of a medical professional, and then they typically have preparation integration services and support surrounding that. Most of the other psychedelics, mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, DMT, MDMA, even cannabis, are still federally illegal but what’s happening now is that many local and state municipalities are now decriminalizing entheogenic substances. 

Decriminalization doesn’t mean legal, it means the penalties for the substances in use have now been lowered to the lowest priority for law enforcement. A lot of times it can be a small fine or something like that, which is a precursor for future legislation. In California there was Senate Bill 519 which was drafted, promoted and defended by Senator Scott Weiner, who is trying to build a statewide legislation that would legalize, or at least decriminalize, all of these substances. The building blocks start with a lot of these decriminalization areas in local municipalities in Massachusetts, Denver, Ann Arbor Michigan, areas of California as well. The entire state of Oregon has now approved psilocybin assisted therapy. Cannabis almost followed a lot of these similar trends and as we see, it is now more on the forefront to federal legislation. What that means is that true psychedelic assisted therapy is unavailable to most folks. The first program will be Oregon and they’re currently going through curriculum and training for that program. It’ll likely be 2023 for that to come about. 

On the other side of it, you still have folks who are hearing about all of these potential benefits but don’t have a lot of options or structure of how to go about doing it. Some people will then seek an international retreat to Costa Rica, Jamaica or elsewhere, where they are being served the medicine there and having their own ceremonies. But there aren’t many legal options for therapeutic psychedelics under supervision of mental health professionals. The other side of it is this type of psychedelic use has a lot of different facets. There certainly is going to be the clinical, medical supervision, Western medicine model that is already well underway, and that will work for many folks. And then there’s this other side of it where, myself and fellow co-founder, Nick, we understand that ceremonial psychedelic use is something that’s been permeating for hundreds of years, possibly thousands, in specific cultures and most of that happens from elders passing down their knowledge, culture and traditions to younger generations. 

So a big part of what I believe and why Psychedelic Passage exists is that I believe it is a fundamental human right to commune with plant medicine. Part of what we’re doing as a trip sitting and harm reduction service is to carve out a space within this industry in which a model can be recognized that shows we can have these meaningful and intentional psychedelic experiences while doing so in a safe way. And they can do this in the privacy of their own home with little risk. We also work very well in tandem with mental health professionals, because many licensed therapists, counselors and psychiatrists can’t sit with their patients and guide them through an experience even if they wanted to – they could potentially lose their license. So Psychedelic Passage really tries to fill that gap because we know people need this help and support today. By providing this type of support and in person guidance, preparation and integration, we really try to help folks have meaningful experiences. The thing that would break my heart the most is somebody having an unstructured and difficult experience and not having the support and having that actually turn them away from all the potential healing that can happen through psychedelics. 

As far as being involved in some of the grassroots movements towards decriminalization, I’m a big fan of the Decriminalize Nature initiatives, those are national organizations that really advocate for this local level of decriminalization. I think Kevin Matthews in Denver is doing an amazing job of being a psychedelic and psilocybin advocate. I think the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel, also in Denver, is doing an amazing job of connecting first responders, including the fire and police departments, with mental health professionals and doing a case study on the effectiveness or detriment of decriminalized psilocybin in Denver. I am also a fan of the Nowak Society and MyCoalition. All of these little steps are really promising. 

How can someone recreate a calming and protective space while undergoing their first experience with psychedelic plant medicine?

First and foremost it’s about not being alone – it’s always helpful to have some support, someone who can hold safe space for you and be non judgemental in your process. Not everyone can find that person, but it’s important just to have support first and foremost. The other piece of it too, is taking inventory of yourself prior to any experience. Just knowing where you’re at mentally, physically and emotionally, and then trying to have some type of intention or meaning or really, having some sacredness surrounding the psychedelic experience. For example, having a recreational intention could be as easy as ‘I want to let loose, have fun, connect with others, and dance at this show.’ Therepeutic intentions, of course, would be a bit different. Having some thoughts about your intentions first will really help ground and guide that experience that’s about to come up. From there it’s about preparation. It’s not always about the intention of trying to alleviate a mental health condition or overcoming something, the preparation is tied to your personal intention. And then there’s certainly comfort and care, but checking in with yourself, your body and what it needs. Many of the times when people have difficult or challenging experiences it comes down to one or two things – one is, they’re trying to exert control over the psychedelic experience itself or resistance to what’s about to happen and that internal conflict can certainly cause some adverse effects during a psychedelic experience. The other piece is, you didn’t put enough thought or preparation into it. So when you needed water, you didn’t have it. When you need to go to the bathroom, you can’t get there. When you realize you haven’t eaten all day – those are some things that can certainly add in. A lot of it is self care but really it’s about putting a little bit of thought and intent into the experience, whether it is recreational or more ceremonial. A lot of it is about setting a conducive container for whatever that is, so the container is much more than your physical setting and your mind’s setting; it’s also the people you’re around, the environment you’re in. Also setting up the spiritual and energetic container, because some folks that want to have fun, may end up going into a deep introspection about a part of their life or a relationship they have with someone. So setting that really safe, non-judgemental container is the most important thing, and the preparation all leads into that.

I think a lot of us have been wanting to introduce our parents and maybe even grandparents to psilocybin because of its profound effects on our cognitive function. 

We work with a lot of folks who are in the later stages of their life, 60, 70, 80 years old. It’s interesting because the older generation have experienced the propaganda the most about psychedelic substances and what they are, and for the most part they were viewed as a major danger to society. So there’s a lot more social programming within the older generation as opposed to younger folks who have been exposed to different sources of media and have experienced or are a part of this resurgence of psychedelics. We have people who reach out from all different ages, backgrounds and genders. The most important thing is that individuals realize there’s a choice, and there’s a lot of power in that choice. Psychedelics may not be for everyone but they might be an alternative for a lot of people who don’t feel they have a choice other than prescription medications. I think that the most beautiful thing that’s happening now is these conversations are happening in more public spaces on a wider scale. Then people can do their own research and have that choice, which is really important in the psychedelic healing process. 

What does the future hold for Psychedelic Passage?

Beyond providing direct support to those seeking intentional psychedelic experiences, which is our main goal, Nick and I also seek to keep this type of support accessible to folks regardless of their social background, skin color, or economic situation. A big part of this is emphasizing the natural right for individuals to commune with plant medicine, and their right to choose where they have the experience and who supports them. 

I certainly have a deep respect for all of the clinical and scientific studies and research going on regarding the efficacy of psychedelics for mental health and medical issues. The rising interest in psychedelics would not be where it is today without that research. I also recognize that the prevailing clinical, pharmaceutical model is already well on its way to coming to fruition and will work for a percentage of the US population. But we also know that traditional methods of mental health treatments and therapies don’t work for everyone.

I read recently that based on current clinical trial data, the estimated price of an initial psilocybin therapy treatment can cost anywhere from $4000-6000, with follow-up treatments being $2500-3500 (https://www.clinicaltrialsarena.com/comment/depression-therapy/). To put that into context, this is a fungus where an individual can grow enough supply for themselves for an entire year for a couple of hundred dollars (cultivating psilocybin mushrooms is still federally illegal, however, and in no way am I condoning or endorsing breaking federal law). I know the value of mental health and medical supervision is contributing to that cost, but we have to remember that Indigenous cultures have been communing with psychedelic medicines for many hundreds (and possibly thousands) of years in private, ceremonial settings. 

So, Nick and I are on a mission to carve out space for safe, ceremonial, private use of psychedelics as the psychedelic industry continues to grow. We seek to preserve the natural right for humans to consume psychedelic and plant medicines in a way that honors many of the cultures and individuals who have done this type of medicine work long before Nick and I. In order to do that, Psychedelic Passage seeks to set a high standard for integrity, thorough client care, and working with psychedelics in a sacred manner so that the psychedelic industry can see that there is a precedent for journeyers to safely and thoughtfully engage with psychedelic medicines outside of a medical setting, should the client choose to do so.

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