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Thursday, March 2, 2023

Ethical principles of traditional Indigenous medicine to guide western psychedelic research and practice

Celidwen, Y., Redvers, N., Githaiga, C., et al.
(2023). The Lancet Regional Health
Americas, 18, 100410.


The resurgence of Western psychedelic research and practice has led to increasing concerns from many Indigenous Nations regarding cultural appropriation, lack of recognition of the sacred cultural positioning of these medicines, exclusionary practices in research and praxis, and patenting of traditional medicines. Indigenous voices and leadership have been notably absent from the Western psychedelic field currently widely represented by Westerners. An Indigenous-led globally represented group of practitioners, activists, scholars, lawyers, and human rights defenders came together with the purpose of formulating a set of ethical guidelines concerning traditional Indigenous medicines current use in Western psychedelic research and practice. A global Indigenous consensus process of knowledge-gathering was engaged which identified eight interconnected ethical principles, including: Reverence, Respect, Responsibility, Relevance, Regulation, Reparation, Restoration, and Reconciliation. A summary of the work is presented here with suggested ethical actions for moving forward within Western psychedelic research and practice spaces.

The way forward

To help orient this consensus process more directly towards solutions, we further summarize in Table 2 additional recommended practical solutions within Western psychedelic research and practice. This consensus process emphasized that by continuing the extraction and commercialization of various traditional Indigenous medicines, Western institutions are destroying the core themes of Indigenous life in the following important ways: (i) the glorification of psychedelics excites harmful narratives of exceptionalism that result in spiritual consumerism and exploitative tourism that is very often managed by Westerners; (ii) the unsustainable foraging of Indigenous medicines make them increasingly unavailable for local use; (iii) Indigenous Peoples are exposed to extreme violence from the infiltration of drug cartels into traditional territories that often source raw materials from forest habitats (e.g., MDMA); (iv) the spreading of false information about a particular plant medicine being the one key pill to human enlightenment. While these medicines may contribute towards powerful and transformative solutions to the health and planetary crisis, they can also lose their meaning when deprived of their cultural container. We hope that the eight ethical principles detailed here spark important conversation and action within the psychiatry and psychedelic research community towards better, more respectful relations.