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The Artist's Way Part III: Infrastructure for Transcendent Experiences
In parts I & II of this series, we looked at the pioneering work of Amanda Fielding and the Beckley Foundation’s scientific research and drug policy reform.
In this third and final segment, we’ll look at the third pillar of the Beckley Ecosystem—creating the infrastructure for safe, reliable, and supported psychedelic experiences through Beckley Waves, the psychedelic venture studio.
After decades of policy reform advocacy and partnerships with leading scientists worldwide, Amanda’s dream of bringing psychedelics and transformative experiences into the culture with reverence and respect for the power of these substances is finally coming to fruition.
In 2024, the FDA is expected to approve MAPS’ MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; this will be the first psychedelic/empathogen approved for medical use—and a watershed moment.
However, the rollout and delivery of a new paradigm treatment like psychedelic-assisted therapy will test the capacity and limitations of the current healthcare system.
This is because MDMA-AT will be the first time that the FDA will be tasked with considering the role of therapy in conjunction with a drug that alters consciousness for several hours, presenting several operational and logistical challenges.
Simultaneously, the legalized frameworks created through ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado are not merely following the cannabis playbook of creating a cultivation and retail system but rather what policy attorney Mason Marks calls Supported Adult Use—a framework that includes licensing individual psychedelic facilitators and regulated ‘Healing Centers’ where experiences take place.
While such measures add complexity and cost—compared to retail cannabis or conventional take-home medications—they are necessary for any system that seeks to create safe and supported psychedelic use.
In today’s dispatch, we’ll consider these challenges and opportunities by examining Aldous Huxley’s Oppenheimer-like moral dilemma on how Western societies may best introduce psychedelic use into mainstream culture.
And how the gravity of this question informs the work we do at Beckley Waves, a psychedelic venture studio dedicated to creating infrastructure for safe, supported, and accessible psychedelic experiences.
“In my utopian fantasy, Island, I speculated in fictional terms about the ways in which a substance akin to psilocybin could be used to… remind adults that the real world is very different from the misshapen universe they have created for themselves by means of their culture-conditioned prejudices.”—Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley’s Moral Dilemma
Aldous Huxley’s 1962 novel Island is a source of inspiration for many drawn to psychedelics.
Despite his passing in the early days of the Counterculture movement in 1963, Huxley played an outsized role in introducing psychedelics to the West, most notably with his 1954 book The Doors of Perception, a memoir that recounted his experiences with mescaline, and relationships and correspondences with other psychedelic luminaries like Humphrey Osmind and Timothy Leary.
But it was his novel, Island, that has made a lasting impression on many.
Despite The Doors of Perception’s focus on psychedelics and the experiences they invoke, Island’s appeal and longevity come from the utopic society Huxley depicts on the fictional island of Pala that many moderns long for—a primitive yet egalitarian culture, respectful of nature and which holds spiritual development in highest regard.
Perhaps most alluring is the role of the psilocybin-like Moksha Medicine, a psychedelic mushroom native to the island.
Huxley’s depiction of moksha highlights how he believed transcendent compounds need to be handled by society—with utmost reverence and respect for its gifts and risks.
The island’s residents use moksha medicine in a controlled and ritualistic manner to facilitate spiritual experiences and personal insight.
It’s intended to open the user’s mind to different perspectives and is vital to their education and spiritual development. The experiences under moksha are used to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and the world, promoting enlightenment and self-awareness.
Significantly, Huxley carefully distinguishes between the sacramental moksha and the intoxicants common in the industrial West.
This includes careful attention to conveying the importance of the sacramental nature, the significance of preparation and ritual, and the need for guidance and for the explicit aim of facilitating transcendent mystical experiences—all of which are stark contrasts to what he saw as the casual and mindless numbing of pain with ‘dope,’ alcohol and other intoxicants of then-contemporary Western society.
Despite the importance Huxley placed on his psychedelic experiences and his historical role as a central figure of the “psychedelic renaissance” with Island as the canonical text—he was suspicious of evangelizing psychedelics on account of his deep concern for the risks of mass-scale adoption of psychedelics.
Two instances highlight this tension.
In a lecture titled Culture and the Individual given at MIT in 1961, he posited that psychedelics can be incredibly useful tools to improve society:
“…widespread training in the art of cutting holes in cultural fences is now the most urgent of necessities. Can such a training be speeded up and made more effective by a judicious use of the physically harmless psychedelics now available? On the basis of personal experience and the published evidence, I believe that it can.”
However, on the other hand, in the same year, in a letter to Timothy Leary, he cautions (emphasis added):
“It is, of course, a truism—which you and Alpert [Richard Alpert, later known as Ram Dass] understand as well as anyone—that every potential savior of mankind has also the potentialities of a destroyer of the human species… You and Alpert have made the mistake, if I may say so, of putting out too much, too soon. All your best material should have been reserved for use by a few individuals, who were fully prepared to make proper use of it.”
Safe & Supported Psychedelic Experiences
Less than a decade after Huxley’s death, the Nixon administration made any discussion on how psychedelics could be integrated into society obsolete with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, making psychedelic use a federal felony.
Now, more than 50 years later, society is reconsidering psychedelics for their therapeutic and spiritual benefits, but the challenge is made more substantive because of the continued illegal status as research has been hampered by red tape, and many real-world best practices are cloaked in secrecy for fear of legal consequences.
In an opinion article from last year in the Journal JAMA Health Forum, titled Applying Lessons From Cannabis to the Psychedelic Highway Buckle Up and Build Infrastructure, the authors suggest:
“Drawing from the lessons of cannabis, we advocate that psychedelic policy move beyond the cannabis liberalization movement’s emphasis on drug access…the strongest evidence supports pairing psychotherapy with psychedelics after careful screening to maximize treatment safety and success. Thus, pragmatic and safety-oriented policy should focus on minimizing harm and maximizing benefits by developing appropriate therapeutic infrastructure—the regulatory equivalents of seatbelts, traffic lights, and speed limits.”
So, how do we create the necessary infrastructure for safe, accessible, and supported psychedelic use?
Enter Beckley Waves.
Psychedelic Care Delivery: Beckley Waves
With scientific progress marching on and psychedelic use among adults exploding, the need for creating infrastructure and delivering safe and legal access is already upon us.
Recently published data from the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that in 2022, 8% of individuals aged 19-30 reported using hallucinogenic substances in the past year, marking a notable growth rate of nearly 100% from five years ago.
The growth was even more pronounced for adults aged 35-50: 4% reported psychedelic use in the past year, a 100% increase from 2021—a 300% increase from five years ago.
This rise is directly related to the promising scientific findings published in the last 20 years that are now gaining increasing media attention.
Today’s explorers need comprehensive education about the benefits, risks, and potential long-term effects of psychedelic experiences.
But the most critical pieces of infrastructure are dedicated spaces, such as retreat centers, clinics, and research institutions, and skilled personnel to guide and support these explorations.
Today’s surge in mystical exploration demands an ecosystem that includes well-informed infrastructure, public awareness, and professional training.
Investing in these areas is vital for safely navigating the uncharted territories of psychedelic exploration.
Hence, the formation of Beckley Waves, a psychedelic venture studio co-founded by Amanda Feilding with her son Rock Feilding-Mellen and close family friend Daniel Love.
Beckley Waves is the second offshoot of the Beckley Foundation.
The first is the biotech startup, Beckley PsyTech, which was founded in 2020 by Amanda and her son, Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, to extend Amanda’s work and reach into the area of drug development.
Complementary to Beckley PsyTech's goal, Beckley Waves's mission is to ideate and incubate the necessary infrastructure for the intentional use of psychedelics for healing and personal transformation in safe and supported settings.
The most obvious place to start was to meet the surging demand by facilitating the highest quality preparation, support, and setting in jurisdictions where psilocybin is legal—thus the birth of Beckley Retreats.
Beckley Retreats was founded to bring the benefits of psychedelics—from expanding consciousness to furthering self-discovery and improving performance in life and work—to a wider community outside of a clinical setting. And they are doing so in safe, legal spaces with expertly designed and curated programs.
The Beckley Retreats team designed an 11-week program that includes a 5-day psilocybin retreat and comprehensive preparation and integration phases. They’ve assembled a world-class team of facilitators with decades of experience in both psychotherapy and indigenous wisdom traditions.
The programs are run in Jamaica and the Netherlands, where mushrooms (truffles in NL) containing psilocybin are legal.
The next project in the Beckley Waves incubation portfolio came about by identifying the major bottleneck to the rollout of psychedelic medicine upon FDA approval—a sufficient number of trained and credentialed mental health professionals.
If, as many suspect, psychedelic-induced altered states of consciousness become mainstays in the psychological and psychiatric toolkit, then it portends a paradigm shift in the nature of the therapist-client relationship and how therapists are trained.
Psychedelic therapists and facilitators need a deep understanding of the psychological, cultural, ethical, and legal dimensions of psychedelics and the altered states of consciousness they induce.
Consequently, a strong emphasis must be placed on developing robust training programs for therapists and facilitators in this space.
Beckley Academy was founded to provide such training for licensed mental health professionals.
The Last Mile
After decades of meticulous and plodding progress in advocating for global drug policy reform and painstakingly working with researchers to undertake costly and stigmatized psychedelic research, the hope and vision of Amanda Feilding and other early pioneers is coming to fruition.
With the expected FDA approval of MDMA soon, the advancing policy reforms in states like Colorado and Oregon, and the surging numbers of people using psychedelics, the time to build infrastructure for safe and supported psychedelic experiences is upon us—and the need is immense.
With the early success of Beckley Retreats and Beckley Academy, we are excited to share the next project from Beckley Waves when the time is right.
And if you’re a founder building a company for psychedelic infrastructure, we’d love to hear from you.