top of page

Psychedelic Symposium breaks open discussion on justice for the advancement of psychedelic care

The NYU Student Association for Psychedelic Studies hosted the first inaugural conference on psychedelics and proposed solutions for challenges facing the field  

By: Sheridan Smith 



This past weekend, the Student Association for Psychedelic Studies presented the first inaugural Symposium on Psychedelic Justice. The symposium was held in an NYU lecture hall on 19 West 4th, and featured psychedelic activists, practitioners, and thought leaders who led a discussion on the complicated reality of the illicit plant medicines as they enter into the mainstream. 


Psychedelics, a subclass of hallucinogenic drugs that trigger non-ordinary mental states or the experience of an expansion of consciousness, remain federally illegal, and many of which are classified as Schedule 1 substances, defined by the DEA as having “no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.”


However, in light of the recent resurgence of psychedelic research for their medicinal potential, the symposium addressed the status of the burgeoning field, as well as growing legal and political support. They envisioned new ways of thinking in clinical and legislative spheres to ensure a positive and equitable future for psychedelics. 


The symposium took a social justice approach in interrogating dominant narratives driving the psychedelic renaissance, with admission wristbands that read, “less kool-aid, more critical thinking.” 


“This is a slogan that Tristan came up with in reference to the often cult-like mentality that can sometimes be found in communities built around the psychedelic renaissance,” Lida Rubanava, NYU SAPS co-director, told WSN with regard to the wristbands. 



The symposium began with a land acknowledgement and opening remarks by Tristan Bennett, the co-director and founder of SAPS, followed by keynote presentations and panel discussions on topics including practitioner-participant power dynamics, the issue of safety in illegal psychedelic work, psychedelic policy reform, and reparations with regard to psychedelics in recent racist and colonial histories. 


“We stand now at an extraordinary moment in time,” Bennett opened. “The advent of commodified and legitimized psychedelic treatments has opened new doors for patients in the western clinical setting.” 






Paige Rothaus represents Cardea, an organization that offers ketamine and psilocybin group therapy. Other booths in the lobby included The Psychedelic Access Fund, which sponsors psychedelic healing to people who cannot afford access, and PHREE TEMple, a nonprofit providing event safety, peer support, harm reduction education, and other resources.

Tristan Bennett, Co-Director and Founder of SAPS, posed for a portrait in the lobby before his opening remarks. 


Bennett praised the advancement of psychedelic medicine, while also emphasizing the responsibility of psychedelic advocacy.


 “Yes, we know all that, and a wonderful thing it is, but mass incarceration, toxic masculine insecurity, sexual assault, the brutal exploitation of the environment and the suppression of indigenous sovereignty – psychedelic advocacy touches it all,” Bennett said. “The fact of the matter is, we need tools to match the situation we find ourselves in.”


In the first keynote, Dr. Flux, a clinical psychologist who goes by Flux, lectured on ethical practices in the psychedelic therapy space, examined the power dynamic inherent in the therapeutic relationship, and addressed the risk to clients in psychedelic-assisted therapy. 



Dr. Flux, artist, communicator, therapist, and emerging professional in the psychedelic space, recevied his Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology.

Addressing the therapist-patient relationship in psychotherapeutic contexts, Dr. Flux said that caution was critical in the implementation of mind-altering treatments. Dr. Flux emphasized the danger in mixing sex and unequal power dynamics found in the clinical setting.  

Sexual abuse by therapists is rare, but it does happen. According to a survey, 9-12% of mental health professionals self-reported sexual contact with a patient. 

According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists are prohibited from having sex with patients. Under New York law, it is statutory rape when a mental health provider engages in a sexual relationship with a patient undergoing therapy, regardless of age, rendering the clinical patient unable to consent. 

Dr. Flux explained that the non-ordinary state of consciousness that psychedelics facilitate places the patient in an even more vulnerable state, which is conducive to healing, but also makes the patient more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

“Psychedelics are healing in very specific, structured and contained environments,” Dr. Flux explained. Flux nodded to the idea that the future possibility of healing touch in psychedelic-assisted therapy necessitates a significant remodel of the clinical container. “Without extensive training, sex cannot be a part of structured psychedelic healing. We need to spread this message, people are getting hurt, horrifically.”








Britta Love, somatic sex educator, writer, and activist pushing for the decriminalization of drugs and sex work, has been working in psychedelic spaces for fifteen years. 


Britta Love, sex educator, gave the second presentation on the issues of power, consent, and harm in the clinical sphere, and presented a new model to break cycles of sexual abuse in psychedelic spaces. 

“Unequal power dynamics are alive and well in psychedelic spaces just as they are in all areas of our communities,” Love stated. 

Love explained the tremendous healing potential of touch, and made a case for the inclusion of these topics in conversations around psychedelic healing. Love argued that a culture that can handle healing touch during psychedelic experience must first become increasingly aware of power dynamics, patterns of entitlement, bypassing, and defensiveness when harm is reported. 

The three panel discussions that followed addressed primary issues with increasing relevance as psychedelics continue to enter into the mainstream: the issue of safety in “underground” psychedelic spaces, the decriminalization of psychedelics, and envisioning new, anti-oppressive psychedelic healing practices. 



The panel titled, Power, Sex, and Accountability in Therapy, featured Courtney Watson, LMFT (on zoom), Cassandra Biron, LCSW, Jorge Arias, PhD candidate, and Victoria Wikler, Buddhist educator. 


In the first panel discussion, experts then discussed how lack of federal screening or standardized care in psychedelic spaces provides less protections for patients or verified avenues to report abuse when it happens. 

“Psychedelic work is illegal,” Watson explained. “We need to be looking at healing spaces that already exist, and design a standardized model based on theirs.”

Patients in traditional psychotherapy may choose to report abuse by filing an official complaint form to submit to a state licensing board. However, patients harmed in illicit or “underground” psychedelic space do not have the same federal protections. 

“I think the ability to anonymously report is important, and I challenge us to create it,” Biron said. “We need to make a stronger pipeline for people to report to reduce the harm.”



The panel titled, Prohibition, Policy, and the Law: Albany and Beyond, was lead by activists and policymakers, including Taylor Masterson, AAHS, CHCC, CPSS, Courtney Barnes, Esq, Aaron Genuth, Policy Advocate, and Victoria Litman, M.Div, J.D, LL.M. 


The second panel addressed current strategies being deployed in psychedelic decriminalization efforts, and stressed legislative responsibility to ensure equitable reparations and access to care as psychedelics integrate into a society of systemic oppression. The panel consisted of Decriminalize Nature activists and authors of a current bill in the New York State legislature, and reported on the progress of psychedelic legalization and medicalization at large. 


Panelists also addressed the social justice concerns regarding the westernization of psychedelics, the racist history of drug regulation in America, and the colonial extractivism of psychedelics from indigenous and religious communities.


“It’s expensive to do this work, and the FDA-approved clinical trials are geared toward the privileged,” Barnes said. “Embedded in these settings is white supremacy and the problem of whiteness, a problem that feels necessary to name.” 


Psychedelics have been a sacred aspect in many indigenous communities for centuries, and Mastersone explained that there are some legal exemptions of psychedelics used for ceremonial, religious, and spiritual purposes. 


The US Supreme Court opened the door for religious exemptions for illegal psychedelics to the Controlled Substances Act in 2006. However, these religious exemptions are incredibly difficult to attain as procedural nightmares


“Legal exemption for entheogenic use could range from the Native American Church as a ceremonial context, or Zide Door in Oakland, which looks more like a dispensary model,” Masterson said. “As someone thinks the law shouldn’t be deciding what is or isn’t religion, I try to not pass a lot of judgment on if something is or is not sincere religion. The focus in terms of drug policy should be public safety, not public control.”


The speakers suggested policy change means advocating on social media, speaking openly about psychedelic experiences, educating the youth on proper dosing, and contacting representatives. 



Attendees had the opportunity to network and socialize during an “intermission” in between talks.


“So much of this work is grassroots,” Genuth said. “The most important thing you can do is show up and advocate directly to legislators. These people hear from way less people than you may think, so requesting or demanding that they support these policies is vital.” 


The final panel was on the topic of Reparations, Reciprocity, and Revolution, led by Undrea Wright, Pammy Jackson, Jeanie Lee, and Zack Rieck, and addressed the extractivism by the industrial West of resources and knowledge from indigenous communities, and envisioned anti-oppressive therapy and healing practices to function within and against capitalism. 




“We have the chance to write the story of psychedelics in this new century.” Bennett concluded. “We have people in this room who are quite literally writing the story of psychedelics in research and policy proposals. We have the tools to change our world, let’s use them.”

bottom of page