Most psychedelics, especially the classics, remain illegal, and that leaves ketamine as the only option for therapeutic use. In Boulder, Colorado, psychedelic therapist Daniel McQueen, 43, also uses ketamine. But he has another, uncommon and legal, psychedelic tool up his sleeve, cannabis. While many of us haven’t thought to categorize cannabis as a psychedelic, its effects are similar to psilocybin or ayahuasca. “The plants evolved in the last 10 years,” Daniel says. When you combine different strains, some of which have THC of up to 30%, the results appear to impact the same neurological receptors as other psychedelics. Patients report inner visual experiences, strong physiological sensations, emotional amplification and memory recall. Daniel served as an intern for MAPS’ MDMA for PTSD clinical trials. He likens cannabis to MDMA because they both provide a level of emotional support “In a way it’s the best of both worlds,” he says.
Daniel alongside his wife, Alison, co-founded Medicinal Mindfulness in 2012. What started out as teaching psychedelic harm reduction evolved into a clinic that provides psychedelic therapy through personal sessions, group therapy, or retreats. It was a journey that took upwards of 20 years. “I was introduced to 5 Meo DMT at a very young age.” Daniel said. “It pretty much changed the course of my life. It was very therapeutic but it was also ungrounding and it required a lot of time to integrate it.” In his early 20s, Daniel served as an apprentice with underground practitioners. Yet the real shift happened when he decided to go back to school. “I really saw a lot of concerns arising without the balancing effects of psychological knowledge, and therapeutic processes.” So Daniel went to Naropa University and acquired a masters in Transpersonal Psychology, where he took part in an internship with MAPS’ MDMA for PTSD trials. Transpersonal Psychology originated in the 1960s amid the human potential movement and psychedelics. It aims to integrate spiritual practices, such as Buddhism, into Western psychology. While it is relevant to psychedelic therapy it is not a certification or license to practice. “You can’t yet get a degree in this, so those who are interested generally have to compile different practices and styles into a personal therapy modality.”
For Daniel that means juggling multiple jobs. “It’s a combination of writing, and internet work, and spending intense periods of time with people,” he said. In addition to running a therapy clinic Daniel coordinates Psychedelic Sitters School. It started out as a weekend workshop and evolved into a credentialed program. Last year the program trained 100 people in protocols to use cannabis in guided psychedelic journey sessions. This year the program will take it a step further and teach facilitators to use cannabis for depression, anxiety, and existential crisis treatment.
It takes dedication to commit yourself to a +20 year journey and become a psychedelic therapist. Especially in a field that is still navigating legal barriers. For that reason much of the psychedelic community is focused on clinical studies and healing processes. While that’s an important part of the conversation, Daniel has chosen to approach psychedelics from a different angle. There is a strong track record throughout history of psychedelics’ contributions to the advancement of humankind. Engineers credit LSD for helping them solve complex problems. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said taking LSD was one of the most important things he had done in his life. Before him was Doug Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse. And it’s no secret that microdosing is a big part of the culture in Silicon Valley. So when Daniel stumbled upon a paper by Dr. Andrew Gallimore and Dr. Rick Strassman on infusion, he started to think about how to induce extended peak DMT experiences. He ultimately garnered the support to recruit a team of practitioners and psychonauts to form the team behind DMTx.
DMT, the main component of ayahuasca, is the most potent psychedelic. The onset of the experience is immediate and lasts about 3 to 5 minutes. Yet just as you start to orient yourself, you’re already coming out of the experience. Through DMTx, an IV regulates the amount of DMT to stabilize and dial-in the intensity of the experience. If you can manage and regulate the dosage just above the breakthrough space, the experience slows down and you have more “breathing room” to look around. Daniel envisions technologists and inventors using that space to envision complex problems in different forms, manipulate it and bring that information back with them to facilitate a breakthrough in their research.
While the long term ideal is to push for DMTx stateside, currently the training of psychonauts takes place in Costa Rica. It’s a rigorous process for those who wish to become psychonauts with DMTx. Among other qualifications, candidates are medically and psychologically evaluated. “There is a minimum age requirement so that people are at least in their 30s, in that way they’ve moved through some of the difficulties in their life and have some stability,” Daniel said. Seeing as a typical DMT experience lasts 3 to 5 minutes, an extended peak experience with DMTx could be 20 minutes (maybe hours as the project advances), can be emotionally and mentally taxing. With the onset of COVID, DMTx continues to explore other options with retreats in Jamaica and a church in Brazil to keep the project going in Summer 2021.
It’s a “different way of helping heal the planet,” Daniel said. As a long time political and community activist, Daniel has found his own way to combine activism with his work in medicine as a therapist and educator. He finds the inspiration to pursue the healing potential of psychedelics in his daughters, 4 and 7 years old. “We’re going to have to resolve a lot of these significant global crises before they reach adulthood,” Daniel said. He refers to the social and political unrest coupled with climate change. “I’m really concerned about the planet right now and I think psychedelics might be, at least my way, of contributing to the conversation.”