Much attention is being paid to the potential for psychedelics to treat addiction. Scientific research, corporate interest, and active legal reform in this direction are now fact, but the formal results — let alone implementation — are still somewhere on the horizon, years away in most cases. We felt it was necessary to see how these substances were being used now, on the ground, by those in need of help. Kevin is a founding member at Psychedelics in Recovery, a broad-ranging peer support organization modelled after traditional 12-step recovery programs.
Out of respect for his wishes and the program’s tenets of anonymity, we will not be using Kevin’s last name or many details of his personal story. Suffice it to say that Kevin had an opiate use disorder and found his way to recovery after treatment with ibogaine, long before such practices began receiving the positive mainstream media attention they now enjoy.
“In conventional recovery programs, people would essentially make light of the fact that I took a psychedelic for detox,” he begins, “and I eventually started to censor that part of my story. I would just gloss over it. That kind of thing nagged me over time and a few years into this I just felt that there had to be other people like me, there’s no way I was the only one who had a story like this.”
Origins of Psychedelics in Recovery
According to Kevin, Psychedelics in Recovery began in New York City around late 2015. It started small, not seeking to draw attention to its slowly expanding circle of like-minded members.
“We sort of toiled in the darkness for five or so years,” he says. “We would slowly gain a following of people by word of mouth. It was a very painstakingly slow attraction of members to ensure that whenever somebody would find out about us, it was the right person that we were trying to appeal to. In 2017, we decided for logistical reasons to go online so that we could be open to anybody in the world. That prepared us very well for when, unexpectedly, the whole world shifted online. In early 2020 the Psychedelics in Recovery fellowship really experienced exponential growth and a huge increase in our meetings. We have 19 weekly meetings. At least three are doing in-person groups in Denver, San Diego and Madison, Wisconsin.”
With as much respect to anonymity as possible, we asked Kevin to estimate the size of Psychedelics in Recovery’s current total membership.
“We have a private Facebook group, which is probably around 2000 members, but that doesn’t really reflect a good sense of who actually attends our meetings,” he tells us. “Our mailing list sends out a weekly schedule which I use for a better sense of how many people are at least receiving the information. That’s probably more in the 1500 range. I try my best to encourage people to track the specific attendance numbers. We’re averaging five or six very well-attended weekly meetings of Psychedelics in Recovery that are hitting the 30-40 person range. There are others that have fewer than that, but I’d say we’re averaging about 20 people per meeting every day of the week, which is remarkable.”
Integrating Psychedelics Into Recovery and Daily Life
The exact terms of membership in Psychedelics in Recovery are, at present, deliberately broad. Anyone with an interest in expanding their recovery practices, experienced with psychedelics or otherwise, is welcome to attend. How members integrate psychedelics into their daily lives and practices is largely up to them.
“We try to follow the spirit of the 12 traditions that Alcoholics Anonymous created,” Kevin tells Truffle Report. “You wouldn’t necessarily have an official AA treatment center to go for alcoholism, though you might have individual members’ existing knowledge to recommend that people go to this detox or to that rehab. There’s a similar spirit where we certainly don’t name any specific place to go to on our website. We’ve said in our guiding principles that we don’t recommend using, or coming with the intention of starting out in our meetings, by specifically looking for either someone to sit for you or have sessions with or to source for you. It’s sort of the elephant in the room, because obviously those are questions that people that don’t have prior experience are very curious about. They do ask. We try to handle it gracefully and somewhat privately, as much one-to-one as we can.”
Membership in Practice
“Really, the only requirement for membership essentially is a desire to recover from addiction, or to be seeking support for family members who might be struggling from either a behavioural or substance-related addiction,” Kevin explains. “Some have more ongoing experiences with the substances, whether they’re macro peak-level sessions that they have a handful of throughout the year, or they’re partaking in more frequent low dose or microdose sessions that regularly inform their day to day recovery. Taking inventory of some of the ways that you interacted with people throughout your day and whether anybody that was wronged. Make direct amends to that. It’s admittedly a very fluid kind of DIY approach that’s pretty unique per each member. “
“We differ from other groups logistically in that we have to figure out like what part of our membership is addicts or alcoholics, or sex addicts or gamblers etc. We’re trying to be pan-fellowship, if you want to refer to it that way, trying to build a big tent. All are welcome if they have any experience or interest in any particular 12 Step groups. We do have meetings where we get members from, say, Overeaters Anonymous. It’s a pretty unique blend. They all have a wealth of literature so we are working on some of our own original literature but at the same time, we take advantage of the fact that there’s existing knowledge from all across all these fellowships.”
Sponsorship in Psychedelics in Recovery
The pan-fellowship approach raises other logistical questions. Many other recovery programs operate on a system of sponsorship, of which one of the key strengths is direct support and guidance through shared experiences. We wanted to know where Psychedelics in Recovery lands on this issue.
“That’s one of the biggest questions right now that we’re looking to address on an organizational level. There are some that take issue with the term sponsorship. Whether we call it a guide or a travel buddy or mentor, we haven’t landed on the term just yet, but a lot of the questions are about the nuts and bolts of the program like ‘what are the Psychedelics in Recovery 12 steps,’ and ‘what is sponsorship here?’ A lot of those questions are the hard stuff that we’re looking to tackle as a collective. Since the beginning, we’ve existed as a supplemental fellowship because of the fact that we have many meetings. There are a good amount of people that choose to only attend PR meetings and they want PR to be their primary fellowship. Those folks especially are the main drivers to carve out our own program.”
Dependency and Relationship With Substances
The very use of psychedelics in recovery raises questions of dependency and responsible substance consumption among what is already a highly vulnerable population.
“Any person who’s had a struggle with a substance or behaviour is at risk for developing other types of behaviour or related issues later in recovery,” Kevin admits. “We wanted to recognize the need that was sort of largely unspoken about in traditional 12 Step circles, for example cannabis use by members of AA or NA has likely been a thorn in many sponsors’ sides for a long time.”
“The irony here is that groups are meant to be inclusive, or meant to accommodate the needs of its members, and not necessarily to preach a particular perspective on what abstinence looks like, or sobriety or recovery. A message like that ends up alienating a lot of people. It may end up helping many people as a scare tactic, but if anybody has been paying attention to the history of drug use, scare tactics typically don’t work. What Psychedelics in Recovery does is bring folks out of the corners of traditional meetings where they may not feel comfortable sharing about this and instead say now your message is welcome here. We recognize the inherent risk. So we feel that sharing about this with one another, provides a far better version of accountability to help keep people in check that it’s not talking about it to anybody.”
“There have been some members that have played with fire a little too much, so to speak, and they started to slip on that slippery slope and some of those folks went on to experience full blown relapses. Others received peer support and recognized that they could actually reverse that trend before it got worse and got back on the wagon, so to speak. That kind of thing happens in regular meetings all the time, and it just invites secrecy when you’re not creating a place of inclusion.”
Recovery programs, composed as they are of anonymous personal experiences and decisions, are difficult to quantify. Membership metrics, days sober, and other numbers have their merits. Arguably just as important are the journeys of self discovery, the improvement in quality of life, and a sense of personal agency and accomplishment that, in the best of circumstances, can be achieved by those seeking to turn the page on troubled periods in their lives.
“I get to witness a sort of sense of relief and gratitude upon discovering our fellowship, and then for many people who have really never sort of tried to seek out the types of service that are often recommended in traditional fellowships, like chairing a meeting or being involved in a literature committee to brainstorm ideas for writing or discussing developing our sponsorship. Many of these folks have never done that before and their years of independence and other meetings, I get a sense of gratification. It’s the next chapter in many people’s lives, for folks that never felt welcome in traditional rooms but that do in ours.”
James Stephen is a content contributor at Truffle Report. He studied Politics and International Development at Trent University and completed his Postgraduate Certificate in Book, Magazine, and Electronic Publishing at Centennial College. He has previously worked as a chef, and in his spare time is an author and freelance writer.