Psychedelics have a long history with sexuality, starting with the free love of the hippies which, corrosive as their pacifism, preceded the ban on LSD and other consciousness-altering substances. There is also a perverse and ancient side to this relationship, such as the refusal of homosexuality and sexual abuse, an Achilles’ heel to psychedelic rebirth.
The positive image resurrected by neuroscience, now as promising treatments for psychological disorders of depression severity, does not match the idea that they can be used in conversion therapies, the so-called gay “cure”. Like Clancy Cavnar reports, in the 1960s/70s LSD was even used with the supposed purpose of treating homosexuals, including by therapists worshiped until today as Stanislav Grof (although only with patients tormented by their sexual condition).
“Therapists who used psychedelics to change sexual orientation in the 1960s and 1970s were pioneers who, based on their limited understanding of homosexuality at the time, were experimenting, although this was undoubtedly hurting patients, they were not driven by religious fervor or denial of science. , clarified since then,” says the California therapist, director of the Chacruna Institute in San Francisco.
“I doubt that the few remaining providers of conversion therapy, which has already been widely denounced as harmful and ineffective, are either well informed about psychedelics or see any potential in them, as they are generally religion-based programs.”
Cavnar, who runs Chacruna alongside Brazilian anthropologist Bia Labate, dedicated his doctoral thesis in psychology to “Effects of Participation in Ayhuasca Rituals on Gay and Lesbian Self-Perception”, 2011. She cites in the text an internal document of the ayahuasca religion União do Vegetal (UDV), from 2008, in which the leaders state: “… we can never agree with the practice of homosexuality since it contradicts the natural origin of human existence, that is, the relationship between man and woman, starting generation”.
Sought to clarify whether the doctrine that condemns homosexuality is upheld, the UDV limited itself to reiterating a note sent to the journalist Carlos Minuano last year for the article “’Right-Hand Psycho’: polarization intensifies among ayahuasca users”.
In the note, without repudiating the “religious position” of 2008, the organization says that “its objective is to work for human beings towards the development of their moral, intellectual and spiritual virtues, without distinction of color, gender, political ideology, religious belief or nationality”. And also: “The UDV accepts everyone who seeks it, without any kind of prejudice, prejudice or discrimination.”
“There is an emphasis on ideals such as the ‘cosmic balance’, the ‘sacred family’, the ‘divine union of male and female’, the ‘union of opposites’ etc., which ends up serving as a basis for a heteronormative, patriarchal and sexist”, says anthropologist Bia Labate. “In this sense, the ‘cure of gays’ becomes a project and a mission. Unfortunately, this is very common.”
In a professional, non-religious clinical context, this “conversion” seems unthinkable today, particularly after homosexuality was no longer considered a pathology, even in the 1970s. However, as there is at least one UDV leader (Luís Felipe Belmonte) and Even physicians and psychologists in the Pocketnalist sphere, it would not be entirely surprising if these people resort to the dimethyltryptamine (DMT) of ayahuasca, or another psychedelic, to lead stray sheep back to what they consider the natural path of virtue.
“Using ayahuasca to ‘convert gays’, euphemism for ‘evolution’ or ‘spiritual transformation’, is unacceptable,” says Labate. “We know that many people within the UDV are against the anti-gay manifesto. These voices need to be supported.”
This potential abuse, which would certainly come to harm the progressive rehabilitation of psychedelics for medicine, contrasts with another one, this one a real, old and present danger: harassment. Sexual abuse by professional therapists and healers is as old as the notion that these compounds provide panaceas for everything.
The plot, which does not need to involve psychoactive substances, is arch-known of scandals such as João de Deus, Roger Abdelmassih or Prem Baba: an authority figure, supposedly invested with the power to cure or enlighten, takes advantage of the patient’s or disciple’s fragility to have sex or simply to rape.
In the case of psychedelics, the usual risk situation is enhanced by at least three specific factors. First, its association with sexual freedom won by the counterculture movement, a revolution that has not been without victims.
Many providers of psychedelic therapies, before and after the ban, are themselves adherents of these substances and of unconventional notions about sex. In the clinical underworld to which these practices were relegated by criminalization, the lack of control by professional associations and the inherent secrecy make it difficult for complaints to arise and spread.
Second, depending on the substance, the psychonaut can spend many hours physically and mentally incapable of reacting, in addition to being suggestible, which increases his vulnerability. Finally, psychedelics can have some aphrodisiac effect, predisposing the person in search of healing or well-being to invest their desire in the person of the healer.
“We hear a lot about sexual abuse just because we’ve been in the plant medicine community for so long,” says Cavnar, referring to the partnership with Labate. “There are always whispers about some scandal, but much hesitation in exposing practitioners, because of legal implications for everyone involved and feelings of protection towards the practice itself, preventing it from being seen as an abusive practice involving sexual misbehavior and drugs.”
Cavnar reports knowing some cases of women who seek sexual adventures with shamans or see sex as a way of learning to obtain spiritual powers. “Some never regret these adventures, some marry the shaman or become ‘natives’, and perhaps some come to regret it, but these are not the stories people use Chacruna with,” he says. “More often is the case of an intoxicated woman who doesn’t understand what’s going on, in a strange land, in a strange culture, worshiping a mysterious jungle healer who doesn’t know what to do or who to look for after a rape.”
None of this relieves the therapist or shaman from responsibility, which actually increases. Even if an intoxicated participant manifests wrong judgment in a vulnerable state, it is still up to the facilitator or shaman to understand this vulnerability and protect the participant against wrong choices, stresses the psychotherapist.
Not that abuse cases are just clandestine clinics and obscure rituals, as he pointed out. Will Hall in an essay that ran the psychedelic community in September, “Breaking the Silence of Abuse in Psychedelic Therapy”. Hall traces a gruesome history of abuse allegations, such as those raised against therapists Rick Ingrasci (1989), who allegedly raped three patients after giving them MDMA, and Francesco DiLeo, his friend.
The author of the essay himself narrates a traumatic sexual involvement with the couple of therapists Aharon Grossbard and Françoise Bourzat, in the 1990s, in San Francisco. And recovers the abuse case reported by the Canadian Meaghan Buisson, which took place in 2015, when she participated as a volunteer in a clinical study with MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dirigido by Richard Yensen.
This last episode is particularly worrisome because it took place in the context of the most advanced research to enshrine a psychedelic (MDMA) as a treatment for a psychiatric disorder (PTSD). The 2015 trial was phase 2, but the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPs) sponsored studies have since moved to phase 3, and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is expected to receive FDA agency approval in 2023.
A Maps reacted to Hall’s text with this note. In the treatment protocol stipulated by the association, the sessions in which the patient is under the effect of MDMA are continuously monitored by a couple of therapists, on the assumption that the presence of two genders inhibits sexual initiatives.
Hall criticizes the fact that the informed consent forms used in these studies generally do not include among the risks of MDMA its known effects on sexual appetite. In addition, it points to reports on psychedelics and publicity works, such as the best seller “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan, as vehicles of a sweetened vision of psychedelics, redesigned in the current renaissance as “treatments”, no longer treated as the powerful drugs that are.
The interdiction of sexual relationships with patients before, during and after treatment is a basic rule of any code of conduct for psychotherapists, as explicit in Maps itself. Given the specifics of psychedelic-assisted therapy, however, it would be prudent to place more emphasis on the risks inherent in this modality, otherwise scandals will contaminate the hitherto positive news about the psychedelic rebirth.
The Chacruna Institute, for example, has published in several languages a “Guide for the Ayahuasca Community to Raise Awareness on Sexual Abuse”. and the Pollan, at an institute event with Labate on Thursday (18), pointed to sexual abuse scandals as an open flank for the media reversal that, in his opinion, always comes up in the United States with every subject that becomes popular.
Coincidence or not, the sex will be featured in the upcoming Global Drug Survey, an influential survey of drug use and practices carried out over the internet in several countries, including Brazil.
From the description of the goals, the GDS 2022 seems more interested in the positive effects of psychedelics on sexuality. Perhaps something less pleasure-oriented comes up in the questions addressed to “those who have experienced some kind of sexual trauma” in order to find out whether “they thought the use of psychedelics had any impact on it.”
To avoid the sweetening bias criticized by Hall, however, direct questions about sexual abuse suffered under the influence of psychedelics in a clinical, ritual or recreational context should be included in the research. As rare as this type of abuse is, knowing its scale and improving prevention is the surest way to keep predators from muddying the waters that are just beginning to flow unhindered.