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Medicinal Reciprocity

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Why Developing A Reciprocal Relationship With Psychedelics Is Vital To The Success And Legitimacy Of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy



One of the most consistent messages I received during my many trainings around shamanic journeying is the importance of relationship. In fact, one of the tenants of shamanism is forming a reciprocal relationship with nature and the elements. This tenant was introduced to me by Sandra Ingerman and reinforced during my time studying with healers in Oaxaca where I was taught about mushroom medicine. My teacher pointed out that in order for me to be successful in working with psychedelic medicines, I had to first develop my own relationship with the elements and engage in reciprocity to recognize the ways that the elements participate in the creation of medicine and life itself. This recognition supports the purposeful and intentional use of plant medicines like psilocybin, allowing the fungus to act as a medicinal organism.

What Does It Mean To Have A Reciprocal Relationship?

Reciprocity involves a mutual exchange of support, emotional investment, care, and love. When it comes to relationships, this term is characterized by the idea that each partner feels able to share their needs and shows a willingness to meet the needs of the other person. Reciprocity is fueled by open and honest communication and the shared notion that each partner will give and take the same amount.

In our current culture, many of the substances individuals use recreationally started out as medicines. However, due to the lack of focus on a reciprocal relationship between the user and the medicine, substances like tobacco and cannabis shifted from being used for medicinal purposes to being abused.

As we shift into a world where psychedelics, particularly psilocybin, are now being accepted by the public as helpful medicines, I can’t help but find myself becoming concerned about the trajectory of their use and whether or not history will repeat itself. I fear that these life-changing medicines will soon be utilized for purposes other than the way they were intended thus breaking the reciprocal bond and causing an unbalanced relationship between earth medicine and user.

Therefore, it is imperative that we understand why relationship is important when dealing with psychedelic medicine to ensure that Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy maintains legitimacy as an effective and transformative therapeutic tool.


A History of Tobacco. How Did Tobacco Go From Being A Medicine To Begin A Pariah?


Tobacco originated in what we currently refer to as the United States with its first recorded appearance reaching the history books in 1492. Christopher Columbus observed Indigenous Americans growing and using tobacco for both its pleasurable effects and more commonly, for the treatment of various illnesses. Torches containing tobacco leaves were used to ward off disease and fatigue and snuffing the tobacco caused an individual to lose consciousness creating the notion that it was used as an anesthetic. As time progressed, explorers gleaned that Native Americans also used tobacco mixed with other natural elements to make hygiene products, relieve pain, and cure glandular diseases. [1] For some indigenous tribes on Turtle Island, an indigenous name for North America, tobacco had a multitude of benefits. These tribes treated the plant with intentionality and respect, often engaging in ceremonies and dance around harvest time and also using the plant in rituals. It was a relationship of reverence and one of honoring the idea that this plant had a psychological and physiological effect on the user. Many indigenous cultures did not use tobacco in the way that many people choose to use it today.

Tobacco has an extremely negative connotation. It is responsible for over 3 million annual deaths worldwide and is viewed as one of the most harmful substances out there.

But is tobacco really such a bad thing?

I don’t think that it is.

What is harmful is the relationship we developed with tobacco. At some point, we went from utilizing the natural purposes of the plant and went ahead and turned it into a mindless addiction. We have not remained intentional with the plant and its uses. We’ve added poisonous elements to it and created cigarettes. We began to use tobacco for pleasure instead of with intent. We have become addicted to a substance focusing only on how it can benefit us and have moved away from showing gratitude and respect for what nature intended the plant to provide.

This same concept of taking and not giving can be applied to cannabis - another substance we have stripped of its medicinal purposes and conquered for the sake of recreation.


How Has The Purpose Of Cannabis Shifted In The Last Century?

Much like how the mainstream introduction of tobacco took a healing plant that was revered by its users and altered its purpose by removing the reciprocal component, cannabis too has begun to show signs of being more harmful than helpful.


To clarify, cannabis itself is not problematic. For many, the availability of cannabis as a medicine has been life-altering and incredibly helpful in dealing with the side effects of many treatments and tolerating chronic pain.

For centuries, this medicine has been used successfully for healing purposes. However, many choose to use cannabis for unrelated reasons which has led to causing adverse effects. As a mental health therapist, I am seeing the downside of recreational cannabis consumption firsthand. For some, cannabis can cause major anxiety disorder, make depression and symptoms of depression significantly worse, cause a lack of motivation and apathy, and can cause psychosis in some individuals. [2]

What myself and my colleagues are seeing in the mental health world is that cannabis is becoming problematic. People are not using it medicinally; they are using it recreationally. The reciprocity between the plant and the user has been disconnected and the plant can no longer hold up its part of the relationship - through no fault of its own.

How Can We Maintain A Reciprocal Relationship With Plant Medicines?

To restate, it is my opinion that the recreational use of tobacco, cannabis, and other plant medicines is what creates an unhealthy relationship between medicine and the user. When we lose sight of the purpose of the medicine - the purpose nature intended - and shift that purpose to be self-serving, then the reciprocal relationship is dissolved and harm can occur.

We are mindlessly and unintentionally consuming plant medicines and using them to cope with emotions or for purposes that are passive and not focusing on the intended purpose of the medicine.

Instead, we need to express gratitude and engage in reciprocity with these plants. We need to recognize that they came from the earth and to be a steward of the earth would be to honor these medicines as gifts and offerings from our Great Mother and to actively give back to her with care, gentleness and deep listening.

So a new question presents itself: How do we bring forth earth medicine into our current culture and not end up in the situation we are in with tobacco and cannabis?

My answer is this:

It is imperative to remember to look at our relationship with substances with intention and reverence, or we will end up with an unhealthy relationship with these medicines. We can honor these plants in their purest forms. We can view them as medicine and not as recreational pastimes and we consider what we can do to give back to our Earth - to offer thanks and gratitude for the gifts we receive so abundantly from Her.

How Can We Prevent The Misuse Of Psilocybin As It Becomes More Mainstream?

One reason cannabis and tobacco became misused was the fact that they were separated or altered from their natural state. Either through the growing process or afterward, these plant medicines are often consumed outside of their purest form. Psilocybin is following suit. I struggle with the ethics of using psilocybin as opposed to mushrooms because psilocybin is the psychoactive aspect of mushrooms, but separating it from the fungus - similar to how tobacco is separated from the tobacco plant in cigarettes- may put us in the exact same situation we are in with tobacco and cannabis.

To prevent this, we have to look at relationships. We consider remaining open and willing to engage with not just mushrooms but also the earth in order to become stewards of our planet again - which is really what we are here to do.

If you are currently using or plan on using psilocybin, I really urge you to develop strong relationships with the natural world if you plan to use and hold space for psilocybin in a way that is for healing and developing a long-term relationship with the mushrooms themselves. If you would like to learn more about Psilocybin or Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy, you can check out our event calendar for educational opportunities around Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy. You can also learn about our approach and commitment to providing safe, ethical, and effective Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy.

If you are considering using psilocybin for your own personal journey and are seeking guidance on how to get started, the therapists at Reflective healing can help. All of our therapists are specially trained in the evolving world of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy. Click here to schedule a free consultation. References:

  1. Charlton, Anne. “Medicinal Uses of Tobacco in History.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2004, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079499/.

  2. MD, Craig Heacock. “Back from the Abyss: Psychiatry in Stories on Apple Podcasts.” Apple Podcasts, 12 Jan. 2023, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/can-marijuana-be-medicine-a-psychiatric-perspective/id1469826718?i=1000447438502.




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