In this episode, Collin Gabriel and Danielle Olson interviewed Tom and Sheri Eckert who are both counselors and the founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They are the forces behind getting a 2020 ballot measure to legalize the facilitated use of psilocybin.
You’ll learn about:
- the history of psilocybin
- it’s current status in terms of the law and social perceptions
- the potential benefits of “facilitated use” are (guided experience with a trained professional)
- the steps that Tom and Sheri have taken to create an organization and campaign to change people’s minds and the law
Collin Gabriel: 00:02:19
Hey everyone, I’m Collin Gabriel here along with Danielle Olson and we’re really excited to have our guests Tom and Sheri Eckert here today of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They have a really exciting campaign that they’re going to talk about and we’re just going to kind of dive right in. So, Tom and Sheri, thanks so much for showing up. Can you introduce yourselves and kind of give us a little bit of your background?
Sheri Eckert: 00:02:44
Sure. And thank you. Yeah, it’s Sheri. It’s hard. So we are Tom and Sheri Eckert, we are psychotherapists in the Portland area. We also run a batterer’s intervention program, a better man program, and we are the chief petitioners of the psilocybin service initiative.
Collin Gabriel: 00:02:59
I think what you’re doing is pretty incredible. And so we’re going to go on a journey today of an information download. So prepare yourselves, but first can you just give us a little bit of your background on, you know, some of your historical experiences and maybe even share with us a little bit of the other stuff too. So I’m just opening it up. Maybe Tom, you can start us off.
Tom Eckert: 00:03:22
Yeah, we have a little bit of a different background so that makes it kind of interesting and actually kind of works together in a cool way. I’ve had an interest in psychedelics since college and I got into psychology as well and that’s been my, professional direction. Been in private practice for a while now. Kinda had it in the back of my head that there was a merger possible, but of course being that these compounds aren’t legal yet, there wasn’t really an opportunity other than to think about that. But then we started seeing the research out there. and specifically an article by Michael Pollan who’s now well known for his interest in psychedelics. But about three or four years ago, I think it was 2015 an article, came out in the New Yorker, I believe, called the Trip Treatment that really laid out everything that was going on in a psychedelic science. And I knew a little bit that that was kind of going on, but I didn’t fully realize the extent of the renaissance that was happening, in this area. And it started to click. And then Sheri and I started really talking about possibilities.
Sheri Eckert: 00:04:42
And Mike Tom says, my background is different. I kind of grew up a little bit with adversity and fear of psychedelics because I’m a product of the sixties. And I was with a parent who kind of, you know, gave me experiences that set up a little bit of fear. So it wasn’t until I moved to Oregon and we read the Trip Treatment and I started to have an interest because I care about people’s psyche and I want people to heal. And when I saw that there was these healing experiences taking place that were so transformational in such a short period of time, something in me said, “you have to move past your fear, you have to dive into the science, you have to research this because something’s happening.” And that’s what we did.
Collin Gabriel: 00:05:31
Yeah, I think is really interesting is, is that fear and how that’s sort of been cultivated. It kind of leads into, and I’m not sure if you’re, if you kind of have all this background. So everybody seems to nowadays and when we have access to the Internet, we can, we can do a lot of reading. But can you, can you go into a little detail about how a psilocybin has been present culturally for a long time and then sort how it became demonized? I think it is the sort of Timothy leary’s sixties and seventies that produced that.
Tom Eckert: 00:06:05
Absolutely. Of course all the psychedelics have a deep history in indigenous cultures, although mysteriously psilocybin’s deep history isn’t all that well understood as opposed to say ayahuasca and things of that nature. But as far as western culture and here in the United States, it came out in the 19 fifties of course with a article in life magazine that brought a lot of attention to a indigenous use in Mexico. And then, from there it actually went into a very kind of clinically oriented place. A company called Sandoz overseas was making psilocybin and giving it to a psychiatrist and therapist to work with for free. So a lot of psychiatrists were interested and it was this very exploratory time. And no one really understood what, what to make of it other than it was powerful.
And I think they kind of got it wrong in the beginning. They thought of it as a mimicker of a psychotic state and we can kind of see why. But that turned out to be not exactly accurate. It’s not just a mimicking of schizophrenia or whatnot. It’s something different than that. I’ve heard it said that while they initially thought of it as mimicking insanity, I can’t remember who said this, but someone started talking about it as being ‘unsane’. It’s a different place than sanity, but it’s not exactly what we consider to be a kind of mental illness mimicker. But in the beginning, that’s the way they looked at it. So that was the first container in the 1950’s and research started in that regard.
Sheri Eckert: 00:07:46
I think it’s good to also note that during this time, about 40,000 incidents of people using this for clinical studies, so it was widely used. It wasn’t small like what we’re seeing in the research today comparatively.
Collin Gabriel: 00:08:03
Oh really? So you’re saying that the research field was much more broad.
Tom Eckert: 00:08:07
Booming, and it was seen as this transformational, again, it wasn’t understood, but it was the power that there was something, there was very much understood and there was a lot of, interest in those areas. And then there was a book by Aldous Huxley, that brought it even more into the culture and started talking about it differently. I think that’s when it first started being talked about as a mystical type experience and he took it in a different direction. That book was very popular, so that started bringing it into a different kind of cultural context. So what you, what you can see is this evolution of understanding of this compound and just the interpretation of it has been kind of at play for a long time.
And then the sixties began. Of course there were a cultural factors, Vietnam, things of that nature, a countercultural movements. And Timothy Leary who of course was a Harvard psychologist and was doing serious research when he decided that the clinical, container wasn’t gonna do it. And so he changed the narrative, in favor of bringing it to everybody, across the board without any limitations with the idea that, that could save the world essentially. So that caused a lot of problems. It’s understandable, I suppose, in the cultural context, but in hindsight it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So fast forwarding, I think we all know that, you know, after Nixon and these kinds of things then, it was all, all psychedelics were outlawed when 1970?
Sheri Eckert: 00:10:03
1971. Well, the Nixon era. What stimulated that fear that we have, that stigma that we’re currently fighting during this psychedelic renaissance.
Tom Eckert: 00:10:16
So in the, in the seventies, things went underground. There was a moratorium on all research. That’s one of the many tragedies here is that when these drugs were made illegal, the research stopped. And there was just silence in psychedelic science for 45 years, something like that. So, I mean, there’s a lot to say about that technology advanced, but we didn’t look at what these compounds really are about both neurochemically and therapeutically.
So fast forward, of course, during those decades there was underground work happening. There was kind of covert scene of therapists that would still work with these compounds, and a lot of our information as to what direction to go in terms of therapeutic use came from those underground therapists. But more recently, last 15 years, the door is opened to psychedelic research. Specifically, places like Johns Hopkins, NYU, UCLA, Imperial College of London. In very reputable, high end research, kind of moving forward in a especially clear way because of all the stigma that got attached to this. They’re very, very calculated, very cautious doing everything right. And these are like Roland Griffiths at Hopkins is a decorated researcher and so he took up the cause and that’s kind of led the charge.
Sheri Eckert: 00:12:00
Yeah. And he did a great job of making sure that when working with the FDA to get approval for the initial research that they were doing it in such a way that they could move forward progressively with their clinical study. And so the first study done was, they looked at the Good Friday experiment. They decided they wanted to see how psilocybin specifically would treat existential anxiety with those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer living with cancer diagnoses and they were very happy to see what the results were and they wanted to understand it further. Why? Why is this transformation, this piece coming upon these people who are sitting with this diagnosis? And so that stimulated other credible organizations, and institutes to also start getting on that bandwagon, to do the research, that scientific research that was needed to make it possible for us to understand how psilocybin specifically works in the brain.
Collin Gabriel: 00:13:06
It does kind of make you sad to think that you had this booming era of research and development and life changing experiences that was kind of, you know, turned around or upside down during the seventies. And we’ve lost all that time.
Tom Eckert: 00:13:20
Yeah, we did lose time. I think we need to look at it in a very wide angle view that was just one little tiny part of the story of the greater story that’s being written about psychedelics. It was unfortunate to lose all that opportunity, but we are making ground. The science is fantastic. Now we’re learning a lot and it’s a transformational idea in the sense that there’s nothing that, you know, this is a different angle on clinical work. Different angle on pharmacology. This is about an experience that is facilitated by a compound, but it’s the experience itself that is the mechanism of change. Compare that to kind of a typical Pharma based approach where you have to have something in your bloodstream to tweak your brain day after day. And that works for Pharma of course. But here we have a one time or maybe a couple of times, having an experience and integrating that experience afterwards and working with it to make change. And the results are off the charts in a lot of ways and there’s lots more research that will happen to kind of continue to flesh out all the areas where this is of import. But yeah, this is, this is something else.
Sheri Eckert: 00:14:54
And I think along those lines, it’s important to talk about also the fact that there is thousands of years of history of psychedelic psychedelic compounds being used as a rite of passage for their cultures, for their, their leadership, for the coming into yourself. And then, understand that, that it’s had a profound effect on humanity in ways that we probably don’t currently understand because we haven’t enough, history consolidated into one space. But it’s there, the history is there and it’s been used in to be able to kind of generate for our culture, the same type of rite of passage in a way that allows us to experience that transformative change that is that rite of passage for our consciousness. So to say, I think that’s really important. Sam Harris has a quote where he had said that he’d be really scared of his daughters came to him and said, you know, dad, “I want to do this, I want to do that drug.” And, and he’d be like, freaked out. But then he said, you know, I would feel like my daughters had missed out on a right of passage had they never tried a psychedelic. And so I think that’s a really interesting and profound statement as to where our minds are at right now and where we’re headed as a people.
Tom Eckert: 00:16:20
Yeah. I think just to add to that, the deep history, the use of psychedelics and indigenous cultures set fort the container. You know, it was always used carefully with elders as and guidance and safety. So a lot of, so we’re reformatting a lot of things for the western mind, but the roots are there in some of those indigenous practices.
Danielle Olson: 00:16:48
So you mentioned existential anxiety for cancer patients. What are some of the other particular scenarios that have been shown to be really effective for?
Tom Eckert: 00:16:59
Depression, anxiety, addictions, including things like alcoholism and even nicotine addiction, which is amazing. And a little PTSD, OCD. So if you step back, you gotta think about this a little bit differently because, you know, usually medications are kind of zeroed in on a particular condition. This is an experience, once again, it’s a psycho spiritual type experience you could say that facilitates openness and flexibility in the mind.
And so when we look at the whole spectrum of mental illness, you can kind of see that there’s a whole kind of side of issues that are about rigidity about stuck thinking and feeling repetitive patterns, negative cycles. So look at depression. You’re stuck in negative cycles of thinking and feeling. Look at addictions. You’re caught in a stuck state of mind. You can’t break yourself loose of this particular disposition which leads to behaviors. Things like OCD are clearly a tightly stuck state of mind. PTSD. So they all have this, even though they’re all different, they all have a certain commonality and you could just generally call stuckness. So psilosybin opens up the mind and we can talk about that finally from a neurochemical level because we’re finally getting that research to see exactly what happens in the brain. But in terms of how it affects your consciousness, it brings you, it liberates you from your being stuck. And at the same time it opens up this kind of huge, a mystical type experience that leaves quite an impression. And with proper integration afterwards, it creates results.
Danielle Olson: 00:19:01
It sounds like it’d be easier to compare it almost to like living abroad or you know, a life changing experience rather than a pointed drug treatment.
Sheri Eckert: 00:19:17
It’s often referred to as one of the top five experiences in an individual’s life compared to something like childbirth or marriage or some really opening and experience. Yeah, and so it’s often compared to that and it’s really exciting to see that it does have that impact on people and it’s interesting to look at the science as Tom was mentioning, why is this happening, what’s going on in the brain? And the fact that we know that there is what’s happening in the default mode network, which is a diffused system within the prefrontal cortex to be able to see the activity, to be surprised at what’s going on and to discover the connectivity that’s happening that allows for what Tom was talking about in terms of being able to look at yourself. Especially when it comes to smoking, the addictions that he was talking about.
What are people seeing and why is that possible? And it’s because of this connectivity, this novel crosstalk that’s happening in the brain, that cannot happen without a compound like psilosybin. So that’s really fascinating. I mean, it can happen sometimes for people who have been working with meditation and things of that nature and very much into a meditational practice. They can achieve this after decades perhaps. But here we have a compound that allows an individual to come in, get prepared to understand what their experience is gonna be, and then have that experience and then work with somebody afterwards to kind of integrate it into their, what they’re going to do with their life in just like possibly one dose. Usually one, maybe two.
Collin Gabriel: 00:21:05
Yeah. You know, there’s a couple points that I kind of want to dive a little bit deeper into, especially considering your expertise. one is this default mode network and kind of understanding that a little bit better. But, you know, I heard I’m Michael Pollan, a quote, a doctor. He made this analogy that made me recall my own experiences with psilosybin, that, you know, the brain is like a hill covered in snow. And every time we complete an action it creates a groove and we fall back into these grooves just because of the way the brain is built and psilocybin, the chemical is like laying down fresh powder and it allows the brain to make new grooves over it. And I’ve also heard it called ego dissolution is, the reference that happens. So can you kinda talk a little bit more. I’m really curious about this default mode network because it does seem like we, we understand what that means. Is it like the autopilot that the brain goes on? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.
Tom Eckert: 00:22:05
Yeah, I think you’re definitely on the right track there. I can’t say that I’m an expert expert, but I can, I can summarize. I think what, what’s going on a little bit in layman’s terms and that’s that you know, in the neuro world, they talked about neuroplasticity. The ability to kind of escape these, these patterns. And I think you’re right that we all feel the pull of our own consciousness toward habits and becoming kind of automated. That works for us in a lot of ways. But once you get things that aren’t working for you, they’re hard to escape. Right? So with regard to the default mode network, so again, as Sheri mentioned, this is kind of a diffused system of parts in the brain and the prefrontal Cortex, and it’s associated with things like self reflection, like kind of considering yourself in the future and the past. And some will go as far to say that it’s kind of associated with the sense of self. So now you’re getting into this, is this kind of the seed of the ego? So the default mode network obviously is an important place in organizing our sense of consciousness, it’s kind of like the orchestra conductor. So it’s really important.
Sheri Eckert: 00:23:26
It does run on autopilot for the most part though. That’s, kind of what we need to hold onto is that, as you’re talking about, there’s these pathways that are created in that, we’re skiing down em every day, automatically, because that is the group that has been created in our mind. And so the idea, as you said, is to lay the layer of fresh snow.
Tom Eckert: 00:23:49
So this is very human function. We say the prefrontal, that means like that kind of Cortex area, not the deep regions of the brain. And this is our higher functioning. And so that gets, when that gets away from us, we developed some negative patterns. In other words, in people who are depressed, they have kind of a hyper connectivity in this default mode region. They get stuck in these patterns like I was mentioning. So when they, again, no one looked at the brain, even though the technology was developing. Nobody was allowed to look at the brain on psychedelics for just the longest time, decades and decades. So it was a big mystery for a long time. So finally we got to do this and this is happening at the Imperial College of London, primarily. And part of it I’d say was predictable and part of it was very surprising.
The predictable part was that the deeper regions of the brain, the limbic system, the emotional systems and various things going on in there lit up. You know, imagine looking at the, the FMRI, you know, at what’s going on there. And those parts of the brains got very active. So much so that there was this kind of novel crosstalk is Sheri was saying between different parts of the brain that don’t usually connect. And so that’s kind of what you might expect from a psychedelic experience. Your brain is active, right? But the other part was a little more surprising, which was that this default mode network shut down. It reduced to almost nonexistent. Now again, this is the part of the brain that’s associated with your everyday sense of self. And so now it does make sense when you put that together with, the, kind of subjective experience of ego death dissolution, which is often talked about. And so you have these two things happening at the same time. you have the reduction of the dmn default mode network, which is a reduction of these kind of stuck patterns and at the same time you have this very unusual and very profound, a psychedelic state rising up from the deeper…
Sheri Eckert: 00:26:06
And many people describe that as like a realer than real or a truer than true experience because it’s so holistic that they are able to see, and we’ve had this experience ourselves, we’re able to perceive everything from a place of, without a mental filter that we have in place before we go in. So we’re able to see things kind of at this, with a wide angle view as Tom has used.
Tom Eckert: 00:26:36
It’s what a Huxley talked about, right? The doors of perception. He named the book, opening those filters and seeing reality in a state that we usually filter down to something we can handle. Instead, we’re seeing it open. We’re getting ourself out of the way. I guess the way we usually see things is the nature sense of ourself. yeah. So when you put all that together, this kind of flash of consciousness from the deeper regions and the reduction of the kind of ego functioning you get what I’m Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins calls a mystical type experience and now this is what is considered the mechanism of change. It’s the degree to which this mystical flash is experienced and integrated is correlated highly to the degree of change that the person is wanting to make based on their intent going in and whatever issues they’re dealing with.
Collin Gabriel: 00:27:35
Yeah. And I, I know that, you know, for a lot of these experiences, the conditions upon which the experience happens is really important. If it’s, you know, it can go south very quickly, which is why I think it was put into like a schedule one position with the FDA. But one thing that, you know, I know that the campaign is about, is it’s not so much the legalization of psilocybin. It’s the legalization of, and let me get the wording right here, “the access to the facilitated use of psilocybin.” And it kind of goes into things that, you know, Michael Pollan’s talked about this sort of underground network you, you alluded to earlier, these folks who are doing the research during the dark times, I guess we can call them that, where they were discovering things about it, and guiding people through the experience or facilitating the experience. Can you talk a little bit about what, what that, what does that mean? What does that whole. Is the idea here that you would have a trained physician along for the ride that helps make this not scary?
Sheri Eckert: 00:28:40
Well, let me preface this with that, the heart of our initiative has everything to do with set and set in. As Tom had mentioned earlier than the people of the indigenous tribes who have used this medicine for many, many thousands of years, kind of gave us a blueprint in terms of this is there’s an intention in going into it and it’s important that your environment supports that intention. And so this initiative is based around that, a very structured and overseen use to help you achieve whatever your intention is. And so from that, maybe you can go a little bit more into the actual.
Tom Eckert: 00:29:27
I think that can’t be overstated. I was saying that the mechanism of changes the mystical experience, but you know a caveat on that is in conjunction with proper facilitation. Because you can have a mystical experience kind of using recreationally and without integration, without intent going in, it becomes an interesting experience, but it doesn’t lead to the results necessarily that we’re talking about with this modality. So the modality is super important and it involves preparation beforehand. Things like stating intent, having an assessment done essentially to make sure you’re not contraindicated, you know, there are people that shouldn’t do this.
And you can kind of think about that until I was talking about how for some this kind of opening experience is super helpful. For others, it’s exactly what they don’t need. Think about schizophrenia. The issue there in kind of layman’s terms is too much openness. You’re connecting things that don’t, other people don’t connect you’re loosely associating. You’re kind of becoming untethered in that way. So this only makes that worse. You see what I mean? So, but for a lot of us, we are stuck in certain ways and that’s where it helps. There might be medication issues as well. You gotta kind of be aware of all of that. So a proper assessment is key.
Sheri Eckert: 00:30:52
And then the second part would be the actual experience itself. You know, that the person is prepped in the proper assessment. They know what they’re getting into. They talk about, what the experience might look like so that they’re prepared, they agree on dosage and then you come into the part where you actually have your session and it’s very non directive. It’s very important that we really emphasize that because this is an individual experience so it shouldn’t be directive. But we do need to make sure that the people who are having this experience feel safe. So during this experience a person would come in, they’d lie down. They take the medicine, they’d cover their eyes. They’ve listened to some previously curated music and they would just begin their experience knowing that there are certified licensed facilitators sitting with them in the event that they need to hold somebody’s hand. In the event that they need to say I’m scared or in the event they need to talk about some magical experience they’re having or if they simply need to use the restroom. So the role of the facilitator during the actual process is very minimal, but it’s primarily to help the individual have that sense of safety so that their experience can be as great as it can possibly be.
Collin Gabriel: 00:32:20
Really. I’d like to know what you see, career path wise. Do you see this being an additional certification to current, you know, medical practitioners? What do you see this opening up like economically for folks to help with these treatments?
Tom Eckert: Very interesting.
Sheri Eckert: 00:32:41
Before we answer that, let’s first point out that Oregon has one of the highest rates of depression and addictions in our country. So before we talk about the work that could be generated, let’s talk about the fact that billions of dollars are lost every year in this state due to mental health problems and addictions. So part of what we’re hoping to see through the passing of this campaign and this initiative is that we will reduce that bill to the people of this state.
Tom Eckert: Huge economic toll. Obviously a huge human toll. so that’s one focus of this initiative is to address the mental health crisis in Oregon.
Sheri Eckert: 00:33:25
So while we, yes, to your question. There will be a certification program for anybody, whether you’re a licensed doctor, a naturopath, a psychotherapist, or if you just simply have the heart to do this and you’re willing to invest your time and whatever the training program requirements are for you to have a licensure. And so that we’re hoping to see expand to the people that are currently interested and they already have a lot of experience working with people with mental health issues. So probably it’s likely that the time that they would spend in certification process would be less than somebody maybe who doesn’t have that expertise.
Tom Eckert: 00:34:11
And I think, you know, a main point in there is that this is not locked up in the medical world. This is not the spirit of the initiative and we’re putting safeguards into allow anyone who has the heart and disposition to do this kind of work to get involved and we don’t see this as just something that’s going to be in hospitals. This is something that’s going to be community based. It’s going to be very regulated and professional and in the sense of that there will be training and there will be a code of ethics and all kinds of things like that. But this is the people’s medicine, if you will. This is for, this is on the ground, you know. And I just want people to understand that because sometimes we get, people are cynical these days and think that, well, this is a moneymaker. That’s not who we are and, and it’s not the spirit of the language or the initiative. At some point it’ll leave our hands and you know, what happens, happens. But we are putting every safeguard in place to safeguard the spirit of what we’re trying to do, which I think is in line with what most people know about psychedelics.
Sheri Eckert: 00:35:23
And also to safeguard the individuals who will be having the experience. There is a reason that the Zendo project exists. There is a reason that Dance Safe exists. So for us to not look at that part of it is really important. But again, to Tom’s point, this is the people’s initiative and we want it to be a community-based community-thought-out, expansion of business because it will be business so to say. But what we’re hoping is that all the people that are currently working underground who are jeopardizing, perhaps they’re licensure with this state right now as a licensed psychotherapist or just jeopardizing their freedom, will have the opportunity to come above ground and get recognized for their expertise and get certified, get that ability to practice what they’re already doing and create their own industry from this with their own context in terms of how they want their service center to look, how they want to design their practice.
Danielle Olson: 00:36:32
So we bring people on this podcast who are entrepreneurs, and you are entrepreneurs in the sense, not that it’s like you referred to earlier that it’s a moneymaking scheme, but that you are, how we define entrepreneurship, that you are assuming the risk and something you’re taking something on to make change in the world to provide value for people. Could you talk about what that journey has been like in terms of, you know, for someone who, may be seeing something in the world that they would want to take on and might involve similar components of, you know…you created the Oregon Psilocybin Society, you’ve put out these media pieces, you’re getting a ballot initiative…what that journey has been like, the challenges and ups and downs.
Tom Eckert: Absolutely. Yeah.
Sheri Eckert: 00:37:32
It’s very hard work first of all to write an initiative and then to get it legally transcribed so that it can be put into the law. So that’s taken time and quite awhile, but we’re working literally our job, which, which makes us money and then we’re working the, the initiative itself. So maybe you can expand more on that.
Tom Eckert: 00:37:57
I think we should start at the beginning. It starts with imagination envisioning a future that doesn’t exist. You know. And obviously this isn’t just out of our heads only, we all are kind of looking at the history and kind of sensing the possibility of a future. But to actually capture that in a detailed framework to create regulations around it. It’s like measuring a possibility until it feels more palpable and getting it on paper. And, and that’s a very entrepreneurial type feeling. You know, I enjoy it. It’s difficult. The legislation itself is 40 pages of dense regulatory language. I mean, there’s a lot of detail that goes into this. It’s really kind of measuring exact…I mean everything you do raises other questions kind of thing. And so to get to the end of that process is, is, is fulfilling, you know, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
And now we’re into the campaign phase of really bringing this to the people. We’re just, even though we’ve been working on this awhile, we’re just really at the beginning of the full intensity of the, of campaigning and developing an organization. Getting the job descriptions together, getting it all, you know, getting everyone in their roles, getting coordinated, getting a media plan, getting you know, a fundraising plan, kind of on the ground, unfolding of a canvassing operation that’s going to be very significant. So all of that is campaigning is its own kind of entrepreneurship, you know, you have to have an organization to do it. And so that’s going on. Hectic but fun, you know. It’s just like because of the kind of ethos of what we’re doing. It’s just inspirited with a certain energy. And so it’s all, it’s a lot of fun.
Sheri Eckert: 00:39:57
It’s really exciting to be a part of change that will impact our globe, not just our state. And it’s really exciting, as Tom said, to be able to imagine our future, to imagine society in a different way, utilizing all the tools that help us to heal. It’s very exciting to be able to develop, to be the architect in a sense of a modality that could best represent what the what psilocybin can do and bring about the best possibilities for the individuals who are experiencing this mystical experience. It’s very exciting to be able to think about what are the future possibilities for our consciousness personally and how that’s going to impact us socially and change our culture and thereby change our world. It’s exciting for it to be an Oregon because this is unprecedented. There’s no other initiative like this on the planet. So for our state to be able to lead the way in this really revolutionary way of healing is exciting.
Collin Gabriel: 00:41:12
Huge, huge. And even your, your affirmation that this is sort of a community led effort. I mean, I worked in healthcare for a number of years and it has got a lot of issues and a lot of it has to do with the education and the bottleneck. And you want healthcare practitioners to be these super mega, ultra trained individuals, but how realistic is that as we get further and further out and fewer and fewer of them can be trained to meet the needs of the society. Especially one that is war ridden, politically divided in its current state. You’ve got all these, you know, these, horrible statistics about suicide and depression and drug overdose. But yeah, it just, it seems to go on and on and you know, if you can think of something that, you hate to call anything a panacea, but to think of something with so many applications that there could be, spearheaded and started right here in the state for the medicinal use is really, really exciting.
Tom Eckert: 00:42:12
It’s much needed good News. Let’s talk about something positive that we can do and, or one of the, one of the things you were making a list of things that are exciting to me. It’s exciting to have this organization and be interfacing and open and kind of have a permeable boundary with the public, you know, as the volunteer force grows and people are reaching out all the time to support and, “where can I fit in?” which is a challenge in its own right How to kind of manage the energy out there and get people going. But it feels great that this is, it’s not like a closed door think tank. There’s an openness to it.
Sheri Eckert: 00:42:50
And it’s exciting also to kind of think of the fact that maybe perhaps what we’re providing is a modality for other states and then other nations that wish to implement the same type of change. So we know the world’s going to be watching and it’s really important to us that it is a community state adopted people oriented, “let’s make this change,” kind of change.
Tom Eckert: 00:43:13
So, speaking of kind of the bigger entrepreneurial picture, it’s to you know, longer term if we find success or you know, wherever this goes. I think it’s gonna, we’re optimistic that we’re going to make this happen. Then we’re looking at an unfolding across the country. You know, we have this language now that is, you know, we want to be careful about who we work with, to think about things like strategy and the right kind of allocation of resources not getting in each other’s way.Creating alliances that make sense. There’s a big picture here that’s that if we think this through and we have good communication and we strategize together, this could unfold across the country.
Sheri Eckert: 00:44:03
So I think that it’s important that we, we collaborate in our messaging because our messaging is so important to the change, to diffusing the perspective that people have of it right now. The stigmas, that’s the word I was looking for. And so what Tom and I are really desire is to join with other likeminded people who are sensitive to that, who are sensitive to the messaging, who are going to develop something that is positive, that will help to change that stigma that exists, not just in our state, in this country, but on this globe.
Tom Eckert: 00:44:41
And it just gets back to our first point about the containers. You know, the first container in the fifties didn’t quite fit the sixties container, didn’t work and actually worked against us. And now we’re presenting a different, a new container. There’s medical aspects, there’s therapeutic aspects, spiritual aspects. There’s creative aspects, personal growth aspects, but what that is has never been fully defined and it hasn’t existed yet. And so we’re taking something that, that we’ve shaped the new narrative and, you know, I think rooted in truth and science, but that new narrative, you know, it’s like to take root in reality is the challenge in there. And it starts with the campaign.
Collin Gabriel: 00:45:32
Can you give us the nuts and bolts? I mean, since we, if we want to be actionable, if you want it to be international, if you wanted to be state based, I mean, based on our analytics, we do have an international audience. We do have people across the United States listening to this podcast. So what I’d like you to do, if you could bullet point out the process of the writing the law and then describe to us what stage you’re at right now and then let’s see how the next stage as it progresses, people can plug in. Wonder if you could bullet pointed out, instead of like going into the nitty gritty of it, what are the main pieces to getting a law on a ballot and voted into, into whatever it is.
Tom Eckert: 00:46:13
Sure, sure, sure. So the legislation itself is written and going through a final, the legislative council in Salem who we worked with. By the way, the legislative council is a body of lawyers that draft bills for congress here in Oregon. They’re also charged with working with ballot initiatives. If you approach them the right way with a bunch of signatures and a detailed summary,
Sheri Eckert: 00:46:39
Can I interrupt you really quick? The first thing is to the individual who wants to bring an initiative into being, must understand the truth about what they’re trying to bring to the community to the state. So it takes a lot of research. It takes understanding the science and slash or the laws that currently exist that prevent what we’re trying to change. So that’s the first and foremost part is that you’re knowledgeable, deeply knowledgeable about about the science that will support why you’re trying to change this law around psychedelics and about the current laws, how they were developed and how they can be brought down.
Collin Gabriel: 00:47:20
And that’s really because there’s no law inexistence like this one yet. Right? But you know, like we had one that we helped enact here at Hatch about around state based crowdfunding. It was kind of like taking pieces from other laws that were in existence and helping mold them for Oregon. But you’re not working with something like that right now. This is a wholly new thing that’s being crafted.
Tom Eckert: 00:47:41
Yeah. Yeah. And quite honestly in writing it at the beginning phase was like writing science fiction. It was, you’re imagining a world that doesn’t exist. You’re thinking 20 years, 100 years, a thousand years. What is this? I mean, I think that’s true with a lot of entrepreneurs. You have to be creative, you have to envision something new and of course there’s lots of influences around that. But to, you know, put the pen to paper, you start with a detailed idea. And so that was the first phase and just talking all that through and having great conversation. And, and then for us it was starting a society starting opening up just a channel of communication.
Collin Gabriel: The Oregon Psilocybin Society?
Tom Eckert: 00:48:29
Yeah, the Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of the loose network of people who support this idea and just creating events around that and, and, and communication. So then, then it’s about writing the initiative and having that dialogue with the lawyers. Meanwhile, getting out there a little more, talking about this possibility and then now it’s about creating and finalizing an organization which we call PSI20/20, the psilocybin service initiative, PSI, which is the campaign organization and we’d like to see that live beyond the campaign as a lobbying organization that could go national or something like that. Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of moving in the direction of a 501(c)(3) I think. All of this is kind of being fleshed out.
Collin Gabriel: Careful with that. Danielle will have some words with you about nonprofits later.
Tom Eckert: It’s an educational organization basically. So yeah,
Sheri Eckert: 00:49:36
So it’s really, we’re at the stage now where we are getting ready to get the ballot titled. And once we get the ballot titled, we are simultaneously gathering up our volunteer signature gatherers as we currently have a fundraising canvassing team out in the city, bringing in the funds to help support the initiative in terms of getting the signatures and all various other elements and events and things of that nature that need to take place to inform the people, the constituents of this state about the initiative and what it is and what it is not.
Collin Gabriel: 00:50:14
Okay. And just to to clarify, there are two different avenues there. There’s a fundraising canvasser, someone who’s out there gathering funds for the campaign and then there are canvassers for signatures. Now. Is that process over with yet? Are you still gathering signatures?
Tom Eckert: 00:50:31
It hasn’t started. So this is where it is. So that as I said, the language is finished, but it’s being published by the Legislative Council to give us a final document. We take that document and give it to the secretary of state. They title it, they go through some kind of titling process back and forth there to the actual verbiage for what would be on the ballot. And at that point they give that back to us and we’re greenlighted to start the gathering petition signatures, which we’ll need somewhere around 100,000 or more.
Collin Gabriel: And that’s to get it actually on the ballot?
Tom Eckert: 00:51:05
Yep. So that’s really the big project ahead of us. The phase number one is to get it on the ballot. And so we’re developing an organization that can handle that project in terms of managing a volunteer for us as well as raising money to make up the gap if we have to pay a canvassers to do that, which is usually the case, although there’s a lot of energy around this. So I think we can get pretty far on, on volunteers.
Collin Gabriel: And remember these are paper signatures. Nothing can be done digitally. Correct?
Tom Eckert: 00:51:37
Yeah, I want to plug the other canvases that the, fundraising canvassing team is amazing. They go out and make each one of them makes like $2-300 a day. Just talking to people and bringing in funds. And so that team is growing, is working and they’re just awesome. They just have this great energy all in and of themselves. So that’s one wing of our…
Sheri Eckert: 00:52:01
They are our number one face on this initiative right now. They’re out there every day talking to the people in this city informing them and we get so many positive emails about our canvassers and that they were, “oh, I didn’t even know what psilocybin was. Oh my gosh. I have somebody who’s struggling with, with PTSD right now.” I mean, it’s really exciting to get the feedback from them. You know the polling from them is so positive.
Tom Eckert: 00:52:33
Yeah. They’re kind of messaging masters. That’s pretty neat. And they keep the wheels moving on the day to day stuff, you know, because it takes money. And so fundraising is another area to talk about. The canvassers are doing a great job, as I said, giving us a baseline of funding. But the next phase is once the language is in that final form, being able to present that to organizations and larger donor potentials. So that’s on the horizon and that could fund things like getting polling done. You know, we have a sense that there’s a lot of good energy around this, but to have polling done that affirms that would make more fundraising a whole lot easier. And so polling costs money and that takes, you know.
Sheri Eckert: 00:53:25
And that would also positively encourage people who might be on the fence who aren’t quite sure which way to go with this initiative and to be able to see that the populace of the state actually is for something, a change like this would be very helpful. So polling is one thing that we definitely would like to see happen very soon.
Collin Gabriel: 00:53:47
It’s so interesting, right? Because you know, the, the I5 corridor of Oregon is assumed to be liberal largely. And then anything in the Eastern portion is assumed to be conservative. And, you know, with this particular issue, at least it’s been my experience with my family that the conservative side is just as pro psilocybin as the liberal side. It’s sort of one of those things. Like we said, this is an experience you don’t forget. You usually do it when you’re younger and you know, currently in a non-clinical setting. And I think it lasts with you even into your grade years where you start to get, you know, I’m not assuming here that all conservatives are old, but when we get older we do tend to lean conservative and because we have more to lose I guess or something like that. But it will be interesting to see, in my opinion how Eastern Oregon fairs, because I don’t think you’re going to have a heavy lift on the I5 corridor. Yeah. And the green spaces, especially because the psilocybin mushrooms grow all over Oregon.
Tom Eckert: 00:54:56
There’s so many different angles and supportive arguments, for the initiative that apply to different folks and resonate with different folks. And so it’s, it’s an interesting messaging piece, given all the right messages out there. Like we were talking about with PTSD and combat veterans. That’s powerful stuff, you know, that works on many levels and it’s just true and important. Getting those kinds of messages out there as well as the, you know, kind of this is your liberty kind of message messenger or you know, personal growth message or mental wellness message. You know, there’s, there’s a whole array of things to talk about that kind of fit different audiences.
Collin Gabriel: 00:55:46
Yeah. I was actually thinking as you said that about the notes I’d written in my little Scout Book here is that, you know, I just don’t care who you are, there’s no way that you don’t have someone in your family or your relationships that’s being affected by something that could be treated with psilocybin. I mean, just those testimonials that we filmed and just, you know, you hear. All it could make me think about was all the people who have not had that experience and are going through what those people, the cluster headache gentleman who said he would just be writhing on the ground in pain. I mean all of those things just kind of shocked me to think they’re going out there. There is a potential treatment and it’s not being administered. And that that to me is what I would hope crosses the political spectrum, is that people realize that this is a potential treatment for things that are currently, needs that are not being met.
Sheri Eckert: 00:56:40
That’s key right now. We have a mental health crisis right now. We have an addiction crisis. It’s impacting whether you’re liberal or Conservative, you’re being impacted by it and as you say, if it’s not you, if it’s not a family member, it’s a neighbor. This is a huge problem that we are facing and there’s very few solutions out there in psychiatry. There’s been very little done in the last 20 years. That’s providing some sort of answer. So this is not the end all answer, but it is a solution.
Tom Eckert: 00:57:16
And it represents something, you know. I think there’s a general disillusionment with Pharma in the incentives behind it and, and this is representing something natural. It’s representing a reclaiming of something within ourselves, you know, that we’re not dependent on pills. That an experience can help us unlock ourselves as something you do yourself, you know, it’s not done to you via a pill in the same way. So this is a very different modality and I think people are ready for that.
Danielle Olson: Yeah. So what are your current needs of the campaign? Where you at?
Tom Eckert: Yeah, well certainly fundraising like we talked about is key.
Sheri Eckert: 00:58:07
I think also our lot of our need is to, to make sure that we have the right staff to message this campaign. So we are working very hard to bring that into being. That’s a strong need. You always want to have the right people working on your campaign. You can’t do that without funds. So fundraising and is our number one and then of course, ultimately, the biggest need is the volunteers to gather the signatures to get this on the ballot.
Tom Eckert: 00:58:39
Yeah. So I’m just giving you a heads up on the horizon on that because I know a lot of people are waiting for the green light on that. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re tiny bit behind. We’re hoping to be up and running on the signature gathering in July. It’s looking more like this month, maybe the end of this month or early September. Actually we haven’t talked about the event where it will be speaking with Paul Stamets where we’re doing an event in September 20th. and that’s looking like a good kind of launch of the whole thing. That’s what we’re hoping everything’s in order at least by then if not before.
So we’ll be dropping a new website. On that website there’s going to be a little video, a training video for signature gathering. So if you’re interested in gathering signatures as a volunteer, you watched the video, there’ll be a little quiz attached to it. You’ll pass the quiz. It’s not hard, it’s just kind of reflecting that we want everyone to kind of understand the ins and outs of how to do this so they can feel really comfortable and confident going out to do this. So pass the quiz, we get that information, we get your name and whatnot. We send out what you need to succeed as a canvasser, including the petition sheets and we start a relationship from there. So that’s how, that’s gonna work and it’s on the horizon. and we plan on developing a really awesome volunteer canvassing force.
Danielle Olson: And what is the url of your website and where else can people go to get involved?
Tom Eckert: 01:00:14
The new website is actually going to be different than the old one. It’ll redirect, but the new website is psi-2020.org. The current website is opsbuzz.com. So PSI-2020 again is the new campaign organization specifically geared to the campaign.
Collin Gabriel: 01:00:40
All right, and might I add that the campaign has one of the most well organized slack channels I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So now you, you mentioned the Paul stamets event, so is that one of a number of events that you have planned? I know you just did the Oregon Country Fair Country Fair?
Sheri Eckert: Yes. That was so exciting.
Tom Eckert: 01:00:59
Yeah, we got such a great ride on that. We got a drawn in by the founders of the entire fair because we have these great people and Eugene that connected us and things happened and all of a sudden we’re staying at this wonderful camp, the a spoken word camp with all these other great artists and people. So we made lots of amazing connections and that was an awesome experience.
Sheri Eckert: 01:01:23
Yeah, it was a really great experience and stuff. For this year we actually have only one planned event here in the state of Oregon and that’s the Stamets event and that’s on 9/20, so that will, there’s basically eight left, so pretty much the show is sold out, or the event is sold out. Then Tom and I will be speaking at the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in Canada in November. We’ll also be on panel at the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Conference also in Canada in November as well. We kind of have possibly an event coming up in October that will be kind of educational, informational, but that’s that’s on the TBD.
And then we’ll come up with our schedule of our new schedule of events for the year 2019 will have posted on our psi-productions.com page. That’s our events page that says, well, where we’ll be and what will be speaking on.
Tom Eckert: 01:02:25
All of that by the way, will be simplified to psi-2020.org. Yeah. So I’m pulling everything together into a website that will have ticketing for events. It’ll have, you know, training for canvas saying it will have a store which is cool and merchandise moves really well and it’s really kind of…I’m so happy about that because not only does it is succeeding, but it reflects that people are willing to put psilocybin on their chest and it’s kind of like represents kind of coming out into the community and stuff like that. Because I don’t think a couple of years ago people, we had this dialogue, we’re like, “are people are really gonna wear the mushroom on it?”
Collin Gabriel: I wear mine like my Superman badge when I go out there and people meet my eyes and give me a nod and it’s the greatest thing ever.
Sheri Eckert: 01:03:11
Well we have our canvassers that were at the Oregon country fair that said that they had to take their shirt off so they can have peace. People were asking “what, what is that? What are you doing?”
Collin Gabriel: Well, I guess we will, we’ve got the website, we know now about the needs of the campaign. We know when you’re putting it on, or the signatures need to be gathered by to put it on the ballot.
Tom Eckert: I think we should, I don’t know if we clearly stated this is aimed at 2020.
Collin Gabriel: 01:03:42
That’s what I was thinking too as is, did we ask that explicitly? But the psi-2020 is a good indicator. But yes. On the ballot for 2020. So I mean, I think we’re about out of time. We, Tom and Sheri, I really can’t thank you enough for this kind of deep dive on something that’s been your side job, your passion, your probably sleepless nights. I know for my involvement it’s been a very emotional experience as well to see this thing. So I just can’t thank you enough.
Danielle Olson: Thank you so much for you joining us here.
Tom Eckert: It’s been great.
Sheri Eckert: Thank you so much for giving us the chance to continue to inform the public. Thank you.