Increasing Diversity in Psychedelic Science Research
In order to generate research that is relevant to the masses, it is imperative that the field of psychedelic science involves a level of diversity that is representative of those it intends to treat. This renaissance of psychedelic research thus far has not sufficiently involved people of colour, in particular, black communities. For example, psychedelic use is less common in blacks than in whites, and psychedelic-assisted therapy often neglects to address the needs of people of colour – a problem pervasive in the field of mental health. Over 80% of psychedelic trials are white, and less than 3% are black. Internationally, there are currently only two women of colour investigating MDMA-assisted therapy research. The result of this imbalance leads to a field where research and treatment is geared around a vision that overlooks the perspectives of marginalised communities.
The decolonisation of research is not specific to psychedelics, and is a global problem across the field of science. So how do we address this disparity? Starting from within the field, we must address who is conducting the research – diversifying the research workforce, practicing intersectional cultural humility, and specifically addressing and integrating themes from people of colour can all help to promote an inclusive foundation for psychedelic research going forward.
Beyond the research force, encouraging participation of diverse backgrounds is crucial in developing inclusive and relevant data. This requires actively seeking out neglected groups, and advertising studies tailored to different communities. Addressing safety concerns, including relevant cultural themes, and showing diverse people in advertising are all ways to promote inclusion of marginalised communities. Within research settings, studies should seek to develop diversity-welcoming areas with diverse staff, art, reading materials, and overt feedback requests.
Making positive and inclusive changes to psychedelic science research requires a re-assessment of the current protocols. For example, intake procedures and informed consent protocol may need to be adjusted for addressing past medical betrayals, racial traumas, police victimisation, and sexual trauma. Further, assessing community and family support and concerns can nurture a safer space for marginalised groups.
Ultimately, in a field seeking to promote greater mental health and general healing, social justice should centred. Any current inequities in the research will only grow in time, furthering the disparity in representation and access. Achieving an equal playing field requires community outreach, decriminalisation advocacy, and financial collaboration with BIPOC communities.
Dr. NiCole T. Buchanan is a professor of Psychology at Michigan State University, an advisor for the Chacruna Institute Racial Equity and Access Committee, and a trainee for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
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