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Divine Highs or Legal Lows? Psychedelic Rituals Test the Limits of Religious Freedom

In the serene setting of a suburban home in Austin, Texas, Whitney Lasseter, the pioneer behind All Tribes Medicine Assembly, assures her latest group of attendees that their forthcoming psychedelic experiences are not only profound but legally protected under religious freedom.

These retreats involve intense rituals using psychoactive substances that are still classified as illegal under federal law, yet they claim protection through religious exemptions.

The rituals begin with a challenging detoxification using toxins from Amazonian frogs, followed by powerful doses of psilocybin mushrooms and inhalants from the Sonoran Desert toad, promising a rollercoaster of emotions from deep despair to overwhelming joy.

Participants, such as John Verhelst and Mekenzi Falslev, recount transformative experiences that reconcile personal traumas and redefine their existential outlooks.

These psychedelic sessions are marketed as religious sacraments, a standpoint that garners both federal allowances and intense scrutiny.

Historical precedents from the New Mexico and Oregon churches, which won lawsuits against the Drug Enforcement Administration to use ayahuasca legally, have paved the way for these groups.

Yet, as more organizations claim these religious rights, the legal and ethical lines continue to blur, drawing concern from law enforcement and medical experts who warn of potential health risks and the lack of regulation.

The push from certain states like Oregon and Colorado towards recognizing the therapeutic use of psychedelics underlines a shifting perspective, yet federal laws lag, leaving many to seek solace in these quasi-religious assemblies.

Critics, including former D.E.A. agent Anthony Coulson, caution against these unregulated practices, foreseeing a potential crisis due to the lack of medical oversight.

Do you believe psychedelic drugs should be legalized for spiritual and therapeutic purposes?

  • Yes, they open doors to healing and spiritual insight.

  • No, the risks and legal issues are too complex

  • Unsure, more research is needed on both benefits and risks.


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