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From Healing to Economic Empowerment: How Magic Mushrooms Could Transform Indigenous Communities

Marlena Robbins, a 35-year-old Navajo woman, found profound healing through the use of psychedelic mushrooms. In 2019, seeking to deepen her understanding of intergenerational trauma, Robbins turned to psilocybin. She conducted a ceremony at her home altar, invoking her Diné heritage and asking the mushrooms for guidance.

This experience redirected her life's path.

“I see mushrooms as healers,” Robbins explained. “They write the prescription and treatment plan.”

Robbins left her career as a multidisciplinary artist to pursue a doctorate in public health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her research focuses on Indigenous perceptions of psilocybin, aiming to make these psychoactive fungi accessible to Native American communities across the nation. Despite federal illegality, some states are beginning to regulate psilocybin, creating potential pathways for Robbins’s vision.

Robbins believes that within a culturally sensitive framework, psilocybin could significantly impact mental health and addiction issues among Native Americans.

“It could ripple through the community, tribe, and family systems,” she said. “These medicines have the ability to realign us with our true selves.”

As the psychedelic movement gains momentum, with Oregon and Colorado legalizing psilocybin and other states considering similar measures, Robbins aims to ensure Native Americans are included in the conversation.

“Many psychedelic businesses acknowledge Indigenous people as the original caretakers of these medicines, yet tribal reservations face high rates of addiction, trauma, depression, and anxiety,” Robbins pointed out. “There’s little discourse about what these medicines look like on the Navajo reservation.”

So far, Robbins’s research has focused on urban Natives in various states, including California, Oregon, and Arizona. Next year, she plans to expand her work to the Navajo Nation, where she grew up until moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, at ten.

Robbins’s ultimate goal is to bridge these perspectives and inform state and tribal policies around psilocybin-assisted therapy that affect Native American communities. By doing so, she sees a potential not only for healing but also for economic empowerment.

The commercialization of psilocybin presents unique opportunities for Indigenous communities. Controlled cultivation and distribution of psilocybin could provide a sustainable source of income, fostering economic growth in areas often plagued by poverty. Indigenous entrepreneurs could establish businesses that respect and incorporate traditional practices, offering culturally authentic experiences that attract ethical tourism.

However, the path to commercialization is fraught with challenges. The history of plant medicine commercialization has often led to the exploitation and marginalization of Indigenous communities. María Sabina, a Mazatec healer who introduced psilocybin to non-Natives, faced ostracization and poverty. To avoid repeating such history, Robbins emphasizes the need for protective measures that ensure Indigenous communities benefit directly from psilocybin legalization.

Robbins’s work aims to merge historical and contemporary uses of psilocybin, creating innovative approaches that honor traditional ceremonies while adapting to modern contexts. Currently, peyote is the only psychedelic protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, allowing its use in Native American Church ceremonies. Robbins envisions similar protections for psilocybin, ensuring Indigenous communities can legally use and benefit from this medicine.

Robbins’s research also addresses ecological concerns, advocating for sustainable harvesting practices to prevent the overexploitation seen with other psychedelics like peyote. By leading the way in sustainable psilocybin production, Indigenous communities can set a standard for the industry, promoting environmental stewardship alongside economic benefits.

The potential for psilocybin to address mental health issues is significant. Studies have shown its effectiveness in treating depression and end-of-life anxiety. Robbins believes psilocybin could also address cancer-related anxiety among Diné exposed to uranium mining in the mid-20th century.

“Marlena’s research is crucial,” said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, a Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe Nation citizen. “Tribes need to be informed to form their own policies and engage with psychedelic legislation.”

Robbins hopes her work will eventually bridge cultural gaps between Native communities in the U.S. and Mexico. “Can this medicine revive ancestral trade routes, allowing us to learn, adapt, and evolve together?” she asked.

By advocating for the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in psilocybin policy and commercialization, Robbins envisions a future where healing and economic empowerment go hand in hand, transforming Native communities for generations to come.

Could Magic Mushrooms Be the Key to Economic Empowerment for Indigenous Communities?

  • Yes, they could provide new economic opportunities.

  • Yes, they could provide new economic opportunities.

  • Not sure, need more information.

  • It depends on how they are regulated.


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