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1 Jan

Girls Trip: Why Some Black Women Are Using Psychedelic

Photography and illustration by LUZ (Edwin L. Harmon IV)

This story appears within the November/December issue of ESSENCE, available on newsstands now.

Festival-loving hippies, bro slackers, and, more recently, trendy “woo-woo” White women come to mind when we predict of people that partake in psychedelics. But before their adoption by the White counterculture, researchers say entheogens like mushrooms also had a spot in Black and Brown indigenous communities, where that they had been used for hundreds of years to access elevated mental and spiritual states. But they were made illegal in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill outlawing them, ostensibly due to safety concerns— effectively halting all medical studies of psilocybin mushrooms as a -treatment for trauma, depression, and -addiction.  

This proved to be a serious barrier for the Black community, says Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who uses psychedelic medicine for the treatment of racial trauma and PTSD. “There have been many young Black individuals who were psychedelic enthusiasts within the ’60s and ’70s,” she explains. “But once it was criminalized, it became too dangerous for them to proceed, whereas, for White people, it was a bit safer.”  

Today, the stigma attached to those substances has lessened. Cities like Oakland and Seattle have decriminalized psychedelics, and recent research is being funded. Clinical trials are underway nationwide, including some conducted by Williams that serve marginalized patients who haven’t had success with traditional therapies.  

“The science shows this therapy’s very secure and never addictive—but you really want to have a guide who’s very experienced, who understands your culture and your historical trauma, to have essentially the most helpful experience,” she says. That’s why Williams hosts retreat with an emphasis on serving people of color— hearkening back to African traditions that were stripped from Black Americans because of this of colonialism. 

“We haven’t had access to loads of these traditions for a while,” Williams says. “Meanwhile, White people have known that these therapies are helpful and have been using them. We deserve those self same options.”  

Girls Trip: Why Some Black Women Are Using Psychedelic Mushrooms for Healing


For some, the concept of a shroom trip remains to be unorthodox. Marijuana advocate Victoria Sanders, founding father of Black Girls Smoke and Good Day Flor, who’s referred to as Vic Styles online, was apprehensive when she had the chance to try them greater than a decade ago. “I believed mushrooms was for weird White people,” she says with amusing.  “I used to be like, ‘What’s that? Weed is the one thing I’m doing.’”  

That modified when she took her first trip, inspired by a friend who worked as an illustrator. She saw that he was a high–functioning creative thriving in his profession—and he cited shrooms as considered one of the the reason why. “The primary time I attempted mushrooms, it was essentially the most beautiful experience ever,” she reflects. “I used to be in upstate Recent York. I used to be immersed in nature. Time really slowed down. I used to be in a position to notice the best way that the grass felt, the best way it moved. I used to be in a position to observe things in trees and ladybugs that I had never seen. Not that that they had never been there—I had just never been mindful enough to listen to them before.” 

Since then, she’s experimented with other psychedelics; she’s learned more through her partner Jayson Paulino, founding father of Intuitive Nature, a community for Black and Indigenous people of color whose goal is to center healing through mushrooms and other earth medicines. “There have been traumas that made me feel like I couldn’t consider in myself or love myself,” Paulino recalls. “However the minute I opened those doors, I spotted that the world was my oyster and I had a lot to live for.” 

The couple’s use of psychedelics goes beyond themselves, with Sanders using her platform to alter the best way people view those that partake of marijuana and mushrooms. “You see someone like me and it’s like, ‘Oh, wait, I look as much as her. Wait, she is successful—she does these items and he or she is competent. Perhaps you may do mushrooms and still have the whole lot else.’ I believe I’m using my life for example for that.” 

Girls Trip: Why Some Black Women Are Using Psychedelic Mushrooms for Healing


Researchers say there are a lot of studied advantages of psilocybin use: feelings of euphoria, a way of connectedness, increased energy, and improved mood, to call just a few. But as with every mind-altering substance, there are rules of the road. Hanifa Nayo Washington has had a relationship with psychedelics for over 20 years. As a healing justice practitioner, she’s logged countless hours helping Black people find their technique to mushrooms in a secure, comfortable way, and can be co-founder and chief of strategy for Fireside Project, which operates the Psychedelic Peer Support Line.

“Due to war on drugs, due to the war on Black people, we’ve been scared out of this relationship,” she says. “It’s time for us to reclaim that. The psychedelic wellness it will possibly offer is real, and it’s for us.” She emphasizes, nonetheless, that users must thoughtfully prepare for a visit and subsequent integration—the strategy of downloading the experience afterward. Fireside Project provides education around each and its peer support line offers trained volunteers who function companions for people undergoing a psychedelic experience in real-time.

“The fact is that in some psychedelic experiences, there shall be emotionally difficult things that come up,” she says. “There might be dissociation that comes up, and that’s normal. The Fireside Project line is there to support people who find themselves in difficult times.”  

So, is there such a thing as a foul trip? Washington suggests that what many labels as such is usually a results of resistance, or having rigid expectations of what needs to be happening. “I believe that it’s necessary to know that psychedelics aren’t for everyone and never every psychedelic is for everyone,” she notes rigorously. “There is likely to be some that work rather well together with your body chemistry and the form of experience you must have. And there are some psychedelics that stands out as the opposite of what you’re searching for.”  

Beyond Fireside Project, Washington believes that finding a community—whether it’s a friend or a Black integration circle, like One-Village Healing or the Ancestor Project—is -necessary. “With regards to safety, I cannot stress enough the importance of processing your experience with someone you trust, in your personal way,” she states. “It’s necessary to reflect on what it was like. What do you remember? What were a few of the message downloads that got here through? What was difficult? These might be wonderful learning experiences.” 


The primary time Nikisha Riley did mushrooms, she was in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park at 4 A.M., hanging with friends after a celebration. It began off magically, she recalls. Birds were flying faster; trees were pulsating. As she got around more people, though, the emotions changed into paranoia. Her heart began racing.  

She didn’t consider mushrooms again until years later when her anxiety and depression got here to a head. This time, she decided to be more intentional in her use. “I began learning what to do on these trips, like journaling and ensuring you’re in a natural space, a clean space,” she says. “I actually have a playlist. I’ve learned that I like lemon tekking, which is a method where you grind up the mushrooms and you then squeeze lemon on it and let it take in the juices since it helps you digest it higher.” 

The results of her research and preparation was a more integrated trip. When she does mushrooms nowadays, she feels more healed and fewer reactive. She doesn’t get triggered as easily and has a more expansive outlook on the world round her. “Being a Black person, a Black woman, in America, it’s hard,” Riley says. “I believe doing mushrooms helps me take care of that. I feel the lasting effect of just being more loving, and more patient, seeing that we’re all connected and that individuals are hurting. It gives me a recent perspective.” 

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