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Psychedelic Businesses Can Be Leaders in Sustainability

But unfortunately, the list of natural psychedelic substances that haven't met careful environmental treatment is long and growing.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Winter is changing to spring across the United States, and the news cycle is inexorably swinging toward environmentally-conscious stories. Headlines that call the sustainability of cannabis cultivation into question, such as this year’s “Study: An Eighth of Legal Cannabis Has 41lb Carbon Footprint” have made the rounds annually. However, we haven’t seen as many stories concerning the sustainability of the next up-and-coming industry: psychedelics.

Consumers, community leaders, and environmentalists are all beginning to demand accountability in various burgeoning psychedelic industries. The psychedelics industry has an opportunity and obligation to create an ethical, ecologically sound marketplace. 

Related: Future Cannabis Industry Leaders Will Focus on Sustainability and Social Impact

Psychedelic sustainability, a cultural dilemma

Unfortunately, the list of natural psychedelic substances that haven’t historically met careful environmental treatment is long and growing. 

Consider psychedelic poaching as the environmental disruptor it is: Ecstasy (MDMA) production has led to the deforestation of entire regions of southern Asia for decades; peyote has become endangered in recent years; and the Colorado River Toad — Bufo alvarius, which carries a psychoactive venom containing 5-MeO-DMT — now has conservationists raising calls for protective action, to name but a few issues.

Psychedelic poaching often causes societal dilemma as well: Ayahuasca can likely be grown sustainably but may lead to more jaguar poaching and does little to improve the lives of the communities barraged by psychedelic tourism; in the United States in 2019, nearly a third of all possession arrests were for “other dangerous nonnarcotic drugs” (which includes naturally occurring psychedelics); and the decline of peyote numbers has Native American spiritual leaders questioning if enough of the psychedelic cactus will remain for their descendants to take part in traditional rituals. Every product comes with an environmental cost of production. When considering psychedelic cultivation or harvesting, it’s imperative to inspect all potential religious, societal, and community implications as well. To act before careful consideration can lead to real lapses of entire small civilizations, their trade, and imperiled traditions.

Abundant and synthetic sources

As the leader of a cannabis and psychedelics marketing firm focusing on advocacy and policy change, I would be remiss not to discuss the negative impacts psychedelic prohibition has historically had. When creating solutions for psychedelic sustainability and societal dilemmas, prohibition cannot be a part of the solution as it only drives illicit trade and exacerbates the issues at hand. Not to mention how expensive it is — federal drug control alone cost the United States nearly $37 billion in 2019. Peyote and mescaline — the psychoactive compound it contains — are great examples to learn from. Native American leaders themselves stand on both sides of the “peyote crisis” decriminalization debate, but groups such as the Cactus Conservation Institute “believe that legal cultivation is critical to the survival of peyote in its native habitat.” 

However, the best way to conserve these delicate biological resources is to avoid gathering them altogether. Seek synthetic production or abundant alternatives whenever possible to avoid disrupting cultures and biospheres alike. Mescaline is readily available for extraction in the abundant San Pedro and other cactus varieties and can also be easily synthesized. Likewise, Colorado River Toad 5-MeO-DMT mentioned earlier can be synthesized without continuously bothering the animal itself. Synthesized compounds also allow for more accurate dosing and delivery, which is an added benefit for customers and producers seeking a consistent product and experience.

Operate carefully

If you choose to do business in the psychedelics sphere, it is imperative to make space for the environment and cultural sensitivity. There is no excuse in the modern world for an unethical supply chain or business model. Beware of supporting prohibitionist laws that seek to slow or halt growth or production, as this limits both the market and native populations who should have access to the plant/substance. Seek synthetic and abundant alternatives wherever possible to help avoid issues of scarcity and illicit harvest or trade.

Most importantly, remember that psychedelic trips aren’t just the next flashy new human experience. For millennia, natural psychoactives have been a fundamental part of health, spiritualism, and the human experience. Accordingly, we must treat their use and entrance into the modern market respectfully and sustainably.