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Fakes, Culture Vultures, and the Commercialization of Psychedelics 

fakes psychedelics
Written by Alexandra Hicks

Let’s talk about fakes for a minute. You may call them hypocrites, phonies, chads, culture vultures, capitalists, posers, or whatever (being a millennial I’m partial to that last one, puts me right back in my middle and high school days when everyone called everyone a poser for anything). What exactly are we talking about here, anyway? The oxford dictionary puts these terms quite simply, “a person who acts in an affected manner in order to impress others.” Pretty easy to understand, but how does it pertain to today’s psychedelic industry?  

The reason I bring this up, is because of the recent event I just attended, Psychedelic Science 2023. Let me preface this by saying that I had a great time at the event. I learned a lot about what’s going on in the industry, made some connections, and enjoyed the beautiful city of Denver. It pretty much checked all the boxes for what a person is looking for when attending a convention. And from legal and societal standpoints, it’s amazing to see how far we have come with the acceptance of these substances.  

As a member of the press, I asked a lot of questions and made many observations, and one thing I realized is that many of the people I spoke to had never tried psychedelics themselves. While that alone doesn’t automatically make someone a “fake”, “phony”, or “poser”, it does seem strange to be promoting a headspace you’ve never experienced, and for profit at that.  

Another point of controversy for many in attendance, was the commercialization of psychedelics. People are worried about what will happen to the spiritual and cultural aspects of hallucinogenic drug use if they become heavily regulated and marketed, in the same way that the cannabis space lost those feelings of openness, rebellion, and camaraderie that were once there.  

When people who have never showed an interest in psychedelics are suddenly drawn to the industry now that it’s a possible future gold mine, how does that feel to the ones who have been there fighting the fight from the very beginning. How does it feel for the healers that were mocked for their beliefs and practices? Or the consumers who have been marginalized and made to feel like drug addicts? Overall, how does it feel for the people who truly believe in these substances, to watch the takeover by wealthy entrepreneurs who lack the same passion?  

What the issue here? 

What I noticed at the event, was that despite how large it was, there was still more of a grassroots vibe to it, like the earlier days of MJBizCon. Many of the companies are still small, family-owned businesses that care about their consumers and the psychedelic community as a whole. There was, however, that underlying feeling that the industry is following the same path as cannabis, and only those who are already well-off will have a place in it. But what’s nice about psychedelics, is that for those who actually use them, the drugs lend themselves to thoughtfulness and are used for self-improvement, hopefully meaning there will be a bit more integrity in the industry.  

But at the end of the day, where there is money to be made it would be naïve to think that exploitation won’t occur. For every 10 people that truly care about psychedelics, we must expect that there will be at least a couple who are only in it for the easy money. One can only hope that as psychedelic consumers, being enlightened by the products we’re using, we will be able to see through the BS from companies like that.  

But speaking of using the products for enlightenment, what will happen to the product quality if corporations start taking over psychedelics. Will we see the same problems that we’re seeing in cannabis with questionable quality, mislabeled and contaminated products, OG/legacy operators getting shut out of the industry, and so on?  

It’s not hard to envision a very grifty, snake oil-style of selling psychedelic products, or even an MLM-style cash grab, in the near future. Marketed by people who masquerade as hippy-types, claiming their products are a be-all, end-all solution to all your problems (like they did with CBD a few years ago), only for consumers to end up being failed by mediocre and probably incorrectly labeled products and lose faith in psychedelics altogether.  

Feedback from the public 

Searching through social media, mainly Instagram and Reddit, I found some interesting sentiments from people that I felt were worth sharing. For example, a redditor who nicely summarized many people’s fears of what could happen to psychedelics.  

“Let the corporations do what they want, even if it’s totally out of touch and stupid. I’ll continue to educate myself and do things the way I see fit. My only stipulation is that it should not be illegal to possess, grow or manufacture as an individual if corporations are allowed to do it. I know they will lobby for this, and that scares me more than mass adoption or corny marketing.” 

Or the next comment, also from reddit: “The corporatization of it [psychedelics] leading to similar effects that marijuana legalization led to — profit for those who were able to get away with growing prior to or after legalization, no reparations for those already incarcerated over something (mostly) harmless. There is a lot that’s going to be undesirable that comes of this.”

The following comments were found on Instagram, regarding Psychedelic Science and similar events:

“An event capitalizing on sacred medicines, priced so high as to be inaccessible to the majority of the population, is a bastardization of nature, indigenous practices, and 60’s counterculture. People weren’t murdered and arrested for these substances so a bunch of business majors could angle to profit off of the psychedelic community in the future.” 

“All wealthy white ppl sadly. Wish we could go but us Asian laborers will have to continue to grow, administer guide, and educate our fellow colored folk in the gray market.” 

“Here come all the chads to take over psychedelics just like they did cannabis.” 

“Good to see this happening but this reel looks incredibly exploited and commercialized is that really the message you want to send to people?”

As you can see, the general idea is about the same… everyone is glad that the psychedelic renaissance is taking place and that the potential of these drugs is finally being realized, but concerned at what will happen if and when the industry becomes more about money and regulations, rather than healing and spirituality.

Conclusion 

For what it’s worth, I did notice that it seemed like a safer space for women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC at Psychedelic Science 2023 than at most of the cannabis events I attend. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel out of place at times, and that people’s concerns about commercialization, appropriation, and lack of representation aren’t valid. Can anything be done to avoid this? It’s hard to say, but probably not. Where there’s money, there’s corruption and deceit, unfortunately. Overall, the benefits of psychedelics becoming mainstream – like the fact that less people will get arrested for them and more will have access – do seem to outweigh the negatives… but it’s all worth considering as we move forward with hallucinogenic drug legalizations.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.