Why this activist is calling for the mass ingestion of psychedelics
- During a conference, Gail Bradbrook, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, an environmentalist social movement, called for people to take psychedelics en masse as an act of civil disobedience.
- Bradbrook argues that "The causes of the crisis are political, economic, legal and cultural systemic issues but underneath that are issues of human trauma, powerlessness, scarcity and separation," and that "psychedelic medicines are opportunities to help us shift our consciousness."
- The research on psychedelics does suggest that they could be powerful mediators for personal change and possibly encourage people to become more aware of and concerned for the environment.
Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion political movement, has called for the mass ingestion of psychedelics to protest the criminalization of drugs.
“I would support a mass civil disobedience where we take medicine to tell the state that they have absolutely no right to control our consciousness and to define our spiritual practice,” said Bradbrook during Breaking Convention, a psychedelics conference that was recently held in London.
Named after the Anthropocene extinction — the current and on-going mass extinction event caused by human activity — Extinction Rebellion uses civil disobedience to draw attention to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
Extinction Rebellion has organized protests throughout the U.K. aimed toward achieving three goals: compelling governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency; to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and to have governments form and obey a citizens’ assembly in regard to climate and ecological issues.
How do psychedelics tie into Extinction Rebellion’s goals?
Bradbrook emphasized that Extinction Rebellion isn’t in the business of promoting psychedelic drug use, but she has previously expressed that psychedelics were a powerful motivator for her to form the social movement. In an article she wrote for the journal Emerge, Bradbrook said “people on psychedelics report a deeply felt sense of peace, oneness and unity with the planet which has been shown to have a profound and enduring effect on the way they live their lives.”
The transformative power of psychedelics could be a way to encourage people to become more active in finding solutions to the climate crisis. “The causes of the crisis are political, economic, legal, and cultural systemic issues but underneath that are issues of human trauma, powerlessness, scarcity, and separation,” said Bradbrook at the convention. “The system resides within us and the psychedelic medicines are opportunities to help us shift our consciousness.”
Would this really work?
There’s no denying that psychedelics have the potential to completely change people’s perspectives and behavior. In an interview with Big Think, author Michael Pollan explained psychedelics’ primary action in the brain, where they suppress the default mode network. “The brain is a hierarchical system and the default mode network appears to be at the top; it’s kind of the orchestra conductor or corporate executive,” explains Pollan. However, sometimes the default mode network can be excessively controlling and trap us in mental and behavioral habits. Pollen explains how:
“Many of the disorders that psychedelics appear to treat well are manifestations of a stuck brain, a brain that is locked in loops, a mind that’s telling itself destructive stories, like ‘I can’t get through the day without a cigarette. I’m unworthy of love. My work is shit.’ … And that relief from that dictator is exactly what some people need to free themselves from habits — mental habits and behavioral habits.”
This kind of reboot could, for example, be used to convince people that something can be done about climate change. Research has shown that psychedelics can reset the brain, snapping people out of depression, so maybe it can snap people out of hopelessness about the future. “If we have a tool for behavior change, that’s a huge deal,” said Pollan. “I mean, I know, having worked on food for many years, that changing people’s food habits as adults is almost impossible. We are creatures of habit in many, many ways.”
In addition to freeing us from mental and behavioral habits, psychedelics (specifically, psilocybin) have been shown to increase people’s perceived connection with nature and to decrease authoritarian beliefs. There is both empirical and anecdotal evidence that authoritarianism is associated with a disregard for the environment, so the mass ingestion of magic mushrooms could not only make people feel more connected to the environment, but also make them less likely to hold anti-environmental political beliefs.
Admittedly, anybody interested in participating in Bradbrook’s call to take psychedelics en masse probably doesn’t hold too many authoritarian beliefs to begin with. Instead, those who stand to benefit the most from this mind-bending act of civil disobedience are the many concerned individuals who have yet to really act in any meaningful way beyond a Facebook post or a tweet. A trip could be just the push they need.