The Importance of Group Healing with Psychedelic Medicines and How Massachusetts Gets it Right

Combining Regulated Access with Self-Regulating Community Healing Models

These are exciting times in the realms of psychedelic healing. In particular, I’ve been psyched by the traction and progress that group healing models are getting in both state and federal regulated access routes. Group therapy is much more cost-efficient, as well as arguably more effective, for short and long-term mental health. The mutual support and camaraderie, as well as accountability, in a group healing context is the antidote to depression, isolation, and disconnection. And having two guides for ten people versus one for each individual is obviously an enormous cost saver.

At the state level in Oregon, over 150 facilitators have completed training programs, and thousands of clients are on waitlists to receive psilocybin services; the group model is a promising way to meet the scale of need. InnerTrek, founded by the visionary Tom Eckert who spearheaded the state-regulated access model for psychedelic healing along with his late wife Sheri, is offering $850 for group preparation, facilitated and integration sessions, with a $125 intake fee, or $975 all in, in their group healing approach (they also offer multiple session healing retreats).

Heroic Hearts Project is working with Bendable on a more extensive customized group therapy program for veterans in Oregon. Veterans participate in two group psilocybin sessions as well as other wellness activities including breathwork, meditation, sauna, and integration talks. The full program involves three weeks of preparation, five days of retreat, and six months of continuing integration and community building. The total cost is about $5,000 per person and roughly aligns with HHP’s current international costs. Cost includes intake, preparation, peer coaching, two treatment days, food and lodging, transport, and retreat wellness activities. HHP believes these prices will lower substantially in the coming years and be a far cheaper option than international retreats. Once they have more local veterans through the program, many will become certified facilitators and coaches. With more veterans within the communities able to take on the current responsibilities, the more sustainable and cost effective this work will become.

At the federal level with MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, the Portland VA has FDA approval to begin group therapy trials, and we hope that group therapy will soon be the norm for MDMA-assisted therapy in the U.S., while still flexible to address the needs of a client who may benefit much more from individual therapy, or whatever mix thereof.

We are also excited to support MAPS Israel in the group MDMA healing work they are organizing for survivors of the Hamas attacks, both of the outdoor festival and the kibbutzim. The healing program involves multiple group preparation, medicine and integrations sessions, at a cost of about $5,000 per person. This not only has promise for healing of deeply traumatized Israelis, but also as soon as feasible for Palestinians, which has been central to the MAPS Israel mission from the beginning. The global impact of pioneering this cost efficient and efficacious group healing model is huge for other regional conflict regions like Ukraine as well.

It’s also my hope to eventually get plant-based MDMA made entirely in-state from safrole-containing grasses grown in greenhouses, into state-regulated access programs like Oregon and Colorado’s (and soon Massachusetts and California’s as well). Although MAPS is working creatively to enable broader access to MDMA through their FDA-approved prescription model, it’s likely that state-regulated access is the only way to make MDMA therapy available for things like couples counseling and personal growth, as the FDA route generally is restricted to “diagnosable” conditions.

Even at $975 per person for group healing at InnerTrek, let alone $5,000 for more extensive group healing programs, this is far out of reach for most low-income individuals, many of whom come from disproportionately traumatized and historically marginalized communities. The Psychedelic Health Equity Initiative is piloting projects with the aim of having Medicaid cover psychedelic-assisted therapies in both state-regulated programs as well as the federal level with associated wraparound services. The Sheri Eckert Foundation, founded by Tom Eckert in honor of Sheri, is providing scholarships initially for facilitator training and will soon make similar grants available for clients. Programs like Alma Institute are adopting a sliding scale approach that will help improve access as well. MAPS PBC is also prioritizing getting public and private payors to cover both the cost of medicine and therapy, which is woefully under-insured in our current health care system that does not prioritize mental health the way we should. We won’t achieve the full potential of the psychedelic revolution until we make therapy affordable for people of all income levels.

Alongside making regulated access programs more affordable via group healing models and getting public and private insurance to cover, it is also crucial to decriminalize and support responsible self-regulating communities that grow and produce their own affordable medicine and offer safe, high-quality psychedelic communal healing as well. I’ll be giving closing remarks at the Horizons conference in Portland this weekend, focused on the importance of this dual approach. We are supporting the great models and examples that Rhizome and Sacred Garden Community church are setting in Portland. SGC was co-created by Bob Otis, original board chair of Decrim Nature Oakland when they passed their groundbreaking resolution to decriminalize medicines for home grow and community healing use. As important as it is to integrate group healing approaches into regulated access programs, once a person has gone through that process, ideally they would plug into a self-regulating community afterwards for the longer term. The idea that we will be healed forever and never again confront mental health challenges and struggles in life after one or two facilitated sessions is misguided. We can make a lot of progress in a single guided experience, especially for acute trauma and grief. But many go on to benefit greatly from a continued regular rhythm with psychedelic healing circles, whether annually, quarterly or whatever, for a mental, emotional, spiritual tune-up. It’s unrealistic and cost-prohibitive to ask that people bear the costs of regulated, facilitated access rates for the rest of their lives. Indigenous medicine cultures long ago blazed this path and show us what it means to heal in community in a safe, cost-effective way.

In consultation with community leaders at Portland Psychedelic Society, Plant Medicine Healing Alliance and Rhizome, we will be backing a 2026 measure in Portland to decriminalize medicines for home grow and self-regulating healing use, if the new city council still can’t get it together to pass an ordinance by then. This will complement measures 109 and 110 and complete the policy picture there. Ideally state-wide policy will also follow. It’s also important that we as a movement support our Indigenous elders, and I’m grateful to the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund, as well as the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative at Chacruna, for providing a way for us to show our gratitude and give back.

Learning lessons from Oregon and Colorado, I was pleased to see the 2024 ballot campaign, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, commit to building on the groundwork laid by local psychedelic activists by pursuing an initiative that decriminalizes home grow and self-regulating community use for plant and fungal medicines, alongside setting up a regulated access program. I personally talked to James Davis of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and share his passion for ensuring that Massachusetts residents not be criminalized for growing and producing their own medicine at home, and for ending the drug war period. During the summer, the campaign engaged with Bay Staters as well as many other local voices in the psychedelic movement. I was optimistic there would be a unified front moving forward insofar as the ballot measure there reflects Bay Staters substantive input into the policy and allows home grow and healing in self-regulating communities, alongside setting up a regulated access program. Many Massachusetts leaders in the psychedelic community, such as Dr. Franklin King and Sarko Gergerian, are vocally backing the ballot measure, but I was mystified to see friendly fire still coming from Bay Staters, which mischaracterizes the ballot measure as only focused on regulated access with no mention that plant and fungal medicines are also decriminalized, allowing for home grow and self-regulating community use outside of the regulated access program. My hope is that psychedelic media outlets like Psychedelic Spotlight will do a better job reporting the facts of the policy and the extensive local support for the measure, rather than simply reprinting misleading claims of those who are choosing to misrepresent and malign the ballot campaign.

In California, after Gov. Newsom’s unfortunate veto of Senator Wiener’s decrim measure that would have allowed home grow and communal healing, our coalition is supporting Senator Wiener and Republican Assemblymember Marie Waldron in their effort to submit a new bill focused on creating a regulated access program first, per the governor’s veto message. After we succeed in passing legislation in 2024 to create regulated access, we’ll follow up with a renewed push for decriminalization of home grow and community-regulated use.

It’s also important to note that responsible self-regulating entheogenic churches are already operating in all fifty states under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and while there have been cases of federal interference, no arrests have been made. We are also excited to see the Christian focused nonprofit Ligare and Jewish focused nonprofit Shefa getting traction. These organizations promise to pave the way for integration of psychedelic medicines into traditional churches and synagogues, where trained religious professionals will one day be able to offer psychedelic-assisted therapy as part of hospice care and in healing circles akin to the Alcoholics Anonymous model within religious communities.

All things considered, the future is indeed bright. As we continue to build regulated access programs that incorporate group therapy and other cost-saving mechanisms, as well as enact policies that allow for self-regulating community use, we are moving closer to a world in which psychedelic healing is affordable and accessible to all.

Author Profile
David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

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