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What to Read: The Microdose is studying psychedelics
This week, we interviewed scientist and journalist Jane C. Hu, who writes The Microdose (edited by Malia Wollan and Michael Pollan), a publication covering new developments in the field of psychedelics.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
The science, business, and culture of psychedelic drugs.
You say: “There has never been a more exciting—or bewildering—time in the world of psychedelics.” Can you tell us why?
There’s so much happening in psychedelics right now across many sectors. On the legislative side, a constellation of cities and states are passing bills or advancing ballot measures to increase access to psychedelic drugs. In the business world, companies are applying for patents to lock down intellectual property rights related to psychedelics, while other companies and nonprofits are challenging those patents.
There are new research studies weekly, but the quality of that research varies widely, and scientists are still establishing best practices. Many in the psychedelics world are having conversations about protecting the plants and animals that produce these psychoactive compounds and the work and traditions of those who have been using them for centuries. And as psychedelic-assisted therapy becomes more popular (and, in some places, legal), there are questions about how best to protect patients and clients from abuse.
What makes covering psychedelics a full journalistic beat different from, say, health, education, or politics?
Reporters on more traditional beats will often specialize in a certain aspect: for instance, you might be a city newspaper’s education reporter, finding stories in your community, or you might cover the U.S. Congress for a national publication. Psychedelics is still too new for this kind of specificity, so covering psychedelics means looking for stories across beats: business, science, politics, health, culture, tech, law, religion. And to cover psychedelics, you need to think big about different systems and how and where they overlap and what you might learn from that. Mental health care, intellectual property, the penal system, social justice, the scientific method—it’s all there in the Venn diagram of psychedelics!
There’s also very little precedent for what a psychedelic journalist is supposed to cover, or how to prepare for being on this beat. While a state politics reporter might learn about the process of passing legislation in their state, there’s no standard baseline of knowledge for a psychedelics reporter to learn before diving in. I was a scientist before I became a science journalist, so I have a bit more insight into how research is conducted and published, but in covering this beat, I’ve found myself in deep rabbit holes about esoteric topics I never thought I’d get to cover as a science reporter, like patent law and the history of religion.
Your 5 Questions series interviews a wide range of people connected to psychedelics, including scientists, terminally ill cancer patients, and mushroom dealers. What are some of the interviews from your archive that you keep going back to?
I frequently find myself thinking about our interviews with Kristin Nash, who’s been advocating for a harm-reduction approach to psychedelic drugs after her son Will died in a drug-related accident, and with Lily Kay Ross, the co-host of Power Trip, a podcast that unveiled some important allegations of psychedelic-therapy abuse. Their work really underscores the stakes for people as we enter what some are calling the “psychedelics renaissance”: How will we educate people about the many potential uses of psychedelics and keep them safe at the same time?
Readers have also enjoyed our interviews with neuroscientist Gul Dolen, who studied what octopuses do on MDMA, and Hanifa Nayo Washington, who co-founded a nonprofit that runs a psychedelic support hotline.
Read more: 5 Questions for Kristin Nash
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I always look forward to new issues of On Drugs, by attorneys Matt Zorn and Shane Pennington. Their continuing coverage of psychedelic patent issues has been extremely thorough and fun to read.