About the Author

Ashley Lukens

Ashley Lukens is an independent philanthropic and development advisor in Hawaii and Oregon. Her current passion project is Clarity Project, a citizen-driven initiative to expand access to psilocybin.

In November 2017, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with stage II brain cancer. I remember how still everything felt after, as I sat in my car, head in my hands, considering this radical disruption in what had otherwise been a pretty predictable life trajectory. Cancer? Is there anything more terrifying than the C-word?

I now understand that stillness as shock, as I sat at the edge of my life, frozen with anxiety. As a single mom, working in the nonprofit sector, the future that lay ahead was paralyzing.

How would I care for my daughter during treatment? How could I keep my job? Did I have sufficient sick leave? Would chemo kill me? Was brain surgery safe?

At that moment, underwater with fear, I never could have imagined how I would feel today, three years into a diagnosis with a seven-year prognosis. I am at peace, understanding fully that my cancer is a blessing.

I credit psychedelics for this clarity and peace of mind.

Since my diagnosis, with the aid of psilocybin and ayahuasca, administered in therapeutic settings in countries where access is legal, and with the support of regular therapy for integration, I have confronted and overcome lifelong struggles with addiction, anxiety and depression.

With my fears and compulsive behaviors subdued, I have been able to consistently lean into my executive function, determining where my agency lies and committing myself to a life of deep healing.

Psychedelics contributed profoundly to my overall physical and spiritual well-being by facilitating the essential factors outlined in Kelly Turner’s groundbreaking work, “Radical Remission,” including following your intuition, releasing suppressed emotions, increasing positive emotions, embracing social support and deepening your spiritual connection.

This is your brain on psychedelics: More and more research is demonstrating that psychedelics, when administered in a therapeutic setting, can have transformative positive effects on health and well-being. Merijn Hos

I am not alone in my embrace of psychedelics; rather, Imperial College of London, John Hopkins University, New York University, UCLA, Yale University and many others are publishing groundbreaking research demonstrating the long-term efficacy of psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD and ayahuasca in treating PTSD, addiction, treatment-resistant depression and relieving the existential stress of cancer patients and the terminally ill.

In their recent works, best-selling authors Michael Pollan, Gabor Mate and Johann Hari detail numerous case studies demonstrating the unmatched efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Since I co-founded the Clarity Project to advocate for the expansion of access to psychedelics, the stories I’ve heard are jaw-dropping: Soldiers freed from suicidal ideation after a single ayahuasca ceremony, heroin addicts dosed with iboga who never used again, cancer patients like myself who are now able to pick their lives up and experience days of joy and freedom again.

This research, along with the collective efforts of community members like those of Clarity Project, are propelling cities and states around the world to remove regulatory barriers to accessing plant medicines for mental health. In November 2020, Measure 109 gave the Oregon Health Authority two years to create rules and guidelines for the administration of the psychedelic medicine psilocybin in a therapeutic setting.

Since mid-2020, Canada’s federal minister of health, Patty Hajdu, has been granting requests from terminally ill patients and therapists seeking to use psilocybin as part of palliative care. In November 2020, 76% of voters in Washington, D.C., elected to decriminalize possession of psychedelic substances including psilocybin.

Our state legislators are following suit. Last year then-Rep., now-Sen. Chris Lee introduced HB 2567 to incentivize the state Department of Health to explore medical uses of psilocybin. This year Sen. Stanley Chang took it one step further with SB 738, which de-schedules psilocybin, effectively legalizing it for medical use.

While there were a handful of uninformed administrative concerns about the measure, there was overwhelming, thoughtful support from the clinicians, researchers and community members who testified. While senators decided to defer the measure, conversations are likely to resume when Sen. Chris Lee and Rep. Sonny Ganaden introduce a version of last year’s resolution, HCR195.

Psychedelics are capable of opening up a completely new experience of the world and changing perception radically. Ana Yala

Expanding medical access ensures that patients like myself have ready access to ideal “settings,” which significantly impact the transformational potential of the experience. We would ensure that all patients have the support they need for pre-and post-integration from a trained medical professional.

Further, we would reduce the stigma around this psychedelic-assisted therapy at a time when we so desperately need peace of mind. Indeed, we are at a transitional moment in history where we must confront old biases and presumptions about health and wellness and open our collective consciousness up to holistic and transformative healing modalities.

As many of us have felt viscerally over the past year, our mental health is inextricably tied to our physical well-being and we need new tools in the toolkit to address the challenges we face. We shouldn’t have to risk breaking the law to access solutions whose benefits are proven. The research is clear. It’s time for safe, legal access to psychedelics.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Ashley Lukens

Ashley Lukens is an independent philanthropic and development advisor in Hawaii and Oregon. Her current passion project is Clarity Project, a citizen-driven initiative to expand access to psilocybin.

Latest Comments (0)

These Freedom of Choice bills need to be passed with the utmost urgency by the legislature. Let's hope we get a liberal-minded governor this time around. So far, I'm not too enamored with those who have thrown their hat into the ring.

Scotty_Poppins · 2 years ago

I get the sense that we could be close to the end of the Dark Ages, where fear and the superstitions of the past are losing their grip on society.I get this buoyant feeling after reading this articulate and moving prose by Ms. Lukens, that we as a society of individuals, can move forward out of our present psychological morass that's making a planetary mess.

Joseppi · 2 years ago

In the '60s and '70s, psychedelics were quite popular. They faded away for many reasons. I am not sure if it has value as a medication but under supervision of the right Dr., I think it may open ht eyes of those who respond well to it. My question is "How will you know how one will respond?"

Richard · 2 years ago

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