Psychedelics Industry Spotlight: DoubleBlind Founders Shelby & Madison are Dedicated to Fighting Prohibition & Decriminalization

DoubleBlind uses psychedelics as a jumping off point to explore a range of topics, including mental health, spirituality, social equity, environmental justice, LGBTQIA+ issues, poetry, and more.
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Shelby & Madison in Joshua Tree

Shelby & Madison in Joshua Tree

DoubleBlind is a psychedelic magazine. What does that mean? Well, they use psychedelics as a jumping off point to explore a range of topics, including mental health, spirituality, social equity, environmental justice, LGBTQIA+ issues, poetry, and more. It’s not just a print and online magazine, DB hosts a number of virtual events and webinars with individuals like mycologist Paul Stamets and visionary artists Alex & Allyson Grey, as well as produce online educational programs. There is so much going on, and this only scratches the surface, so we decided to dig a little deeper in this interview with DB founders/editors Shelby Hartman and Madison Margolin.

Both deeply passionate about long-form storytelling as well as beautiful photography and art, Shelby & Madison want to use the conversations which begin in the magazine as a catalyst for community building and healing. They’re already seeing that their readers are excited to connect with one another and to them, so they are providing opportunities to do that in the real world. The founders also want to provide their community with the resources to navigate this crazy landscape that is not only psychedelics, but alternative healing at-large. So, if you’re not tuned into DB, we suggest you read this interview, follow them on Instagram, and subscribe today. 

How did you get involved in psychedelics?

Madison Margolin: I've been interested in psychedelics since I was a teenager. I grew up hearing stories about my parents' own psychedelic experiences and the psychedelic culture that shaped who they are, and transitively who I am. Meanwhile psychedelic figures like Ram Dass or Timothy Leary (my dad's client on a pot bust) were close friends within my dad's community. So I got into researching psychedelics through literature and neuroscience (before actually experiencing them first hand) when I was in college at Berkeley, and later during journalism school in New York, got into writing about psychedelic use within the Orthodox Jewish community. It was a natural progression for me, after I finished grad school, to get into writing about cannabis, psychedelics, and Jewish culture for outlets like VICE, Rolling Stone, Playboy, High Times, Tablet Magazine, and others. And now, here I am as co-founder and editor of DoubleBlind.

Shelby Hartman: I had a completely different foray into psychedelics than Madison. Unlike her family, my parents did not talk about psychedelics or “spirituality” at all when I was a kid. So it’s something I sort of fell backwards into in college when I took some mushrooms with friends. I often say that I can’t really untangle my personal and professional trajectories—and I think it’s that way for most folks in the psychedelics space. After college, I continued to trip, to explore lofty questions about what it means to be human, and alongside that journey became a journalist—first at CBS News and then at a variety of print outlets. At some point, I was offered the chance to do a couple stories for VICE, LA Weekly, Quartz, and others on psychedelics and cannabis. Before I knew it, it was my area of expertise or “beat,” as we call it in journalism. 

DoubleBlind Essentials Kit, featuring Issue 04 which will be available mid-December.

DoubleBlind Essentials Kit, featuring Issue 04 which will be available mid-December.

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about DoubleBlind?

MM: Issue 04 is available for pre-order! The cover features the work of the late Peruvian artist Pablo Amaringo, whose art expresses the visions he saw in his ayahuasca journeys.

SH: Check out our Essentials Kit, available for the holidays. You’ll receive all of our most-loved psychedelic products in one, and support psychedelic reform! This bundle includes our past three print magazines—filled with cutting-edge journalism, art, poetry, and news on psychedelics— a gold-dipped mushroom pin, handmade by Rhode Island-based artist Jim Clift in his eco-friendly studio; a canvas tote featuring mushroom illustrations from our inaugural issue’s Forager's Journal; and two limited edition stickers. Ten percent of all the proceeds will be donated to MAPS, a leading psychedelic research nonprofit, to help them legalize MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder.

What would an ideal post prohibition society look like to you?

MM: In an ideal post-prohibition society, all drugs would be, at the very least, decriminalized. Where regulation is needed, such as ensuring that synthetic substances like MDMA or LSD are pure and correctly dosed, it would be provided for free. Taxes wouldn't cripple the industry, nor would regulations make it impossible to compete if you're not already well capitalized (ehem, cannabis). Homegrows would be the optimal method of procuring medicine, though we'd have ample infrastructure to help measure purity and dosages. 

We'd have robust research into all psychedelics, and indigenous wisdom would be held in as high regard as the western scientific method. For opioid users, safe injection facilities would be everywhere to ensure that people are using safely and not overdosing. At the same time, we'd have honest drug education that prioritizes harm reduction tactics, and which doesn't make false distinctions among the very related aspects of a drug's therapeutic, recreational, and spiritual properties.

SH: Agreed, agreed. A lot is happening right now in the psychedelic movement, from the efforts to decriminalize psychedelics on a grassroots level to the federal research to legalize psychedelics as therapy tools. To us, the elephant in the room is that the whole FDA-approval system, where companies need tens of millions of dollars to get a drug to market, is lopsided. I don’t want to diminish the incredible importance and value of research which can ensure the efficacy and safety of certain drugs, but it’s not really working the way it’s supposed to. So to us, psychedelics are an opportunity to have a much larger conversation not only about why psychedelics are not legal, but why drugs like Oxycontin are. 

Also, as Madison referenced, we need a paradigm shift in which people aren’t just seeking treatment once they’re sick, but maintaining basic levels of wellness. A successful post-prohibition society is one in which you don’t need treatment-resistant depression or post-traumatic stress disorder to access a drug, but in which you can access that drug as a mechanism for optimizing your physical and psychological state.

What was your first experience with psychedelics like?

MM: It was one of the best days of my life. I took mushrooms with two close friends at Venice Beach, while my sister and a family friend chaperoned us. It was January of 2010, right after my first semester of college, where I had completed a research paper on the psychedelic history of the US, analyzing texts like Huxley's The Doors of Perception or Timothy Leary's work. I then felt ready, after having done the research, to try psychedelics for myself, and they surpassed my expectations. I might have had, what psychedelics scientists call, "a mystical experience." I thought of Ram Dass' book Be Here Now, and was like, "oooohhhhh, I get it." That's not to say I've become enlightened, but to taste that was among the most valuable things I've experienced, and everyday I wish and aim to achieve that level of presence soberly on my own. That's why integration is as important as the trip itself.

SH: I was a freshman at Bard College and I had heard whispers of “mushrooms” in the dorms. My friend got some (probably from “a guy”) and...we did them. I only have vague memories of that experience: of looking in the mirror and being horrified by how puffy my face looked (tripping 101: don’t look in the mirror) and at one point inexplicably crying to my childhood best friend before bursting into uncontrollable laughter. While I wouldn’t say I had any spiritual breakthroughs that first trip, it gave me a window into the capacity of the human mind—which I had already begun to think deeply about with the help of existentialist texts like “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” Ayahuasca, however, was the plant medicine that really changed my life.

Tell us about some of the challenges you face working in psychedelics.

MM: Follow the money. There's a lot of controversy in the psychedelic space about how the various ventures within it are being funded, and who these medicines will be available to. The most challenging thing is working to ensure that psychedelics don't end up like cannabis, and actually are inclusive and accessible to marginalized communities. Here's an article I wrote on this topic for DoubleBlind.

SH: The dynamics of the psychedelics space are tricky, for sure. We’ve clearly taken a stance—we believe in access to healing—but we also feel that as reporters it’s our responsibility to listen to everyone, openly and fairly. Above all else, we’re journalists and DoubleBlind is a journalism organization, not a psychedelics organization.

I’d say another challenge we face is in thinking about how to broaden these conversations in the spirit of destigmatizing these plants and fungi. We want to have nuanced conversations about psychedelics, but we also want to publish content that casts the net a bit wider, that is of interest to the veteran with PTSD who was failed by the VA or the grandparent who is struggling with dementia-related mood swings.

What are some solutions you've found?

MM: Be the change you wish to see? Shelby and I are dedicated to content that sheds light on the diversity of the psychedelic space. We want to support women by sharing stories by women and about women. And while we are grateful to the "forefathers" of today's psychedelic renaissance, with those like Rick Doblin or Timothy Leary or Bill Richards having helped lay the groundwork for where we are today, the psychedelic community is woven together not only by women, but also queer folk, indigenous luminaries, and POC who comprise what this movement is all about.

SH: We’re also committed to helping bridge the divide between all the various silos within the psychedelic community, through events, speaking at conferences, and in the way in which we choose to tell stories. We’re never going to add fuel to a conflict within the psychedelic community just because it will make for a sexy headline.

Do you think legalization will change the world for the better? Why?

MM: I think legalization or decriminalization will change the world for the better. Nobody should be criminalized for psychedelics (or cannabis, or any drug really). Period. Harm reduction should be at the core of any drug policy, and currently prohibition is the most dangerous thing about taking drugs because it keeps consumers from being able to access easy information about dosage, purity, and other key details that would make their experience as safe as possible.

SH: Yes, of course. The research is clear: prohibition does nothing good for anyone. Incarceration is not the answer, a lack of safe containers for drug use is not the answer… It’s hard to predict the extent to which psychedelic legalization, specifically, will change the world. At a minimum, I think it will revolutionize mental health care. If use becomes widespread enough, it could also serve as a key catalyst in a movement to wake humanity up, to be more conscientious and compassionate global citizens. This could change how we treat the planet, how we treat our bodies, how we treat one another, everything, really. 

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