Living among the forests of the Pacific Northwest, it’s not hard to imagine indigenous people and even early colonialists consuming mushrooms containing psilocybin. There are nearly 200 psilocybin mushrooms in the world, and many of them grow naturally or are easily cultivated in the Pacific Northwest. These transformative fungi have likely been teaching humans a thing or two since they began to co-exist.
Psilocybin is currently being researched by the FDA as a potential treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and difficult to treat depression. The naturally-occurring psychedelic has also shown promise at treating addiction and anxiety.
People have been using psilocybin as the catalyst they need to make big changes long before the FDA got involved. People use psychedelics for a wide variety of reasons. From just straight-up fun to healing, to spiritual ceremonies. While all of those uses are valid, telling the stories of those who have benefitted from psychedelics mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is integral to legitimizing their use among the skeptical.
These two men’s stories highlight the importance of psychedelic decriminalization.
Paul Corbett’s Journey
Paul Corbett has spent much of his life learning from plant medicine. In 1968, Corbett started using psychedelics after a childhood fraught with trauma and abuse had led him to crippling anxiety and depression. Corbett credits psychedelics with helping him with his lifelong struggle with depression. Eight years later, Corbett used psychedelics to help him get off of drugs.
“They gave me a conscious and a way of looking at things,” Corbett recalls. “I grew up in a rural area in Alaska. A subsistence lifestyle. So I have a connection with nature already.”
This connection with nature, and appreciation of psychedelics, led Corbett to become a mushroom foraging master. Psilocybin mushrooms are Corbett’s specialty but in the process of learning about psychedelic mushrooms, Corbett has become adept at identifying all mushrooms.
“I prefer picking psilocybin because I have a strong connection with nature and where they grow,” Corbett explained. “You learn a lot by picking one mushroom. Whether it’s psilocybin or edible I learn a lot about the other mushrooms that grow around them. The seasons, the weather, the trees, the plants, the grasses. So I’m very much into picking my own psilocybin because I like having that connection with nature.”
Corbett makes annual trips to the coast to harvest wild mushrooms. Oregon State Police have repeatedly thanked Corbett for the guidance he provides mushroom foragers. On his trips, Corbett has identified poisonous mushrooms harvested by uninformed mushroom pickers and dissuaded them from eating them and potentially poisoning themselves and others.
Corbett would have happily continued picking mushrooms and minding his own business. Unfortunate happenstance led Corbett to his current role as a spokesperson for the psychedelic mushroom movement.
Convicted for Existing
A Park Ranger arrested Corbett for foraging for wild mushrooms at Cape Disappointment Park in Pacific County Southwestern Washington in November 2016.
Prosecuting someone for picking something growing on public land is not as clear-cut as many crimes. Corbett knew this and refused to accept a deal and plead guilty. A court-appointed attorney was so frustrated by this fact, he admonished Corbett, his own client, in the courtroom in front of the judge for not accepting a plea deal.
Luckily, that day in the courtroom someone heard the spectacle that would become an ally and good friend of Corbett.
“It just so happened that day Nicole Dalton, who is now my lawyer, was sitting in that courtroom, and she told her associate, ‘I wish that was my case.’ Well, it turned out eventually it was her case.”
Dalton filed an 820-page motion for dismissal on medical and spiritual grounds. During the evidentiary hearing, medical experts testified for over 12 combined hours about the benefits of psilocybin. One of the experts was Dr. Darrick May, a researcher from Johns Hopkins. Dr. May flew to Washington at his own expense, to testify. The judge admitted that the topic was fascinating, but did not grant the dismissal, so the case went to trial.
None of the witness testimony would be allowed in the jury trial, so Corbett and Dalton chose a trial by judge. The judge sentenced Corbett to a year’s felony probation and 30-days in jail. Corbett will not have to serve the 30 days until his appeal has been heard.
Corbett is optimistic about his chance of winning his appeal, and if he does it will be a huge win for the psychedelic movement. At the time of writing, a date has not been set for the appeal.
Robert Satiacum: Sacred Indigenous Medicine
Robert Satiacum is a member of the Puyallup Tribe and a vocal proponent of plant medicine and psychedelics.
“What I really truly am, is an ordained medicine man,” Satiacum told The Sesh. “My teachings come mostly out of the Southwest, from that desert, that plant medicine. That red road has led me to the prophecy of the eagle and the condor soaring together again. Trading our tradition and medicine again.”
Learning from indigenous tribes throughout North and Central America, Satiacum has held spiritual ceremonies with peyote, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms.
Satiacum describes plant psychedelics as having divine, feminine energy, which is at odds with the rigid patriarchal order of law.
“Divinity, her divinity, nature, mother, that divinity. That’s what men fear.” Satiacum explains.
This fear-based ruling is what keeps plant psychedelics illegal, according to Satiacum.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the prohibition of plant psychedelics and the prohibition of cannabis in this framing. The female cannabis plant produces the mind-opening THC. An attempt to take THC out of cannabis, and replace it with only CBD, is more of the same erasure of feminine energy to fit plant medicine in a legal framework.
Plant Medicine is the Best Medicine
“The thing with plant Medicine is, it works in and on the mind, where all disease is,” Satiacum wrote in a message. “What we put in our temple, what we see hear smell taste feel and touch, in this construct is toxic and life-taking. Plant Medicine allows us to feel the pain, deal with and resolve the cancers, the mental disorders, the emotion disconnect, and keeps us from doing things that created and caused the pain or disease in the first place. No treatment or pill can remedy or match plant Medicines.”
Indigenous traditions guide Satiacum’s ceremonies. It’s hard to justify the prohibition of plant psychedelics when the first amendment promises religious freedom.
Corbett and Satiacum have led different lives and traveled very different paths. But the two men have come to the same conclusion, psychedelics have the power to heal and transform. The plant psychedelic decriminalization movement is progressing. It’s important to honor and recognize the work done by psychedelic elders in the process.