Psychedelic-assisted therapy training is now available in Ann Arbor

Two Decriminalize Nature Michigan advocates are working to make entheogenic plant healing more accessible

May 12, 2023 at 9:01 am
click to enlarge Julie Barron (left) and Modou Baqui (right) work with Decriminalize Nature Michigan and are leading a psychedelic therapy training. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Julie Barron (left) and Modou Baqui (right) work with Decriminalize Nature Michigan and are leading a psychedelic therapy training.

Entheogenic substances like psilocybin mushrooms have seen a surge in popularity as their therapeutic benefits become more widely recognized. In Oregon, the first state to legalize “magic mushrooms,” licensed psilocybin service centers have begun opening with guided trips costing up to $3,500 per person.

This could soon be a reality in Michigan as well. In Ann Arbor — where possession of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, mescaline, and other entheogenic substances has been decriminalized, though their use remains illegal — two community leaders are offering their own psychedelic therapy training program.

Julie Barron and Modou Baqui, who both work extensively with the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Michigan, are spearheading the effort. They emphasize that psychedelics will not be used during the training. The focus is on preparation and integration coaching for health workers, healing arts practitioners, and community leaders.

The 10-week training costs $2,000 with sessions covering harm reduction and ethics, ketamine-assisted therapy, psilocybin-assisted therapy, psychedelics and spirituality, microdosing, and activism. Full and partial scholarships are available with priority given to BIPOC participants.

Beyond their work in Michigan, Baqui and Barron are also on the Decriminalize Nature National Board. But they don’t want Michigan to be like Oregon, where psychedelic therapy is only accessible to people who can afford $3,000 for a session with 2.5 grams of psilocybin.

“When legalization happens there become barriers for entry, so we want to focus on decriminalization first,” Baqui says. “Look at what happened to the cannabis industry when it was legalized with all the licensing costs. We don’t want to just see rich, white, men doing this. Everyone has the right to access and interact with nature and it should be available to everyone.”

Barron, who was formerly a licensed therapist and now does health consulting, created the training after the University of Michigan approached her about researching the effects of psilocybin on fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder characterized by pain, fatigue, and muscle stiffness.

“They asked if I would consider training their psychedelic-assisted therapists, so I started building a training program and then I didn’t hear back from them for months,” she says. “When I reached out, they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t have you. We’re gonna have to get somebody who has done it in a clinical trial,’ probably because I’ve been doing this sort of underground for so long.”

Barron started the Michigan Psychedelic Society and previously ran Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor. She says she gave up her clinical therapy license after deciding to work with psychedelics because it’s not approved by the licensing board.

“I don’t feel like I need to be licensed to do this work,” she says. “The clients I work with are often people who have been through all the Western medicine approaches to mental health and are still deeply suffering from treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and anxiety. They usually come like, ‘I have no other hope, that’s why I’ve turned to psychedelics,’ and it changes their life in a drastic way.”

Baqui studied plant medicine and African martial arts under revered Detroit mycologist Ahati Kilyndi Iyi for more than 20 years. He organizes with the Detroit Psychedelic Society and Black to the Land Coalition. He’s seen firsthand the effects that psilocybin mushrooms can have on addiction and other disorders.

“I had a cousin who was heavily addicted to crack and after one session, he stepped away from it,” Baqui says. “He had some relapses with alcohol at first, but as he continued the therapy, he completely changed his life. He’s now a fitness instructor and teaches people about healthy eating.”

Barron says that decriminalization is happening across the state and she wants to prepare practitioners for when that happens. So far in Michigan, entheogenic plants have been decriminalized in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ferndale, and Hazel Park. Barron tells us Decriminalize Nature groups are working to add Flint, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo to that list.

“We need to train a lot more people to be prepared for when it’s decriminalized or legalized across the state,” she says. “The thing is that working with psychedelics takes time. Moudou and I have been doing this for a long time and it drives me crazy when people have one or two experiences with psychedelics and decide to dedicate their lives to it. That’s awesome you’re excited about this, but it takes lots of experience to do this work. That’s why we are getting people started now.”

In total, Barron has trained eight psychedelic therapy cohorts. The next round of training begins on June 12 and applications are open until May 19.

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