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The Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

A new paradigm of benefit-sharing in the burgeoning psychedelic science ecosystem


Editor’s Note: Anny Ortiz returns with a third contribution to our Pharmaceutical Inequalities series with reflections on her recent trip to the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos to co-present alongside her colleagues from the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund and launch their ‘Grow Medicine’ project. The Pharmaceutical Inequalities series is funded by the Holtz Center and the Evjue Foundation.

 

I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Switzerland and Canada. I was in Toronto, Canada at a conference called “From Research to Reality” co-presenting a poster titled “5-MeO-DMT: Synthesis and therapeutic potential for treating psychological disorders”. It was surprising to see that there were two separate presentations by personnel from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of which was titled “Challenges in Conducting Clinical Research with Schedule I Psychedelics: From the 1960s to the Present”, presented by Dr. Katherine Bonson, and the other titled “World Regulatory and Policy Discussion: A Pathway Forward”, presented by Javier Muniz. If FDA staff presenting at a psychedelic science conference is not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.


Immediately preceding the Toronto conference, I was in Davos, Switzerland, as part of the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund (IMCF), which was a sponsor of a landmark event titled “Medical Psychedelic House of Davos” (no connection to the World Economic Forum, usually hosted in Davos). I would like to share some highlights of what transpired there.


The event, which you can read about here took place from Sunday May 20th through Friday, May 27th, and it featured speakers and leaders from the psychedelic research field and ecosystem including Amanda Fielding, from the Beckley Foundation who is noteworthy given that it is in no small part thanks to her and her visionary spirit that neuroimaging studies with psychedelics began to be conducted about 10 years ago in the United Kingdom. Other noteworthy speakers were Amy Emerson from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, Dr Monnica T. Williams from the University of Ottawa, whose recent work in the psychedelic space has been bringing to the forefront important concerns regarding equity, diversity and inclusion in clinical trials with psychedelic compounds, and has also published important articles related to the role that psychedelics can play in addressing racial trauma associated to systemic racism and oppression.


I attended the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos to co-present alongside my colleagues from the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund. In a previous Points post I had mentioned the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund (IMCF), and today I get to share a little more information about this wonderful new organization that I am proudly part of, where I serve in the capacity of conservation committee member and technical advisor for Sonoran Desert toad conservation projects.


To tell you how it is that the ICMF came to be, I first need to tell you that back in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Riverstyx Foundation, Dr. Bronner’s All-One, the Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative, and the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS) co-sponsored a four-part webinar series; one episode for the Iboga bioculture, one for the Ayahuasca/Yagé bioculture, one for the Peyote bioculture and one for the Sonoran Desert toad. I was asked to organize the latter. The idea was to present relevant information regarding each of the biocultures, as well as specific conservation needs, to funders of psychedelic research and other related projects. Specifically, the objective was to raise awareness of existing needs, and begin a fundraising campaign to support indigenous led conservation projects. Since then, an assessment has begun to determine conservation needs for the mushroom bioculture in Mexico with the Mazatec people, and for the next suite of conservation projects we will also include this bioculture in our conservation efforts.


The webinar series was streamed live for a select group of potential donors, and was subsequently shared with a larger audience. The co-sponsoring organizations, in particular Riverstyx and Dr. Bronner’s All-One donated a significant amount as seed funding, and that set the foundation for what in 2021 became the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund (IMCF). The IMCF is a new philanthropic organization that is centering the voices of indigenous peoples in the midst of the psychedelic renaissance we are currently witnessing.

As an Indigenous-led philanthropic vehicle, we strive to ensure the resilience of Indigenous Peoples in the face of growing cultural appropriation, environmental extractivism, human rights violations and climate change. Our objectives are to build a new philanthropic paradigm based on right relationship and trust between Indigenous communities and funders, and to foster the emergence of a mechanism for benefit-sharing between the burgeoning psychedelic industry, and the Indigenous peoples that have used plant medicines like Iboga/Ibogaine and Ayahuasca/Yagé since time immemorial, and which we in the west are beginning to benefit from in the context of psychedelic science and psychedelic-assisted therapy. Considering that these sacred medicines and the Indigenous cultures and peoples that have used them for thousands of years are currently at risk of cultural and physical extermination, the vision of the IMCF is to help ensure that as the world comes to embrace the therapeutic and healing potential of psychedelic medicines, the indigenous peoples that have steward them for thousands of years are respected, honored, uplifted and listened to.

The IMCF governing structure is comprised of three committees (see image below) that inclusively represent Indigenous and Western expertise on the conservation implementation of each medicine, the operational management of the fund, and the spiritual integrity of its overall processes.


At the time of this writing, the fund has raised USD 6.8 million, and is supporting 24 projects in seven countries, including three Sonoran Desert (Incilius alvarius) toad conservation projects. Our fundraise goal is USD 20 million in the first four years. The decision to, as an organization, go to Davos and sponsor/present at the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos, was inspired by the hope that we would be able to meet and network with people and organizations that could support our mission and help us reach our fundraising goal.


From left to right: Sandor Iron Rope, Miguel Evanjuanoy, Riccardo Vitale, Anny Ortiz, Sutton King at the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos.

On the evening of May 20th, we held an event where indigenous leaders Sandor Iron Rope, a Lakota Medicine man who is on the Board of Directors of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative, and Miguel Evanjuanoy, a traditional Yagé (i.e., ayahuasca) healer from the Inga people of Colombia both presented alongside fellow fund colleagues Sutton King, Ben de Loenen, and other conservation committee members, including myself.


I presented as the toad conservation technical advisor and shared relevant information regarding the ecological concerns that have been growing around the Sonoran Desert toad the past 10 years. You can view my presentation here. Miguel offered important context regarding the imminent threat that not only Yagé, but Inga´s people whole way of life is currently experiencing on the face of physical and cultural extermination in Colombia. You can watch Miguel´s presentation here. Sandor shared Lakota perspectives and the historic fight the Native American Church has had to endure to be able to practice their traditional way of life, which includes the ceremonial use of Peyote. You can watch Sandor´s presentation here. Sutton King, program manager at the IMCF gave a wonderful introductory talk about the fund, which you can watch here. Miguel, Riccardo Vitale, a fellow conservation committee member that works closely with Miguel and an organization called UMIYAC, Sandor and myself also participated in a panel moderated by Sutton King titled “Conserving tradition, ceremony and the environment”, which you can watch here.

Infographic from Grow Medicine

A highlight of the whole Davos experience was the launch of “Grow Medicine”. Grow Medicine is a project of the IMCF that consists of an education-based and donation-based platform that is being spearheaded by the host of the Psychedelic Leadership podcast, Laura Dawn. Grow Medicine is an easy-to-use platform that empowers the psychedelic and medicine community to share in the benefits they receive from plant medicine experiences. It creates an opportunity so that individuals may give back to support Indigenous-led initiatives and the traditional knowledge holders who have been stewarding these medicines so that they can thrive for generations to come. You can watch Laura Dawn’s introduction of Grow Medicine the day of the official launch in Davos here.


With the first round of conservation projects for the four biocultures mentioned previously approved, including, as I briefly mentioned, three different toad conservation projects, I currently find myself back in my hometown of Hermosillo, Sonora to conduct field work for the toad conservation projects.


In my next post, I will delve into what these three conservation projects consist of, and also address how Usona Institute, a non-profit medical research organization in Madison, Wisconsin is further helping to alleviate the ecological and anthropogenic pressures the toad populations are experiencing in the wake of 5-MeO-DMT explosive popularity, and how they are working towards maintaining an equitable landscape in the psychedelic science and therapy ecosystem.


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