I’ve always had an interest in learning more about how to manage my own health and wellness. I can contribute it to my cultural upbringing as natural Chinese medicine was what I knew along side western medicines. Visiting the herbalist with my grandparents and parents was common for a variety of ailments from stomach pains, skin irritations to returning hormonal balance and body repair after childbirth. The herbalist would ask a few questions look at my eyes, my skin and make a concoction of various dried natural items that I would take home and boil down to drink. Nothing tasted good. Nothing was sugar coated. When I was younger, my friends would often joke about how “weird” these potions were. Now that we’re all adults, they’re asking for referrals.

Yes, science was there to back up western meds but all-natural herbs and remedies were dismissed and being referred to as “alternative” with lots of warnings. But more researchers and scientists are taking a closer look at the category. Many cultures have turned to nature for centuries of healing and not just asian cultures — Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Europeans, African and many others. Our thirst for finding safe ways to help our health and wellness beyond the traditional pharmacy counter continues to grow more than ever before. I mean, how many of us have watched The Goop’s series on Netflix? Whether you are a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow or not, we are just plain curious about what else is out there.

One hot topic lately, and maybe spawned by mainstream conversation from that Netflix series, is the category of psychedelics. Did you catch that episode where The Goop team  ingested “magic mushrooms”?  I was interested in learning more and in particular about psilocybin-based therapeutics so we had the opportunity to tap in with expert, Irie Selkirk.

With a lifetime of plant and natural medicine experience and an educational background in wellness and retail, Irie is a recognized business leader, educator, and advocate in the psychedelics industry. She is the co-founder and Director of the world’s first microdose psilocybin retreat, Rise Wellness, as well as the co-founder of Sansero Life Sciences, a biotech company specializing in the compliant cultivation and development of psilocybin-based therapeutics. 

Irie is an active leader in the psychedelics community through her work as the co-founder of the Toronto Support Chapter of The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Canada. A patient support expert focused on psychedelics and natural medicine, she has spoken at numerous conferences across the globe.

Irie tells us there has been an increased desire for people to find a way to heal themselves in alternative ways. “They’re seeking more experiences and starting to look at what they truly value. People are discovering that they want to work on themselves. And especially as we’re living through COVID, people are reconsidering their values,” says Irie.

“When people start to assess those values, and what is truly important, they begin searching for answers. That’s when they discover that there are entirely new ways to take care of themselves and their mental health, to address creativity and stress, and to understand feelings of depression, especially around isolation. Because of the work we do, it’s really about the connection to yourself, your family, the community, and the world around you.

What’s truly interesting is that there hasn’t been any change or innovation in mental healthcare in our lifetime. So with people learning more about psilocybin and discovering that it’s not really new at all and that it has extensive research to support it, that’s when people say, “I can trust this and I can seek it out wherever it’s available and legal.””

So, what is Psilocybin? Irie explains it is an alkaloid in magic mushrooms that converts to psilocin.”These molecules, amongst many others, interact with our brain chemistry to create a psychedelic experience.” Of course,  the word “psychedelic” carries some baggage with it, but is defined as an experience manifesting from the mind — an experience that comes from within, according to Irie. “It does this by interacting with your serotonin governance system — in other words, all of those ‘feel good’ chemicals that your brain already has cycling around it.”

Irie explains there is no hangover from it and it’s completely non-toxic. “Psilocybin has been deemed one of the safest substances that humans can take, and we’ve actually been using it for millennia. It has been used as a social medicine tool, and that social medicine is something we’re lacking right now. This is an opportunity to reincorporate more natural healing into our lives, entirely backed by science, and use these healing medicines again to allow us to feel more connected and uplifted in a time when we feel so down.”

“When you introduce something that allows your brain to have increased neural connectivity, you have the tools and the impetus to lift yourself out of a deeply ingrained neurological pathway and change its course to enable a different perspective. It’s like taking a well-worn path on a hike. You can still take a walk through the woods and have that experience, but if you step off your beaten path, your experience will be different and you’ll see things in a new light,” says Irie.

Now that it’s winter, we’re also looking for ways to just get us through these months especially since we’re still living under stay-at-home orders. Irie offers up some great advice…

“One way we can help ourselves and make mental health a priority is to identify what actions or therapeutic tools can motivate us and help to create a support system for you and your family,” says Irie.  “Start a personal or communal routine or find an online community that can inspire you to get up and do the things that we know are good for us. Everyone knows it’s good for us to get out of bed, drink your glass of lemon water, meditate or stretch, and start your day. That seems so simple. But when you fall out of those routines, you don’t really notice until you’re burned out. So it’s about being proactive and seeking those sources of motivation to create a meaningful routine that supports your needs.”

She tells us, it’s the same with using our plant and natural allies, such as different functional mushrooms, herbs and adaptogens, to support those positive routines. “For instance, we all know that another sugary or caffeinated drink won’t provide lasting energy, so ask yourself what you need to do in order to support good habits, like making a cup of herbal tea or a cordyceps or lion’s mane-infused coffee instead. Our central nervous systems are very powerful and they dictate how we feel and go about our days, so check in with yours and see where you could instill wellness. The more we fall into a negative self-talk loop or into a depressive pattern, the more we reinforce that which does not serve us, and the deeper it gets ingrained into our default mode network. We need to reevaluate this every once in a while. Try journaling and finding what comes up for you in your writing. Those are the things that are asking to be looked at, and then it becomes about finding a compassionate way to address those things through talk therapy, or mind or body work. This can be a huge benefit for people, especially in the winter months.”

Of course, we are curious about who can safely use this therapy. “As more research is performed, we will have more clear answers, but at this time, those under 18 years of age, or those with a history of mental health concerns, such as schizophrenia or psychosis, are advised to avoid psilocybin. Also, people who are taking certain antidepressants should be mindful of any psilocybin use, as certain medications can contraindicate or lessen the effects. It is most safely used with careful consideration to the preparation before dosing — the species of mushrooms that you consume and how much, as well as your physical setting and your personal mindset. It’s best to speak with someone who has experience with psilocybin, and depending on your dosage, you may want a trusted individual to sit with you for your experience (this is recommended for doses over 1++grams). This is something that people will have a personal experience with. If individuals are seeking out psilocybin, it’s important to ensure that they’re getting it from a trusted source and consuming it in a safe space. There are also many books and courses that are available online for people who want to learn more. MAPS Canada and Double Blind are two good places to start.”

Any other recommendations to help with the winter blahs?

Irie suggests finding a community that speaks to you. If you’re an avid reader, support that healthy habit by joining an online book club. If you’re someone who has a yoga practice or physical activity goal and wants to keep up with it, try establishing a WhatsApp accountability group with friends so that you can support each other. Try to find a mindful practise that speaks to you, such as meditative walking, listening to guided meditations or breathwork — find something that feels good and create a routine around it.

Also consider looking at ways to support integrative wellness. “What that means is how your body is interacting with how your mind feels and vice versa,” says Irie. “Integrative wellness is an important concept because there really is no separation between mental and physical health care. We’re starting to understand that a bit more through science and technology, so look for different tools that can be helpful. Perhaps this means getting a meditation headband that can help with your meditation practice or using a reminder or app to limit the time you spend on social media. Sometimes it’s also about what we eliminate from our routines or how we can put up healthy boundaries for what doesn’t work for us. By doing this, you’re being proactive about what could be impacting you negatively so that you don’t have to feel reactively emotional.”

Irie is a mother to four kids as well as whoever happens to need mothering in their circle. “Our home is a hub. We’re the house that people drop into when they don’t know where to go or the place where people send their kids. There’s always an extra bedroom that’s being filled! We have been a sanctuary for those in need of safety and care in every way we can, and we look forward to opening up our home again after Covid. I’m often told that I’m a strong person, but I feel like I’m just finding my way through to what I want to see in the world. It’s challenging to make change, and we aren’t set up very well in our current society to succeed in personal endeavors of the body, spirit or mind, so I want to live that change, and show people how to do it.”