Psychedelic training is an ‘investment’ in public health: Q&A with UC Berkeley’s Moana Meadow

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Image of Moana Meadow

Moana Meadow (Courtesy photo)

(This story first appeared at reMind, a psychedelics business platform.)

Moana Meadow is the staff director of the Psychedelic Facilitation Certificate Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics.

With her background as a birth doula, hospice chaplain, psychedelic guide and spiritual director, she incorporates traditional spiritual practices and contemporary ethical concerns into her work as an educator.

Meadow will be among the speakers at The Emerald Conference, April 1-3 in San Diego.

Her keynote, “Establishing Training Standards for Cannabis- and Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies,” will explore the need for policies, regulations and basic qualifications for trainees to establish training standards and accreditation processes.

What led you to this kind of work?

My family of origin, including my parents, experienced a lot of mental-health and substance-use issues when I was growing up.

When I was working in hospice care as a chaplain, I heard about psychedelic therapy being used to help people at the end of life.

I also learned it was being used for people dealing with addiction and trauma.

In my heart of hearts, I have been searching for ways to find support and healing for people that I’ve loved – particularly my immediate family.

So, that has been a driving force.

My dad was a cannabis grower when I was a kid, and at that time, it was totally illegal.

We lived with the fear that he could be caught, put in prison and that we could be removed from our family home as children.

I find it relieving that some of that has changed at the state level, but not much has changed at the federal level.

So far, it’s the same with psychedelics, but I’m hoping things will move a little more quickly with psychedelic medicines than they have with cannabis.

To support that, we need to establish appropriate training standards for psychedelic facilitators.

You helped launch Berkeley’s Psychedelic Facilitation Certification Program in fall 2022. What does your student profile look like?

We have highly selective criteria for admission because we’ve chosen to have small cohort sizes to support our teaching model.

The first year, we only admitted 24 students, and they were almost all licensed professionals who had significant experience in their fields.

We are looking for people who have the most possible influence, who are involved in their profession beyond their own practice, so they can share the knowledge they get through our program with their wider communities.

We also seek a balanced mix of different professionals: doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, chaplains and clergy, social workers, therapists and psychologists.

In that first cohort, we had an acupuncturist as well as a nurse-midwife – a real variety of people that, now as alumni, are able to share what they’ve learned.

How do you certify someone to be a psychedelic facilitator with policies constantly evolving at the state and federal levels?

As new regulations emerge, we try to adjust our program to conform to them.

When we admitted our first cohort, Oregon hadn’t released its facilitator guidelines.

But as soon as they did, we applied for OHA (Oregon Health Authority) and HECC (Higher Education Coordinating Commission) approval and made sure our graduates would be eligible for certification as licensed psilocybin facilitators in Oregon.

Once they complete their training requirements through our program, they can take the Oregon exam if they wish to be licensed there.

We’ll do the same thing when Colorado finalizes its guidelines, as well as any other states that create therapeutic guidelines for psychedelic care.

With MDMA, we are waiting to see how the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)-approval process comes out.

In the past, MAPS/Lykos had exclusive training rights for the FDA clinical trials, and their curriculum was kind of set in stone.

Perhaps that will change moving forward.

We want our training to include other medicines that our graduates may work with – for example, ketamine, which they can do anywhere in the U.S. as long as the patient has a prescription and salvia divinorum, which is regulated state by state but not at the federal level.

Some of our graduates have gone on to facilitate research on 5-MeO-DMT.

What we really want are facilitators who are able to work with any of these psychedelic medicines and to adapt their protocols and approaches accordingly.

We’re also looking beyond these pure protocols because they are so limiting and have historically been very exclusive of different populations.

These studies are almost entirely completed on white, upper-class participants, and that’s not demonstrative of the majority of our society.

So, we’re looking at other models of care that are out there, including traditional and community-based models that have developed in other countries.

Do you believe psychedelic facilitation should be done only by someone with advanced degrees, or will you expand your program to admit more nonlicensed healers or psychedelic guides?

We admit traditional practitioners who hold a lineage through their community.

For example, right now, we have a clinical herbalist who is from Mexico and immigrated here.

She has a healing tradition she learned from her family in her region of Mexico.

We know there are countless elders in the psychedelic field who’ve been facilitating safely and do not have those professional degrees – just like there are healers in different cultures around the world who are doing this healing work and have been for generations.

But I think the question of “Should psychedelic facilitation be done by a licensed professional?” really needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Does the patient have an illness that requires psychiatric medicine management? Then, yes, they should have a team that includes licensed professionals.

Do they have some kind of compromised health issue? Then, yes, their team should include medical professionals.

But if you’re talking to someone who is feeling cut off from their community, or they don’t know what their role is in the world, or they want to work on some of their relational issues, they may not need a licensed person.

In fact, they might feel more comfortable and receive more benefit from someone who lives in their community or who shares their identity or background.

We’ve seen that many veterans suffering from PTSD prefer working with another vet, doing therapy communally with one another, and sitting for one another during psychedelic sessions.

In those cases, the licensing credentials are not nearly as important as the shared experience.

Many private-facilitator training programs have opened in recent years. Do you have concerns about for-profit programs?

I think there are some great private programs that are really trying to do a good job, and there are some programs that I’m concerned about.

For me, high-quality psychedelic training is a crucial resource that should not be about making money.

This is an investment for the public and the future of our health system.

It’s a chance for us to repair some of the damage that has been done over the decades within that system.

When I see programs with hundreds of students that are all online, I worry.

This is a field where a lot of accountability is needed.

It’s a very delicate kind of work that challenges human nature.

We need strong community support to make those changes and create an accessible, inclusive psychedelic program.

When I tell people I’ve worked as a psychedelic guide, they often think that’s really cool.

But they might not realize how hard it is, how demanding it is to be with intense suffering, to be with people who are afraid and vulnerable and share things with you that they’ve never shared with anyone else in their life.

So, facilitators need to have really robust support systems of their own.

They need somebody to go to when they’re confused, when they don’t know what to do and when they make mistakes.

It’s important to build these relationships during their training.

It might be cheaper and easier to do it online, but do they actually get to know people who can be there for them professionally when they need them?

Do they develop actual relationships of accountability in that context?

Even though psychedelics are decriminalized in your area, you’re not allowed to work with the actual medicines in your program, correct?

We aren’t able to work with medicines that are federally illegal, which, of course, still includes cannabis, MDMA and psilocybin.

The university could lose its federal funding if we violated federal law.

This means we focus on legal options like holotropic breathwork, ketamine experiences and salvia divinorum.

We would like to see changes at the federal level because those would allow so much more important research and training to take place.

The best training would combine all the academic rigor and research that we have in our program as well as experiential learning with students taking turns sitting for one another with the psychedelic medicines they would use with future clients.

Hopefully, we’ll see those much-needed changes in psychedelic policy at the federal level soon.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Brad Dunn is the launch editor at reMind Media. He can be reached at brad.dunn@remindmedia.com.