Lucía Obregón Matzer remembers crying every day and calling her mom and telling her the stories she was hearing. She was in her mid-20s, a recent college graduate working with renters in crisis and unhoused people living on the streets—victims of gentrification—in the Bay Area. The stories they told moved her deeply, sometimes too deeply. Obregón Matzer recalls, “I felt helpless and powerless to help people like this 70-year-old woman who reminded me of my abuelita in Guatemala. I got so depressed, I started asking myself, ‘What’s the value of my work if there is no way I can change things?’ I started questioning whether I even wanted to live.”

In search of healing, she joined some of her friends in San Francisco for a psychedelic journey. “As the mushrooms started taking their effect,” she says, “we heard a bunch of frogs croaking. We felt like we were entering into trance guided by frogs. The frogs eventually quieted down and went completely silent again. Then I opened my eyes, and my friends and I saw each other and felt awe before this moment with the frogs, like the earth was giving us a hug and protecting us. I came down from the hill feeling so grateful and thinking, ‘Wow, I’m on this meeting place where so many people from the past have gathered, and somehow I ended up here to have this experience.’ I finally felt at home.”

Prior to her first psychedelic experience, Obregón Matzer had the ambiguous feelings about her identity shared by many Latino youth growing up in the United States. She says she knew “things were dangerous” in her family’s hometown of San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, but dinner table conversation about why her family had moved from Guatemala left her questions about Indigenous identity unanswered. All she knew was something her mom had said about hearing “the screams of people being abducted by the military at night.” Her relatives, she says, “have a reluctance to say ‘Somos indios.’ ”

“The shrooms allowed me to feel more empowered in my roots,” she says of that first experience. “They brought me to knowing that I am an artist, that I can manifest my reality and manifest love.”

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Years later, when she was questioning whether her love of music and song was serious enough for her to declare herself an artist, a group of immigrant hipster musician friends from Mexico, Venezuela, and other countries invited her to drink psilocybin mushroom tea and walk up one of the city’s hills. Chanting to birds and nature, singing Latin American folk songs, and playing guitar and other instruments made the experience with the medicina a positive and unforgettable one.

Seven years after her first trip, Obregón Matzer has become a San Franciscan force of anti-gentrification nature—a force powered, in part, by her medicina. “Doing shrooms gives me a sense of liberation and belonging,” says Obregón Matzer, who is a singer and musician with Inti-Batey, a Latin American rock band of nine self-described “immigrant hipsters” who came together to practice their “decolonizing music.”

Yet, as beneficial as Obregón Matzer and her friends’ informal, community-based psychedelic use is, it’s threatened by the aboveboard mainstreaming of their medicina by pharmaceutical, medical, and psychological interests. What for centuries has been a largely taboo or prohibited experience is on the verge of becoming fully legal in majority-minority California and other states. The growing and largely white business of blowing minds adds to the economic distress of poor, non-white communities while denying them access to the powerful mind-altering substances that might help them. The fate of the psychedelic underworld hangs in the balance. As it stands, the dismal statistics documenting access to legalized psychoactive medicines look no better than employment statistics for people of color at Facebook, Twitter, and other Silicon Valley companies whose employees and investors are (again) putting the Bay Area in the vanguard of the next movement.

This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Alta Journal.

Nationwide, a University of Connecticut analysis over a 25-year period found that only 2.5 percent of participants in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy studies were Black, 2.1 percent were Latinx, and 1.8 percent were Asian. Most tragically ironic: only 4.6 percent were Indigenous, the descendants of the psychedelic “first wave” that introduced the world to using plant-based psychoactive substances to explore altered states of consciousness. Thus far, the 21st-century third wave fares little better than the white hippie- and researcher-led second wave of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. As seen with marijuana, both pre- and post-legalization, poor and non-white users of psychedelics will likely continue to be targeted by law enforcement for taking them in their homes, at raves, and in clandestine clinics.

This assault on the historically underground practice of medicina by poor and non-white working people is perhaps most visible in a historic center of global psychedelic culture—San Francisco’s Mission district. Latinos and other non-whites who were once the majority in the Mission face a new form of displacement: a gentrification of consciousness, a brave new world of psychedelic haves and have-nots.

Gentrification of consciousness creates a situation in which Latinos and other non-whites have either zero or limited access to psychedelics. Accompanying the access problem is a spiritual extractivism that has white and upper-class psychonauts (explorers of alternative states of consciousness) building careers, organizations, and for-profits by mining the ancient and contemporary pasts of non-white cultures. The gentrification of consciousness often involves stripping the journeys to altered states of all their historical, cultural, and religious significance and commodifying them in the mill of mass consumption. And in the non-white corners of the Mission and other parts of the country, it also involves erasing people from their own history of occupying that spiritual space, a history that needs to be unforgotten if there is to be any shot at anything resembling psychedelic democracy.

author roberto lovato turned to psychedelics to address his emotional distress from the salvadoran revolution, gentrification in san francisco’s mission neighborhood, and other personal traumas
Author Roberto Lovato turned to psychedelics to address his emotional distress from the Salvadoran revolution, gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, and other personal traumas.
Jason Henry

Obregón Matzer and I stand on the corner of Mission and 19th Streets as a white mist envelops the entire city, except for the ever-luminous Mission district, my neighborhood of origin, the Victorian-apartment-studded area Airbnb describes as “Industrial,” “Bohemian,” and “Hip.” The neighborhood is named for the Mission Dolores church complex, where my Salvadoran immigrant parents got married—a complex that’s also home to the wood-and-adobe chapel that’s the city’s oldest unaltered building. The chapel was built by Ohlone and other Indigenous people displaced from their land under the supervision of Father Junípero Serra. Centuries before his statue in Golden Gate Park was toppled in June 2020, Serra was Spain’s regional representative of the most radical of Renaissance institutions: the Inquisition, the New World’s first drug war. In and around Mission Dolores, the Inquisition demonized sacred Indigenous practices, especially ones that included music, dance, chants, and entheogens, psychoactive substances that inspire visionary and religious experiences.

Across the street from us on 19th is the fading mural of the Little Baobab. The restaurant was once part of Bissap Baobab nightclub—a hub of music, dance, and art for African and Latino Mission residents—which closed in 2019 after the owner struggled to pay legal fees for an immigration case. The Baobab mural is typical of the tropical and psychedelic art splashed on walls by Chicana, Salvadoran, and other artists who, since the ’60s, have made the Mission home to the highest concentration of murals (totaling more than 500) in the world. The power and magic of the Mission’s walls transport Obregón Matzer to San Juan Comalapa. Her family’s hometown is known as the Florence of América because of the murals created by Cakchiquel Mayan artists there.

“When I first came to the Mission,” she says, “I thought, Wow, the colors, the maletas, the piñatas, the food, the speakers blasting their music, this looks just like Guatemala. I said to myself, This is where I belong.” Obregón Matzer’s sense of place has always included the perpetually looming threat of placelessness—and the dream of helping others overcome it.

Driving this threat is the relentless march of Silicon Valley and finance-driven displacement in the Mission and the larger Bay region. As the Bay Area tech boom led the world into the digital age, so did it lead many communities—Black, Latino, poor, immigrant, and others—to find refuge from San Francisco, where the average home price is now $1.4 million. With the average rent for an apartment at $2,960—more than twice the national average—the city (still) leads the region’s process of physical displacement.

Gentrification of consciousness creates a situation in which Latinos and other non-whites have either zero or limited access to psychedelics.

As we stand on the corner, Obregón Matzer looks westward at the black exterior of a tony restaurant on the other side of Mission Street from the tropical red, yellow, and green walls of the Baobab. “A meal at that place starts at $250 per person,” she tells me with a grimace.

I ask her about the similarly high costs of medicine needed by poor and working patients suffering from severe depression, PTSD, alcoholism and addiction, and other once-intractable ailments. Therapist-guided ketamine treatments at for-profit clinics cost anywhere from $400 to $2,000 per session. The clinics are one of several signs—others include new laws decriminalizing psychoactive substances, major research projects and think tanks studying them, and multimillion-dollar investments—of the pricey so-called psychedelic renaissance. The unfortunate use of renaissance provides yet another example of the cluelessness of the modern movement. Its application in marketing messages overlooks the word’s dark association with the Inquisition and the start of a drug war that continues to ravage descendants of Indigenous peoples who first introduced us to the medicina.

Obregón Matzer looks at the row of six unhoused people’s tents directly in front of us on 19th Street. The smell of some good cannabis, a once-illegal substance in California, fills the air.

“In a perfect world, I would have loved to go through a guided trip and go through this psychologist or a shaman or someone who has a lot more knowledge,” she tells me. “But the only ones who can afford it are the rich people who live in million-dollar condos. Not us. We have to find ways of doing the medicina. We have to rely on the underground.”

mark mccloud’s collection of blotter art—perforated sheets of paper dipped in lsd that feature images like mickey mouse and robert crumb comics dates from when san francisco was the “center of the lsd world”
Mark McCloud’s collection of blotter art—perforated sheets of paper dipped in LSD that feature images like Mickey Mouse and Robert Crumb comics—dates from when San Francisco was the “center of the LSD world.”
Jason Henry

On a foggy San Francisco fall afternoon, I’ve come to meditate on these matters at one of my psychic safe houses, the legendary La Bohème on 24th and Mission Streets. The café’s dusty, green Victorian-style pendant candelabras hang from the ceiling like electric spiders, their ceramic abdomens facing skyward as they light the room.

Looking up at La Bohème’s electric arachnids reminds me of the spiders of my youth in the early ’70s, the real spiders that rode the waves of cracking paint on our living room ceiling in the crowded immigrant apartment we lived in on Folsom, down the block from the Army Street housing projects. I used to squish them, until I learned in books I stole from the Mission public library that these creatures had a marvelous power: the ability to use their internal chemistry to create the webs via which they navigated the abyss above and beneath them—an abyss that, in our crowded apartment, included me. The Mission taught me early on that the medicinas have always had the potential to give us spiderlike powers to navigate our inner and outer abysses.

I’m weaving words together to write this story, pressing the latticed treadle of an old iron Singer sewing machine converted into a coffee table. I love coming here because, since its founding in 1973—the same year that public transit system BART and the city started displacing large numbers of Mission residents to make way for new subway stations, like the one across the street—La Bohème has served as a crossroads for revolution: the hippie-led second wave of psychedelia as well as the Salvadoran revolution I joined in the early ’90s and fought in, the source of my most intractable traumas. Coming here reminds me that from my earliest experiences, healing with entheogens was ever and always tied to groups of people, to community and to social movements, not apps like Trip and Quantified Citizen being developed and used by lone tech workers like those siloed in apartments that once housed entire families in the Mission.

As I’m writing, my friend Felix Kury, a sixtysomething Salvadoran Palestinian psychologist, comes in. “Q-vole, Lovato!” Kury says, smiling as he approaches the table I call “my other office.”

Kury teaches at San Francisco State and runs the all-volunteer free healthcare, psychotherapy, and health education provider Clínica Martín-Baró, which caters to the needs of the Mission’s underserved and economically disadvantaged Latino residents. It’s named for the brilliant Jesuit psychologist and founder of what’s known as liberation psychology, a philosophy and practice that introduces social and emancipatory considerations into the traditional, top-down therapist-client relationship.

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“People come to the clinic with lots of trauma, trauma from the violence back home, trauma from the dangerous journey to the U.S., trauma from domestic violence and other tensions that intensify with poverty,” Kury tells me. Their symptoms include PTSD, alcoholism and substance abuse, and depression. “The trauma we’re dealing with most is the trauma that comes from the tension of the high cost of living here. More and more people are being threatened with eviction; landlords are moving into the apartments to raise the rents; [people here] face daily insults and are looked at as if they’re martians in their own Mission.” Physical and economic displacement intensifies and expands the psychic displacement experienced by residents visiting the clinic, which provides services free of charge. If only those who wanted to use them had proper access to psychedelics. Instead, they must seek them through underground channels.

“Their tejido social [social fabric] is being ripped apart at all levels,” Kury continues. “The Clínica helps people with triage, but our main goal is to help people come in touch with that indestructible part of us we carry wherever we are, whatever our level of education, whether we’ve been displaced from our countries. That indestructible part rebuilds our personal tejido of the heart as well as the tejido social.” I have heard that some Latino-centered mental health clinics have, since the ’60s and ’70s, taken to helping people keep their psychological fabric together with the aid of mushrooms, LSD, and other substances provided in the neighborhood’s psychedelic underground.

Having microdosed and macrodosed LSD, mushrooms, peyote, and other substances, I have a dream: that, like ketamine, all of these will soon be legal.

Having microdosed and macrodosed LSD, mushrooms, peyote, and other substances as I grappled with the ripping of my own fabric—the disease that cramped my stomach, fragmented my sense of time and space, and sent me running from the emotional present because of past psychic injuries from the war in El Salvador, Mission gentrification, and other traumas—I have a dream: that, like ketamine, all of these substances will soon be legal in clinical settings and might help others, especially the poor victims of gentrification, armed conflict, drug war policing, and other ills. The psychedelics helped me confront and eventually overcome the silent, inaccessible, but very devastating doings of inherited and experiential trauma in ways I could never have imagined were possible. I also ponder the intergenerational question: how the medicines might help my 99-year-old father, Ramón Alfredo Lovato (Pop).

My research into treatments for Pop’s dementia led me to discover that LSD and mushrooms induce brain plasticity and modify connectivity between brain regions. Increasing plasticity might slow the deterioration of Pop’s mind, the last living vessel of our Salvadoran and Mission memories.

After Kury leaves, I notice that some of La Bohème’s old oak tables are once again occupied by more of the bearded, twentysomething white vanguard of the psychedelic third wave. I share their excitement about legalization; I read some of the same bestselling books, and I subscribe to some of the same email newsletters from the growing list of organizations—university think tanks, nonprofits, spiritual-tourism outfits, tech firms, franchised clinics, and major pharmaceutical companies—now occupying the once wholly underground terrain of information about psychedelics.

But then I hear a table of the young men rhapsodizing about the “profit potential” and “increased productivity” promised by pharmaceutical and other psychedelic businesses projected to become a $7 billion industry by 2027. My interviews with investors and the heads of corporations creating ketamine-clinic franchises lead me to realize that these techies and I have fundamentally different reactions to developments like last year’s announcement by pharmaceutical giant Compass Pathways that it was patenting a variant of the psilocybin mushrooms considered a sacred part of some Indigenous rituals for millennia. Finding out that more than a few techies join Silicon Valley investor and prominent Trump supporter Peter Thiel in seeing psychoactive substances as the next disruptive technology reminds me that these are the same techies who, before COVID-19, came to the Mission and drank craft beer at the bar Amnesia, watched movies at the Alamo Drafthouse, and lived in multimillion-dollar condos with names like Vida (Spanish for “life”).

danielle herrera, a therapist at sage integrative health in berkeley, says that psychedelics “help people understand that what they carry into this world is not just their trauma but…inherited trauma”
Danielle Herrera, a therapist at Sage Integrative Health in Berkeley, says that psychedelics “help people understand that what they carry into this world is not just their trauma but…inherited trauma.”
Jason Henry

Days after my visit to the café, my pondering leads me five blocks from La Bohème, to 20th Street between Capp and Mission and the white Victorian that’s home to both Mark McCloud and the Institute of Illegal Images, the world’s most comprehensive collection of LSD blotter art.

Blotter—made of blotting paper cut into pieces and saturated with LSD—became the most popular way to distribute and ingest the drug after the U.S. government banned the once-legal substance in 1967. McCloud has loaned parts of his collection to museums around the world for exhibits, and he’s often invited to speak to their audiences. Meanwhile, some art galleries see a market in these tiny works, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. This is what I call the gentrification of LSD.

Against a background of green walls packed with framed samples of blotter (a.k.a. acid hits), as the late-afternoon summer fog looms over Twin Peaks, McCloud regales me with stories of his time in San Francisco when it was the “center of the LSD world.”

Sitting next to him is a friend, Tim Tyler, who was recently released after 24 years in prison for LSD possession and for refusing to testify against his father to authorities. McCloud and Tyler are working on a film, tentatively titled The Secret History of the LSD Drug Trade. I listen to Tyler speak excitedly about this film that obviously gives him redemption and meaning long denied, and I want to give him a hug. He reminds me of my cousins and friends who were jailed in California prisons for dealing drugs that, today, are either legal or on the verge of becoming legal, and highly profitable.

This pressure cooker—the effects of gentrification, the drug war, and the battles we fought in our apartments, especially with our dads—was what drove my homies and me to burrow deeper into the psychedelic underground.

“Did you know that one of your [Salvadoran] compatriotas was a main player in this [LSD] story?” McCloud asks me in the perfect Spanish he learned growing up in Argentina. His eyes are ablaze, and his mouth widens like Alice’s Cheshire Cat. “Antonio Piñeda was one of the first dealers of the blotter scene. He worked for [Frank] Ragusa, the giant who brought LSD from New York’s Psyche-Delicatessen [a famous head shop on Avenue A] to San Francisco’s streets in 1968.”

As if divining that I, too, went to Mission High School, McCloud shares that “[Piñeda] went to Mission with Carlos Santana.” He pulls out a big art book on the work of German-French painter Mati Klarwein. “He did the Bitches Brew cover and the Santana Abraxas cover, too.”

I remember spending hours looking at the naked women and crazy colors and other images of the album by the band brought together by Santana, the “hippie dude” my brother Omar told me he’d gone to Mission High with. This was before the great guitarrista took the LSD given to him at Woodstock by Outer Mission native Jerry Garcia.

McCloud and I agree that Santana’s global superstardom is, in part, rooted in how he drew on inner powers gained from the Mission’s astonishing setting and consciousness—Black power, Brown power, mystic power, gay power, woman power, and bohemian flower power.

I leave McCloud and the museum and walk up the street to the corner of 20th and Mission, a corner I associate with my father, who lorded over the contraband underworld centered at Hunts Donuts, the coffee shop that used to be located here (now, there’s a trendy pharmacy carrying the slogan “Health the natural way” occupying the space). More than anyone else, it was Pop, the lyrical, sometimes loving and charismatic man who always rose from the depths of tragedies with song and laughter, whose anger and violence led me to rebel with the medicinas.

In the summer of 1981, at age 17, I dropped some mescaline, my first hallucinogenic.

I was with Lalo and Ken, two of my homies from Los Originales, an informal clique of neighborhood kids with whom I stole cars, dealt and did pot and other drugs, and drove lowriders. Though it pains me to admit, we also sometimes robbed and beat up the richer people who lived in beautiful Victorian buildings around Mission High. But we didn’t consider ourselves “hardcore,” like the dudes sent into prison by the drug war launched by Richard Nixon and continued by his successors.

I look down Mission Street and remember that summer night. We were riding round town with all the windows down in Lalo’s ’68 Oldsmobile Delta 88, a beat-up baby blue–primered boat of a car that cost us a month’s salary in gas, when Lalo said, “Hey, whatdyu vatos think about doing some mescaline?” His lisp added a “th” sound that made it sound like he was saying “methscaline.”


“Yeah,” said five-foot-two Lalo, the unlikeliest of shamans, lisping impatiently, “mescaline.”

“All right,” I said.

The moment had arrived: the opportunity to explore consciousness I’d only heard in Santana’s music and read about in Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, and other books.

The disorganization of my senses brought on by the mescaline loosened my grip on reality in ways resembling what I’d read in the books. I felt a momentary freedom. Pop’s shadow was out of my picture. So were the new businesses, rehabilitated Victorian apartments, cops, and other signs of physical gentrification, at least momentarily.

Poor, Brown, and working-class as I grew up, I was never just using the substances recreationally. I was continuing my inner explorations with hallucinogens after joining Chicano and Indigenous groups in some of the peyote and other medicinal ceremonies in tepees throughout Northern California. My friend Juan and other staff at the Instituto Familiar de la Raza, a nonprofit mental health clinic on Mission Street established in the ’70s, had traveled to Huautla de Jiménez, a town in Oaxaca, Mexico, and learned the ways of ancient medicine from a shaman trained by María Sabina. She was the great curandera who showed the way of the hongo—psilocybin mushrooms—to many prominent white psychonauts from the United States. Folks at Instituto and other Mission community members started seeing the medicinas as a way to deal with the ravages of war, migration, and poverty during the Reagan era. The mid-1980s was also when we started driving our lowriders to party in San Jose. Cruising on Highway 101, we’d pass buildings with tinted windows like the one housing Ampex, an early electronics company. Unbeknownst to us, Al Hubbard, the “Johnny Appleseed of LSD,” visited Ampex and other Silicon Valley companies carrying a leather satchel filled with psilocybin, mescaline, or Sandoz LSD-25. The psychedelic seeds he sowed bore fruit, helping people like Steve Jobs and many engineers crack the rib of reality as they created the motherboard, the mouse, virtual reality, and other foundational tools of the computer revolution.

Back home in the Mission, we began noticing that hordes of white Silicon Valley employees were moving into our neighborhood. They either paid jacked-up rents or outright bought many of the old Victorians and other buildings, forcing out our Black and Latino friends and families who had leased their spaces.

This pressure cooker—the effects of gentrification, the drug war, and the battles we fought in our apartments, especially with our dads—was what drove my homies and me to burrow deeper into the psychedelic underground: more mescaline as well as Four Way Window Pane, Purple Microdot, and other blotter hits of acid. Altered states of consciousness helped us escape the gloom of the altered physical states of our housing and family problems. Sometimes, those substances led Los Originales to chill. But other times, we’d do things like find half of a telephone pole on a downtown street, lift it up together, and heave it into the window of a computer company.

dr bia labate, the executive director of the chacruna institute for psychedelic plant medicines in san francisco, says that “within the history of psychedelics, there has also been a history of abuse of minorities”
Dr. Bia Labate, the executive director of the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines in San Francisco, says that “within the history of psychedelics, there has also been a history of abuse of minorities.”
Jason Henry

I’m unexpectedly nervous on entering another white Victorian, my first contact with the expansive, mysterious world of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy clinics. And I shouldn’t be.

The location of Polaris Insight Center—a few blocks walk from my high school alma mater—is familiar enough. The therapist, Veronika Gold, is a very affable psychologist from the Czech Republic, long a major center of psychedelic research. She tells me of the many challenges her clinic and others that want to serve poor, non-white clients face.

“A major issue is accessibility,” she says. “These medicines, the treatments, are so expensive that it really is not accessible for most people from working-class backgrounds.”

As we tour the office, the conversation with Gold has me pondering the most important influences on the psychedelic experience: the setting and the set, terms coined by Timothy Leary. Setting refers to the external environment: the people, places, and things around us when we experience the medicines. Set refers to our mindset: the things affecting our internal state, including our personality, our mood, our expectations, and, especially, the preparation we do to maximize the experience.

I listen to Gold and know that I wouldn’t be able to relax in this setting: sterile white rooms where clients receive legal ketamine-assisted therapy sessions to treat PTSD, end-of-life anxiety, addictive behaviors, interpersonal problems, and other psychological issues. And preparing my set would have to include working through the fact that I used to come to this precise area to steal cars and sometimes rob some of the white people. I’d also have to wrestle with a host of setting and set issues that I’ve heard about from Danielle Herrera, a therapist with Berkeley-based Sage Integrative Health who grew up in a working-class, Chicana, Indigenous, and Filipino household in Los Angeles. Sage’s principals are trusted colleagues of Gold and the Polaris staff. Both clinics offer sliding-scale fees to accommodate those in financial need.

When I speak with Herrera by Zoom, she recites the many obstacles—prohibitive cost, misdiagnosis, the drug war and policing, and familial and cultural skepticism about the substances, among others—that therapists treating poor and non-white clients must overcome in their efforts to provide psychedelic-assisted care. These and other dynamics turn every corner of the Mission and other gentrifying neighborhoods, she says, into areas of psychic conflict, places where intergenerational trauma clashes with intergenerational wealth. It’s a combat zone that Herrera and others I speak with believe is critical to acknowledge if they’re to overcome the gentrification of consciousness in and beyond the clinics. Much the way that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are pioneering space travel for the ultra-wealthy, many entrepreneurs and their investors are putting scientific and medical advances out of reach of the communities they displace and fly over.

“The medicines help people understand that what they carry into this world is not just their trauma but the trauma in their lineage, inherited trauma,” says Herrera.

One result of mixing these transformative substances with gentrification is what Herrera and others call “spiritual bypassing.” People in the Mission and beyond endure traumatic experiences, she says, by telling themselves, “ ‘Everything is fine. Everything is perfect. We’re all good.’ But they’re saying this, and they’re avoiding what’s actually happening, including very obvious things like the fact that our communities are still being oppressed, still being assaulted, and still dying. It’s ironic, given how the Bay Area is perceived as a kind of safe space.”

The Bay Area chasm described by Herrera mirrors the situation across the world, especially in the Americas, says Dr. Bia Labate, the executive director of the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines, a San Francisco–based educational nonprofit dedicated to bridging the gap between the universe of sacred plants, tradition, Indigenous people, ritual, and religion and the world of psychedelic science and psychedelic-assisted therapy.

“This Western, white, biomedical narrative around psychedelics doesn’t include Indigenous elders and wisdom holders and traditional people who are also frequently excluded, along with women, people of color, Black people, and others,” says Labate, an anthropologist from Brazil who has authored, coauthored, or coedited 21 books on the subject. “Within the history of psychedelics, there has also been a history of abuse of minorities.”

ThERE’s A PSYCHEDELIC-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX COMING, ARMED WITH BILLIONS OF VENTURE CAPITAL DOLLARS AND moving with the disruptive velocity that profit-focused entrepreneurs worship.

Like Herrera and her peers, Labate is critical of spiritual extractivism. There is “a utilitarian approach where we want to get knowledge from Indigenous people and sometimes imitate their practices and pick and choose things that we like,” she says, “but we don’t engage in any kind of Indigenous rights, such as land rights or health or conservation or all kinds of other things. We can celebrate Indigenous plants, but Indigenous people continue to be murdered throughout the Americas.”

Indigenous churches in the United States have asked the larger legalization movement to allow them to lead psychedelic policy reform, to let Indigenous people exercise sovereignty over their sacraments. The response from the mainstream psychedelic movement, says Labate, has been mixed: some support the churches’ wishes, but many mostly white nonprofit leaders, researchers, and other figures in the U.S.-centered psychedelic-industrial complex are “challenging them, ridiculing them at conferences. It has been very heartbreaking,” she says.

In response, Chacruna has organized numerous forums with Indigenous people and other groups left out of or tokenized by the mainstream conversation about psychedelic substances. Labate and other leaders are also spearheading efforts to address the gentrification of consciousness: training more therapists of color, supporting policy conversations, engaging in and promoting research and public education programs.

Despite the challenges of racism, classism, and other ailments of the U.S. psychedelic world, Labate remains optimistic, inspired, she says, by how last year’s “uprising against racial injustice in the U.S. has widened our perspective about how the [psychedelic] story and model aren’t really working” for non-whites. “There’s a sense that we can’t continue business as usual,” she says. “You also have this resistance.”

I return to La Bohème to finish writing this story. My worries swirl around the Singer sewing machine beneath the café’s spider-shaped candelabra lamps. All around me, the clicks and construction cranes of Silicon Valley’s so-called march of progress continue to cause deep stress in people here.

Yet, like Labate, I’m optimistic that the psychedelic underground will continue to exist for those who need it. The tepee and other ceremonies, the clandestine clinic treatments and community-based spaces will survive in the Mission and elsewhere. Sure, there’s a psychedelic-industrial complex coming, armed with billions of venture capital dollars and moving with the disruptive velocity that profit-focused entrepreneurs worship. But having outlasted centuries of literal demonization, criminalization, and discriminatory policing, the underground will continue to be a place where most poor and non-white people experiment, heal, and celebrate with the medicinas, a space that Labate, Herrera, and others believe can stave off the looming gentrification of consciousness.

My faith rests in community, in the fact that people will continue to need people, that mobile apps and individualized psychotherapy inside expensive white-walled offices will not satisfy the ancient need to be with others, especially in times of epic displacement and crisis. I look back up at the electric spiders above the converted sewing machine where I’m weaving these words. I look outside La Bohème and imagine the future of the Mission, and I know that, whatever the psychedelic future brings, I’ll continue to use the medicinas to help me look backward before continuing to navigate the abysses before us.•

Journalist Roberto Lovato is the author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas and a lifelong resident of San Francisco’s Mission and Outer Mission neighborhoods.