Shelby Hartman: “Listen to the women you hire”

Hire women. Listen to the women you hire. Serve women in your businesses. These are all hugely important, but I’d like to emphasize number two. I’ve worked in a number of environments where there’s a subtle toxic masculinity that exists, nothing that can be reported to HR, per say, but something that just lives in […]

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Hire women. Listen to the women you hire. Serve women in your businesses. These are all hugely important, but I’d like to emphasize number two. I’ve worked in a number of environments where there’s a subtle toxic masculinity that exists, nothing that can be reported to HR, per say, but something that just lives in the air and is felt by women. I’ve seen this at institutional businesses as well as millennial-run start-ups where leadership thinks they’re progressive, and they’re just not, because they’re operating from a place of deeply ingrained biases. This is a massive problem in the cannabis industry, even at so-called “equitable” cannabis businesses that are public about their support for social justice. The same thing happens to LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC folks. You can hire diversely — and that’s a start — but listening is equally important. Marginalized communities really do have lived experiences which inform how they think — and have the potential to transform our workplaces, and society at-large.


As a part of my series about the women leading psychedelics Shelby Hartman, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief of DoubleBlind.

Shelby Hartman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of DoubleBlind,a biannual print magazine and digital media company at the forefront of the rapidly growing psychedelic movement.Also a reporter and editor specializing in psychedelics, cannabis, drug policy, and mental health, her work has appeared in VICE, Quartz, the Huffington Post, and Rolling Stone, among others. Hartman worked in broadcast news production for CBS News, covering presidential elections, protests, natural disasters, and other breaking news. Spurred by a passion for print and investigative reporting, she transitioned to magazine writing, working as an editor at Pasadena Magazine and receiving her Master’s Degree in long-form journalism from Columbia University in 2015. Since, Hartman has worked as a columnist at LA Weekly and an editor at Herb, the largest cannabis media company, with extensive features on the cannabis industry, the psychedelic research boom, the popularization of ayahuasca, and post-traumatic stress disorder in the veteran community.

DoubleBlind is a print magazine and digital media company at the forefront of the rapidly growing psychedelic movement. With contributors around the globe, DoubleBlind covers stories from South America’s ayahuasca tourism industry to the Silicon Valley microdosing trend and the groundbreaking research at leading universities. At the core of DoubleBlind’s reporting are some of the most important issues of our time: the depression epidemic, the corporatization of medicine, and the aching people feel for spirituality or some other collective sense of meaning — all presented in visually compelling, rigorous long-form features, poetry, art, and photo essays. In 2020, DoubleBlind debuts events, transforming these potent topics into community engagements for psychonauts and the psychecurious.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the psychedelics industry?

I’m lucky in that when I entered the psychedelics “industry,” my professional and personal paths merged. I’ve spent my whole career as a journalist, and I’ve also spent my whole adult life, since I took shrooms with some friends my first year of college, fascinated by psychedelics. Like many journalists who specialize in a particular topic or “beat,” it all began with one story I reported for VICE on the research looking at MDMA, sometimes called ecstasy, as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. One story became another and another until one day I woke up and said “wow, I’m a psychedelic journalist…that’s cool.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh gosh. So many! Since starting DoubleBlind, my co-founder Madison and I have both met so many deeply passionate, brilliant human beings doing important work, from healers to scientists to rabbis to indigenous activists and more. One of the most profound experiences I had was at the World Ayahuasca Conference in Girona, Spain last year. The conference was attended by hundreds of shamans, and representatives from more than a dozen indigenous Amazonian communities. It was important for me because it reminded me of how global and diverse plant medicine users are. The conference placed a large emphasis on sacred reciprocity, this idea that folks without ancestral ties to psychedelic medicines, who are using them, need to give back to the indigenous communities who have preserved the knowledge around them for generations. This was one of the inspirations for DoubleBlind launching its sacred reciprocity fund, in which we donate to BIPOC-led groups working with plant medicines.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hmm…it might’ve been simply paying an attorney who really did not know what he was doing to incorporate us. I should’ve known when he accidentally billed us for 10,000 dollars instead of 1000 dollars the first time. It was an honest mistake, but if an accidental extra zero isn’t a red flag, I’m not sure what is! The lesson I learned was slooowww down and really make sure to vet people. I ended up going with him, because we were thinking of doing a crowdfunding campaign and needed to be incorporated immediately. We had a lot going on and a friend of a friend recommended him, but I just knew from the beginning he wasn’t our guy and ignored my gut. In the end, it was fine. We lost some money, and we ended up hiring someone great to fix everything. Now, I really take my time getting to know people before bringing them onto the team.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the psychedelics industry?

Interestingly enough, everyone has been very supportive, from my grandparents to old family friends. I think it’s because I am sure to provide folks with context about the emerging research, the need our society has for novel mental health treatments, etc.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

So so many people have helped me to get to where I am. The first person who comes to mind, though, is my first journalism mentor, Dan Raviv. He really took me under his wing when I had my first internship, at CBS News, in college. I wrote down everything he said, asked tons of questions, and when he saw how eager I was, he gave me more and more responsibility. He let me go out into the field as an intern to do interviews/ get sound bites for him, he taught me how to edit audio, he indulged all my questions about journalistic ethics, and, even, when I was an intern, let me produce an entire special program on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. When the internship was over, CBS hired me when I was still an undergrad in college and I continued to work for him for another year. It was during that time that I realized how much I loved journalism, and how much I admired journalists. I will forever be grateful to him.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Everyone on the DoubleBlind team is working very hard everyday to support the folks in our community who are interested in embarking on a journey with plant medicines. We have the fourth issue of the print magazine coming out in December, we just released our second online course which teaches folks how to begin using psychedelics with intention, we’re running a course which includes live support from mycologists on how to grow mushrooms, we publish online content every week, and we have webinars with experts such as microdosing pioneer Jim Fadiman and artist Alex Grey every month. Believe it or not, we do that with a team of five people, most of whom are part-time. Sooo at this point, we don’t have the bandwidth for much else. I’d say our overarching goal, though, really is to just be there for people. In that sense, what we do — the webinars we host, the content we put out — is very reader-driven and if our readers start asking for something else, we will respond accordingly.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

Hire women. Listen to the women you hire. Serve women in your businesses. These are all hugely important, but I’d like to emphasize number two. I’ve worked in a number of environments where there’s a subtle toxic masculinity that exists, nothing that can be reported to HR, per say, but something that just lives in the air and is felt by women. I’ve seen this at institutional businesses as well as millennial-run start-ups where leadership thinks they’re progressive, and they’re just not, because they’re operating from a place of deeply ingrained biases. This is a massive problem in the cannabis industry, even at so-called “equitable” cannabis businesses that are public about their support for social justice. The same thing happens to LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC folks. You can hire diversely — and that’s a start — but listening is equally important. Marginalized communities really do have lived experiences which inform how they think — and have the potential to transform our workplaces, and society at-large.

You are a “Psychedelic Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the psychedelics industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

Firstly, don’t think of psychedelics as an “industry” — this is largely what caused cannabis to end up in a place where many of the plant’s pioneers got shut out of opportunities in the marketplace. Psychedelics were not discovered within recent decades, but, rather, have been used ceremonially for thousands of years. Secondly, do your own work — trip at a clinic, retreat, with your friends in the forest…it doesn’t matter where as long as you’re safe about it (note: not everyone is a good candidate). Like with cannabis, psychedelic plants and fungi have a spirit, they have a lot to teach you. So go inward, become intimately familiar with what this movement is all about. Thirdly, attend psychedelic conferences like Horizons, the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum, and Breaking Convention. The professional psychedelic community, while global, is relatively small. It won’t take you long to understand the landscape and familiarize yourself with the leading players and thought leaders. Fourth, ask yourself why you want to be in psychedelics at all. If it’s to make money, you should know that psychedelics aren’t just another investment opportunity. There are many longtime advocates in the space who have been slowly, and passionately, working to overturn psychedelic prohibition for decades. There are a lot of dynamics in the industry, from the folks who are advocating for decriminalization to the funders of psychedelic science on both the nonprofit and for-profit side, that you should take the time to understand. Fifth, figure out what you want to do in the industry, and then become familiar with the folks already doing it with integrity. Are you interested in donating to drug development? Talk to MAPS. Are you a therapist who wants to become trained in psychedelic therapy? Connect with Fluence or CIIS. Are you a writer? We take pitches: [email protected]. There’s just so many directions you can go and, if you’re not sure, think about how you can best serve the movement! It’s a very exciting time for psychedelics, but it’s also a sensitive one.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about psychedelics?

I think, undoubtedly, the most exciting thing about psychedelics is the massive potential they’re showing to disrupt our current mental health epidemic. Psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, and MDMA, sometimes referred to as ecstasy, should be legal in the next five years as prescription medications for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 100 million people around the globe have treatment-resistant depression alone. Both of these drugs have been granted what’s called “breakthrough therapy” status by the FDA because they’ve shown so much promise to treat mental health conditions for which we really don’t have effective treatments right now. Secondly, something very interesting about the psychedelic research is that it’s found a correlation between the extent to which someone has a “mystical experience” (i.e. some kind of indescribable experience that’s spiritual or divine) while tripping and the extent to which they receive healing from the psychedelic. This is bringing spirituality and/ or religion into clinical research in a unique way. For decades now, we’ve thought of the realms of science and religion as being fundamentally different, but, it turns out, there is likely an intimate relationship between our well-being, physiological and psychological, and our ability to connect with something greater than ourselves. Thirdly, in addition to psychedelics showing promise for mental health, some preliminary research has indicated psychedelics might be used to disrupt political conflict and even to help folks become more environmentally conscientious. It excites both Madison and I to think about the impact that psychedelics might have on not just individual health, but on communal, national and planetary health as well, even if psychedelics are administered for specific indications in a clinical context.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about psychedelics? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the space what would you suggest?

There are a lot of new players getting into the psychedelic industry, specifically investors in the realm of for-profit psychedelic drug development. Equity and access are hot topics right now in the industry. Some folks are concerned that the for-profit pharmaceutical model, which incentivizes strategies like patenting, will prevent psychedelic medicines from being accessible to all who could benefit from them. I’m not convinced that the for-profit pharmaceutical model is inherently bad, even though it historically has been. But I understand the concerns and I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on these companies and hold them accountable. Second, there’s already a strong movement towards this, but we need to diversify the voices at the forefront of the psychedelic movement. We need to ensure that BIPOC, queer, and womxn healers, scientists, and thought-leaders are given a platform at psychedelic conferences, including those that are targeted towards prospective investors. We need to make sure, too, that their perspectives are taken into account by researchers and clinics as they establish protocols for treating patients so that they’re being culturally sensitive and inclusive. Third, I’d say that it’s important that we don’t create a hierarchy in which taking psychedelics in some context is considered better or more legitimate than others. At DoubleBlind, we’re all for FDA-approved research as we know there are many folks who will never take psychedelics if they don’t have the FDA’s stamp of approval. But we also see deep value in indigenous wisdom, ceremony, and, even, just tripping with friends, as long as you’re safe about it. Folks have been using psychedelics safely for generations without regulation — and we just don’t want to see people’s cognitive liberty taken away or psychedelics being controlled as they become legal in particular settings with particular protocols for mental health.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of psychedelics? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Of course, they should be legal! I would direct my Senator towards the mountains of incredible research showing psychedelics have the potential to treat everything from opioid use disorder to depression to trauma among victims of sexual assault and veterans. As political officials tend to be focused on the numbers, too, I’d have someone a lot smarter than I am to prepare a report on how much money the government and healthcare system could potentially save if psychedelics were to become legal for mental health. The treatments are expensive, as they require the support of therapists, but the long-term effects are astounding.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like psychedelics to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

No, definitely not. The problem with cigarettes — and cannabis — is that they’re overregulated. First and foremost, psychedelics — and all drugs, actually — should be decriminalized nationwide. In May, Denver became the first county to decriminalize psilocybin, the psychoactive component in psychedelic mushrooms. Less than a month later, Oakland followed, decriminalizing all naturally-occurring psychedelics, from mushrooms to san pedro. Earlier this year, Santa Cruz did the same thing. There’s now initiatives in more than 100 cities and counties across the U.S. to decriminalize all naturally-occurring psychedelics. All these initiatives include stipulations which allow for home-growing. The beautiful thing about this is that folks will be able to grow their medicine in their own house, totally free of any government regulation. Psychedelics should also be federally legal, I believe, as prescription medications which can be administered in conjunction with psychotherapy. This is important for folks who need one-on-one support while tripping. They should not be able to be patented though, if they’re essentially just synthetic versions of a natural compound that’s long been in the public domain, to ensure they remain accessible. There should also be an easier process for organizations that use psychedelics religiously to be able to petition the federal government for an exemption to prohibition. In terms of a full-scale retail model, some folks have proposed that psychedelics get sold alongside supplements at, for example, health stores. Other people have proposed that you would need a license to consume psychedelics. Essentially, they’d be available to whoever wants to use them, but you’d have to prove first that you’re responsible enough to do so. I don’t have enough of a sense of how all these proposals would pan out to take a stance. I just feel passionately that if there is going to be some kind of regulated, retail market, that homegrows remain legal and accessible — and that historically marginalized communities are given a head start through government subsidies and moratoriums on big corporations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t even remember where I read this, but it’s always stuck with me: “Imagine the potential for human connectivity if we were to all let go of our baggage.” I love this one, because it always reminds me of how important compassion is. Compassion and just remembering that most people really are acting from a lifetime of memories, remembered and unconscious. Life is hard. We’re all on this journey together.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I mean I really would love to just see more people taking the time to sit with themselves, whether through doing psychedelics (if they’re ready) or just meditating. DoubleBlind hopes to be able to help facilitate some more consciousness-shifting experiences and community building through breathwork and other workshops soon.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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