2 Aug 2023

Revolutionizing the Conversation:
The Impact of Millennials and Gen Z-ers on Psychedelic Media and Culture

An Interview with Whitney Wilhelmy, Executive Assistant to Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

Revolutionizing the Conversation: The Impact of Millennials and Gen Z-ers on Psychedelic Media and Culture
An Interview with Whitney Wilhelmy, Executive Assistant to Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

By Maria Holyanova

MAPS Bulletin: Volume XXXIII Number 2 • 2023

Fascinated By Everything visuals from the Have a Good Trip benefit concert for MAPS

The times, they are a-changin’. As the world becomes more accepting of the therapeutic and medical uses of psychedelics, a new generation of enthusiasts has emerged. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are openly and actively working in the psychedelics field, breaking away from the stigma and persecution our older counterparts faced during the counterculture movement. 

It seems that the “young blood” of today is breaking free from the shackles of the past and diving headfirst into the psychedelic realm. Millennials and Gen Z-ers may have goldfish-like attention spans, but they have a burning passion for social justice and personal wellness. They’re not afraid to shake things up and demand meaningful change, and they’re harnessing the power of social media to spread their message far and wide. 

Another common trait these younger generations have is the natural inclination towards technology and the ability to quickly adapt to new innovations. It’s worth mentioning that this characteristic has led to a revolution in the way we consume and disseminate information. The rise of social media giants like Facebook, founded by Millennial Mark Zuckerberg, and Instagram, co-founded by Millennial Kevin Systrom, has changed the way we receive news and information. Gen X/Millennial CEO Jack Dorsey has transformed Twitter into a powerful tool for rapid information sharing and Gen Z Nick D’Aloisio created Summly, a news app that summarizes news articles into digestible snippets. These platforms have enabled the spread of information about psychedelic substances and their therapeutic potential, leading to a shift in cultural perceptions that was once thought impossible. Where once, older generations saw commercials depicting an egg sizzling in a frying pan as a metaphor for the effects of drug use on the brain, now we explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. It’s a real mind-bending shift! 

Though we can most definitely demonize the entire social media industry, it is worth noting that this cultural shift was only able to happen so rapidly thanks to the rise of social media and online news outlets.

As we embark on this fascinating generational shift, we must not overlook the opportunity to explore the changes in perspectives of Millennials and Gen Z-ers when it comes to these once-forbidden fruits. In my recent conversation with the extraordinary Gen Z star and executive assistant to MAPS’ Founder and President Rick Roblin, Whitney Wilhelmy, we traversed the transformation of the conversation surrounding psychedelics led by our younger generations.

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Hi Whitney. How do you think your generation views psychedelics, and how would you say perceptions have changed over time?

Gen Z may be the most psychedelic-accepting generation in modern times. I think Gen Z has a very different understanding of not only mental health, which has been tragically stigmatized for so long, but also of self-awareness, introspection, emotional intelligence, and spiritual health. We were born into a resource-richer world that now has space for those conversations in the mainstream, and psychedelics can tie into them elegantly. Gen Z inherited the war on drugs but is further removed from its hysterical beginnings, allowing us the opportunity to approach psychedelics with a fresher perspective than our predecessors who have been subject to decades of psychedelic myths, horror stories, and media bias.  I am however concerned that many young people have an overly casual attitude about these powerful tools. As psychedelics keep going mainstream, I hope to see education leveraged more than fear as a harm reduction tactic.

Speaking of younger generations’ “casual attitudes”, do you think there is a danger of misinformation and hype surrounding these substances, and how can we ensure that accurate and unbiased information is disseminated to the public?

Not only do I believe that there is a danger of negligent hype around psychedelics, I think we’ve already been seeing it actively circulate. These substances are certainly not for everyone. They’re complicated and come in a package deal that signs one up for significant commitments of time and energy for preparation and integration and they definitely carry risks. In my personal life as well as my volunteer work with Zendo Project to provide psychedelic peer support at festivals and Burning Man, I have witnessed several instances of psychedelic-induced psychosis.
In public education about psychedelics, the potential benefits and risks must both be objectively explored. Conveying dense material is difficult in the age of short-form content. As psychedelics continue to find their place in the mainstream, a key goal to work toward is gracefully meeting people where they are with well-rounded material.

Zendo Project at Lightning in a Bottle in 2019

Younger generations are more prone to relying on headlines rather than reading and researching the full publication.Do you think that social media platforms contribute to echo chambers where people consume information that aligns with their existing beliefs about psychedelics? What dangers can arise from this trend?

As someone who used to manage MAPS’ social media accounts, I know the challenges of echo chambers and other social media side effects all too well. So many questions would be answered if people would dedicate two minutes to clicking the link and reading the article! Of course, we Internet-loving Millennials and Gen Z-ers are guilty of this, but it’s hard not to do so as a social media user of any age. The root of the issue lies in the design of the platforms. By limiting our consumption of psychedelic news to tiny snippets from social media, we are missing out on important details and irresponsibly feeding the imbalanced hype surrounding psychedelics. Psychedelic social media is such a paradox: we want to provide reliable information, which is difficult to condense while maintaining meaning, and simultaneously attract more followers, which requires engaging, short-form content that tends to lack nuance. Can we have real, thorough, meaningful conversations on social media? Sometimes. I think we can at least start them.

Do you think that psychedelics influence people’s opinion of governmental, societal, and environmental changes? Have they influenced yours? 

Into the realm of “nonspecific amplifiers” we go! I think psychedelics catalyze more dramatic worldview shifts in people who weren’t engaged in deep, raw self-analysis prior to their psychedelic experience. I wouldn’t expect to hear of psychedelic-induced changes in an experienced meditator, for example. But of course, as we invite our minds to reveal themselves to us through the consumption of psychedelics, we should be prepared for significant shifts in perspective. These changes, as well as how we choose to integrate them, look different for everyone. My own use of psychedelics has undoubtedly contributed to the self-knowing that underlies my beliefs, so it’d be foolish to dismiss their role. What I can assert is that, over time (and psychedelic experiences), my distrust of existing institutions keeps rising, my sense of obligation to be a good citizen keeps expanding, my connection with Earth keeps deepening, and I feel compelled to act accordingly.

Last year, Millennials “tipped the scales” in the Colorado initiative to legalize psilocybin use at regulated centers. How do you think the increasing legalization of psychedelics for medical and therapeutic purposes will impact the broader cultural perception of these substances? 

Many modern humans perceive doctors and healthcare practitioners as authority figures. As the healthcare system increasingly invites psychedelic-assisted therapy into its sphere, psychedelics gain legitimacy. What may be even more powerful on a large scale, however, are the accounts from individuals who have benefited from psychedelic use in the clinical setting or otherwise. We’re moved by stories, especially those of people we know. One of my favorite coming-of-age realizations was that the flow of wisdom between generations is reciprocal, not just from elder to younger. When I more consciously connected with my inherent role as a teacher, I became more comfortable openly discussing my relationship with psychedelics with mentors and elders in my life. While honest conversations about substances aren’t always safe for everyone, they are reliably interesting and often effective in changing minds.

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Would you rather see psychedelic decriminalization, legalization, or medicalization? 

Media coverage of psychedelics is currently zeroed in on clinical applications and for good reason. Not only is medicalization more digestible for mainstream audiences, its progress is worth celebrating. But let’s not forget that self-improvement and healing can take place in a variety of contexts, including some that look more recreational than ceremonial or clinical. While I see great value in the safety afforded by controlled settings and medical oversight, I do not think that those contexts are any more valid than others. Government regulation scares me, but I think a small dose has the potential to ensure safe supply and harm reduction measures within a legalization framework for psychedelics and other substances.

What do you think the long-term impact of psychedelic therapies might be on individuals, society, and the world as a whole?

We hear accounts of psychedelic experiences in clinical settings and beyond impacting people’s relationships with themselves, their loved ones, their ancestors and lineage, humanity as a whole, nature, and Earth. We see psychedelics credited for visionary creations and innovations. I increasingly wonder what it is that psychedelics might not touch. Over time, I hope to see individual cases of psychedelic-influenced insights coagulating together to revamp existing systems and inspire novel models that center on public benefit. That said, real harm will be caused regardless of how carefully we try to integrate psychedelics into our culture. Based on what we know about the history of how humans interact, I predict a new iteration of psychedelic backlash fueled by examples of psychedelic-adjacent bad behavior. As the “psychedelic community” evolves into a psychedelic society, perhaps we’ll be more resourced in approaching major cultural conversations with more care and efficacy.

Whitney and friends on playa at Burning Man in 2022

Final Thoughts

As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that the psychedelic journey is not just about altered states of consciousness and mind-altering experiences. It is a transformative path that opens doors to self-discovery, social change, and environmental consciousness, all while shining a light on the importance of mental health. Inspired by the generations before them, Generation Z, with its fresh perspective and eagerness to challenge the status quo, holds the key to unlocking a new era of understanding and acceptance of these substances. Through open dialogue, responsible education, and the integration of psychedelic experiences, we can break the stigma surrounding mental health and psychedelics and create a world where healing and personal growth are embraced. So let us embark on this cosmic voyage, together, as we weave a tapestry of psychedelic wisdom and positive change, nurturing not only our minds but also our collective mental well-being. We are slowly beginning to drop the old paradigms and tune into the frequencies of a more enlightened and mentally resilient future. Let’s be the generation that turns on, tunes in, and stands up for a brighter, more psychedelic world, where mental health is at the forefront of our journey.

Maria Holyanova

Executive Marketing & Content Director of Psychedelic Spotlight 

​​Maria Holyanova is a multifaceted professional excelling in the fields of growth marketing, blogging, editing, and content production. As the Executive Marketing & Content Director of Psychedelic Spotlight, she plays a pivotal role in shaping the discourse around business and psychedelics, psychedelic research, and harm reduction. Maria’s journey in the psychedelic space began as the Co-Founder of “The Psychedelic Investor,” a renowned YouTube channel focusing on emerging psychedelic stocks and the expansive psychedelic landscape. The success of the platform led to its acquisition by Psyc Corp. Today, Maria’s mission centers around fostering the revival of psychedelic research on a global scale. She actively seeks out creative individuals who share her vision, aiming to provide psychedelic-inspired companies with smoother paths to alleviate suffering and enhance mental health worldwide.

Whitney Wilhelmy

Executive Assistant to Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

While studying cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, Whitney explored her passions for scientific approaches to consciousness, drug policy reform, and psychedelic research. She first entered the MAPS multiverse in 2017 through volunteer work with the Zendo Project to provide psychedelic peer support and harm reduction at festivals and events. In 2019, Whitney joined MAPS’ Communications and Marketing department as a full-time staff member. From late 2020 until mid-2022, she managed the social media profiles of MAPS, MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC), Rick Doblin, Ph.D., and Zendo Project.
Whitney currently serves as Executive Assistant to MAPS Founder and President Rick Doblin, Ph.D. Upon potential FDA approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, she looks forward to continuing her career in the realm of psychedelic-assisted therapy.