Healing Hallucinogens: Robin Divine Wants to Increase Diversity in Psychedelic Therapies
The Columbus activist founded Black People Trip to help bring more people of color into the emerging treatment field.
For most of her life, Robin Divine has struggled with depression. Then, in 2020, she had a breakthrough: She tried psychedelics for the first time—a mix of MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms. “It was amazing,” says the 48-year-old Columbus resident. “It was the first time that I really felt love for myself.”
That initial trip also opened her eyes to something else. As she surveyed the growing psychedelic therapy movement, she didn’t see many other Black people. A white woman served as her guide during her first experience, and it wasn’t perfect. After a second trip together, it became even clearer that Divine needed someone more in tune with her own culture, outlook and background. “I was like, ‘There’s a void that I see, so let me go ahead and create space for that,’” Divine recalls. “As soon as I was back in my right mind, I was online creating space.”
The result became Black People Trip, an organization Divine founded that offers education and connection for Black people in psychedelics. She holds workshops and classes, helps people find culturally sensitive guides, and advocates for Black people in the white-dominated psychedelic world.
Psychedelics have long been considered a “white people” drug, going back to their roots in 1960s counterculture. That has continued during their recent therapeutic renaissance, which has flourished among white techies in the San Francisco Bay Area. This history has helped keep Black people away, Divine says, along with the way that law enforcement disproportionately enforces illegal drug use. (The federal government and almost all U.S. states consider psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and MDMA illegal drugs.) “We don’t seek out recreational drugs just for fun, because we will go to jail faster,” Divine says.
Black people’s skeptical view of therapy doesn’t help, either. “As a whole, we’re taught to go to church and pray it away,” Divine says. “People hear ‘psychedelic therapy,’ and they’re like, ‘That sounds like some hippie-dippy stuff, and it’s not for us.’” And then there are the economic barriers. Divine says it cost her $500 per session to hire a guide, while psychedelic retreats can cost $3,000 to $5,000, and psychedelic education programs are often priced at $20,000 and up.
Those financial burdens inspired her to found a second organization, a nonprofit called the Black Psychedelic Equity Fund, which provides financial assistance for therapy, education, travel and lodging. She says the organization has helped a few people so far, but it’s currently tapped out and looking to expand its funding sources. “I’ve had more requests than I’ve had funding, which is unfortunate,” Divine says.
Divine has seen some improvement since launching her crusade—more Black guides, retreats and educators. Her work has grown, too, teaching some 20 workshops and classes and lecturing at several psychedelic training programs. To make ends meet, however, she works gig jobs, mostly delivering food for Uber Eats. After being priced out of the Bay Area, she moved to Columbus in 2021 on the recommendation of a friend.
“I love what I do, but it doesn’t pay my bills,” she says. “I hope that will change soon.”
This story is from the January 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.