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Utah in the Weeds Episode #95 - Former State Sen. Steve Urquhart, Medical Cannabis Advocate

What to Expect in This Episode

Episode 95 of Utah in the Weeds features Steve Urquhart, a former state senator who helped to shape Utah's Medical Cannabis landscape. Steve was one of the co-sponsors of "Charlee's Law," the 2014 legislation which legalized CBD oil for people with intractable epilepsy. Steve founded The Divine Assembly, a church whose members use psilocybin mushrooms as a sacrament.

Steve shared a little bit about his current career and his thoughts on Utah's Medical Cannabis climate. He points out that many Utahns still purchase their cannabis in Nevada. [03:03]

Steve has fought for Medical Cannabis in Utah as both a legislator and advocate. He also founded The Utah Bee, an online magazine focused on covering cannabis, psychedelics, and alcohol in Utah. [05:59]

Steve teaches two courses in the University of Utah's School of Medicine: health policy & leadership, and health systems. He invites a variety of guests to speak at some of his courses, and he says this helps his students understand life "in the trenches" of public health. [11:15]

Tim and Steve touched on the risks versus the benefits of having a Medical Cannabis program in Utah, and they agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks. [16:27]

Tim asked Steve about the public health perspective during recent years as Medical Cannabis became available in Utah. Steve says public health should be based on good data, but the federal prohibition of cannabis has created a "Catch-22." [19:45]

Steve believes the federal government will probably remove psilocybin and MDMA from the list of Schedule I drugs before removing cannabis. [26:02]

Steve's church, The Divine Assembly, encourages members to connect with themselves, others, and "the Divine." Members can optionally use psilocybin as a sacrament. He told us about his early "healing experiences" with psilocybin that ultimately led to the creation of The Divine Assembly. [28:21]

Steve expanded on the roles of spiritual experiences and psilocybin in healing, saying psilocybin helps the brain to form new neural pathways. [34:39]

Steve talked about having the right "set and setting" for a psilocybin experience. Most unpleasant experiences with psilocybin, he says, happen because the user was not in a good setting. [41:06]

Tim asked Steve about the role of cannabis in spiritual healing. Steve says, because of his experiences with psilocybin, he can use cannabis to reach the same mystical state of consciousness. [47:18]

Steve talked about "entheogens," or substances that "bring us closer to God," including cannabis and psilocybin. [50:25]

We wrapped up with a discussion of some local organizations working to incorporate cannabis into group settings like group therapy. [57:12]

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to episode 95, only five more to a hundred. Today on Utah in the Weeds, my name is Tim Pickett. I am the host of Utah in the Weeds, podcast about cannabis and cannabis culture and medical cannabis. And today, psilocybin, and religion, and God, and spirituality, and experience, with Steve Urquhart. Steve is the founder of The Divine Assembly, a church that is premised on magic mushrooms, and psilocybin, and interacting with the divine. We have a great conversation today. Steve also teaches public health at the University of Utah, School of Medicine, in their Public Health Department. He was a state senator here in Utah, represented Washington County down South, and is a phenomenal guy.

Tim Pickett:
Lots to say, got him fired up there at the end, if you get all the way to the end. Couple of guys just talking about cannabis program and really the opportunity that we have to move things forward with society, spirituality, heck, we could even bring back God into the community. For those of you who are not subscribed to Utah in the Weeds, it helps us out a ton. We've got more and more subscribers every week. We're so happy with the response. And heck, we're coming up on a hundred episodes, so stay tuned. Next week, Bijan and Paul. Bijan is the founder of Beehive Medical Cannabis Pharmacy here in Utah, and Paul Henderson, the CEO of Hightimes, and also one of the partners in Beehive Pharmacy in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tim Pickett:
That is our 420-week, spirit week, cannabis Christmas coming up for all of you who are part of the cannabis program here in Utah. And for those of you, three of you who listen outside of Utah, thanks for being a part of this. Enjoy this episode and reach out to us on Discover Marijuana on YouTube, I know there's a lot to remember. Discover Marijuana on YouTube, that's the place to get a hold of us, all of these episodes are uploaded there. And there's another place for you to subscribe and learn more about cannabis and medical cannabis, and all the sciencey stuff about cannabis. So enjoy this episode with Steve Urquhart. This is one of my favorite conversations. So Steve Urquhart, what are you up to?

Steve Urquhart:
So I'm a lawyer, and I still practice a little law. Mostly that's just friends and family stuff. I have a few paying clients, and I teach up at the U of U Medical School. I teach in the Division of Public Health, teach health policy, and I'm busy running my mushroom church, The Divine Assembly.

Tim Pickett:
Were you involved in the legislation this spring, when they were trying to develop the, was an allocation to study whether or not they should let psilocybin into Utah?

Steve Urquhart:
I can't really say I was involved in that at all. Very, very peripheral to... Probably not even saying I was involved at all. Just followed it, talked with some folks and gave a few suggestions here and there. But I'm happy with it. I like the composition of who's on the task force, and I like the direction of the task force. Even before it starts, I like that it destigmatizes psychedelics to some degree by being worthy of study by the state. So yeah, I think this is a big step forward.

Tim Pickett:
What do you think about the cannabis law here in Utah?

Steve Urquhart:
That's a very complex issue there, my feelings on that. At this point, I think it's decent. The Utah legislature does a good job when moneyed interests are involved, and now that there's money in it, I think that the law keeps improving. And I'm not a patient, so I sure don't want to speak on any patient's behalf. I'm not part of it. I go to Wendover to get what I need, and as I think, tons of Utahns do, and it's amazing. The revenue we're giving away, that parking lot is full of Utah plates, as I assume, the Mesquite Dispensary is too.

Tim Pickett:
Oh yeah. I mean, it was built... I know the owner, or know a little bit about the owners and the group. I mean, it's built for us.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. No, it is. I mean, I usually talk with the people who are there at the cash register, the people grabbing it, and ask them about all the Utahns, and they say, "That's all we get. That's our business."

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Steve Urquhart:
But, so obviously, it's not working completely well if that's the case, but I think that it's doing okay by patients. It's probably better than nothing.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. What makes you not want to be involved, or is that just out of convenience? Or?

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I was very involved in the legislature, I ran the CBD bill in the Senate, and then helped with attempts in the Senate, Mark Madsen's bill. And then the initiative, when it started to go wonky there at the end, and the LDS Church started to play, and I think they were absolutely playing games. Just they wanted anything they could call a compromise, whether people agreed to sit at a square table or a round table, they were going to hold up something like Lion King, holding up Baby Simba saying, "Here it is, we have a compromise, you don't need to vote for this." And I think that was... I think that was dark and dirty.

Steve Urquhart:
I think it was a cheap attempt to get people to vote against the initiative. And then if it failed, despite all their promises, they would've said, "Oh yeah, people don't want it." And so I think it started out dishonestly, stupidly, and then the bit about the state was going to dispense a schedule one federally-illegal substance. That was-

Tim Pickett:
Yes. Still comes up-

Steve Urquhart:
It was that-

Tim Pickett:
Still comes up. They were trying to protect kids who had these conditions and keeping it in elementary schools and high schools where these kids are... This is in a locked case. And may I remind listeners that schools are like pharmacies, they have a ton of medications in them all the time. But they were saying the same thing. You're going to dispense federally-illegal substance, you're going to let us carry around, they compared it to heroin.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. Well, and if you remember, the state was going to be the pharmacies as they call them. And-

Tim Pickett:
Yes. Central fill.

Steve Urquhart:
And I just... Yeah, central fill. And so I really don't think that the people involved are that dumb, I think that it was something that they knew could be locked up in the courts for years, and the state would ultimately lose, which they would have. So I worked with TRUCE and Christine Stenquist, to just try to get the truth out. And my wife and I started The Utah Bee. The point of that, we started it during that campaign, to try to get, I'm sure what you're doing, to try to get truth out there. Utah journalists are overworked, I think that. You look at the trip, for example, a lot of great, young journalists, but I cannot believe their workload.

Steve Urquhart:
They need to get out so much work product, that it's difficult for them to dig deep on many studies. And here, there's just no time because it was on the ballot. So knowing how the church works, knowing how the legislature works, we wanted to get out some truth, get out some stories quickly, knowing that the media would at least read it and it would help give them a start on where they could look with their superior skills and resources. And so, yeah, The Utah Bee is out there, and we still run it. We call it altering the hive, and it's about cannabis, psychedelics and alcohol, and I have a lot of fun with that.

Steve Urquhart:
But that was my involvement, was working with Christine and TRUCE to try to battle about a lot of the dishonesty that was coming from the legislature and the LDS Church. And we give ourselves right or wrong, we all need to be the heroes in our own stories. And the Utah Bee, we give ourselves a little credit for helping keep that above the 50% level in the vote.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And Christine's been an activist clear through, even til through today, really involved with TRUCE, in trying to get their message out. And I don't... Is it wild that I just about said what they consider truth, as if our political system has biased me so much that truth is relative to the position that you speak from?

Steve Urquhart:
Well, to some degree, that's all of us. I mean, my version of how this passed, what it was about, that's a truth to me, based on what I saw. Is that an objective truth? Probably not.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. So, okay. Yeah. Fair point. What you teach at the University of Utah, I'm fascinated with education. I feel like if I was... I could retire tomorrow, and I'd be a lifetime student somewhere. You teach in the Medical School and the Public Health Department, they're on Wakara. Yeah?

Steve Urquhart:
Right. Right.

Tim Pickett:
What-

Steve Urquhart:
You spent some time there. Right? That's where the PA program is.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Yeah. Spent a significant amount of time right there. And I think we were underneath you guys, in the basement, for a while. What courses do you teach?

Steve Urquhart:
So I only teach two. I teach health policy and leadership to medical students and PhD, public health students. And then two years ago, I picked up a course on the Korean campus, just via Zoom, and that's health systems. It's great stuff. We go after the essential premises of public health, we go over social determinants of health in the PhD-MD course. We go over start, well, just the history of public health, what it is, and then we get into Medicare, Medicaid, move forward to the ACA. And it's a pretty interesting course. We get to bring in a lot of public health practitioners. And when I inherited the course, it was kind of a who's who? Who in Utah has done big things in public health? And I tried to keep those big prominent players, but I also am a big believer that I have friends in low places, borrowing that from Garth.

Steve Urquhart:
And I brought in some folks who really were down-and-out in life, and then have risen above, and went on to get some degrees, and done prominent things in the community. I mean, for example, I bring in Christine to talk about medical cannabis and the fight for that. She was a bedridden patient for 16 years, and then kind of a Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Erin Brockovich's story. She came way up to the capital, and I think as patient zero, she had a huge part changing the state. I bring in Mindy Vincent, who was a 17-year IV drug user, in and out of jail, just really a litany of difficult things there. And she went into the court program and got some life skills, has got two master's degrees, started the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition.

Steve Urquhart:
I bring in a former sex worker. And to me, that's public health. Public health is in the trenches. Yes, we have the officials who run it out of nice offices, with big titles, but public health is a lot about the people who are down in the trenches. And community health workers, as a state, we just recognized community health workers as a discipline, as a certified group. And that's where the rubber meets the road, public health. And so I'm really excited to introduce those people and those concepts to a lot of students who largely have been in academia. Right? And-

Tim Pickett:
Right. Their whole life.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. And some might not know any sex workers, might not know any IV drug users. And they really love those people. Mindy, it's so funny. She'll drop 10 F bombs on them, and that's just who she is. She's just seen so much of life, and she talks like who has seen it, wants others to understand it. And the students really just love her and love Christine, love people who've been out doing and experiencing and achieving.

Tim Pickett:
It's one point of the medical cannabis program that I think is, it's always important to showcase or to get these individual stories out because there's so much still, a stigma, with the cannabis program, especially that there's just a bunch of who want to get high and we're just creating this gateway so they can do that. And there is a decent portion of the cardholders here in Utah that I would say might fit that mold. However, you might... Look, you've got to have, or else the 72-year-old who was addicted to opioids and changed their life around, or somebody with neuropathy... I've got an interview in May, somebody with neuropathy, so bad, they couldn't walk, gets help. I'm okay if 10,000 people get access to something that's relatively safe, if I can help those four or five people.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
I feel like that's where public health, the balance is, you constantly are fighting for funding and for programs to help the few, really help the few, and then there's always this fight against the fraud and abuse argument, the fraud and abuse.

Steve Urquhart:
And we always have to weigh relative cost, relative risks. And what I tell them when I bring in Christine, is to talk about her fight and the fight for medical cannabis in Utah. I tell them, "Look, in big ways, you're not going to get this, because you're going to take for granted what she did, what she's talking about, because things have changed so much."

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Steve Urquhart:
It was only very few years ago that lawmakers thought the only people who used cannabis were stoners. And given how this state leans, they were degenerate stoners. I mean, these were not people we wanted to associate with. I mean, that really was, not only the predominant view, almost the universal view of the legislature, and just pure misinformation, pure stigmatization. We take so much for granted now, but when you really can look at it dispassionately without the stigma, it's very low risk. I mean, cannabis is a low risk to society, when you legalize it. I mean, the big risk when it's illegal is, well, then it is underground.

Steve Urquhart:
And you do have outlaws who are dealing with it. Your risk comes from the fact that it... I mean, I picked this up from Mindy, and I know she picked it up elsewhere, but this stuff isn't because it's dangerous, it's dangerous because it's illegal.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Steve Urquhart:
So-

Tim Pickett:
There's a lot of truth to that. In fact, it's more dangerous now because the potency... for that exact reason. It's been illegal for so long that there's been a monetary incentive to make it stronger and stronger and stronger, so you have to smuggle less of it to the US.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. And so now we're bringing in the other cannabinoids that have really been breeded out, because people wanted to get stoned off, it was off THC. But so from a public health's perspective, my biased perspective, the risk of cannabis in a good program is very, very low. And so, as you say, there are people who absolutely benefit from it, I would say, absolutely need it. I mean, for example, we are really concerned about the opioid epidemic in this state, well, chronic pain is a real thing, and you need something to help.

Steve Urquhart:
And cannabis, for a lot of people, is that help, and it is so benign compared to opioids, that the risk of this stuff is very low, and the benefit of it for some people is very high. And so, as you say, if part of it is that some people are going to go to paper factory, paper mills, and get the car that they might not really merit, if we're going to have people using it recreationally, who cares? I mean, seriously, who cares? The risk is so low and the benefit is so high for some people, you need to air on that side of, "Well, let's make sure we're doing what we need to do to get it into the hands of people who need it." Which course largely includes cost. And that's where the Utah program is not doing a great job. Our costs are still much too high.

Tim Pickett:
From a public health standpoint and cannabis policy, do you feel like the velocity or the speed at which things are changing is increasing? Because it feels like that on my side. Like you said, five years ago, there was this almost universal feeling and thinking that it was terrible and you weren't going to legalize it at all, you have the compromise and then you have the industry now involved. And is that... I don't know. How does public health policy deal with this and change with this?

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. I think that things are moving rapidly. It's just insane to me that it's still federally-illegal when a huge majority of the states have de-criminalized. People want to say states have legalized it, well, they really can't, it's decriminalized states, that if you use it according to X, Y, Z, then yeah, we won't consider a crime, but it always is a crime. And so first off, that creates a weird situation for public health. It's still very difficult to get good data, good science, and public health should all be based on data. And we're still struggling to experiment with cannabis because it is federally, a schedule one. And you need the research, you need the data to move it off schedule one, we're just caught in a catch-22 there.

Steve Urquhart:
So public health likes to deal with data, it's tough to do that with cannabis. So you have to look past that. Maybe you don't have the best data, what data you have? And how can you work with that? And I think it comes down to what I just said. The risk of this is objectively low. The benefit seems to be quite significant for folks. And so from a public health perspective, what I'm concerned about is, okay, how do we get it to the right people, get the wrong people out of the business, and how do we get it to people in a cost-effective way? And that's where I would like to see our system improve.

Steve Urquhart:
I don't care, I really don't care if it's ever adult use, or as people say recreational in Utah, because it's pretty easy to get. I mean, my perspective, thank you, Oregon for just flooding all of the West with black market cannabis.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. They have an abundance. It is spilling out by the hundreds of pounds.

Steve Urquhart:
So recreationally, anyone really can get it, public health perspective. What are you getting? Do you know what you're getting? Do what's really in it? It's better if it is loosely regulated, if it's monitored, but Oregon's-

Tim Pickett:
Well, yeah, because then you could keep it. Wouldn't you think that better public health policy, in that regard, better regulation, you could keep the wrong people from using it, if we want everybody under 21 not to use it?

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I mean, let's go back to the opioid crisis. Let's go back to H, let's go back to the deadly one, heroin, injection centers, injection sites. God, I'm blanking on the term, but safe consumption sites, I think we properly call them. Not a single person has ever died at a safe consumption site. And heroin is absolutely deadly because there, they're taking it at a place where the dangers can be mitigated in significant part. So yeah, if we can look at things objectively and deal with them on the basis of data and harm prevention, great things can happen. And cannabis, for the longest time, we weren't using any harm reduction principles, it was just now, right then.

Steve Urquhart:
And now that that is becoming somewhat looser, by action of the states and largely by destigmatization, we're having a lot of harm reduction principles come in. And that's why I'm saying the risk of cannabis, it's getting lessened by the day. That's really a good thing. If the feds would come to their senses and move it off schedule one and we could have real science, then, oh my gosh, this could be... It is a miracle to so many people, but broadly to society, if we could loosely regulate, if we could conduct research, if we could bring costs of legal cannabis in line, it'd be great things, it wouldn't do great things for big pharma. And I'm not really a conspiracy-minded person, but to what degree is that part of the hang-up on the federal level?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I think you've got to be onto something. It just doesn't make sense, objectively, that it's still on the federal, the schedule one list, unless there's something behind it with a lot of money, I just don't think.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. And-

Tim Pickett:
Doesn't sense to me any other way.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I mean our current president, last president, I think combined age is 2000. They come from a different age.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Fair.

Steve Urquhart:
So maybe [crosstalk 00:25:21]-

Tim Pickett:
And the Senate does.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The whole Senate does. There's no way... When the MORE-

Steve Urquhart:
Average age of the Senate I think is 132.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It's probably right up there. And I think the MORE Act, it'll pass in the House again and again, but there's no interest in the Senate, and-

Steve Urquhart:
Which is amazing. I mean, which is amazing. A majority of those senators come from states that have decided it's okay, to some degree.

Tim Pickett:
Yep.

Steve Urquhart:
And it's just so bizarre that they're not even in line with their own states on cannabis policy.

Tim Pickett:
Do you feel like psilocybin... Switch gears with me here. Do you feel like psilocybin can leapfrog cannabis?

Steve Urquhart:
It already has. You look at the amount of research going on with psilocybin, it's night and day. We know so much about psilocybin, just because we are allowing scientists to do their thing. Even though it's on schedule one, the difference is, you can go out and you can psilocybin to do your studies. And cannabis, up until very recently, you couldn't. I'm sure you know the name Dr. Sue Sisley. Dr. Sisley has been approved by the FDA forever to study cannabis on veterans with PTSD, but she couldn't get the cannabis. And that's changing a little, but you had to get it from the feds, your research cannabis. Well, they're shit growers, they don't know how to grow it.

Steve Urquhart:
They don't really have incentive to grow good stuff. And whereas psilocybin? My gosh, you have universities that are dedicating so many resources to it. And what I say is, if you have a big project, you want to involve academia. Don't ever leave them in charge, because it'll never get done, but you want to involve academia because there's expertise and genius there that you just don't find in other sectors of society. And so the fact that we can allow these brilliant researchers to dig deep on psilocybin, oh man, the things we're learning. So the barrier on the Oregon's drugs, the barricades, was cannabis, that was the devil's lettuce.

Steve Urquhart:
And it just still carries the stigma to Joe Biden, to Donald Trump, to people who are in charge of things. And psilocybin was overlooked. So yeah, psilocybin is going to come off schedule one before cannabis, MDMA, which known by a lot of people, the club drug Molly. That's going to come off schedule one before cannabis. So yeah, cannabis research is lagging behind, and if research is lagging behind, then society's lagged behind on that issue.

Tim Pickett:
Looking back at your arc with The Divine Assembly, it seems like you were ahead of the times-

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. Maybe, I don't know.

Tim Pickett:
... with this.

Steve Urquhart:
So yeah, for your listeners, Divine Assembly is a church with mushroom sacrament, magic mushrooms. We have one tenant, which is, you can commune directly with the divine, and that being the one tenant. No one else has to tell you how to live. We don't need doctrine, we don't need dogma, we don't need hierarchy, just commune with the divine, it doesn't need to be through psilocybin, it can be through yoga, music, meditation. There are various ways to get there. And at the end of the day, for me, it's really all about community, so I love the community that we are building.

Steve Urquhart:
And the way that started is, I started my psychedelic journey in January, 2017, right after I got out of the legislature, and was just having these incredible healing experiences. And so I figured, "Wow, if there's anything on earth that I've seen, that I'd call religion, it's this." And having fought against the LDS Church to better secure LGBTQ rights in Utah, we were fighting against what they called their religious liberties. And so I gained some expertise on the First Amendment, and on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Steve Urquhart:
And figured, "Okay, if that protects other religions, this should protect what I consider to be my religion." So we formally established... I do believe we were the first formally established, out in the open, public, psilocybin church. Not that I really care one way or the other, but yeah, it shocks me, but first, psilocybin, clearly, we were early on that.

Tim Pickett:
Originally, when you set up the church, of course, you had to make sure that you came out and said, "No, we don't promote the use, sale, acquisition of a schedule one drug." What's that look like now?

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. Thank you for that question. We're still learning. We've only been around not even two years, and a lot of that through the pandemic. Well, I guess all of it, if we consider we're still in the pandemic. And our first in-person ceremony was a year ago, and that really scared me. What I want is a safe place for people to experience this. And we usually get people who are older, they live pretty quiet, reserved lives, they've read about this or heard about it from kids or grandkids, and they want a safe group to do it with, other people, younger people.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, they have friends and they'll just go do it in a friend's basement. And so I'm like, cool, we can do this, a safe environment. And our first ceremony, I didn't know what I was doing, we didn't know what we were doing, and so I really backed off. And now we're to the point, we don't in... A ceremony that "The Divine Assembly" runs, we don't ever distribute. We do sound baths, we'll do Hapé ceremonies, we'll just get together, kind of a potluck. Because the conclusion that I reached, and those of us who are really involved in it, is people are safer when they're participating in ceremonies with people who they really know and know well, because that just takes out a lot of the danger factor.

Steve Urquhart:
Let's talk about sexual predation, start with that. It can largely remove that. Also, if someone has a bad experience, if they are working with a guide, or a shaman, or someone with a lot of training and more of a formal ceremony, there probably will be some immediate integration, but what will the contact be a week later, a month later? And what we're finding is, if people meet each other, they become friends, they really have an organic relationship, well, if something comes up, they call their buddy, "Hey, I'm having these dreams, or I'm having... What do we do here?"

Steve Urquhart:
And then the guides, the ones I'm thinking of, who are operating on the TDA platform, they know what they know and know what they don't know. And so they can send out a medical said, "Hey, head of ceremony, someone's struggling with this. Who can we talk with?" So really becomes... We tried to pattern it after the mycelial network, the growth pattern of the mushroom.

Tim Pickett:
Of the mushroom?

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. You consider the roots of the flowering mushrooms, the fruiting mushrooms, but really that is the fungus, it's the mycelium. And that's how we view The Divine Assembly, where we have a lot of touch points. And so if someone's struggling then, we're probably going to know someone who they can talk with and get some help. And we're really excited about the community aspect of it.

Tim Pickett:
It's something that I haven't heard about with cannabis, but man, if you were describing the same situation and you were talking about cannabis, I feel like it would be the same. A lot of young people, they just go into their friend's basement and do it. But one of the things I think people struggle with, in the destigmatizing cannabis as medicine, probably the same thing with psilocybin to an extent, is this fear of not knowing what it's going to feel like, and not being around somebody who can help or understand, not knowing that you could get paranoid, and what are you going to do?

Tim Pickett:
Is there a lot of that with psilocybin? As a medical provider, I am fascinated with psilocybin. And I have been secretly quoted as saying things about the psilocybin research, like you say, it's leapfrogging cannabis, from a research standpoint. I'm fascinated with the idea of the brain and how it resets. Do you feel like spirituality is one of the key ways to... I guess I should ask a different question. What's the goal of... Is the goal to destigmatize psilocybin and get it more accessible?

Steve Urquhart:
Yes. And I'm going to go back to the question you were about to ask, I think. What is the role of the experience, and I would even say the spiritual experience, in the healing process? Is that what you were-

Tim Pickett:
Yes. Yeah.

Steve Urquhart:
And I talk about that with my students. And remember, every single student in my class is far smarter than I am. I mean, these are brilliant students. And what I say to them, as I say, for the first time in human history, we actually can start to talk about a cure for depression. And the way that works, medically, is psilocybin, it shuts down the default mode network. The default mode network is the part of our brain that, it keeps us alive. I mean, thank God for this default mode network. I mean, we react to danger before we even realize it's danger. I mean, these are our instincts, and that's the stuff that keeps us alive. And it filters out, think of Buddy the Elf, when in... Oh my gosh. What's it called?

Tim Pickett:
The Chris-

Steve Urquhart:
Elf. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, Elf.

Steve Urquhart:
So Buddy the Elf, he goes to New York and he's just freaked out by all of it, and just amazed by all of it. And that's a brain where the default mode network, it's not that formed. Right?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Steve Urquhart:
Buddy the Elf hadn't seen a lot of trauma, hadn't seen all this. So he's just... It's all new to him. Whereas a typical new Yorker just walks down the street and, man, they don't notice anything, and the way that works is, our default mode network, it just filters it out. We hear an ambulance, we hear things that normally would freak out a baby or someone who hadn't seen it, and our brain instantly tells us, "This is not dangerous." And then other things is like, "This is dangerous." And so a lot of that is great, and a lot of it is really bad, because it also factors in the messages we got from maybe an abusive father or from times we failed.

Steve Urquhart:
That part of our brain is saying, "Don't try this. You're just going to be sad, you're going to be... You can't do this." And so it's a blessing and a curse. And psilocybin, the way it works medically, is it shuts down that part of the brain, so other parts of our brain can get to know each other, they can develop true neuronal connections like, "Well, hello stranger, I remember you from when I was five years old." And we really can rewire our brain. And that is an important part of it, but I don't think that is all of it.

Steve Urquhart:
And this is what I ask my students. I say, where you are now in academia, you're allergic to conversations about religion and spirituality in the classroom, academia, unless you're in a theology class, we just don't discuss it. But what do we do as public health professionals? When we see that it is curative of depression, and a lot of folks, and then 70% of those folks, when we, as researchers, as professionals, talk to them, they want to talk about God, they want to talk about the divine, they want to talk about spirituality. What do we do? And so public health, we're going to have to entertain God concepts. And to me, that is such a fascinating thing, that God has worked his way back her way. Sorry. That's how I visualize her. God has worked her way back into academia, through psychedelics, through magic mushrooms.

Tim Pickett:
And potentially to extend that thought, God could work their way back into society.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Right. In a big way.

Steve Urquhart:
And-

Tim Pickett:
And not just the society that's already embraced an idea of God from the conservative side, but a way God can enter through the scientific side, through the objective side. This whole swath of the population, that basically discounts religion and discounts God, those are the people that psilocybin can introduce God back to.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, you just described-

Tim Pickett:
Or God, back through.

Steve Urquhart:
You just described The Divine Assembly's reason for being. I was having these experiences that I think they compare to the religiosity, the wonder of anyone who's ever walked the earth. But then what I quickly say is, anyone walking the earth can have similar experiences. And the language that we hang around those experiences, it is religious language. And so I was telling my wife, Sarah, "To protect this, to allow other people to experience the divine, I'm going to start a church." And I'm telling my best friends and universally, they're like, "No, you're not. No." I was-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Knowing your background, where you lived, I mean, come on.

Steve Urquhart:
Because I grew up Mormon, and most of them did too, my wife did. And when people leave the Mormon faith, they don't go to other churches. They largely are like, "I was defrauded, I'm done with God." And then they take psychedelics, and they're like, "Oh, maybe I just misunderstood the divine." So it's interesting to see people who were just jaded against religion, against God, find this incredible spirituality. It's an awakening, and it is so much fun to be a part of.

Tim Pickett:
In your experience, is there percentages of people that have good versus bad experiences? Is it a learning process on how to experience these things?

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. I love your questions. Set and setting, that's what is always talked about in psychedelia. Set is what do you bring to the experience. What is your situation? What is your state of mind? And then setting is where are you doing it? Who are you doing it with? Is it safe? Is it secure? And I had someone just last week, a couple, they wanted to meet with me, because she had a "bad experience" with mushrooms. And so I'm like, "Well, tell me about that." And she's saying, "Well, all the stuff from my childhood came up, I had forgotten, but it came up and it was just horrible."

Steve Urquhart:
And that's the way this stuff works, is parts of our brain that don't know language, they show us images, they show us memories, saying, "Please heal me, deal with this." And the way I see her situation is, oh my gosh, that shouldn't have been a bad experience, that could have been a miraculous experience if she had been properly held, if she had been in a setting where people could help her process and deal with that, and she still can. I mean, that's what I was talking about. I'm like, "Okay, let's integrate that. Let's find the right people." And so I was just having coffee with someone this morning, who they're getting together tonight, someone who I considered great in a integration.

Steve Urquhart:
I'm like, "Talk through this. What was your mind trying to tell you? What does your mind want to heal? And so most of these... If bad experiences, largely, I mean, you're in the wrong place, you're with the wrong people. And if you had been in a different place, with different people, it might have been extraordinary. Am some of my biggest leaps as a human being were with psychedelics, and the stuff that came up was sad, it was horrific. It was my mind saying, "Please deal with this, you've been cramming, please deal with this." But I was in situations where, man, I'm just this gooey puddle on the floor, I'm just sobbing, remembering it, and thinking about it, just feeling so lonely.

Steve Urquhart:
I was just really held well and could come home with, Sarah, my wife, and just talk about it, just continue to integrate and process. And we cram a lot of this stuff down, we try to forget at it when we have the opportunity to see it, and work through it, and learn lessons and improve, and do things differently. So bad experiences, for the most part, are just bad settings.

Tim Pickett:
Do people typically with The Divine Assembly or with psilocybin experiences, are they using low doses, high doses? Is there a protocol, that you're jumping in with five milligrams, or is it grams, milligrams?

Steve Urquhart:
Yes-

Tim Pickett:
Or do people micro-dose and then do big experiences?

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. Yes and no to everything you just asked. So Divine Assembly, where we typically end up is, we're pretty low-dose, we're a gram or two, maybe three of... Three, you're starting to get heavy. So micro doses typically are half a gram or less, and then what they call heroic doses. I just call it a full send, that's five grams. And I've done much higher than that. I haven't recently. For like a year, I haven't done a big dose, and I think it's about time. So you can find magic and wonder in all of it. again, part of the reason, again, Divine Assembly, people are looking primarily for a community, they're looking for a safe, initial journey.

Steve Urquhart:
I don't feel any need for people that I personally work with, for first timers, I don't feel a big need to do a full send. It's just like, let's dip your toes in the water and get you comfortable with it. And again, this is part of set. If you go in super nervous, then, man, who knows what's going to end up? But if you figure, "Okay, I have a loose steering wheel here. I know where gas, pedal, and brakes sometimes work." You're just going to be more relaxed. And so I think it's, we're not in a rush on this. And so I like the idea of people going in with one or two grams, let's see some pretty lights and some shapes, and maybe some cool things. And then next time, let's go a little deeper and see how that goes. And so my wife and I, we were full sent. We started on ayahuasca, and-

Tim Pickett:
You went all the way.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. We jumped in the deep end, and I'm glad we did. My biggest best experiences were with really heavy doses, and I really went deep, but thank heavens, I was with people who could hold me, because it could have got messy, could have got sloppy were they not there. But like I said, I haven't taken a huge dose for a long time, because, in part, there's a laziness, because it's a lot of work. But also maybe I'm just justifying avoiding the work, but I think a gram, gram-and-a-half, two grams, my brain knows where I want to be now, and it takes me there, and I can do considerable work with a pretty small dose.

Tim Pickett:
It's literally like we're talking about cannabis, in a lot of ways.

Steve Urquhart:
It is.

Tim Pickett:
Starting slow and set and setting and the hallucinogenic effects of cannabis, which are definitely different than psychedelic. But-

Steve Urquhart:
I'm going to debate you there.

Tim Pickett:
... you think. Well, see, and I've read a little bit, and again, fascinated with this idea of using these substances to assist in experiencing life and the spirituality. How does cannabis fit in then, for you?

Steve Urquhart:
So I talk about this with everyone. I talk about this with a lot of people, cannabis as a hallucinogen, now that I have had a number of psychedelic hallucinogenic experiences. And by that, I mean tons, over a hundred, easily. My mind knows where I want to be, it knows where I encounter the divine. And I call that... I mean, I steal it from Henry James. It's the mystical state of consciousness, that's where the divine dwells. Cannabis can fully get me there. And I was not having these experiences with cannabis before I experienced psychedelics. And now, with cannabis, if I'm in the right place with the right people, or by myself, just walking around downtown, I can have a full-on psychedelic experience with cannabis. My brain's like, "Okay, I know what you're trying to do. We'll get you there."

Tim Pickett:
It'll take you the rest of the way.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. And I think that's probably a huge part of the reason that I'm not doing big doses of psilocybin, is because cannabis is helping me get there.

Tim Pickett:
Awesome. I've experienced some pretty strong spiritual and hallucinogenic experiences with cannabis, and I think people can. Frankly, sometimes people will be in such acute pain that that's where they need to go. And there's a lot of metal providers who are a little scared to tell people that's what you've got to do, because you don't quite know what their set and settings are.

Steve Urquhart:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
And even though it is a community, it's not a formal community, and there's still lot of stigma. And I think the more people, maybe this is the case, that the psilocybin community almost has to be a little tighter, and it's smaller, and it can be. I don't know if that's true at all. And the cannabis community is getting so big and dispersed. It's hard to get people to communicate. But target against myself, most of the people I know, who are elderly, who want to try cannabis, it's with their sons, daughters, it's with somebody younger, who's going to help them with that set and setting piece.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. I mean, I think so. I love the term entheogens, and an entheogen is something that brings us closer to God. I mean, maybe the original entheogen was alcohol. We sure know the Greeks used it heavily, and they believed that that was a way to interact with the gods. And cannabis, we see that all over the world. And I think part of it's, you look at the pathway of those two substances, they did become more recreational. Man, I need a better word. I have no problem with recreational use. Fun is a way to worship, it's an important way to worship. But I guess you look at all the alcohol ads, you look at the bars, you look at, let's start there, you just see a lot of unhealthy use of alcohol to where, is it an entheogen?

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I think maybe naturally it is, but it's abused in a lot of unhealthy ways. Cannabis being forced underground, there's a lot of that too, but I think they can be very, very powerful entheogens, it's just, again, set and setting. A lot of people use cannabis because they want to get stoned, they want to drink because they want to get drunk. Whereas yeah, grandma and grandma, when it's time to use psilocybin, well, they want to heal. And so they approach it with a different set, a different mindset.

Steve Urquhart:
And so they end up having spiritual experiences that I think are fully there, can fully be there with cannabis as an entheogen and alcohol as an entheogen, is just the way we approach... We always do, even if we don't realize it, we always do have some steering wheel, breaking gas, on these trips. What are we going to do with these entheogens? And with The Divine Assembly, people approach magic mushrooms as a sacrament. This is a way to encounter the divine and to heal in that mystical state of consciousness. So that tends to be the experience they have.

Tim Pickett:
It's a pretty cool way to think about cannabis in that "medicinally" but in that experiential, that spiritual setting as if it were more like a psilocybin substance. I think people would get a lot more benefit out of it, medicinally, if they were just 10% more mindful.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. I mean, let's go back to what we were talking about earlier. Cannabis can fully get us into that mystical state of consciousness. Okay. I guess, why does it get me there? Because that's where I want it to get me, and that's what I want from it. And so our minds are incredibly powerful. And I think these entheogens, we evolved with cannabis. We have the endocannabinoid system, for heavens sake. Our body knows what to do with this substance. And I think cannabis is an incredibly, wonderful, powerful spiritual entheogen, it is something that absolutely can bring us closer to God. And when I'm talking about people healing from depression, with psilocybin, they quickly, 70% of them want to talk about spirituality.

Steve Urquhart:
They want to talk about the divine, because that's what they're hoping to find. They're hoping to find something beyond the mundane. And if cannabis users, like I do now, like many people do, I think if that were the set, they probably would find it. And if they're properly held, if they're with people in a place where that is the expected outcome, then I think we would find it more often. So yeah, even, yes, we've medicalized cannabis in other places, and heavens, we call it recreational use, let's call it full-on spiritual use. And I think we're going to get there as a society. We're going to rediscover the magic of cannabis, the spirituality of it, see it more as an entheogen, and it's going to become even more curative than it is now.

Tim Pickett:
I completely agree with you on that one. And I hope we can together make that happen, a little bit at a time. I think that's a project we can work on together.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. I would love to do that. I'll tell you an interesting thing. Again, let's go back to, have mushrooms leapfrogged cannabis? Oh a hundred percent. The Divine Assembly, we are fully entitled to all the religious protections of the Baptist Church, of Muslim, of any religion. And I think the courts would see that, like they have with ayahuasca. There's some very important, strong ayahuasca cases. If someone wanted to start a church with cannabis, that'd be a different issue, because, to the courts, it still is the devil's lettuce. They don't see the entheogenic, the God-breeding qualities of it. They think, "Ah, these are just stoners trying to pull something off."

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Steve Urquhart:
And you look at the... Now, I don't know anything about this church in Oakland. Maybe it's the shadiest thing ever. I just can't speak one way or another. Maybe it's the best thing ever. But in Oakland, where they have decriminalized cannabis or sorry, decriminalized magic mushrooms, a church out there was rated, but it wasn't really rated for the mushrooms. What I can tell, it was rated because it was giving out cannabis as a sacrament, and they're saying, "We have a legal program for doing this in California, you're outside the program." So even though a mushroom church was rated, my understanding is, it was rated more for the cannabis aspect of it. So-

Tim Pickett:
Wow. That doesn't surprise me though, because that's where our society is. I couldn't imagine a cannabis church, because I would think that, I mean, the neighbors, the cops, everybody'd be up in arms.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I'll tell you what would be fun, with Divine Assembly, I tell people, we're entitled to religious protection, but don't be stupid about it. This is schedule one substance. Let's be smart, let's not flaunt it, let's make sure we're not diverting it to kids and to outside of a spiritual setting, let's be smart. And so how could you do a cannabis church in a smart way? I think it would be great for, in Utah, medical cardholders. So not me, but people who have their medical cards get together and worship with it. And don't do in a way where you're just messing around, do it in a way where you're safe, where you're sincere, and see what comes out of that. And I bet, absolute magic could come out of that. And the police, they can't mess with that, if cardholders are getting together and enjoying it together.

Tim Pickett:
Enjoying it together. There's been just this year here, Steve, a couple of groups to start working on that project together. There's a yoga group out actually in Central Utah, That's doing it next week for cannabis Christmas 420.

Steve Urquhart:
Perfect.

Tim Pickett:
Starting that off. And there's some therapy groups that are thinking of doing it, and I'm involved in one, called an infusion group, that we're trying to figure out just what you said. How can you create the set and setting? Maybe a therapist, to make sure that people are held as you're... Very good way to put it.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, how can I help? I mean, get in touch with me. I have some legal skills and a lot of research in this area. I would love to help because, again, personally, I think that cannabis is a very powerful entheogen. I'm using it, illegally. I'm using it as an entheogen, and it shouldn't be illegal, but it is. That's just how it is for me right now. I don't qualify for a card, I'm not going to go lie to get one, if people do whatever, I'm not trying to be judgy, but I don't want to do that. I'm trying to walk through the front in life these days, and I haven't always done that. And so I don't have a card, I'm using cannabis illegally, but for people who can use it legally, to get together and worship with that. And to me, worship means connecting with ourself, others, the universe.

Steve Urquhart:
Oh, and that just makes me excited. I think that there's so much magic that can be had there. And I want to reclaim religion. I'm sorry. I'm just going to... You got me fired up here, so I'm just going to-

Tim Pickett:
You got-

Steve Urquhart:
I view God as a rat-infested crack house with good bones. I think that people have co-opted the name God, the concept of God, and they're doing it for control and for base reasons. And I think that some of us can... God is a reclamation product. I think that people create gods, it's not the other way around, and we can create some very worthy gods and some very worthy religions. We can worship, we can achieve rapture. We can be part of the divine by things that we create by proper set and setting. And I think that that absolutely can happen with cannabis. And I'd be very excited to help friends out with that project.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That's awesome. We'll definitely reach out to you. Is there a way that people can connect with you in general? Is your Facebook page, The Divine Assembly page, is that a good place to interact or find out more about this and the psilocybin aspect, learn a little bit about it. Do you want to do that?

Steve Urquhart:
Well, I do. I am a flawed human with some mental health issues. And so a lot of social media scares me. Part of my story, I don't know if you know this. I really fell apart when I was in the Senate. And part of that was, not opening mail for eight months, and I still don't open mail. I have people help me with that. And so emails, they scare me. And so I really do want to connect, but it becomes difficult to connect with me, even people I really love and want to connect with just part of, Steve, being Steve, as I hide from that. So you can see what we're doing on The Divine Assembly dot org.

Steve Urquhart:
And if someone emails, The Divine Assembly dot org, people will look at it, and they will respond, and things that I should respond to, they will work with me to help me respond. That's a roundabout way, but I just don't want... Talking about holding people, it's important to me. And if I don't get back to people, know that it's just something that I battle. But I do now have people at The Divine Assembly, they will get back, and they will work to get me in touch with them. That's a shitty answer, but that's-

Tim Pickett:
You know what, that's okay. And for people at the Utah in the Weeds Podcast, if you watch us on Discover Marijuana on YouTube, or you listen to this podcast, that channel on YouTube, Discover Marijuana, all the podcast episodes are there. And you could go there and make a comment on the video, and my team would help find that too. So The Divine Assembly dot org, Utah Marijuana dot org, or Discover Marijuana on YouTube, comment on a video, and we'll help as well.

Steve Urquhart:
Yeah. That would be great. I struggle to give my church, my people, the attention that they really deserve as wonderful human beings. And so, if I'm now flooded with a bunch of cannabis-

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Steve Urquhart:
... concerns, then oh, wow, this is even more out of control. And so yeah, if they want to go through you, your podcast, the magic you're making, and then we interface, that would be wonderful.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That would be great. Well, Steve, is there anything that we've missed?

Steve Urquhart:
How many universes have we missed? But we have covered some good things.

Tim Pickett:
Yes, we have. Well, thanks for coming on. I really appreciate this discussion. I think that it's just so important for people and me to listen, learn a little more.

Steve Urquhart:
Well, what a great discussion. Thank you. And thank you for the work you're doing, and let's make some magic together.

Tim Pickett:
Absolutely. For those of you who aren't subscribed to the podcast, this has been a great discussion with Steve Urquhart, and Utah in the Weeds, you can subscribe on any podcast player, you can also listen to all of our episodes on Discover Marijuana on YouTube. Stay safe out there.

 

By UtahMarijuana.org
Published April 15, 2022
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