Introducing SSDP’s McHenry, Illinois Ambassador

Written by Taylor Hansen ‘21, McHenry, Illinois SSDP Ambassador

How did you hear about SSDP?
I heard about SSDP when I attended a few conferences relating to the studies of psychedelics. I originally heard about the UK organization and was thrilled when I learned there was one also active in the US.

Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start an SSDP Ambassadorship? 
I really wanted to get involved with SSDP as soon as I learned what the organization was about. I plan on doing research on using psychedelic substances to treat mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I am currently halfway through my master’s thesis where I am investigating using psilocybin on depression, and plan to do something similar when I do my dissertation for my PhD. It is truly amazing what these substances can do for us therapeutically and it is disheartening to think about all the decades of work we’ve lost and all the other negative consequences that came with the war on drugs and subsequent stigmatization that we still feel the effects of.

What has the reception been like in your community? 
From friends, community members, advocates, etc. It has definitely been interesting telling other people what I plan on basing my career on. Many of my friends have similar viewpoints about these substances, as well as in the music/travel community I am in, where there are many similar views as well. When I talk to people who are not as well versed in or knowledgeable about these substances, the reactions have been all over the board. Some people do not really know what I am talking about, or are from a generation that was inundated with the “all drugs are always bad” motto, or the classic “took some acid and jumped off a 4-story building” tale, so I feel that it is my responsibility to educate people as much as I can.

What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for this year? 
This year will be a very fun one, I hope! I graduate in November with my master’s degree and hopefully by next year will start looking for a job in my field of research. I want to connect with more people in this community and find out the most effective ways that I can educate people and create change. One difficulty with the research I want to do is the nature of the subject matter, and the more both the general population, as well as legislators, understand the potential benefits of these substances, the better I can use my research to help people. I would love to really dive head-first into all what being an SSDP ambassador has to offer.

What is the most challenging part of your experience starting your Ambassadorship so far? 
The most challenging part of this experience so far is figuring out where to start. Because I am getting my master’s degree through Purdue University’s online program, they do not have the standard “university chapter” setup as other universities do. I am also in the suburbs of Chicago, so I do not have the benefits of being close to many of the chapters in the heart of the city. Luckily, we were able to find a way that works!

What is the most rewarding part? 
The most rewarding part so far has been the excitement of looking forward. Since I am just starting out, I have not had the opportunity to complete a lot of the goals and plans that I would like to quite yet. I am truly looking forward to being a part of such a great organization!

What are you most excited about for your community/state/region right now? 
Right now living in Illinois, I am very excited to see how medical and legal marijuana has gone over the past few years, as that has seemed to open doors in other states for legalizing other substances, like Oregon and Colorado, and opening people’s minds more to drug policy reform. I am hoping to be an advocate for future change and help enact programs that can provide more opportunities for people to use substances safely and use in research to help those dealing with mental illness.

What is your vision for your involvement in SSDP and the drug policy reform movement? What are you hoping to see 4 or 5 years out? 
My vision for involvement would ideally be using my research platform to provide scientifically backed evidence of the efficacy and safety of these substances that will hopefully add to the foundation of the drug policy reform movement. In 4 or 5 years from now, I hope that I have educated many people on these substances and why we need drug policy reform. I would love to be a part of enacting changes in the legislature so that drug policy is changed in many ways that can benefit people.

I truly look forward to being an ambassador for SSDP and trying to bring about as much positive change as I can to people’s viewpoints, the field of research, and the legislature.