Miyabe Shields

Miyabe Shields, PhD, scientist, educator, cannabis entrepreneur, wins Cosmic Sister Emerging Voices Award
Cosmic Sister Emerging Voices Award
Psilocybin Summit

“My first experience with LSA enabled me to come to terms with my internal struggle and accept myself as non-binary.” – Miyabe Shields

Miyabe Shields, PhD (@miyabephd) is chief scientific officer for Real Isolates LLC in Boston, where they investigate the chemodiversity and science of traditional medicines, and co-inventor of Smokenol (@smokenol), a patent-pending extraction of active ingredients in cannabis smoke harvested through selective capture by filtration that can be used to manufacture pills, gummies, tinctures, lotions, and other products.

With a background in the pharmacology of eicosanoids, endocannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids, Miyabe is bringing biochemical validation and formulation to traditional plant-based medicines, specifically the composition of medicinal smoke. They’re exploring how to optimize therapeutic formulations for chronic conditions.

Miyabe says cannabis saved their life by decreasing sensory hypersensitivity and increasing their ability to function socially, improving their mental health. “I research the molecular basis of cannabis because I believe it is a powerful therapeutic option for mental health and gastrointestinal and chronic pain disorders,” she says. “While I will always be working on myself, my experience with cannabis forever changed my perspective on what is and isn’t possible for me in this life by decreasing the pain of existence.”

Most cannabis users prefer smoking to edibles, Miyabe says, so “a better understanding of the total formulation of cannabis smoke will help us to develop more therapeutic options.”

Conventional cannabis extracts use low temperatures to preserve the contents of the raw plant but lack heat-transformed cannabinoids that may contribute to the unique therapeutic effects of smoking cannabis, Miyabe says.

Raised by their Japanese-Hawaiian grandmother in Southern California, Miyabe lives in Boston. Many of their core beliefs in humanity and spirituality stem from their grandmother’s teachings, which valued nature, kindness, and compassion above all else.

Miyabe plans to speak about the therapeutic value in combining psilocybin-containing mushrooms, which activate the serotonin system, and cannabis, which activates the endocannabinoid system.

What motivates you to do the work you do?

Many of us have been guilted into believing that if there is no cure for our ailment, then we are the problem. I believe the medical system’s approach to chronic disorders is the problem, and the biochemistry of traditional psychoactive plant medicines is the solution.

What is medicinal smoke?

Smoke generated from medicinal herbs has been used by humans for thousands of years for many different therapeutic indications. There are documented uses of both individual herbs and complex mixtures across almost every different cultural/historical medical text.

While there are definitely negative health effects from inhaling smoke that have been investigated by prior research, there is also untapped therapeutic potential in complex formulations obtained only by smoking.

What sacred medicines do you work with personally?

Cannabis has been and will always be the most important medicine for me. It enabled me to exist in this world and society as I am. But the introduction of serotonergic psychedelics like mushrooms, morning glory, and san pedro have taken things to another level. I'm very interested in the intersection of serotonin and the endocannabinoid system and how these natural medicines can be used to create synergy.

Can you talk about your most impactful experiences?

The first time I used cannabis, it changed my entire life because it was the first time I felt I could potentially live in the world. It enabled me to make human connections in a way I hadn't ever experienced before.

During one experience with LSA, a natural analog of LSD found in morning glory seeds, I was walking along a river, looking at the way the trees grew right into the river, and my brain suddenly connected the dots about my gender identity. I had been scared to acknowledge that I was non-binary because I didn't want to put myself through another “coming out.” But I was overwhelmed with deep feelings of understanding about all these repressed emotions throughout my life; it was impossible to ignore. I later wrote in my journal that it felt like plunging into the freezing cold ocean on a hot humid day, shocking but also incredibly relieving.

I experienced mushrooms the first time when I was camping in upstate New York. I was sitting by the lake watching the fireflies in the trees along the shoreline, and the gratitude I felt for my life hit me like I've never felt before. It was in that moment that I knew that I could never reach the same depth of suicidal ideation I had leaned so far into in my past.

You identify as non-binary, but has being raised female in a male-dominated world factored into your personal and/or professional work? If so, how?

My first experience with LSA enabled me to come to terms with my internal struggle and accept myself as non-binary. I am AFAB (assigned female at birth), and this has definitely shaped my experience of the world both personally and professionally. The combination of being AFAB, BIPOC, and LGBTQA has forced me to crash against many invisible barriers. Unfortunately, it was one of the main reasons I could not stay in academic research; the environment wasn't sustainable for my mental health.

Why are women's voices important, especially in the sacred psychedelic medicine world?

I feel that business and profit dominate the public perception of any field, and the emerging psychedelics industry is no different. While I completely understand why it is that way, it silences huge populations and perspectives by nature of business being traditionally patriarchal. When it comes to health and medicine, all perspectives are valuable, and it's important to amplify those that are typically silenced so they're not lost.

In your work, how are the arts and sciences interconnected?

I view the sciences as an extension or medium of the arts. My exploration in both abstract theory and analytical, tangible scientific experimentation can be directly paralleled to my exploration of music in my mind. The key to this exploration, at least for me, has always been creativity.

Is humans’ relationship with Earth important to you?

EXTREMELY. I think one of the main issues with our health is how far we have strayed from nature. We are a part of nature; we're animals. I'm grateful for the earth every day.

The Comic Sister Emerging Voices Award (CS EVA) supports individuals who demonstrate outstanding potential in the field of psychedelics and cannabis to strengthen their visibility in the community. Special thanks to Mt. Tam Psychedelic Integration (@tamintegration) for donating an all-access pass to the Psilocybin Summit (@psilocybinsummit) to each CS EVA winner.

Opinions expressed by honorees are their own.

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September 2021