Psychedelic Science 2023 was held in Denver, Colorado, this year. The conference is held by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS was launched in 1986 under founder Rick Doblin, Ph.D., with the mission to change the way people think, talk about, and consume psychedelics. This is the fourth time the conference has been held since 2010. The last time was in 2017, when the world of policy and psychedelics looked quite different for drugs like psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, LSD, ketamine, and ibogaine.
This week, researchers, first responders, advocates, artists, activists, and the curious are meeting at the Colorado Convention Center to discuss ideas that drive the movement of destigmatized and decriminalized psychedelics forward.
The conference brings together over 11,000 registrants and multiple days of workshops, panels, discussions, and networking events. Everything from individual mental health practices to the release of new clinical trial data is shared in the panels. The event is one of the few public gatherings of the psychedelic community. At this time, it’s also the largest psychedelic science gathering.
The conference and its diverse panel members share a few thoughts in common. These include concepts like:
The morning began with Maya Padilla giving a land acknowledgment and holding space for the indigenous practices that are sacred in the First Nations. Her moving speech led into Rick Doblin, Ph.D.’s welcome to the group.
As the founder of MAPS, Doblin shared his early experiences in launching the organization. He described the frustration he felt on July 1, 1985, the day MDMA became illegal. He shared a printed Letter to the Editor expressing his rage that day after he’d taken MDMA. His printer broke, and instead of printing the letter, it only printed the phrase, “become more than dream.” This MAPS Psychedelic Science Conference is that dream made real.
The former governor of Texas, Rick Perry, took the stage next. While this might seem like a curious choice given his Republican affiliation, Perry shared his personal reason for joining the psychedelic cause. While he was Governor in 2006, he and his wife met Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL, whose story is immortalized in “Lone Survivor.”
Being so close to Luttrell’s pain changed Perry’s perspective on access to natural healing as related to veteran care. Perry’s presence emphasizes an often-mentioned point here at Psychedelic Science: both sides of the political aisle are needed to give everyone safe access to psychedelics. Psychedelics know no politics.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis followed Perry’s personal speech. While his point of view was less personal, his political impact speaks volumes. Colorado passed The Natural Medicine Health Act, which decriminalized psychedelics and is gearing up to launch psychedelic-assisted therapy in 2024. Polis recognized the established Board of Natural Medicine who will set guidelines and monitor these therapeutic practices.
Fire and Earth Erowid opened their talk with a joke about becoming the psychedelic elders in the community because they began their journey as students at the New School in Florida. If you recognize the name, it’s likely because you’ve looked up psychedelic information on their website, Erowid, or you’ve used DrugsData to learn more about drugs in your area.
The Erowids talked about the cycle of psychedelic wisdom that was once contained inside these underground communities. With the internet and the readily-available nature of drugs, there’s a need to continue recognizing the psychedelic practice of our elders so that we maintain the tenets of respectful use.
Fire also discussed the fact that using psychedelics for recreation is absolutely okay. There doesn’t need to be a reason to do LSD, and there shouldn’t be a need to pathologize oneself. The beauty found in simply being is enough. “A lot of people describe it, [the] unpredictable and unplanned experiences and the crazy things that happen are what makes the most useful, interesting, insightful, and fun experiences.”
Mitchell Gomez, the executive director of DanceSafe, and Mohawk Greene, the Rebel Educationist, held a powerful discussion and shared their work in making the drug landscape a safer place to consume. DanceSafe is a health and safety nonprofit dedicated to ending the drug war by providing on-the-ground services, like giving out drug-checking material and more. The Rebel Educationist is the technical program manager at NEXT Distro, a Youth RISE board member, and has been involved in organizing harm reduction and health-and-safety for eight years.
Their discussion had so many takeaways for recreational users, including the fact that we have a right to know what is in the drugs we take. This right shouldn’t be obscured by the government or by party promoters who don’t believe in creating safe spaces. The most impactful takeaway was the idea that ending the drug war is a civil rights movement.
“It’s a civil rights argument, it’s a civil rights fight, and we have to really start pushing that narrative because every person who dies from fentanyl being added to another drug died from prohibition,” Gomez said. The goals of destigmatizing, legalizing, and regulating the drug supply are the true ways we reach a safe space.
Beyond prohibition, Greene brought up the fact that marginalized communities of color are overlooked when it comes to safe drug usage. Because the government intentionally tracks drug overdose and death data in a way that’s intentionally difficult to track, it tends to be black people entangled with this issue.
“A lot of black people are actually dying. But you don’t get the media sensation around that because, multiple times, people tend to be like, well, that’s a big, cursed community anyway… ,” they continued, “I just want to put that out there because I always hear this statistic of accidental overdoses and I’m like, you know the majority of those owners are actually black people. It tends to be black stimulant users. So it’s like they might not even have had exposure to that if it wasn’t for the adulterated supply.”
Angela Carter, ND, Jeanna Eichenbaum, LCSW, and Aaron Paul Orsini held a discussion on psychedelic work in trans, queer, and neurodivergent communities. Each holds discussed the importance of community in groups that feel “other” in society. The core idea is that there is no normal in our human existence and that each human deserves to have their needs recognized and respected.
Carter discussed their work in being an MDMA-assisted therapist and their experience in the psychedelic community as a collective. The need for society to understand and allow space for “gender adverse” people to simply be themselves because the trans community has existed for time immemorial.
Paul talked about his experience of creating a community for autistic individuals interested in psychedelics. The scale of the project, he laughed, is intense. Never did he intend to start such a huge organization. He simply wanted to find others like him.
Eichenbaum spoke about the need for a safe space for groups who are seen as commodified in our world. Closing the talk, she said, “Feminine people, gender diverse people, and people of color cannot escape the conclusion that our bodies are social. And therefore, need affirmative spaces where our bodies can once again become our own, and the dance of authenticity can happen between I and I.”
The Women’s Visionary Council took the stage for a panel discussion. Mediated by Ladybird Morgan, RN, MSW, RCST, the panel was comprised of Kristina Soriano, M.H.A., Ann Harrison, Patricia James, and Mariavittoria Mangini, PH.D., FNP. These women make up the driving force of women in psychedelics, holding the Women’s Congress, a gender-less gathering designed to give people a space place to experience, discuss, and share wisdom in these psychedelic communities.
Patricia James led the room in a traditional opening practice that asked participants to place their hands over their hearts, ground their feet to the earth, and recognize the feminine and masculine ancestors of our lives that we carry with us. This tone carried into the idea that it is our elders and those traditions that will bolster future generations.
The needs for elders in psychedelic spaces are many. As Mangini said, “Human existence is a kind of process of accepting different kinds of endings, including the one that has your personal name on it. And elders have, I think, had a lot of experience with that.” The acceptance of reality and finality, the understanding of the beautiful nature of time, and the way we’re all connected are three impactful learnings we can glean from the elders around us.
The overall point was best put by Morgan when she closed the discussion and said, “Meet your elders. Spend time with your elders. Don’t wait for them to come to you.”
Psychedelics are synonymous with Burning Man in our culture, but this was the first time that Burning Man, as an organization, spoke publicly about psychedelics. Burning Man, for fear of losing its protected and safe space of Black Rock City, has long stayed silent when it comes to acknowledging the link between drug culture and the official event. Now, with policy reform and cultural destigmatization beginning, it was time for Marian Goodall to join the stage on behalf of the organization.
When asked what tenets of Burning Man people can take home to their own communities, regardless of having been, Goodall had an incredible answer. “We ask people not to make too many rules. Not assume you know the answers, to ask the questions, to include more people at the table. Because it’s so easy to create a rule to solve a problem. So I think the real hard work right now is for the Burning Man organization to have the tools so that we aren’t acting like what’s bad about government entities because we often are in the position where the organization creates the rules for safety. But now our job is actually to help the next generation.”
The most Shroomer discussion of the day was Paul Stamets’ keynote speech in which he shared never-before-seen clinical findings related to microdosing and the Stamets Stack. Before he shared his findings, however, possibly the most famous mycologist in the world shared his philosophy for psychedelics and psilocybin.
“A big movement in Canada is called two-eyed seeing. One eye sees with indigenous wisdom and the other eye sees with Western technology. You bring together the powers of tradition and the people who have sustainable practices. There can be a happy marriage between the two. This is the alliance that I think that we should support.
Here are the takeaways from his presentation, as written by him.
Clinical trials needed to prove efficacy.
Stamets closed his session with a series of beliefs. “I believe psilocybin reduces crime. I believe psilocybin reduces violence. I believe psilocybin reduces addiction. I know if all those things are true, society will save not only grief, but billions of others, have funds to be able to support social programs, to reinvest in the community of marginalized peoples. Psilocybin is the medicine of our time.”
The time to be a part of the breakthrough is now.