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My Delirious Flow State at History’s Largest Psychedelic Conference

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My Delirious Flow State at History’s Largest Psychedelic Conference

Psychedelic Science 2023 touched down in Denver two weeks ago amidst severe hailstorms, Indigenous protesters, $100 million dollar psychedelic research commitments, the issuing of guidelines for psychedelic clinical trials by the FDA, and a frenzy of unquantifiable ethereal phenomena surrounding the largest psychedelic conference in history. As the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) graciously appointed me chief jester-in-residence at the conference, it’s my duty to provide a satirical wrap account of the week’s festivities here as well. 

Church of Psychedelic Science

The opening ceremony paved the way for the larger than life extravaganza unfolding before our eyes. There were distinctly religious undercurrents to the spectacle, causing some in attendance to question whether the “science” part of psychedelic science warranted quotation marks around it. After an Indigenous woman and a trifecta of young MAPS executives set the tone for a rooted and progressive path forward for the mainstreaming of psychedelics, Rick Doblin stepped onto stage in all white drip that was equal parts TV’s farcical preacher Jesse Gemstone and Monopoly Man on MDMA while inviting us all to imagine a net zero trauma world by 2070. We were then called upon to open our wallets and help raise $1 million during the week to help fund the pharmaceutical route towards that distant, shimmering future of unbridled planetary spirituality. 

Rick Perry during the opening Ceremony. Credit: Dennis Walker.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry followed by gassing up the room with the sensationalism and panache of a rattlesnake revivalist, apparently mistaking the opening ceremony for a Southern Baptist church service. He spoke about using supercomputers at the Department of Energy to map the brains of veterans, which is exactly the same core message that mushrooms have been passing along to people ever since Compass Pathways started patenting crystalline structures of psilocybin. 

On the showroom floor, hundreds of exhibitors showcased their oddities and attractions in a scene reminiscent of the traveling circus that descends upon Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. 

Delirious Flow State 

In a half hour loop, I could pick up a library full of psilocybin mushroom spores from Inoculate The World, procure all necessary mushroom grow supplies from Denver Spore Company, analytically test my fruit with a Psilo-Q Test kit by Miraculix, retain legal representation from Emerge or Vicente law firms, hire a psychedelic PR firm to help me finesse my branding and core messaging, then pitch a story to multiple present media platforms about my new vertically integrated psilocybin services agency. 

MAPS was gracious enough to provide me with a camera crew to comb the showroom floor and satirize exhibitors on one of the days. 

I interviewed Hamilton Morris and initially struggled to crack him, but once I took the sarcasm up a notch he recognized he’d been bamboozled and opened up in his characteristically ebullient and gregarious manner. 

I asked him if he had any Psilomethoxin on him and he finally put 2 and 2C-B together, asking me “Is this sarcasm?” before bending to the gentle pressure of my trade and playing along for what ended up being an awesome interview. 

On Wednesday I was given the opportunity to emcee the Society Stage for the day, warming up the crowd with context-specific one liners and anecdotes. 

Society Stage. Credit: Dennis Walker.

I set the tone by parading my custom Rick Doblin puppet out on stage while wearing a tailored cannabis suit that I picked up in Thailand a few months ago. I improvised the whole five minute warm up routine, leaning into various thematic elements of my usual material including my penchant for stacking my microdoses with three times the amount of psilocybin instead of using niacin and Lion’s Mane, because my approach makes you three times more likely to disrupt the system. 

The highlight of the day for me was introducing Earth and Fire Erowid, founders of the unrivaled harm reduction and drug education platform I confided to the audience that without the duo’s seminal contributions to the space, I would surely be smoking bath salts out of a can somewhere right now. 

Immediately after, I was fortunate to introduce two of the most dialed-in harm reduction experts on the planet, Mohawk Green of The Rebel Educationist and Mitchell Gomez of DanceSafe. The two-person panel format felt like a better overall approach than the panels that had 5 or more people given the 30-minute time slots, and this pair stood out among the crowd of presenters as rapturously engaging and succinct communicators covering the vastly underserved field of harm reduction. 

Another panel highlight from the day was Psychedelic Education Today: Kids, Parents, and the Public featuring Vilmarie Narloch, Know Drugs founder Rhana Hashemi, and moderator Gina Giorgio.

I was in a delirious flow state for most of the day, emceeing the stage while simultaneously covering the Deep Space exhibit for Lucid News, while making last minute changes to my own panel that closed out the day on the Society Stage.

I finished the day on a panel called “Satire Is Sacred: The Role of Humor in Keeping Us Sane,” with Adam Aronovich of the celebrated Healing From Healing Instagram account. We unpacked our approach to offering social commentary and critique of the psychedelic renaissance through a satirical lens. It’s my perspective that satire is a Trojan Horse for addressing critical and difficult to broach issues, and that making people laugh is its own form of therapy. 

Challenging the Commercialization of Psychedelics

A conference highlight for many, which I was quite sad to miss, was the A Table of Our Own documentary about Black professionals in the psychedelic space. The film received a 5 minute standing ovation, which is more time than most of the panelists on the Indigenous perspectives panels were allotted to unpack the history of colonization and its impact on their people. 

On Thursday I covered a panel called “Indigenous Affinity: The Impact of Legislation on Native Communities,” which was a prelude to the disruption that beset the closing ceremony on Friday afternoon. 

Moderator Dr. Angela Beers criticized the limited time slot that was provided to accommodate the panel, citing that she had asked for three hours and was ultimately given one hour after pushing back against an even shorter time slot. 

The sentiments expressed by the tribal representatives during the panel had a spirit of disenchantment and Indigenous erasure. “The time to be an ally has passed; we need accomplices,” said Beers.

That statement appropriately preceded the protest that took place at Friday’s closing ceremony, in which Beers and other Indigenous activists and accomplices interrupted Doblin’s speech to criticize the commercialized and medicalized direction the movement is taking. 

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Another programming highlight was the platforming of joint Palestinian and Israeli research and dialogues into exploring plant medicine ceremonies as a possible catalyst for a new path forward together. 

Psychedelic Science 2023 Afterparties

The ancillary offerings of the many conference afterparties and events demanded us to suspend our disbelief. Whether it was rubbing elbows with Alex Grey at Meow Wolf, drinking espresso martinis in the Hyatt Regency penthouse with the Zendo Project crowd, navigating a packed dance floor at the Portal event put on by Propeller, or milling about the hotel lobby at 1 a.m. and learning the ins and outs of a ketamine telehealth operation, the conference after party circuit deserves its own write up above and beyond this wrap summary. 

I did a stand up comedy set at Cervantes’ Other Side for the Kaivalya Kollectiv and Tandava Retreats fundraiser, thinking I’d be showing up to perform for maybe 50 people. When I saw the venue packed with 400 heads, each with their own set of invisible entities they’ve picked up along their 5-MeO-DMT journeys, I almost swallowed my sublingual ketamine lozenge. I did some crowd work and got off to a hot start, but dropped the ball about 7 minutes in when I realized that all my jokes were just one variation or another on belittling microdosing. I finished strong with some material about polyamorous transhumanists who keep failing the Turing test with each other, and ultimately succeeded in my goal to entertain a large crowd of people who understand drug references and alternative lifestyles. 

I rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers funding the psychedelics industry at the Psychedelic Investors Welcome Social one afternoon, pitching my vision for a psychoactive admixture to the functional mushroom coffee being produced by Mycroboost and dropping in with a group of Swiss precision pharmaceutical executives about the emergent field of psilocybin mushroom potency testing. 

Oakland Hyphae and SSDP Party. Credit: Dennis Walker.

One of the most impressive afterparties was the Psychedelic Pipeline party hosted by Oakland Hyphae and Students For Sensible Drug Policy. All present were connected through their vision for social justice and a more humane and sensible drug policy in light of The War on Drugs’ disastrous consequences for BIPOC communities. 

The Reggie Watts, Eric Andre and Flaming Lips benefit show produced by the Good Trip Studios team was an ecstatic experience that stood out among the many dozens of afterparties throughout the week. The Mission Ballroom transformed into its own spontaneously occurring Department of Energy as frontman Wayne Coyle called upon us all to supercharge their set with our jubilant cries of joy. 

Diplomacy in the Psychedelic Space

The sheer scale and scope of Psychedelic Science is arguably its crowning achievement. The incorporation of numerous and diverse cross sections of global society and divergent perspectives at this conference is a testament to the sea change in public perception of psychedelics. Whether you’re a pharmaceutical executive, a research scientist, harm reductionist, an investor with an appetite for risk, a BIPOC community steward, an indigenous rights activist, a combat veteran of active duty military, or a veteran altered states person with permanent residence in the multiverse, there was a place for you at Psychedelic Science. 

Hats off to MAPS – it was an impeccably executed event. Yet I can’t help but feel we’re just scratching the surface of what’s to come. The interruption of the closing ceremony by Indigenous protestors decrying the forceful seeking” undergirding the psychedelic renaissance is a powerful reflection of the open wounds and unsettled circumstances contextualizing the mainstreaming of psychedelics. 

The need for skilled diplomats in the psychedelic zeitgeist is more apparent than ever. Nuance and pragmatism are two vital components to successful mediation between polyvergent perspectives, and both are in short supply as the psychedelic renaissance continues to unfold. Perhaps now is the time to invest in relationship building and rapport between the different camps of stakeholders in this space, rather than imagining  that the grievances will resolve themselves. I stand ready with jokes, anecdotes, and a honed ability for interlocution and moderation to help diplomatically mediate between the many different factions of the status quo. 

Featured image: Dennis Walker, Christian Angermayer, and Rick Doblin Puppet. All photos courtesy of Dennis Walker.

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