How corporate can psychedelics get? This is the inevitable question prompted by the Wonderland psychedelics industry conference that took place last weekend in Miami. It surfaced the moment you entered Mana Wynwood, the cavernous convention center where the event was held, as you caught the first glimpse of booths you’d expect to see at a cannabis trade show, arranged side by side leading straight to the bar, where a crowd had already formed by mid-morning.
For those who associate psychedelics with quiet contemplation or transformative exploration, the jolt of commerce was jarring. Booths for companies including Ketamine Media, Cacti Therapeutics, and Psilomart competed for attention as if this was CES or ComicCon. True, there was a meditation dome at the far end of the hall, where convention attendees could go for a sound healing or a little spiritual freshening up led by a tribal elder. But the dominant theme was clear: the psychedelics industry is growing. Or as IP lawyer Matt Zorn texted me, “going through puberty.”
#partytime. Like most adolescents at a good party, there was a lot of enthusiasm. Unquestionably, it seemed to this reporter that many of the 3,000 attendees were having a fine time. There was a palpable sense of optimism and opportunity on the floor, even though the investment climate is poor, and many public companies have run short on capital.
Simeon Schnapper of the psychedelic VC fund JLS commented that this moment of companies closing or being acquired is to be expected in a new, maturing industry. Certainly there were big fish swimming the halls contemplating which of the little fish would be the most tasty. But that didn’t dampen the overall sense that the industry is on a long term growth path.
Unwelcome. Many of the attendees probably weren’t aware of the Twitter storm on Day One in response to the discovery of a conference blacklist that excluded some prominent writers, academics and critics of the psychedelics field. Of course, events often have lists of this kind. Nothing new there. But placing the list with headshots out at the registration table for anyone to photograph and post was noteworthy.
To add more fuel to the fire, two of the banned academics, Brian Pace and Nese Devenot (full disclosure: a decade ago Nese interned for me at Reality Sandwich), were discussed on the main speaker stage by Vice-documentarian-turned-COMPASS-Pathways-chemist Hamilton Morris, who dismissed their recent and much discussed research paper on the right-wing use of psychedelics as “insane” and “absurd.” Perhaps it would have been more productive to have invited the co-authors to join Morris on stage for a dialogue.
Next time? It may be normal for corporate events to ban voices organizers consider problematic. But the aspirational, healing culture that psychedelics encourage – and that inspires many of us to be part of this field – suggests that inclusion and careful listening is ultimately a more fruitful approach. As the Pace & Devenot paper explains, psychedelic culture will be what we make it.
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