The largest psychedelic conference in history is coming to Denver on June 19-23. The latest iteration of the Psychedelic Science conference, produced by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ (MAPS), will feature five expansive days of panels, events, and workshops covering the wide-ranging breadth of the space.
Liana Gillooly, MAPS’ strategic initiative officer, and Ismail L. Ali, director of policy and advocacy, answer some questions about what attendees can expect from this landmark event.
What makes this year’s Psychedelic Science conference special?
Liana Gillooly: It’s bigger than anything anyone’s done before. We’re expecting around 400 speakers, and sold nearly 10,000 tickets eight weeks out from the show. We are reaching out to people who have never attended a psychedelic event before. There’s going to be people new to psychedelics at this event. And we have many speakers coming from overseas, a whole contingent from Brazil and other places.
That’s the zeitgeist of the moment we’re in. There’s a lot of destigmatization happening. Psychedelics are recognized and celebrated as therapeutic tools. Public attitudes are shifting.
What are some of the standout panels and guests that people can look forward to?
Gillooly: The keynote speakers include Melissa Etheridge, Julie Holland, Carl Hart, Michael Pollan, and Wade Davis. There will be speakers from the FDA. And a leader of the Yawanawa tribe.There’ll be cutting edge content on new research into DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and ibogaine. Matthew Baggott from Tactogen, who are developing new drugs. Lucy Walker, who codirected How to Change Your Mind for Netflix, will be premiering her new iboga film. We’ll have an entire afternoon on the intersection of religion and psychedelics.
Ismail L. Ali: There will be elected representatives from a number of states that are introducing and currently working on various bills. The policy conversations will be robust, covering not just the exciting activism, but also implementation and regulation, data, IP. The nuts and bolts that make the system work and stay sustainable over time.
I’ll be moderating a conversation with the directors of Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Parabola Center about how they see the future of drug policy activism and reform. The closing panel on the policy stage will be five young, up and coming leaders in the field offering their predictions for what a future post-prohibition world can look like.
There will be at least one or two panels of Native American climate activists talking about the Earth and the Amazon, the Nagoya Protocol and iboga sustainability. Those things don’t always make it to the surface of Western psychedelia, but they lie at the base of what makes all this possible.
We’ll have one or two talks about native tribes from Southern America connecting with indigenous people in Native American tribes from North America. There’s been a particular cultural process emerging there that’s extremely cool to see.
You recently announced the interactive art area, Deep Space. Tell me about it.
Gillooly: Deep Space is a festival-like environment inside of the conference. It’s an expression of contemporary psychedelic culture, with music and other kinds of interactive experiences. There will be programming oriented towards embodiment, mindfulness, and other kinds of somatic practices that get people out of the heavy, content-dense atmosphere, and more into their experience of themselves in this environment with this community.
There’s going to be ecstatic dance, breathwork, meditation, sound healing, all kinds of music offerings. Interactive, spontaneous co-creation. An art show curated by Tribe 13. Naropa University will be hosting a contemplative practices space.
There will also be a handful of art installations on site. A tea lounge as well, where people can come and enjoy a traditional gongfu Chinese tea ceremony. An NFT gallery that will be auctioned, powered by Christies.
What are other parties and events, either associated with the conference or happening in tandem, that people should know about?
Gillooly: Partying and magic on the dance floor is a core value of ours at MAPS. Some of those experiences will be in the Deep Space area, or the venue itself. There’s a lot being planned. Many evening events are run by community partners.
There’s a Wednesday dinner to honor Roland Griffiths and the journey that he’s on right now, and all of his enormous contributions to our field. And a dinner on Thursday night focused on our veterans.
Ali: Denver and Colorado are currently in the thick of their own psychedelic policy reform process, so there’s going to be a lot of energy in the city throughout the week. I’ve already heard about events happening the week before and after. For people that are curious about those events, they should follow our newsletter.
When should people arrive? Should they come early?
Ali: There’s loads of workshops beforehand. One will be focused on legal practitioners and educational content for practitioners. Another is on entheogenic churches, organized by Chacruna. We’ll also have a Zendo workshop on crisis response training.
Gillooly: People should consider that Denver is at high altitude. My intention for arriving early is to physiologically adjust to the high altitude. Psychedelics do a lot of amazing things, but they don’t help with altitude sickness.
Stanislav Grof will be hosting a Holotropic Breathwork training. That’s a special, powerful opportunity to take that training straight from the source. There’s also a workshop called Psychedelic Fundamentals, which is great for people who are newer to psychedelics.
A bunch of companies are going to come early to get acclimated and do team meetings. We’re encouraging people to use this time because we’re so remote these days.
What does this event say about the current moment in psychedelics?
Gillooly: What does mainstreaming psychedelics look like? To have a culture and society that’s not only educated on what these things are, but knowledgeable about safe use and different applications.
Psychedelics used to be countercultural and affiliated with subcultures – hippies, diggers, different environmental movements – that rose up in the revolution of the 60s. But now we’re seeing people of all backgrounds. Moms in Iowa, veterans, conservatives. We have bipartisan support on initiatives to fund psychedelic research. The kind of person interested in psychedelics has broadened.
That’s what mainstreaming looks like. A multiplicity of the kinds of people engaging with psychedelics, and the ways of working with psychedelics, whether it’s for mental health, the betterment of wellness, or spirituality, deepening relationships, or just celebration and recreation.
Ali: Mainstreaming involves bringing in all these people, cultures, demographics and perspectives that hadn’t been visibly part of the movement. While there have been a lot of different kinds of people involved in psychedelics for a long time, now people feel comfortable being open about it.
The last Psychedelic Science conference, which MAPS held in 2017, felt like the beginning of elders transitioning their information to younger generations. There was a new wave of people there to receive the information and pass it on to the next wave of society, and the next round of generations working in the field. I see the last six years as a gestation period for that.
Gillooly: We’ve curated programming to demonstrate that some of the leading voices engaging with the biggest issues of our time – from climate and AI ethics to social media’s impact on mental health and what’s happening in our democracy – are from people who’ve been influenced by psychedelics. We’ve been part of defining American culture for a very long time.
This event is an expression of how solidly we have built this movement, how rigorous the science is, and how careful we have been about conducting research to verify the thesis and claims.
Ali: I’ve been going to conferences for a decade and the thing I remember most is the friends I made along the way. It’s corny, but so true. It’s important for an organization like MAPS to be in the mix with people, because we’ve all been in internet silos for such a long time. We’re all real people trying to do good work.
Use the code LN15 when registering for the event for a 15% discount.