San Francisco Psychedelic Society Reflects the Needs of Its Community
We are living in a psychedelic society. It’s not really a big deal, in fact it’s pretty normal. Many civilizations from prehistory to modern day have created cultural traditions and rituals for altered states of consciousness. Today we are nearing the end of an odd age where the prohibition of psychedelic compounds and taboos around their use is giving way to the recognition that psychedelics can help heal the mind, body, and spirit, weave together strong communities, and build powerful connections with both visible and unseen worlds.
The quest for cognitive liberty is winning the war on drugs. Promising research into psychedelic-assisted therapies and recognition of plant wisdom from indigenous communities are pointing us again to a long held but nearly forgotten perspective. Psychedelics are awesome.
Psychedelics are here and they never truly left. Yet there seem to be pieces of social awareness missing from the fragmented fractal we are attempting to recover. What cultural context does our society offer people for what many say is the most meaningful and often strangest experience of their lives? What knowledge and which settings help make the most of these encounters?
Our non-profit organization, the San Francisco Psychedelic Society (SFPS), is addressing these questions. We are part of a global community that supports discussions and provides information about psychedelic experiences. There are now more than 50 psychedelic societies around the world which each serve their own unique communities.
While there is an increasing amount of accessible public information about psychedelics, there are still few opportunities for most people to encounter a stranger or community of people to safely discuss these ideas and experiences with.
We are responding to the increasing need for community dialogues that foster the free exchange of knowledge and experiences informed by altered states of consciousness. In the past three years, the SFPS has shifted from small occasional gatherings into a flourishing organization that has made space for tens of thousands of people in our in person and online offerings.
Members of the SFPS are also advocating for reform of restrictive laws regulating the use of psychedelics. In 2019, we helped to successfully decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi in the city of Oakland, CA where many of our members live. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to provide psychedelic community services to our members here in the San Francisco Bay Area and build alliances with other psychedelics societies around the world.
While Oakland was the first U.S. city to decriminalize all entheogenic plants and fungi, similar measures are now passing in other parts of the nation. Positive mainstream media coverage of research into psychedelic therapies is continuing to bolster public approval. Today there is one question that we at the SFPS are being asked more than any other:
“Psss, hey, uhh, do you have any shrooms?”
The SFPS does not supply psychedelics. But this question highlights how consumer culture emphasizes the product. It overlooks the fact that when people seek psychedelics, they are generally asking for an outcome as opposed to a substance. Often people aren’t really looking for shrooms, they are searching for the ecstasy, insight, or changes in their lives that they hope that shrooms will give them. The SFPS helps improve the quality of these experiences and outcomes through community building, education and support.
It’s perfectly normal to carry along the shadow side of our consumer culture. As we open our doors of perception to new kinds of experience there is an unspoken assumption that enlightenment is just one savvy purchase away. This of course is the ongoing deception of capitalism – that your beauty, intelligence, and any other positive quality you seek, is just one convenient purchase away.
What Can Psychedelic Societies Offer?
Access to psychedelics is expanding. While these substances are still out of reach for most people, the supply is rapidly expanding to meet increasing demand. The SFPS is focusing on encouraging a new, most popular question:
“How can I work with psilocybin mushrooms to overcome my cultural programming, bad habits, and mental health challenges, have toddler-like levels of enjoyment, and experience a life affirming connection to self, Earth, and spirit – all while avoiding ego inflation and other pitfalls…?”
Purchasing a bag of mushrooms is not a magic pill. It’s better to look at psychedelics like a yoga mat. They are tools to create a space in which we do the work of personal growth. It’s a place to become. If you don’t like yoga metaphors, instead think of psychedelics like purchasing a piece of Ikea furniture with no instructions. You know how you want it to look, but putting together the pieces is no simple task.
The purpose of the SFPS is to provide essential education and support. We help our local and online psychedelic community explore, learn and create a culture of empowerment together. We don’t know exactly what our future will look like but we are here to hold space for its emergence in the collective process of personal and cultural integration of psychedelics.
The word “integrate” is defined as combining one thing with another so that they become whole. In the case of psychedelic integration, the intention is to reflect on and embody insights witnessed during the psychedelic experience, weaving them into our normal waking consciousness. This process helps us identify and support opportunities for personal evolution.
We hope to help people who are on this path bring this awareness into psychedelic culture as a whole. One of the most important things to acknowledge about the present psychedelic movement is that many people are seeking good outcomes from psychedelics without a larger container to help hold their personal process, find support, or share their victories.
We are here to help create that container. We believe that every psychedelic seeker will have better outcomes if they have an opportunity to learn about preparing for and integrating their psychedelic journeys with access to a community of support. The SFPS provides psychedelic community services to help grow a contemporary psychedelic culture from the ground up.
Beyond Scientific Research
The quest for knowledge about psychedelics has become a cultural phenomenon. Universities, nonprofits, and for-profit companies are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to research the healing potentials of psychedelic substances. While these studies generate important information and create a lot of excitement, they do not give regular people any way to get involved.
The money going into research is building a metaphorical lighthouse that shines a bright light of hope into the night sky, but offers no clear path to the source of the illumination. Many people looking to experience this bright light for themselves have to settle for psychedelic substances purchased from underground suppliers who are not required to provide anything besides the product. The beam of the lighthouse has now reached farther than ever and this population of unsupported seekers who are willing to experiment is quickly becoming the largest population in all of psychedelia.
The SFPS, and other psychedelic societies around the world, are helping to make sure that as excitement around psychedelics grows, access to education, support, and community unfolds organically in parallel. With the experience of serving thousands of people with our various offerings, we have found that even a little support can go a long way. We believe it is important for people to have other seekers to connect with while considering a new experience, after meeting an entity, encountering personal trauma, or after opening their mind to something completely new and amazing.
Our Vision and Our Services
Our greatest hope is to live in a world where psychedelic preparation and integration are a normalized part of human experience. We envision a world where your grandmother is happy to lend her ear to your experience of oneness. Where groups of friends gather to discuss the meaning of this most unlikely journey into the cosmos. Until that day, the SFPS will continue building a home for that future to take root and grow.
Creating real, sustainable support goes well beyond the psychedelic experience itself. We hope to build bridges with a variety of community groups and help SFPS members become activated people helping to make the world a better place.
Starting with our three main pillars, education, support, and community, we are weaving remedies to fill the gaps in our western psychedelic culture. Integration circles, educational courses, and collaboration with powerful speakers have been our primary offerings during this pandemic.
Integration Circles and Support Groups
If you are an experienced user of psychedelics, there was probably a time when you knew virtually no one else who was into psychedelics – let alone experienced or well educated explorers. This lack of connection to people with this knowledge is common due to the taboo of “illegal” altered states.
While social taboos can be an excellent catalyst for vibrant sub cultures, psychedelic awareness is now going mainstream. The SFPS is helping to develop and promote strategies for best practices and community support while peeling back layers of stigma surrounding the personal use of psychedelics. It’s not just the cool kids at Burning Man any more.
We do this by empowering experienced community members to facilitate group discussions and create events where attendees can ask questions. We hold space for people to share personal experiences and receive feedback from the larger group if they choose. Our facilitators help the energetic flow of these conversations and caution against bad or unsolicited advice. We have seen the benefits of these conversations regardless of age, sex, race, or social situation. These events typically end in an unformatted social hangout, though this has been a little tricker on Zoom gatherings.
While most of our integration circles follow this format, they are increasingly divergent in their formats and subject matter, finding their own flows to match the needs of the group. The subjects we currently focus on in SFPS hosted gatherings include Psychedelic Recovery; an addiction recovery group which creates a broader container for healing addiction beyond pure abstinence based sobriety.
Another recurring event, Developing A Relationship With Sacred Mushrooms, is a gathering for all things psilocybin, Amanita, and mushroom with an emphasis on the relationship between self and substance. The SFPS also hosts a variety of groups that speak to specific audiences within our larger community, such as the Sacred Sisters Spaceship; an artistic and expansive group for women, BIPOC entheogen integration circle, OCD & Psychedelics, and the SF Integration Circle, a group led by some of our most highly trained community members.
As the need for psychedelic integration continues to grow, the SFPS is looking to develop integration training and a system to onboard new community members as facilitators. The SFPS is also taking a bold step by making all of these groups available to our community on a 100% donation basis.
To help keep our services free or at least highly accessible, we are also now opening our doors to those who want to become members of our psychedelic society. This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to actively support our community services and help our vision blossom. Members gain additional benefits such as members-only meetings and chats. This model will help SFPS continue to develop additional community programs in reciprocity.
Education and Courses
Good information is at the core of SFPS services, whether it’s people gathering to share their personal experiences, experts presenting their research, or indigenous leaders offering wisdom from lived experience. We do our best to support a wide variety of voices as we weave a tapestry that unifies the broad needs and interests of our community.
In the past we have prioritized an in-person speaker series and celebrated the organic relationships that sprang from these gatherings. Our past year has included incredible offerings from Dennis Mckenna, James Fadiman, the late Kilindi Iyi, and spiritual leaders of the Huni Kuin & Wixarika tribes.
We are increasingly offering educational classes and courses to our community that prioritize a balance of social cohesion and educational offerings.
Into the Future
As we watch psychedelics enter the mainstream, we want to begin modeling what an integrated, empowered and autonomous psychedelic culture can look like. We are creating a community of healing in which some will stay, some will pass through, and others will never feel they need, but are happy that it exists.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have transitioned our entire organization online to serve a global community. For now, we continue to grow in the digital space while envisioning the creation of a community center, a physical location where we can keep the kettle on in case you pop in for a cup of communiTea.
The SFPS will continue to identify problems you didn’t know existed to help cultivate a future you didn’t know was possible. We welcome you to join one of our upcoming programs, become a member, or make a tax-deductible donation to help build a cycle of support with the SFPS and other psychedelic societies around the world.