Spiraling Down Wonderland’s Psychedelic Corporate Rabbit Hole
The psychedelic renaissance has entered its corporate trade show phase. For a satirist in need of plotlines, Wonderland is the gift that keeps on giving.
It’s as if the archetypal Florida Man character discovered DMT, and then decided to organize a massive convention around the potential commercial value of machine elves.
In fact I’m quite sure I saw him sandwiched between the numerous ketamine clinic booths, the bitcoin billionaire posse, and the global pharmaceutical company reps who are all confident that they’ll have something of value to offer the market by 2035.
Location, Location, Location
The convention was held in a sprawling corporate events center, the Mana Wynwood, that would feel more at home housing a Bass Pro Shop megastore or an accounting industry convention than the “World’s Leading Psychedelic Event” as billed by the organizers at Microdose – 140,000 square feet of corporate conventionality, complete with hangover compounding fluorescent lighting and a giant soundstage where attendees could daydream lazily to keynotes by the likes of Hamilton Morris and Paul Stamets.
Within 20 minutes of arriving on the first day of the conference, I witnessed psychedelic concierge Zappy Zapolin confidently proclaiming that the psychedelics industry is going to be a trillion dollar market and that we should be healing the world by introducing more celebrities to ketamine. Zappy’s invited guest Lamar Odom could be a conduit to this reality, as he testified to the transformative role that ketamine therapy has played in helping him overcome serious substance abuse issues.
The effusive positivity of this panel, titled “The Future of Psychedelic Medicine: Safe, Efficient Scalability,” set the tone for the general ethos of the event: Wonderland is a psychedelics industry event on steroids.
In fact, if no one’s currently working on a psychedelic steroids stack, then loop me in and let’s take this next gen research chemical to the bank. After attending Wonderland, I can confidently say that I have the connections across industry, government, and global oligarchs to take psychedelic steroids to market.
I can see it now: Dana White setting up title fights where the octagon participants have to fight each other under the influence of research chemicals that simultaneously amplify their aggression and their sense of compassion.
Prognostications on the psychedelics industry of the future only got more surreal and further out after the kick-off panel.
Welcome to the Tea Party
What got discussed? Sound frequency based psychedelic medicines, non-psychedelic DMT, mushroom genetics on the blockchain, portable-cryotherapy, Lion’s Mane music, and a plethora of technology-enabled psychedelic experiences teetering somewhere between The Matrix and Idiocracy. These are only a handful of the phenomena being marketed by full-on PT Barnum style carnival barkers across the sprawling, drab convention center.
Titans of industry and billionaires like ATAI Life Sciences founder Christian Angermayer, Godaddy.com founder Bob Parsons, and crypto king Brock Pierce took the stage to share their insights and experiences as psychedelic therapy advocates, which includes elevated set and setting on yachts and private jets.
Ketamine therapy provider Better U won my heart over with a swag bag that included an eye mask – aside ketamine, the perfect tool for dissociating from whatever the psychedelic scene is becoming. They even invited me over to their swinger pad to shoot some ketamine-positive content that demonstrates the latent potential for witty and poignant satire to be successfully co-opted by corporate agendas.
Moksha Arts Collective generated buzz with their Virtual Reality art gallery installation that included Stella Strzyzowska’s dazzling painting of Donald Trump smoking DMT and leading a few of his favorite autocrats through the jungle. I spent the majority of the week with the Moksha Arts family, and even managed to bang out a headlining stand up comedy set before a sold out crowd in their beautiful gallery space at the invitation of the collective’s founder, Ray Orraca, a pioneer in the psychedelic community who once tripped with Terence McKenna and has produced thousands of live events over the last three decades.
While navigating between the main stage and the showroom floor at Wonderland, you’re liable to bump into such luminaries as Paul Stamets, Rick Doblin, and a hundred other famous affluent white dudes who like to trip.
If you approach them and whisper the secret code “DeadheadBurner2022” into their ear, they may begrudgingly take a photo with you and raise your clout amid the psychedelic renaissance.
Enough Content for a Lifetime
I was able to collaborate on content with a number of different established brands and visible figures in the psychedelic scene throughout my five days in Miami, even if they don’t know that they’re collaborators yet. The Psychedelic Spotlight video team bombarded me with verbal Rorschach test style questions about what top-of-mind reactions I had to prompts like “sex or psychedelics” and “LSD,” with my knee-jerk reaction to most of the questions being “Diplo“.
If Kid Rock had showed up with a giant purple MDMA crystal and taken the stage for a raucous dose of empathogenic Americana, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. The collision of cultures, values, and profit margins at this event has single-handedly generated enough satirical plot lines for the rest of my career. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the organizers booked Andrew Tate to speak about his non-relationship to psychedelics.
If they hold Wonderland at a Topgolf facility next year, I think it would be a merger for the ages – I often felt naked without my golf clubs while walking around chatting with the suits and the lobbyists, not to mention the researchers, policy advocates, business leaders, and clout chasers.
Despite the accounts and descriptions offered thus far, the afterparties may be the real draw for this event. After spending the day getting blasted by artificial lighting and psychedelic product promo codes, a collection of curated psychedelic party experiences is exactly what every sleep-deprived conference attendee needs in their life.
A plethora of nightlife experiences are available to Wonderland attendees, with various levels of exclusivity applied across the events. As a newly minted member of the psychedelic elite, I had unfettered access to these parties – which included a rather spectacular event produced by Microdosing Collective, where I managed to rub elbows with the Have A Good Trip team, as well asInto The Multiverse Co-Founder and CEO Alli Schaper. I even successfully fended off Mycopreneur fanboy and Third Wave founder Paul Austin at this party before bouncing to another handful of events to continue honing my self-promotional panache in true psychedelic aristocratic fashion.
It is the moral duty of the psychedelic elite to spend every evening of Wonderland bouncing from garden party to yacht party in inseparable cliques, occasionally allowing interlopers to pitch their Psychonaught dating app ideas (It’s called PsychoNaughty, and I’m ready to take this unicorn to the bank with the right team around me) and share insights from the half-eighth of mushrooms they’re currently on.
If the afterparties had you channeling the spirit of Psychedelic Spring Break, there was a mobile IV drip provider on site at Mana Wynwood to resuscitate you in real time. And if the drip doesn’t work, head across the showroom floor to get cryogenically frozen – it would be a great party trick if someone could freeze themself at one Wonderland and unfreeze themself at the next year’s event. If the futurist healing modality vibe doesn’t get you in the appropriate headspace for days two and three of this behemoth psychedelic convention, then there’s always the full bar that’s open and pumping at 9 a.m. every morning.
We Live in a Theater of the Absurd
Jokes aside, the approachability and conviviality of the many psychedelic luminaries present at Wonderland was genuinely surprising to me. The spontaneous encounters and direct conversations that are possible with C-level executives, prominent journalists, and notable opportunistic profiteers across the psychedelics ecosystem are the crowning achievement of this conference, in my opinion.
Much of the psychedelics industry is present in spades at Wonderland, bundled together into a surreal stack of molecules and Florida-tanned flesh all colliding against each other and triggering various chemical and financial reactions. For all of the jest provided in this punchy take, the networking opportunities at the event supersede the less savory elements of the conference.
Still, high profile events like this are likely to stir the pot and invite controversy. News that the Psymposia team and a handful of other writers and critics were banned from the conference has generated lots of ongoing chatter, as have the dismissive attacks that keynote speaker Hamilton Morris levied against two who made the blacklist.
We live in a theater of the absurd, so why not reflect that in the organization and execution of the world’s leading psychedelic event?
Wonderland’s claim to be “the world’s leading psychedelic event” is certainly bold and tough to qualify. But grandiosity and pomposity play well in our current era, so why not stake the claim and dare people to one up you?
In one hour, you can meet more luminaries and tastemakers in the global psychedelic community than you could in a year elsewhere. I’ve been to eight of the premiere psychedelic conferences over the past two years, and have never seen so many globally renowned denizens of the psychedelic renaissance as were present at this event.
The theatrics behind executing a psychedelic event like Wonderland require people to suspend their disbelief, and after having attended a number of other similar industry events, I tip my cap to the Microdose team for stepping into the ring and claiming their title.
The reality of the “psychedelic renaissance” is more accurately and unabashedly expressed at Wonderland than anywhere else I’ve been. Integrating psychedelics into our 21st-century hypercommercial global society requires a compromise that many in the space have expressed sincere discomfort and outright disgust for: regulation and standardization of psychedelics by the powers that be. A deepened focus on social justice and reciprocity initiatives at next year’s Wonderland would go a long way to assuage lingering psychedelic community feelings of distaste for this overtly corporatized event. When people are openly maneuvering towards legitimizing, regulating, and profiting off of psychedelic molecules and therapies, it’s time to let a lot of people out of jail and start pouring money into reciprocity initiatives.
A Psychedelic Jester in Wonderland’s Court
The Wonderland Psychedelic Conference is a force of nature – or humankind – maybe even transhumanism – but it’s definitely a force of some kind.
And what better way to celebrate the advancement of psychedelic science and research than by bringing together a boatload of pharmaceutical company execs, bitcoin bros, serial entrepreneurs, and also Reggie Watts to collectively unpack the psychedelic renaissance and chart its future market potential together.
From what I can tell, provocative satire is a necessary component of the psychedelics ecosystem – and it is in this spirit that I will continue to serve as the archetypal trickster and court jester.
My clarion call to the psychedelic community at large: Thank you for allowing space for levity, because moving forward, we’re all going to need a very healthy sense of humor to survive.
Images: Courtesy of Dennis Walker. Main Image by Nicki Adams.