Co-written by Koelle Simpson & Patrick Gaines
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My partner, Patrick Gaines, and I joined a global audience of 12,000 people who gathered in late June for the Psychedelic Science Conference (PS2023) in our home town of Denver, CO. The conference was presented by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is on the cusp of breakthrough federal approvals that will reintroduce safe and evidence-based plant and psychedelic medicines for public benefit very soon.
It was inspiring to see so many people in one place who share a strong interest in the potential benefits of using psychedelic medicine to help shift our current mental health crisis.
The diverse races, genders, nationalities and backgrounds of the presenters during the conference tells the story of the incredible minds and hearts that are coming together to support the renaissance of the psychedelic medicine movement in an intentional, safe, and thoughtful way. An array of multidisciplinary tracks offered a comprehensive view and critical exploration of clinical trials, scientific research, policy, society and social impact, plant medicines, harm reduction, veterans, indigenous wisdom, therapeutic practices, and business. Following are a few presentations that deeply impacted us.
The first was hearing from the Director of Social Innovation at the ICEERS Foundation, Jerónimo Mazarrasa, who is conducting extensive research on ayahuasca traditions and the appropriation of indigenous knowledge. Mazarrasa spoke about the ways in which modern psychedelic medicine can integrate valuable lessons from indigenous medicine traditions. He reminded us of the global north’s historic appropriation (taking without permission) of plant medicines, which has had the unintended consequence of disenfranchising indigenous people and separating contemporary westerners from centuries of vital wisdom, culture and healing potential.
Mazarrasa’s collaborator, Natalia Rebollo, an International Rights Attorney for ICEERS, offered a path for healing through the rotating cycle of renaissance, which unfolds in constant rotation through enlightenment back to origin. In simple terms, by taking action to return what we have taken, we can restore harmony and balance between contemporary and ancient cultures and traditions. Ancestral knowledge is living knowledge and we have an opportunity to practice reciprocity not merely as something we do, but as a principle we embody. Multiple PS2023 presenters emphasized that an important early step in the current psychedelic medicine renaissance is to include indigenous voices in all facets of the topics being presented at the conference and implemented through new natural medicine laws in the United States, including the 2022 passage of the Colorado Natural Medicine Health Act
Next, was hearing from mycologist and co-founder of MycoMedica Life Sciences and central figure in the documentary Fantastic Fungi, Paul Stamets. Dr. Stamets discussed the historical use of psilocybin mushrooms as well as their potential for supporting neurological health based on his current research. A third highlight was a presentation given by psychiatrist, educator and best-selling author Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who shared his excitement for the emerging use of psychedelic medicine for trauma therapy. Of particular interest is the inspiring research he is conducting on the effects of MDMA to focus on healing early developmental attachment wounds to help retreat PTSD more effectively.
We are still in awe to have witnessed the profound and still very new blending of concurrent renaissances in psychology and psychedelics as Dr. van der Kolk and Dr. Richard Schwartz shared the same stage. Dr. Schwartz, author and creator of Internal Family Systems (IFS therapy), presented on the profound synergistic impact of utilizing the IFS model during psychedelic therapy to help clients to integrate childhood trauma. It is not an exaggeration to say that every square inch of floor space of a 500-seat conference room was packed with more than twice that number waiting to be let in who wanted to hear from these two giants in the field. While it was one of very few wrinkles in conference logistics to have miscalculated their popularity when assigning their presentation space, it fills us with optimism that a high percentage of the 12,000 participants already understood or anticipated the important synergies to be gained at the intersection of science, biopsychosocial therapies, and psychedelics.
It is with a heavy heart and profound reverence that Patrick and I share our final reflections on PS2023. To set the stage, it’s important to remember that the modern psychedelic movement began in 1938 when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and personally experienced its effects by accidentally ingesting it in 1943. For a comprehensive account of what unfolded over the next three decades, we highly recommend reading “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan.
In the interest of brevity, suffice it to say that the public use of psychedelics by members of 1960’s hippie movement compelled President Richard Nixon to declare his so-called War on Drugs in 1971, which instantly and comprehensively shut off all research and access by classifying all psychedelic medicines, including organic plants such as mushrooms and cacti, as schedule 1 narcotics. Fast forward to the year 2000, when a research group at Johns Hopkins University obtained regulatory approval in the United States to reinitiate research with psychedelics in healthy, psychedelic-naive volunteers.
Through a beautiful dovetail of timing, this research, which was spearheaded by Dr. Roland Griffiths, preceded Albert Hofmann’s death in 2008, allowing him to participate in the earliest stages of resurgence in psychedelic research. Although he wasn’t the final speaker, Dr Griffiths was, for us, the spiritual and physical embodiment of the entire conference and psychedelic renaissance taking place. Diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer last year, Dr. Griffiths drew from heroic internal resources to present his science, his wisdom and his vision for the future with thousands of silent and tearful souls in attendance. Having come to terms with his imminent demise, Dr. Griffiths offered inspiration and hope by making a commitment to be fully present and curious throughout his remaining time on earth, and into the afterlife. We feel blessed beyond measure to have shared this sacred space and time with him.
I often speak to the fact that we have many different access tools for working with our mind, heart, body, and spirit to transform the effects of trauma and restore our capacity for connection. These can include things like yoga, qi gong, meditation, rolfing, breath-work, somatic therapy, art, music, theater therapy, and community gatherings to name a few. The Psychedelic Science Conference helped us to reflect upon the immense value of incorporating psychedelic therapies in a mindful manner when suitable for clients in need.
When considering my own learning journey, I’m immensely grateful to have spent 13 years learning from a South American shaman from Peru with a deep lineage of ancestral knowledge of plant medicines. I’ve also been blessed to learn from my dear friend Darrly Slim, a Diné wisdom keeper and wellness educator. Their knowledge and long held relationship with sacred plant medicines and intentional ceremony has had a profound impact on my own journey and I’m grateful to be able to share these insights with my own clients.
In light of the enthusiasm from our Denver conference and Colorado’s passing of the Natural Medicine Act, my partner Patrick Gaines and I are hosting a video call to answer questions for those of you who may have an interest or curiosity about this work.
Please feel free to join us on
Monday Aug. 7th, 2023 at 3:30 pm PT/ 4:30 pm MT/ 5:30 pm CT/ 6:30 pm ET
Zoom Link: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/88186432504
If you would like to email your questions ahead of time you can send them along to email@example.com