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Psymposia – Envisioning a Post Prohibition World
The snow has melted, spring is slowly regaining its grasp on life as flowers begin to bloom and people emerge from what has been one of the harshest winters ever in New England. It is fitting then, that an blossoming organization offers a springtime continuation of what the annual Horizons Conference in New York City brings to the Northeast in the fall. Psymposia – Envisioning a Post Prohibition World billed itself as a ‘new kind of drug conference,’ touting a diversified lineup of speakers that ranged from the well-known to some new and up and coming activists, researchers and enthusiasts from both the center and perhaps the fringe of the psychedelic research community.
Featuring a “Fresh Voices” section of speakers, the organizers of Psymposia stood out among other psychedelic conferences in their effort to include more members of the African American community and several women speakers, whose absence is noteworthy at similar events often featuring primarily white men from academia. “One of the things we’ve done that we believe in that we don’t think anyone else is doing is to bring those voices in,” says founding member and organizer Brett Greene. Not only did the conference include demographically diverse speakers, but a wide swath of topics ranging from psychedelic parenting to how sex work intersects with trip guides.
Some of the more well-known speakers included Chris Kilham, who makes frequent appearances on Fox News and The Dr. Oz Show as ‘The Medicine Hunter,’ Earth and Fire Erowid whose contributions to the online library of information on drugs almost needs no introduction, and Dorion Sagan, award winning writer and son of the late Carl Sagan.
Listed below are some of the themes from the weekend.
- Intersectionality – Cognitive Liberty and Equality for All
A popular question that is often asked at conferences to the researchers of various psychedelic-assisted clinical studies is, “Have you ever taken [psilocybin, MDMA, etc.]?” Typically the answers are vague, indirect, and akin to a politician avoiding giving an answer that might damage their reputation or professional standing. Neşe Devenot took a bold approach by exclaiming, “My psychedelic identity is more important to me than my personal identity or my sexual identity.” Neşe gave a meticulously researched talk tying the criminal and stigmatized oppression that sparked both the civil rights and LGBT equality movements. Responding to criticism she received after her Reality Sandwich article about equivocating liberation across the psychedelic and LGBT communities, Neşe reemphasized the call for justice on various levels of intrusions of cognitive liberty.
David Nickels of DMT Nexus gave an emboldened call towards caution as the psychedelic community envisions a ‘post-prohibition world’ where a capitalist economy could potentially commodify both the tools to reach altered states of consciousness and even the experiences themselves. While applauding the wave of reform efforts, he stressed the importance of not forgetting the prisoners of the drug war that remain locked up for the nonviolent crime of advocating deep exploration of consciousness.
- Psychedelics in Bloom
Last October, CNN aired an episode of This is Life with Lisa Ling featuring a team of military veterans seeking treatment for PTSD using the psychedelic brew Ayahuasca. Ryan LeCompte, who launched the non-profit organization Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy organizes regular trips to Peru and is currently in his last year of a graduate program at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. At the end of his talk, Ryan announced his project as Principal Investigator of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) sponsored study, “Ayahuasca-assisted Psychotherapy for Chronic, Treatment-resistant PTSD in Combat Veterans.”
The topic of Katherine MacLean’s talk on dying was nothing short of a lively call to action for members of the psychedelic community to awaken their efforts to cultivate the change they seek in their lives. Though she was brimming with life as evidenced by the growing newborn inside of her, Katherine’s experience with the John Hopkins psilocybin project has transitioned her career toward a longing for work in hospice, ideally in a psychedelic-setting. Katherine conveyed a lesson for everyone listening by sharing the story of her late sister and the complicated lack of understanding given her and her family by the medical community over being honest and open about how much longer she had to live.
- Fresh Voices
Kathryn VillaVerde and Gianni Thomas represented some of the fresh voices that exemplified part of Psymposia’s platform. They each brought energy to their talks that make clear that part of envisioning a post prohibition world is living in the world we have right now. As Kathryn exclaimed, “This isn’t just an ideological fantasy about saving the world, it’s personal.” For people abusing drugs, the danger is real, and the resources for helping protect them from overdose, disease transmission, and potential recovery from addiction, their lives are compounded by laws that keep the emphasis of treatment secondary to enforcement of law. Gianni Thomas from the organization Youth Against Mass Incarceration found himself facing criminal possession charges with intent to distribute at age seventeen, and he fears that in a post prohibition world, the same racial minority groups that have been disproportionately victimized by the war on drugs will continue to be marginalized in the legalized recreational cannabis economy.
Over 200 people attended the conference over the course of the weekend; additionally over 100 people tuned into the MAPS sponsored live-stream. For those who either missed the stream or were unable to attend the conference stay tuned to www.psymposia.com for more information on full recordings of all the sessions.