But will doctors and patients normalize alternative therapies involving MDMA, LSD, ketamine, and other ‘unlawful’ drugs?
There’s a bit by comedian Bill Hicks from 1989, where he asks, “Wouldn’t you like to see a positive drug story in the news?” Then, he does an impression of a newscaster, reporting about a young man on LSD who doesn’t try to fly by doing something stupid, like jumping off a building — as most news stories reported back in the day. Instead, the young man realizes we are all one consciousness.
“There’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather,” Hicks quipped.
Years later, society is still not there when it comes to psychedelic drugs. But for researchers worldwide, small victories have them eyeing a future of normalized psychedelia.
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And that’s why this week in Oakland, more than 200 speakers and researchers, and thousands of attendees, will converge on downtown for Psychedelic Science 2017. The gathering is the largest psychedelic-research conference in history. For three days, the Oakland Marriott City Center will be overrun by 2,500 registered guests, nearly double the attendance of its 2013 conference.
Sure, you can expect white folks in tunics, lots of braided ponytails, public friendliness, a pro-psychedelic comedy banquet, crystal art that refracts infinite rainbows, and even more white folks that want to talk to you about Peru. But, in all seriousness, the Psychedelic Science conference is dismantling expectations and preconceived notions of trippy drugs and public health.
Consider Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a nonprofit research facility based in Santa Cruz. Started in 1986, MAPS is at the forefront of psychedelic research and education. In November, when it was announced in The New York Times that MDMA was one clinical-studies phase away from medicalization, it was MAPS that moved the needle. Doblin frames it as a multigenerational struggle, one on par with civil rights and gay rights.
“For me, to see the criminalization of MDMA, and then starting to imagine I might see the medicalization of it,” he began, then trailing off. “I feel lucky in a way by the timing of when I was born. If you’re born in the right generation, you get to see the change. If you’re born early, you just struggle, and it feels like you’ve hardly accomplished anything.”
undergoing concurrent waves of cultural renaissances. One only has to look at the potpourri of workshops by researchers and specialists worldwide that will descend on the conference: MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is the front-runner in medicalization, the family tree includes issues such as ayahuasca retreats, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, psychedelic harm reduction at festivals, holotropic breathing, and LSD microdosing.
“I think it’s all part of helping a culture that, in a sense, you could say had a bad trip with psychedelics,” said Doblin, referring to President Nixon’s War on Drugs as a measure to wipe out the cultural revolution, via criminalization of everything that got politically active youth feeling woke and disruptive in the Sixties and seventies.
The outright banning of MDMA in the mid-1980s was the psychoactive substance’s above-the-board death rattle. To Doblin’s benefit, though, there’s been cultural amnesia surrounding any presumed harm of the drug, or societal fears of psychedelics in general — which were perpetuated by Oprah specials (featuring CT scans of holes in a teenage girls’ brains), D.A.R.E. commercials (of eggs in a frying pan), and reefer madness stories (about the kid who took two-hits and never stopped believing he was a philodendron plant).
Doblin even noted that, in psychiatry-registry programs, they no longer teach about the perils of psychedelics, one of the many contributing factors to this cultural renaissance.