psychedelic science 2017

Last week saw the end of Psychedelic Science 2017, a six-day global conference hosted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) that featured some of the brightest minds in today’s psychedelic movement. In attendance at this historic event were Joe Mattia and Lana Baumgartner, founders of and eager participants in the psychedelic advocacy and research movement. I spoke with Joe and Lana about their impressions of the event and the lovely magic that occurs when committed people come together in humility for a common cause. As they describe, these conferences serve not just to share the latest scientific insights related to psychedelic medicine, but also to gather and inspire the supporters of this movement for responsible and therapeutic psychedelic use.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us Joe and Lana. I’m curious, what surprised you the most about the conference?

Joe: The marketplace specifically was such a remarkable, impactful room. To me, the entire conference was embodied in that room. In there was the Psymposia stage, and I just have to give them props for keeping a steady stream of fascinating speakers the whole time and live streaming it as well. Then you had tables with people selling kratom, books, art essential oils, bodywork, somatic healing, integration services, and so on. All the vendors were very tasteful and thoughtful, and I never felt like I was being sold on anything, it was warm and inviting and beautiful people behind their tables. And all this was free and open to the public! Anyone could have come and walked in that room. I give a lot of credit to MAPS for creating a space like that.

Lana: I think one great aspects of a free area like the marketplace is that anyone who is curious can walk in there and not just see what’s going on, but feel it. It gives them a chance to see this is a real movement with real things happening, and gives them ways to support it. I was at the Being True to You booth, and a man walked up who was at first a little apprehensive and uncomfortable, and by the time he walked away, his energy had totally shifted. He said “I don’t know what I’m doing here, I don’t even know what this is all about”. We just told him all we could in the simplest way possible, and his face lit up. He wasn’t confused anymore, he felt connected, and walked away with a smile on his face.

What was your most memorable moment or encounter at this event?

Lana: The most memorable moment for me was going to see one of the presentations about MDMA for PTSD by Marcela Ot’alora and Bruce Poulter (MDMA as Profound Change Agent: Insights from MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD Research). I was expecting the talk to be mostly statistic-driven research and a lot of numbers and terms that I wasn’t familiar with, but halfway into the presentation the two speakers started opening up about how much care and compassion was needed to go through these intense studies to help people with treatment-resistant PTSD. It brought things down to a very human level and it put all of the data, statistics, and research protocols into perspective. That was a special moment for me, seeing how we need both the mind and the heart for this kind of work.

Joe: For me, it was this great conversation I had with an elder in the community who I’d heard of but only met on the last night. He was so approachable, and we started chatting and spoke for an hour straight in a room of 20+ people as if no one else was there. We didn’t even talk very much about psychedelics, we spoke mostly about parenting. The conversation was so rich and he was so open, I learned a lot just by how he was communicating, and how relaxed, present, and receptive he was. It was a very important conversation for me, not just in witnessing his level of presence but also seeing what came out of me during our conversation. It’s hard to explain, but it was very meaningful.

That’s interesting, do you think the context of this kind of conference helped that moment to happen in some way?

Joe: Yes, definitely. I’ve been in the personal growth and development world for practically my whole life, and sometimes at large events like this, it’s just hard to reach people. Often the people behind the scenes are energetically not able to give because they are presenting, and everybody wants a piece of them. The psychedelic community is just not like that. I’m not saying it’s void of it completely, but I find a real genuine openness, and I think that has a lot to do with the personal growth work that people have done, including but not limited to psychedelic work. That is something you find as a common thread with a lot of people you meet in this community, they are very immersed in the personal growth and psychedelics are just a part of that. I believe that the event fosters the platform for that kind of connection.

Lana: It also seems like the level of rapport between people is just instantly there. Usually when you first meet someone you have to build a relationship slowly, there’s always a starting point. At the conference it felt like that starting point had been dissolved with 90% or more of the people. You’re just instantly connected, and the level of connection is deep. For involving so many people in the academic world doing serious research, the humility and passion that underlied everyone was remarkable.

Joe: Very true. It’s like we were brothers and sisters coming together for a higher purpose and so we were all genuinely curious and looking to support each other in terms of our personal lives and projects.

In your opinion why are conferences like this important for the psychedelic movement? What function are they serving?

Joe: For me it all comes down to connecting with people. I enjoy the talks and I think all of them are important. Some of them were a little cerebral for me, however I understand that there are a lot of people who operate and exist in that academic world so they probably got a lot out of those talks that I couldn’t fully keep up with. That all aside, for me the event is about community and meeting your peers, meeting people who are on a similar path, and sharing what you know. There’s a give and take. There are elders paving the way, and an opportunity to meet people who are approaching this community for the first time. So for me it’s fuel for what we do in our day to day lives with this website and our family and friends, that we are advocates for the safe, responsible, intentional and thoughtful use of plant medicines and psychedelics.

These events are also crucial because everyone gets this exponential push of inspiration and assurance. In the psychedelic research world, we are still a little on the fringe. Much of this work is still illegal in the US and often involves dealing with heavy things like personal trauma, so it’s not like a conference about therapy dance. That’s no knock against therapy dance which is a beautiful thing, but it’s not very controversial. Because of the current state of psychedelic laws and the lingering stigmas around them, these events are especially important because I think there’s fear that people have to break through. When people come together in numbers, you start to feel like “I’m not alone, there’s a lot of people doing this, it’s safe, I’m doing the right thing.”