You don’t have to spend much time at the six-day second international Psychedelic Science conference in downtown Oakland to learn that not all its 1,900 attendees are academic scientists, and that few are strangers to the power of mind-bending drugs. So reports today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:
On my first day, boarding the conference’s sunset cruise of San Francisco Bay, I meet Chad, a middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, who says his trips with magic mushrooms have “reawakened him to the beauty of existence. “I am here out of curiosity,” he explains, adding that he has a desire to understand what he has experienced. “It is just really nice to know they are breaking through some of the barriers with formal research. God knows there is a lot of informal research.”
“As the sun sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge, I meet Seabrook. Wearing rings in both ears and a flower badge pinned to his cap, he says he has never had a bad trip in more than 20 LSD experiences. “The main thing I love about this is it is a reunion—I have so many old friends here it is like a family,” he says.
At least half the attendees on the cruise disembark early in San Francisco to join a celebration of Bicycle Day, commemorating the day in April 1943 that the Swiss chemist Albert Hofman sampled the lysergic acid diethylamide compound that he’d discovered and then rode his bike home.
“But dotted among the conference’s psychedelic aficionados, who along with healers, artists, and activists make up the bulk of attendees, are members of another tribe. Researchers in psychiatry and psychology are here presenting their latest findings on the use of psychedelics to help treat anxiety disorders and addictions for which conventional treatments don’t always work.
“Distinguished by their suits and business dress, the researchers are for the most part keeping to themselves any personal experiences with the drugs. They stress the drugs’ dangers as well as potential benefits. And I see none disembark for Bicycle Day. “We are a bunch of serious, sober academics,” Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles medical school, told me on the phone before the conference. Grob is presenting the published results of his study using psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to treat severe anxiety in advanced-stage cancer patients.
“I first get to know Grob—a personable man in a baggy suit with a beard and recently trimmed salt-and-pepper hair—the afternoon after the cruise, accompanying him to a nearby Starbucks to take a break from the conference’s colorful crowds and locate some hot water in which to dunk his echinacea tea bag. “People want to talk to you, they get really interested, and they kind of get in your space, and it’s like, ‘I gotta get my echinacea tea,'” he says.”