Psychedelic science and exploration, which is currently undergoing a renaissance (chronicled in Michael Pollan’s best-selling How To Change Your Mind), has long been dominated – like the rest of the world – by straight white men. Horizons, the annual “Perspectives on Psychedelics” conference held in New York City every October for the last 12 years, is no exception. This year, things changed, as the conference dealt with its own #MeToo situation. Neal Goldsmith, a key organizer and frequently MC for the conference, was removed from the board of Horizons Media in response to multiple reports of sexual misconduct. Founder and director Kevin Balktick really stepped up not only by putting in place a lengthy and explicit “Code of Conduct and Safer Space Policy” but also by exponentially increasing the presence of authorities in the field who were women and people of color, which made for a terrific conference (October 5-7 at Cooper Union), best of the three I’ve attended.
Saturday’s program, focusing on science and medicine, was hosted by Dr. Julie Holland, author of many books, including Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. Highlights of the first day, which culminated in the rock-star appearance of Michael Pollan, included Sophia Korb’s report on the latest research results on microdosing (based on 8000 people from 59 countries using 18 different substances) and Monnica Williams’s incisive talk “Race-Based Trauma: The Challenge and Promise of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy.” Also useful: Peter Hendricks and Sara Lappan reporting on psilocybin to treat cocaine dependence and “New Findings on the Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca” by Brazilian neuroscientist Dráulio Barros de Araújo (below), who memorably proclaimed, “The placebo effect is a beautiful thing!”
Brazilian plant medicine specialist Bia Labate MC’d Sunday’s events, which centered on culture and philosophy. I had to leave early but got to hear two terrific presentations. Besides reading entertaining excerpts from The Wild Kindness: Between Sacred and Secular in the New Mushroom Underground, her queer psychedelic memoir, Bett Williams paid tribute to Kai Wingo, charismatic leader of a high-dose psilocybin Afro-futurist community in Cleveland, who sadly died in 2016 at the age of 43.
Event producer and human rights activist Annie Oak delivered a talk on “Building Risk Reduction and Community Safety Systems in Festival Environments” that was so clear, so sensible, and so visionary that one of the first questions from the audience was “Have you considered running for the Senate?” Oak, a member of the Women’s Visionary Council and founder of the Full Circle Teahouse, an alcohol-free chill space at Burning Man, tossed out one plain-spoken truth after another. “The majority of people who use these [psychedelic] substances will not use them in controlled settings… but rather (will be engaged in) ‘unsupervised self-experimentation’…Having women as leaders is automatically risk reduction…If you want to change the world, throw a better party.” Not a huge fan of social media, she pointed out that “Facebook is an insecure platform that sells your data.” And she shared, point by point, a list of “Safety Tips for Participating in Ceremonies that Use Psychoactive Substances” that the WVC created in 2014. You can find it online here – I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think.