Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review of Conference, Psychedelic Science In the 21st Century

Being one of my favorite areas of interest, I registered months in advance to attend this conference. And, it was (relatively) nearby in San Jose, CA. I have been fortunate in the past to have attended some very interesting meetings, including ones in Switzerland and Madrid. So, given all the hype MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies, a great organization I have supported for years) put out about this conference, I literally was expecting it to be a world-class affair, replete with nightly entertainment, parties and lots of merriment.

I was sorely disappointed. It was "sold out," that is, all the tickets were sold. That's good for MAPS. And being trained as a psychiatrist and biologist, I found the research presented was very promising. But it was the way it was done that was, well, a bummer. A large "plenary" meeting room with slides and the laser pointer--I had to constantly suppress my urge to instantly fall into REM sleep every time the slides came on. While I had previously read all or nearly all of the research presented at the conference, it is still nice to hear it presented by the scientists who actually did the research, to meet them and to be able to ask questions afterwards. I had met most of these docs before at previous conferences, and it truly is an honor--some of them more than others, of course.

There were 3 'tracks'--one geared toward medical doctors, to be eligible for CMEs (continuing medical education credits, that all doctors need to maintain their medical license current)--this was the one in the large meeting room. Several critiques follow: the other 2 'tracks' were situated in rooms quite far from the big room (literally on the other side of a large hotel complex--a good walk in the blazing San Jose sun) and they were in rooms much much too small to accommodate the interested conference participants. Thus these talks, which were some of the more interesting, in my opinion, were presented unfortunately in tightly crowded rooms strongly reeking of various body odors, mainly sweat. Another critique is that even in the large room there was no coffee or tea. Several of these extremely statistically-oriented talks for sure demanded a jolt of caffeine to assimilate. There was not even coffee or tea to be bought, except in the restaurant of the hotel, or a Starbucks 10 minutes away. Not real conference-goer-friendly. Most conferences even those on the most mundane and inane subjects at least provide coffee!

There was some entertainment presented, especially good was Andrew Jones and Phaedra Ana's dance and light spectacle, "Pha-droid." Also the talk by Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia was a fun-spirited romp through her own personal psychedelic history, replete with many rock and roll and literary luminaries. So, already being aware of most of the research, I decided that the best thing I could do there would be to meet new people, to network. I did my best. But there seemed to be basically a few "types" of attendees at this conference. There were "straight" people, doctors, nurses, social workers and even a lawyer I met from Alaska. These folks for the most part had never been to such a conference before, and for them it was interesting and all new. Then, there were the "psychedelic" people (I am in that category)--I saw many familiar faces, but realized (finally) that most of them were there to promote themselves, or sell their wares.

I finally grasped that, although I had tried to make real friendships with this group over the years, it never got past the superficial. The feeling I get from this crowd is "you are not as cool as us, therefore you don't really matter." I realized something profound--just because they, like me, value psychonautic exploration and the therapeutic uses of entheogens, does not necessarily make them approachable or nice people, or even folks I want to waste my time trying to befriend. So, I quit. Needless to say, there were no parties organized by MAPS or even partially sponsored by them. I had queried Rick Doblin about this before the conference and was told that some of the researchers had asked that there be none, so the focus especially for the media would be on serious science, and not give the hoary image of drug-addled partiers (I paraphrase him.) While that is a valid point, I think (and told Rick this) there could have and should have been a happy medium.

Thus, while I still support psychedelic research and the use of these sacred substances for consciousness expansion and study, this will be the last such event I shall attend. For me, it was a waste of money and time.


  1. Later, I heard rumors...and I am not one to usually pass on rumors...that there were some parties attended by certain folks--by "invitation only," of course...

  2. you know....only the real hep cats...