hosted by CSSDP Concordia, CSSDP McGill, & Psymposia on Sept. 20, 2015
Mathis Harpham, CSSDP Concordia organizer
The day started early for attendees who signed up for a transpersonal breathwork session with limited space. A yoga session followed at 10 AM, and the doors opened to everyone by 11 AM. Most of people who had taken part in the holotropic breathing seemed emotionally drained and in a state of awe at what they had just experienced.
The day started with Lex Pelger commenting on historical hypotheses surrounding the introduction of the psilocybin mushroom into the human culture. He then introduced the first speaker, Jennifer Dumpert, who we had seen the day before, during the psychedelic story night.
Jennifer Dumpert’s talk was about dream hacking. She showed how altered states of consciousness can be attained through manipulation of one’s mindset as one goes to sleep (hypnagogic state) or wakes up (hypnopompic state). Jennifer presented the different sleep phases and the brain frequencies associated with those sleep phases, then carried on to directly applicable techniques for liminal dreaming. At the end of her information-rich talk, Jennifer gave out scent-based oneirogens (dream-stimulating compounds) and pamphlets summarizing the techniques for liminal dreaming.
While the room was being set-up for Catherine MacLean’s skype call, Lex talked about ketamine, its benefits for those suffering from depression, its dangers concerning addiction, and its present day applications, for example as an anesthetic for babies or as an emergency procedure for suicidal patients.
The Skype call came up, projected onto a wall, and Katherine MacLean’s radiant face appeared. She hadn’t been able to travel to Montreal because of her busy schedule as a young mother. Katherine is one the researchers who studied the effects of psilocybin on volunteers in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine studies. She talked about why she quit her job there. She had felt what she was doing was fraudulent, exploiting people’s mystical experiences to advance her career. When her sister died, she had a spontaneous mystical experience which forced her to reckon with where she was in her life. She travelled to Nepal after quitting her job, but returned to America severely depressed and grieving. Psilocybin mushrooms were central to resolving her grief and pain, and she described the procedure she used to get the most out of a psychedelic experience. According to Katherine, every psychedelic researcher has their personal experience with psychedelics, but they are reserved about sharing it with others from concern that anecdotal evidence could be taken as dogma by the listeners. The second time she took psilocybin outside of a clinical context, she didn’t have an intention, other than asking for help, and she ended up realizing that she wished to have a child. Two weeks later, she was pregnant. She ended her talk by showing her baby to the excited audience.
920 and Psilocybin Research
The next speaker, Brett Greene, emphasized in his speech that 9/20 should be regarded more as a “holy” day than a holiday. Brett emphasized his own theory about psychedelics and how he views them as a function in which you have an input, which is your intention, and the set and setting, and an output, which is your experience and how you integrate it.
Gonzo Nieto, the next speaker, and one of the organisers of the event, gave a comprehensive review of the most important scientific research involving psychedelics from their discovery by the West to the present time. He started with the Harvard Psilocybin Project, outlining its projects, successes and limitations, and introducing important figures such as Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. The Good Friday Experiment, the John Hopkins studies and other experiments were analyzed, as well as their follow-ups. Throughout his talk, Gonzo was careful to remain impartial, and mentioned that psychedelics are no magic bullet; they are effective in the context of therapy, usually with several non-drug session before and after the trip experience. In most of the studies, the results not only showed a increased well being in the participants, but also important changes in their supposedly stable personality traits. Gonzo concluded with a summary of ongoing research: the NYU psilocybin cancer anxiety study, the effect of psilocybin on long-term meditators, and an experimental psilocybin smoking cessation treatment.
Spiros Antonopoulos was the next speaker, talking about consciousness hacking, followed by Dr. Vanessa Bombay, who shared her experience as a family doctor, facing depressed patients. Her two options, when dealing with such a situation, are either to refer the patient to a psychologist, which can be a ridiculously long procedure (at least 3 months of waiting time), or a very expensive one, if the patient decides to go into the private sector. The only other option doctors have, for the time being, is to prescribe an antidepressant. She then contrasted this with studies made on the impact of psilocybin on depression, and the persistent increases in personal well being that seem to be promising.
Psychedelic Discussions, Art and Community
The next speaker, called on Skype and projected on a wall, was none other than Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He talked about MAPS’ ongoing research with MDMA to treat PTSD, as well as its use in treating social anxiety in autistic adults. In addition to sharing his personal experiences and stories, Rick emphasized that LSD or psilocybin had enormous potential when combined with therapy. After a psychedelic dark age, we are now seeing the introduction of those molecules back into science and therapy. The fundamental finding of the recent research, Rick stated, is that mystical experience is correlated with therapeutic outcome, and the depth of this experience can be used to predict how well people get over their anxiety or addictions. Rick talked about the recent advances in MDMA therapy, where, contrary to psilocybin and LSD, the experience doesn’t dissolve the ego, but strengthens the sense of self. It appears that reductions in activity in the amygdala, with corresponding increases in activity in hippocampus, result in a feeling of safety and security when dealing with difficult memories. Rick also talked about the precautions that should be taken while overcoming the counterproductive system of prohibition, namely controlling the backlash of such a scientific revolution. His main concern is parental concern in regards to kids trying substances at parties and raves. He outlined the promising Zendo project and its four principles, and ended with vital advice about managing and getting the most out of an altered state of consciousness experience.
Following Rick’s enlightening talk, film director Luc Cote came up on stage and presented his most recent, in-the-making creation : “From Shock to Awe”, a movie done in collaboration with MAPS, about MDMA assisted treatment of PTSD in homecoming soldiers. He added his own experience with Ayahuasca, in which he felt himself transform into a soaring eagle, which turned out to be a metaphor for the film-maker’s eye.
Next was Alexandre Girardeau, a young and passionate transdisciplinary artist, who presented his Virtual Reality Project, Oculus Rift : The Cybernetic Rift of the Dead. He also talked about the Esalen Institute, an amazing place where experts from all over the world come to give lectures and workshops.
The last speaker was Pol Cousineau, who had opened the show the day before. His presentation was on psychedelic interventions, and the pitfalls of mystical psychedelic experiences. He stressed the importance of integrating psychedelic experiences, of being able to work with what emerges during the experiences.
Before the closing remarks, the raffles were drawn. Canadian author James W. Jesso had donated two books, “Decomposing the Shadow” and “The True Light of Darkness”, as well as his audiobook “The 4 Archetypes of Psilocybin” to the raffle. Additionally, Lee, another art vendor at the event, had donated one of his pieces. And the beautiful live painting piece by Adida was raffled to one lucky attendee.
To close, Lex Pelger remarked on the wonderful and vibrant sense of community that had been established over the weekend, and many attendees mirrored this in the gratitude they expressed at having had events like these in Montreal. With dozens signed up to the CSSDP chapter mailing lists and a handful of new members on the organizing collective for each chapter, we are excited for continuing to build on this momentum in Montreal!
hosted by CSSDP McGill, CSSDP Concordia, & Psymposia on Sept. 19, 2015
Mathis Harpham, CSSDP Concordia organizer
The doors of Caravane Cafe opened at 7pm to welcome students, scientists, psychonauts, and laymen alike. Pamphlets and 920 stickers were laid out on the CSSDP table in the entrance, and the adjacent Psymposia table displayed an array of books on psychedelics by Stanislav Grof, Rick Doblin, and Rick Strassman, and others. Artist Hannah Hackney sold delicate mandala and line drawings to the other side of the CSSDP table. As binaural music played in the background, people got seated while the kitchen bustled with cooks and helpers preparing food for the break. The seating area, with dozens of chairs in the centre, couches lining the walls, and color-shifting lights bathing the room, helped attendees get comfortable to enjoy the ride of the fantastic stories to follow. Adida, a Montreal-based artist, began live drawing a 920 tribute piece on canvas which would later be raffled.
Lex Pelger, the host, introduced the first speaker. Pol, a transformational coach, went on stage and described his personal experience with psilocybin mushrooms, his original goal having been to disprove the theories from the psychedelic literature that he had read and found preposterous. Then ensued a life-changing trip after which he redefined his professional life, his relationships, and to a certain extent his personality. He quit his job and found a new partner, but also developed problems including agoraphobia and extreme anxiety. The audience laughed at his dry humor but was hanging onto every word. Pol described living in the Amazon for four months, partaking in Ayahuasca ceremonies, and relearning and reintegrating the necessary knowledge to function normally in society when he came back, stick-thin and unrecognizable. Overall he says his personal transformation spanned 5 years. He is now a coach, using his background in finance and his psychedelic experiences to help emerging entrepreneurs.
Up next was Jean, who read in French. A writer and filmmaker, his was a mind-bending psychedelic story involving a tribe looking for a citadelle.
Following was Danji, a musician and artist from Maine whose story concerned his father, an episcopalian priest. As the story goes, Danji’s father was offered LSD by a narcotics officer whose marriage he had blessed, and tripped to some well-chosen Beethoven music. The story gave an interesting viewpoint on an officer who knew about the positive aspects of LSD and found an LSD session to be an appropriate gift to thank Danji’s father for marrying him. A very rich story, considering narcotics officers are often demonized in the psychedelic community.
Jennifer Dumpert was up next, telling the audience a story involving her experience being at work on LSD.
As the host announced a break, everyone rose from their seats to snack, mingle, look at Adida’s progressing piece, or step outside for some fresh air.
When the break was over, Spiros Antonopoulos took the stage to share his psilocybin experience. He was legally injected with psilocybin in New Mexico and had a native american themed trip. Many questions involving the reasons for such research to be sanctioned by the government started coming to his mind and he eventually wanted to get out of the lab as soon as possible.
Lex then provided historical background from the 60s. At that time, the American government was looking for a truth serum and gave the CIA carte blanche for a project called MKUltra which turned out to be inconclusive and harmed and even killed several unwitting test subjects.
Edgar was the next speaker, who read a poem and a surreal delirious story involving a main character named Attila.
Up next was Brett, who works in a cannabis laboratory and is also a musician. He talked about the psilocybin mushroom having its own intentions, and then went on to describe an Ayahuasca experience. After ingesting the brew, he unfortunately ended up alone outside the tripping room, because he was in the bathroom while they sealed the doors, so no one would come in and disturb the ritual. Brett, who is himself Jewish, then experienced sheer terror and horrifying visions as he experienced the Second World War, in the Nazis’ perspective. Being Jewish, he saw himself and his people as parasites to be eliminated. He did not know what to make of the experience, and he had a similar experience during a trip on psilocybin mushrooms. This other trip ended with him being convinced that it had to rain; he did a rain dance while chanting and summoning a storm. There not a cloud in sight and he gave up in frustration, but a few moments later, him and his friend were warned by two people on a golf kart that a storm warning had just popped out of nowhere. Without settling for one particular explanation, Brett ended his story with an interesting reflection on reality, which he sees as the convergence of what we think it is and what happens to us.
Brett’s story was followed by a more light-hearted one by Jesse, a journalism student who described a hilarious experience visiting a sex museum on psilocybin mushrooms in Amsterdam.
The following storyteller, Brian, described the first time he took LSD. He ended his story on a cautionary note, explaining how important it was to have a sober trip sitter and to prepare the set and setting appropriately, something he did not do which resulted in a frightening experience.
Having finished his art piece, Adida was the next one to share his psychedelic experience. He had found himself taking psychedelics because he wanted to impress his friends. Wandering through the streets, he had several epiphanies about modern life and the way humans beings live, and, in his own words, “Things have never been the same since.”
As a perfect and cheeky conclusion, Lex, read a delightful poem by Shel Silverstein: “The Perfect High”.
Enchanted by tales of adventure and discovery, all in attendance got up and started mingling and the afterparty began.
On September 20, CSSDP chapters in Montreal and Toronto are participating in the 920 Psilocybin Mushroom Coordinated Day of Action. Organized by the 920 Coalition, a network of individuals organizations including CSSDP, SSDP, Psymposia, and The Psychedelic Society, 920 seeks to bring attention to the medicinal and spiritual effects of psychedelic psilocybin (aka “magic”) mushrooms and counteract the stigma that surrounds them. Currently 22 events are planned across Canada, the US, Mexico and Australia, with more being announced every week.
Despite this, psilocybin, the active compound in psilocybin mushrooms, is illegal almost everywhere in the world. In Canada, it is listed as a Schedule III substance, with a maximum of 3 years in prison for possession and up to 10 years for trafficking-related charges. The illegal status of psilocybin not only creates barriers to further research, but also confines its sale into an illegal and unregulated market with no education, quality control, or assistance for users.
The present time is a landmark moment in the history of psychedelic research. For the first time in decades, studies are starting to be conducted with substances such as psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, and ibogaine. 920 is a day to speak out against present policy as well as to educate the public on the history of human psilocybin use and the contemporary research being conducted.
CSSDP McGill & CSSDP Concordia, in partnership with Psymposia, will be hosting two days of events on the weekend of 920. Hosted at the Caravane Cafe, these events will feature presentations from MAPS founder Rick Doblin and researcher Katherine MacLean, as well as transpersonal breathwork sessions and several presentations covering the history, uses, and recent research on psilocybin mushrooms. 920 Toronto, hosted by CSSDP Toronto, will take place at the Centre for Social Innovation Spadina and will feature journalist Zoe Cormier and Pharmacist Wende Wood as well as a screening of the documentary “Little Saints”. This film follows several individuals, including Director Oliver Quintanilla, in a journey from the United States to Mexico where they undergo a ceremony with a Mazatec Shaman.
It is becoming overwhelmingly apparent as research continues that the wide scale prohibition of psilocybin mushrooms is misguided and needs to be reconsidered. Help us push forward the conversation on drug policy, mental health and the unavoidable relation between them while confronting the stigma surrounding psilocybin by joining us on September 20th!