920 Psilocybin Mushroom Day

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.

Introducing Psilocybin

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!