Revelatory Insights from the MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023

The psychedelic universe descended on Denver during June 19-23 with the MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023).
The psychedelic universe descended on Denver during June 19-23 with the MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023). / photos are courtesy of Psychedelic Science 2023

The psychedelic universe descended on Denver during June 19-23 for the MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023).  If you didn’t make it, you missed out on one of the landmark events of the decade.

The conference united a robust mix of pioneers in the psychedelic space – such as Stanislav Grof, Amanda Feilding, Roland Griffiths Ph.D., Alex and Allyson Grey, and Dennis McKenna, as well as plenty of emerging voices in the field. 

With more than 12,000 attendees and almost 400 speakers – you can’t help but wonder what kind of ripple effect this epic event will have across the globe in the coming weeks, months, and years.

At the opening of the conference, MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) founder Rick Doblin declared our modern times as the “Psychedelic ‘20s.”

Indeed, for many this is an exciting moment in time, as humanity begins to re-embrace psychedelic medicine. They see psychedelics-assisted therapy as a means to address serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addiction.

Even as the FDA opens its doors to psychedelic research (a lot of which was already done in the ‘50s and ‘60s), we still have a lot of work to do, a lot of storytelling, bridge-building, dot-connecting, and picking up plot points that humanity lost decades ago.

“What I found most inspiring was to meet and learn from the scientists, doctors, healers, shamans, and psychonauts whom I consider the legends and pioneers for psychedelic studies,” said Dr. Aimon Kopera of the PS2023 experience.

“Science, spirituality and medicine are merged to show evidence that we, as human beings, have been longing for this moment, the reemerging of psychedelic medicine for healing society,” added Kopera, who will be the first Asian physician to go through MAPS’ MDMA-assisted therapy training. “From ancient wisdom practices through modern science, we all have an opportunity to participate in the healing of humankind.”

MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023).
Revelatory Insights from the MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 / photos are courtesy of Psychedelic Science 2023.

Do not think of psychedelics as the next cannabis industry

As PS2023 unfolded, the first thing I noticed was that people seemed much friendlier, warmer, and more open than any cannabis event I’d been to.

Is it because the psychedelics industry is so nascent, still relatively free from the ruins of corporate greed? Or is it because many of these people have already done the therapeutic work with psychedelics, exorcising their past traumas in favor of healthier mindsets?

The early cannabis industry certainly had a sense of optimistic innocence. And, as naïve as this may sound, I like to think that psychedelics are by nature impervious to the corrupting powers of capitalistic models. We can at least hope.

Cannabis has its place, but psychedelics are a whole different level of nuance. They are a portal to a type of divine energy that you won’t find in any edible or bong hit. 

Psychedelics are not just another subset of substances; they form an entire universe of their own, providing keys to understanding our very existence, and offering therapeutic solutions to pervasive issues such as trauma, addiction, and chronic sorrow.

Frankly, most people who go through an unguided psychedelic experience are likely to miss out on the greater benefits.

For instance, how many young people tempted to experiment with psychedelics (I’ve been there), know about things like “set and setting” or “integration”?

Essentially, one misguided experience with psychedelics could turn into a living nightmare rather than a life-altering therapeutic experience. Scenarios like this won’t do much good for anyone.

However, people have a God-given right to both cannabis and psychedelics, and we need to treat these things with respect, offer people credible guidance, and celebrate/honor the indigenous cultures that have brought us these plant-based medicines.

MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023).
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the new face of mainstream psychedelics at MAPS Psychedelic Science Conference. / photos are courtesy of Psychedelic Science 2023.

Changing hearts and minds around psychedelics

Changing hearts and minds was a significant precursor to cannabis legalization (and never should have stopped after legalization).

Same thing with psychedelics except there seems to be even more stigma and misinformed mystery attached.

For every person excited about psychedelics, how many others are watching this whole renaissance unfold with complete horror? In the face of decades-long stigma and misinformation, they see nothing but risk, with zero reward.

They’re thinking that these drugs are illegal for a reason. Surely not for political purposes. After all, government leaders always have our best interest at heart, especially with their expert knowledge in ethnobotany and biochemistry.

This is what you’d call a closed mindset.

“We should talk more about risk,” noted author and journalist Michael Pollan during a talk with psychedelics researcher Bob Jesse.

“I learned that if I change my strategy, and I talked about risk at the beginning, this person would listen and open her ears,” Pollan continued. 

This strategy of embracing and addressing the potential downsides of psychedelics, he noted, lent credibility to discussions about their positive potential.

Conversely, whenever Pollan launched straight into the benefits for addressing the risks, he realized that the other people in the room would freeze up and not hear anything he was saying.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Bob Jesse argued that the critical question in our journey forward with psychedelics is not “how fast” or “how slow,” but simply “how.” Advocating for a balanced, thoughtful approach, he underscored the importance of simply moving forward with integrity and scrupulous disclosure.

MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023).
Happy attendees of MAPS Psychedelics Science Conference 2023 (PS2023). / photos are courtesy of Psychedelic Science 2023.

The truth about psychedelics 

During the conference, an often-repeated notion particularly struck a chord, highlighting the paradoxical attitude of many governments, including the U.S., towards drugs: “We don’t want you to take your drugs; we want you to take our drugs.”

The truth is that there’s no such thing as a good drug or bad drug. The issue is the context in which the drug is taken, and the purity of the drug. Also, if the drug comes with potentially deadly side effects (generally not an issue with psychedelics), caution is paramount.

One of the most amazing things I learned at PS2023 was that breathing techniques are one of the top tools for some of the most experienced practitioners and researchers in the space.

The idea that you can use certain breathing patterns – such as holotropic breathwork to achieve a psychedelic state shows that taking an actual substance is just one tool for achieving extraordinary mindsets.

Other psychedelic tools include meditation, specific exercises, ancient religious ceremonies and customs, consensual sex activities, and more.

The meaning of psychedelic is “clear mind”

There is so much more to say, so much more to process. We’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll be writing articles from this conference for years to come.

As the dust settles on PS2023, it’s clear that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift, a transformative journey that psychedelics are uniquely positioned to guide us through. The road ahead is not completely uncharted, but it is fraught with challenges and complexities, and ideally armed with integrity, openness, and scientific rigor.We’ve come such a long way, and yet this is just the beginning.