Academia on Acid

Originally appearing here. Cartographie Psychedelica was the evocative name of the four-day conference several friends and I attended along with 600 others at the Oakland Marriott last month: the 25th Anniversary conference for the Multidisci­pli­nary Association of Psychedelic Studies, commonly referred to as MAPS. That’s a pretty hefty title. And believe me, it’s a heady group of folks. If you’re thinking San Francisco 1967 Summer of Love, think of those kids 45 years later, as well as their children and some grandchildren—most with MDs, or PhDs in chemistry, neuroscience, biology, pharmacology and psychology. And yes, professionals could, indeed, get CEU credits for attending. Rick Doblin discovered the healing power of psychedelics for himself at age 17 and founded MAPS to aid in loosening the government’s tight restrictions on these plants and chemicals. He earned a PhD from Har­vard’s Kennedy School of Govern­ment when he was nearly 50, writing his dissertation on regulations on the medi­cal use of psychedelics and marijuana.” Developing psychedelics and marijuana into prescription medicines may sound far out if you haven’t been following the research. But MAPS is supporting studies to treat conditions for which conventional medicines provide limited relief—specifically MDMA for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and LSD for anxiety and depression associated with end-of-life issues, as well as ibogaine treatment for drug addiction. In spite of the bureaucratic challenges, these are legal studies, occurring around the planet. (Visit for details of research and outcomes.) A longterm goal is to build a network of clinics where treatments can be provided. Along the way, the organization educates the public about the risks and benefits of these substances. “I imagine that 25 years from now MDMA, other psychedelics, and marijuana will all be legal prescription medicines,” founder Rick Doblin expressed in his welcome. “I imagine that thousands of psychedelic clinics will be established around the world for therapeutic, spiritual, and personal growth purposes, and that MAPS will be directly running and managing many of these clinics. I imagine that there will be formal training and licensing programs for psychedelic therapists and researchers and that MAPS will be conducting them.” In spite of all the suits, it was a veritable Burning Man of the mind— creative, eye-opening, fun. Alex and Allyson Grey conducted a Body and Soul Visionary Art Workshop. Annie Oak, Maria Mangini and Carolyn Garcia presented the Women’s Visionary Council: Defending Psychedelic Culture. We saw The Jungle Prescription, a documentary about ayahuasca. On Friday night, a benefit auction: The Kaleidoscope Vault. On Saturday, The Medicine Ball Party. There were VJs and DJs, performance art, art installations, sound healing, special heartbeat-amplifying chairs, a relaxation space and the Magic Bus ( And on Sunday, The Floating World morning cruise, perhaps my favorite experience of the conference—good food (“organic raw fusion”), music, beautiful scenery, and multiple lively conversations with interesting people from all over the country. The conference was a Who’s Who of psychedelica. Famed chemist Alexander Shulgin (and author of Pihkal and Tihkal) held forth one afternoon in the Merchants and Scholars Marketplace. One night MAPS feted Stan and Christina Graf, pioneering researchers in the field of non-ordinary states of consciousness. My friends and I hung out with poet Art Goodtimes, who is Colorado’s San Miguel County Commissioner as well as a founder of the Telluride Mushroom Festival (and one of the more delightful people on the planet). Ralph Metzner, PhD, James Fadiman, PhD, Charles Grob, MD, and Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD who heads up the Drug Policy Alliance, were among the presenters. I saw mycologist Paul Stamets, PhD and Harvard Medical School professor John Halpern, MD in the crowd. I spent a fascinating day with Fadiman, whose 1960s LSD research was predominently with hard scientists working on complex technical problems. “Many patents came out of those sessions,” he says. And some good ideas for Catalyst came out of this conference, which we’ll examine in upcoming months. Beyond politics and legalities, the new research concerns mental health, physical health and spirituality—topics of interest to CATALYST readers. There’s more to share and explore. Catalyst Magazine publishes this enthusiastic review of MAPS’ 25th anniversary “Cartographie Psychedelica” conference and celebration, highlighting the various facets of the four-day event that made it such a success. From academic discussions to participatory artwork, the conference brought together researchers, academics, artists, and activists of all kinds.