Review: Psychedelic Science Conference 2013

International Center for Ethnobotanical Research & Service (ICEERS)

Originally appearing here.

During the third week of April of 2013, the Psychedelic Science 2013 conference took place; around 1.900 people showed up from 35 countries. Over a period of around 10 days, numerous events related to the phenomenon of psychedelics were hold in the city of Oakland and San Francisco.

In San Francisco, at the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS), the research group ERIE ” Entheogenic Research, Integration and Education, organized a series of thematic lectures on entheogens. Graham Hancock spoke about the controversy that followed his presentation on ayahuasca at ‘TED talks’. They also organized a conference on iboga, with presentations of speakers from around the world: Jonathan Dickenson, representative of GITA (Global Ibogaine Therapist Alliance), Laura Shapiro, former consumer working with researcher Debora Mash in Miami, Benjamin De Loenen, founder of ICEERS and Daenne Adamson, consultant specialized in coaching drug users with addiction problems that are going to take or have taken iboga.

ICEERS participated in the conference in Oakland with contributions in our three areas of work: education, research and service. Our team members gave a few lectures on ayahuasca and iboga, showed documentary projects, and did outreach to the visitors from our booth at the conference market with leaflets and risk-reduction information, like preliminary results of our iboga analysis study that we are doing in collaboration with the IMIM research institute and the NGO ABD on the purity of iboga samples that we received from various parts of the world. The marketplace hosted booths of organizations like MAPS, Erowid, Sofia University, the American organization of Transpersonal Psychology, Evolver Network, Nierika, DanceSafe, SSDP, American Transpersonal Assosciation, Botanical Dimensions “

The first to begin on Thursday, were Michel and Annie Mithoefer with a workshop on “the principles of MDMA therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress”, followed by the prominent chemist David Nichols and Franz Vollenweider, the undisputed leader in neurobiological research with psiclocybin, who gave a workshop on “The Neuroscience of psychedelics”. Roberts and Fadiman gave another workshop on the use of psychedelics in contexts different from the therapeutic ones, and the couple Grey (Alex and Allyson) taught a workshop with the suggestive title: “Visionary art: ritual drawings of the body and soul. “

There was also a forum on the global expansion of ayahuasca and the issues that entails, coordinated by Stephan Beyer, author of “Singing to the Plants’, a book on vegetalismo in Latin America, and member of the scientific committee of ICEERS, and Rak Razam and Sitaramaya. On Friday at noon there was a private meeting of a forum called ‘Ayahuasca Researchers’, a group that was born in the previous conference MAPS.

The conference took place in three huge halls; one for the “Clinical Track”, one for the “AyahuascaTrack”, dedicated exclusively to this ethnobotanical and one for the “Interdisciplinary Track”.

On Friday, Dr. Draulio Araujo, a Brazilian neuroscientist, explained how you can see, with magnetic resonance imaging, the brain activity of someone who is not thinking of anything, that is, in his ordinary mental state without doing any activity. The brain areas that light up when one is with oneself (known in jargon as “default mode network”) are hyperactivated in people with depression (hence perhaps the excessive rumination on oneself and one’s problems). Araújo showed results of a recent study conducted by his research group that saw that ayahuasca reduces brain activity in the neural circuitry. On Sunday 21st, Dr. Robin Carthart-Harris presented similar results found in a study with psilocybin. His presentation was followed by David Nutt. At the same time of the presentation of Dr. Draulio, the octogenarian Ralph Metzner, a contemporary of the mythic Leary and Alpert, discussed the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy and shamanic contexts.

Ann Shulgin, the wife of Sasha Shulgin led a discussion entitled “Understanding the shade” with a great number of participants. Shortly after Benjamin De Loenen presented his new documentary ‘Experience Bwiti’ about the traditional iboga ritual in Gabon, followed by an extensive Q&A with the audience.

Dennis McKenna contributed an interesting presentation to the conference about the plants that are used as admixtures in ayahuasca brews in traditional contexts in addition to Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Perhaps the most eye-catching lecture about ayahuasca was the one of Dr. Gabor Mate, which filled the seats and passages of the conference hall. Eloquent, persuasive, clear, and without concessions; not only did he share his perception of the causes of addiction, he strongly criticized the biomedical addiction model (disease model) and fitted ayahuasca as a therapeutic tool into his discourse in a very convincing way. His presentation was followed by a standing ovation of the public.

Jose Carlos Bouso presented his ayahuasca study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, concluding that the long-term use of ayahuasca in religious contexts does not seem to be associated with mental health impairment. Moreover, better results in cognitive tests and lower rates of psychopathology were found in the ayahuasca users group compared to the control group.

There were only a few talks about the treatment of addiction with ibogaine. Geoff Noller, medical doctor in New Zealand, explained the situation in New Zealand after the government classified ibogaine as a prescription medication. We also heard Thomas Kingsley Brown present his preliminary data from an observational study on the effect of ibogaine in treating addictions, sponsored by MAPS. The study sample was composed by patients from the Pangea Biomedics and Hacienda-La Misión clinic in Mexico. Still a lot of data is yet to be analyzed in this study.

So many things happened at the Marriot Hotel in Oakland that can not be summarized in a blog post. The interest that psychedelics nowadays awakens, with its countless aspects, was clearly reflected in the conference in Oakland. Simultaneously with the official conference, there were many micro-gatherings and meetings, formal and informal, between people or groups who share interests. There was also a noticeable presence of official and independent media that covered the event. After California, Europe is next in bringing this subject to the an academic conference setting; in July Breaking Convention will be hosted in London. ICEERS will be present” Hope to see you there!
International Center for Ethnobotanical Research & Service (ICEERS) reviews their experience of attending Psychedelic Science 2013, providing recaps of presentations, workshops, key events, and much more.