Two Psychedelic Conferences a World Apart

The following is an excerpt. The full original article is available here. … I noticed immediately that Cartographie Psychedelica had a radically different vibe from EGA, which was to be expected: instead of a bush paradise, the MAPS conference would take place in a downtown urban Marriott hotel, more typical of academic conferences. And unlike EGA, which was something of a gathering of the tribe for the tribe’s sake, MAPS would need to navigate — delicately — a panoply of tensions and competing motivations from attendees. The two conferences were roughly the same size: EGA was capped at 450 attendees plus around 250 artists, speakers, workshop facilitators and volunteers, and the Oakland Marriott saw over 700 attendees from over 30 countries — not including the participants of the Medicine Ball, Saturday’s Saturnalian late-night electronic dance party. (It is perhaps notable that EGA contained no such dance party, in spite of its “festival” feel.) In addition to musical acts by such luminaries as David Block, Michael Garfield, Sugarpill, Mochipet, and MiKHAL, the Medicine Ball featured tea lounges, interactive projections, the acclaimed “Phadroid” collaborative performance by Andrew Jones and Phaedra, and live painting by Michael Divine and Michael Garfield, among others. I was particularly struck by the radically polarized structure of Cartographie Psychedelica, especially in direct succession to the integrated experience of EGA. The cerebral lectures all took place in a large hall with rows of perpendicular chairs, a podium, a faded carpet, and fluorescent lights. Meanwhile, down an extensive hallway, was the exhibitor’s hall, home of the “Merchants & Scholars Marketplace,” a visionary art gallery, and Saturday night’s party space. Vendors and educators ranged from Erowid to Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps to the Telluride Mushroom Festival to Dr. Nick the Holistic Pharmacist, and products including beaded necklaces, shapibo designs, leather belts, and Himalayan rock salts were available for purchase. The presence of psychedelic culture at MAPS events has been an item of contention at conferences past. Some researchers and political advocates see it as an ingression of the extravagances of the ’60s into psychedelic science, an academic field that is only now beginning to recover from nearly four decades of political obstructions. But there are others, equally adamant, who see the culture and community as vital components of the integration of psychedelic experience into contemporary culture. And hence the symbolic bicameral split. The MAPS lectures focused on the developments in psychedelic science over the past 25 years, predominantly featuring MDs and PhDs with considerable contributions to the field: among those represented were Rick Doblin on the history of MAPS, Michael Mithoefer on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, Donald Abrams on medical marijuana, and Ethan Nadelmann on constitutional freedoms. All of these are available to stream on the MAPS website. One hallmark of Cartographie Psychedelica was an array of pre- and post-conference, full-day workshops, which catered to topics that could not be addressed in the conference proper for time limitations or thematic reasons. On the science side, Michael and Annie Mithoefer led a workshop on principles of psychedelic psychotherapy; James Fadiman and Tom Roberts on a new era of psychedelic research and therapeutic practice; Donald Abrams on the science and politics of medical marijuana; Beatriz Labate on ayahuasca healing; and Matthew Baggott and Nicholas Cozzi on psychedelic neuroscience. Psychedelic culture was represented by a workshop on visionary art led by Alex and Allyson Grey, and an examination of the importance of defending and documenting psychedelic culture by the Women’s Visionary Council, led by Annie Oak, Maria Mangini, and Carolyn Garcia. Each of these had additional fees beyond standard access to the weekend conference. Also available for extra charge was a special tribute dinner for Stan and Christina Grof and a Sunday morning brunch cruise around the San Francisco Bay. Despite the disparities, one commonality in particular united the two conferences: the palpable theme of celebration. In an email exchange, MAPS Communications Director Brad Burge remarked that “Culture — art, music, performance, dance, and just general creativity — brings communities together around shared ideas and practices. We wanted to generate energy for the research that is happening through celebration, and what better way to do that than to encourage participation and engagement with psychedelically-inspired art? … [P]sychedelics have inspired more than medicine throughout history, and MAPS supports all forms of creativity and expression surrounding the psychedelic experience — so long as it falls within legal boundaries.” Although future MAPS conferences will be more oriented towards medical and therapeutic professionals (i.e., the lecture hall), Cartographie Psychedelica sought “to bring the community together — all the strongest supporters, respected leaders, and all the thinkers and doers who have made psychedelic research what it is today — to show how strong we’ve become as a scientific community.” All of which suggests the question: for those of us interested in cultivating psychedelic culture and the tribal hyperspatial global village, where do we go from here? I like to joke that on a galactic scale, the real purpose of MAPS has always been to serve as a beacon for uniting the psychedelic community around the world; the codified scientific research has just been an excuse. Although hyperbolic, this paradigm shift serves to remind us that there’s more going on than the public face of psychedelic politics, and there are heaps of people gradually assembling who are eager to find out what. The front lines of consciousness are not debated on a committee floor. The EGA brochure stated that the next conference would be scheduled in late 2013, and there were whispers that this year might be the last of its kind. The outdoor events in particular are massive undertakings, and it is common knowledge that the organization doesn’t break even on its operating costs. The core EGA team is also turning much of its attention to developing PRISM, which stands for Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine — Australia’s equivalent to MAPS, which aims to have its own MDMA/PTSD clinical trial underway within the next 6 months with MAPS’ support. Entheogenesis Australis is a tremendous service to the psychedelic community, and it is unique around the world. Subsequent to the closing community banquet on Monday, the EGA facebook community bubbled over with appreciation for being reconnected with family and reinvigorated with hope for a compassionate future, free of stigma and persecution. Now that so many psychedelic pioneers have found each other and come together, one the eve of 2012 — What’s the Next Step? An article on Reality Sandwich explores two sides of the psychedelic renaissance: Entheogenesis Australis 2011, an outdoor conference celebrating psychedelic culture and spirituality, and Cartographie Psychedelica, MAPS’ own 25th anniversary conference and celebration in December 2011. As the article points out, MAPS’ events are distinguished an innovative integration of culture, creativity, and rigorous science.