University of Kents Psychedelics Society

The University of Kent sits upon a windy hill to the north of Canterbury, in the south-east of England. It is a campus surrounded by ancient woodland and green fields. In November, Amanita muscaria toadstools grow at the banks of ponds near the Sports Centre, passed by thousands of unsuspecting students each week. Every Wednesday evening there is a lecture held in Darwin College at the far east of campus, in a room under a huge spiral staircase, teaching members of the UKC Psychedelics Society everything from the history of Siberian shamans and those strange red toadstools, to the exploration of what is important about being a 5HT2A or, in this case, a GABAA agonist. The society hosts lectures from a diverse and multidisciplinary collection of speakers including anthropologists, musicians, psychiatrists, criminologists, neuropharmacologists, authors, psychologists, artists, researchers, and ethnobotanists. All presentations are free to attend and open to all, whatever their backgrounds, ideologies and educations. It is not a society that promotes drug use, only a society that promotes learning, for it is no more than a forum for discussion and academic presentation. With two close friends, I founded the Psychedelics Society last Christmas (2009/10) because I was becoming increasingly aware that there was a vacuum of knowledge that crucially needed filling. I rarely mention psychedelics in conversation, but on the occasions that the subject was raised, or on overhearing discussions on campus, I noticed two common reactions. The first was an instinctive withdrawal, a conditioned stigmatic response of fear or intense scepticism, or sometimes merely apathy. The other was the somewhat hedonistic reaction of the recreational user whose approach to psychedelics was simply to get plastered. I understood these responses, but felt that if both groups of people had greater access to information, their attitudes might become more rounded and less extreme. I believe that one does not need to have a sympathetic disposition to the use of psychedelics to find interest in many of the lectures that the society hosts. Indeed, psychedelics seem to play the same role in the society as they do in the experiences of their users – they are catalytic aides to the art of discovery. One needs no interest in mysterious botanicals and bottled crystals to appreciate a discussion on the philosophy of personal experience and reality, nor is there a requisite other than an interest in human biochemistry to attend a lecture on neuropharmacology. If you value the work of a psychedelically-inspired artist who visits the University of Kent, there is of course no obligation to be psychedelically-inspired yourself. I think that it is important that the society attracts interest from a greater demographic than purely the ‘psycho-nautical’ community. People often ask me if it was difficult to set the society up and whether we received much opposition. The answer that we experienced virtually no problems at all often surprises people. I would encourage you, if you are a student in a similar position to me, to consider setting up a society at your school or University. I found very little resistance when I presented the society as an academic, lecture-providing group. You may well find more antagonism if you try to actively promote anything illegal, and I would advise strongly against doing so. The tide of opinion on this subject is changing and these small groups are extremely important, even if they don’t appear so. If you want to make a difference and support the wonderful work that associations such as MAPS are doing, it might be easier than you think. Dave King University of Kent’s Psychedelics Society by Founder David King