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Insights from the largest psychedelic gathering in history

Psychedelic mushrooms
Denver 2023 Psychedelic Conference

MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, founded in 1986, is a "non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.” Over the course of the past 35 years, MAPS has raised over $130 million for psychedelic research and education.” While the Psychedelic Science conference held in 2017 hosted approximately 3,000 attendees, PS2023 hosted approximately 12,000 attendees in Denver, Colorado last week!

RZA Legal founder Rachael Ardanuy attended the conference, including programming dedicated to training attorneys on the legal and policy issues facing clients working, researching, and partaking in psychedelics and natural medicines. The convention hall included vendors such as mushroom home-growing supplies, harm reduction organizations, law firms, universities performing research, micro dose coaches, couples retreat, “trip-sitters”, consultants, entheogenic churches, and more. Another expo hall was dubbed “Deep Space” and had mind-blowing art installations, including some from famed artist Alex Grey, as well as ceremonial activities taking place and sound baths. With hundreds of workshops, panel discussions, and curated content, it was impossible to attend each offering. Here’s a rundown of some of the workshops, panels and presentations Rachael attended at Psychedelic Science 2023:

Introduction to Psychedelic Law Practice and Policy for Attorneys: This was a Continuing Legal Education course hosted by the Psychedelic Bar Association that provided insights on the state and federal law involving psychedelics, risk management and insurance issues, taxation and how 280E will apply to business directly “touching” the schedule I substance (unless there is some federal policy reform on that from cannabis industry lobbying efforts). It was interesting to learn that law firms across the country are working with people and entities interested and researching this new area of medicine and healing.

Priorities for the Next Generation of Psychedelic Science: The Director of the National Institute of Mental Health discussed its November 2022 notice issued to discuss its priorities and criteria for new grant applications related to the study of psychedelic drugs, emphasizing a need for deeper research into underlying mechanisms. The focus here was on the therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs and neurobiology - heavy stuff for a lawyer!

Recreational vs. Rx market - The Future of Natural Psychedelics in the Kaleidoscope of Evolving Regulations: Don't let the title of this panel discussion fool you. This was a discussion of highly connected doctors and scientists discussing what they thought to be the only pathway forward - the pharmacological route to provide access via health insurance. This panel was focused on the discovery (and legal protection) of novel drugs to move forward through the pathways of the FDA as a prescriptive drug. Interesting, but with limiting and narrow perceptions about what access means for the majority of individuals without health insurance. I left this panel mid-way to attend…

Awakening the Soul: Lessons and Insights on Psychedelia from Black Spiritual Leaders: Whoa. This was an enlightening panel and one of the highlights of the conference for me. While the PhDs at the Recreational vs. Rx market panel (discussed above) were solely focused siloing these potentially transformative compounds into pharmaceuticals to be doled out by pharmacists, this engaging panel focused on Black American’s attitudes, understandings, and perceptions toward mental illness; how the Black community could benefit from psychedelic-assisted therapy to aid in healing the ills of centuries of racism, discrimination, and marginalization; and how to contend with reservations about natural medicines from within their community. It is no secret that drug policy in America has been one of the driving forces of incarceration within the Black community for the past 70+ years, and such policing and policies have torn families and communities apart. One big take away from this panel for me was the effort toward education to show those of the Black community that have had their lives and families torn apart that it was the policy about these substances, and not the substances themselves, that led to these traumatic results.

Psychedelic Education today: Kids, Parents and the Public: This panel shed light on how advocates, educators, and experts equip parents (like me!) with essential information about youth drug use, fostering open conversations with young people, and navigating the complexities of public perception in a rapidly changing media environment. The speakers (all women, by the way) discussed the transformative power of drug education on communities, dismantling stigma, and cultivating a more informed and compassionate society. Learn about this amazing resource for drug education for those of us who grew up to “Just Say No To Drugs” and are now navigating how to “Say Know to Drugs”. Good stuff.

Preparing for commercialization of psychedelic-assisted therapy

Updates from leading statewide regulatory initiatives - Colorado: Was hoping for more info than I already had on the progress of our natural medicine program roll out, but didn’t get any - that said, since RZA Legal is up-to-date on the progress in our state, keep an eye out for some articles and blogs on the topic over the next few months/years. We’re here for it!

Satire is sacred: the role of humoring keeping us “sane”: This was a hilarious presentation by PhD Candidate Adam Aronovich (IG: @healingfromhealing) and Dennis Walker, podcaster of Mycropreneur, humorist, puppeteer, and otherwise great dresser (he was wearing a business suit that was white and printed in green cannabis leaves). These two social commentators brought the laughs in response to the “ever-increasing absurdity of psychedelics intersecting with mainstream society in all it’s profit-driven, skewed power dynamics and stranger-than-fiction glory” that has been dubbed, the Psychedelic Renaissance.

A Table of Our Own: This was a screening of the film A Table of Our Own, directed by Alize Jama-Everette, a must-see for anyone interested in learning more about the transformative power of psychedelic, natural medicines and the vital work being done by Black luminaries in this space. It was a really well-composed documentary seeking to break down the stigma that these substances are “White-people stuff” and highlighting the benefits of natural medicine as experienced by members of the BIPOC community. The individuals highlighted in the film have truly dedicated their lives in service to others who seek to help and heal themselves.

History and archeology of psilocybin mushrooms in Mesoamerica: I loved listening to this lecture by Dr. Osiris Sinuhé González Romero, Archeologist and expert on the heritage of indigenous peoples. While this was a short presentation, it provided a great overview of archeological and historical evidence of the use of psilocybin mushrooms in Mesoamerica. Drawing on primary sources such as codices, ceramics, sculptures, lithic artifacts and colonial manuscripts, we learned about the cross-cultural perspective of these natural medicines which is so vital s we move forward with navigating legalizing and regulating natural medicines here in Colorado.

I set my intention for going into this conference to keep an open mind, learn as much as I can, and see how I can take the lessons learned forward as we assist in the roll out of natural medicine law and policy in Colorado. I must say that the intention was realized. I learned that there is much work left to do on this front, and that there is so much potential here to explore, while maintaining respect for the historical and cultural context these substances have played.

Ready to get started in this space here in Denver? Reach out to us for a consultation!

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