Research into mind-altering drugs is back. But the field is still on the edges of academic consciousness.
Research into mind-altering drugs is back.
You don't have to spend much time at the six-day second international Psychedelic Science conference in downtown Oakland to learn that not all its 1,900 attendees are academic scientists, and that few are strangers to the power of mind-bending drugs.
On my first day, boarding the conference's sunset cruise of San Francisco Bay, I meet Chad, a middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, who says his trips with magic mushrooms have reawakened him to the beauty of existence. "I am here out of curiosity," he explains, adding that he has a desire to understand what he has experienced. "It is just really nice to know they are breaking through some of the barriers with formal research. God knows there is a lot of informal research."
As the sun sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge, I meet Seabrook. Wearing rings in both ears and a flower badge pinned to his cap, he says he has never had a bad trip in more than 20 LSD experiences. "The main thing I love about this is it is a reunion—I have so many old friends here it is like a family," he says.
At least half the attendees on the cruise disembark early in San Francisco to join a celebration of Bicycle Day, commemorating the day in April 1943 that the Swiss chemist Albert Hofman sampled the lysergic acid diethylamide compound that he'd discovered and then rode his bike home.
But dotted among the conference's psychedelic aficionados, who along with healers, artists, and activists make up the bulk of attendees, are members of another tribe. Researchers in psychiatry and psychology are here presenting their latest findings on the use of psychedelics to help treat anxiety disorders and addictions for which conventional treatments don't always work.