Posted April 23, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in Campus Life

Next Generation

A Sober Look at the Generation PsYchedelic Conference

By Ira Zuckerman

It was a beautiful spring weekend—birds were singing, weed-whackers were whacking, music was pumping out of the Circus Resurgence Club’s speakers—but the attendees of the Generation PsYchedelic (GenPsY) conference, a three-day symposium on integrating psychedelics into society and culture, where natural beauty was constantly raised to divine levels, chose to spend it inside.

“It’s the up-and-coming voices of the psychedelic movement,” host of the event and founder of the Greener Association for Psychedelic Studies (GAPS) Katie Tomlinson said. GAPS brought together students, psychologists, therapists, botanists, herbalists, artists and volunteers from across the country to speak on their careers and experiences with psychedelics.

Most speakers were from California, the state home to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the current powerhouse in psychedelic research. Originally, psychedelic research emerged with federal LSD studies in psychology. After it spread into public hands during the 1960s cultural revolution, the Controlled Substance Act made LSD illegal in 1970. This cemented psychedelics as a drug for criminals in the eyes of the public, until recently.

The Internet allowed for individual dialogues and education on these subjects, in a way further than MAPS had been able to reach.

What ties the differing ideologies and studies on psychedelics together is fighting against previously established narratives. Not only did the War on Drugs devastate psychedelic research over the past few decades, but many of the speakers criticized some of the overarching patterns they see in these communities. “Everything you hear this weekend is part of the struggle,” GAPS member Glynn “Glo” Rosenburg said during her talk.

Plenty of greeners showed up and volunteered their time to GenPsY. The crowd was peppered with people who looked like they just got off the plane from Coachella, and the audio/visual volunteers weren’t wearing shoes, but everybody meant business.

In between speakers, attendees could spend time in the rotunda, which GAPS had converted into a chill space stocked with art, pillows, blankets and yoga balls.

After founding GAPS three years ago, Tomlinson immediately began planning GenPsY. “Closing out the conference is also my way of closing out my time at Evergreen,” she said. No punches were pulled in her efforts to organize the event. The headlining speaker, Rick Doblin, founded MAPS in 1986 and is one of the leading advocates for psychedelic research.

With the recent approval of MDMA (also known as Molly or Ecstasy) therapy for treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychedelic medicine is moving ever closer to the mainstream.

“We’re smarter about it now. We had the counterculture. The problem is that counterculture is the shadow of culture. It will always be seen as something different and weird. We’re introducing psychedelics as part of culture.”

As highlighted in the stylized conference title, the conference’s primary focus was the cutting-edge work of Generation Y. MAPS communications director Brad Burge’s presentation on Sunday, April 19 of the conference, titled “Transforming Medicine,” began with the phrase  “We are tired of the same old stories.”

“Since the political angle had been blocked, the only way through was science,” Burge said in his presentation. Scientists and medical workers at MAPS have the goal of federal approval for MDMA prescription by 2021.

A recent vote on brought MAPS nearly $83,000 in donations, and the number of likes on the Facebook page for MAPS has more than doubled in the past year. This is part of what Burge calls the “Psychedelic Renaissance,” a renewal of intellectual and academic study of psychedelics.

Although MAPS has been doing this kind of work for nearly thirty years, thinkers like the late Terence McKenna have put MDMA and other psychedelics into the public eye as solutions to current health concerns such as PTSD.

The grip MAPS holds on psychedelic science was evident throughout the conference. Though in support of MAPS, tech entrepreneur Chris Pezza, who spoke on Saturday afternoon, is concerned about them dominating the sector.

“MAPS is a really powerful marketing machine. They’ve been dominating the medical conversation, and it’s the only conversation in the mainstream,” Pezza said. He believes in the value of psychedelics outside of science and spirituality, especially in art and creative work.

During his talk, Pezza showed one of his Facebook friend’s posts spiraling into nonsense after a psychedelic experience, airing every post he made until the day he committed suicide. “Stories like this were common in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Pezza said. “Call bullshit on abusive and arrogant poly-drug taking masquerading as cognitive exploration. If we want to have psychedelics we have to manage these stories.” Pezza is vehemently opposed to the ideas that everyone should take psychedelics, or that psychedelics make you more spiritual. “You can think so, but that’s just narcissism.”

Pezza sees strings of unhealthy behavior throughout the psychedelic community, and is especially concerned about selfishness, recklessness. and sexism. GenPsY proved to be an exception to what he sees elsewhere. “When I saw GAPS on stage for their Q&A, I was like ‘Oh my god, there’s only two guys on stage,” Pezza said.

“And ten women!” shouted Tomlinson from the crowd. A few hours later, Tomlinson spoke and answered questions with Jae Starfox, who is described on the event’s website as “a queer, trans, psychedelic person.” The two hope that psychedelic effects on consciousness can help people understand heteronormativity ideology. “Some of the info in this talk may be a new perspective for you,” Tomlinson said. A psychedelic one? In a way.

“We have this picture handed to us,” Tomlinson said of binary gender roles. Now she rejects that picture. “I am a deeply spiritual person, and I had a mystical life-changing event on psychedelics.”

Her mystical event happened a few years after her first time trying LSD. Since, she has reconsidered how gender roles and other power systems are used, and how that affects society and culture.

Originally, she was hesitant to do psychedelics because of anti-drug programs like the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE).

It’s Tomlinson and other psychedelic researchers of her generation’s goal to undermine many of the myths perpetrated about psychedelics since the War on Drugs began. “Psychedelics are not addictive. There’s no strychnine in acid; strychnine can’t fit on a blotter. DMT isn’t released when you’re born and when you die,” Tomlinson said.

“DARE was a horrible failure,” said GAPS member Ciará Nevada. She remembers having these fear-driven ideas put into her when she went through DARE.

After Tomlinson graduates this Fall, Nevada will be taking over as one of the two chief coordinators at GAPS.

Running a group like GAPS means being an expert and comforting figure to anyone who shows up to a meeting. Often, people approach Tomlinson to work through any trauma they’ve had in relation to their psychedelic studies. This kind of emotional counseling prepares students for working as a therapist in the field. “It’s definitely not just based around ingesting a substance,” Tomlinson said at the GAPS Q&A panel on Friday night.

On the Tuesday before the conference, Tomlinson and Nevada discussed the future of GAPS on the third floor of the CAB. The two are invested in making sure people are comfortable there. Nevada wants to highlight the risks involved with psychedelics and making sure that people “stay safe.”

“We don’t say safe,” Tomlinson corrected Nevada. According to Tomlinson, “staying safe” implies that there is something in the psychedelics that causes harm, which she sees no evidence to support. Her stance is that any harm coming out of these experiences are caused by fear-mongering and pre-existing conditions. “These aren’t psychedelic experiences, these are human experiences.”

GAPS generates a forum to discuss these human experiences, and the goal is for the forum to be a human and egalitarian place. “There have been lots of situations where men make women feel uncomfortable during the open forum,” Tomlinson said. “We work on calling that behavior in.”

“But its also really important that we don’t attack these men,” Nevada said.

“Right,” Tomlinson said. “Which is why I say ‘calling-in’ rather than ‘calling-out.’”

Nevada wants to focus on creative expression once in charge of GAPS. “We already have had days where everyone paints or listens to music together,” Tomlinson said, reminding Nevada of the good creative base layer set up. “You’re gonna be in charge of sending students to a conference,” Tomlinson said to Nevada.

Other recent psychedelic conferences in the Bay Area inspired GenPsY. Through GAPS’ administration funding, Tomlinson was able to send groups of students to multiple events over the past three years, such as Psychedelic Science 2013, which treated attendees to a catered sunset cruise of San Francisco Bay on the first night of the event.

Nevada is hesitant to host another conference of this magnitude. “Maybe. Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel.”

“Do it your senior year,” Tomlinson said. Once graduated, she will attend graduate school at the California Institute for Integral Studies to further her training as a psychedelic therapist.

“Katie is very knowledgeable,” Nevada said. During her time at Evergreen, Tomlinson went through extensive academic research on psychedelics, including a six-credit Independent Learning Contract on MDMA therapy. “There’s not a better undergrad college to study these things at,” she said.

During the closing ceremonies, Tomlinson handed the mic to Nevada in celebration of her promotion.

“I’m really excited about continuing this student group,” Nevada said. “I’d like to center the group around collaborative work and working together.”

In the bright Sunday afternoon, GenPsY dissolved. A weekend of career networking and synergy between consciousness-expanding organizations ended, but the psychedelic movement in the new millennium keeps rolling.