By Mark Miller
“Technology and Transcendence” was the theme for Mind States VI held Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco. This gathering of scientists, doctors, artists, philosophers and psychedelic voyagers arriving from across the globe couldn’t have been further removed from the typical American approach to the holiday. Attending the 6th annual Mind States event was quite like being transported away from America (especially given our current repressive climate) to a place that does not yet exist on the face of the Earth—but ought to
The highlight of first day was the mushroom panel, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Gordon Wasson’s first psilocybin mushroom experience in Mexico in 1955, effectively introducing entheogens into modern Western culture. The panel opened with Linda Rosa Corazon, who described the therapeutic effects of all-night mushroom ceremonies that often end in transforming group-therapy sessions. Corazon conducts what she calls “magical medicine” tours, introducing novices to psychedelic rituals in Mexico.
Mike Crowley primarily focused on mushroom use in ancient India intertwining with mythology. He claims the blue god Shiva was ascribed that color because of the bruised blue stalks of picked mushrooms.
Buddhist secret societies were said to drink a potion called “Soma,” which likely contained mushrooms, thus contradicting the typical Buddhist leanings toward sobriety.
Dr. Charles S. Grob discussed an approved study he’s currently conducting with pure psilocybin being administered to 12 terminal cancer patients suffering from anxiety. He added that the University of Arizona is researching psilocybin use for obsessive-compulsives.
Tom Riedlinger recounted the Indiana Jones-like tale of Wasson’s often-treacherous trips to Mexico in the mid-’50s, where he consumed psilocybin mushrooms in the remote mountains of Mixeteco. Riedlinger’s re-creation was strengthened by excellent photos taken at the time by Wasson’s traveling companion Allan Richardson, along with actual audio tape of Maria Sabina (the Mazatec curandera who guided Wasson’s first trip) chanting during the night.
Wasson’s experiences were first published in his 1957 Life magazine article and he is credited with the “Wasson Theory;” holding that psychedelic mushroom use by primitive humans was responsible for development of memory, language, and as a consequence, self-consciousness.
Mind States VI wasn’t all about psychedelics, as Day 2 focused more on art and high-tech related issues. Software programmer Ramez Naam explored the increasing alteration of the human body and mind via genetic engineering, brain implants (such as to restore sight to the blind), robotics (to regain use of missing limbs), gene therapy and drugs. Naam’s appearance was the most controversial of the weekend, drawing challenges from some audience members concerned the use of technologies for mind control and to create a “perfect race.”
The animated futurist Mark Pesce had his own unique take on file-sharing technology under fire from mega-corporations: “All they see is theft,” he said. “It’s not that we’ll all be famous for 15 minutes in the future, it’s that we’ll all be TV stations in the future.”
Author Piers Bizony proposed that both the scientist and the artist are driven by the same quest for “simplicity and beauty.” Aesthetics now define how scientific images are presented, such as the imagery rendered by computers analyzing subatomic particles smashed together in a superconductor. Bizony also touched on quantum mechanics, string theory and the idea that the entire universe maybe constructed of code—bits of information.
The final day of Mind States VI featured the highly MAPS executive director Rick Doblin, who spoke about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) therapeutic research study currently being conducted with MDMA at the University of South Carolina. Encouragingly, the FDA recently approved similar Ecstasy research on US soldiers who’ve suffered PTSD while serving in Iraq.
Doblin drew laughs when he explained MAP’ difficulty in obtaining 10 grams of medical marijuana from the FDA for a study, quipping, “We’re the only people in America who can’t get 10 grams of pot!”
Doblin outlined his ambitious strategy for bringing psychedelic drugs to the mainstream. With such substances eventually treated as medicines, this could lead to the “driver’s license” model first proposed by Timothy Leary; that a person must have a license in order to legally possess/use a given drug. While this heavily regulates psychedelics and cannabis, it still may represent the “doorway to legalization,” Doblin concluded.
Visionary artist Alex Grey, known for his work with rock bands like Tool (as well as on the cover of HIGH TIMES), connected drugs and art. Grey’s examples ran the gamut from the peyote-inspired feather art of the Apache to his own personal use of LSD in his psychedelic depictions of the “universal mind lattice.”
Mind States IV wound down with the Harm Reduction panel, featuring nutritionists Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw. The biggest risk drugs—cocaine and methamphetamine —can bring on sudden-death heart attacks. They recommended taking the nutrient DHA (found in seaweed and fish oil) and the antioxidant taurine to protect the heart.
Regarding cannabis, Pearson and Shaw urged the use of vaporizers and reminded those growing pot to avoid using nitrate fertilizers on plants, nitrate being linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Salvia divinorum, LSD and Ketamine are drugs that require a “sitter,” they advised Kava-kava should only be used ceremoniously to prevent serious liver toxicity, and Ibogaine is unfortunately a neurotoxin, they reported. Psilocybin remained the star substance of the weekend, described as “remarkably benign” by Pearson, though when it comes to Amanita, one should consult an “expert” to be aware of the active ingredients in the ’shroom before following Wasson’s path to spiritual transcendence.