How To Build A Psychedelic Community


Episode 17

Ashley Booth

We’re joined by Ashley Booth of the Aware Project, a psychedelic community based in Southern California. Ashley tells us about a transformative experience with 5-MeO-DMT that changed her from an agnostic to a believer, and prompted her to quit her job as a scientist and pursue a career in psychedelic therapy. We talk about the difficulties in setting up a psychedelic community, and what we can do to “Find the Others.”

Podcast Highlights

The Aware Project is an organization based in LA that brings together the psychedelic community in Southern California. They arrange a wide range of events and bring in expert speakers on an almost weekly basis. In just over two years, the Aware Project has organised over fifty events and is now one of the largest psychedelic communities in the world.

Ashley Booth founded the project through an unusual route. Initially a professional biologist, Ashley went to Burning Man after college and had a profound experience with MDMA, which opened her up to a new way of being, and gave her a new sense of community.

After going to Burning Man every subsequent year, Ashley had an experience with 5-MeO-DMT, a natural psychedelic secreted by the Bufo alvaris toad, that changed her life completely. The intensely mystical and spiritual experience changed her personality to be less materialistic and more balanced, and turned her from an agnostic to feeling connected to something greater than herself.

She decided to quit her job in science and to pursue a Masters in social work, with an aim of becoming a licensed therapist. She currently works with MAPS in their LA trials of MDMA for the treatment of PTSD.

Her experience with 5-MeO-DMT also prompted her to create the Aware Project, and foster psychedelic community in LA. She was surprised to find that there was no coherent psychedelic community anywhere in Southern California, so took it upon herself to start organizing large events that anyone could join.

Ashley gives some advice to people who may be interested in joining their local psychedelic community, or starting their own. The Aware Project website contains a guide on starting up your own psychedelic community, and contains a list of existing psychedelic communities that you can join.

Ashley’s transition from scientist to therapist is simply inspiring. She sums up her motivations by saying that we’re not going to be able to heal animals or the environment before we heal people. And she believes that psychedelics may be the best healing tools we can imagine.

Podcast Transcript

00:29 Paul Austin: Hey listeners and welcome back to The Third Wave Podcast. Part of what we're trying to do at Third Wave is to incubate local psychedelic communities. In fact, we're rolling out a project fairly soon called, "Find the Others," which is a program that's going to help our local community start psychedelic societies and develop individuals who can lead those psychedelic societies in an effective and pragmatic way. And so on the podcast this week, we have Ashley Booth, who is from The Aware Project, which is a psychedelic organization based in Southern California, out of Los Angeles originally but Ashley also does events in San Diego. In this episode Ashley tells us about her transformative experience with 5-MeO-DMT, that changed her from a fairly materialist, reductionist, agnostic to a believer in these other aspects of spirituality, which ended up leading her to quit her job as a scientist and pursue a career in psychedelic therapy. So we talk about a number of things, including difficulties in setting up a psychedelic community and what you can do as a listener to find the others, to find other people who are also interested in psychedelics.

01:42 PA: If you live in a major city right now, there may or may not be a psychedelic community and if there is, try to join it and try to go to some events and get to know those people. When we start building community around these substances, amazing transformations happen. And the better community, the stronger community that we can build the more leverage we will have in the future when we want to make these substances available to everyone who would like to use them, not just wealthy white people that's really important. No, yeah, just two general announcements, but I also give these announcements in almost every other podcast. If you enjoyed this podcast please consider making a donation to the patreon page. I'm trying to make Third Wave and its content production autonomous from all of the projects. Ideally in the future, we'll be able to support all the costs that are associated with Third Wave, community resource and page by patreon donations. But really to make that occur, we need your support and we need your contributions.

04:05 PA: So yeah, that's it. Guys, I hope you really enjoy the show. If you do enjoy the show, please leave a review on iTunes, it will take just about a minute of your time. And again, it would help tremendously in what we're doing. So thank you for your time, thank you for your attention and I hope you have an excellent Sunday or Monday or week or month or life. It's a pleasure to spend this time with you.


04:45 PA: Hey, listeners, welcome back to Third Wave Podcast. We have probably one of the more important guests on the show today. Her name is Ashley Booth and she's from the Aware Project and Ashley focuses on building psychedelic community in the greater Los Angeles area. And as we have spoken about on this podcast, but also more broadly in Third Wave before, tremendously important aspect of making these substances more available to those who wanted to use them is to build grassroots community. And so I wanted to bring Ashley on the show to give you guys a perspective and overview of what she's doing at the Aware Project and things that she's learned from it. So Ashley, thanks so much for coming on the show.

05:26 Ashley Booth: Thanks for having me.

05:28 PA: So can you tell us a little bit about the Aware Project and how it got started?

05:33 AB: Sure. So, our full name is The Aware Project: Rethinking Psychedelics. It was an idea that came through for me a couple of years ago, I guess really started about four, four and a half years ago, when I had a really big experience with psychedelics as what inspires many people I suppose in the community that are working in this capacity. And felt really compelled to contribute to more people knowing and having better information about this stuff. And I think when I... After having such a big beautiful experience and then coming back and also there was while I was in such a beautiful glow at the... Within the experience, but what happened afterwards was a sense of a sadness because more people didn't have access to these substances, should they want to have an experience with them or have accurate information about it. So that really planted a seed, I suppose. And from there at first I thought it was gonna be more of a social media campaign but my ex-boyfriend was an event producer, for several years, and he had been running this Salon series of talks, sort of based off of the TED style. And so when I was looking around... So I lived in Los Angeles, and I was looking around, I'm like, "Well I wonder if there's other people around here like some sort of psychedelic society in Los Angeles."

06:58 AB: 'Cause I knew that there was a lot of different types of groups up in San Francisco, north of us and I started looking around and there was just next to nothing [chuckle] and I was really surprised considering we're one of the largest congregations of humans [chuckle] in this country. And so, I was thinking, "Well, maybe I could start do a Bicycle Day event, to celebrate the discovery of LSD, down here" and then a friend suggested, "Well, once you get some hype going for the Bicycle Day event by doing some smaller events, bringing in different speakers". So it started to start off in January of 2015, and I just got the speaker, and the next month I got another speaker and then we had another speaker, and then we had Bicycle Day, and then it just continued. And the community started to grow more and more and it was really a way to start to bring people together and have conversations about this stuff, because there's a lot of medicine work going on in this city, a lot of plant medicine, a lot of Ayahuasca but as far as connecting all of the different communities and people that are... Any kind of psychedelic is not just plant medicine.

08:11 AB: So, my goal has really been to try and connect to all of these existing communities and also get it out there to individuals that have been exploring these things on their own, but had not had a community. So it's evolved over the last couple of years, and now we have three events a month, with predominantly local speakers, almost the entire time I've been able to grab local speakers, which is pretty cool. And we have an event downtown in Los Angeles, events on the west side. And then last year, we started doing events in San Diego. So not just in Los Angeles, but we're all of certain California. So it's been an exciting progression of things and it's taken my life in a completely [chuckle] different direction, but I'm really thrilled to be contributing in this way and seeing how things unfold.

09:00 PA: So you mentioned this beautiful experience that you have, and as you mentioned, a lot of us have these experience, who are engaged and involved in this psychedelic space, even a lot of the researchers have had these experiences even if they don't necessarily talk about them. A, was that the first experience that you had? Or was it just a particularly transformative one that made you wanna take the initiative to start the community? And B, how did that experience... What was pre-Ashley and post-Ashley like, from having that experience?

09:37 AB: Yeah, so I guess I'll back up a little bit. So my background is, actually, I have a masters degree in Oceanography [chuckle] and I worked in Marine biology and Oceanography for nine years. So my life was mostly surrounded by [chuckle] scientists and environmental initiatives and happening parallel but my second summer out of college, I went to Burning Man for the first time and not knowing at all what I was getting myself into. I had never done any kind of psychedelics or had smoked cannabis before that, but other than that, I was a complete novice, and when I went there, I did MDMA for the first time and it just completely opened me up to a whole different way of being, and connecting to people in a different way and then also just having a sense of community that I had never had before, growing up, being at Burning Man. And so I've gone to Burning Man every year for the last 10 years now, and it has completely reshaped the person that I am and the kind of way I wanna impact the world.

10:45 AB: So I had different experiences with different psychedelics over the years, but the one that really catalyzed, the really big shift was four years ago I had an experience with 5-MeO-DMT, which was the most important experience of my life, period. And it connected me to a part of myself that I didn't have access to before. I had such a heart opening experience and I would say a mystical experience, which many people do on that substance. And it completely shifted my paradigm, and I felt like I was given such a gift to be able to have that experience. For whatever reason, I know many people that do that substance now, and some get it, that kind of experience and others don't, but for some reason I guess my system was just ready for it. So I would say before that experience, I was pretty more of a logic, left brain thinking person, and I feel like having that experience connected me to my right brain and makes me feel like I'm more of a balanced person now. And I feel really grateful to have both of those sides of myself to be able to move through and navigate this space, especially, now because there's [chuckle].. And navigating through a lot of the different ways that people have interpreted their psychedelic experiences, having a science brain, and that science background has really helped me to keep my feet on the ground while I have my heart opened and the top of my head blown off into the universe.

12:21 AB: So I feel like that's some of the way that it's... The stability that I've been able to maintain as I've changed my life quite dramatically over the last couple of years, so I quit my job in science by year... Just over a year ago, which was a big jump for me with the interest of getting into therapy and eventually working towards helping people with these medicines, once they become legal. Yeah, [chuckle] it's been quite an unfolding and I guess I can get into it now. I mean, through doing the Aware project, I got connected more and more to MAPS, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and they decided to do one of the phase three clinical trials of MDMA psychotherapy for PTSD, here in Los Angeles. I was able to help some of the people get connected to therapists and other people in my community, the community that I gathered and then I applied to be part of the study in some way as a staff member.

13:24 AB: I don't have the background to be a therapist yet, but I ended up getting chosen to be the study coordinator for the clinical trial. I'm absolutely thrilled to be a part of that, and to be starting next step of my [chuckle] journey along this path. And then I also just got into grad school, so I'll be starting in the fall, do a master's in social work in the interest of getting on the path to becoming a licensed therapist. Yeah, my life is completely taking a 180.

13:52 PA: You sound busy, you sound busy now.

13:54 AB: I'm very busy, I'm very busy. But what is it? My boyfriend came up with a phrase, he says "Busy but blessed". [chuckle]

14:02 PA: Right that's a good way of looking at it. Now with 5MeO-DMT for any listeners who are maybe unfamiliar with that, it's the toad medicine, right? It's...

14:13 AB: It is.

14:13 PA: It comes from the glands of the Bufo Alvarius is that how you say it?

14:18 AB: Alvarius, yeah.

14:19 PA: Alvarius, something like that?

14:20 AB: Yeah.

14:21 PA: Yeah, what was your experience with that? 'Cause we haven't had a guest on the show yet who's talked about that. How did it compare to like smoking DMT for example, or even just... What was the experience like in general?

14:36 AB: Yeah, so I have quite a bit of experience now with that because I do work at a clinic in Mexico that works with the toad medicine. So yeah, it's from... The substance itself is actually found in several plants in bufo toxin of the Sonoran Desert Toad. And you can also make it synthetically and then the other more interesting part is that it's made in our bodies naturally both, and NDMT which is what's in Ayahuasca and 5MeO-DMT are both made endogenously. And yeah you can extract the bufo toxin from the glands of the toad, it doesn't hurt the toad but there are concerns these days about the toads are getting poached, unfortunately and so, yeah it's really important to... Yeah, there's definitely some sustainability concerns.

15:22 AB: The first several times I did it actually was with this synthetic form, all the forms that I've tried, which is an extracts of toad version and synthetic. All got me to the same place and then there's just slight different body effects [chuckle] It was funny cause I did had two experiences within about a week of each other with different substances. One was from the toad and then another one was derived from a particular kind of grass and called phalaris grass. It was funny because when I came out of the experience with the grass I was... [chuckle] it was like some feeling in my body that was like, "This feels planty", and I can't really put my finger out what it feels like. And then when I did the toad about a week later it's like, my body feels toady [chuckle] It's just a quality to it, it just felt more like the essence of the organism that it came from, which is funny.

16:19 AB: So the experience itself, is I guess I'd like to do a quick PSA announcement about this substance before I get too much more into it, is that it's really, really, I can't stress this enough, you really need to have a trained facilitator with this medicine. 'Cause I would consider it, and many other people would consider it the most powerful psychoactive that we have encountered on this planet, yeah, and I don't say that lightly [chuckle] And it's really important to have someone, this is not the kind of thing that you should be buying off the dark net and just doing because lot of stuff can happen during the experience. And while your consciousness is journeying your body may move around a lot, and you need to have a trained sitters to be able to hold space for you and especially to be able to be there if you have challenge or even just to be able to hold that space for you as you come out. Even if you have a really amazing experience, yeah, I can't stress that enough. [chuckle]

17:16 AB: Yeah I was lucky to get connected to a really experienced facilitator, and it's an experience that last, I would say, an average of 45 minutes if you really let yourself stay in the experience. Some people let the peak of it comes on it in the first 10 to 15 minutes, and a lot of people... What it seems like is that your consciousness is your ego structure is dissolving which allows your small consciousness to reunite with the big consciousness, and you can put whatever language you want on that, and for me it felt like a very divine experience. And coming from a person that was [chuckle] a pretty adamant atheist for most of my life, but prior to this experience, I guess I would call myself more of an agnostic 'cause I was like, "I don't know what's going on here". To having a really connected experience was pretty wild, but it's an experience that doesn't really have to do with form and content. I know I've met a very few amount of people that actually see visions of things, as far as Ayahuasca or NMDMT, the visions that people tend to have are of objects or shapes, and colors, and beings, where's 5MeO is more about you're going into this tunnel of iridescent light and it's incredibly gorgeous and I would consider much more of a cymatic and glooming body-based and heart experience than it is a cognitive experience at least in the first part of it.

19:00 AB: So what happened to me is, I really very quickly was able to surrender to the dissolving of my ego and then was just enveloped in by this sense of infinite love and compassion and it was so healing. And when my consciousness sort of started to come back down from the experience and my ego started to form back together again, I was just crying and crying and feeling so much gratitude for being able to be connected to that and to feel I was able to remember something that I had forgotten and the experiences that I've had since then.

19:40 AB: I go back to the same place and it's like I remember where I came from. But what I think really was important for me was that during the experience I had, I guess it was a bit of a vision, but I must have had my eyes open at the time but I didn't really realize it. But I was looking up, I was inside at a house, and I was looking up at the lamp and the ceiling and it was this... In my vision, it looked like this glowing golden orb and this consciousness that I was interacting with was saying that this was a symbol of all of creation and that all of it was a gift. And so I've really taken that to heart 'cause I really believe that this experience that we're having in these bodies, whatever it is, is something to revel in exploring and trying new experiences and enjoy being in these bodies when we can. And not about necessarily trying to get back to that place of connectedness and bliss, which I know can be a rampid especially in some of the new age community where it's getting back to your bliss. And I really feel like it's more about embracing all aspects of our humanity, but yeah after the experience even you cascade back down again in your ego starts to reform.

20:57 AB: Typically people... That can be a time when you can start to notice different aspects of your personality coming back in, which can be a really good time to notice what's serving you and what's not. And so if people manage to stay focused as they come back in they can really... There's a lot of really subtle insights that can come in the tail end of the experience. 'Cause sometimes people of pop back into their body and then they wanna talk about their experience. But I find that if you really just stay inward focused for that time it's a lot that can come up. So I can go on and on about this. [chuckle]

21:31 PA: Yeah, yeah. And I'm gonna interrupt you now 'cause I wanna dig into something that you had mentioned and this transition from being an atheist to an agnostic to maybe something beyond. I've gone through a similar transition. I was raised in a very Christian protestant home, didn't really buy it, transitioned to reading Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and pretty rigorous type of materialist atheism. And then had a number of psychedelic experiences. And at first didn't see the connection between those experiences and consciousness and infinite love. But then as I started to read more Aldous Huxley I understood that there was this relationship between these experiences and what mystics had experienced. And started to rediscover what it meant to be connected to this infinite ground of all being as they sometimes call, or transcending duality. Whatever you wanna refer to it as. Can you tell us a little more about that transition for you? And it sounds the 5-MeO-DMT was a catalyst into something beyond just agnosticism and to an acknowledgement of a greater bigger consciousness. What about your other psychedelic experiences? What role did those play in maybe helping reconsider atheism?

22:48 AB: Yeah, well, I'm gonna get to those. I guess the first part of your question, first. So yeah, the transition [chuckle] with... The experience itself was complete bliss and connectedness and such a... But the integration was intense. 'Cause I... It was like I didn't even... My whole sense of reality that I had based on reality was like, it had to be [chuckle] restructured. So it probably took me a good year and a half to integrate the bulk of that experience. It's something that I am gonna continue to be integrating for the rest of my life. But what really... It didn't help that all of my friends were all scientists and mostly atheists [chuckle] So I really didn't have a lot of people talk to. So that was one thing. But I had been doing Kundalini Yoga which is a much more, I would say, spiritual form of yoga. So when I went back to yoga after the experience and they sing this beautiful song at the end of it that goes, "May the long time sun shine upon you, may all love surround you and the pure light within you guide your way on."

23:58 AB: And after, when I heard that, after that experience I was like, "Oh, I get it now." And so I ended up doing nine months of Kundalini yoga teacher training as an attempt to help myself integrate from this experience. 'Cause I didn't come from a religious or spiritual background at all. Both my parents are in the sciences as well. It didn't have any kind of context and to put the experience in a container. And so that really helped me with that. So [chuckle] it took a long time. I just had these kind of moments where I'd be at work and then I'd snap into this space I'd be like, "Wait a second, I had that experience." It was like I could still fall back into my everyday consciousness and then be like, "Whoa I went there." So it was a rough transition for a little while. But now I'm on the other end of that and feels very good about where I am. And navigating, using science as a metric of truth I think is a still an excellent [chuckle].. The scientific method is really a good... It's really good.

25:04 AB: But it was sort of like, "Well if I believe in some sort of higher power now does that mean I believe in aliens and crystals and chakras and metaphysics and ghosts and"... All this stuff. And it was like, "I don't know." [chuckle] And so having to create a slightly new metric for myself on how to determine if something is real or not. And it's still something that I'm trying to figure out now and is an ongoing thing.

25:33 PA: Have you looked to other writers or authors or philosophers to maybe find clarity on that or people even within your more immediate circle? A couple of people that come to mind for these questions that I struggle with as well in terms of there is a sense of spirit obviously, in this world that has been ignored for a very long time. And rekindling that can often lead to what you're saying, confusion about the nature of reality, I think. If you go from a very reductionist type of worldview where science is the only thing and atheism. And then you have this experience that you're talking about where it's clear that there is a sense of validity to the mystical experience and what that means and how to incorporate it. For me, I dealt with a similar question. And I remember reading people like William James who wrote this book called The Varieties of Religious Experience in the early 20th century, Aldous Huxley was very helpful for that. How did you find clarity around those questions?

26:36 AB: Yeah, so one of the books that really helped me a lot was a book by Neale Donald Walsch called Conversations with God which is... I guess you could consider it maybe more on the lines of a channeled book. But he... I don't know if you've heard the context. But essentially the overview is that I was kind of... The author was... Nothing was going right in his life and he lost a job, he got a divorce. All these things happened at the same time. And then one night, started writing this angry letter to God and this voice in his head started answering [chuckle] And so he started having a conversation with it and taking dictation. And... Which past Ashley would have been, like, "Okay he's crazy." [chuckle]

27:16 AB: But when I was listening to the audiobook of it, and there were parts of the book that really resonated. And it was a perspective on spirituality that felt very uncluttered by a lot of dogma, or superstition. And it felt very practical, in a lot of ways. So that really helped form a way to think about it, for me. And, let's see what else I have read. I don't know. I mean, I haven't done too much reading, but since that experience, I've gotten a lot more into poetry. I love, love, love "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran, and Hafiz, and Rumi. And it's like I finally feel like I understand the essence of what they're talking about. So, in a way, I think [chuckle] none of us... I mean, humans have been trying to put words and understand the essence of the universe, since the beginning of time.

28:19 AB: And so none of us have been able to capture it fully, but I think one of the things that's so beautiful about psychedelics is that it's not like a religion, or a book, or someone asking you to believe something because someone else has some sort of experience and you should just believe them. But it has a potential to offer a direct experience for yourself. And I believe that, in a way, language is flawed, intentionally, and then I can never fully describe, fully the experience that I had, such, that it feels like you had the experience. You have to go have it for yourself. So I think this psychedelic renaissance is giving us an opportunity to move into a place of having our own direct experiential connection to something bigger than ourselves, rather than taking someone else's word for it.

29:14 PA: And I think that's why it seems psychedelics are one aspect of that. It seems to be a trigger point, or a tie-in from a broad cultural level, where we've been without this direct experience. We've really replaced spirituality with materialism for so long, and people are craving, they're absolutely craving this, and I think that's a huge reason why we're seeing this re-emergence of psychedelics. We just can't continue as a species for that much longer, ignoring this integral part of who we are as human beings.

29:52 AB: Yeah, for sure. I think these different substances [chuckle] have been gifted to the world at different times. You've got LSD, which had such a huge impact on western culture. And then 5-MeO-DMT is a very recent introduction. There are a few South American snuffs that have 5-MeO in them. And I believe there are a couple of different tribes that add particular plants to their Ayahuasca brews, that add a little bit of 5-MeO. But as far as much modern usage, if there was usage back with the toads especially, we've completely lost that knowledge, and it's having to get rediscovered. So I don't think it's an accident that we're rediscovering it now, because it's such a rapid [chuckle] wake-up. And we're getting to this place, as a world community, that we're needing that more abrupt wakeup.

30:56 PA: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I recently interviewed Daniel Pinchbeck.

31:01 AB: Yeah, he was just in town.

31:02 PA: Oh, cool. Yeah We were both in Amsterdam. So he was doing an event. It wasn't about Ayahuasca, but it was about cognitive faculties, and he was speaking about Ayahuasca. We were both in Amsterdam at the same time, so I got to sit down, in person, with him. I had met him in Prague, and then again at Horizons, and we talked about these things. And because his entire new book, how soon is that out, is about ecological crisis that we're facing, and how it may act as a mass initiation for humanity, because psychedelics, for thousands of years, have been used in indigenous societies to initiate, in many cases. And we've lost that. And that has had consequences, like a president who acts like a thirteen-year-old, because a lot of men in our society, and women as well, don't have the maturity that maybe they did in previous cultures and ways of living. But that's very digressing. And I'd like to say, on topic, and what I'd like to do with you, actually, is I'd like to get a little bit more into the Aware Project because I love having this conversation, would love to keep going, but I also think there's a lot of valuable knowledge that you hold about psychedelic community.

32:19 PA: I think one project we spoke about on the call before we went live, is that we're working on Third Wave, is this Find the Others Project, which is helping to incubate psychedelic community. If there are any listeners listening to this, what would you say to people who are thinking about starting a psychedelic community? What should they do, and what's an effective way to run and manage a psychedelic community?

32:43 AB: So yeah, for one I think the Find the Others campaign, I think, is an excellent idea. So, I've had other people ask me questions about this before, and so I have, on our website now, a section, where, if you go to Events, and we've got a list of the global communities. So if you don't live in the Greater Los Angeles area, or Southern California area, you can look up and see if you can find other existing communities in a lookup table. And if you don't find someone in your area, we have something called Start a Group. And if you click on that, it's a downloadable Google Doc that's a how-to guide to gather your local psychedelic community. And it gives some ideas on finding more from both a What do you create for content. I have access to a lot of different speakers, because I live in a huge metropolitan area. But if you live in a smaller area and don't have access to that, I have a list of other types of things that you could do with a group, whether it's a book club, or you start a peer support group, or you celebrate a holiday, like Bicycle Day, or Sasha Shilken's birthday, night for Silo Cybin or maybe you have someone from a community read up on a whole bunch of stuff about a particular topic and then present it to the group.

34:05 AB: There's a whole bunch of different ways that it could look or you do it like a movie night. So it can look a lot of different ways. And then I have some basic tips on doing event production and promotion and finding and how to make a safe space for what you're doing. Meet up is a really great way to do this so a meet up, we consistently get a trickle of new people, because your meet up allows you to get outside of the bubble a bit, whereas with Facebook, you're doing a little bit more friends of friends connecting and you can do Facebook advertising, too. It's been a little tricky to try and figure out how to do that given the topic. And then the other group way, I would suggest to people if they're in the US, the Psychedelic Club, which is based in the midwest, they also have a way, like a start-up kit to start your own psychedelic club. And so, our little start-up kit here isn't necessarily to start another Aware Project, but it's just to start your own group and feel empowering to be able to do that yourself.

35:04 AB: And yeah, I mean it's we're out there, and it's sort of interesting and I'm not quite sure what it is that makes someone go from having had a couple of experiences, to feeling like they want to be part of a bigger community. 'Cause I came from Burning Man, in which it's all community. And so, when I started this group, it wasn't that I was necessarily looking for psychedelic community because I was so connected to so many different people doing this stuff at Burning Man, but it was more of coming from a place of advocacy, but many people have experiences and then they don't have many people to talk to them about. So, I think that that's a big driver. And so, part of this evolution over the last couple of years has been trying to figure out how to find those people.

35:54 PA: The others, right? Finding the others to some degree. You started the Aware Project in January 2015 and you've now been running it, it's been upwards of two and a half years. What have you learned about leadership as you've been running and managing and handling the Aware Project?

36:14 AB: Oh, good question. [chuckle] Boy, it's been a psychedelic transformative experience, just doing this whole thing. Yeah, how do you encourage people to take their own initiative because what I wanted to create with the Aware Project is an umbrella so that other people could come in with different ideas on advocacy campaigns or events and be able to do them and then I can support them with that. And I'm really, as I'm transitioning to this, to work with maps and grad school, I'm really focusing a lot more on that now. And so one way that I'm starting to implement is to ask someone from the community to step up and to commit to doing event production for three months, and then I can teach them how to do it and how to make the website or how to make the event pages, how to connect with the speakers and I actually have been using, I guess, it's a project organizing tool called Wunderlist, and so I made a sort of a template of everything that needs to be done for a particular event, and then I can add people to it and it gives details about all these different things. And then, what the idea would be is that that person would then teach the next person who wants to step up for three months, and that way nobody gets burned out.

37:25 AB: Because I definitely, definitely burned myself out at about a year, year and a half in, 'cause I was just trying to do too many things, but now I've got more and more people that are stepping up to support and it's definitely been a project or definitely been a process to teach people in a way that empowers them rather than... And it encourages them to take their own leadership and add their own flavor to what it is that they're doing. So yeah, it's still something that I'm definitely learning more and more about, but it takes a group of really passionate people 'cause it is a lot of work to do this stuff but it's really rewarding at the same time. Something that I learnt from my ex-boyfriend who was the event producer, he said that the person that gets the most out of an event is the person that produces it. So I've met so many different people in doing these events and gotten so many fascinating connections that all of those connections are priceless compared to the amount of effort that has gone into all of this. So yeah, well, and plus just the, the knowing that I'm contributing. So, yeah, and that sort of answers your question, but it's still something I'm figuring out for myself.

38:36 PA: Well, and I think it is, it is an evolving process and I think what makes that somewhat challenging in our society is even our definition of leadership is changing as we evolve, even things like our organizational structures that we work within in a business environment or even in a science environment, it seems like more and more leadership is not necessarily about being like a typical CEO of a 30,000-employee company. Instead, it seems like leadership comes from what you were saying, empowering others, teaching others, educating others and not trying to do a ton yourself, instead, understanding the importance of I think multi-generational projects, that it's important to pass the baton on so that these values and these communities can continue to evolve and grow. And so I think one thing that a lot of people, one caution that a lot of people have in starting a psychedelic community is they're worried that they've maybe never had any leadership physicians before or they're just nervous about being open about starting a psychedelic community. For you, when you started the Aware Project, did you have to overcome any type of fears or hesitations in doing it or was it just more like, "Shit! I just had this amazing experience. I'm gonna go do this and just see what happens." What was that like for you when you were just deciding to get it up and going?

40:03 AB: Yeah, no, there was definitely some fears involved [chuckle] It wasn't necessarily in starting it, per se, in terms of the logistics, I had been around, I guess I'm a pretty determined person [chuckle] and I don't know, I feel like letting go of perfectionism is something that [chuckle] is an important lesson and just kinda getting things out there, as best you can and 'cause if you never start [chuckle] 'cause it's not perfect, then you don't get anywhere. But then the main fears, or... And I had several long nights of conversations with my boyfriend [chuckle] at the time. About fully coming out of the closet as a person that as a psychedelic, what I like to call psychedelic ambassador and I was like "I'm really putting myself out there in a way that's irreversible" given that everything stays on the web somehow. So, I'm really committing myself to this as a kind of a cause, I suppose. And the potential repercussions of that. Luckily, there's more and more of us coming out of the closet, and so I feel like we're also getting some safety in numbers at this time. I went to the Women's visionary Congress, which is a women psychedelic conference that happens north of San Francisco.

41:24 AB: And they had a couple there that were some of the people that were part of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love that made the orange Sunshine Acid of the '60s and '70s and we basically had story time with this couple and man, they had some wild stories about running from the police and being under, in hiding and then getting arrested and it was a much more [chuckle] openly aggressive. Obviously, they're also making acid so [chuckle] I'm not doing that. But it was a different time, and I think we can be a little bit more bold now, we need to make sure... And at the beginning of every one of my events, I say we're creating a safe space here for a conversation, please don't talk about buying, selling or making any of these substances or seeking practitioners or people to get them from because we're using our freedom of speech and despite all of the other degradation of our rights we still have a little bit of a freedom of speech.

42:23 PA: Fingers crossed. I'm crossing my fingers.

42:25 AB: Fingers crossed. [chuckle] Yeah, it was a little scary and I still don't even after doing it for this amount of time, I don't know if I fully grasped the safety concerns and the implication to this, but...

42:38 PA: Why did you do it? If it was that scary why did you go ahead and go forth with it?

42:42 AB: 'Cause that experience that I had with 5-MeO was just so powerful. [chuckle] It felt to me like it was a human right and a soul right to be able to have that kind of experience, to be able to connect back with ourselves, back with our soul, back to the source. However you wanna call it. And a lot of our current religions and spirituality have made these cheap facsimiles and have watered it down so that we don't actually have any... [chuckle] I think all of the sacraments that we are given in most of the religions now are inert [chuckle] whereas psychedelics are definitely art [chuckle] So yeah, it was just, I felt like other people should be able to have this experience if they want to.

43:34 PA: Right. I think that's what inspires a lot of people, frankly is, it's hard when you have such a transformative experience and when you are in a position where you can do something I think this is something that I talk about as I've done some of these seminars and micro-dosing in various places. I was talking with Terry Cribbs the other day, or a couple of weeks ago when I was in Oslo doing one with Emma Sophia, and we were hanging out after, and we were talking about micro-dosing and you know there's a lack of science with micro-dosing and blah, blah, blah, blah and I go "Terry look, it's not about the science, or it's not even about micro-dosing. This is about giving people an opportunity to be more open about using these substances in a way that's responsible, that can help them to heal and can help them to touch into the source." And thankfully, you touched on, there are a lot of us who can come out of the closet. From my perspective, my income and my reputation is not really tied to a job or a boss. I can do and want, as I say, I come from a middle class family, I'm a white male. All these things. So I think this even puts the onus on those who can do it to do it.

44:54 PA: Because frankly there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of black people in the States who can't even talk about their cannabis use. There are now potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants who can't even talk about their cannabis use because they will get deported by ICE if that happens. It's some really fucked up shit that's happening right now with the drug war and with all these new immigration laws. So I think it makes it even that much more critical for those who can, to do it. And to do in a way that's comfortable for the position that they're in. But I think hiding behind the shame and the stigma of psychedelic use while it may have made sense even as recent as five years ago, like you were emphasizing there are a number of people who we can stand now and solidarity with about these experiences and I think the paranoia that permeate psychedelic culture still today is more of a projection, from past trauma with what happened in the '60s, than a rational understanding of what would actually happen in today's day and age.

46:01 AB: Yeah, the concept of the privilege, I read a really excellent article on the Psymposia magazine by Natalie Ginsberg called Privilege and Safety in the Psychedelic Community. Really fascinating. And yeah, part of what shifted me over to quit my previous career too, was that I felt like "Okay, we're not gonna save the environment and save the animals", which is what was my driving force before going into environmental science, until we heal people. And I was like, "Okay, well, maybe they're still not quite enough people doing environmental science but at the same time, there's still way more than people doing psychedelic science and psychedelic therapy." And so [chuckle] I'm like, "Okay well, I feel like because I know these things I need to make this decision to step up and do this."

46:53 AB: And yeah, being privileged as a middle to upper class white person [chuckle] I have a lot more leeway than a lot of other people in the community. So yeah, it's to be able to start to use our voices. And also I think change that public... One of the way we describe what the Aware Project is that our goal is to change the public conversation about psychedelics and give a new face to Psychedelia. So me as maybe a younger white person that can look very "normal" [chuckle] I need to... And have the science background and be able to speak in this particular way is not what the standard paradigm is saying, of what a person who does psychedelics. The rhetoric tells you that you're a drug dealer or a hippie or you've dropped out of... You can't hold down a job or... It's a lot of different perceptions. And so, as we all start to come out of the closet we show people that people who use these things cross all social and racial and economic boundaries.

47:54 PA: And I think that's a really good point to end on, is that almost like a call to action, or an encouragement, or inspirational message of... I think psychedelic culture and what's going on in Psychedelia, and with the psychedelic research and psychedelic therapy, and even more cultural pushes, like what you're doing at the Aware Project, and what we're trying to do with Third Wave is it's not about being the other now. It's not about being the counterculture, instead, like you just emphasized, it's looking at ways to integrate the psychedelic experience into more mainstream perspective. And as we talked about earlier in our conversation, people are craving this, and people really need this because they've been without spirit and without connection for a very long time, and these medicines or tools or Antiogenes or whatever you wanna call them, I think are a critical aspect of helping us to reconnect to what we've been missing to larger degree.

48:54 AB: For sure. Oh I'll say one more thing. I see us as these edge dwellers and going as these scouts out to the edge of consciousness and seeing, "Okay, this is the direction to go. Alright." And then coming back to the rest of society and be like, "Hey guys, we need to course correct here." [chuckle] So yeah, that's why I think it's really important for us to come back and then be able to communicate.

49:18 PA: Absolutely. So where can people find you? People who are listening to this podcast. You can just tell us about your website and maybe where people can get more information about what you're doing.

49:28 AB: Sure, yeah, so the Aware Project website is And our sister project at our sister organization is called InnerSpace Integration, which is And we have integration services for people in the greater Los Angeles area, and remote counseling as well. So that's something that I'm still building up with a group of people, and then my personal website is and there's contact forms of all of those. So most of... All goes to me.


49:57 PA: Great great, great, great. Well, Ashley thanks again for joining us and delving into an array of interesting topics including your own experiences, the 5-MeO-DMT, and what you've been doing at the Aware Project. It's really been a pleasure to talk with you and dig into these topics, so just, again thank you so much for coming on.

50:18 AB: Yeah, it was a pleasure, thank you.


50:37 PA: Yo, thanks for listening to the podcast and welcome back to This Week in Psychedelics. This Week in Psychedelics personal update, I'm in Berlin, which is a fucking cool city. We did seminars this past weekend. We did a seminar in Copenhagen on Saturday, April 8. We had 250 people at a micro-dosing seminar. And then we had a microdosing seminar on April 9, in Berlin, and had another 250 people. So this is really blowing up. We are planning an event in Portland, Oregon, in combo with the guys at Symposia for April 30, in Portland, Oregon. So if you live in Portland, you wanna come see me talk, do a microdosing seminar, hear people talk about microdosing, learn more information, here some of the research, get up on there. Okay, get up on there.

51:23 PA: Okay, other announcement is we will be live-streaming Jim Fadiman's presentation at Psychedelic Science about the preliminary research that's coming out about microdosing. No one knows about this yet. This is the first time that anyone publicly will know about an actual research that has been gathered specific to microdosing. Jim is going to be presenting it the morning of April 21. I think 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time on Friday, April 21. We will live stream that presentation. So if you're interested in the preliminary science and research around microdosing go ahead and check out our page we'll have a direct link to sign up and register for that live stream. And it will be I believe at 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time on April 21.

52:12 PA: In other news, the University Of Hertfordshire is doing a survey about the use of ketamine and novel psychoactive substances, legal highs. Basically, it aims to evaluate the level of knowledge and awareness of the use of novel psychoactive substances. It's completed anonymously and only takes about 10 minutes to complete. All of it is anonymous, and secure. There is no personal data, so if you want to help out in that survey we will provide a link in the show notes. April 19, guess what day that is? It's fucking Bicycle Day guys, fucking Bicycle Day. April 19, 4/19, before 4/20, which is obviously the, "I get so stoned I can't function Day." 4/19 is his Bicycle Day. It is when Albert Hofmann took the first significant dose of LSD and rode his bicycle home and proceeded to trip the fuck out in the small village of, the name escapes me, but it's close to Zurich, in Switzerland. So if you're in Portland, or you're in the Bay area, or you're in New York or DC or wherever, Europe somewhere, reach out to your local psychedelic society.

53:22 PA: Most people are doing Bicycle Day events and get involved. Go to the Bicycle Day event and go meet other people who take psychedelics and have a fucking great time with them. So Bicycle Day is on April 19. Make sure you get out and join your local group. Last thing for This Week in Psychedelics, the BBC just did a long segment on microdosing. They wrote an article, but more importantly, they did a 15-minute video where they interviewed three different people in the UK who microdose. One microdoses with mushrooms, one microdoses with LSD for mental health purposes, and one microdoses with LSD for professional purposes. So the typical spectrum of people who are microdosing. There were two males and one female. It's a good video. The journalist also interviewed a researcher from Imperial College. We heard the typical things against microdosing, there's no scientific research yet, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

54:17 PA: But overall very, very good. There were only a couple of minor issues, for example, the one qualm that the BBC had was, "Oh, people are taking this too much, and then going to work. That's a big risk." Well, not really. Just fucking have a little bit of common sense. Take a small amount the first time you microdose. This is what I talk about in all my seminars as well. Just take a small amount the first couple of times you microdose. Make sure you're comfortable with it before you try to go in a public position with it. Overall it's a very, very well done piece. I highly recommend checking it out. I was quite pleased with it. And that's that. Excellent piece to check up. So, guys, thanks for tuning in again for This Week in Psychedelics. If you liked the podcast, leave a review, we would appreciate it, we would really appreciate it. And yeah, have a great rest of your Sunday, Monday, week, month, year, life. Bye bye.

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