Our guest for this episode of The Third Wave Podcast is Mike Margolies from Psymposia, an events group and digital magazine focused on psychedelics and drug policy reform. Mike talks about how Psymposia organises a platform for people to talk about their psychedelic experiences, and issues within the psychedelic community. We discuss the privilege still inherent in psychedelic culture when it comes to drug use and criminalisation, and what we can do to become a more diverse community.
Mike Margolies is the Expansion Director at Psymposia. Psymposia’s signature event is a feature called “Psychedelic Stories”, which they run at conferences such as Horizons in New York and Beyond Psychedelics in Prague. In the segment, people from the psychedelic community can speak openly about their experiences. Mike believes this is a contrast to the typical presentations seen at these conferences, and helps to build a sense of community among psychedelic users.
The digital magazine side of Psymposia opens up conversations around various topics, including psychedelic science, drug policy reform, and the future of the psychedelic community. Most recently, they ran a conversation series on diversity within the psychedelic community. Voices from across the psychedelic world have lent their opinions on why diversity is such an issue in our community, and what can be done to address it. Mike believes that the lack of diversity in the psychedelic sphere is a reflection of the diversity issues in greater society, and we need to keep open a dialogue about inclusiveness.
Another example of content produced by Psymposia is their recent series on coming out of the ‘psychedelic closet’, likening the open discussion about personal psychedelic use to being open about sexuality. This series gathered opinions from opposite sides of the argument, and Mike believes that keeping a frank and balanced discussion open is an important part of developing the psychedelic culture.
Mike also brings up how people in the psychedelic community must also be mindful of their own prejudices about drugs. He believes that many psychedelic users would still believe myths about heroin, thinking it shouldn’t be decriminalised in the same way that psychedelics should be – but Mike points out that many heroin users are functional and the risks of heroin use are often relative to set, setting and dosage. If we are serious about reducing drug harms, we need to keep an open mind about all substances; and in the same way that we’ve learned the truth about psychedelics, we need to ignore the myths and prejudices associated with other drugs.
Since Psymposia is known for giving psychedelic users a platform to speak about their experiences in person, Mike tells us one of his psychedelic stories – his first experience with LSD. It was his first use of psychedelics, and he was fascinated to try them; however he found the experience underwhelming. He explored a museum with a friend, and noticed subtle changes in his perception – everything became more interesting, and had more meaning. He had expected intense hallucinations, which he didn’t experience. But he had a great time, and gained some insights into his life.
Mike mentions that he’s also had bad experiences with psychedelics, seeing the paranoid, schizophrenia-like side of things, and that we need to be aware of the risks of psychedelic use. This is why, Mike says, it’s important to maintain an open dialogue about our experiences. Minimising the risks will help us to use psychedelics as the healing tools they are.
We talk with Mike about the general stigma surrounding drug use, and how its origins are in the Nixon administration of 1968. From the mouth of one of Nixon’s top aides:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968 […] had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people […] but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities”.
The war on drugs has resulted in the US having more prisoners than China and Russia combined, Mike says. Although drug policy has become more progressive, especially with the legalization of marijuana in several US states, it’s still harming minorities at a disproportionate rate. Mike tells us we need to be aware that, even though marijuana is legal to sell in Colorado, minorities are still being imprisoned for black market trade at disproportionate levels because they do not have the same opportunities and privilege that many others do. There’s still a lot of work to be done to break free from a drug policy that unfairly targets minorities.
Mike argues that we need to keep fighting for our basic freedoms, especially in our current conservative climate. We can’t rely on the FDA or the government to determine what substances we can put into our bodies and how – it should always be our fundamental freedom to use relatively harmless substances in responsible contexts. As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.
Finally, Mike talks about the upcoming Psymposia event at April’s Psychedelic Science conference in Oakland. Psymposia will be hosting a “Psychedelic Stories” event and may also be recording some live podcasts. Psymposia will also soon be releasing an interview with Duncan Trussel, and will be publishing pieces about the globalization of ayahuasca and the growth of psychedelic societies around the world.
Psymposia are running a Patreon campaign – so if you want to see more great content and events, consider becoming a Patron!
00:29 Paul Austin: Hey, listeners and welcome back to the Psychedelia Podcast. We have, as always, a super special guest for you, but even more super special than all the other guests, but maybe not. His name is Mike Margolies, he is the expansion director at Psymposia. Mike and I met couple of months ago in person at the Beyond Psychedelics Conference in Prague, where he slept on the floor of my AirBnB, true hobo style. And now, I've brought him on here just to talk about Psymposia and talk about his experiences with psychedelics, and all other things that we just wanna talk about. So Mike, thanks dude, what's up?
01:06 Mike Margolies: Hey man, thanks for having me on, yeah. And thank you for having me, letting me crash at your place in Prague. [chuckle]
01:12 PA: Yeah, that was a super, super fun event. I loved the ukulele that you brought along, which I think you had sold your guitar just so that you could bring a ukulele along.
01:21 MM: I trade... Well I was traveling, yeah, I had been on the road for like a month and I was traveling with a guitar and it just was heavy and I was saying to my travel buddy, Chris, who also crashed on your couch or floor and then I had a ukulele. [chuckle]
01:33 PA: And did that work out? Were you happy about that trade?
01:36 MM: Oh, yeah. Way easier to travel with a ukulele than a full sized guitar, if you're on the road for a several weeks at the time.
01:43 PA: Absolutely. So why were you at the conference in Prague in the first place? What was the reason for that?
01:50 MM: Yes. Well, as you know, tell your audience, my organization, Psymposia, we're an events group and a digital magazine focused... We kind of focus at the intersection of psychedelics and drug policy reform. So we have events, our signature event, which I hosted a session of at the conference is psychedelic stories. Where, basically, what we do is... As distinct from what you would have at the conference. A lot of presentations and people showing their work, we have people go to a more personal level. Get up on the microphone and just tell a story from the heart about personal experiences.
02:27 PA: And that's one of our signature events we've done around... Well around the world now. And then in parallel to that, we run digital magazine at psymposia.com, which is Psymposia spells with a "P", P-S-Y-M-P-O-S-I-A. And on our digital platform, which is all pretty available there, we cover similar issues, like psychedelic stories, or we cover what's going on in the world of drug reform, or in psychedelic science. Or we even, sometimes question the community itself.
02:54 PA: In what ways, in what ways would you question the community? Are you talking in specific reference to these kind of pieces that you've published as of late?
03:02 MM: Yeah, so specifically this week, for example, we have been running a conversation series called, the Psychedelic Diversity Conversation. And so this week, every day this week, we released a new piece with a different perspective on the series. And what this series is doing is it's actually looking internally at the psychedelic community itself and asking the question of why is the psychedelic community very white, and how do we make it? And to be constructive about it, how do we make it more diverse? We've got people from around the community to share opinions and perspectives on this. And yeah, so that sort of thing. In that way we're kind of poking back at our own community in a sense.
03:41 PA: And why do you think those constructive conversations are important to have? 'Cause clearly, this is something that I've talked about with you and I've talked about with other people. My friend, Brian, I've talked about it with. It's been lurking under the surface for a while, and it's interesting that you guys brought it up into the internet. You brought it up into the dialogue and the conversation that's now happening on Twitter feeds, and in social media and wherever it might be. Why is the psychedelic community so white? Why do you think that is?
04:11 MM: I think, really, it's not just the psychedelic community. This is something that happens on many levels of the society where certain circles are not as diverse as they could be, or not reflective of the overall society. It's really not an issue that's specifically about this community, it's about a lot of our... It just reflects the overall culture in a lot of ways, or certain aspects of the overall culture. And I think, for us, I'm always a fan of a "be the change" kind of mentality. So in a way, I almost see it as a commentary on much broader things in the psychedelic community but we are posing the questions about our own community, 'cause I think that's a more constructive way to go about it. And I think it speaks to a much broader message, but rather than saying, "Oh this is a thing." I don't know the answers for all of society, but we can at least look at ourselves and say, "Hey, what can we do to be better about this thing?" And then maybe the broader conversation, people who might see this could draw from that.
05:15 PA: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that where you're taking that is a really interesting direction in terms of the reflection the psychedelic community has in comparison to maybe mainstream society where we do tend to put a lot of attention on white privileged people who have wealth, even though they don't necessarily make up a vast majority of the actual people who are operating and existing within our society. And obviously, what you guys are doing at Psymposia, discussing this convergence between psychedelics and policy reform, is right at the crux of that, because probably one reason why the psychedelic community is so white, one reason why there aren't as many people who are black or Hispanic, or even as many women as men who are participating in some of these conferences or going to some of these events or speaking at some of these conferences, is because it's riskier from across minority groups to be more open about their active drug use in light of the federal government's basically incarceration of massive amounts of minorities while the drug war has been going on in the past 50 or 60 years.
06:27 MM: Yeah, it is, it's funny, and Natalie Ginsberg of MAPS was one of the writers for the series and she talks about some of this, about how... She asked the question like, "How can a criminalized community be privileged?" And it's an interesting thought. So in a one sense it is criminalized and it isn't, we are oppressed in one perspective. People do go to jail for using psychedelics, and it is terrible. At the same time, from a relative perspective, relative to other communities, there's a relative privilege there in a sense that I can go to events around the world, I can stand up on a stage at a microphone and host an event called Psychedelic Stories, where people get on the stage and talk completely openly about their experience, like you wouldn't see an event like Heroin Stories or something. [chuckle]
07:12 MM: So it's interesting, and it's actually reading the pieces that we receive from people. It's causing me to do the reflection of that. I horthink it's what psychedelic experience is about, ultimately, is this self-reflection thing. And so if we're not doing that on our platform, then we're almost doing a disservice to the spirit of psychedelics in general. That's a big part of it. Oh shit, I had another thought, I just lost my train. That's okay.
07:38 PA: But yeah, this concept of reflection. This concept of seeing things as they are, of really look at things honestly and then constructively working to improve them. And I think a huge part of what the psychedelic community needs to do going forward, to be more inclusive, is having more of these conversations and having more of these voices play a more prominent role.
07:57 MM: Yeah, and I just remember the thought that I had, is that, what we don't wanna do, Psymposia is not interested in playing the game of reverse propaganda. So we suffer from this propaganda for decades of, "Drugs are bad, drugs are bad". And we don't wanna just be the opposite of that and just be putting things out about, "Hey, look how great drugs are. Look how great the psychedelic community is. Look how great all those things are." But we wanna be more honest, we wanna be more mature, and we want to be self-reflective in that sense. It's just a more genuine thing. And honestly, I don't necessarily, even personally, agree with every single point that every single writer put in this conversation, the whole purpose of having these conversations...
08:36 MM: We had another conversation series previously on coming out of the psychedelic closet. And similarly, it was... We had some writers say, "Yeah, coming out of psychedelic closet is a social justice issue akin to coming out of the closet as gay." Other people reacted to that and said, "No, actually you can't compare these. These are asymmetric risks to these two versions of coming out." And I think for us, it's not about pushing some propaganda, pushing an agenda, pushing a certain view or message, but it's about we wanna create the space for the conversations to happen from the different perspectives. And maybe figure out, "Well, maybe these two views are... Can be right at the same time or maybe in having these different views portrayed we can move a little bit forward towards reconciling them and coming to a more complete view." Which we'll never fully get to, but I think that's the point. It's just how we take things forward.
09:30 PA: Yeah, we will never fully get to it. I think because there's so many different voices, and there's so many different types of people, and there's so many different stories that are being intertwined in this story of society and the story of our communities and the story of our regions that to come to one definitive answer for any of these topics or subjects would be impossible. Because what works for one person or what one person may perceive from their story from their life is obviously going to be much different from another person.
10:01 PA: Coming back to the example, in terms of people of color or people from oppressed communities who are in the psychedelic community, someone who has taken psychedelics and is not as well-off or maybe not as wealthy or maybe not white, their story about why they took psychedelics, their story about what happened as a result of that is probably gonna be different from someone like me, who comes from a very middle class, very open, very supportive family, where I've had the privilege to do certain things that other people haven't.
10:29 PA: And so understanding those different stories and like you said, providing space for them to happen is such an important part in terms of moving this conversation forward, because like you said, with all the propaganda that's been going on from a federal government perspective, it's been difficult, if not impossible, for people to actually make informed decisions. And by providing these spaces for people to have constructive discussions online, people finally have an ability to understand and make decisions based on their life situation. Like you said, that doesn't mean that... For example psychedelics aren't for everyone, but for those who are interested in them or those who want to try them, at least they have this understanding of how to navigate that experience of what it might mean for their personal identity.
11:15 MM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
11:17 PA: Yeah, so tell us then, speaking of psychedelic stories, you should tell our audience, live, on the call, right now. I'm just gonna stall a little bit longer so that you have time to think of a psychedelic story. You should tell us a psychedelic story from Mike Margolis of Psymposia.
11:35 MM: I can. Name a drug.
11:37 PA: Let's pick LSD. I wish we could do live tweeting right now. We should do that in a future podcast, we're live tweet our audience like, "Okay, so Mike from Psymposia is about to tell a psychedelic story. Which drug do you want him to tell you about?"
11:52 MM: This is what I do at the events.
11:54 PA: Do you?
11:55 MM: Well I... Really it's about, like you said, creating the space for people so as much as possible, I would always defer to other people to tell their stories, it's more so, but if needed, I'll tell one. That's my technique. If I gotta tell a story I'll say, "Oh, what drug do you wanna hear about?" LSD, I guess maybe the first time I did LSD is a good story.
12:18 PA: Yeah, I think that's an excellent place to start.
12:20 PA: And then I can maybe tell mine as well, if that's something that I feel is appropriate.
12:25 MM: Sure. [chuckle] LSD is the first psychedelic that I did, unless you count marijuana, which can be a psychedelic. So, at this time a buddy of mine had some acid, and I didn't know what to expect. I had been fascinated by the idea of psychedelics, like, "What does it mean to hallucinate?" This whole premise to me was fascinating. I think that's what drew me to them. I was like, "I need to understand. If there's something, you can just take some molecule and it can make you see things, what does that mean? What does that mean about our own perception of reality?" That whole premise was just fascinating to me. So we did this acid, and I was living in Northern Virginia at the time. So we took this acid, and we went to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC. And the funny thing about it is, it was so underwhelming.
13:26 MM: I was expecting it to be seeing shit that wasn't there, hallucinating. And it wasn't like that at all. It was actually like, well the world was just a little bit more interesting. Everything just had more meaning. It was so much more subtle than I had imagined. Now maybe if I had taken 10 hits of acid I would have had a different first time doing acid story, but that was the thing that struck me the most about the experience was like how underwhelming it was, but it was an awesome day, I wasn't seeing shit that wasn't there, but we're going around and just not even necessarily the art exhibit, but it would be just, "Oh wow, this plant here. I never noticed the colors on this leaf here." And just the insights that came. Random in life insights that came that day. And yeah, I think I have, since then, had actual hallucinations, but it's less of a visual, like seeing something that's not there, and more so when I hallucinate it's more of like a mental hallucinations, like I'm in a situation that's happening, that's not really happening. [chuckle]
14:36 PA: It's like a mental mind fuck, we could call it.
14:38 MM: Yeah, yeah.
14:39 PA: Where you take a little too many shrooms and you're like, "Did I create the world or was it here before me?" [chuckle]
14:47 MM: Right. Right, right and for me, I've been in the space too of having the super paranoid schizophrenic state of mind, which is not a pleasant one. And so, but it's an important part of the story too. If you're gonna be, as somebody who is talking about psychedelics, like I said, I'm not trying to be reversed propaganda and just say, "Oh yeah, psychedelic is great." Like, "No. You should be afraid of psychedelics. They can be fucking terrifying." And I think that's an important aspect as a responsible people to... I don't know. I wouldn't call myself an advocate for psychedelics, but more so an advocate for honestly about psychedelics.
15:23 PA: Yeah, and I think that's a really good way of putting it. Understanding that there are risks in doing these. Understanding that there are certain people who probably shouldn't do psychedelics. Definitely, like people who have schizophrenia or a tendency from family history to have schizophrenia, shouldn't be touching these. But also understanding that there are tremendous benefits when we look at psychedelics as tools for specific changes within our subjective experience of life. And understanding then once the propaganda gets stripped away, once the misinformation, the disinformation gets stripped away, people can actually make decisions, rational decisions based on real information, rather than operating in some type of shadow space where they're hearing information like, "If I take LSD seven times I'm deemed legally insane," which is a bunch of horse shit, obviously.
16:15 MM: Right. Right.
16:15 PA: That's so fucked up.
16:18 MM: Yeah.
16:18 PA: That's not proven.
16:19 MM: It's just that there's a lot of lies. Yeah, there's a lot of lies about the whole, all of drugs really. That's just, well, on a tangent a little bit, that's what's funny is almost ironic about this psychedelic... Here's another challenge for the psychedelic community that I'll issue is we are so many, not everybody, but most people in this community, okay, we get it there were lies told about marijuana, about LSD, about MDMA. And we can see how, "Okay, this, what we have been told is not true." And so we get that, but somehow there's still a big portion of the community that when you bring up, say, heroin, and then all of a sudden it's like, "Yeah, but heroin should be illegal." And granted yes. I'm acknowledging here there are certainly more risks to heroin than there are to LSD. You're not gonna overdose on LSD like you could on heroin.
17:11 PA: LSD is also not addictive like opiates and heroin, right.
17:12 MM: Addictive, exactly. There are absolutely more risks. That said, it's like there are people, I do know people that are functional heroin users. It's not this thing that okay, you do this once and you're addicted forever. It's not this thing that if you sell heroin you're evil. Maybe there are some people that are taking advantage in that. But I just find it to be interesting and this another, as an example coming back to the whole privilege thing of you can... This is where psychedelic versus heroin, there's a distinction there between the users. The users of these drugs are viewed differently. And of course there are differences like I said. I won't deny that. I think, like I said, I wanna be honest on all these drugs about what are the risks? What are the benefits? But I do find it interesting and it's a challenge I always wanna issue within the drug reform circles, is like, "Don't play the my drugs are better than your drugs game."
18:08 PA: Play the understand what the risks and what the potential benefits are of each substance, and if you decide to use them be informed about what your use may bring.
18:18 MM: Yes. Absolutely.
18:32 MM: Depends though, right? Heroin is diamorphine. You can call it a different name it has a whole different connotation to it. And diamorphine is what's used in hospitals in UK, same as we use morphine here. It's the same, that's heroin. We just call it a different name and we administer it in a different way, different set and setting. So just like set and setting and dosage applies to psychedelics, it applies to heroin. Set, setting, and dosage, is part of the equation here.
18:57 PA: And that's a really good point. It's about the context in which we use it.
19:00 MM: Yeah.
19:00 PA: It's about the time and it's about the place and it's about the situation in which we use it, which makes the decision about whether it might be beneficial or harmful. That is a good point. That is a good point, and I think that brings up, if we wanna take that road, we could about all drugs obviously should be legalized and regulated. There are some drugs that have less risks than others, there are some drugs that are less harmful than others, but the legality and illegality of current drugs has nothing to do with those costs/risk profiles because obviously...
19:33 MM: Oh no, definitely it doesn't have anything, yeah.
19:35 PA: Yeah, because obviously, substances like alcohol and tobacco have the potential to be much more harmful than ecstasy and LSD and magic mushrooms, in terms of physical addiction, in terms of possibility of overdosing, in terms of...
19:50 MM: But you're also not gonna go paranoid schizophrenic on heroin, is the other thing. So there's different risks, let's say.
19:55 PA: Right.
19:55 MM: The thing is, yeah, the legality... Yes, there are risks with every drug and it's, putting people into cages 'cause you prohibited the substance, 'cause you just deemed it to be bad, is missing the point like, "No, we wanna help people." So you wanna provide, on the case of psychedelics, how do you mitigate the risks of psychedelics while you provide the containers people can do them? How do you mitigate the risks with heroin? Well, you have safe injection facilities. You make sure people, what they're getting, they know they're getting the actual correct substance, not something laced with Fentanyl or something.
20:27 MM: And people who have addiction, it's a radical concept. How do you help somebody with addiction? Well, you help them. Having compassion is a big part of the equation, is missing from the entire prohibitionist mentality, is there there's the, once you're a drug user, you have lost your humanity. And that's part of what we do in Symposia is our part about our driving purpose is to humanize drug users.
20:53 PA: Which has been done in societies in the past. The Romans used to drink wine with opium in it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So drug use has not been stigmatized in previous societies. It's only with the onset of this patriarchal Christian-dominated society that we live in, that all of a sudden, drugs have been stigmatized so heavily, at least to the degree that they are.
21:21 MM: Yeah, well, it's certainly, I don't know what stigmas there were or weren't in previous times, but certainly, there hasn't been mass incarceration and in some cases, killing, like we're seeing in the Philippines right now, 2016. This seems to be a unique situation. Maybe there, this is in the past where this has happened, but it's definitely not good that today, 2016, for choices people make, they're going into cages and being killed on the streets. It's not a great situation.
21:52 PA: And then, why is that do you think? Why does society, as a whole, lack compassion or not bring compassion to people who use drugs than people who are not using drugs?
22:05 MM: Oh, it's propaganda. We know why. What was the report that one of Nixon's aides, actually, I'll pull it up right now. Nixon's hidden in plain sight, Nixon campaign in '68 in the White House after that had two enemies, the anti-war left and black people. "You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Do we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did". This is one of Nixon's top aides, that is a direct quote from him. So, what's the reason? It was deliberate propaganda. [chuckle] That's the real answer. And this is, cause back into the race conversation, like part of the drug war, a big aspect of the drug war was inherently racial in nature in the US. The drug war, it is what replaced Jim Crow, and it's the means that we have currently in the United States, 2.2 million people in prisons. That's as much as China and Russia combined. It's more people in prison, ever, in any country in history, I'm fairly certain. And this is by design. That was the purpose, it was to control.
23:21 PA: And then, what does it propagate? So why do you think... And I totally agree with you, it is a matter of propaganda, it is a matter of placing blame, it is a matter of disrupting systems. Why would Nixon or why does even our current administration, whether that's Obama or whether that's Trump, why do they still vilify substances? Even though most people are starting to wake up to that it is part of the propaganda machine.
23:46 MM: Yeah, I think it's... If you're asking me, to go the Donald Trump's head and understand what his motivations are, that is a difficult task.
23:53 PA: No, no, no, no, no.
23:57 PA: Why did Nixon and these top aides want to vilify drugs? Why did they want to break up the hippie left?
24:00 MM: It was control. These were communities that were, they were threatening to the powers that be. The anti-war movement and the black communities that are now fighting for their civil rights, they're fighting against oppression, these, they are threats. What do you do to a community that is threatening? Well, you find some ways to control. You find... And that's what happened. They just found they're these channels that are used to control members of the population. And so it's about power, it's about control. What it's not about, it's not about compassion, it's not about helping people with drug problems. It's not about mitigating the risks of drugs. If you were trying to help people and mitigate risks of drugs, you would help people and mitigate risks of drugs, but it's not what it is about.
24:53 PA: But it's changing, it's changing.
24:57 MM: Yeah, I'd like to think so. I think, certainly, we've seen progress, and Obama was making efforts towards... He was giving pardons and helping with this mass incarceration thing and all, everything we're seeing with the psychedelic research is super promising. MAPS just like what, two days ago, got approval from the FDA to enter into their phase three trials. So, lots of positive indicators but... And you had all these states legalizing marijuana in the recent election. These are all really solid indicators of progress. That said, we just elected Donald Trump. So what does that mean? And I don't think we even know what that means, yet. There's a part of me that wants to believe it's gonna be okay, and we're gonna keep the progress going. But there's a part of me that's like, "Maybe he's the next Nixon". And it's...
25:48 MM: I think there's a lot of uncertainty right now about where is this gonna go. I think, ultimately, I think this is an MLK line like, "The the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." I think in the long run, yes, but I don't... What did Obama say after the elections, "Progress isn't a straight line, sometimes you take steps backward." And I don't know what phase we're going into right now, it's a big question. I certainly...
26:16 PA: It is a big question, yeah.
26:17 MM: Yeah, I hope that we can move things, keep them moving in a positive direction. But in a lot of ways, man, even the supposed liberalization of drugs is mirroring the same systems of oppression. You've got marijuana becoming legalized, but okay, but then you got ask question, legalized for who? So in order to, in most states, in order to open a legal marijuana dispensary, but yeah, if you wanna open up a, if you wanna be in the legal marijuana market, you gotta have thousands of dollars, so you have to probably have political connections. So again, it's this question of privilege, and it's pretty fucked up when you have one group of people, say, low income black community that has been oppressed for decades for selling drugs, and now you've said, "Okay, actually, it's okay to sell drugs now," but that entire community gets largely boxed out from the legal industry.
27:18 MM: So the same community that was jailed for doing this activity, selling drugs, now does not have access to the legal market of selling drugs. 'Cause like, okay, it was not okay when you did it. It's okay though, now for these people to do it. And so, in a way, like I said, we try to, Psymposia, question push back on the community itself. We publish pieces like this, questioning the way that marijuana legalization is happening, because in many ways, it is reproducing the exact same oppressions in a different form.
27:48 PA: But, do you think that's being overly critical? Because at the same time, now I would argue that with the legalization of cannabis now in eight states, just the fact that it's legal and being regulated, and it's opening up tremendous opportunities, like you said, for mostly white privilege people, but it's also I think, pushing the conversation forward and helping people understand that marijuana use is not what the government told them it was, and that marijuana use is not what they thought it was before. And I think that's a hopeful sign for, for example, the psychedelic movement, who, where MDMA might be medicalized within five years for specific purposes.
28:32 PA: So, while I understand that side of things, I think it's also important to acknowledge the progress that has been made, to acknowledge the benefits that are now on the table as a result of legalization, and to acknowledge that although... To acknowledge that also we're just at this really, really interesting crossroads between Federal Rights and State Rights with eight states having legalized marijuana, and now a conservative government coming into power, where the... Sessions. What was the...
29:00 MM: You're talking about Jeff Sessions...
29:04 PA: Yeah, Attorney General, I believe.
29:06 MM: Attorney General.
29:08 PA: Who, he says, "Good people don't smoke marijuana." Like, you have to be fucking kidding me. I consider myself to be a fairly good person, and I smoke a lot of marijuana.
29:17 MM: Me too.
29:17 PA: As well as you do. As well as a lot of our friends do. As well as a lot of people that are really great people. And so, I think the interesting thought to have and conversation to have going forward is, and obviously, all we can do is guess, but what will happen with these eight states that have now legalized cannabis in comparison to this conservative government that's coming in? This is gonna be an interesting tight rope to pass.
29:43 MM: It will be interesting to see how it pans out. Is the federal government gonna try to impose itself onto these states? I don't know how it's all gonna shake out. And you're right. There is a positive, it's not all bad. There are aspects of legalization I question, but there's also this good aspect. The fact that it is happening, it is changing the conversation. That is all positive stuff. I guess, for me, it's just important that we not lose... Marijuana is legalized in Colorado. Great, but the problem with marijuana being illegal was never that middle class white people didn't have access to marijuana. The problem is that people were going into cages for marijuana.
30:18 PA: Yes.
30:18 MM: And since legalization in Colorado, those rates are even more disproportionate. People of color even most disproportionately are going into jail versus white people for marijuana. Because there's people that are selling marijuana on the black market still. And there's still people in Colorado where marijuana is legalized who are going into cages for selling marijuana. And so, it's like, so yes there is, it's good that marijuana has been legalized from the perspective of it's progressing the conversation, it's changing attitudes. That's all positive, but at the same time, it's like if we "legalize" but people are still going into cages for those drugs, to me, we've almost fundamentally missed the point of why it was bad that drugs were illegal. And the reason it was bad was because people's human rights are being violated. And it's like, yeah, it's legal, but it kinda missed the point. It missed the fundamental thing.
31:11 PA: Right. Right. And so there's still work to be done.
31:14 MM: Yes, a lot of work to be done. A lot of work to be done. And I guess I'm always gonna push the conversation that direction. I'm always gonna push it towards the fundamental, 'cause that's, for me, what it's about. To me, it's fundamentally a human rights issue. And fundamentally, I just, I see the oppression, and to me, it's like that's something that I wanna fight to end.
31:35 PA: And why do you perceive it as a human rights issue?
31:39 MM: Because it is.
31:40 PA: Why is it a human rights issue? What makes it a human rights issue?
31:45 MM: Well, I believe that... I believe in freedom. And this is what we, as Americans, tout all the time, and so much, that we believe in freedom. And if freedom doesn't include... To me, fundamentally, freedom means I have the right to put into my own body what I choose to put into my own body, alter my consciousness, however I choose to alter my consciousness. And some external authority, be it the DEA, the FDA or whoever, Donald Trump, does not have any authority to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body and my mind. And that is a fundamental human right that I have, and that every human has, to alter our own bodies and minds. And any time that a government, or any other person for that matter, steps in the way of that, and is putting human beings behind bars for choosing to do what they want to do with themself, that is oppression. That is human rights violation. That is a fundamental injustice.
32:47 PA: And I agree, and I totally agree, and I think it's important that this is in one way in which the conversation has started to be constructed is, specific to psychedelics, Graham Hancock has talked about this, as have others, really the oppression of, specifically getting back to psychedelics, the oppression of it is almost like a war on consciousness. And we could also tie this to other substances as well. And this war on consciousness is a direct result of largely, the military industrial complex that we live in, this patriarchal society that we live in, this society that emphasizes and focuses on materialism and consumerism and infinite growth, this "age of separation" as Charles Eisenstein has called it. And part of facilitating this transition into the next story or the next age, is making it very clear that this is a fundamental violation of our right as human being.
33:42 MM: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we're fighting against decades of propaganda. And so it's a...
33:49 PA: And it's challenging, right? And I think that brings up an interesting point because I think so many in the psychedelic world, so many people in the psychedelic world are hanging their hat on the research that's being done, but it's gonna take way more than just research to really push this conversation forward and change this conversation.
34:06 MM: Right, and I think it's wonderful that this research is happening, it's great and it's helping move the conversation. Yeah, okay. Now we can show we have the science to back up what we've already known for thousands of years, but now we have the science lens showing us, "Oh wow, okay so psilocybin can help people with anxiety, depression, with the addiction, with all of these different things." And it's great that the research is happening, I fully support it. But like you said, yeah, there's broader discussion too.
34:33 MM: That's one voice that's important, incredibly important towards changing hearts, changing minds, and I think in addition to that, I think we are selling ourselves short if we predicate our right to use these on there being FDA-approved medical uses for these things. To me, it's more fundamental than that. I think it's like... So, it's both, I'm glad the research is happening, it is helping to move the conversation forward, but I also, I don't... I'm not hinging my right to use these things on the fact that there's medical use.
35:08 PA: Right, absolutely, because as you said, that goes back to the conversation that we were having earlier that still leads to the stigmatization and the criminalization of substances like crystal meth, like heroin, like methamphetamines, like all these other ones. And it's progress in the right direction, by acknowledging the benefits of these, we are moving in the right direction, and with the mental health crisis that especially in the United States we have with the over-prescription of pharmaceuticals, these are coming at a very, very good time, psychedelics, specifically.
35:41 MM: Yeah. And the other thing I'll add too, is again, I'm very much looking at are we reproducing systems of oppression and control with a different name, with a different form? So it's great. By all means, I want there to be FDA-approved ways to use psilocybin. I want there to be these spaces where you can go and you can legally have a licensed persons administer and sit with you, do this session. Like what I had when I was in Aiken study, I want more people have access to those kind of containers to do it. It's a beautiful container. But I also, fundamentally, I'm going to push back on the idea that, that is the only appropriate container, where you can do a psychedelic. You're only allowed to do a psychedelic if you do it at this specific thing that's government-licensed and FDA-approved and a specific methodology, like "You know what, maybe I wanna go into the jungle and be with a shaman and drink a cup and do it in a different... Use a completely different paradigm to interact with the psychedelics."
36:39 MM: I think we run the risk, with the medicalizations though, yes, by all means, create those medical containers and spaces, but I think we need to be wary of trying to say, "Well, this is the only authorized container to do it in." That's a risk we run where we're going. And it's probably how it's gonna happen first. There will only be this one authorized container where you can legally do MDMA without fear of government coming in to you. And I want that container to exist, just can't be the only one.
37:08 PA: It can't be, but as you made a note of... With Obama's quote about sometimes progress, it doesn't happen in a straight line or sometimes it's slower than we'd like. It can be incremental in nature, and like we saw with the medicalization of cannabis, seems to happen with medicalization of previously illicit substances is, by medicalizing them, helps people and communities become more comfortable with them, and by helping communities become more comfortable with them, it helps them to actually assess them without having their assessment be impeded by propaganda and misinformation.
37:42 PA: In other words, for example, talking about PTSD, like PTSD is a huge fucking issue in the United States because we are this warmongering nation. And if MDMA, which we just got approval for the phase three trials, if it gets medicalized for PTSD, well now, all of a sudden, within this container that people are taking it, they're gonna start to talk about the benefits that they've had in really overcoming this trauma that they've had in the past.
38:10 PA: They're gonna tell their friends about it, they're gonna tell their family about it. And as those people start to really understand the truth then about these substances, that's when then some of these decriminalization acts happen, that's when then legislation starts to get pushed through about, "Okay we should actually legalize and regulate it." And I think that's what a lot of people in the psychedelic movement are hoping for, is the eventual full legalization of psychedelic substances, because like you said, to have them be limited to only a medical use, would be an absolute shame considering the potential for these in different contexts. And one of my favorite authors on this is some of the academic work that Ken Tupper has done, Kenneth Tupper, he works in the government in Victoria, British Columbia.
38:55 MM: Yeah, Ken's a good guy.
38:56 PA: Yeah he's a super cool guy. I met him at Horizons this year, and then also spoke to him at the World Ayahuasca Conference. He writes a lot about the use of psychedelics, specifically Ayahuasca, as these tools for awe and reverence and mystery, in terms of what they can bring into an educational perspective. And I think that for me is also really interesting, and not only from a medical model, where we're treating people who have a supposed deficit, but also just from a personal development model, living more vibrant lives, having more egalitarian societies, having more inclusive communities, going back to the racial conversation, psychedelics can play a tremendous role in facilitating all of this.
39:38 MM: Yeah, absolutely. And I totally agree with you, it's good that it's happening, 'cause just the fact that medical does lead to more broad uses, and just the fact that more people are smoking marijuana now, or maybe not more people are smoking marijuana, might just be the same, but more marijuana in the culture influence the culture. And so yeah, I do agree with you a lot, that this, it still is progress, I'm just always gonna be the one to poke the holes. [chuckle]
40:04 PA: Good. And we need those people, 'cause there's always more progress to be made. And I hope one time, one day in our lifetimes, we don't have to have these conversations.
40:13 MM: Right, that's the goal, is to make our jobs obsolete.
40:16 PA: Exactly, exactly, it is to make our jobs obsolete. 'Cause ultimately, we're both working within an advocacy role. And not an advocacy role per se, but there is a level of advocacy to it. We're trying to chip away at power structures that we find to be oppressive. And if one day we can wake up and psychedelics are legalized and regulated, and people have access to them, equally, and people can do with them as they wish, then most of our work will be finished. But I think that there is a very, very long way until that day arrives, unfortunately.
40:48 MM: Yeah, yeah. We've got long ways to go, and I don't know how much progress is gonna be made in the next eight years, or four years, or whatever.
40:57 PA: Hopefully four years.
41:00 MM: Hopefully four. But in a weird way, maybe we'll make more progress because like you mentioned earlier, the issue of federal over states rights that might come to a head, and if it does, maybe that does, maybe there is an uptick in more people wanting to be more localized.
41:17 PA: And so do you think cessation is a possibility?
41:20 MM: No. I don't know what's possible...
41:22 PA: Have you been reading any of that? About California mobilizing its militia and stuff?
41:27 MM: I didn't know it went that far. I don't know what's possible anymore, man. If you asked me two months ago, is it possible for Donald Trump to be the President? I would have said, "No fucking way." [chuckle] But here we are. So I really had no idea what's possible. Everything is possible.
41:44 PA: Everything is possible, especially when you're on a psychedelic.
41:47 MM: Sab Kuch Milega, as they say in India.
41:49 PA: What is it?
41:49 MM: Sab Kuch Milega.
41:51 PA: Great.
41:51 MM: Everything is possible.
41:53 PA: It is and these are interesting times that we're living in, these are turbulent times that we're living in, these are times of change. And my hope is that we can withstand the next four years by sticking together with our communities and making sure that those who are in a position that they may be oppressed or not.
42:12 MM: Yeah, yeah, it's like I had... After these result, there was definitely this part of me that, a big part of me, that was disheartened and I was like, "Wow" And it just hit me like a ton of bricks I'm like... It affected me a lot like, "Wow, what does this mean? Where are we going with this?" But I have since... I think now I'm thinking, "No, it's more important than ever now to keep doing this work."
42:35 PA: It is, it is.
42:36 MM: It's needed. And we need to stand up and there are questions like, at what point? Like you talking about California seceding and galvanizing its militia and stuff. I don't know at what point, when de-escalating measures need to be taken. I don't know the answer to that question. I think we need to be vigilant though, keep our eye... I wanna be hopeful that it's not the apocalypse, that it's not as bad as we thought it was gonna be, that it's gonna be okay. But I think we also have to be very mindful of the... We keep our eye on what's gonna be happening and adapt appropriately. A lot of questions.
43:10 PA: Resilience. Having resilience and being adaptable, I think that that's important. Now, tell us a little bit about what are your plans for the future for Psymposia so obviously you guys have... You did psychedelic stories at Horizons with Duncan Trussell, which was a fucking blast, you hosted psychedelic stories at Beyond Psychedelics, I think you've hosted a couple more events as well since Horizons. What do you guys envision Psymposia becoming in the future, where are you going with Psymposia?
43:41 MM: Yeah, so on the event side of things, you've got the psychedelic science conference coming up, MAPS and Beckley's Psychedelic Science Conference in April, in Oakland. So you're gonna be there?
43:52 PA: I will be there, I bought my ticket. All of you who are listening to this, you should also buy your ticket. We could do in a meetup, and event there.
43:57 MM: Yeah, starts on Bicycle Day, April 19. So at Psymposia, we actually have a stage that we're running the whole time, during, in the marketplace. In fact, you can actually get to the Psymposia stage. I don't think your gonna need it to take you to the conference. It's on the outside where the marketplace is. So we're gonna have stories, and we're putting together all kinds of different content. We might do some, have some live podcasts recorded there. So we've got a lot of stuff in-store during... We have a big part to play in that conference. So, event-wise that's a big thing we have on the horizon. And the magazine-side, we're just gonna keep working on putting out more content. I think the big thing for us right now is we're trying to get our project more... Get it funded really, and so we have a crowd funding campaign that you can find at the top of our website.
44:46 MM: It's at Patreon, so unlike Kickstarter, Patreon's based on monthly, small monthly donation. So you can give as little as $2 a month. And so you go to Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, patreon.com/psymposia. If you would support what we're doing, the events, the magazine, then you can check that out, and a little bit will go a long ways toward helping us to keep this going and grow it further. To pay our writers and editors and everyone fair wages, that's what we're trying to work towards. To date, people have been willing to really put time, 'cause they're passionate about this, this is something that is important to a lot of people. And we've been willing work on it, and with your support we can keep it growing further.
45:31 PA: Perfect, so you guys are... You'll be at Psychedelic Science, you're continuing to do Psychedelic Stories. What type of content can we continue to expect? 'Cause you guys have done a few great pieces in terms of identity politics, with coming out of the psychedelic closet. This most recent one that you did on diversity, do you have any big plans going forward in terms of things you might roll out on the magazine, and the content side? Or are you kinda...
45:54 MM: Yeah, we got an interview with Duncan Trussell.
45:57 PA: Hey.
45:57 MM: That's gonna be soon. So that'll be a fun one. By the time this podcast this might already be on our site. We've got another conversation, a mini-conversation series, is about Global Huasca. So talking about the globalization of Ayahuasca, and we have a couple of perspectives on that, and what are the implications of all that. Always have more psychedelic stories in the works. And we also have a big feature coming up on psychedelic societies, I think you made mentioned earlier, there's all these different groups around the world that have emerged, psychedelic societies in Europe and the States. And so one of our writers, Zoey, she went and interviewed a whole bunch of different people from these different societies and has put together a nice big feature profile in the different groups around the world. And so that's really a nice piece we've got in the work as well.
46:46 PA: Great, and what those psychedelic communities are doing is super important, and I had the opportunity to speak at an event at the London Psychedelic Society, about microdosing, about five days ago, last Sunday. And it is heartening to see the number of people who are coming out to those events. I think at that specific event, there were about 100 people who came out to it and I was in...
47:10 MM: Nice.
47:10 PA: Yeah, London is...
47:10 MM: Was this Steve Reid's group?
47:11 PA: Yeah, this is Steve Reid's group. So Steve was running it, myself and two other people presented about mushrooms, and I specifically talked about microdosing. And so it's heartening to see people coming to in-person real person live events. I even spoke to someone at that community and we were talking about this before we got hopped in the podcast, in terms of the importance of reaching people who haven't tried psychedelics before, reaching people who don't have any experience with these substances but are interested in them, are curious about them, and have maybe understood or have come to understand that a lot of what they were told about them before actually isn't true. And that there are actually these tremendous benefits from them using them in the correct context.
47:54 PA: So I was even talking to someone there who has directed a feature documentary film that was bought out by Universal or something, who was there for the first time just to learn about psychedelic. In fact, three of the people that I spoke to that night, out of five, had never done psychedelics before.
48:10 MM: Wow.
48:10 PA: But were at the event to meet people, to talk about it.
48:13 MM: They were interested in it.
48:14 PA: Exactly, yeah. And so I think if we're going back to weave a line throughout our entire conversation, one of the best ways to get involved in all these things that we're talking about, is just go find the others. To use the Timothy Leary phrase, "Go meet other people in your community. "
48:31 MM: Or find the people who aren't others yet and make them others. [chuckle]
48:34 PA: Yeah, exactly. Invite your friends to come to events, invite your friends to join your communities, invite your friends to have these conversations, or go yourself. This is a project that we're working on right now, Third Wave in terms of how do we incubate our community? Specifically, the psychedelic community to get it up and going in cities all across the world because while there are many, I think just over 50 at the moment, including some that are very well represented like Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Psychedelic Society and San Francisco of course, Psychedelic society. Ashley Booth is doing the Aware Project in Los Angeles, the London Psychedelic Society. There are still a lot of major cities that don't have any sort of Psychedelic Society. One that comes to mind right away is Austin, Texas which is this huge...
49:19 MM: Really? There's no psychedelic society in Austin?
49:21 PA: No. Which is... That was insane. I'm talking with a few people right now to try to get one up and going there 'cause there definitely needs to be one there. But yeah, so if you're listening to this, go join your local psychedelic community. Send me an email if you don't know what your local psychedelic community is. In this podcast we'll include a link to those show notes, or we'll include a link in the show notes to some different resources that you can use to find one. But that I think is really important. Is starting to go to in-person events, making in-person relationships and connections because that's the way that we can start to make this more inclusive, that's the way that we can start to build resilience in the face of an oncoming conservative government. And ultimately that's the way that we can really build the psychedelic community, to achieve the things that we'd like to achieve in the future.
50:05 MM: You're here.
50:05 PA: Yeah. Okay, so I just went on my little rant. Sometimes I tend to do that.
50:10 MM: No, it's good. It was a good one.
50:11 PA: It is. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm really passionate about this. I think this is something that... There are so many psychedelic users out there that feel isolated and that feel alone. That feel like they don't have anyone else to talk to about psychedelics, and that's what I think what you guys are doing at Psymposia with Psychedelic Stories, and with some of the other events that you've done in person specifically, are incredibly important and will remain incredibly important because of the importance of real connection in human relationships.
50:40 MM: Absolutely.
50:41 PA: So, any final words, Mike about Psymposia, about Psychedelics, about your ukulele? Do you have any final kind of words about anything?
50:55 MM: No, well, no just thank you. Really. Thanks for having me on, thanks for letting me rip with you for a while about everything from psychedelic to drug war to whatever, and ukuleles. Yeah, this was a fun little jam we just did.
51:10 PA: It was, yeah, it was a fun little jam and it's a nice kind of continuation of some of the conversations that we've had before. Just as a note to our listeners, Mike and I both lived in Chang Mai Thailand.
51:20 MM: Yeah. And we were both doing the digital nomad thing.
51:23 PA: The digital nomad thing. And we kind of explored those connections when we first met, we have a few mutual friends and...
51:30 MM: Same. Mike, you'll always have a special place in my heart.
51:32 PA: Yeah, it is a great place, and I hope to return there again some day. So that's our connection, and now we just happen to both be working in the psychedelic space, hoping to work to bringing these tools to more people. Cool. Thanks again, Mike. And if our listeners wanna go check out Psymposia, it's P-S-Y-M-P-O-S-I-A, psymposia.com, and we'll include a link in the show notes, so if you guys are just listening to to this on-the-go then you can go to our website, Third Wave, and we'll provide all those links. And definitely, support these guys with your money if you can. Something as little as $2 a month, really helps and goes a long way for their Patreon. And attend their events. If you guys are going to Psychedelic Science, attend the Psychedelic Stories. And if you live on the East Coast, I'm sure you guys will be doing events somewhat soon.
52:26 MM: Yeah, we do pretty frequently in New York and Baltimore. Absolutely. And we've started breaking into the Bay Area and other spaces too. So Psymposia, coming to a city near you. [chuckle]
52:38 PA: Yeah, and that's the other thing, if anyone is listening to this podcast and has an interest in bringing them into another city, definitely shoot Mike an email.
52:48 MM: Yeah, hit me up. [email protected].
52:50 PA: There we go. Alright, well thanks again Mike.
52:52 MM: Thank you.