On June 2, Aspen Public Radio, Healing Advocacy Center and the Aspen Psychedelic Resource Center will present the inaugural Aspen Psychedelic Symposium at Aspen’s historic Wheeler Opera House.
The day-long event follows on the heels of the passage of the Natural Medicine Health Act (Proposition 122) ballot initiative in Colorado last November. The Act decriminalizes the possession and use of psychedelic mushrooms and certain plant-based psychedelic substances in Colorado for individuals 21 and over. Its passage represents a dramatic shift in the public perception of psychedelics.
Twelve panelists and four moderators, with expertise in neuroscience, behavioral and addiction counseling, cultural and medical anthropology, psychedelic research and policy reform advocacy, will share their experiences and findings.
Attendees can expect a deep dive into advancements in scientific research and clinical studies investigating the efficacy of using plant-derived and synthetic psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), chronic pain disorders and conditions like cluster headaches, a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent severe headaches.
Zach Leary, the son of psychologist and ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic counterculture leader Timothy Leary, will emcee the event.
Leary is the host of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) “It’s All Happening” podcast, a role that, he said, “has brought me into so many good conversations with so many thought leaders in the psychedelic space.”
The 49-year-old Leary studied with spiritual teacher Baba Ram Dass (formerly known as Richard Alpert), who, in the early 1960s, was the elder Leary’s close friend and professional associate at Harvard University, where the two were researching the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), more commonly known as “acid.”
With the younger Leary’s upbringing in the world of psychedelics, he observed, “When psychedelics were a part of the ‘60s counterculture, psychedelic research, in legitimate circles, went dormant for decades because of a cultural bias against psychedelics.”
For example, Leary shared, “MAPS brought psychedelics out of the counterculture and into the mainstream in a very effective, articulate and legitimate way,” partly by participating in clinical trials at the Veterans Administration with people suffering from PTSD, which “is helping to change biases around psychedelics.”
Scientists and researchers at Johns Hopkins University have seen veterans’ lives changed by the introduction of psychedelics. “My passion is bringing all the cultures together to have an equal seat at the table and discuss how we can move forward in the best way possible,” Leary said.
The “Psychedelic Renaissance,” which began about 15 years ago, has focused on a topic of prime importance within the psychedelic community — drug purity.
The Renaissance has also “created an atmosphere and ecosystem where these compounds are created with a high degree of integrity, which is good for the end user because it lets them know that what they’re getting is pure and safe,” Leary shared.
One result of the advance in psychedelic research has been its introduction into America’s mental health care dialogue. “We see many different populations suffering from anxiety, depression and PTSD, and more people agree that the current treatments are sometimes ineffective in treating mental illness.” Leary explained, “Psychedelics have more of a transformational approach, which means a psycho-social spiritual overhaul that allows you to have a new relationship with whatever’s going on with you.”
He cited the ongoing psychedelic research at well-respected institutions like New York and Johns Hopkins universities and the Royal College of London yielding positive results, of which “the data is extraordinary.” He added, “One of my hopes is that people who are suffering can get the help they need.”
The symposium will conclude with a keynote address delivered by Dennis McKenna, the brother of well-known psychedelics proponent Terence McKenna.
In the early 1970s, the McKenna brothers, who were born and raised in Paonia, collaborated with Jeremy Bigwood to develop a technique for the at-home cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms, which they published in a 1993 book titled “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide: A Handbook for Psilocybin Enthusiasts.”
In Leary’s closing comments with The Sopris Sun, he said his journey and dedication to learning more about the positive uses of modern-day psychedelics led him to observe, “I am not a zealot [for the use of psychedelics], by any stretch. I don’t think psychedelics are for every single person on any given day. My main mission is that they are accepted as a method for healing, mental health wellness, spiritual growth and safe recreational use. They have the same legitimacy as anything, including meditation, yoga and breathwork. It’s all part of the same idea; that we should have the freedom to change our consciousness as we see fit.”
Tickets for the June 2 event, from noon to 7pm, are available at aspenshowtix.com at $28 per person. Per the Aspen Public Radio website, the ticket price includes all handling fees “as organizers seek to provide affordable access to this important conversation.” Spanish-language translation will be provided by the Wheeler.