Discovery Sessions Celebrates Bicycle Day in San Francisco

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    Discovery Sessions San Francisco recently convened on Bicycle Day weekend in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco for their third annual celebration of the psychedelic underground.

    Luminaries from across eras and time zones flocked to the Bay Area for an open exchange of ideas, spirited debate, and potent mushroom chocolate in the decriminalized safe harbor of the city by the bay. It seems like you can flip open a calendar to a random date these days and there will be some sort of psychedelic conference happening somewhere; how Discovery Sessions manages to carve out a unique lane and stand out from the crowd is a spectacle that must be witnessed firsthand to be properly appreciated.

    One of the more unique offerings of the conference was a real time exhibition of brain waves via volunteers hooked up to an EEG diagnostic test with their cerebral activity projected onto a display for the crowd to witness as distinguished psychedelic researcher Manesh Girn analyzed the nuances of the neural electrical signals. Such a rarefied display is but one compelling merit of this extraordinary event, which places equal emphasis on the twin engines of psychedelic science and culture with special attention to the invaluable and often overlooked contributions of the psychedelic underground – the outlaw chemists, the cultural disruptors, the pioneers who colorfully ushered in the arrival of a new era in spite of the systems of oppression and domination which exclusively seek to marginalize and condemn anything that poses a threat to the state and it’s monopoly on violence and subjugation. 

    I was fortunate to co-host the VIP party with iconic outlaw chemist Del Potter, where we regaled the crowd with tales from the psychedelic underground before turning the mic over to audience members so they could in turn share their trip reports. It felt like a full circle moment for me considering my alma mater sits a stone’s throw from Haight Street and Golden Gate Park, epicenter of the first wave of western psychedelia. Returning in a professional capacity to host and participate in this globally renowned psychedelic conference alongside distinguished academics and pioneers felt rather vindicating considering the lack of legitimacy that psychedelic compounds and their advocates have been granted by the establishment throughout the last 50 odd years of the egregiously failed War on Drugs.

    Some of the most reputable names in psychedelic science, policy and culture participated in a range of panels covering topics such as “Designing The Future of Psychedelics: Forecasting the Next Big Ideas” , “Destigmatizing Amanita muscaria: Shared Wisdom from Fly Agaric Professionals”, and “Rave as Ritual: Psychedelics and Healing on the Dance Floor” among many others. Mikaela de la Myco held space with a curated space offering sound healing and herbal infusions as a welcome respite from the hubbub of the frenetic conference, as crowds milled about outside of the exhibition halls exchanging updates with each other and making introductions to colleagues. 

    A panel titled “Jews and Psychedelics” was extremely timely and impactful, as the members shared their perspective on what it means to be psychedelic-forward Jews in this highly contentious era as the devastation in Gaza continues to unfold. 

    “If you get two Jews in a room, you get three opinions” quipped panelist Ariel Vegosen of Shine Diversity

    There’s an analogy here for the state of psychedelic mainstreaming as well; the parable of the ‘Blind men and an elephant’ often comes to mind, whereby each individual approaching the phenomenon of the psychedelic experience has their own motivations and incentives for interpreting what is at hand and staking different claims and corresponding courses of action informed by their respective tactile points. 

    A panel called “The Future is Bright: Insights into the Emerging Regulatory and Legal Landscape” was also a standout; patent attorney Graham Pechenik of Calyx Law called into question the merits of a patent granted for DMT vaporizer technology, as the spirit of the patent system is intended to incentivize innovation and competition rather than to reward the marketing of an already ubiquitously available and effective technology as such. As we see a rush to patent and monopolize psychedelic molecules and ancillary techniques throughout the existing push to incorporate psychedelics into mainstream society, the patent system occupies a crucial role in the centralization of wealth and the rollout of the emerging psychedelic industry. With regulatory agencies actively deliberating the approval of MDMA for psychedelic-assisted therapy in a decision expected on August 11, multinational biotech companies are positioning for market share at the same time as a decentralized wave of underground manufacturing and stewardship of psychedelic molecules and experiences has emerged on a global scale. This dichotomy between decentralization and centralized hierarchy has created a truly unique historical moment that finds itself expressed in the emergence of “the psychedelic industry”, a framing which currently requires the collective reimaging of how an industry even functions in the first place. 

    I participated in a panel titled “Psychedelic Entrepreneurship 101” which unpacked the opportunities and challenges of operating in the liminal regulatory and legal space that psychedelics currently occupy. Of particular interest on the panel was the distinction between decriminalization and legalization, wherein a gulf of misunderstanding and misinformation currently exists at the expense of any official policy. While “Decriminalization” technically means “deprioritization”, affording no true legal protections to brands and entrepreneurs operating in the underground market, the lack of any enforcement or resource devotion to combating psychedelic use in ‘decrim cities’ has enabled the proliferation of professionally produced and distributed underground market brands. This is still a far cry from legalization, which would require operating permits, considerable overhead, and all of the other bells and whistles tantamount to a regularly functioning industry. 

    The vendors ringing the periphery of the conference venue offered a refreshingly differentiated display of products that certainly left an impression. After touring the worldwide psychedelic conference circuit over the last three years, one tends to become immune to the over saturation of vendors selling virtually identical products in different packaging. Some of the unique offerings on exhibition at Discovery Sessions included a brand focused on Salvia and a unique method of delivery for the inhalation of this extraordinary and often baffling ‘power plant’,  as well as a table dedicated to Amanita muscaria products that are – imagine this – actually Amanita, and not the synthetic simulacrum often found liquidated into gummies and shilled by unscrupulous rubes trying to cash in on the shroom boom.

    There’s a mounting sense of recognition that the stakeholders in the modern western psychedelic movement are the pioneers of an esoteric tradition that is born in the laboratory rather than in the jungles and deserts that have incubated the plant-based pharmacopeia of countless generations past. There is something equally terrifying and inspiring about this.

    Take for example legendary late chemist Sasha Shulgin, a pioneer in the true sense of the word. I made my debut pilgrimage to the hallowed Shulgin farm in Lafayette, where the remarkable Shulgin laboratory which has incubated over 500 novel molecules sits frozen in time and suspended in the annals of history as the future of the state remains open to interpretation. The Shulgin Foundation is currently raising funds to preserve this iconic bastion of psychedelic science and cultural lore, and to effectively function as a hub for the growing global psychedelic community. 

    The very nature of the psychedelic experience seems to be decentralized; everywhere and nowhere at once – but if there ever was an epicenter of the modern psychedelic culture, San Francisco is arguably the cradle of the modern esoteric psychedelic tradition. Like Eleusis with a touch of fog and the Grateful Dead as a house band, the psychedelic legacy continues to be shaped collectively in the esprit de corps underpinning Discovery Sessions SF.