Psychedelic Science 2023 – Film Festival Day

I love how friendly and open the vibe is here at Psychedelic Science 2023 in Denver.

As we were heading down the elevator in our hotel yesterday, we got to chatting with an enthusiastic attendee on the way out. She told us they had to cap registrations at 11,500 and turn away 70 interested vendors. That doesn’t surprise me. We’re clearly in a wave of surging interest in psychedelics. I’m here because I’m keenly interested to learn more about the potential for using psychedelics for self-development. I’ve only done a few psychedelic journeys so far, and I’d say there’s a 99% chance I’ll do more this year.

Since the main conference doesn’t start till this morning, the only thing we had access to yesterday was the Psychedelic Cinematheque, which was a one-room film festival at the Colorado Convention Center. Rachelle and I watched 5 films yesterday, and every one was packed, some with people sitting on the floor and standing around the perimeter. At one film people were even sitting on the stage to claim a spot. There were vibrant and supportive Q&As with the filmmakers after each one. We saw:

  1. Descending the Mountain – This was a zen-like and peaceful film about psychedelic experiments at a zen monastery on a mountain in Switzerland. The surprising amount of humor and cute animations got a lot of laughs from the audience.
  2. We Are the Medicine – This was a short film about the BIPOC perspective on psychedelics. I loved the line about how white people’s medicine doesn’t serve white people well either. There were some emotional moments with the cast and writer / producer afterwards. I really wish this film had better sound since it was hard to make out what people were saying in some parts, especially the opening scene where people were conversing in a busy restaurant. Perhaps they could upgrade the audio quality with Descript’s “studio audio” filter.
  3. Eskawata Kayawai: The Spirit of Transformation – This was an insightful deep dive into the Huni Kuin indigenous people in the Amazon Rainforest and how they’ve been rekindling their long-term relationship with ayahuasca after losing touch with it for decades. The location was so remote that it took the filmmakers nearly a week to travel to these villages, including four days on a riverboat. The director said it took six years to make this film – wow.
  4. Wider Than Our View – This was a three-minute, digitally hand-drawn animated short, representing a mystical experience during a psychedelic journey. I found it a delight to watch and got to see it twice. I did a double-take when I saw the filmmaker’s name: Sasha Frost. Rachelle and I had playfully done Wordle while having lunch shortly before seeing this, and the word was FROST. We’ve been running into synchronicities like this all week.
  5. Better Living Through Chemistry – This documentary explored the life and work of Sasha Shulgin. He worked for Dow Chemical and then set up his own home lab, where he developed almost 200 psychedelic substances. First he tested them on himself; then he invited a group of friends and colleagues to partake and document their experiences. For the past year and a half, a group in Berkeley has been continuing his work, and they claim to have a couple of new substances that should be starting clinical trials soon.

More films will be shown throughout the rest of the week, but I’m not planning to see any of those since the main conference kicks off today, and there are hundreds of live sessions to choose from. Before arriving in Denver, I mapped out my schedule for the next three days pretty well (allowing for some options as I go). That was tough because there are so many overlapping sessions of interest. This conference has tracks on science, therapy, plant medicine, studies, clinical trials, policy, society, veterans, and more.

There’s also an experiential zone here call Deep Space. I’m going to try to weave in some time there as well, but I really feel like I’d have to clone myself 5-6 times to see and experience everything here that I’d love to see. During breaks I’ll try to check out the Expo too, which has a couple hundred exhibitors.

I’m looking forward to starting the main conference today with the opening keynotes, including one by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Then I plan to attend at least one morning sessions on microdosing, followed by a variety of other sessions throughout the day. Paul Stamets is speaking this afternoon, so I want to catch his talk on shrooms too. You may have seen him in the film Fantastic Fungi.

The son of a good friend of ours is hosting a panel tomorrow morning on sports medicine with players from the NFL, NHL, and NBA, sharing about their psychedelic journeys. We’ll be sure to attend his session and say hi.

PS2023 really goes all out with the emotional and spiritual support. One room in the convention center is set aside as a quiet room. Across from that is a meditation / reflection room. Why do they need both? Perhaps the quiet room is for people who just want quiet but without the reflection.

There’s even a room where people can play with dogs for extra comfort and connection. I noted that the doggie room is pretty close to the other two rooms, so hopefully the dogs won’t be too loud. :dog:

In addition to the conference, we signed up for a couple of related evening social events / parties, one on Thursday night (which goes till 4am) and one on Saturday night. I’ll do my best to pace myself, but part of me also wants to soak up as much as possible while I’m here.

We arrived early so we also had a little time to squeeze in some touristy stuff, including exploring the lovely Denver Botanic Gardens. Here’s a pic I took there:

I figured that spending several hours around plants would be a nice way to gear up for the conference.

We also keep noting that the vibe in Denver (and the general look of the areas we’ve seen so far) keeps reminding us of Canadian cities. There are some parts that remind us of Winnipeg, others of Toronto, Calgary, or Montreal.

Set and Setting

Lately I’ve been pondering how the psychedelic concepts of set and setting (i.e. mindset and environment) also apply to our broader lives. For instance, I was in a great place to write this post this morning, feeling wide awake around 5am, taking a hot shower, and feeling inspired to share about the experience of being here. I wrote this on a cozy couch in our hotel suite while Rachelle slept in the bedroom (so I wasn’t disturbing her). I love to write from a mindset and heartset of openness, curiosity, reflection, and connection.

So I’ll leave you with this as something to ponder for yourself. How’s your set (mindset) right now? How’s your setting (environment)? Are these conducive to your experiencing the kind of flow you desire? If not, where are your leverage points for making some positive changes or upgrades? Remember that you have the power to move your body to a different location, to change your social circle, and to shift your mental focus and your emotional state.