Psychedelic Science 2023 – Key Takeaways

In my previous post I shared my detailed review of the Psychedelic Science 2023 conference in Denver. In this post I’ll summarize my key takeaways after further reflection.


There was abundant evidence of the transformational effectiveness of psychedelics, which shows great promise in treating issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, especially at relatively high doses (like 30-40mg of psilocybin).

Psychedelics can also create powerful effects that people describe as spiritual. Given a high enough dosage, most people report a profound mystical experience that they claim to be one of the peak experiences of their lives.

The connection between psychedelics and creativity seems to be more anecdotal at this point, especially when microdosing. That could be at least partly due to the challenge of figuring out how to measure creativity improvements.


Lots of investment is currently flowing into the psychedelic space, including money, new businesses, and people (researches, doctors, therapists, coaches, etc.). There are even churches popping up that use psychedelic substances as their sacraments.

Feelings on this investment flow are mixed. On the one hand, greater mainstream interest helps to overcome the negative aspects of the 1960s counter-culture association with psychedelics, which led to the War on Drugs in the 1980s, thereby giving this wave of psychedelic resurgence more mainstream legitimacy with the backing of doctors, scientists, and investors. On the other hand, I saw much concern regarding the influence of corporate greed upon this space and the massive potential harm it could do, much as it did with cigarettes and the opioid crisis.

This creates an interesting dynamic where the field seems to be courting and welcoming mainstream legitimacy and advocacy while at the same time wanting to keep the influence of money and corporations at arm’s length, so as not to ruin the human and social benefits (community, healing, connection, transformation, positive social ripples, etc).

Placebo Effect

With respect to microdosing, recent studies have been finding that the placebo effect accounts for most of the total effect (perhaps 90-95% of it). The effects of microdosing can be almost entirely negated when someone thinks they’re taking a placebo while actually taking a real psychedelic substance such as LSD. And the positive effects can be largely replicated by giving a placebo to someone who thinks they’re getting the real thing.

At higher doses, however, the placebo effect seems to play a lesser role, although it’s still measurably present. When people are taking real psychedelic substances, they tend to know they didn’t get the placebo due to the strong effects. Of course that difference makes it difficult to conduct double-blind testing because most people can easily tell which group they’re in. That isn’t the case with microdosing, where people can easily guess wrong.


Psychedelics can be very sensitive to environment (aka setting). Taking the same substance at a therapist’s office may lead to a very different experience than doing it in the Amazon jungle, in your own home, at a rave, at Burning Man, etc.


We’ve come a long way in turning societal impressions of psychedelics to be more truth aligned. More people now recognize the positive benefits of psychedelics and acknowledge their non-addictive nature and the relatively low risks (the risks often having more to do with set and setting than with the substance taken). People are becoming more aware that mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, and ketamine aren’t remotely the same as heroin or cocaine. With some psychedelic substances, it’s nearly impossible to overdose since they aren’t toxic in higher amounts, although you might end up having a very intense trip.


Lots of players seem to want to influence the way the rapidly growing psychedelics community evolves, including doctors, therapists, scientists, individual psychonauts, local psychedelic communities, indigenous people, investors, business, government officials, etc. Many different interests are vying to secure, maintain, or expand their seats at the table to ensure their interests are considered and represented. Yet no one is really in charge.

Different interest groups favor different frames to support their positions. Therapists may use the patient care frame. Individual psychonauts often play the personal freedom card. Researchers may emphasize the supremacy of science. Indigenous people seem to favor the multi-generational stewardship and experienced elder frames. Government officials claim to want what’s best for the people they serve. Some local psychedelic communities lean on anti-corporate and empower-the-local-community framing.

It’s impressive to see that despite competing for influence, many people in this space are willing to float among different frames to broaden their perspectives, including considering frames that don’t support their positions. I think many people recognize that psychedelic space is complex and not easily understood from the perspective of any singular frame. Frames are not truths; they’re only windows peering into a greater reality from different angles.

Exploring a Direct Relationship with Psychedelics

One personal takeaway was the value of cultivating a direct relationship with psychedelics, such as by using them solo or with a sitter, instead of going through gatekeepers like a therapist or shaman. Whenever you bring anyone else into the psychedelic journey with you, their energy gets woven into the experience.

Be careful about the people with whom you explore. You may have a better experience exploring with trusted friends in a comfortable and familiar location than in some jungle, retreat center, or office with people you don’t know.

If you do work with a gatekeeper, it’s wise to research their background and talk to previous clients. Going to a psychedelic retreat center with a rotating rent-a-shaman may not be your best bet. And if you do find retreat centers appealing, shop around and ask around for more options since their prices can be all over the place.

Self-Development Potential

In terms of personal growth value, there’s a tremendous about of experimentation that can be done with exploring different intentions in your psychedelic journeys. Psychonauts have invited new truths about themselves and reality, upgraded old thought patterns and behaviors, overcome addictions, created new emotional realities for themselves, and so much more.

Psychedelics can provide new vectors into self-discovery that you may not have accessed before. The potential of using psychedelics for self-development is vast.

Synthetic vs. Natural Psychedelics

Some people have a preferences for natural psychedelics such as magic mushrooms or ayahuasca instead of synthetic forms like LSD or MDMA. In terms of the results people are getting, both in scientific studies and anecdotally, there seems to be little practical difference between natural and synthetic psychedelics. Both are capable of creating very similar experiences. Even across different types of psychedelics, the effects tend to be more similar than dissimilar, with factors like set, setting, dosage, and intentionality often playing a bigger role than the specific substance taken.

Curing vs. Drugging

Many people are moving away from pharmaceuticals that only treat their symptoms, cause unwanted side effects, mask underlying problems without actually curing them, and often create drug dependencies. They’re turning to psychedelics to unearth, explore, and finally cure their underlying conditions. Some achieve this through microdosing, others through intense high-dose experiences.

Psychedelics and Meditation

There’s great overlap between the long-term benefits of psychedelics and meditation practice. Psychedelics typically yield much faster results though, often creating profound transformations with just one or two doses, achieving transformations that consistent meditation practice might attain within years or decades, if ever. Moreover, even experienced meditators can have powerful revelations when taking psychedelics, often in ways that supplement their meditation practice. Meditation and psychedelics are highly compatible, and the best results may come from combining them.

Social Benefits

Psychedelics can create many positive social ripples, such as helping people to feel more connected to each other, be more compassionate and cooperative, and set more socially responsible and beneficial goals and priorities. Widespread psychedelic use could potentially lead to a reduction in violent crime, among many other positive ripples.


The psychedelic decriminalization and legalization movement is building momentum, so we may see similar shifts like we’ve seen with marijuana in recent years. In the USA, Colorado has been leading the way. Other states are advancing in this direction too.

Do the Work

Psychedelics can be powerful tools of transformation, but you must still do the inner work to unleash their full potential. If you use psychedelics primarily for entertainment, you may not experience much transformational value. Moreover, no one can do the work for you, even if you work with a therapist or shaman.

A key pattern I saw among people who had powerful breakthroughs with psychedelics was that they assumed personal responsibility for their transformations. Psychedelic exploration often came into their lives after they decided it was time to step up and finally fix their issues, whatever it takes. For some this meant overcoming major trauma. For others it was finally time to get off anti-depressants. Still others wanted to do something purposeful and meaningful instead of feeling stuck. There were many different scenarios that led people to conclude that they needed to definitively fix their issues and finally move on with the rest of their lives. For some it appeared as if psychedelics came onto their radar as the manifestation of the transformational power they were now summoning, as if reality said to them, “Ah… I see you’re finally committed to solving this issue for good. Here’s what you need to complete that journey.”


The psychedelic space is clearly going through a major expansion phase. Expect to see significantly more growth in this space in the years ahead. New career opportunities are springing up rapidly, such as psychedelic therapists, coaches, and trainers. You may soon see people you know switching careers to get involved.

Don’t be too surprised when you see more influencers sharing openly about their psychedelic journeys. You’ve probably been seeing some shifts towards greater openness and exploration already if you’ve been paying attention.

I hope you enjoyed these takeaways. I encourage you to ponder how some of them may apply to other areas of your life in more personally applicable ways. For instance, are there any situations where you’re still going through a gatekeeper, such as by seeking permission, when a more direct approach would serve you better? Where in life do you need a powerful commitment to “do the work” in order to progress? How do your set (mindset), setting (environment), and intentionality affect your results and experiences? Where are you getting stuck into mono-framing instead of taking in the big picture across multiple frames?