Tag Archive for: psychedelic

altered conference uk psychedelic society weekends

I stop in front of a stranger to look them in the eye and say ‘HOO. AAH. YOO!’ as he simultaneously does this back at me. We smirk at each other, and then walk on to do the same to another of the 300 or so people in the room. A few minutes earlier, to the collective sound of all of us humming and singing glossolalia, we held silk ribbons up in the air as we focused intentions on them before tying them to a large tree branch in the middle of the room.

altered conference berlin psychedelics

This was my Friday morning a few weeks ago at the opening ceremony of Altered 2017: a two day international psychedelic gathering/conference. Berlin, synonymous with breaking boundaries and divided people coming together amidst political change, was symbolically the perfect city to host an event like this. With psychedelics becoming an increasingly hot political topic and the growing global movement steadily working towards seeing the counter-productive and repressive laws which prohibit their use, dissolved too.

Uniquely Altered

altered conference uk psychedelic society weekends

Altered was quite different to the psychedelic conference I went to in Copenhagen – what was a straight laced, well organised and heavily academic event held in a university. Altered, by contrast, was far more manic – with rooms and workshops overfilling, timetables changing, and held in a hotel with a confusing and labyrinthine layout. If the Copenhagen one showed the high conscientiousness and clear analytical thinking that psychedelics can provide, Altered showed the other side; the creative, chaotic, and magical.

Spellcasting For Beginners

Speaking of magic, I went to an hourlong workshop on the second day called ‘Spellcasting For Beginners’ led by a guy called Felipe Duarte. It was pretty different to anything I’ve done before so I’ll describe it briefly for the curious.

With about 40 of us there, he started with some music and we all danced to a sweat (breaking a sweat was essential to the magic working) before sitting down to briefly meditate and then do unconscious writing while we were asked questions about our desires in life. We then had to write down our greatest desire and refine this to one sentence. We then removed every vowel and repeating consonant from the sentence and using these letters created our own magical symbol and word.

Back into a circle we all sat around with everyone chanting their magical word over and over until the collective cacophony of the room reached a swooning, flowing fever pitch and we all ripped our pieces of paper into tiny little pieces.

Spell cast.

Slightly different from a talk on the results of clinical research then. I’m naturally pretty skeptical on this ‘magic’ stuff but I’ve reached no conclusions and regardless it was a fun and interesting hour and something new. Having to dance to sweat and do unconscious writing also forced me past discomfort too. I plan to attend more workshops at the next one.


I was a volunteer at the conference and it definitely added to my experience of the weekend. It was a great way to meet other people and at the same time get a peak behind the scenes to the organization of the whole thing. I helped with setup at the hotel the two days prior and met a lot of people involved, so by the time of the actual conference, the hotel was full of familiar faces and new friends and it felt strangely like home. As well as the set up I also volunteered on the 2nd day and spent a few hours at the welcome and info desk. This forced me to skip talks and workshops and meant that, between groups arriving from the tram, I had time to sit down and get to know some pretty cool people and hear their stories. If I hadn’t done this I would’ve just gone from talk to workshop to talk, trying not to miss out on anything and ironically missing out on connecting with others in the rapidly growing psychedelic community.

changa ketamine giorgia gaia experimental alchemy altered conference berlin

The Movement Is Growing Fast

A lot of things in the world are changing very quickly and perception of and interest in psychedelics is one of them. Altered is another example of this. Last year Altered was 6 speakers and 50 guests over 1 day. This year it was 35 talks, workshops and rituals across 2 days and 3 rooms, with around 400 guests, and an after-party. The pull was big. As well as an international group of resident Berliners, people had made the journey from surrounding cities and countries – I met people who had made the journey from Vienna, Budapest, Copenhagen, Holland, France and the UK.

Hyper Connectivity

The reach of the event and coming together of people shows the hyperconnected nature of the movement which played its part in my being there too. After Copenhagen, I’d planned on skipping this one but then my Danish buddy Vik was going with his Berlin based brother – a duo who I’m overdue starting an art project with – and then through research for a piece on drug policy, the lovely Ros Stone put me in touch with the founder and organiser Dax – who offered me a place to crash. It seemed that I was supposed to be there, so after securing a free ticket by signing up to volunteer and finding some cheap flights, I was on my way. It was the people I was in touch with who got me there.

The brain on placebo, left, the brain on psilocybin, right – mirrors connectivity in psychedelic world.

Even at the level of this conference, I got a sense of the disintegration of hierarchy and separation – another psychedelic action making its way out to the macro level. At Altered there was no clear distinction between speakers and attendees, or heads and guests. To me it felt like there were just a lot of psychedelic enthusiasts with everyone participating, some presenting and others not.

Psychedelic Use Doesn’t Equal Virtue

“Psychedelics do not guarantee wisdom or a clear recognition of the selfless nature of consciousness.”
– Sam Harris

With all the nice words said, it has to be acknowledged that not everything is compassion and oneness in the psychedelic world. There are definitely some big egos in the movement. Through becoming more involved with the community it’s become clear to me that growth, maturity, and wisdom certainly aren’t inherent in psychedelic use. I’ve seen conversations turn into bragging contests about who’s had the most trips, taken the biggest doses, or tried the widest variety of substances. I’ve also met people who are just dicks. When I hear someone bragging about how much they’ve learnt, how much pain they’ve overcome, or saying something like ‘I can now access any state of consciousness at any time’ (that’s a direct quote from a ‘healer’ at another event), I can’t help but smile and think ‘well how much did it teach you about humility and honesty?’.

There are, of course, countless people who’ve never touched a psychedelic and who show more of these virtues than some of the most well-seasoned psychonauts. As one of the speakers at the Copenhagen symposium put it; ‘there are people who’ve had hundreds of psychedelic experiences that are still assholes’.


I think this is worth remembering, as apparently psychedelic people can easily feel superior or on some kind of higher level than non-initiates or those with less experience. Personally, I don’t care too much about how many trips you’ve had, I’m interested in what you’ve learned and how deeply you’ve learnt it – how it informs your character and how you live your life.

While psychedelics have the ability to facilitate a mental reset capable of freeing one from conditioned patterns of thought and behavior (which may play a role in the species wide reconditioning needed to prevent our own ecological self-destruction), they are clearly not a panacea. They are just tools. Like any other tool or technology, they can be used for good or bad. A hammer can be used to build a table or hit someone over the head. Chemistry can be used to create medicine or a poison. The internet can be used to connect and educate, or spread lies, distract and shorten attention span. Psychedelics can potentiate minds and offer opportunities for greater awareness, but even if that opportunity is taken, what’s done with that increased awareness is another question.

Browsing psychedelic forums online you’ll come across countless claims of ‘ego-death’, but while the ego can lose power or even totally dissolve during peak experiences, it can strike back with a vengeance, re-emerging even more powerful than before. The ego is supple and can re-contextualize even the most powerful transcendent experiences, leading people further into competition and another ego-ic game. A type of spiritual chicanery or spiritual materialism.

“As Daniel Pinchbeck pointed out […], the fact that both the Mayans and the Aztecs used psychedelics, while being enthusiastic practitioners of human sacrifice, makes any idealistic connection between plant-based shamanism and an enlightened society seem terribly naïve.”
– Sam Harris, Drugs & The Meaning Of Life

More sinister than the mere boasters are those who are using promises of enlightenment and healing as a way to take advantage of others. A look at the stories of dodgy shamans who’ve touched up trippers or self-described healers charging exorbitant prices whilst living a life of luxury should ring alarm bells for us all.

Engaging The Shadow Side Of The Movement

This is, in Jung’s terms, the shadow side of the psychedelic movement. As in any field, it’s important to acknowledge and be aware of the charlatans, bullshitters, and manipulators out there seeking to gain power and money for their own selfish desires. How to deal with them?


It’s my belief that these people should be called in and have what they are espousing tested. This doesn’t need to be an aggressive attack but rather the opening of a discussion. With open and honest communication the truth will come out. If you come across someone with specious or spurious claims or saying something that contradicts what’s been previously said, I encourage you to question with curiosity to dig out the truth. I also think it’s best to try to judge people based on their character – how they speak, act and treat others – rather than any claims to experience and knowledge.

With that said, I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on this shadow side and how to engage it. Please post your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t hesitate to send me a message. Until then I’ll give my own rather broad version of advice:

Keep seeking, keep questioning!

Next weekend I’m headed to Berlin for Altered Conference – ‘an international gathering of consciousness explorers from all backgrounds to take part in talks, workshops and rituals on the subject of psychedelics, conscious practices, and social issues’. Yep, sounds absolutely like somewhere I should be.

altered conference berlin psychedelics

Another psychedelic conference? Yep, but Altered aims to be different. In my recent post about the psychedelic symposium in Copenhagen, I mentioned that there was a heavy emphasis on science and that I think there should be room for other types of discussion too. Well apparently the organisers of Altered heard my call: scientists will represent a slim part of a diverse range of speakers. One of those organisers, Dax DeFranco, kindly answered a few questions for me so I could get a peek behind the curtain…

To begin, I have to ask… how did you come to psychedelics?

It’s so cliche that it’s embarrassing. I was in university, maybe 20 years old. On Halloween, some of my friends got some mushrooms and we watched Yellow Submarine in someone’s apartment. I remember throwing up, the patterns in the floor moving around, being very cold… it was sufficiently weird, but the real trip started when I thought it was over. I went back to my room, got in bed and over the next few hours was led to mercilessly scrutinise my behaviour, thoughts, impulses, desires… it was extremely frightening to see myself with that kind of clarity and – without being too melodramatic – it definitely changed me for the better.

dax defranco altered conference berlin

Honestly, I like that The Beatles were a part of your psychedelic initiation. And how did Altered come into being? Was there a specific moment where you thought ‘this is something we need to do’, or was it an idea which germinated over time?

Altered has been a very organic process. I gave a talk at a local bookshop in February 2016 about Terence McKenna, Language and Alchemy and it was packed out. I was amazed at the response, so I asked the owners if I could make something bigger – that’s how Altered was born. Last year it was just 6 speakers, myself included, and about 50 guests over one day. This year it’s 35 talks, workshops and rituals over two days with nearly 400 guests and a huge afterparty. It’s grown into itself and it’s been a great ride so far.

Why do you think an event like this is important?

There was an article or podcast I found about a year ago about ‘coming out of the psychedelic closet’. I grew up in a tiny town on the East Coast of the United States and it was an incredibly closed-minded and homogenous place that was a perfect breeding ground for a fear-based worldview. I was racist. I was homophobic. I was ardently anti-drugs. I was generally a very unpleasant person. I moved away for university, and then continued moving and between traveling and psychedelics I was exposed to all sorts of new people and experiences. When you don’t know any queer people or people of color, it’s easy to stick to an ignorant stereotype because it’s never challenged. You need to be open to accepting that some of the narratives you’ve taken on might be wrong, and psychedelics help with that. That to say, there are people across our society who have used and benefited from psychedelics but until recently they did so in secret. When you’re the only person who’s experimented with x, it’s hard to talk about it or make it a part of your identity, but the more people that do, the less pressure and fear others feel to identify that way. Altered is a gathering of a community, and it’s friendly and loving and fun, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s very much a political thing.

altered conference psychedelics berlin

How will Altered be unique to other psychedelic conferences?

Altered has a different focus, a different aim. For me, if Altered really works, it’s going to be a psychedelic incubator (if you’re from the startup world), a bubbling retort of the Psychedelic Renaissance (if you prefer Alchemy). A place where people and ideas mix, combine, dissolve and reform into something entirely new. Someone recently was a bit critical of what we have planned, saying there wasn’t enough academic rigour and too much emphasis on experience – but the more I think about this, the more I think it’s exactly right – and not at all a bad thing. The talks are going to be amazing, but the conference itself, as a whole, is what’s really going to be special.

I hope so. And what’s going on at the after party?

Our goal was not to make the greatest party on earth, just to make a party that is good by Berlin standards. I think that means that for many people it’s going to be the best party they’ve ever seen :p

Sounds great. To finish, I’d like to ask something I ask every psychedelic enthusiast: What are the most important things one can do to open up the debate on psychedelics, both in their effects and their legal status?

I think the most important thing is to use and talk about them in an honest way. There’s a lot of talk about ‘coming out of the psychedelic closet’ – like I mentioned before, when you’re the only person who’s experimented with x, it’s hard to talk about it or make it a part of your identity, but the more people that do, the less pressure and fear others feel to identify that way. I think the simple act of being a psychedelic person who’s honest about being a psychedelic person is extremely powerful.

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You can find out more about Altered at their website and get tickets here.

If you’re going, come say hi. I’ll be around on the Friday and volunteering on the Saturday. Send me a message or tweet me before hand. See you there.

jamaica beach myco meditations

You’ve heard me say it before: psychedelics have incredible potential. The caveat I should’ve added is that the context of the experience plays a huge role. If you look at the studies that boast the impressive results that are making headlines then you’ll find a steady theme – a controlled setting, a safe and supportive environment, and at least one carer on hand.

John Hopkins Psilocybin Study

Research setting for a study into the effects of psilocybin to treat depression and acute anxiety in cancer patients. John Hopkins University.

Because of the illegal and stigmatized status of psychedelic substances, finding a setting conducive to the most deeply moving experiences isn’t that easy. There is an option in Jamaica though, where magic mushrooms are still legal: Myco Meditations.

Myco Meditations

myco meditations psilocybin retreats logo

Myco Meditations was started by Eric Osborne, an ethnomycologist (mushroom geek) who was arrested and sent to jail in 2015 for holding mushroom ceremonies in the US (read his story here). Eric now runs beach side retreats every month – legally – in Jamaica. I skyped with him to find out more about Myco Meditations.

“I’ve seen the enormous benefit of psilocybin on others and experienced it for myself” Eric says when I ask him why he set up MycoMeds. “It’s commonly held that only a small percentage of the population would benefit from psychedelic experience, but I actually believe it’s a small percentage that wouldn’t benefit.” I’d have to agree with Eric here. And he’s seen that benefit in quite a few people, having dosed over 300 visitors since setting up in the Caribbean, with visitors from their early 20s all the way into their 70s. He believes that by facilitating these experiences in a legal setting, people’s stories can be public and therefore help to raise awareness of the safety and efficacy of psilocybin. But if you go, don’t expect him to just be handing out the shrooms.

myco meditations retreat group

A retreat group in Jamaica

“This isn’t something people should be doing willy nilly” he says, “psychedelics aren’t risk free, so experiences are approached with the utmost caution.” It’s clear that Eric has a deep respect for these experiences and accordingly an integral part of the retreats is the surrounding atmosphere: supportive conversations, preparation and aftercare. The care extends to the mushrooms and dosages too.

After they’ve been collected on the island, mushrooms are dried and ground before being put into capsules – each one containing 0.5g. “This method allows for consistency and for us to effectively target the desired dose” Eric says. The doses generally start low and graduate up over the sessions, taking into account the person’s experience with psychedelics, their increased tolerance over successive sessions, and their stability and level of comfort within the experience. It also depends on what the person is after. Eric makes clear that there’s no fixed pattern to the dosages and each course is tailored to the individual – “it’s based on consultation and open dialogue”.

I have to say I like the sound of this approach. My main hesitation with retreats is the inability to choose your own dose – most retreats I’ve come across will have a set amount they’ll give you and there’s not much discussion on if this can be altered – you can drink a cup full then maybe a bit more, or it’s a loaded bowl in a pipe. It’s not exactly like the carefully measured doses you’d find in a research setting. I think this more scientific approach is the way forward, it seems the best way to avoid both the risk of an experience stronger than someone is ready for, or the disappointment of an underwhelming experience.

jamaica beach myco meditations

How does psilocybin increase sense of wellbeing? “A word that we’ve kept coming back to here recently is authenticity” Eric says. He believes that by connecting to our authentic self we can alleviate ourselves of the conditions causing our suffering. And the suffering is real for a lot of those who’ve been on retreat there, with around 90% of participants wanting to work through some trauma or emotional state; people suffering from PTSD, addiction, and depression, including several stage 4 cancer patients. “They can come to a level of comfort with their diagnosis” Eric says. “These are people who have given up on life, and I see them reinvigorated, coming back to life with enthusiasm”.

The work with victims of cancer is something Eric is developing with his non-profit organisation PLEDG (Psychedelic Liberation Education Discipline and Guidance) whose focus is to bring therapies to people in need and to contribute to research and advocacy. His hope is that through the organisation they will be able to raise money to sponsor low income victims of cancer and make their journey to Jamaica and the mushroom therapy 100% free.

pledg psychedelic libersation education discipline guidance

Visit pledg.org for more info

Until then, retreats are paid but expanding. At the end of November is a psychedelic specialists retreat and mini-conference. The event will feature comedian Shane Mauss, who recently finished a stand up tour based around psychedelics, and psychedelic scientist Katherine Maclean, who worked as one of the lead scientists on the psilocybin research at Johns Hopkins university. I love the idea behind combining psychedelic experience with education and entertainment and I hope that this type of event is something that we’ll see more of in the future, if we ever get those much needed revisions on drug policy.

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Have you ever been on a retreat with Myco Meditations? Please share your experience in the comments below.

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

On a recent mild weekend in Denmark I went to a psychedelic conference in the country’s coastal capital. Held in a sleek and modern building on the city’s metropolitan university campus, it turned out to be a hugely impressive event. Something that struck me early on was how well organised everything was – I guess a part of me was expecting stoned hippies in tie-dye shirts to be running the thing. Though I’m sure that would’ve been fun in its own way, that was absolutely not the case. It was an excellently organised and professional event put on by the psychedelic society of Denmark: clearly a smart and competent group of individuals that understand the value of these stigmatized substances.

psychedelics conference denmark merchandise stand

The atmosphere around the building and in the main hall was of an almost tangible positivity and you could tell everyone was excited to be there. It was awesome to connect with others who share an interest in psychedelics and being around so many like-minded people made me feel that I’m part of something much bigger. A pretty good feeling.

lsd magic mushrooms mescaline dmt flyers

There were workshops on tripsitting and integration on the Friday and the main conference was held over the weekend with two full days of presentations on subjects ranging from neuroscience to psychotherapy to social ecology.

Serious Work Is Being Done

There was a moment I enjoyed on the second morning when an older lady asked me if I was a scientist. I smiled and said “well, I do conduct experiments.” It turns out I’m not the only one. There are like, actual scientists doing (slightly more rigorous) experiments and clinical trials with these substances and writing papers and PHDs on them. And there are a lot of them.

psychedelic plants presentation

Pharmacologist Jordi Riba

Nearly all of the presentations were done by scientists and researchers from  a diverse range of fields and while the research into how psychedelics can be used to treat mental illness is currently getting the most attention, there is plenty more going on. I enjoyed one talk about how the type of hallucinogen present in a culture might influence its prevailing religious beliefs – especially thought-provoking when we consider today’s most popular drugs. There was another interesting one in which pharmacologist Jordi Riba presented his findings that suggest the alkaloids of the plant source of ayahuasca stimulate adult neurogenesis. I should mention that he did also note that aerobic exercise also does this, so if you fancy growing your brain and aren’t quite up for a massive psychedelic trip in the jungle, you can just go for a run. Slightly less intimidating.

Science Is Leading The Movement

Today science is a door to credibility. Open any statement with ‘well, studies have shown that…’ and you’re guaranteed to have your point considered more seriously. As psychedelics gain more attention its clear that many leaders within the movement know this. They don’t want to see mistakes made in the 60’s made again and are very conscious of public perception. Hence the amount of scientists and academics giving presentations. In a panel debate at the end of the first day, neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris used the word ‘hippies’ more than once and its clear that he doesn’t want to be labelled one. He wants the respect that comes with science and he’s not alone in wanting that respect to be extended to psychedelics.

Robin Carhart-Harris psychedelic brain presentation

Robin Carhart-Harris

I do think there should be room for non-science based discussion too though. On looking through the program ahead of the first day I saw a presentation with an intriguing title – ‘Psychedelic Pleasures: An effective understanding of the joys of tripping’. I read it to my friend and he smiled. “That’s more like it. All this science can miss the point.” The talk turned out to be steeped in science and methodology and disappointingly, not very fun at all.

Whilst all the scientific research is important to the wider perception of psychedelics, I think it’s important to remember that technical understanding has its limits. Sure, science has granted us incredible advancements in medicine and technology, but alone it doesn’t have all the answers. Technology has isolated people, globalisation has fragmented communities, and if we look at where all this technical, rational understanding has landed us today we see a world with increasing rates of mental illness in the midst of an ecological crisis. I think we can go a little too heavy on the science at times and there should be room for other types of understanding too.

Small Event In A Big Year

2017 has been a big year for the psychedelic movement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designating MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD in August, and much larger conferences like Psychedelic Science, Breaking Convention, and The International Transpersonal Conference taking place in California, London and Prague. Whilst the gathering in Copenhagen was a modest affair compared to those events, it still gave me a sense of how big the movement is and how fast its growing.

psychedelic presentation meditation

I appreciated the relatively small size as it meant that I had the opportunity to talk with some of those presenting. It was interesting to hear neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen (who you may be familiar with from this VICE article) talk about how he considers ‘hope’ to be a crucial aspect of music in a session, and speaking to Jordi Riba, I found out why I can drink cup after cup of ayahuasca without any real effect (turns out I’m not a beast of resistance, it’s more likely that my body just metabolizes certain enzymes very quickly). Whilst it’s possible to find out almost anything online, nothing replaces those in person connections.

Overall the conference was equal parts enjoyable and eye-opening and the cornerstone of an inspiring week in Copenhagen. I think I might make this an annual trip. See you at the next one.

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If you enjoyed this you might also wanna check out:
7 Remarkable Things I Learned At Psychedelic Science 2017 – by Aaron at Freedom & Fulfilment

personality tripsitting workshop

During my recent visit to Copenhagen I attended a tripsitting workshop as part of a psychedelic conference. I’d never been to anything like this before so I was pretty curious to see what it would be like. And no, we didn’t look after or watch people tripping their nuts off, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Here’s an overview.

tripsitting workshop copenhagen

The workshop was given in a seminar room at a building of Copenhagen’s Metropolitan University College – fittingly, a university of applied sciences. The workshop was full and there were 40 of us there, a mix of men and women from their 20s to their 60s. From appearances you’d never guess that this was a group of psychedelic enthusiasts.

I ended up sat next to the only other Brit in the room, who turned out to be Rosalind Watts – a clinical psychologist who’s part of the research team at Imperial College London and who worked on their groundbreaking psilocybin for depression study – she was also giving a presentation at the conference the next day. It’s good to know that those involved with research are topping up their knowledge and still seeking development – especially as it seems that the progress of the psychedelic movement will depend largely on the results of clinical trials in research settings.

wide tripsitting workshop

Being in an atmosphere of like-minded people was great – the room was full of people who have an understanding of the potential of psychedelics and want to learn more. As it’s still a fringe movement I don’t often get these real-life interactions where I can freely talk about this kinda stuff so having that sense of community was the perfect backdrop for the workshop.

The workshop was led by Marc Aixalà, a Spanish engineer and psychologist who works as an integrative psychotherapist. Amongst his experience with psychedelics Marc has worked as a coordinator for Kosmicare – a company that provides emergency attention to people going through difficult drug-related experiences at large festivals. Throughout the workshop Marc told us some stories from his work to illustrate points and it was pretty clear that he has considerable experience in this area. I could totally see why he was asked to lead it.

Marc Aixalà psychedelic science

Marc also presented at Psychedelic Science this year

The workshop was basically a presentation and while more interaction might’ve been good, a lot of ground was covered. To give you an idea, topics covered included: the effects of different psychedelic substances and the challenges of a sitter unique to each one; the differences between sitting roles- shaman, sitter, facilitator, guide and therapist; how to screen people for a psychedelic session and how to prepare for it; and how personality can affect reaction to the experience. And loads more, it was packed with useful information.

The small group size allowed for interaction amongst us and for Marc to stop for questions when people had them. Though there was definitely a level of professionalism from Marc and most attendees were clearly there to learn, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was room for some laughter.

personality tripsitting workshop

It was the first time Marc had given this particular workshop and he’d prepared too much material to fit in to the allotted 4 hours so we ran over by about 40 minutes. I was actually really happy about this as I was learning a lot and had nowhere else to be that afternoon.

Overall it was excellent. It surpassed any expectations I had and I found the whole thing to be very mentally stimulating. It even answered a few questions I didn’t know I had. To finish, I’d like to share a few things that came through from the workshop.

1. Healing Happens Through Intensification

crying emotion

Psychedelics can facilitate healing by intensifying the emotions around whatever difficult issue is being – consciously or subconsciously – avoided. This intensification allows difficult and repressed emotions to be fully experienced and expressed, and in doing so to reach their natural conclusion. This can be understood in the processes by which psychological healing occurs – projection, transference, abreaction, and catharsis. In the context of a therapeutic trip, this means that someone experiencing difficult emotions or sensations should be encouraged to surrender to them, rather than resisting them.

2. People Heal Themselves

Noone can have an experience for anyone else. This is true of healing or perspective shifting experiences too. Each person must go through the process ultimately on their own and reach their own understanding, acceptance and resolution of any troubling issue. As such, a sitting role will usually be passive and supportive. Marc used a nice analogy for this: if you have a cut on your arm, you don’t actively go about healing it. You clean the wound, patch it up, and then allow the healing to take place. Likewise, a sitter’s job is to set and maintain the conditions conducive to the healing process – a safe environment that allows someone to heal themself.

3. Clearly Defined Boundaries Are Helpful

restricted area rules

It is helpful to clearly define the ‘rules of the game’ ahead of a session: the level and type of interaction between the tripper and the sitter, who controls the choice and level of the music, what activities, if any, will be undertaken. Setting these boundaries in advance will encourage feelings of security and reassurance and help to create an emotionally safe space for the session.

4. The Approach Is More Important Than The Actions

A calm, centred, supportive approach is more important than what any guide or sitter can say or do. It’s not enough to remember certain actions or follow a set routine, care giving and support goes beyond this – effective sitting requires intuition, compassion and a level of self-awareness.

5. Qualities That Make A Good Sitter Aren’t Quantifiable

Trip-sitting isn’t a science – it’s a combination of an art and a science. Whilst a level of knowledge can be very helpful in some regards, the character and motivations of a sitter are more important. Marc made this point in a panel debate at the conference, explaining that he would much rather have a caring and honest carpenter looking after him than a fully-qualified psychologist who lacks these qualities.

good attributes tripsitter

This poses a predicament for the psychedelic movement. If we see these substances legalised for health care and therapy, there will be questions over who can, should, or is qualified to administer these substances and oversee sessions. Some professionals in the field have already stated their belief that psychedelics sessions should only be overseen by qualified medical professionals.

But if the most important qualities are unmeasurable, it would be very hard for any regulatory body to award suitable qualifications or grant licenses to administer psychedelics. In a society and culture that doesn’t like to believe in anything that it can’t touch, weigh, measure or quantify – this will be a tricky issue. This is something that should be considered moving forward.

Brain Scan Qualifications?

Final, crazy idea. Could licenses be awarded based on brain scans? There have been studies on monks using fMRI and EEG technology that show links between brain activity and these, as yet, unmeasurable qualities.

fMRI brain scan machine

A qualification could be awarded based on the level of activity in your brain’s left pre-frontal cortex compared to the right – a high level means you have a reduced propensity to negativity. Or perhaps a ‘test’ could be that you are wired up and asked to meditate on compassion. Your level of gamma waves – linked to consciousness and attention – would determine your ‘score’. I expect monks would mostly be coming out with the top qualifications, but who wouldn’t want a wise buddhist sage as their psychedelic guide? I certainly wouldn’t mind.

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