More than 9,000 psychonauts, scientists, medical practitioners, advocates and policy professionals will soon make a trip to Denver for what’s billed as the largest gathering of psychedelics experts and enthusiasts in the world.
The Psychedelic Science conference comes to the Colorado Convention Center from June 19 to 23 with a robust collection of workshops and panels focused on the most recent research and regulation about substances like psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca and more. The goal of the convention, hosted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is to bring together the foremost leaders from across the globe to help shape the future of the sector.
The lineup of 400-plus guest speakers include some famous faces, too, such as author Michael Pollan, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, podcaster Tim Ferriss, musician Nadya Tolokonnikova of the band Pussy Riot, and Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey. Gov. Jared Polis is slated to offer opening remarks on June 21.
That the Mile High City is the backdrop for such a robust event is no accident. In 2019, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin, a psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms.” More recently, Colorado residents voted to legalize psilocybin for medicinal use, paving the way for a brand new psychedelics industry. The measure also decriminalized five different psychedelic substances.
Additionally, MAPS conducts research here and works closely with Naropa University in Boulder, which offers psychedelic-assisted therapy certificate programs.
“Colorado is a leader both in moving forward with the research, but also moving forward with having legal opportunities to have these experiences in supported ways,” said MAPS founder and president Rick Doblin.
As the second state to legalize psilocybin behind Oregon, Colorado will also likely play a significant role in shaping how the rest of the country chooses to follow suit. Legislators in several states, from California to Rhode Island, have already unveiled bills to legalize psychedelics, as well as expand research.
“The desire to create a health alternative for people is what’s driving all this,” musician Melissa Etheridge told The Denver Post. Etheridge will be speaking at the conference on behalf of her organization, the Etheridge Foundation, which funds research into psychedelics as treatments for opioid addiction. “So I think as all the health centers and everything open in Colorado… that people will start coming from all over to receive this help.
This year’s Psychedelic Science is just the fourth held since 2010, and while previous iterations were geared towards research and nonprofit insiders, MAPS intentionally broadened its scope to welcome casual enthusiasts and those aspiring to enter the nascent industry.
That’s why the first two days of programming (June 19-20) are dedicated to workshops like facilitator training for psilocybin therapy, a psychedelic workshop for religious leaders and a breathwork session led by renowned psychiatrist Stan Grof. (Most require a fee in addition to conference entry.)
Starting June 21, the convention center will host discussions about psychedelic clinical trials and research, use in indigenous culture, business opportunities in the space, policy, therapy and education, among other subjects.
Psychedelic Science also features dozens of ancillary events throughout the week, including concerts, dinners, comedy shows and onsite support group meetups. Etheridge, for example, will be performing a rare solo acoustic show at the Bluebird Theater on June 21 following her conference discussion billed “Addiction, family, plant medicine and healing.” Tickets cost $250 at axs.com.
Other notable events include a Flaming Lips concert at Mission Ballroom (June 22; $74.50 at axs.com); a DJ set from Bonobo at Denver Sports Castle (June 21; $111 at propeller.la/entertheportal); and a dinner at Baldoria on the Water in Lakewood with live painting by Alex and Allyson Grey (June 20; $150 at eventbrite.com).
To Doblin, who began studying psychedelic-assisted therapy before MDMA was a scheduled substance, Psychedelic Science is no mere event. It’s a sign of the cultural sea change about psychedelics from a counterculture threat to a mainstream mental health tool.
“This mainstreaming is at this tipping point, you could say, and this conference is representative of this,” Doblin said. “It’s this doorway to a new world.”
If you go
Psychedelic Science comes to the Colorado Convention Center (700 14th St, Denver) June 19-23. Registration costs $805-$1,795 at psychedelicscience.org/register. A list of ancillary events, which often require an additional fee, is available at explore.psychedelicscience.org/fun.