Psychedelic Science Is Taking Over Downtown Denver Next Week | Westword

A Major Psychedelics Conference Will Take Over Denver Next Week

Here's what to expect from the "biggest psychedelics conference history by a landslide" that's coming to town next week.
Around 10,000 people from around the world will be in Denver next week to attend Psychedelic Science at the Colorado Convention Center.
Around 10,000 people from around the world will be in Denver next week to attend Psychedelic Science at the Colorado Convention Center. Jacqueline Collins
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Mushrooms, MDMA and DMT will be taking over Denver next week — and not just Red Rocks or Ball Arena.

Psychedelic Science, a week-long conference diving into scientific research, medical applications and commercial potential surrounding psychedelics, will fill the Colorado Convention Center from June 19 through June 23. The expo, hosted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), will highlight hundreds of speakers, from Aaron Rodgers to Governor Jared Polis, as well as emerging businesses such as psilocybin facilitators.

This is much more than a business show, however. This is a coming-out party for the psychedelics industry, and Denver is now at the center of that scene.

"It's the biggest psychedelics conference in history by a landslide," MAPS strategy officer Liana Gillooly says. "We're hitting a bit of a zeitgeist moment in mainstreaming psychedelics where it's never been mainstreamed before. Part of what we're doing is claiming our ground and staking our territory to stand up and let the world know this is a movement toward a multi-billion-dollar industry."

MAPS gambled on picking Colorado to host the conference back in 2021, when local advocates announced that they were going to pursue a ballot initiative legalizing and decriminalizing certain psychedelics. The bet paid off in November when Colorado voters approved Proposition 122, or the Natural Medicine Health Act, legalizing medical psilocybin use while also decriminalizing the personal use and cultivation of psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.

"We knew if that passed it would have a big impact on the event," Gillooly adds. "We had this inclination that it would be a really good time to be in Denver. I feel like there are a lot of stars aligning right now for us to be in Colorado, and the [legalization initiative] certainly created a welcoming atmosphere for us."

Psychedelic Science organizers expect around 10,000 attendees and over 250 exhibiting companies, nonprofits and advocacy groups to descend upon downtown Denver for the expo — and there is a lot going on outside of the convention center, as well. Eric Andre, Reggie Watts and the Flaming Lips are performing a MAPS fundraiser show at Mission Ballroom on June 22. Melissa Etheridge is performing at the Bluebird Theater. Meow Wolf, the Sports Castle and Ophelia's Electric Soapbox are hosting psychedelic-themed balls, parties and bingo nights, with dozens of discussion groups, group meditation sessions and art shows at other spots around town.

Colorado's new psychedelics laws don't allow for dispensaries or a retail system, as the state's marijuana framework does. Still, the atmosphere around town is similar to that of ten years ago, when Colorado was on the verge of becoming the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, according to Ricardo Baca. The founder of Grasslands, a marijuana and psychedelic public relations firm, Baca was the cannabis editor for the Denver Post during the rollout of recreational pot.

"How wild it is to see psychedelic medicine in 2023 being such a massive economic boon for the city of Denver? Massive amounts of convention space, but also thousands of hotel rooms are being filled by these professionals," Baca says. "I love seeing drug policy reform leading to legitimate economic civic impact, because of course, money talks. The more revenue spaces like this generate for municipalities, the more municipalities will start listening."

The Colorado native says he's proud to be part of another move by the state toward drug and alternative medicine reform.

"The long-term play of this was kind of fated in many ways, because Colorado has been a hub of progressive drug policy reform, even globally, going back to the ’60s and ’70s. It has been thrilling to observe the last fifteen years of reform here," Baca notes. "Early decriminalization conversations and efforts were happening in Colorado before they were happening in most parts of the country."

Thousands of psychedelic industry members will be here to "connect with visionaries and be part of a community convergence," Baca adds, and he and his team will be part of it, networking and no doubt identifying new business opportunities.

In addition to Rodgers, former Denver Broncos quarterback (and current functional mushroom entrepreneur) Jake Plummer and a handful of other professional athletes will be at the expo, along with such prominent authors and researchers in the psychedelics space as Carl Hart, Paul Stamets and Michael Pollan.

Some scientists will even be announcing the results of their studies there. Matthew Lowe, a neuroscience and psychology researcher for institutions like Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, has been conducting real-world and observational research to document how people use psilocybin mushrooms for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. He's also conducted a study into the effects of ceremonial ayahuasca use, which he will be showcasing at the expo.

A native of South Africa who has lived around the world, Lowe is now based in Colorado Springs. And for the next week, his new home state will be the center of his universe.

"There's been a lot of legislative changes in Denver and Colorado. It has been a very welcoming environment for psychedelics, which has attracted a lot of people interested in learning about psychedelics," Lowe says.  "There are so many people who have reached out to me about going to this conference. They're going to be coming to this from all over the world."

Psilocybin mushrooms were decriminalized in 2019 in Denver, which was the first major city to do so. Oregon was the first state to legalize medical use, with Colorado soon following. Given psilocybin's legal status, emerging acceptance by the federal government and the natural drug's widely accepted safety profile compared to that of other psychedelics, Psychedelic Science will lean heavily toward the mushroom aspect — but there will be plenty of content geared toward MDMA, ayahuasca, DMT and other substances, Gillooly confirms.

Attendees can also expect to hear a wide range of perspectives.

"We have quite a number of religious leaders attending our event. There will be talks from priests, rabbis and even an imam, so there's a lot of scheduled conversations around chaplaincy," she says. "We've also got Governor Polis coming, as well as former Texas governor Rick Perry, [who has been] "supportive from the veterans' angle." 

Conference admission starts at over $800, but Gillooly says MAPS is working on offering an "affordable Friday pass for locals" so that people can check out the expo. 
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