Pubdate: Sun, 13 Sep 2015
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Toronto Star
Author: Adam Kovac
Page: IN 1


Activists Plan 'Mushroom Day' In Support of Psychedelic Drugs

The first and, thus far, only time I did magic mushrooms, I did not 
have any epiphanies about my life, my spiritual existence or the 
universe as a whole.

I did, however, develop a fascination with the carpet and wallpaper 
of the Amsterdam cafe where I was sitting. And eight years later, I 
can vividly recall the feeling of pure joy that lasted throughout the 
night, with its soundtrack of early Jimi Hendrix.

Going back to the hippies and Timothy Leary, the stereotypical image 
of psychedelic drug experiences has tended to be much like mine: lots 
of sitting around, giggling and staring at inanimate objects.

But over the past five years, psychedelic use has made a resurgence 
as something more exalted and salutary. Drugs such as psilocybin (the 
active ingredient in shrooms), MDMA and LSD are finding acceptance as 
legitimate treatments for ailments both medical and spiritual. A 
recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal 
suggested that despite some side-effects, psychedelics have been 
effective in treating a variety of mental ailments.

Because of those advances, some activists have decided to try to 
bring psychedelics into the mainstream. On Sept. 20, cities in the 
U.S., Canada, Mexico and Australia will hold the first ever 
Psilocybin Mushroom Day.

Jose Ruiz is a spokesman for the 920 Coalition, which is organizing 
Mushroom Day. He says the event was inspired by the annual 4/20 
activities, which raise awareness of marijuana's medicinal benefits 
and lobby for decriminalization or outright legalization (and also 
feature a lot of pot smoking, of course).

"A lot of people want to talk about what psychedelics can do," says 
Ruiz, a baseball instructor who lives in Monroe, N.Y. "There's been 
tons of studies that knock it out of the park in terms of helping 
with depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD."

Psychedelic drugs are at a point very similar to where marijuana was 
10 years ago in Canada and the United States. They're illegal but 
used for recreational purposes by some (a 2012 study showed that up 
to 10 per cent of Americans have tried magic mushrooms at some 
point), and there is a growing consensus that they have medical applications.

It's fitting that psychedelic drugs are being tested in a psychiatric 
context, given that this is where they got their start back in the 
1940s and '50s, following the synthesis of LSD by chemist Albert Hofmann.

"Psychiatrists used them to help them understand mental illness," 
says Mark Haden, an adjunct professor at the University of British 
Columbia and chair of the Canadian branch of the Multidisciplinary 
Association for Psychedelic Studies. "But it didn't help them 
understand schizophrenia. Then it went into popular culture and 
became popularized by Timothy Leary, who made an absolutely huge 
mistake. Specifically, he used the term 'Turn on, tune in, drop out.' "

Haden believes that expression sums up why psychedelics scared 
mainstream society. Using hallucinogens was all about exploring one's 
inner mind, not bringing people together, so it was anti-social in 
nature. After the drugs' adoption by a hippie subculture not beloved 
by those in power, psychedelics soon became taboo, even within the 
context of legitimate medical research.

"Any time an unwanted group is challenging society and seen as 'the 
other,' their drug use will be criminalized," says Haden. "Forty-four 
years later, that backlash doesn't exist because the messaging is different."

Indeed, current medical research into psychedelics is all about 
helping people reintegrate into society - helping addicts battle 
their demons, allowing those with depression to function or, if 
you're Vancouver psychiatrist Ingrid Pacey, helping soldiers deal 
with the aftermath of being on the front lines. In 2012, Pacey and 
another physician became the first Canadian researchers to win 
approval to use MDMA (commonly called ecstasy) in experiments with 
patients. Pacey, who has spent more than 30 years working with 
patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder, says that while 
data is not yet available from her study, "the improvements are remarkable."

"I think in general, there is an opening (to the use of 
psychedelics)," she said. ". . . It's only because of that general 
opening that this study is happening at this time. But the medical 
profession is pretty conservative. I think it could take a while 
(before MDMA is accepted for clinical use)."

While everyday clinical applications aren't here yet, the use of 
psychedelics in less formal environments is on the upswing. That 
includes voyaging to another part of the world before voyaging into 
your own mind.

"Psychedelic drugs have been used by aboriginal communities for 
centuries," says Haden. "For example the use of peyote or ayahuasca."

The latter, a hallucinogenic brew that originated in the Amazon 
rainforest and is often ingested as part of healing ceremonies led by 
a shaman, is enjoying a major surge in popularity as a tourist 
activity. Carlos Tanner is the founder of the Peru-based Ayahuasca 
Foundation, which aims to educate people about the rituals and offers 
retreats that revolve around the traditional ayahuasca ceremony.

"There's been about a 15-per-cent increase (in the number of tourists 
coming for ayahuasca) every year, which has led to more than a 
doubling over the last six years," says Tanner.

Yet Tanner is not among those pushing for legalization of all 
psychedelics, even the one he specializes in.

"I don't agree with the legalization of ayahuasca," he says. "That's 
part of the culture here. Even if you ask a taxi driver about 
ayahuasca, they will say you can't drink it by yourself; you have to 
drink it with a shaman who knows what they're doing . . . If I 
imagine that someone can go to the store and buy a bottle of 
ayahuasca and go home and drink it and not understand what they're 
doing, it's very hard for me to imagine there wouldn't be a lot of 
casualties and death."

Most people attending the Sept. 20 events will probably never need to 
use psychedelics for medicinal reasons, and may not have the money or 
inclination to seek out shamanistic rituals in South America. But 
just as the medical world has moved past the taboos of the 1960s and 
'70s, those who take part will be trying to see through the myths and 
find out what these substances really do.

"I think we've grown up in a society that's lied to us," says Ruiz, 
25. "A lot of anti-drug campaigns in classes . . . once you have your 
first joint, you realize it wasn't as bad as they say. I think our 
generation has been a lot more open to trying out different things 
and questioning what we've been told as kids and teenagers."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom