Psychedelic Society of Ireland (March 26th)
“it is an experience in which the mind reveals itself to itself”
On Thursday the 26th of March, the Psychedelic Society of Ireland held their first event downstairs in Filmbase, Temple Bar. The aim of the society is to bring together “people fascinated by and appreciative of psychedelics in Ireland”. The event, which had room for over 100 attendees, was sold out well in advance. There was quite a bit of excitement in the room before the event kicked off, just as you’d expect for such a taboo subject. Once the event began, however, everyone’s complete attention was on the speakers. The audience, who aged from their late teens to their early 50’s, were asked to briefly introduce themselves to the people sitting around them at the beginning, to get an idea of what sort of people were present, and what interested them about the event. From this we learned that as well as the many students attending with a more general curiosity, the crowd also comprised doctors interested in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, people dealing with terminal illnesses and others specifically interested in Ireland’s drug policy.
The first speaker of the night was Ciara Sherlock, the founder of the Psychedelic Society of Ireland. She spoke about spending time in the Netherlands and the influence this had, not only on her attitude towards psychedelic substances but also on her interest in government policy. She explained how it is obvious that Ireland’s policy of drug prohibition has not worked. Despite the high levels of substance abuse, there is relatively little drug education in Ireland. The Netherlands, by comparison was a far more open society when it came to talking about these topics. This openness not only made it easier for people to become educated about psychedelics, but also allowed for free drug testing clinics to be set up, so people could be sure the substances they were taking were safe. This emphasis on openness and safety was something touched on by all the speakers on the night.
The second speaker was Stephen Reid, the founder of the UKs Psychedelic Society, a sister society to the Psychedelic Society of Ireland. He spoke briefly about his background in activism before expanding on why he felt the laws surrounding psychedelics to be particularly unjust. He began by comparing the use of psychedelics to extreme sports, saying “They can both be intense experiences, but they convey no risk to others”. Horse riding, skydiving and bungee jumping, however, are all completely legal, despite their inherent dangers. The argument is that people getting into extreme sports know the risk they’re taking. The questions were then asked “Why should this be any different for psychedelics? “And “What exactly are these risks?”. Reid then went on to compare the the ratios of an average dose to a lethal dose of a number of substances including alcohol (1:10), coffee (1:100) and LSD (1:1000), while also mentioning, as far as he knew, no one had ever died from taking too many mushrooms. Additionally, he mentioned that unlike alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, psychedelics are not addictive.
Reid acknowledged that psychedelics were certainly powerful and should be respected. For this to be realised, he felt it’s important to open up the discourse around psychedelics. The more people can become educated on the topic, the safer an experience it will be. He made the point “Everyone knows how to deal with someone who’s had too much to drink – but there’s no widespread knowledge on how to treat someone who’s on a bad trip”. One of the aims of the society was to try to motivate an idea of “Psychedelic Pride” among the attendees. The idea, modelled on the gay rights movement, is a simple one. People should be able to talk openly about their experiences with psychedelic substances, without the fear of the stigma attached to them – “People should not be criminalised for choosing to explore their own minds or spirituality”. This, it is hoped, will strengthen the community of people with psychedelic interests. They also made it clear that the aim of Psychedelic Pride is to promote education and to break the taboo around discussing psychedelics – not to encourage use.
The idea of Psychedelic Pride was coined by Terrence McKenna in his book True Hallucinations (1993). He wrote
“We are not slack-jawed, dazed, glazed, unemployable psychotic creeps. We are pillars of society. You can’t run your computers, your fashion houses, your publishing houses, your damn magazines; you can’t do anything in culture without psychedelic people in key positions. And this is the great unspoken truth of American Creativity. So I think it’s basically time to just come out of the closet and go, “You know what, I use psychedelics, and I’m proud.”
After hearing this quote, it was hard not to think of geniuses in the past, like Francis Crick, Aldous Huxley, Steve Jobs, and many more who’d all been open about their use of psychedelics.
Before finishing, Stephen Reid expressed his delight with the turnout for the Irish Psychedelic Society, noting that the Dublin event had more people attending on Facebook then the event held by the UK Psychedelic Society in London back in November. He ended by inviting the attendees to sign a petition to legalise mushrooms that the society had started, which had over 3,500 signatures. And for those with no interest in signing the petition, they also had a second, less popular petition, to ban extreme sports.
The final speaker of the evening was Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who is notable for being the first scientist in the UK to legally administer doses of LSD to human volunteers since The Misuse of Drugs act over 40 years ago. He spoke for close to an hour on a number of topics such as the history of psychedelics, the effects they have on the mind, and the science behind these effects. He deliberately avoided spending too much time on what he referred to as “The fluffy stuff” (Dissolving egos, sense of oneness, etc.) not because they weren’t relevant topics, but because they weren’t quite accounted for in his field. However, he successfully described the psychedelic experience in just one sentence, which is something not many people could put into words. He explained “it is an experience in which the mind reveals itself to itself”. This is something that I felt had a real impact on the audience, with people happily expressing that they had never been able to describe the experience as perfectly as Robin did. The bulk of the talk focused on the therapeutic qualities of these substances and how they can be utilised. Although clinical research in this area is a relatively new field, Robin, who is himself on the cusp of starting a study on the effects of psychedelics on depression, referenced a number of recent American studies to help him make his point.
These studies showed that small doses of psychedelics could be used to treat a number of mental illnesses including addiction, anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder with limited side effects. This information was accompanied by brain scans showing exactly what was happening in specific regions of the brain when the subject was exposed to psychedelics. Luckily for the audience who may not have been familiar with the scientific terminology, he also had a number of analogies in his back pocket so that the information could be easily understood by everyone. He likened the effects of the brain on psychedelics to a snowglobe that has just been shaken. Whereas before peoples beliefs may have been deeply entrenched and unmoving, psychedelics allow the brain to become much more flexible. This loss of rigidity in the brain can have profound effects on people suffering from any of the illnesses mentioned above. He also speculated that in the future psychedelics could have a number of other uses including treating cluster headaches, eating disorders and phobias (both associated with habitual thinking) as well as helping with self-exploration, creativity and even de-radicalising political beliefs. Currently, he’s working on a paper looking at the effects of psychedelics on optimism and depression.
The talk ended with a nice motivational message about how if we can change our brains, we can change people. If we can change people, we can change politics. And if we can change politics we can change the world. He then joked that what he was saying was “Very challenging. I’m probably going to get assassinated after this”.
It was inspiring to see how involved the audience got in the questions and answers session which followed the talks. For almost an hour, the audience interacted with all three speakers, discussing their personal views and experiences. There were a lot of questions directed at Dr Carhart-Harris about the medical uses of psychedelics and their future in psychotherapy. What I found to be one of the most interesting comments of the evening came up during a discussion about drug policy and public opinion. Dr Carhart-Harris made the point that ‘the man on the street’ probably has no interest in introducing psychedelics to Ireland. But if you can show him that they can cure his cluster headaches or his wife’s depression, he’ll start listening. The audience certainly took advantage of having such informative and experienced people under one roof.
Once the event ended, the crowd spilled outside onto Curved Street and continued discussing the issues raised. There was obvious optimism for the potential uses of psychedelics, but with a twinge of disappointment over Ireland’s absurd drug policy. It was a very promising first outing for the Psychedelic Society of Ireland, as evidenced not only by the number of attendees (not to mention those who wanted to attend but couldn’t get tickets), but also their enthusiasm. The seminar also showed that the society was already achieving one of its main aims – creating an environment in which the community can learn and share with each other.
Words: Shane Murphy
Photos: Charlotte Grenson
Original artwork by Will O’Callaghan-Ward
The Psychedelic Society of Ireland’s website is coming soon but the Facebook page can be reached Here.
To listen to the talk on soundcloud Click Here
The UK Psychedelic Society website can be reached Here
Anyone interested in signing their petition to legalise Psilocybin (‘Magic’) Mushrooms can do so Here