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The Enormous Promise of Psychedelics for Sustaining Health, Happiness and Sanity

Inside this year's conference for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

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Among the most talked-about portions of the ayahuasca track was a lecture by Gabor Mate, a medical doctor from Vancouver, British Columbia, titled "Unlocking the Unconscious: From Cancer to Addiction." Mate has worked with psychedelic medicine among aboriginal people, as well as in contemporary, non-indigenous healing circles. He contends that therapy assisted by psychedelics, and ayahuasca in particular, can untangle complex, unconscious psychological stresses. He says these stresses underlie and contribute to all chronic medical conditions, from cancer and addiction to depression and multiple sclerosis.

In the Marriott lobby, following his lecture, Mate spoke to AlterNet on the importance of an integrative healthcare model.

“The traditional practices of aboriginal peoples, as in traditional Chinese medicine, have always assumed mind and body are inseparable,” Mate says. “That has now been validated by modern science, but modern medicine still ignores that reality. So, practices that incorporate a holistic understanding of a human being, where we don’t see the individual as separate from the environment, and we don’t see the mind as separate from the body, are essential to a complete understanding of human beings. Not as alternatives, but as part of a much more complete understanding of what it takes to heal people, and what it takes to stay healthy.”

When asked for an example Mate did not skip a beat.

“Imagine if I pulled a gun on you right now,” he says. “Your whole physiology would change. I didn't touch you, but your hormones would change, your nervous system would change, your heart rate would speed up, cortical adrenaline would be shooting out of your adrenal gland, and your brain would be in a different state.”

That is how the mind affects the body, he says.

“And that happens 24/7,” he continues. “Maybe not in such a dramatic fashion, but it happens all the time. So, in chronic illness you see the long-term effects of mind on body and vice versa, body on mind. The point is not that these are connected; you can’t separate them, they are one entity.”

While Mate is an outspoken advocate of psychedelics as one possible route to health, he says that in discussing publicly the potential benefits of psychoactive substances, it is important not to be evangelistic about it.

“We mustn't be trying to convince anybody; it is not a cause,” he says. “It’s simply a great potential modality for healthier, wholer people. We need to present the evidence for it seriously and humbly, and we have to expect that some people will be drawn to that, and some people will not be. We have to be clear that it isn’t the panacea, that we're not offering the solution to the problems of the world or the healing of every ailing person on the planet. All we are saying is here is a modality, there is a lot of research behind it, a lot of human experience behind it, why exclude it from the conversation?”

Cannabis and Conversation

Spurring conversation and communication was a theme that ran throughout the weekend. According to Doblin, organizers intentionally set up numerous opportunities for people to meet and converse.

““There’s lots of time for people to talk to each other,” he says, pointing down the hall toward the enormous indoor marketplace, where art exhibits, impromptu tea houses, holistic vendors and a musical performance/book reading stage were open until 2am.

An example of the perpetual conversation came around 3am, following the Psychedelic Science dinner on April 20, as conference-goers gathered in the “smoking area”--made up of four parking spaces in the Marriott garage converted into a cozy nook by way of Persian-style rugs, colorful hanging lamps, a couch and pillows. A circle of students, journalists and attendees engaged in a 4/20-appropriate discussion of the war on drugs and illegal substance policy in the US.

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