When you hear the phrase "psychedelic mushroom convention," your mind's eye probably conjures images of a room full of tie-dye-wearing, tripping hippies.
The first Psychedelic Mushroom Convention, held Sunday at the Bella Vista Inn in Grand Prairie, didn't house anyone who looked like they might be on any kind of illicit substance unless they were micro-dosing or just really good at hiding some of its zany effects on the human body's chemistry.
To be fair, there were two people in tie-dye shirts, but they might have been undercover narcs, because that's just too on-the-nose. The convention also started an hour late. Oh, and someone was selling natural, homemade soap.
Other than that, the convention ran like any hotel seminar on its given subject. In this case, the subject covered the legal, scientific and medicinal benefits and challenges of possessing and taking psilocybin mushrooms, with experts giving extensive talks on their experiences and findings about the psychoactive fungi, which are illegal to grow or possess.
If you took away the two people in tie-dyed shirts and the natural soap stand in the back of the room, it was basically an underfunded, extended TED talk on the wonders of psychedelic mushrooms.
"I want to show people it's not about drugs," says Wes Elliott, the organizer of the Psychedelic Mushroom Convention and mushroom user. "It's about healing."
Elliott says the multipurpose room of the Bella Vista Inn was the fourth location on his list of meeting places. The first three, including Fair Park, turned him away because they thought he was trying to organize some kind of "drug event."
"They didn't want us to have a party, which it's clearly not," Elliott says. "It's an educational event that pertains to the stuff going on in science today."
Elliott says he takes small doses of psilocybin to treat social anxiety and depression. He began using amphetamines when he was 15, starting a cycle of addiction that lasted until he turned 26. He says he's been sober for the last four years, if you don't count the psilocybin.
He sought medical treatment for depression but didn't like how antidepressants muted his emotions. Elliott started reading books by Terence McKenna, the famed ethnobotanist, philosopher and author who "playfully and persistently pressed his message that psychedelic drugs are mankind's salvation," according to an obituary published in The New York Times in 2000.
"I realized that these drugs help people with depression and anxiety," Elliott claims. "I don't feel anxiety as long as I've had a micro-dose of mushrooms within a week or two. It takes it away. It turns my depression off."
You would have been disappointed if you went to the con expecting free sample tablets of the newest species of 'shrooms or head-tripping psychedelics. The closest thing to a mushroom there (or at least out in the open) was a huge cap that looked like someone had cut a hole out of a well-oiled catcher's mitt. The owner says the mushroom is called Ganoderma, a medicinal plant used to "oxygenate" the body and "change your pH level" and only wished to be identified as (I swear) "Number 5."
The speakers echoed Elliot's sentiments in their presentations. Advocate Cooper Read, who volunteers with the medical psychedelic support group the Zendo Project, says he left his career as a surgical technician to dedicate his life to bettering himself and spreading the good word about the medicinal uses for psychedelic mushrooms.
"I was wanting more and trying to find a way out of my current situation," Read says. "I was in an ailing marriage and just a stagnant job. I was a surgical technician, and I was good at my job. I just knew I was capable of a lot more. It came to a point where I was doing a lot of self-development. I started meditation and eating right and taking care of my
body nutritionally, and I finally had had enough and I wanted to experiment with my reality."
Self-taught mycologist Alan Rockefeller goes around the world to collect and classify known and possibly new types of psilocybin and muscimol mushrooms, which he also claims can treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and drug addiction. He has website with more than 1 million identified species.
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He claims that the brain chemical serotonin that contributes to a person's well-being and happiness is "very closely related" to psilocin, one of the psychedelic substances in mushrooms.
"Usually, when I take psilocybin mushrooms," Rockefeller told a chuckling audience, "I try to take an amount so small that I don't feel any effects, so I get the mental health benefits but I don't have to spend six hours not being able to talk to people about it."
Psilocybin is still a banned substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, according to the U.S. Justice Department. However, some parts of America, like in Denver, are taking steps to decriminalize these substances, and will let voters decide its legal status on May 7. Oregon is expected to put a medical psilocybin measure on its 2020 ballot.
"These mushrooms, in fact, save a lot of people from other drugs and depression, and are much better for depression than anything any doctor can give you," Rockefeller claimed. "It's a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars to lock people up for just having these mushrooms."