Students attend a presentation by guest speaker James Fadiman. Fadiman discussed the safe use and history of psychedelic drugs. Photo courtesy of Aviva Wolman.

Editor’s Note: As printed on Feb. 23, Samuel Montero is quoted as saying “There’s a lot of history that cultures have used [psychedelics] recreationally, for religious purposes.” The quote should read, “There’s a lot of history that shows that cultures have used [psychedelics] not simply recreationally, but for religious purposes.” Also, the quote that reads, “The rift between the social sciences is disgusting,” should read instead “The rift between the social sciences and hard sciences is unacceptable.” This piece was updated on Feb. 28 and Oct. 16 to reflect these changes.

The fire marshal would have been angry. With over 350 people at “Shattering Certainty: The Promise and Pitfalls of Psychedelics” Feb. 15, the Humanities Lecture Hall was bursting at the seams.

“How many of you have never taken a psychedelic?” researcher, professor and author James Fadiman asked the audience. A small fraction raised their hands.

Hosted and promoted by the student-led Brain Mind and Consciousness (BMC) Society at UC Santa Cruz, the event’s Facebook page encouraged people to wear “psychedelic attire.” Artwork adorned the walls, provided by Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), also present.

“You takers are part of a worldwide research group,” Fadiman said. “[Psychedelics] used to be central to Greek culture, Siberia, the indigenous cultures of Latin America … they’ve been illegal in the U.S. for 40 years, but that’s a tiny dot in human history — and it looks like we are rejoining that history.”

Fourth-year Samuel Montero commented on the social relevance of the presentation.

“There’s a lot of history that shows that cultures have used [psychedelics] not simply recreationally, but for religious purposes,” Montero said. “If we had a regulated area where people could use it, I think it would make things safer and more successful all around.”

In 1970, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act classified psychotropic drugs as Schedule I: “No accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.” Alcohol and tobacco are not federally classified as Schedule I.

Fadiman’s book, “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys,” has been reviewed by Jay Brown of MAPS as “the very best guide that exists on how to prepare for a safe and therapeutic psychedelic journey, with positive psychological transformation as one’s goal.” Copies were sold at the conference.

The presentation mirrored Fadiman’s book, with a history of different psychedelic drugs and their cultural uses, followed by a no-nonsense, straightforward guide to a good trip.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Fadiman explained the “six critical conditions”: set (how you approach the experience), setting (where you are and what “sensory assists” you have nearby), substance (what you are ingesting and how much of it), sitter (who is with you), session (how much time you set aside for the trip), and situation (how you exit the trip and return to sobriety).

Fadiman also included a dosing guide in his presentation, listing 400 micrograms (mcg) of LSD as the dose required to elicit transcendental experiences, 50 mcg as a “disco-hit,” and 10 mcg a micro dose that “seems to enhance energy and awareness … except rocks don’t glitter and flowers don’t watch you.”

“On the scale of trips, you can have ones like ‘oh’, and you can have ones like ‘whoa!’” Fadiman said. “If you’re going to use these substances, you might as well go for the ‘whoa!’”

Additional topics included Portugal’s broad legalization of substances, potential drawbacks to approaching psychedelics use incorrectly, the American medical model, and the neuroplasticity theory, which hypothesizes that the brain continues to evolve throughout adulthood.

Founder and president of the BMC Andrew Kornfeld spoke to Fadiman at a recent MAPS conference and asked him to be a guest presenter at UCSC.

“We [at the BMC] are not just about psychotropic drugs — this is an aspect of consciousness,” Kornfeld said. “When I’m taking a psychology class, [the other students] don’t understand biology. When I’m taking a biology class, they don’t understand psychology. We’re sick of that. The rift between the social sciences and hard sciences is unacceptable.”

A Q&A session among the audience, Fadiman and his panel of colleagues from MAPS followed the presentation.

First-year Nic Zinter commented on the conference’s relevance in Santa Cruz.

“There’s an undeniably big drug culture at UCSC,” Zinter said, “and I think it’s really good to host forums like this to explore the potentials [of psychedelics] and prevent abuse.”