Many people associate psychedelic mushrooms with hippies and head trips, or the kind of scene you might see at a Grateful Dead concert in the 1970s. More recently, however, the fungi have been popular among scientists, who are studying its therapeutic effects and potential to treat mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Locals have an opportunity to learn about the latest revelations in research during the Psychedelic Mushroom Convention on April 28 at the Bella Vista Inn and Suites in Grand Prairie.
The convention’s organizer, Wes Elliott, says he has personally experienced the benefits of these substances, which are currently illegal in the U.S. and have not yet been confirmed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medicinal use.
When Elliott was a teenager, his family moved from Dallas’ Pleasant Grove neighborhood to East Texas, and the transition wasn’t easy, he says. Elliott began using amphetamines and, for the next decade, battled depression, social anxiety and drug addiction. He was prescribed medication for his symptoms and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.
At age 26, Elliott got clean of his own accord - “I needed to change my life before something bad happened to me,” he says - and took up a favorite pastime, foraging mushrooms, as a way to maintain sobriety. That’s when he began researching the psilocybin-containing psychedelic varieties, of which there are about 200 species. He started experimenting with micro-dosing, taking small amounts of the substance.
“It's the best healing I could have ever found. Not only did it address things like the drug addiction, but also why I was depressed and suicidal,” Elliott says.
Testimonials like this are common among advocates for psychedelic mushrooms, and news about underground professionals assisting patients on guided journeys has caught mainstream attention in recent years.
But the Grand Prairie convention is not an open invitation for use of an illicit substance. (Psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical in hallucinogenic mushrooms, is currently considered a Schedule 1 drug.)
Instead, Elliot is bringing in mycologist (a fungi expert) Alan Rockefeller and other professionals to discuss the latest findings in psilocybin research and medical testing, which is being done at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and other schools.
And Elliott is adamant: “This is a legal convention. We don’t condone using drugs.” There will not be any mushrooms at the convention, but there will be mushroom-growing kits for sale, which are not illegal.
That’s important, he says, because psychedelics still prompt some pearl-clutching in the mainstream. The convention was scheduled at three different venues prior to Grand Prairie, but two dropped him after finding out the event’s focus.
The stigma is nothing new. According to Dianna Smith, an educator and chair of the North American Mycological Association's medicinal mushroom committee, the fungi have a history of causing a stir. As far back as the Spanish conquest, she says, conquistadors banned the use of psychedelic drugs in South American communities because they were “considered devilish practices.” The U.S. government echoed that sentiment in the 1960s and '70s with the war on drugs, she says.
But Smith maintains that the drug is neither addictive nor harmful to DNA, as some have claimed, and that medical research surrounding psychedelics “looks very promising.”
She’s not alone in her optimism. In 2018, Johns Hopkins University researchers recommended the government reclassify psilocybin based on its potential medicinal uses, including “treating cancer-related psychiatric distress and substance use disorders,” they wrote.
Author Michael Pollan interviewed neuroscientists who imaged brain activity of people on a mushroom trip for his book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Contrary to expectations, researchers found that the drugs depressed activity in the brain’s central regulator, known as the default mode network.
The network is involved in “a range of metacognitive functions,” as Pollan put it, like self-reflection, rumination, and what’s known as the autobiographical self, or the sense of who you are.
“You could say it’s kind of the seat of the self or the ego, to the extent that we can say that,” he said on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. “And how interesting that this particular network, important as it is, goes offline.”
That can cause positive and negative reactions, which is why journeys are administered in a controlled setting with a guide to help patients navigate their emotions.
Researchers still have much to learn about psilocybin and its medicinal effects, but Elliott, who currently works in construction, hopes attendees at the Psychedelic Mushroom Convention will leave with a renewed perspective, at the very least.
“I just want to get the word out that this should be a researched medication so somebody won’t have to walk around like a zombie anymore,” he says.
The Psychedelic Mushroom Convention takes place at 2:30 p.m. April 28 at the Bella Vista Inn and Suites in Grand Prairie. No more tickets are available, but Elliot plans to livestream the panel at facebook.com/mushrooms4healing.