Non-profit Organization Marches on Canadian Capital To Fight for Therapeutic Mushrooms

Over the course of the past two years, TheraPsil has assisted over 130 patients, but it calls the country’s current limitations a “cruel approach” on the part of Health Canada. The organization has attempted to set up a formal meeting with parliament members, but so far has been denied, so it’s taking the conversation straight to the capital to protest between Nov. 28-30.

According to TheraPsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell, there needs to be a proper channel for patients to be able to legally access psilocybin and psilocin. “There is ample evidence of both the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of various mental health conditions,” said Hawkswell in a press release. “The previous Minister recognized this and started approving exemptions. Unfortunately, this Minister has stopped and refused to consider reasonable regulations to ensure vulnerable Canadians don’t have to go to Court to access treatment that can improve their quality of life and death.”

Currently, psilocybin and psilocin are listed as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, some patients gain legal access with an improved exemption called the Special Access Program

TheraPsil uses the example of Thomas Hartle, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, to demonstrate the problems that patients are encountering. Hartle was one of the first to receive approval from former Health Minister Patty Hajdu to use psilocybin to treat “end-of-life anxiety” in 2020, which was valid for one year. His treatments were successful, and he reapplied for continued access in October 2021, but was denied by current Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“We hope to meet with the Minister to find out why he and his officials are being so cruel to us,” said Hartle in a press statement. “Instead of a compassionate response, Health Canada is referring dying and vulnerable patients to a special access program that results in lots of red tape but no access for most. Many, like me have gone over a year without a response to their urgent requests.”

TheraPsil will be arranging media interviews over the next few days to raise awareness both for the medical benefits that psilocybin offers, as well as the need for improved access. “Mental health is a non-partisan issue,” said palliative care physician Dr. Valorie Masuda. “Reasonable treatment options should be available to Canadians who have the right to MAiD [Medical Assistance in Dying]. It is cruel to withhold medicine from vulnerable patients, especially when those medicines have worked for them.”

TheraPsil also sent a joint letter earlier this month signed by medical practitioners and social workers calling for the need for psilocybin regulations. “We believe that our patients have a right to Medical Psilocybin and this open letter is to demand this right on their behalf. We need a compassionate and immediate response and solution to the Section 56 applications for psilocybin access and seek your response to our proposed request for ‘Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations,’” the letter stated.

Meanwhile in Canada, Apex Labs received a “no objection” letter from Health Canada, which effectively greenlit the first North American study on psilocybin as a treatment for military veterans who suffer from conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Veterans are already self-medicating with micro-doses of unregulated psilocybin products without knowing the potency and safety of the product they are consuming,” said Apex Labs CEO Tyler Powell. “Our goal is to expand access to pharmaceutical grade drug products through regulated systems, providing transparency and support for patients in need.”

A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Nov. 3 also provided evidence of the benefits of psilocybin in a double-blind trial. “In this phase 2 trial involving participants with treatment-resistant depression, psilocybin at a single dose of 25 mg, but not 10 mg, reduced depression scores significantly more than a 1-mg dose over a period of 3 weeks but was associated with adverse effects,” the researchers wrote. Those adverse effects included headaches, nausea, dizziness, and suicidal ideation.

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My Experience: Taking Magic Mushrooms in Goa

If there’s one place on Earth where magic mushrooms are meant to be consumed it is the sun-kissed, stretched out beaches of Goa. With palm trees hanging over you like an omnibenevolent presence, the sea glinting for what seems like forever, the sky bluer than you’ve ever seen and, of course, the sound of light trance music comfortably guiding you into a meditative state – is there anywhere better to enjoy a psychedelic trip?

Whilst the south Indian state of Goa had its hallucinogenic hayday in the 60s and 70s, this does not mean that the place has completely lost its charm and soul. Drugs are not as easy to find as they were back then and the party scene has definitely become more commercialized, but when I was offered magic mushrooms by a green-haired lady who looked like a character from a Studio Ghibli movie, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. Maybe this was the chance to experience what the hippie paradise used to be like. This is the story of how I took magic mushrooms in Goa. 


Goa is one of the 25 districts that exists within the incredibly diverse and huge nation of India. It is the 7th largest country in the world, with the second biggest population. Whilst most know India for its temples, mountains, deserts and spiritual getaways, there is also another reality. This reality is, in essence, Goa. A coastal district in the south of the country, which still has the remnants of its Portuguese colonial past.

This place has some of the best food in the entirety of India, has beaches that stretch for miles and, significantly, had a large part to play in the 60s hippie trail. This was a gigantic journey around the globe that many westerners took in the 1960s – mostly with only a VW van, some light luggage and some great friends. It was a right of passage, a chance to see the world after generations of conflict. The trip for many started in London, went through Europe, into the Middle East and deep into Asia.

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This was, for many, where it ended; others boated over to Australia. Goa was like the promised land, the light at the end of the road. Those who’d managed to get that far would sleep in beach shacks, live in peace and enjoy all types of mind-altering substances. Duncan Cambell writes about his experiences in the Guardian:

“It was possible to live for months on a few quid. A bed in a shared bedroom could be secured for six rupees a night. “Imagine no possessions” was a creed as well as a line in a John Lennon song. Fresh fish, coconut rice. Paperback copies of Hermann Hesse and Rabindranath Tagore, William Burroughs and the Bhagavad Gita were swapped… Disconnection from the west was complete”

The question people seem to ask when they wander around Goa now is: is this still a paradise or is it a paradise lost? In other words, has its time passed? It is often irritating being told by older generations how much better life was in their day. An image of an old man, sitting in his armchair, reading a copy of Nietzsche comes to mind, saying: “back in my day, no one sat around looking at their screens, they would read books and explore the world”. Well maybe Goa was better in the 60s, but at least we have better healthcare, eh? 

Goa now still has its long beaches and palm trees, but they are no longer empty. The majority of the beaches in the North and South are full of resorts and thousands of tourists, many of them more interested in taking the perfect Instagram photo rather than learning about the culture. However, not all hope is lost. The soul of a place cannot be eradicated, but it can be led astray. One writer exemplifies this perfect: 

“While Goa today may not exude the carefree nature of the early 1970s when it was a hub for hedonistic Hippies from around the world, much of the culture that sprung the movement still remains in pockets.”

That is why when I was offered the chance to take magic mushrooms on a Goan beach I simply could not say no. It would be a disrespect to my ancestors. 

Magic Mushrooms in Goa

The drug scene in Goa is certainly different in 2022 from what it was back in the ‘glory years’. Many substances were easily available in the 70s due to a lack of police authority – hashish, LSD and basically anything else. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid 1970s that the majority of recreational drugs were deemed illegal by the government, before that they were accepted. Now, of course, all common drugs are banned and dealt with harshly. You may have to bribe a police officer 100,000 rupees if caught or be put in prison. Many of Goa’s best and most beloved clubs – including Curly’s and Hill Top – have recently been closed down due to drug controversy. Goan authorities are on a dogged mission to end the reputation of the beach district as a substance tourist spot. 

However, whilst I was in Goa it was still possible to find drugs. In the north beach of Arambol it was possible to slyly find hashish or some dodgy meth that was being disguised as cocaine. However, it wasn’t what I had imagined. I dreamt of a chilled shack that sold shroom shakes and hash, but instead I found myself in a dark alleyway and could feel the fear in the dealer’s eyes; being caught by the police being a terrible threat. The India Times writes:

“In the last seven months, Goa police has seized around 100kg of narcotic substances worth over Rs 2.5 croce. Goa police have not only arrested Goans in the trade but also people from outside the state and foreigners… Ganja, caracas, LSD, MDMA, ecstasy tablets and powder, cocaine, hashish oil, heroin and cannabis are among the drugs that have been seized.”

In essence, this wasn’t what I had really been expecting. However, hope was not lost. A few weeks into my trip I was visited by an elder Indian Canadian woman with striking green hair. She was incredibly warm and comforting, I felt like I’d known her my entire life. She approached me at a beach bar in Ashwem and we got chatting. Her line of work was rather extraordinary. She lived in Goa and worked as toad venom shaman; helping people through their trip. I told her my ambition to try psychedelics whilst in Goa and within 30 minutes she’d sold me 10 grams of magic mushrooms. After that she sort of disappeared into the etha, never to be seen again. 

The Trip

I was in Goa with my girlfriend and we were pretty overjoyed that we’d finally managed to find hallucinogens. The next step was to ensure our set and setting were perfect – we didn’t want any bad vibes to ruin our trip. We decided to take them early – 3pm – this way we’d be able to have dinner in the evening and enjoy a chilled sleep. Although, we managed to buy some valium at the pharmacy just in case we found sleep difficult.

We divided the mushrooms into 2 grams each and found a perfect shaded spot on the beach. We didn’t want to overdo the amount – I mean, they looked like liberty caps but how can you ever be sure? A magic mushroom trip usually lasts around 4-6 hours, with the peak coming at around 3 hours in, which we hoped would bring us to the beautiful Goan sunset at around 6pm. 

Then we ate. They tasted awful but we washed them down with a beer. It had been a few years since my last psychedelic trip so I was full of nerves, but I was actively telling myself to simply allow the experience to happen. My intention for the trip was: to see the beauty in everything. To be honest, I realise in hindsight that this intention was a little vague. Anyway, it was hot, very hot. Within 30 minutes I decided to go into the sea to refresh but as I walked back to the sun beds everything went strange. The beach stretched out for miles and everything sounded different; enhanced.

My body was heavier than it had ever been and I felt like I needed to sit down. The trip had begun. With magic mushrooms you often can’t quite work out why you feel a certain way, which is why it took us maybe another 30 minutes before we finally realized that it was the heat that was making our bodies feel so tired. We decided to walk back to our hostel. On the way back everything felt wavey and technicolor, and each interaction with another human felt like a video game. We tried to buy water from a shop owner and it felt like we had some sort of secret. 

The peak of the trip happened in our air conditioned room. We showered probably around 10 times each just because of how good the water felt on our skin. We cried, we had moments alone, we had moments together. An entire lifetime happened in that wavey, orange room. Nothing and everything had the space to occur. It was only when the visuals began to subside slightly that we felt able to go and see the sunset on the beach.

The trip was on its way down but one overriding sense remained: beauty. The world was beautiful. The people, the sunset; everything. We enjoyed some deliciously tasty food – enhanced by the shrooms – and watched as the sunset turned to stars. Whilst the trip was no longer at its peak, we were refreshed, rid of our anxieties and issues. All there was left was to allow the world to truly be its spectacular self in front of our eyes. 

Final Thoughts

Had we found old Goa? Of course not. You cannot recreate the past and you’ll spend your life disappointed if you try. However, we’d found our own version of Goa. Whilst the overriding sun may have caused us to spend a great deal of the trip inside our hostel room, it didn’t stop the experience from being wonderful.

My intention had been to see the beauty in the world and it certainly had worked. I felt clarity. One of the reasons why psilocybin is now being explored as a therapeutic substance is due to this exact experience – people report feeling happier and clearer for months after a psychedelic trip. If I ever return to Goa I hope I will one day meet that green-haired, studio Ghibli character again but – if not – I will simply write it here: thank you.

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North America’s First Take Home Psilocybin Trial Approved in Canada

A pharmaceutical company called Apex Labs announced on Nov. 1 that it will be conducting the first North American take home multi-dose psilocybin clinical trial. Apex Labs is a patient-driven pharmaceutical company that specializes in psilocybin treatments for military veterans.

According to a press release, the trial known as APEX-002-A01-02 will explore the efficacy of APEX-52 (psilocybin) for veterans suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Apex Labs received a “no objection letter” from Health Canada on October 24.

The veteran patients will receive low-dose, multi-dose psilocybin for oral use, which received Good Manufacturing Practice certification, and will be given to patients in a labeled package with at-home instructions.

Apex Labs CEO Tyler Powell is excited to introduce this medicine to patient participants, allowing them a safe way to explore if psilocybin can help treat their medical conditions. “This approval signals a willingness from Health Canada to allow APEX to move forward with a clinical pipeline focused on Veteran patients with PTSD and a comorbid diagnosis of depression,” Powell said. “Veterans are already self-medicating with micro-doses of unregulated psilocybin products without knowing the potency and safety of the product they are consuming. Our goal is to expand access to pharmaceutical grade drug products through regulated systems, providing transparency and support for patients in need.”

There’s evidence that psilocybin can be effective in treating numerous conditions and disorders. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” to Usona Institute in Wisconsin for its work on psilocybin to treat major depressive disorder. Such a designation shows that the FDA is committed to fast tracking drug review and development.

Similarly, on Jan. 5, 2022, Health Canada amended its Controlled Drugs and Substance Act through its Special Access Program, expanding to include psilocybin and MDMA. “There has been emerging scientific evidence supporting potential therapeutic uses for some restricted drugs, most notably psychedelic restricted drugs such as MDMA and psilocybin that have been granted “breakthrough therapy” designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and treatment-resistant depression, respectively,” Health Canada wrote.

Powell is proud of the opportunity his team will have to help veterans in this first-ever at-home trial. “It is beyond satisfying to know that our team’s hard work has led to the first Canadian Veteran patient taking APEX-52 in the comfort of their own home,” Powell said. 

Just recently, the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada was approved to conduct a study on psilocybin mushrooms. The university received a “dealer’s license” from Health Canada on Oct. 25, making it one of the first universities in the country to receive such approval.

In the U.S., voters will soon choose whether or not to approve psilocybin. In Oregon, psilocybin was approved via ballot initiative in 2020, but this year it will be on the ballot again in 27 of the state’s 36 counties. Meanwhile, the Oregon Health Authority recently adopted the first round of rules for psilocybin in May 2022, and the final rules are set to be adopted by December 30, 2022. There is currently a public comment period running from Nov. 1-21.

Voters in Colorado are also voting on psychedelic legalization and psilocybin therapy centers with Proposition 122. According to military veteran Kevin Matthews, who is also the coalition director of Natural Medicine Colorado, believes that the approval of this initiative would help countless people. “They changed my life. The clouds parted. I realized that I no longer had to be a victim to my diagnosis of major depression,” Matthews told the Colorado Sun. “Colorado is in a mental health crisis right now. We want to make sure that all Coloradans have access to this at some level, especially our veterans and those with extreme trauma.”

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Canadian University Granted License To Study Psilocybin Mushrooms

Dr. Max Jones and Dr. Gale Bozzo, two professors at UG’s Ontario Agricultural College (Department of Plant Agriculture), received a Health Canada “dealer’s license” on Oct. 25. The license permits the cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms, and is one of the first universities in Canada to be permitted to do so.

“We are very excited about this approval as it will allow us to study these psychedelic mushrooms to better understand their biology and genetics, examine what other functional compounds they might contain, and provide well-characterized and chemically consistent material for preclinical and potentially clinical evaluation,” Jones said. He previously received a license to study cannabis back in November 2018 as well. 

According to Jones, there are more than 200 species of mushrooms that can produce psilocybin. “Those species aren’t that closely related; they’re diverse,” Jones said in a press release. “So that makes scientists like me wonder: what else are these mushrooms producing? If you have 200 species producing a compound that affects the human brain, it’s likely they are producing other interesting compounds, too.”

Psilocybin therapy has become a popular treatment for conditions such as depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Dr. Melissa Perreault, Professor in Ontario Veterinary College’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and another researchers involved with the study, there’s a specific function that they’re hoping to examine. “There are many already working with psilocybin, but we’re interested in the potential biological activity of some of the other compounds in these mushrooms and whether they have any therapeutic value alone or in combination with psilocybin,” Perreault said.

Perreault’s experience has previously involved studies of the molecular and cellular mechanisms associated with medical conditions like depression or autism spectrum disorders. Her plan is to examine the signaling pathways that psilocybin might affect. “If there is any potential therapeutic value in these compounds, we would then bring them into some of the models I work with, such as those used to study specific aspects of depression or autism, to examine their therapeutic effects,” Perreault said.

In conclusion, Jones said that he believes increased access to mushrooms will allow more studies to be conducted. “There is a real need for a public supply of these mushrooms,” Jones said. We aim to create a supply of mushrooms to be used for preclinical and perhaps clinical trials in which the genetics and cultivation methodologies will be fully disclosed to researchers and the public.”

The press release also notes that the researchers plan to develop a synthetic mushroom growing method to make it easily reproduced. Typically, mushrooms are grown on grains or manure.

Psilocybin mushrooms are continuing to grow with interest among the medical community. Earlier this year in January, one organization presented evidence of mushroom’s therapeutic qualities and announced its intention to have the substance rescheduled in the United Nations 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances Act. In August, a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry showed how psilocybin has the potential to treat alcohol addiction. In mid-September, the University of Copenhagen began examining the effects of psilocybin to treat obesity. Just last week, Johns Hopkins University announced a study to analyze how psilocybin can help patients quit smoking. The substance has even become the muse for numerous high-profile musicians, such as Björk, Ellie Goulding, Kid Cudi, and Lil Nas X.

The state of Oregon is planning on finalizing its rules to regulate psilocybin by December 2022, while a few other states are presenting psilocybin allowances on the November ballot.

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Mother, Son Survive Brush With ‘Death Cap’ Mushrooms Thanks to Experimental New Drug

According to UMass Memorial Medical Center, 27-year-old Kai Chen and his 63-year-old mother Kam Look were poisoned from eating mushrooms, known as “death caps,” which they found growing near their home a few weeks ago in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

The two survived, and one of their doctors recently told the Boston Globe it was thanks to the help of Legalon, an experimental drug flown in from Philadelphia made from an extract of the milk thistle plant. Kam did, however, require a liver transplant and the two suffered kidney damage as well.

“The treatment involved getting special permission from the FDA to provide an antidote that’s currently an investigational drug – and then to get that antidote emergently cured from Philadelphia” said Dr. Stephanie Carreiro, from the Division of Toxicology at UMass Memorial Medical Center in a press conference. “We had tried many methods to try to remove the toxin from their bodies. And ultimately, for Kam, it also required liver transplantation.”

Death caps, known amongst nerds as Amanita phalloides, are a mushroom that grow pervasively throughout California and most of the world. According to Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz, the mushrooms are all white from top to bottom and commonly grow on wood chips but can be found more or less anywhere in North America. The fatality rate for those who consume death caps varies depending on the source from 25 to 50%.

Death caps and a handful of other particularly prolific and toxic species of mushrooms cause fatalities in people who ingest them every year, largely because the symptoms do not set in immediately after consuming. By the time people seek help, it is often too late and the liver damage has already begun. Kai Chen did, however, tell CBS Boston that they felt something was off pretty quickly.

“This should be a very big cautionary tale,” Kai Chen said in a press conference. “Be careful of what you find out there in the woods, especially mushrooms.”

Levon Durr, owner of a mushroom cultivation business called Fungaia Farms in Eureka, CA, told High Times that death caps have actually just as of this year been recorded in places they have otherwise not yet been found, which could indicate climate change has allowed them to gain more ground, so to speak.

Amanita phalloides (death cap) has officially been recorded in Humboldt County last year and seems to have been migrating north over the last decade. They have been recorded in the Bay Area for years now and then became more common in Mendocino County and now Humboldt,” Durr said. “The theory is the warming, drying climate has opened up new habitats for them to move north. So, it begs to hypothesize we will, unfortunately, see more poisonings as it expands its habitat into areas where people are less familiar with the death cap.”

Mushroom foraging season is upon us and despite all the most grim warnings I can think of, people will still inevitably go out and mistake one thing for another every year. Mushroom experts have collectively warned the community at large for decades that proper mushroom identification is extremely difficult and requires much more extensive legwork than simple photo comparison. For instance, one of the most commonly hunted psychedelic mushrooms known as “Wavy caps” (Psilocybe cyanescens) have a deadly look-alike called Galerina marginata that oftentimes are virtually impossible to distinguish between without proper training.

“When collecting wild mushrooms for food, one rule supersedes all others. When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure that your mushroom is edible, don’t eat it.” – Excerpt from Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast.

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New Study Will Explore Psilocybin as a Treatment To Stop Smoking

Researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are planning to find out if psilocybin can help people quit smoking with a randomized controlled trial expected to start later this year. The study, which is being funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), continues the research into the potential of the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms to help people with mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and addiction.

The new study will explore whether psilocybin can help people who are addicted to tobacco. Researchers at Johns Hopkins will lead the trial, which will be conducted in collaboration with scientists at NYU Langone Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Few Succeed Quitting Smoking

Quitting smoking can be an extremely difficult undertaking, with fewer than 1 in 10 smokers who attempt to quit succeeding each year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Matthew Johnson, a psychedelic researcher at Johns Hopkins Medicine who is leading the randomized controlled trial, said that he decided to explore psilocybin’s potential as an aid to quit smoking because few treatment options have been highly effective at helping people control tobacco addiction.

“There’s several existing treatments, both medications and other therapies, but they all have lots of room for improvement,” Johnson told NBC News. “None of the medications help a majority of the people long-term. Even six months down the road, it’s pretty small success rates.”

Psilocybin has shown some promise as an aid in smoking cessation. In a small pilot study, Johnson and his team of researchers found that psilocybin helped 10 out of 15 participants quit smoking for at least one year.

The new study beginning later this year will be the first psychedelics research funded by a grant from the NIH in more than 50 years. The lack of federal funding has been a challenge for researchers eager to study the therapeutic potential of the drugs.

“The fact that the NIH is now interested in these types of studies is a great thing,” said Dr. Charles Nemeroff, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, who is not involved in the Johns Hopkins study. “It’ll provide us with funding to be able to do these controlled studies.”

New Double-Blind Randomized Trial

To complete the double-blind, randomized clinical trial, 66 participants will take two doses of either psilocybin or niacin, which will be administered in conjunction with talk therapy. Participants in both groups will receive the compounds in two sessions one week apart, and efforts to quit smoking will be monitored to compare the effectiveness between psilocybin and the niacin control.

The team of researchers is also currently conducting a study to compare the effectiveness of psilocybin and nicotine patches to help participants quit smoking. According to preliminary data from 61 participants, half of those who took psilocybin had quit smoking for at least a year. By comparison, only 27% of those who used nicotine patches saw similar success.

Baltimore resident Anne Levine, 58, is one of the participants in the study who used psilocybin. She said that she had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for four decades and had tried to quit at least a dozen times previously. But after taking psilocybin, she has not craved nicotine or smoked at all.

“I don’t crave cigarettes anymore, which is the craziest thing, because every time I’ve quit before, I’ve always craved a cigarette,” Levine said. “I don’t have that anymore. … I don’t have any of that physical desire to smoke or emotional desire to smoke.”

Although researchers are intrigued by the effectiveness of psilocybin to treat addiction, they are not sure how the compounds help people stop misusing substances.

“That’s really the million-dollar question that’s really hard to answer,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s any good answers in the field in terms of what’s different in the brain a year later or six months later.”

He added that other research has shown that when people take psychedelics, they “have a shift in their personality, on average, towards being more open to new experiences and so that can be expressed with smoking in any number of ways.”

Dr. Joshua Woolley, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco who is not involved with the new research, said that one theory holds that psychedelics help people let go of behaviors that have been engrained over time.

“Helping people get out of behavioral ruts … would have really big implications for mental health, addictive disorders and smoking in particular,” he said.

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The Great Jamaican Patoo Trip

The World Health Organization (WHO), recently citing one of their fresh, dark-timeline COVID-19 pandemic stats, alerted the world that there’s been a shocking/not-shocking 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression in adults across the world. A number which, frankly, begins to feel light when taking into context the various ugly aspects of these increasingly dystopian times.

Adults are hardly in solo sad company. Data from a youth charity The Prince’s Trust, says 23% of young people in the U.K. claim they are seeking psychedelic experiences and will “never emotionally recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic.” Existence itself, it seems, is more a burden emotionally than ever before.

Kevin Bourke agrees: “Global mental health has deteriorated and people need perspective and balance.” Bourke, co-founder of Patoo—Jamaica’s first legal psychedelic CPG line of psilocybin products—has a particularly astute vantage point to witness both the trending explosive interest and use of psychedelics as well as the return of tourism culture on his home turf after the devastation of COVID on the travel industry at large.

Particularly hard hit were places like the island’s longtime beach and cliff-lined bohemian playground of Negril in the West End, where I caught up with him in the spring of 2022 while on the island for my own physical and spiritual recharging of sorts. Patoo is quickly gaining traction around the island with dozens of retail partners all across Jamaica carrying their products, from legal cannabis dispensaries like Jacana, through to locally infamous mushroom cafes, weed huts, right up to posh resorts like Skylark along the beach, or Rockhouse in the cliffs, where Patoo is also hosting “Psilocybin Soundbath” experiences for guests.

Courtesy of Patoo

In the gift shops, the eye-catching Patoo packaging is right at home alongside tanning oils and sun hats. Think: gluten-free, direct trade and locally-farmed dark chocolate bars, dosed Jamaican honey, microdosed mushroom capsules, and more strain-based products being developed with Patoo’s R+D team. 

“The vibe in Negril and the whole island is bringing people seeking experiential tourism and wellness after COVID, and the Caribbean has bounced back. It’s the perfect time for Jamaica to step up in this realm and be a leader for adults seeking these products,” says Bourke.

Patoo’s other co-founder Charles Lazarus, a twenty-year veteran of touring roots-reggae band Rootz Underground Movement says: “We didn’t come up with mushroom-dosed chocolate, they just go well together in nature, and both are medicine,” he says. “The dark chocolate provides oxytocin, the love transmitter, and then you have the Jamaican mushrooms with a very expansive personality.”

A Jamaican owl—Patoo—greets you as the brand mascot and spiritual talisman to the public, and as a brand the team says they seek to be a bridge builder between the natural world, research, and commerce. Besides partnering with island farmers for all-local chocolate and a greater harmony with their proprietary indigenious hybrid genetics, their main Patoo 4-gram dark chocolate bar uses a wild Jamaican strain they cross-cultivated the mycelium with in order to be consistent and shelf-stable. It also allows them to tightly and accurately control even-dosing across the product (read: you can anticipate the effects for a better experience). And yet, their biggest cost is the Jamaican cacao, which is regarded as one of the best on the planet. 

In an even more impressive move, Bourke, along with Lazarus and their team worked to execute the first legal shipment of Jamaican psilocybin using native genetics cultivated by the Patoo team to the University of Alberta and Health Canada for research on PTSD in the Canadian Military.

That image of psychedelics as both therapy and a fun time for responsible adults is changing, if the ongoing legalization movement is any indicator. The FDA has proclaimed psilocybin to be a “breakthrough medicine” and that perspective is increasingly being found at the end of a micro or macro dose of plant-based psychedelics like magic mushrooms. While on the island for my own restorative trip to Negril, I too wanted to sample the indigenious and proprietary genetics unique to Jamaica. 

Courtesy of Patoo

In the case of Patoo, they offer a means to try mushrooms naturally harvested in controlled environments—knowing the diet of the cows producing the substrate growing manure to ensure the integrity of the mycelium, as well as the metabolites, which influence and direct the effects the way terpenes interact with cannabinoids in cannabis. 

With all that in mind, it’s no surprise to find accessibility and professional, safe psilocybin products being at the forefront of the experiential tourism trend that is growing in Negril, and greater Jamaica. Legality means greater diversity and standards of CPG goods, in psychedelics just as it did with weed. “[Psychedelics] are moving extremely fast, it feels different than cannabis,” says Lazarus. “Cannabis definitely led the path and highlighted the right way, also the wrong ways, of progressing an industry like this. Psilocybin will challenge the wine and spirits space in ten years.”

As a brand, Patoo is already creating a buzz on social media as an easy and reliably-dosed access point to the island’s psychedelic mushroom culture, which already has been strong for years. But Bourke brings a different element of connectivity and understanding the market. A seasoned branding creative, he helped create Blackwell Rum with his mentor Chris Blackwell (English-born founder of Island Records and the first person to put reggae music out on a pro label), worked with Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records restaurant brand, and is the co-founder of the music and wellness cultural festival TmrwTday

In other words, he was the choice of choices to connect me and be my guide to Patoo. I was staying at Tensing Pen, a small independent resort in the cliffs that is what I’d like to think resides in the afterlife for people who love dogs (they have a few Rhodesian Ridgebacks that roam the area). Having grown up hanging out in Negril, Bourke effortlessly manifested at the table my girlfriend and I were at, adjusting to the island vibes after the flight in from Boston. I was supplied with some gratis Social Dose bars (.7g of locally grown Hawaiian cubensis) and the flagship Patoo Bar, dosed with 4g their proprietary Jamaican Cyanescens strain crossed with APE (Albino Penis Envy). 

Each Patoo bar has three squares to it, each dosed at 1.33g. One square, Bourke said, and “it’s dancing time”. Two and we get into fractals and visual distortion and a sense of being connected. Three, and he said “it’s time to chill out and have a friend nearby because you going on a journey”. I had already had one big journey that day, I was just looking for the lift.

I also just decided to eat a full Social dose after that long day of travel and a few months between psilocybin consumption. Scene and setting was set. Hadn’t even begun the four days on, three days off regiment suggested by psychonauts for your brain and system to reset (and deal with increased tolerance). The effect of the whole bar left me like I’d been hit upside the head by a wet rowing oar (I hadn’t had a full meal yet, violating one of Patoo’s suggestions for consumption). 

Courtesy of Daniel McCarthy

After I adjusted a bit on the frantic energy and overwhelming sensations, I slid into a great pocket of euphoria and social connectedness to everything around me, but I was never out of range or uncomfortable in my surroundings (nothing gets you weirder than putting your hand through your phone while going to change up your playlist). It was also robust in earthy mushroom flavor. 

The dogs and my girlfriend at sunset. The saltfish at the restaurant overlooking the moonrise. The cove at Tensing Pen, smashed by ancient waves on old pirate coral. The restoration to my body and mixing with local ganja consumed in great quantities from both the local dispensary circuit (Jacana) and some local farmers as well. Helluva first day.

The next evening I dove into a 1.33g square while cruising the long beachfront road down from the cliffs, with drums of jerk chicken being smoked along the way and the party looked like it was outside the venue more than inside. Plenty of shady corners away from the streetlights and drum fires where typically one ducks into for the gamblers’ choice of local fungi. A dicey situation any way you slice it.

“If you buy mushrooms and don’t fully know the source, it can affect your mindset going in. And scene and setting is so key when experiencing psilocybin, and commercially it doesn’t make sense to create a product that gives people a negative episode,” says Bourke. “Charles and our team have worked out our consistency and dosing so we can approach this product as a CPG as well as a plant medicine. You can take some Patoo and then return to it a month later seeking that groove and those sensations (and knowing your limits), and find it’s repeatable. Dosage is huge for us and Patoo.”

That dosage was what I was relying on given the visual and auditory overload I was about to step into. Namely, the first Negril nighttime beach party where everyone comes in from the hills in Westmoreland and surrounding parishes to attend a massive DJ set of everything from the Beatles to traphouse beats, with locals dressed like they were heading to the club, only to be met with fire ants in front of the stage and lounge area that would beat back the surging crowd and leave an awkward negative space in the crowd… where I was standing. 

Not wanting to be rude—and with all 1.33g surging through me—I enjoyed the evening with my new friends and executed four straight hours of dancing for a guy who doesn’t dance. Admittedly the fire ants would maul me the moment I stopped, and the dancing was the white-man’s two-step rocking back and forth and pounding water all night. All in all, the dosage for me was just right. And best of all, repeatable. The next night. And the afternoon after. 

And then back home just as spring flipped into summer, after walking through the Ukrainian sculpture park I live near, alone on my back in the sun with my dog scurrying nearby and not a soul around. 

“The paradigm has shifted and evolved and a whole generation is upset that they have been deceived, to their detriment, over the broken narrative around psychedelics as a therapeutic option,” says Lazarus. “With the attention in the press, the ground-swell around the holistic approach to life and a return to organic food, places of high energy and legal psilocybin medicine such as Jamaica have become a travel focus for people that are seeking inner healing,” says Lazarus. “We are proud of this offering to the world.” 

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From the Archives: Little Flowers of the Gods (1987)

“There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby and invisible. And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known. It is they, the sacred mushrooms, that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them, I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me.”

Thus does the famous Mazatec shaman, Maria Sabina, reverently describe the godgiven powers of the intoxicating mushrooms that she uses in her ceremony that has come down from ages past.

Few plants of the gods have ever been held in greater reverence than the sacred mushrooms of Mexico. So hallowed were these fungi that the Aztecs called them Teonanacatl (“divine flesh”) and used them only in the most holy of their ceremonies. Even though, as fungi, mushrooms do not blossom, the Atztecs referred to them as “flowers,” and the Indians who still use them in religious rituals have endearing terms for them, such as “little flower.” When the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they were aghast to find the natives worshipping their deities with the help of inebriating plants: Peyotl, Ololiuqui, Teonanacatl. The mushrooms were especially offensive to the European ecclesiastical authorities, and they set out to eradicate their use in religious practices.

“They possessed another method of intoxication, which sharpened their cruelty; for if they used certain small toadstools… they would see a thousand visions and especially snakes… They called these mushrooms in their language teunamacatlth, which means ‘God’s flesh,’ or ‘of the Devil,’ whom they worshipped, and in this wise with that bitter victual by their cruel God were they houseled.”

In 1656, a guide for missionaries argued against Indian idolatries, including mushroom ingestion, and recommended their extirpation. Not only do reports condemn Teonanacatl, but actual illustrations denounce it. One depicts the devil enticing an Indian to eat the fungus; another has the devil performing a dance upon a mushroom.

“But before explaining this [idolatry],” one of the clerics said, “I wish to explain the nature of the said mushrooms [which] were small and yellowish, and to collect them the priests and old men, appointed as ministers for these impostures, went to the hills and remained almost the whole night in sermonizing and in superstitious praying. At dawn, when a certain little breeze which they know begins to blow, they would gather them, attributing to them diety. When they are eaten or drunk, they intoxicate, depriving those who partake of them of their senses and making them believe a thousand absurdities.”

Dr. Francisco Hernandez, personal physician to the king of Spain, wrote that three kinds of narcotic mushrooms were worshipped. After describing a lethal species, he stated that “others, when eaten, cause not death but madness that on occasion is lasting, of which the symptom is a kind of uncontrolled laughter. Usually called teyhuintli, these are deep yellow, acrid, and of a not displeasing freshness. There are others again which, without inducing laughter, bring before the eyes all kinds of things, such as wars and the likeness of demons.

“Yet others are there not less desired by princes for their fiestas and banquets, of great price. With night-long vigils are they sought, awesome and terrifying. This kind is tawny and somewhat acrid.”

For four centuries nothing was known of the mushroom cult, and it was even doubted that mushrooms were used hallucinogenically in ceremony. The Church fathers had done such a successful job (through persecution) of driving the cult into hiding, that no anthropologist or botanist had ever uncovered the religious use of these mushrooms.

In 1916 an American botanist finally proposed a “solution” to the identification of Teonanacatl, concluding that Teonanacatl and the Peyote were the same drug. Motivated by distrust of the chroniclers and Indians, he intimated that the natives, to protect Peyote, were indicating mushrooms to the authorities. He argued that the dried, brownish, disk-like crown of Peyote resembles a dried mushroom—so remarkably that it will even deceive a mycologist. It was not until the 1930s that an understanding of the role of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico and a knowledge of their botanical identification and chemical composition started to become available. In the late 1930s the first of the many species of sacred Mexican mushrooms were collected and associated with a modern mushroom ceremony. Subsequent fieldwork has resulted in the discovery of some two dozen species. The most important belong to the genus Psilocybe, twelve of which have been reported, not including Stropharia cubensis, sometimes considered a Psilocybe. The most important species appear to be Psilocybe mexicana and P hoogshagenii.

These various mushrooms are now known to be employed in divinatory and religious rites among the Mazatec, Chinantec, Chatino, Mije, Zapotee, and Mixtee of Oaxaca; the Nahua and possible the Otomi of Puebla; and the Tarascana of Michoacan. The present center of intensive use of the sacred mushrooms is among the Mazatec.

Mushrooms vary in abundance from year to year and at different seasons. There may be years when one or more species are rare or absent—they vary in their distribution and are not ubiquitous. Furthermore, each shaman has his own favorite mushrooms and may forego others. Maria Sabina, for example, will not use Stropharia cubensis. And certain mushrooms are used for specific purposes. This means that each ethnobotanical expedition may not expect to find the same assortment of species employed at one time, even in the same locality and by the same people.

The probability that more species will be found in use is far from remote. Chemical studies have indicated that psilocybin and, to a lesser extent, psilocine are present in many of the species of the several genera associated with the Mexican ceremony. In fact, these compounds have been isolated from many species of Psilocybe and other genera in widely separated parts of the world, although the evidence available suggests that only in Mexico are psilocybin-containing mushrooms at present utilized in native ceremonies.

The modern mushroom ceremony is an all-night seance which may include a curing ritual. Chants accompany the main part of the ceremony. The intoxication is characterized by fantastically colored visions in kaleidoscopic movement, by auditory hallucinations, and, the partaker losing himself in unearthly flights of fancy.

The mushrooms are collected in the forests at the time of the new moon by a virgin girl, then taken to a church to remain briefly on the altar. They are never sold in the marketplace. The Mazatec call the mushrooms Nti-xi-tjo, in which ’Nti is a particle of reverence and endearment; the rest of the name means “that which springs forth.” A Mazatec explained this though, poetically: “The little mushroom comes of itself, no one knows whence, like the wind that comes we know not whence nor why.”

The shaman chants for hours, with frequent clapping or percussive slaps on the thighs in rhythm with the chant. Maria Sabina’s chanting, which has been recorded, studied, and translated, in great part proclaims humbly her qualifications to cure and to interpret divine power through the mushrooms. Excerpts from her chant, all in the beautiful tonal Mazatec language, give an idea of her many “qualifications.”

Woman who thunders am I,
woman who
sounds am I.
Spiderwoman am I,
hummingbird woman
am I….
Eagle woman am I, important
woman am I.
Whirling woman of the
whirlwind am I,
woman of a
sacred, enchanted place am I,
Woman of the shooting stars
am I.

The first non-Indian fully to witness the Mazatec ceremony wrote the following understanding thoughts about this use of the mushrooms:

“Here let me say a word about the nature of the psychic disturbance that the eating of the mushroom causes. This disturbance is wholly different from the effect of alcohol, as different as night from day. We are entering upon a discussion in which the vocabulary of the English language, of any European language, is seriously deficient. There are no apt words in it to characterize one’s state when one is, shall we say, ‘bemushroomed.’ For hundreds, even thousands, of years, we have thought about these things in terms of alcohol, and we now have to break, the bounds imposed on us by our alcoholic obsessions. We are all, willy-nilly, confined within the prison walls of our everyday vocabulary. With skill in our choice of words, we may stretch accepted meanings to cover slightly new feelings and thoughts, but when a state of mind is utterly distinct, wholly novel, then all our old words fail. How do you tell a man who has been born blind what seeing is like? In the present case this is an especially apt analogy, because superficially the bemushroomed man shows a few of the objective symptoms of one who is intoxicated, drunk. Now virtually all the words describing the state of drunkenness, from ‘intoxicated’ (which literally means ‘poisoned’) through the scores of current vulgarisms, are contemptuous, belittling, pejorative. How curious it is that modern civilized man finds surcease from care in a drug for which he seems to have no respect! If we use by analogy the terms suitable for alcohol, we prejudice the mushroom, and since there are few among us who have been bemushroomed, there is danger that the experience will not be fairly judged. What we need is a vocabulary to describe all the modalities of a divine inebriant….”

Upon receiving six pairs of mushrooms in the ceremony, this novice-participant ate them. He experienced the sensation of his soul being removed from his body and floating in space. He saw “geometric patterns, angular, in richest colors, which grew into architectural structures, the stonework in brilliant colors, gold and onyx and ebony, extending beyond the reach of sight, in vistas measureless to man. The architectural visions seemed to be oriented, seemed to belong to the… architecture described by the visionaries of the Bible.” In the faint moonlight, “the bouquet on the table assumed the dimensions and shape of an imperial conveyance, a triumphant car, drawn by… creatures known only to mythology.”

Mushrooms have apparently been ceremonially employed in Mesoamerica for many centuries. Several early sources have suggested that Mayan languages in Guatemala had mushrooms named for the underworld. Miniature mushroom stones, 2200 years of age, have been found in archaeological sites near Guatemala City, and it has been postulated that stone mushroom effigies buried with a Mayan dignitary suggested a connection with the Nine Lords of the Xibalba, described in the sacred book Popol Vuh. Actually, more than 200 mushroom stone effigies have been discovered, the oldest dating from the first millennium B.C. Although the majority are Guatemalan, some have been unearthed in El Salvador and Honduras and others as far north as Vera Cruz and Guerrero in Mexico. It is now clear that whatever the use of these “mushroom stones,” they indicate the great antiquity of a sophisticated sacred use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

A superb statue of Xochipilli, Aztec Prince of Flowers, from the early sixteenth century, was recently discovered on the slopes of Mt. Popocatepetl. His face is in ecstasy, as though seeing visions in an intoxication; his head is slightly tilted, as though hearing voices. His body is engraved with stylized flowers which have been identified as sacred, most of them inebriating plants. The pedestal on which he sits is decorated with a design representing cross-sections of the caps of Psilocybe aztecorum, an hallucinogenic mushroom known only from this volcano. Thus Xochipilli undoubtedly represents not simply the Prince of Flowers, but more specifically the Prince of Inebriating Flowers, including the mushrooms which, in Nahuatl poetry, were called “flowers” and “flowers that intoxicate.”

Have psilocybin-containing mushrooms ever been employed as magico-religious hallucinogens in the New World? The answer is probably yes.

A species of Psilocybe and possibly also Stropharia are used today near the classic Maya ceremonial center of Palenque, and hallucinogenic mushrooms have been reported in use along the border between Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala. Whether these modern mushroom practices in the Maya region represent vestiges of former use or have been recently introduced from Oaxaca is not yet possible to say.

Nevertheless, evidence is now accumulating to indicate that a mushroom cult flourished in prehistoric times—from 100 B.C. to about A.D. 300-400 in northwestern Mexico: in Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Funerary effigies, with two “horns” protruding from the head, are believed to represent male and female “deities” or priests associated with mushrooms. Traditions among contemporary Huichol Indians in Jalisco also suggest the former religious use of these fungi “in ancient times.”

What about South America, where these psychoactive mushrooms abound? There is no evidence of such use today, but indications of their apparent former employment are many. The Yurimagua Indians of the Peruvian Amazon were reported in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to be drinking a potently inebriating beverage made from a “tree fungus.” The Jesuit report stated that the Indians “mix mushrooms that grow on fallen trees with a kind of reddish film that is found usually attached to rotting trunks. This film is very hot to the taste. No person who drinks this brew’ fails to fall under its effects after three draughts of it, since it is so strong, or more correctly, so toxic.” It has been suggested that the tree mushroom might have been the psychoactive Psilocybe yungensis, which occurs in this region.

In Colombia, many anthropomorphic gold pectorals with two dome-like ornaments on the head have been found. They are in the so-called Carien style, and the majority of them have been unearthed in the Sinú area of northwestern Colombia and in the Calima region on the Pacific coast. For lack of a better term, they have been called “telephone-bell gods,” since the hollow semi-spherical ornaments resemble the bells of old-fashioned telephones. It has been suggested that they represent mushroom effigies. The discovery of similar artifacts in Panama and Costa Rica and one in Yucatan might be interpreted to suggest a prehistoric continuum of a sacred mushroom cult from Mexico to South America.

Further to the south in South America, there is archaeological evidence that may suggest the religious importance of mushrooms. Moche effigy stirrup vessels from Peru, for example, have mushroom-like caphalic ornaments.

While the archaeological evidence is convincing, the almost complete lack of reference in colonial literature to such use of mushrooms, and the absence of any known modern hallucinogenic use of mushrooms among aboriginal groups of South America, gives cause for caution in the interpretation of what otherwise might easily be interpreted as ancient mushroom effigies from south of Panama. If, however, it becomes evident that the various archaeological artifacts from South America mentioned above do represent hallucinogenic mushrooms, then the area for their significance in America will be greatly amplified.

Reprinted from Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use, published by Alfred van der Marck Editions, New York, 1987. © 1979 by McGraw-Hill Book Company (UK) Limited, Maidenhead, England.

High Times Magazine, October 1987

Read the full issue here.

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Brian Moreno Thinks Differently About Aliens And So Should You

In late September 2019, a group of individuals banded together around a Facebook event to breach the heavily guarded gates that surround the enigmatic structure known as Area 51. Among those in attendance were comedian, writer, and director Brian Moreno who had hired a cast and crew to capture footage of the experience.

In his new film Dreamland: A Storming Area 51 Story starring Moreno and fellow comedians Andy Kozel, Giff Pippin, and Natasha Pearl Henson, Moreno unpacks the origins of the event and what really went on during those mysterious fall days in Nevada.

When we connect by phone, Brian is optimistic the movie will be well received and divulges some of his filmmaking processes, his affinity for the term “alien,” and why he thinks being on stage and making movies is similar to cannabis horticulture.

Courtesy of Brian Moreno

High Times: You have been a comedian for most of your professional career. Where did the drive to be a filmmaker come from?

Brian Moreno: The first thing I ever wanted in the entertainment industry was to be a filmmaker. Being a comedian was actually secondary.

Like most young people, at first I thought I was going to be a famous, groundbreaking actor. When that doesn’t pan out for you as quickly as it does in your mind, I started to spread my wings and get into comedy and comedy just took over. When you’re a working comedian and traveling, it’s really hard to do anything else.

I’d had some success making short-form videos and knew the only way I’d get respect as a filmmaker would be to actually make a film. Something like Dreamland—a run-and-gun type shoot—with a story that was only in my brain, you’re not going to get funding for it unless you have some sort of proof-of-concept. And I didn’t. So I had the idea and it snowballed from idea into a film.

You say in the trailer you “Ended up making a movie you didn’t intend to make.” Do you feel that way with the final product?

That’s a line in the movie I think about all of the time. When I cried in that scene, I was overwhelmed because I knew with [the footage] I had, I could make a movie. I didn’t know if it was going to be the movie I envisioned because this is a feel-good documentary. As much as it is a comedy and a documentary, it’s a feel-good documentary, and you don’t find many of those.

Because this is a comedy, people are going to look at it differently, but I think to tell a story like the one we did, it’s not even about the storming of Area-51, it’s more about different colors of the rainbow coming together. The storming of Area-51 is just a vehicle that drives the story.

In that way, Area-51 is more of a backdrop than anything else.

Yeah, so that’s why if you’re into aliens, UFO-ology, or Area-51—or none of that—there’s something in this movie for you.

Courtesy of Brian Moreno

Aliens have long been associated with your persona. How did your fascination with aliens originate?

I try to explain this to people all the time. My fascination with aliens was never because of aliens. What attracted me to the word “alien” and why I always had an association with “alien” is because it means “foreign” or “different.” I always felt foreign or different compared to my surroundings, so that’s where the “alien” moniker came from.

As I became more and more informed about the mysteries of our universe, the alien theme and subject kept coming back up. A lot of people think I started out as an alien lover—and as much as I am an alienhead and UFO-lover—it all started out with the word “alien” just meaning “different.” That’s what I felt I related to the most.

With that being said, Dreamland I believe is one of the most comprehensive UFO documentaries—that’s also entertaining—that’s ever been made. A lot of the information I try to pack under the guise of comedy or within the storyline was done on purpose so that every individual character could represent a color of the ufology rainbow.

There are the people who are in total disbelief, there are people who just kind of dabble, there are people who think there might be a little bit of life out there but don’t exactly know what, and there are people who are hardcore believers. The parallel I try to make in the movie is that the people who believe in the UFOs and aliens and the space beings—there’s a parallel to what they’re doing and anyone who is religious. You can believe whatever you want, but if you put your faith into religion, you’re putting your faith into something that’s unseen, not understood, and can’t be explained. A lot of that is just blind faith in the same way a lot of these UFO enthusiasts believe. No matter where you stand on aliens or UFOs, there should be a relatable character to your point of view.

So the way into the movie for most will be through the characters, not so much from the alien-ness of it all.

Absolutely, and I think people will pick up on that immediately because of the Blair-Witchean way I open the movie, where it almost seems like it’s found footage.

However, there are people and there are critics. All of the test audiences who have screened the film seem to get it [and get the humor] but are the critics going to get it? I don’t know. It’s a really great question.

I am a cinephile and in terms of genre, this movie is cinéma vérité, which is basically the art of making a movie so that the audience feels like they’re a fly on the wall. That’s how this was made.

As much as it’s anxiety-inducing not knowing how the film will be received, at the same time, it’s got to feel pretty cool that it’s in its final form.

It does, but also—and maybe this is what made me a decent comic—I’m always thinking about what’s next or what I could do better. So yes, it is cool, and taking those moments to realize that is very important. I don’t know if I do that enough.

Courtesy of Brian Moreno

In terms of those moments, talk a bit more about the moment you realized you actually had something worthwhile.

It was the last night before we wrapped shooting and I knew I had an interesting film. But once I had the news footage added to [the edit], I knew for sure [the film] was worthy of distribution.

There are three elements to this story: The road trip, the news footage, and the interviews. Once I had that layered properly, I knew I had a real movie that told a full story, it just took two years to get there.

How similar or different is ‘Brian Moreno’ in the movie to Brian Moreno in real life?

I think the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the ‘Brian’ who is on stage as a comedian to the ‘Brian’ that’s in real life.

When I’m on stage and who I play in the movie—it’s pretty close to real—but there are aspects of oneself that when the camera goes on or the stage lights come on you, you tend to highlight or suppress. So there’s a character aspect to it, but I would say a lot of it is me just acting like me, if that makes any sense.

For this to be a real documentary, one of the things I really had to hit on was that there wasn’t a script and I wasn’t really coaching the players. I allowed the players to play within the framework of the universe that I’d built. So whomever it may be that you’re watching in the movie, they’re playing a character of themselves because the camera is on and these are the choices that they are making. What is “real” anymore? I don’t know.

Courtesy of Brian Moreno

 In terms of “reality,” how did psychedelics and cannabis play a role in your creative process and the making of this film, and how were both referenced within the movie itself?

I’m a longtime believer in what cannabis can do for the creative process. This movie, however, was a little bit more dependent on the mushrooms that were taken the final night of shooting.

The movie was a very run-and-gun type shoot where the crew had no idea what to do until I told them. The first night, there was a lot of stress in getting set up because getting [to Area 51] was so daunting and we got there so late. We then shot the entire next day with everyone sober, with the exception of a few people from whom I had to hide the liquor. I had brought weed and mushrooms with me because I knew if I could have a bonding experience with everyone on the crew, the testimonials that they would give from day one to day two would be a one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees difference.

The crew believed me that we had a movie, so that was good enough for them to loosen up. The [cannabis and mushroom-fueled] experience that we all had together…I don’t talk to some of the cast and crew anymore, but I know that’s a memory they’ll never forget. The next morning when they got interviewed, you can really see the difference in not only perspective—which I think mushrooms help with—but you can see the difference in the way they would speak about an event that was a bust.

Let me be clear, a lot of people are going to be like, “Oh, that event was a bust.” Yes, this is a failure story, but there are so many little successes within the overall failure.

I think the mushrooms and the weed were responsible for the cast and crew coming together not only as a family, but as one cohesive unit. It’s why I think everyone should trip mushrooms at least once a year—because it helps clear out the ego. If you see the difference in the testimonials from the cast and crew from day one to day two, the biggest difference is the removal of ego. When you see that transformation, it’s actually a beautiful thing, and is some of the subtext within this documentary.

Filmmaking aside, you’re also a cannabis plant-dad these days, is that accurate?

Oh totally. I’ve been attempting to grow weed ever since I was picking out little stems and seeds back in my college years. The thing about cultivation is it used to be so difficult and there used to be so many obstacles to overcome to be able to grow your own weed—and grow it well.

Now, in states that are legal—and this is one of the reasons why Amazon is pushing for legality—there’s a huge market for all of the cultivation equipment and gear. I’m big into gardening and horticulture and believe anyone who enjoys partaking [in weed] should try growing a plant or two in the summer because It’s a really cool plant to see grow. If you told me it came from aliens I would totally believe it.

Is there a correlation between the skills required to grow buds, perform comedy, and make a movie? Are any of the skills transferable?

Absolutely. With biology and growing you have to remember that sometimes there are so many factors out of your control—just like in comedy, just like in making movies. You just have to let the universe take its course. You have to be able to let go of the reins and trust. Trust your instincts, trust other people—you have to constantly learn from your mistakes.

There are only a few things I think I’m good at in this world: Telling stories, growing things, and making jokes. All of those things take a lot of thought, time, and effort, and it’s all very much like planting a seed. You water it, you let it be, and then you come back to it. You pluck a few leaves and maybe you give it some fertilizer. Then you have to leave it alone again for a little bit. You can’t obsess over it because then you’ll suffocate it. The gestation of a seed is very much like the gestation of an idea, a joke, or a movie.

Follow Brian Moreno @morenothealien and check out for more information on how to watch Dreamland: A Storming Area 51 Story beginning September 13th.

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San Francisco Supervisors Vote to Decriminalize Psychedelics

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week voted to pass a measure to decriminalize natural psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, giving its unanimous approval to a proposal to reform city policy on the drugs that show promise in the treatment of several serious mental health conditions.

The ordinance calls on the San Francisco Police Department to make the enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession, use, cultivation, and transfer of entheogenic plants and fungi including psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca by adults “amongst the lowest priority for the City and County of San Francisco,” according to the text of the proposal. The ordinance also requests that city resources not be used for “any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.”

The measure notes that psychedelics “can benefit psychological and physical wellness” and “have been shown to be beneficial” for people dealing with addiction, trauma, and anxiety. Additionally, the ordinance encourages the State of California to reform its laws to decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs statewide.

Psychedelics for Mental Health

The proposal was introduced in July by Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston with the support of Decriminalize Nature, a group working to end the prohibition of entheogenic plants and fungi. Noting that the natural drugs have the potential to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, grief and end-of-life anxiety, the group said that there “is an unmet need in San Francisco’s communities for the compassionate and effective care that these medicines provide.”

“I am proud to work with Decrim Nature to put San Francisco on record in support of the decriminalization of psychedelics and entheogens,” Preston said in a statement after the measure was approved by the Board of Supervisors on September 6. “San Francisco joins a growing list of cities and countries that are taking a fresh look at these plant-based medicines, following science and data, and destigmatizing their use and cultivation. Today’s unanimous vote is an exciting step forward.”

After introducing the measure earlier this year, Preston noted that the measure would bring San Francisco policy in line with the movement to look at psychedelics in a new light after decades of stigma and criminalization.

“The law hasn’t evolved at all since then, and these substances are treated the way they always have been,” Preston said. “At the same time, the scientific community has been expanding their study and research into their therapeutic use.”

With the vote from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city is the largest municipality in the country to enact a psychedelics decriminalization measure. Denver was the first city in the nation to decriminalize psychedelics in 2019, and since that time others including Washington, D.C., Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Easthampton, Massachusetts have adopted similar ordinances. And two years ago, voters in Oregon approved pioneering legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use.

The San Francisco ordinance is similar to a California bill introduced by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have decriminalized psychedelics statewide. After facing opposition, the legislation was amended to drop the decriminalization provisions and instead only authorize a study of the drugs.

“While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs,” Wiener said after the bill was gutted. “Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up.”

Joshua Kappel, founding Partner and head of the Entheogens and Emerging Therapies division of the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, lauded the unanimous approval of the ordinance by the Board of Supervisors after the vote.

“This is a great step forward for any city, but it’s surprising it took San Francisco over 3 years after Denver and Oakland decriminalized certain plants and fungi,” Kappel wrote in an email to High Times. “Hopefully, this paves the way for meaningful reform at the state level.”

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