If the popular rise of drugs in mainstream culture is any indication of the times - just think how many viewers caught the finale of Breaking Bad - perhaps we need to especially reconsider the use of psychedelic drugs.
More method than madness, London's second Breaking Convention on psychedelic consciousness was - well, truly mind-tweaking. Thronged with neo-hippies, former addicts, and the academic elite alike (including the hands-down "rock star" of the psych science world, Dr. David Nutt), this multidisciplinary three-day conference felt less like nostalgia for Woodstock and more like an ultra-relaxed, neuroenlightened university of the future. Rather than just groovin' along to rainbow-dappled music or scrambling for spiked Kool-Aid, everyone that I met was overeager to discuss the revolutionary therapeutic and neurocognitive potential of psychs like MDMA, DMT, and Ayahuasca, to name a few.
Where else would I have been able to kick-start my morning with a Kundalini yoga workshop, before stockpiling on madcap lectures like "Altered States of Time: Faery and the Celtic Lunar Calendar," and "Drugs, Pleasure, and Sexual Experiences: a cross-sectional internet survey by the Global Drugs Survey"? All before catching a late-hour Neutrons to Nirvana screening?
Despite their diverse areas of expertise, all of Breaking's international nonprofit speakers, experts, and enthusiasts were in universal accord over one issue - that psychedelic drugs should be legalized in the UK. Here's why:
Max Freakout, Psychedelic Philosopher
You spoke on "The Cognitive Phenomenology of Mind Manifestation"?
MF: Yes, its the study of what happens inside the mind of a person when they've taken mushrooms or LSD.
I appreciate how you break it down so clearly.
MF: Well, I try not to be too trippy. I want to be dry, rigorous, and logical. You can actually talk about psychedelic experiences in great detail and convey meaningful information. Its quite a lazy stereotype that these types of experiences are ineffable, beyond language.
MF: Terrence McKenna, a famous psychedelic bard, used to say: "Take five grams of mushrooms alone in silent darkness, and that will completely blow your mind."
Terry, Retired Psychiatric Nurse & Psychedelic Enthusiast
Did you learn anything new at "Breaking"?
T: Yeah, the use of LSD helps people to accept end-of-life. You feel yourself becoming a part of everything, which detracts enormously from the fear of dying. I also heard some excellent lectures about treating addiction with Ibogaine, from West Africa. It induces extraordinary self-review. In small doses, it also stops withdrawal.
Would it have helped you as a nurse if you'd been able to use psychedelics to rehabilitate drug addicts?
T: Yes, most definitely.
Do you remember your best trip?
T: 1968. An LSD trip on top of Shooter's Hill, with British sunshine on the outside and Californian sunshine on the inside. Since then, life has never been the same...
Ashleigh Murphy, Mindfulness Instructor
Should psychedelic drugs be legalized in the UK?
AM: For medicinal uses, definitely. Our society doesn't have a structure for the ceremonial healing use of psychedelics. If you look at festivals, they are unconscious outpourings of people coming together, letting go - that's the only setting we know to express that.
Were you disappointed with the lack of female speakers?
AM: Yes, I think there should have been more. There's a stereotype for spiritual guides - all the gurus in the world are mainly men.
What is your favorite psychedelic drug?
AM: Ayahuasca. I've drunken several times. It's used specifically for healing. Its important not to become too lost in all the pretty colors - you're there to learn, to grow. Ayahuasca is a self-evolutionary tool; if you don't go and act upon the lesson you've been taught, next time you'll be given pretty much the same lesson.
Alexander Beiner, Psychedelic Theorist (right in photo)
Why are psychedelic drugs demonised in the UK and Europe?
AB: I don't know, since the UK has a strong pagan tradition and its certain druids took shrooms.
What do you think the government is afraid of?
AB: Any kind of substance that will make people question what they've been told. Tolerated drugs are the ones that let you forget for a while, like alcohol. Psychedelics don't make you hurt people, but alcohol does, obviously.
Congo Binghi-Nyah, Rastafari Activist
Are you a Breaking speaker?
KM: Yes, I spoke about The Tree of Life, which is our true identity. It's a world concept that has been developed by Rastafarians.
Why is ganja your favourite psychedelic drug?
KM: When I was very sick with asthma as a child, I took it. It cured me after three days. Since then I've never had asthma again. People might call it a miracle, but others would call it an accurate science. Rastafarians are professionals at using herbal sacraments like cannabis for healing and therapy.
Would it be a better world if everyone smoked weed?
KM: Its not for everyone. Its a calling, a mixture of biology and destiny. Herbs inspire in us an "ecstatic trance," which you can only otherwise get through "privacy" - sexual intercourse.
Andrea, Neuroscience Researcher
What brought you to the convention?
A: I came as a reminder for what I've done in the past...I was addicted to certain substances, but then the acid I took completely stopped it and my side effects. Even though the government tried to deny it, my suffering was gone. If it helped me, it can help others.
Dr. Ash, Speaker on "Psychedelics and Amplification of the Observer Effect in Quantum Chaos"
What did you share at the convention?
Dr. A: How the consequences of the mind - being embedded or enmeshed in reality in a way that we don't fully understand - are amplified when there's more consciousness running through your brain. Normally you're walking around with a glassful of consciousness. When you take psychedelics, its like you're walking around with a tankerful.
Should academics like yourself include firsthand accounts of their research?
Dr. A: In an ideal world you would, but its career suicide. The establishment is very conservative and middle class, law-abiding.
What is your favorite psychedelic drug?
Dr. A: Well, I like to extract DMT from menosa hostilis root bark, and smoke it. I know its not contaminated, going to last for five minutes, and doesn't have any deleterious effects. I wrote some of my Phd thesis while on it.
Dr. A: England's got the Liberty Cap mushroom - you can actually eat it from the ground like a cow. You're still allowed to do that, but you can't actually touch it with your fingertips. It's a breach of human rights. To make nature illegal is fucking preposterous.
The next UK Breaking Convention on psychedelic consciousness takes place in 2015.
All photos property of Christine Jun.