At professional cannabis events, quiet talk about psychedelics

At professional cannabis events, quiet talk about psychedelics

VicesOctober 19, 2017 By Reilly Capps

No product has a label as talkative as Dr. Bronner’s soaps. A wall of text about “All-One!” and the “moral ABC’s.” If the product wasn’t so full of hemp oil, you'd think the writer was on meth.

The human behind the label, David Bronner, grandson of the founder, is the opposite – nearly as quiet as the labels are verbose.

But he shocks people anyway. More than most CEOs of most $100-million a year companies do. 

At the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium in Denver, Bronner’s keynote address was expected to be about green cannabis: efficient lighting, regenerative soils. The point of the event, after all, was to promote the Cannabis Certification Council, an organic, fair-trade label for pot, which Dr. Bronner's underwrites. But David Bronner's takeaway point was more breathtaking: to get folks to care about the planet, and to care about organic marijuana, we need them to do more drugs.

“LSD in the water supply,” Bronner said. He was joking. We think. But he was serious in saying that acid, mushrooms and ibogaine quickly turn people into environmentalists. “By the age of 21, everyone needs to have a psychedelic experience.”

The crowd at the gray-carpet, dim-lighting Embassy Suites ballroom laughed uncomfortably and shifted in their chairs, as if Bronner had just mentioned cockfighting, sex work or voodoo. Cannabis industry folks, especially at professional conferences like these, look more like insurance salespeople than Tommy Chong, wearing the pleated Dockers and tucked in office shirts of middle-school guidance counselors. They negotiate leases. They form marketing plans. A shockingly high percentage of them don’t even smoke weed. 

Bronner’s message, though, is part of a larger society-wide discussion rethinking psychedelics, the hallucinating drugs of the Sixties. They aren't horrible and shouldn't be illegal, the argument goes. They might actually be good.

At the edges of the pot world, in the quiet hallways and back rooms of conferences and meetings like this, if not during the keynotes, discussions of psychedelics are rarely more than a few sentences away, as the same folks who legalized cannabis are fixing their eyes toward liberating other drugs they see as helpful – like LSD, which shows promise as a headache medicine, mushrooms, which can erase the fear of death – as well as embracing hot new trends like microdosing

Whispers are rising to an indoor voice. Lawyers bring up the mushroom legalization campaign. Doctors talk about the medical studies.

[The Silverton Room at the Embassy Suites in Denver. This is where discussions about psychedelics happen now. Photo by Will Rutledge.]

Kayvan Khalatbari, a cannabis entrepreneur and candidate for Denver mayor, said the high-level business people he knows have benefited from psychedelic experiences. Their experiences have led him to consider radical stances on drug policy. “The activist and advocate in me says, decriminalize all drugs today,” Khalatbari said. It's unlikely; but, as mayor, he’d be open to studying it. 

A sense of mission powers these folks: the climate is changing, we need a quick fix it, and nothing shifts minds faster than a peak drug experience. “We live in this Matrix,” said eco-consultant Kevin Gilford, of consumerism and fossil-fuel use, “and until we take this pill and see what’s behind, things aren’t going to change.” 

This is David Bronner's argument. Bronner, sounding more woo-woo than Wall Street, told the crowd that he “just got back from a pretty massive iboga experience,” which reconfirmed his idea that the “demons” of rapacious capitalism can be “exorcised through medicine work,” which “burns out some of our lower karma.” How drug users, “rather than dropping out,” should be “dropping in,” and “the whole world will benefit greatly [if business leaders] used integrative psychedelic medicine.”

 

[The label on Dr. Bronner's soaps.]

This is the old long-hared, long-dead, tie-dyed Sixties dream, cynics say – might as well bring back Vanagons and bell-bottoms. 

Bronner, too, thinks reform has limits. He fears efforts to legalize mushrooms in Oregon are likely to fail. Instead, he hopes mushrooms will be approved as medicines by the Food and Drug Administration, since science is on the reformers’ side. Trials are going on now.

It’s why Bronner is working with other business leaders to raise $75 million for psychedelic research. His company has already donated $5 million to the psychedelic research outfit MAPS, making hippies love Dr. Bronner’s even more.

Tellingly, Bronner wouldn’t say which CEOs are collaborating on fund-raising. Still too “spicy,” as he says. But eventually they, too, will probably start talking to audiences like these. 

[Cover photo: David Bronner talks to an attendee at the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium. Photo by Will Rutledge.]