//The Central California Psychedelic Summit: Opening the Doors of Perception

The Central California Psychedelic Summit: Opening the Doors of Perception

 By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com

The history of psychedelic use is long, storied, and deeply rooted in both medicine and spirituality. In ancient tribal societies, shamans, oracles, medicine men, and soothsayers regularly imbibed psychedelics such as peyote and mushrooms to achieve enlightenment, communicate with spirits, or see visions of the future. These psychedelics were also administered curatively for a host of mental health ailments long before the concepts of psychology and psychiatric therapy existed. Many primitive cultures believed evil spirits tempting, possessing, or attacking the body and mind caused symptoms of mental illness. Rituals to exorcize these spirits and rid the mind of its illness often involved psychedelics. 

For decades, researchers have been exploring the potential benefits of psychedelics to treat several mental health issues, including PTSD, schizophrenia, compulsive disorders, and addiction. This has led to a burgeoning movement among mental health professionals to destigmatize the use of psychedelics and embrace them as a mental health panacea. Such is the goal of the Central California Psychedelic Summit (CCPS). 

The CCPS is Fresno’s first-ever consortium on psychedelics and their beneficial properties for treating mental health issues, maintaining mental wellness, expanding consciousness, and promoting personal development. The two-day event will occur at the historic Tower Theatre on March 23rd and 24th. 

Co-organizer Jason Williams has worked in social services and psychology for over 20 years. In that time, he has witnessed first-hand the chronic and complex trauma experienced by children and adults who have been victims of abuse, neglect, addiction, and undiagnosed mental health issues. 

“I began researching the ‘psychedelic renaissance’ which refers to how mental health experts have been studying the therapeutic use of LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine to treat symptoms of PTSD in military veterans and chronic addictive behavior in long-term substance abusers,” Williams explains. “The more I learned, the more I was inspired to share this knowledge with the public and promote an open-minded discussion of the benefits of psychedelics.”

Williams and co-organizers Ismail Ali and Keegan Davis created the Central California Psychedelic Summit as an intellectual and collaborative space. Such space will allow presenters to share evidence-based education with the public and encourage community-driven discourse. Speakers will cover numerous topics about the complex relationship between psychedelics, mental health, spirituality, creativity, and personal growth. The goal is to create a forum where people with different ideas can come together, share their knowledge and experience, and explore ways that psychedelics can positively impact the mind and soul.

The two-day event will feature an impressive list of guest speakers. Among them are Dr. Kamal Abu-Shamesh, a specialist in spiritual care, bioethics, and practical theology; Dr. Patil Arman, Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at UCSF; Melissa Whippo LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist; Dr. Felipe Mercado, who was instrumental in TREAT California, a five billion dollar funding initiative to ethically integrate psychedelic medicines into public health, and many other experts at the forefront of the pro-psychedelic movement in the state. 

While many in the mental health industry have advocated the use of psychedelic therapy and treatment for years, the social stigma surrounding the use of psychedelics has been a challenging obstacle to overcome. 

“The war on drugs spread a lot of false narratives that shaped the way most of us view psychedelics,” Williams explains. 

Infamous anti-drug propaganda films like “Reefer Madness’’ and school programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) have influenced public opinion for generations to view psychedelics as the most dangerous and harmful of all controlled substances. Stories of people driven to murder, suicide, self-mutilation, and insanity have created a stigma surrounding psychedelics and the people who use them.

In the 1960s, the “psychedelic movement” emerged as part of the anti-establishment counterculture movement challenging the status quo, namely the long-held social prejudices regarding the use of marijuana and other psychoactive drugs. Leaders of the movement, such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Abby Hoffman, advocated for the use of LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, and other psychedelics to expand consciousness, achieve enlightenment, and promote the intellectual growth and advancement of society. Beat generation writers William Burroughs, Jack Keouac, and Allen Ginsburg famously wrote about and used psychedelics, which popularized their use among the younger generation. The Nixon administration took a hard-line stance against the anti-establishment movement, explicitly targeting the psychedelic movement with hard-line criminal legislation that effectively began the so-called war on drugs. Under the Reagan administration, the war on drugs ballooned into a multi-billion dollar campaign that focused in large part on school-based anti-drug education programs, like D.A.R.E. The result was a significant shift in public opinion against the use of recreational drugs, particularly psychedelics, and cannabis, which were categorized as Schedule One substances – ranking them as more dangerous than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

Although the war on drugs did have a significant negative impact on public opinion for decades, the pendulum has swung back towards a more open-minded viewpoint in recent years. Twenty-four states have legalized recreational cannabis so far, with more states adding measures to the ballot each election cycle. Oregon and Colorado have taken things a step further, expanding their legislation to decriminalize and regulate all recreational drug use. California is currently debating active legislation that would decriminalize psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Several mental health and veterans advocacy groups support the effort. Bolstered by a wealth of research data, experts present a clear connection between low-dose psychedelic therapy and the effective treatment of PTSD and other traumatic mental health disorders. Research exists on the use of this treatment – called “microdosing” – for people who are considered severe on the autistic spectrum. Studies have shown it to effectively manage “meltdowns,” and uncontrollable and often violent emotional outbursts. 

Currently, there are a few cities in California that have passed decriminalization ordinances for psychedelic possession and use. Oakland was the first city in the nation to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics, including psilocybin and ayahuasca, the plant from which DMT is synthesized. Santa Cruz and San Francisco have also followed suit, decriminalizing the adult possession and use of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi. “Entheogenic” refers to any plant-based chemical that produces a “non ordinary state of consciousness” for religious or spiritual purposes. At the state level, “Decriminalize California,” a statewide grassroots effort to legalize psilocybin mushrooms through a voter initiative, picked up considerable momentum before the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, the pandemic lockdown halted in-person signature collection and stalled the effort. State senator Scott Wiener picked up the torch in 2023 when he introduced Senate Bill 58, allowing for the “facilitated or supported use” of psilocybin. The bill would open the door for a wide range of uses, from controlled microdose administration as part of psychedelic therapy to guided high-dosage “spiritual journeys” and individual adult recreational use.

The Central California Psychedelic Summit is the culmination of nearly ten years of work by the organizers to bring a forum of this nature to the Central Valley. In 2023, the largest psychedelic summit in the world took place in Denver, Colorado. Williams, Ali, and Keegan drew inspiration from this event. 

The City of Fresno has a less than stellar track record when it comes to decriminalization and legalization legislation, being among the last Central Valley cities to approve retail cannabis dispensaries. However, public opinion of the legalization effort among Valley residents is overwhelmingly positive. Additionally, Governor Gavin Newsom has indicated a willingness to sign legislation legalizing the use of psilocybin and other entheogenic plants and fungi, spurring legislators to draft a measure that could be on the ballot as early as the next election. In the meantime, the goal of the CCPS is to facilitate a fair, open, and honest discussion about the many uses and benefits of psychedelics, to educate the public, and to dispel the disinformation and misconceptions surrounding their use. 

Among the topics for discussion at the summit are the use of psychedelics in mental healthcare, psychedelic use for veterans to treat PTSD and other trauma-induced conditions, policy, and advocacy, safety, and education, as well as safe use, treatment, and addiction recovery.

Tickets for the event are available through the CCPS website, www.psychedeliccc.com. Tickets are available for the entire summit as well as individual days. For more information about the CCPS, follow them on Instagram @ccpsychedelicsummit, or on Facebook, facebook.com/profile.php?id=61554269573894&mibextid=ZbWKwL