We went to 9/20, the Psilocybin Mushroom Day, where conference-goers waxed poetic about the spiritual and medical value of tripping balls.
The back room of the Caravane Cafe in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood was half-heartedly decorated with grey, white, and black balloons. Lights slowly faded from blue to red to green and back, illuminating a small stage on which a thin man stood next to a psychedelic drawing of a mushroom.
It was the Montreal edition of 9/20, a.k.a. the first-ever Psilocybin Mushroom Day, so some concessions to a trippy atmosphere were to be expected. Onstage, the thin man – Gonzo Nieto, the co-chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy – was talking about using fungus to keep prisoners from reoffending.
Studies old and new have shown that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, the active component in shrooms, can keep convicts from reoffending when used in conjunction with therapy, Nieto said.
But that's not all. According to various speakers throughout the day, psychedelic drugs can also help with PTSD, addiction, and spiritual crises large and small.
Given the setting, wild praise for shrooms wasn't surprising. But while there was plenty of talk about how "psychedelics make the universe feel connected," the amazing thing is that everyone backed up their points with data. A lot of data.
The date 9/20 has no special connection to psychedelics. Nieto thinks the date was chosen because it was far enough away from 4/20 that people wouldn't get confused, but also had the number 20 tying them together.
"I think the idea was that of all the drugs that might be poised to follow in the pathway of medical marijuana, mushrooms were the ones that were most likely because they're non-toxic and they do so much healing," said 9/20 Day host and co-organizer Lex Pelger. "One thing they lack is a cohesive thing to bring them together like 4/20 for weed, or Bicycle Day for acid. This is a good way to bring out the advocates for magic mushrooms."
The big difference between 4/20 and its September counterpart is that "you can smoke weed every day, but you don't do shrooms every day," according to Pelger. (Or, at least, you probably shouldn't.)
The crowd at 9/20 Day was young enough that no one was pining for Phil Lesh to play the old shit (though Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies founder Rick Doblin later reminisced via Skype about the fun he had at the recent Grateful Dead farewell shows). Few haircuts could be described as "intentionally unconventional," and I spied a mere two tie-dyed garments. It looked more like a crowd of college kids who enjoyed getting fucked up than a gathering of .moe aficionados. At 30, I felt like the old geezer of the room.
There's been a huge push toward normalising psychedelics, from increasing ayahuasca tourism to medical research on the drugs' potential to treat anxiety, depression, and addiction. I wondered why the 9/20 Day crowd had decided to show up. Were they here to discuss the growing amounts of research, or talk about psychedelics as a salve for a spiritually-starved culture? Or maybe simply because tripping balls is fun?
"Psychedelics are important to our society," said one woman, who asked to be identified as Vanessa K. "I've been using them and encouraging others to use them for healing purposes for a long time."
"I think a lot of people are already interested in this, they've had their own experiences and they're interested in the ongoing research," said 22-year-old attendee Samuel Stathakos.
In other words, psychedelic drugs are clearly really useful for some people. The trouble is that the kind of people who show up to hear about how useful they are usually happen to be the ones who already really like psychedelic drugs for different reasons.
Not that there's anything wrong with using these drugs just to have a good time. "Let's not get down on pleasure," said Pelger. "Nothing wrong with a good orgy every once in awhile."
Doblin was taking his last question from a youngster from the crowd, asking him how to approach his parents about the benefits of psychedelics.
"Show them how they've contributed to your growth and the lessons you've learned from them," Doblin advised. He described a Students for Sensible Drug Policy T-shirt that had a picture of a nuclear family with the slogan: "Kids, have you spoken to your parents about drugs?"
Thinking of my own parents, who actually lived through the 1960s, I can't help but think, If I told my folks I learned lessons from shrooms, they'd find entire new ways to describe how full of shit they think I am.
But for now, the crowd giggled appreciatively. The shroom revolution is not here yet, but with the first 9/20 on the books, perhaps the spores are in the air.
Follow Adam Kovac on Twitter.