While it was billed as a conference for the cannabis curious, it turned out to be much more expansive than that — a three-day event praising the powers of pot, the kick-butt healing magic of kratom and kava, the wonders of ibogaine, and a look at the past, present, and future of psychedelics from a medicinal viewpoint.
“There’s a huge stigma involving plant medicines and psychedelics that is shifting as research becomes more clear that these are actual medicines of value,” says The Arizona Plant Medicine Conference organizer Dan Horner, who sponsors events like this to introduce people to new pathways for healing.
Calling himself an evangelist for helping people improve their health and heal naturally, he noted, “we want to welcome folks who are not necessarily used to this culture, to extend the reach to folks not presently into cannabis or psychedelics. Not only do we need to call an end to an effective war on drugs, we need to replace that effort with an outreach to expand the knowledge of plant-based medicines; talking about it based on research.
“I cured myself from many horrible illnesses outside of the traditional medical system because that system couldn’t help me,” he says, admitting he suffered from multiple illnesses and was a guinea pig for alternative medicine. “It took me four years to regain my health, during which I frequently prayed for death.
“If people are not getting better with what they’re doing, still having physical or mental disorders, there are literally pathways forward that they can use that will work for them. In my case, marijuana, mushrooms, and psychedelics changed my life. Not only are they non-addictive, they provide tons of benefits.”
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That was a consistent theme amongst the more than 300 attendees who self-described as doctors, clinicians, health practitioners, or sufferers of various kinds of ailments from crippling arthritis to MS that alternative medicines could replace or avoid pharmaceuticals to alleviate pain — where other methods had failed.
“These are plants that talk to you,” said shaman medicine man Wind Raven, an ordained minister from the Pasqua Yaqui Nation, formerly addicted to drugs and alcohol. “I was so depressed, I asked Creator to kill me. Instead, he made me a medicine man and provided plants from the land to help me. Native people walk in concert with the land and its plants because for every disease, there is an herb to cure it. Mother Earth would not give you something that would hurt you.”
Among a long list of speakers who were also sufferers was Adriana Tysenn, a director of a local dispensary, who has been in constant pain since a cheerleading accident left her with a spinal cord injury and an opioid problem: “the more I took, the greater my pain. I was a walking zombie who would fall asleep at the dinner table.”
That was before she discovered medical marijuana. “Now, that is my medicine of choice,” she says, noting her regimen of five to seven daily doses of 5-20 mg each.
Telling other stories of healing with plant medicine was ‘CBD Pete’ Sais of California Botanicals, who has assisted some 60 cancer patients under the belief that “when cannabis comes into your body, it attaches itself to the cancer cells and when it leaves, it takes the cancer cells with it.”
Someone else who is very familiar with pain and disability is Tim Sultan, Executive Director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association, who was diagnosed with MS in his college days. “Prescription meds didn’t help, but cannabis did,” says the man who once ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress.
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No stranger to pain and psychosis himself is Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS (Multi-Disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) in Santa Cruz, CA., who spoke to the past, present, and future of psychedelic medicine. He asked if the country was ready for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, a psychedelic medicine renaissance involving meds like legal MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine.
He admitted his journey in that direction began in the early 1980s when he was 18, wearing a “Quest into the Unknown” T-shirt, and was introduced to LSD. “At that time, with great peril, but with great promise as well,” he says of his lifelong career.
Today his non-profit educational and research organization develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts to benefit from careful use of psychedelics. Toward that end, the FDA has fast-tracked MAPS research on MDMA and psilocybin as breakthrough therapies for PTSD. “MDMA is slated for Stage 3 trials, the last set of trials before clinical legalization, potentially as early as 2021,” he said.
Also working on PTSD research is Dr. Sue Sisley, Director of the Scottsdale Research Institute, currently conducting the first randomized controlled crossover clinical trials in the US to test the therapeutic potential of marijuana for PTSD. She indicated that clinical research being done in Israel to determine the efficacy of medical cannabis as a treatment for PTSD “has been very promising”.
Jason Edwards of Southwest Kratom, a lifelong sufferer of knock-you-off-your-feet migraines who once took ”every cocktail you could imagine, including anti-seizure medications,” expounded the benefits of kratom, a cousin of marijuana, and kava, used for anti-anxiety.
“These items won’t solve all your problems, they’re not magic silver bullets, but they do help,” he says, comparing kratom to a form of coffee that dulls pain and acts as a sleep aid.
Speaking on the issue of a slowly-eroding stigma over the use and benefits of psychedelic drugs, Doblin (who earned his PhD on The Medical Uses of Marijuana and Psychedelics) and became a legally-licensed psychedelic therapist, told his audience: “we need to help people tell their stories in a caring environment. Like the LGBT community did, we need to develop a similar ‘coming out’ process for psychedelics.”