Over the past decade, the widespread progress of U.S. cannabis legalization has spawned major growth in the cannabis event space. From massive educational conferences like MJBizCon to the integration of consumption-friendly activations at events in recreationally legal states, the stoner stigma is becoming a mindset of the past.
In 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and in January, the state will usher in its use in clinical settings. Simultaneously, Colorado will roll out its initial decriminalization measures from Proposition 122 surrounding the possession and personal use of psilocybin and psilocin, with “health centers” projected to launch by 2024.
What do these progressive policies mean for psychedelic events? Will we see people gathering in legal states for summits where guided psychedelic trips are scheduled at noon in Ballroom A anytime soon? Although this type of programming might take a while to integrate, psychedelic conferences experienced a major surge in 2022–and they’re only projected to expand as we head into the first year of what industry folks are calling the “Shroom Boom.”
“We hope that many other states will follow suit and anticipate that members of the public, from the psychedelic-curious to the renowned expert, will be hungry for a growing range of psychedelic event offerings,” says Betty Aldworth, director of communications for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
From conference producers to exhibitors to brand reps, we spoke with a variety of players in the psychedelic event space to learn what’s slated for 2023...
Why MAPS Is on a Mission
In 2022, MAPS presented at and sponsored a dozen conferences and summits, including psychedelic-driven conventions like Horizons NYC, Horizons PNW, and Breaking Convention, as well as more mainstream productions like SXSW. The organization even ventured abroad to sponsor the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research in the Netherlands.
“Our goal at any conference is to continue to change the way people think about, talk about, and consume psychedelics through our research, education, and policy work,” Aldworth shared. “We value any platform where we get to spread the word about the important work we’re doing in researching MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD–especially when the audience could be helped, or help others, address the epidemic of trauma."
Aldworth added that while conferences always serve as a great time to connect with old friends and colleagues, there’s no better place to meet all the new people joining the “psychedelic renaissance.”
Why Doctors Are Joining More Conference Panels
Dr. Michelle Weiner, DO, MPH, is an integrative pain management physician based in South Florida who provides both cannabis and ketamine treatment. She believes psychedelic centers should be interdisciplinary and collaborative, where pain doctors, integrative psychiatrists, and functional neurologists can work with mental health practitioners to treat the whole patient, not the disease or symptoms.
In 2022, Dr. Weiner participated in a slew of events, including PAINWeek in Las Vegas, Cannadelic Miami, and Wonderland Miami, where she was a moderator and panelist discussing the personalization of ketamine administration—the dissociative anesthetic is legal to utilize for treatment in the U.S. when administered by registered practitioners.
Additionally, her team hosted a booth on the exhibition floor.
“I wanted the psychedelic medical industry to know that my team in South Florida is practicing ketamine-assisted psychotherapy with respect for the medication and the process,” she said. “I wanted to network with others who are doing research and share my research. I also wanted my team of nurses, coaches, and nurse practitioners to see the landscape of the industry and get excited about the future of medicine and well care.”
Dr. Weiner added that she's looking forward to continuing the spread of her pro-ketamine gospel in 2023, especially at Psychedelic Science in Denver next June.
Why Filmmakers Are Exhibiting
Filmmakers like Maxi Cohen are also entering the psychedelic events space to educate using multimedia mediums. Cohen considers herself a student and practitioner of ayahuasca for more than 30 years and is currently working on her third film about the plant-based psychedelic called Ayahuasca Diaries, which pays homage to tribal shamans in Central and South America.
“Screening films at psychedelic conferences is important,” Cohen said. “You don’t know who is in an audience.”
Following the screening of a rough cut of From Shock to Awe at a MAPS conference in 2015, Cohen said she got involved to help complete the film and help get it out into the world. “From there, people from different countries seeing its value expressed plans to show it to people in international governments wanting to impact drug policy," she explained.
Cohen added that she feels the importance of community and gratitude at these gatherings, and that she enjoys getting to know people better who she might see but does not really know. “Of course, making an independent film you need community in many ways—for the emotional support to the financial, for feedback, ideas for distribution and outreach, for all that comes from hanging out and conversing.”
Like Dr. Weiner, Cohen expressed interest in making her way to Denver for Psychedelic Science. She has high hopes she will raise the funds needed to finish her latest film (MAPS is her fiscal sponsor) to then premiere it at the MAPS-backed conference in June.
What New Psychedelic Brands Hope to Gain
Additionally, psychedelic brand reps have been attending events to learn, network, and further associate themselves with the space. Courtney Sperlazza is the managing director of Mindbetter, a website that provides resources to navigate the future of psychedelic medicine and emerging therapies. The startup launched in August and comprises a small team of writers who specialize in research and education. Sperlazza and her team attended two large-scale conferences in 2022: Horizons NYC and Wonderland Miami.
“The psychedelics space is constantly evolving, and I think we all understand that learning is an ongoing part of the program if you’re going to be involved in psychedelics in any capacity,” Sperlazza said. “We knew from the outset that we have blind spots, and we wanted to be aware of the conversations happening through lenses that are different from ours. Corporations, investors, religious leaders, traditional healers, medical doctors, therapists, policymakers—everyone comes with different priorities.”
Attending these events is critical to her team’s mission, who have committed to serving as an objective source of information that reports on many different aspects of psychedelics. Along their journey, she noted some of their positive event takeaways. For example, the Wonderland Miami smartphone app included an “Ask the Crowd” feature, which Sperlazza said would’ve been more useful if more attendees knew to interact that way ahead of time. (Attendees would post inquiries and introductions and schedule on-site meetups for face-to-face chats.)
In terms of what she’d like to see at the forefront of 2023: more discussions surrounding affordability and accessibility.
“There are a lot of these concerns that companies and economists discussed, and I sense that these conversations are just the tip of a deep, deep iceberg,” she said. “Accessibility is a piece I’d love to see as a priority issue to address. Mental health is in crisis globally, and these treatments need to reach the people who need them most, regardless of socioeconomic status, and [geography].”
As for 2023’s conference lineup, Sperlazza said she and her team are still in the process of choosing from the wide array ahead.
Mantras, Planning, and the Rollout of Psychedelic Science 2023
With so much to do at many different summits, the MAPS organization knows planning with purpose is key.
“The mantra that’s been going around in our planning is, ‘You don’t remember days, you remember moments,’” Aldworth said. “Our guests are going to remember and take away the moments we are trying to create with our programming, so we are focusing on creating a remarkable and unique experience."
In terms of MAPS’ top three planning tips, Aldworth said to “find a terrific production partner, make sure you’re engaging your community and audience in design, and keep everything impeccably organized.”
As the new year nears, MAPS has several projects on deck, but Psychedelic Science 2023 scheduled for June 19-23 seems to be one of the most highly anticipated events of the year, according to those we spoke to in the industry. With more than 10,000 attendees expected over the course of five days, MAPS, in collaboration with Momentum Events, already have more than 300 speakers confirmed and over 125 sponsorship commitments.
“We’re really excited to welcome the psychedelic world to Denver for our Psychedelic Science 2023 conference,” Aldworth noted. “We selected Denver and the state of Colorado for their history of progressive drug policy laws, their long-established psychedelic community, and their gorgeous downtown scenery. Especially after the state passed Proposition 122, decriminalizing six psychedelic substances, we thought this city would be welcoming to the people and programming we plan on bringing.”
And although Aldworth said MAPS can’t reveal too much yet, she could say they are building a conference that will offer something to everyone in the psychedelic space, along with plenty of conversations that are rarely seen at other conferences.
“We have programming and tracks for the psychedelically curious to seasoned experts and everyone in between," she explained. "We’re working hard to ensure this will be a very inclusive conference by focusing on marginalized communities not often highlighted in the psychedelic space.”
If MAPS can achieve these goals, the organization expects its following and brand to grow year to year as psychedelics continue becoming more mainstream in the U.S. Additionally, the organization will head overseas to join Psychedelic Medicine – Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as the Psychedelics as Medicine Conference in Reykjavik in 2023.
Finally, Meet PsyCon
Furthermore, 2023 calls for the first installments of PsyCon, a duo of psychedelic conventions that will feature diverse panels, exhibits from top companies, and space for meaningful networking and conversation. First up is the Portland, Ore. event, which will take place May 12-20, 2023, followed by the Denver event, which is slated for Sept. 29-30, 2023. The team behind PsyCon comes from the Lucky Leaf Cannabis Expos, which organizes five to seven shows per year.
It's no coincidence the PsyCon camp chose to host in Portland and Denver, respectively. It was admittedly also a strategic move based on recent policy changes. “Things are shifting in the psychedelic space,” said Chad Sloan, PsyCon co-founder and partner. “More awareness is spreading, and the benefits are becoming more and more recognized and studied by people. The Shroom Boom is coming."
What can attendees expect from PsyCon’s debut? There will be a wide range of speakers that spotlight everything from legalization to cultivation and sales to marketing.
“There is no one particular topic that is more important than the other,” Sloan offered. In addition, Sloan recognized the obvious growth and competition in the events field—especially with Psychedelic Science sandwiched between both PsyCon conferences.
His plan? “To focus on our brand and what we plan to do differently from our competitors.”