Mindstates is one of America's pre-eminent conferences and conventions for the global psychedelic community; it consists of three 11-hour days packed full of lectures, panel discussions, vendors, demonstrations, autograph sessions, and schmoozing. Its structure and total devotion to subcultural esoterica is essentially equivalent to that of a baseball card and memorabilia convention or even a gun show.
Obviously, this gathering is geared toward cybershamans, technology-worshipping transhumanists, devotees of Burning Man, herbalists, fans of visionary art, experimental therapists, New Agers, Caucasian Rastafarians, radical evolutionists, and, of course, your classic, tie-dyed '60s hippie, who probably had a difficult time remaining indoors for so damn long when the weather outside was drop-dead gorgeous. Then again, this current psychedelic scene appears more concerned with drug-aided digital connectivity than devouring some 'shrooms and mystically merging with the fauna in and around Mount Tam. Sure, wildly massive techno-tribal events like Burning Man do take place outside, but the natural landscape seems to take a back seat to the concentrated nexus of severely digitized trance music, high-tech gadgetry, and head-swimming laser light shows. In archaic Dead-speak, these incredibly intrepid mind-fuckers are way more Anthem of the Sun than American Beauty.
I arrive on Friday evening shortly before the "Mushroom Panel: R. Gordon Wasson's Psilocybe Discovery -- Reflections and Inspirations." I intend to catch as many lectures as humanly possible for this piece. My plan, however, breaks down immediately after entering the main space and discovering (excuse the pun) a mind-blowing assortment of psychoactive plants for sale. Now, I expected to encounter hippies hawking herbs, books, incense, tribal-techno mix CDs, and psychedelic art, as well as some truly garish skintight T's decorated with hundreds of floating cyber-Buddhas. But never, in my wildest fantasies, did I expect to be perusing tables covered in Ziploc baggage containing near-mythological plants that have been getting our race's shamanic ancestry -- from Oaxaca to Siberia -- zonked since the dawn of time. In all honesty, this is a real dream come true. So, immediately following Mike Crowley's presentation, "The Secret Drugs of Buddhism," I begin a shopping spree that I will call "Operation: Tripping Balls."
My first buy of the weekend is from a knowledgeable man in a khaki ball cap; he resembles your typical organic pumpkin-patch attendant, and he delivers a $25 vial of Salvia divinorum extract.
"Can this shit get me high?" I ask him.
Right away, he knows I'm a rookie. My lingo is too "from the streets" for his liking. So, he slips a pamphlet into my hand and sternly orders me to "read it before using this stuff." According to these safety guidelines, "People report traveling to different places and periods of time" when using this shit.
I flash this tiny bottle of "Sally-D" to a friend (and veteran psychedelic-drug experimenter) also attending the conference, and he informs me that Salvia divinorum can work, but it's notoriously unreliable and the high doesn't last too long. Later that night, my wife and I smoke roughly a quarter of the bottle within the confines of our living room. We both giggle our asses off for approximately 16 minutes. She then claims an alien presence has entered the room, but I am not fortunate enough to sense it. Fuck.
I expand my search on Saturday and mill about a table where a couple of Canadians are dealing in some heavy-duty, top-shelf, organic psychedelics. I make numerous passes by their goods because, quite frankly, Operation: Tripping Balls has replaced the panel discussions as my primary impetus for attending this conference, which is not to imply that the presentations I did catch (16 in three days) were underwhelming. Let's just say I am now craving "the trip" over listening to folks merely talking about "the trip." As I see it, acquiring direct knowledge is the only way to go when dealing with this scene. Thus, I purchase two 25-gram bags of the Trichocereus peruvianus cactus (aka "dry green flesh"); each $40 bag holds the minimum recommended dosage of this mescaline-containing cactus, which, according to the dude I bought it from, produces a high somewhat comparable to peyote -- a substance the late, great Jim Morrison voraciously consumed, causing him to experience visions of naked Native Americans. So, yeah, this is the big time.
But, I'm still not satisfied, and upon my return to the conference on Sunday, I finally approach this little, balding gentleman with a rust-tinted 'stache who has been standing quietly behind a wall of freshly severed San Pedro cacti for the past three days. Each one is a 2-by-5-inch green phallus, individually wrapped in newspaper and accompanied by a set of finely detailed instructions for cultivation, which means I'm capable of consuming the recommended dose and then sticking the remainder in a bucket full of gravel to keep it alive and growing. Of course, the nature of the high that the San Pedro cactus produces supposedly varies wildly from trippy to speedy. A few heads around the conference explain that the efficacy of this plant is hotly debated within the psychedelic community. These facts do not deter me from giving this man the very last $50 in my wallet for not one but two cacti.
Unfortunately, I acquire these specimens around 2 in the afternoon, requiring me to then lug them around the conference for nine more hours. It's an arduous task demanding a certain level of physical endurance that I just do not possess after three days of incessantly daydreaming about shedding this mortal coil and joining my new psychedelic friends up on some metaphysical plane of pure light. I do try to remain mobile, but, after a couple more hours, this shit proves to be way, way too heavy.
So, I head on over to the "chill pad," a small area consisting of body pillows, tapestry wall-hangings, and a postmodern cyberaltar covered in fresh flowers and various Eastern-flavored ephemera that glow in the dark. In front of which a robed woman is wrapped up like a pretzel chanting to herself. I scan other "chill pad" denizens and follow protocol by removing my shoes and curling up on one of the myriad body pillows. I quickly fall asleep with a huge fucking cactus tucked underneath each arm. Who says the psychedelic age is dead? It's just getting started, one cactus at a time. (Justin F. Farrar)