Far out: A psychedelic gathering at Penn

The first-ever Psychedemia conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend. Researchers, students and artists gathered to share their inspired ideas.
The first-ever Psychedemia conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend. Researchers, students and artists gathered to share their inspired ideas. (JASON NARK / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: October 02, 2012

WHILE THOUSANDS gathered at a rally for Jesus on Independence Mall on Sunday, psychedelic Jesus blotter paper was on sale at an entirely different sort of gathering on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Psychedemia, a three-day academic conference on "visionary art and psychedelic culture," brought several hundred researchers, artists and students to Penn over the weekend to discuss the evolving state of psychedelics in the world. And although the event did feature tables filled with inactive LSD blotter paper, vivid paintings of shamans and dragons and plenty of people with dreadlocked hair, tied-dyed shirts and conspiracy theories, it was the hard science behind recent psychedelic research that helped the conference get the approval of Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.

"This is no hallucination," Matthew Young, a Penn doctoral student, told an applauding audience Sunday after Psychedemia peaked inside Bodek Hall. "This is a physical manifestation of something that is true."

Nese Devenot, a Penn doctoral student and Psychedemia organizer, said about 250 people attended the event from 30 states and eight countries. She'd like to see Psychedemia become an annual event, held at a different university every year.

"Overall, I think it went really well. We had a great mix of academics and art," she said.

In one of the conference's final discussions, Dr. Julie Holland, a New York-based psychiatrist, discussed how MDMA (Ecstasy) and cannabis have been proved to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We've come to a point where you can grow your own medicine," Holland said.

Psychedemia also featured discussions on Timothy Leary, the controversial "godfather" of psychedelics, the use of psychedelics for innovative breakthroughs (Steve Jobs took LSD) and the future of psychedelics in the academic setting.

George Quasha, a poet and artist from Barrytown, N.Y., said Psychedemia was a rare mix of ideas and opinions.

"Most of the time, people don't want to be around anyone who doesn't think like them," he said. "We might be at each other's words here sometimes, but we're certainly not at one another's throats."


Contact Jason Nark at narkj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.

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