By Rachel Swan
British Countess Amanda Feilding began taking LSD as a comparative religions student at Oxford. Five decades later, she describes her first trips with aplomb.
"I thought it was ... very similar to mystical experiences I'd read about, and I came up with a hypothesis of how it worked on the brain," says Feilding, now 70.
Feilding sat in the lobby of Oakland Marriott Hotel with her filmmaker son and his friend, the luxury department store heir Omar Fayyed as she spoke with us about her life as a renowned drug researcher. Feilding conducts clinical trials on ecstasy and magic mushroom use in Russia and the UK; Fifteen years ago she launched her own charitable trust called the Beckley Foundation, and now she's using it to advocate for productive use of psychedelic drugs.
Ecstasy can cure depression -- the "biggest scourge to modern society," she says. It can help war veterans uncover and expel violent memories. It can unstop mental blocks and help artists lose their inhibitions. Talk to Feilding for 20 minutes and she might convince you that legalizing these drugs would be an easy fix for many social ills.
She certainly has an audience in Oakland, which is still clinging -- perhaps futilely -- to its image as a marijuana hotspot. This week the Beckley Foundation is sponsoring a five-day conference at the Oakland Marriott, attracting a motley crew of drug enthusiasts, policy reformers, hemp-cloth-wearers, mystics, and grizzled veterans to its panel discussions and workshops.
Called thePsychedelic Science 2013, it may be the most extravagant drug conference that doesn't involve an EDM stage show. It does, however, include a Sunset Cruise and a party at 1015 Folsom St. to celebrate the LSD's 70th birthday. There will also be a lot of pro-drug evangelizing.
Even with the recent crackdown on Oakland's medical marijuana industry, psychedelic drugs seem to be enjoying a new renaissance -- and old, earthy academic-types are as apt to use them as young ravers and punks. The workshops at Psychedelic Science honed in on practical uses for your Molly pills, from fighting alcoholism, to alleviating mood disorders, to easing pain at the end of life.
Famed South Carolina couple Michael and Ann Mithoefer -- who've already drawn attention from Oprah -- will share research they've done with firefighters and cops suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Doctor Anthony Bossis will discuss research he's done to cure anxiety in cancer patients. One Vietnam vet at the Mithoefer's pre-conference workshop says he takes ecstasy once a month now, and he's bought into the philosophy whole cloth.
To many of the initiated, these drugs are a panacea.
Of course, not everybody buys it. Feilding says that many academics are reluctant to join her projects for fear of spoiling their careers. And while the Beckley Foundation appears to be coasting along just fine -- Feilding works with multiple British universities and with Johns Hopkins in the United States -- other such organizations have trouble filling their coffers, owing to what Feilding calls an ingrained "taboo."
Still, there's hope of courting a younger generation with disposable income and fewer qualms about drug use. Feilding said she was at a party with a bunch of technocrats the other night (she won't say who) pitching them on ideas about the salutary use of marijuana. And guess what? They totally dug it.