The Women’s Visionary Congress held its first gathering in New York City this month which featured three remarkable women from our east coast community. Katherine MacLean PhD, Allyson Grey, and Julie Holland MD each presented their work at an afternoon salon held Saturday, March 12th at the Alchemist’s Kitchen, an event space on the Lower East Side run by our friends from the Evolver Network. The WVC NYC weekend also included a party at the Rubin Museum where a guide led a private tour of the galleries for WVC members. We had great fun on our visit to the Big Apple and welcomed many new friends from throughout the east coast who came to hear the presenters and meet each other. The rising awareness of psychedelic research and therapies continues to draw an increasingly large number of participants to WVC gatherings and our events in NYC were full of thoughtful and interesting people.

One of our primary reasons for journeying to NYC was to hear Katherine and Julie discuss their groundbreaking research. We had invited both women to speak at our annual event in California for several years and finally determined that we needed to bring the WVC to their hometown. Katherine, who is one of a small number of women conducting research with psychoactive substances, served as a postdoctoral research fellow and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She worked with researchers who examine the impact of psilocybin on personality change and how this substance could enhance mental health and creativity. Her current focus is the role of psychedelics and meditation in preparing individuals for death and healing trauma related to grief.

Katherine is now the director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care program at the Center for Optimal Living in New York City. We attended the Center’s monthly public psychedelic group meeting on March 10th which took place at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. As a complement to the WVC Salon, the Center focused on the topic of “Psychedelics and Gender” for this month’s meeting which offered an excellent opportunity for participants to integrate their psychedelic experiences.

Dr. Julie Holland is a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist with a private practice in New York City. Julie is a former Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and serves as the medical monitor for multiple therapeutic studies investigating the utility of MDMA or cannabis in ameliorating symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is the author of “Weekends at Bellevue,” and the editor of “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA,” and “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to the Risks and Benefits of Cannabis.” Her new book is “Moody Bitches: The truth about the drugs you’re taking, the sleep you’re missing, the sex you’re not having, and what’s really making you crazy.”

Katherine and Julie’s presentations at the WVC Salon focused on how to integrate insights from explorations in expanded consciousness. Katherine began by discussing her research at Johns Hopkins which examined the impact of psilocybin on mystical experiences. 60-70% of the participants in this study reported that it had lasting effects. Katherine argued for more research in this area and noted that therapeutic psilocybin sessions in natural settings can promote fuller bodily healing. She said she believed that psychedelics can help us adjust to and prepare for potentially stressful life events and also for our deaths. Both she and Julie observed that their experiences with psychedelics prepared them well for motherhood. Katherine honored the contributions and sacrifices of Mexican curandera Maria Sabina who brought psilocybin containing mushrooms to western awareness. She concluded her talk by thanking her trainers at Johns Hopkins, especially Mary Cosimano.

Julie began her remarks by pointing out that the U.S. Government has consistently blocked research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis. She noted the current epidemic of opioid use in the U.S. where she said pain medications are overprescribed. While the U.S. consumes 80% of the pain medications worldwide, she points out that many people in other parts of the world don’t have access to pain meds. Julie observed that one in four women in the U.S. is taking some sort of medication for a mental health condition. She believes that cannabis can be used to reduce opioid dosage, mitigate the increase in opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., and offer a less toxic alternative to alcohol and tobacco. Julie noted that cannabis can be a powerful anti-inflammatory and that there are medicinal benefits to recreational use. According to Julie, micro dosing and vaginal absorption of THC, can mitigate the effects of chemotherapy for those undergoing pancreatic cancer. She concluded her comments by noting that the pharmaceutical industry and alcohol producers will likely continue to keep undermining drug law reforms, but that concerned citizens must push back.

Our third WVC salon presenter, Allyson Grey is a painter and social sculptor. She holds an MFA from Tufts University and is a long-time art educator, arts organizer and muse to artists worldwide. Since 1975, Allyson has collaborated with the visionary artist Alex Grey. Together they founded the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a spiritual retreat center for artists outside of New York City. Allyson and Alex paint on stage for thousands of people at gatherings around the world. She began her presentation by showing images of her art and discussed how her first LSD experience inspired her recurrent artistic themes of sacred symbols and secret writing. Allyson also showed images of her lesser-known performance art with Alex. She described her visioning of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, their current Full Moon Ceremonies, and the fundraising campaign that she and Alex have launched to create the Entheon building at CoSM that will house visionary art. Allyson concluded her remarks by noting that her psychedelic experiences have provide insights into running a successful business including emphasizing the importance of imagination, possibilities and forgiveness. For every action pertaining to CoSM, Allyson says she considers the benefits, costs and risks to the project. “Business is social, said Allyson. “Make more friends!”

The WVC Salon was followed a visionary storytelling gathering in Brooklyn co-hosted by the WVC and Psymposia. Emceed by journalist Lex Pelger, the event attracted a sizable crowd and offered participants an opportunity to share compelling experiences, scientific or academic research, and underground explorations with psychedelics and other psychoactives. We contributed own stories and had a fine time meeting members of the Psymposia community. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their storytelling events in a town near you, we suggest you go.

On Sunday, March 13th, the WVC concluded its weekend of events by hosting a tea party and participatory theater performance at the statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends in Central Park near East 74th Street. Entitled “Alice Has Options,” the event encouraged participants to personify and describe different non-ordinary states of consciousness (SOC). The intention of the piece was to acknowledge that there are many ways to access expanded states of awareness – and to look at how some of these states are more culturally accepted than others. Participants described a variety of SOCs including caffeine, the dream state, cannabis, touch, MDMA, Tai Chi, and mushrooms containing both psilocybin and muscarin. Many people visited the statue of Alice during our performance and a number them stayed to share our theatrical moment. Alice, who explores a number of altered states during her journeys in Wonderland, smiled from her perch atop a mushroom.