CFP – Psychedelics, Madness, and Awakening Conference

Call for Papers and Presentations

Psychedelics, Madness, and Awakening: Harm Reduction and Future Visions

October 2020
Online Conference

Statement of Values: As an alliance of academics, practitioners, activists and people with lived experience of mental distress and non-normative states, we are committed to honoring historically, culturally, inter- and intra-personally marginalized voices. We stand in solidarity with past and present uprisings against white supremacy and other ongoing forms of colonization, and we support calls for an end to psychiatric brutality and incarceration.

The overlaps in the experiences produced by psychedelics and those labeled ‘psychotic’, ‘manic’ or ‘schizophrenic’ have a long history pre-dating modern psychiatry. Psychedelic prohibition at the end of the 1960s brought a rigid polarization against states considered “psychotic” in biomedical, underground, and “spiritual emergence” discourses. Psychedelics caused madness for the “ego weak” or were too dangerous for anyone who had ever gone mad – or had a family member who went mad. Yet despite prevailing views of strict contraindication, people with experiences diagnosed as manic, bipolar, or psychotic continue to take psychedelics, and some people with these diagnoses have found these substances useful for healing and recovery. This conference proposes that in this era of psychedelic revival, it is time to re-examine this rigid polarization and ask what future visions of harm reduction we might collectively imagine.

We invite papers, presentations, and personal contributions that explore how psychedelics and entheogens are, have been and could be understood in relation to madness, including experiences called psychosis, bipolar, and schizophrenia. The event will be donation-based and we hope to make this conversation accessible to a wide range of participants and communities.

To that end we welcome proposals from:

  • scholars in diverse fields, including history, anthropology, religious studies and mad studies
  • people with lived experience of madness
  • scientists and researchers
  • clinicians and therapists
  • ceremony leaders and guides
  • psychiatric survivor-researchers
  • psychonauts, artists, and other creative visionaries
  • festival goers and supporters
  • harm reduction/drug policy reform advocates and prison-industrial-complex (PIC) abolitionists
  • the broad psychedelic, mad pride and survivor communities

We hope to include presentations and discussions around the following themes and questions:

  • Histories and legacies of anti-psychiatry and their intersection with romanticized narratives about indigenous traditions, shamanism, and mysticism
  • The racial inequities of psychedelics, madness, and spirituality, including racialized histories of incarceration in penal and psychiatric contexts. How do these histories intersect with other historical and structural inequities including gender, class, and ableism? What visions do we want to realize for the decolonization of pharmaceutical and medical institutions?
  • What issues surround medicalization in both the psychedelic and mad/psychiatric survivor’s communities? How do critical analyses of medicalization in both the psychedelic and mad/psychiatric survivor communities intersect with one another?
  • When might extreme experiences be seen as spiritually meaningful or transformative, and who decides? How do these experiences help us re-imagine spirituality and mysticism, spiritual ‘crisis’, ‘spiritual emergency’, ‘initiation’, and ‘awakening’?
  • How is the current rehabilitation of psychedelics rendering some altered states as acceptable, while others are (re)pathologized?
  • How could shifting discourses in mainstream psychiatry around psychotic disorders be brought into conversation with emerging medical discourses on psychedelics?
  • Harm reduction practices and community resources for working with people in extreme states, including those with prior diagnoses, states triggered by difficult trips, within spiritual and ceremonial contexts and in the midst of public health crises such as COVID-19.
  • The enrollment of psychedelic substances into past, current, and new forms of psychiatric brutality, including clinical drug testing of psychedelics​
  • Sexual and therapeutic violence in both the psychedelic and mad/psychiatric survivors communities: how can we learn from the past and create new community care approaches?
  • What are the intersections between psychedelic capitalism and psychiatric capitalism?
  • Similarities and differences in supporting and holding space for madness and psychedelic experiences
  • Personal psychedelic accounts, including experiences understood as a form of madness and those that go beyond simple salvation narratives
  • Death and grief work surrounding friends and family members harmed by psychedelic use or psychiatric care
  • Legal considerations for working with extreme experiences, including community models as alternatives to existing legal structures

Please submit 200-300 word descriptions of papers, presentations, performance art pieces, films, personal testimonies, and art/video installations by July 15, 2020.

In addition to the description, we invite you to share a little bit about yourself and your interest in the conference. Live on-line participation at the event or pre-recorded submissions are welcome. Invitations to participate will be sent out by August 1, 2020 and formal scheduling of the event will be based on participants’ availability.

To submit a proposal, please email the conference organizers at

Conference website: