This is an exciting moment for the Psychedelic Club of Denver, which was founded in 2016 with the intention to affect policy change and create a community of psychedelic enthusiasts.
“We just think that a lot of healing happens when these substances are consumed in community with people,” says Vice president Elle Estee.
Today, the club has three main focuses – harm reduction via a volunteer-run service that provides free substance testing, education through bimonthly meetings, and benefit maximization, which Estee describes as “integration circles where people can come and share about their psychedelic experiences or other substance related experiences.”
“I think that the lines between recreational and therapeutic are blurred, and that even fun recreational experiences can be really healing,” she said.
Estee addressed a crowd of about 20 prospective and established members at an open mic on a Wednesday evening at the Mercury Cafe, with performances ranging from saxophone serenades to firsthand accounts of acid trips. In order to maintain their non-profit status, only information is exchanged. No drugs are bought or sold.
“If you ask to buy drugs from us, we’ll probably think you’re the Feds and get really sketched out,” Estee said to the group.
Curiosity drove Sam Peterman to attend his first club meeting. While Peterman thinks that experiences can vary greatly on a case-by-case basis, he believes that psychedelics can indeed be beneficial for mental health.
“It just changes the way you think,” he said.
A common thread in the experiences group members shared from the brightly lit stage in the Merc’s jungle room involved getting in touch with one’s deeper self, or even a higher power. This, and the sense of community in finding like-minded people who have had similar experiences using psychedelics, seems to be what has drawn in the club’s roughly 50 members.
A man named Peter has been attending Psychedelic Club meetings since 2018. He’s 52 now and tried psychedelics for the first time at the age of 48 after stumbling upon a few podcasts that piqued his interest.
“I had always dismissed psychedelics as a party drug,” he said. “It just opened up this whole new world and I started researching everything I could and was just amazed at what it sounded like.”
Peter has found that using psychedelics – specifically “macro-dosing” magic mushrooms – has helped him to uncover and deal with suppressed emotions and create what he calls “body memories,” which have given him a reference point for dealing with mental health struggles.
“It’s not like standard medications where you take it and it alleviates your symptoms,” Peter said. “It’s bringing it up to you in a way that you can then work with it.”
The Psychedelic Club of Denver isn’t saying that drugs can’t be harmful, but they believe that using certain hallucinogenic drugs can improve your mental health and they might not be tripping.
The idea of using psychedelics in therapeutic settings is becoming more mainstream. Recent studies have shown that the therapeutic use of psychedelics can help those suffering from PTSD, depression, panic attacks, and a myriad of other mental health issues. There’s no denying that public opinion over the use of psychedelics is shifting, however slowly.
Just as it was with marijuana, Denver is ahead of the game. The city became the first to decriminalize the usage of psilocybin – the chemical that makes magic mushrooms so magical – for those 21 and older in 2019. More recently, in January 2022, a bill was introduced in the Colorado General Assembly proposing the creation of a “policy review panel” “to study the use of plant-based medicines to support mental health.”
That bill failed in April, but its very existence is indicative of the fact that state and local governments across the country are slowly decriminalizing, and even legalizing, the usage of psychedelics.
“We encourage people to make friends in the community,” Estee said. “I’m super grateful for Psychedelic Club, not only because it’s allowed me access to things that I wouldn’t have had access to prior, but also community and the education piece that I need to consume safely.”
The club places a ton of emphasis on the importance of safe consumption.
“Driving cars is very dangerous, unless you know how to drive,” Estee said. “It’s all about education and being set up for success.”
Estee believes that much of the dialogue surrounding drug usage revolves around misconceptions created by the “war on drugs” – a term coined by President Nixon in 1971 that’s still widely used by politicians today, despite criticism that it’s really just a façade for racism – and big pharmaceutical corporations.
While Estee “would not like to see Big Pharma profit off of these sacred medicines that have been used in indigenous cultures” for centuries, she hopes that nationwide decriminalization – with proper regulatory measures – is on the horizon.
“It’s a pipe dream, I know.”
Psychedelic Club of Denver membership is donation based – a suggested $15 per month – but in an effort to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, you can join for as little as $1. Membership includes free access to paid events, exclusive swag, and the opportunity to partake in the club’s free substance checking program. What it doesn’t include is psychedelics.