Grammy Award-winning musician Melissa Etheridge has most recently made a name for herself in psychedelic advocacy and policy reform. The artist appeared in Denver on Wednesday not only to perform her hit songs at the Bluebird Theater but to also discuss the benefits of psychedelic therapy in an intimate setting with some of her supporters.
“We live in a very stressful world. We’re all trying our best to live in a problem-solving consciousness, and all those drugs are legal. Your cigarettes, your coffees, your sugars—the things that get you going so you can solve the problems,” Etheridge said. “We need to explore the consciousness of creation and our right brain. We need to have harmony with those two things.”
Etheridge believes that for some, this harmony may come through the utilization of psychedelic plant medicine.
“There’s so much connection here and these plant medicines have been here since the earth was born. You know, these are centuries old. These are in all our old texts, it’s not new. It’s just new that we are finally looking at them and not just outlawing it because they take us into our consciousness. And I believe that exploring your consciousness is a civil right.”
Etheridge carries an intensely personal connection with drug addiction. Her son, Beckett, died at the age of 21 of an opioid overdose in 2020 here in Denver.
“Today I joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction,” Etheridge wrote on Twitter on May 13, 2020. “My son Beckett, who was just 21, struggled to overcome his addiction and finally succumbed to it.”
Determined to fix the broken addiction system that had failed her son, the music icon established the Etheridge Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting new scientific research into the causes and effects of opioid addiction. Although research has been limited due to psilocybin’s Schedule 1 drug classification at the federal level, there have been studies produced that show it’s worth investigating. In 2022, Scientific Reports published a study that found an association between past use of psilocybin and a reduced risk of opioid use disorder. Other studies using participants who smoke or struggle with alcoholism have found more conclusive results that psilocybin may be used as a treatment.
The foundation also researches underlying mental health involved with addiction as well as a heavy emphasis on treatment options outside the scope of pharmaceutical norms.
“I think the discussion of psychedelics and plant medicine is extremely important,” Etheridge said in a video taken from her home last year. “I have a deep belief that these entheogens, these plant medicines that have been on earth since the beginning of time, play a big part and are here for the purpose of helping us humans guide ourselves and our loved ones into the journey.”
In light of Colorado’s legalization of psilocybin mushrooms in Proposition 122, Denver was chosen to host Psychedelic Science 2023. Dubbed the largest psychedelic conference in history, the convention drew in hundreds of expert panelists, thousands of attendees, and even some high-profile guests including the likes of Etheridge and Aaron Rodgers.
Psychedelic Science 2023 is hosted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, and aims to give the community of health & industry professionals as well as legacy practitioners a space to discuss the future of psychedelic medicine with each other and the general public.
Representatives from states who are still examining the legalization of natural psychedelics also showed up to test the waters.
Bryan Hubbard, who serves as chair and executive director of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission was in attendance at the conference. The opioid addiction levels in his state have reached epidemic levels and Hubbard said he was given clearance to attend Psychedelic Science 2023 to search for alternative solutions to this devastating issue.
Esteban Hernandez, a reporter for Axios Local in Denver, said there’s so much going on at the conference that it’s hard to know what to do with yourself.
“The expo is just massive, you walk in there and there are so many people and so many different sessions,” Hernandez said. “You’ll find everything from big conferences to crazy light setups to vendors selling their psychedelic art.”
Etheridge led a panel herself at the Psychedelic Expo on Wednesday titled “Addiction, family, plant medicine, and healing” where she revealed how her foundation is helping to support groundbreaking research in the field of psychedelic therapy as well as her own experiences and personal journey with plant-based medicine and natural therapy.
“I have had my own journey with plant medicine. This is the beginning of the 2000s, this is 2003 or four and right before that I had what I call a ‘heroic dose’—accidental as we do when we don’t understand our edibles,” Etheridge said. “But it was huge for me. It really was a mind-blowing, open experience that I started to see wow, that’s the sort of thing that can change a life.”