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Trip out, don’t drop out: academics meets psychedelics


Psychedelics Society pic

One of the University of New Hampshire’s more unconventional clubs is set to have its third meeting this evening.

Two philosophy majors, Eric Moore and Brian Waterhouse, have concocted a plan for the UNH Psychedelics Society which they hope will carry on to future generations of undergraduate students.

“There is no place nor class at UNH that encourages an open enquiry into psychedelics,” Moore said. “Since this was lacking, I felt that it would be proactive in creating that space.”

Moore and Waterhouse say they seek to break down the current stigma surrounding hallucinogens with the research they have been doing, and allow an educational sanctuary for students or even non-students to voice the questions that are not typically answered in the classroom.

“The goal of the UNH Psychedelics society is to peel back the remaining layers of stigma surrounding psychedelics, entheogens, hallucinogens, psychoactive substances – whatever one wishes to call them,” Waterhouse said. “We hope to provide a space for students to learn more about what makes this particular class of compounds so significant, and what role they can play in evolving the public conversation surrounding psychedelics.”

The two founders met last semester in their philosophy workshop and instantly bonded over their deep interest in philosopher Terence McKenna, who has had much influence on the study of psychedelics in the world of philosophy.

Waterhouse recalled how one particular McKenna quote set the idea into motion: “If the words ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”

Waterhouse said these underlying principles are the origin of the Psychedelic society.

“From there, we began discussing how we could organize a safe space where students with a shared interest in altered states or psychedelics could meet and discuss these ideas and their implications,” Moore said. “If only there was a place to organize like-minded people, it could act as a force to help reduce the stigma towards psychedelics and further our inquiry into them as well.”

The club meets weekly, and each session begins with an objective concept, either broad or very narrow, which is then open for discussion and debate.

“These subjects will pertain to psychedelics in some form of the interdisciplinary perspective, or in other words a broadened perspective of knowledge. From there, Moore and Waterhouse hope the conversation will branch into in-depth and critically thought-out ideas regarding all aspects of society through the ages, and life in general.

“In just about every subject,” Waterhouse said, “whether it’s spirituality, psychology, philosophy, history, art, medicine, biology, anthropology, politics or chemistry, I believe psychedelics have a huge contribution to make to our understanding of the world.”

They would like to have an array of guest speakers and professors who all share different perspectives on hallucinogens, whether it be in favor of the principle behind psychedelics, against it, or merely neutral. They also welcome any students or even non-students with any of these perspectives to come share.

They would like to focus on some of the works, studies and personal lives influenced by this particular subject matter, including Stanislav Grof, Graham Hancock, Carl Jung, Terence Mckenna, Rick Strassman and David Lewis-Williams as a preview.

Moore believes his research has found that religious factors, an oppressive government, and the overall normative culture are often key factors in stigmatization of psychedelics.

“It seems their aversion towards these states of consciousness or substances are irrationally based on fear,” Moore said. “Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of loss of control. In organizing this club I hope to reduce the fear and exchange it with openness and understanding.”

At the same time, however, UNH Psychedelics emphasizes that this is not an environment to promote drugs in any way, but a comfortable place for students to consider all aspects of psychedelics and voice their opinions and skepticisms: the psychedelic impact on society throughout history, and the continuing impact they potentially have on society today.

“I would ask those who are skeptical to look at the history of psychedelics and the current research being done with them,” Waterhouse said. “Cultures around the world have used psychoactive plants for healing and spiritual purposes without any apparent negative consequences for thousands of years.”

“More speculatively, there are some who think there’s good reason to believe that the consumption of psychoactive plants and fungi by our pre-historic ancestors gave rise to human intelligence as we know it, that we wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for psychedelics. Would be kind of ironic if it turned out to be true, eh?”

Based on some of Waterhouse’s research, he has found that certain types of hallucinogens including psilocybin (otherwise known as “magic mushrooms”), DMT and many other psychoactive substances can lead to profound revelations, mystical and unexplainable self-experiences, and in some cases help ease psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and a plethora of other mental illnesses.

“But like any powerful tool, psychedelics can be used beneficially or destructively,” Waterhousesaid. “This is precisely why I believe it’s so important to raise public awareness and understanding of psychedelics.”

Waterhouse characterizes  a growing interest in psychedelics over the past year as a Psychedelic Renaissance.

“It’s funny, in a way,” he said. “…I think we should be outraged that the most powerful tools on earth for personal growth and consciousness expansion are systematically denied to us. I’d argue that the illegalization of psychoactive plants and substances is one of the most severe civil rights issues of our time simply because, minute for minute, they can show you more about yourself and the nature of reality than anything else.”

“I don’t advocate the use of psychedelics, but I do advocate the right to use them,” Waterhouse said. 

In the near future, the club would like to begin hosting a bi-weekly “Unplugged Night,” which will include open microphone, personal artwork, interpretive dance, documentary screenings, guest lecturers or basically anything that goes along loosely with the club’s principle ideals.

Both Moore and Waterhouse recognize the controversy of this topic, but once they explained that the core focus is to academically address hallucinogens and psychedelics, the Office of Student Leadership & Involvement was happy to give consent for a new organization on campus.

“The Psychedelics Society is strictly an academic and activist organization,” Waterhouse said. “It should be obvious, but I guess I should make it clear that the UNH Psychedelics Society will not tolerate the use or promotion of any illegal substances. The organization will be devoted strictly to education and raising public awareness of psychedelics.”

While Moore admits he has personal experience with psychedelics, this is not his purpose for creating the club. In fact, he is much more interested in how it can pertain to healing, growth, personal transformation and overall insight into the human psyche.

He corroborates with Waterhouse that this is purely an academic project, open to all majors or people who may be interested. As graduating seniors, the pair is looking for someone invested in the subject matter to take over the UNH Psychedelics Society for next semester.

“Any resistance towards the society will be acknowledged and respected,” he said,  “which is why I hope that all those that may have a problem with the society come check out a meeting to see for yourself. This is not a place to exchange substances or for drug connections. A large part of the society’s goal or responsibility is to provide drug safety/awareness.”

For those interested, the meeting will begin in its usual meeting place at 5 p.m. in MUB 233 tonight.

“If there was ever a place for a progressive idea,” Moore said, “it would be a State University.”

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