California Psychedelic Conference puts community first

california psychedelic conference

The second annual California Psychedelic Conference popped off earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, drawing a sell-out crowd with virtually no promotion or even a line-up announcement until 72 hours before kick-off.

The Oakland Hyphae crew behind this conference has earned a reputation for being notoriously hush-hush and last-minute with their event production, yet always managing to pull off some of the most compelling and influential psychedelic community gatherings in the U.S.—and soon, internationally. 

RELATED: Psychedelic policy updates from around the world

dennis walker and reggie harris california psychedelic conference
Oakland Hyphae founder Reggie Harris (left) and author Dennis Walker at the California Psychedelic Conference Photo: Dennis Walker

To illustrate the spontaneity of this approach, I was asked to co-emcee the conference 48 hours before it started. I took part in a Saturday night all-star comedy line-up featuring improv superstar Langstyn Avery, journalist and podcaster Mary Jane Gibson, and internationally acclaimed stand-up star Mike Glazer, though set times and durations weren’t determined until about 15 minutes before we started. Many panelists and presenters were in a similar boat, but the suspense and ‘anti-hype’ of the California Psychedelic Conference seemed to play to its advantage. 

This unconventional approach to event production didn’t stop globally renowned luminaries like the one and only Freeway Rick Ross, rap priestess Lizzy Jeff, critically-acclaimed documentarian and researcher Hamilton Morris, DoubleBlind Magazine co-founder and CEO Shelby Hartman, eco-sensual educator Mikaela de La Myco, journalist Monica Cadena, Luna Stower, chief impact officer at Ispire, and dozens of other influential stakeholders across psychedelic business, policy, media, and the vast and nebulous underground community from congregating together while sharing best practices and bleeding edge insights into the entheogenic zeitgeist. 

Psychedelic Community Workshops

Workshops and panels across the two-day event included ‘Village of Mothers’, ‘Ketamine’s Potential For Marginalized Communities,’ ‘110 Quart Tub Mushroom Cultivation’ with She Grows Fungi, ‘Analytical Testing of Psilocybin Mushrooms’ with Ian Bollinger of Hyphae Labs, ‘Exploring Statewide Policy and and Regulation’, and ‘Peak Performance: Unveiling Psychedelics In Sports’ with retired UFC superstar Ian McCall. The closing keynote featured a talk from Hamilton Morris followed by an interview with journalist Mary Carreón and Oakland Hyphae Founder Reggie Harris

Beyond the panels and workshops, functional mushroom powerhouse Mycroboost kept the party pumping with customized drinks using their acclaimed functional mushroom coffee as a base. 

Meanwhile, a consortium of highly respected mushroom cultivators swapped liquid culture and recent product iterations with each other and the attendees in the outside farmers market area. Tomas Garrett  showed off issue #4 of the Mycozine, a physical zine dedicated to uplifting activists, artists, and cultivators in the mushroom community.

Some may be wondering what the notorious CIA-affiliated cocaine trafficker Freeway Rick Ross has to do with psychedelics. The answer to that question is what drives the success of the Oakland Hyphae organization from my perspective.

The ‘psychedelic renaissance’ is, in reality, an ambiguous, privileged, and selective subsection of a broader societal transformation forcing us to collectively examine the macro narratives and meta systems that govern our global society. 

From mental health to equity and Indigenous reciprocity initiatives to environmental conservation efforts to shifting attitudes about what exactly the terms ‘drug’ and ‘psychedelic’ even mean, the California Psychedelic Conference covered a vast amount of territory on its opening day.

Hearing about the journey of Freeway Rick Ross, who flipped a $125 cocaine advance in the 1980’s to a business empire raking in $3 million a day by the early 90’s was a larger than life experience for us in the audience. The kingpin even shared that he taught himself how to read while incarcerated, then found the legal loophole that got him out of his life without parole prison sentence. 

An unexpected highlight of the conference was during the closing keynote on Saturday when Mr. Ross confided in the audience that the first psychedelic experience in his life came from him eating a piece of mushroom chocolate provided to him by the event organizer himself, Reggie Harris. 

RELATED: Where are psychedelics legal in the US?

Mycologist Insights and Psychedelics in Sports

On Sunday, the opening panel called ‘Fungi Whispers: Insights From Mycologists’ included cultivator whiz David Poplin of Humboldt Mycology, Bear of She Grows Fungi, Annie Flores, owner of Hillside Mushrooms, and integration specialist Becca Evans, with yours truly moderating before a raptly engaged and participatory audience. 

The follow-up panel featured world champion bare-knuckle brawler Mark ‘The Shark’ Irwin  alongside his coach and mentor Ian McCall and martial artist Nelita Villezon with interlocution by Oakland Hyphae Operations Manager Carsten Fisher.

This panel highlighted the edge that psychedelics might provide athletes, with Mark Irwin testifying to the immensely positive attributes that his own journey with mushrooms has provided him in his rigorous training and competition. 

Another impactful panel in the day featured a group of BIPOC men, including rapper D’Rok The Menace and Temple of The Four Winds founder Waldo Merino sharing their stories of how psychedelics have helped them redefine and connect with their masculinity.

This panel was particularly touching as several of the men shared how their experiences with psychedelics have helped them to transcend generational traumas and lift themselves out of the social conditioning imposed by gang violence, drug addiction and incarceration. 

RELATED: Psilocybin could be valuable in addiction rehab, study says

a group ceremony at california psychedelic conference
Mikaela de La Myco leads a group ceremony at the California Psychedelic Conference Photo: Dennis Walker

Stealth Mode Influence

The formula employed by Team Hyphae, as contrary to standard event production and promo as it may be, is undeniably effective and impactful.  Whereas many psychedelic conferences are heavy on the business and science panels and may include one track focused on social justice and Indigenous rights, the California Psychedelic Conference flips that model on its head. 

The majority of the panels, workshops, and activities over the weekend predominantly platformed BIPOC perspectives and businesses while providing actionable intelligence and entrepreneurial acumen to the community in attendance.

In many cases, the line between speaker and audience member was removed entirely. For example, the Fishbowl Conversation, led by Global Psychedelic Society co-founder Mike Margolies,  featured rotating panelists engaging attendees regarding their perspectives around the use of plant medicines in their communities. 

The conference closed with a keynote by Hamilton Morris, followed by an interview with journalist Mary Carreón and Oakland hyphae founder Reggie Harris. The presence of Morris alongside so many underground movers and shakers lended an air of mainstream credibility and legitimacy to an otherwise largely community-driven underground event. 

The address by the Vice personality covered the history of psilocybin mushrooms in the West and also touched on rogue chemistry and the controversy around the Church of Psilomethoxin before ultimately segueing into a fascinating Q & A that covered ‘copaganda’ (credit: Mary Carreón), Bath Salts, his favorite and least favorite drugs (hint: Hamilton thinks the idea of ‘favorite’ psychedelics is harder to answer than ‘favorite food’ and that alcohol is quite overrated and deleterious), and how people can appropriately engage with questions of indigenous reciprocity (this is a personal matter with no clear answer as far as he’s concerned, but we should be talking about it).

Community First

The Oakland hyphae events feel more like a family reunion than a prototypical conference, which is saying a lot because they pull in an extremely impressive bunch of influential people across different verticals in the psychedelic space and beyond. With virtually zero promo, the conference managed to sell out and require a last-minute change of venue to accommodate the event. 

In the age of Chat-GPT and expensive ‘brand activations’, the California Psychedelic Conference is a much-needed antidote that is community-driven and rooted in compassionate and constructive, authentic relationship building.

The curation of these events is extraordinarily thoughtful, and the actionable intel and expanded network that people leave with have changed many lives over the course of the last three years that the Hyphae team has been producing conferences and events—including my own. 

If you want to truly have your finger on the pulse of the psychedelic zeitgeist, the Oakland Hyphae events are the place to be. Nowhere will you find a more cohesive representation of the immensely influential and widely distributed psychedelic underground alongside world-renowned public-facing and influential individuals and brands, all condensed into a far more approachable and intimate setting than the ‘bigger is better’ mega conventions increasingly defining the status quo of the psychedelic conference circuit. 

a performer dressed as a potato california psychedelic conference
Podcaster Mary Jane Gibson performs a set at the California Psychedelic Conference. Photo: Dennis Walker

The California Psychedelic Conference featured healthy and impassioned debate regarding the nuances and intricacies associated with legalization vs. decriminalization, with panelists espousing their justification for their positions in increasingly pointed yet always civil debate on the pros and cons of each side.

The intentional presence and platforming of divergent perspectives and occasionally uncomfortable head-to-head differences of opinion at the conference was a refreshing and bold approach to conflict resolution that I hope to see adopted on a wider scale in the psychedelic space at large.  

The California Psychedelic Conference is the anti-hype, community-driven answer to ‘corporadelic’ psychedelic conferences. The ‘if you know you know’ element at play and the reputation of the organizers draw people to travel internationally to attend these conferences with little advanced information. 

Next year, if I’m invited back, I’ll be at the Third Annual California Psychedelic Conference – as long as I have at least 10 minutes heads up.

This article was submitted by a guest contributor to GreenState. The statements within do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GreenState, Hearst, or its subsidiaries. The author is solely responsible for the content.

dennis walker

Dennis Walker is a satirist and journalist who is primarily known as the founder and host of Mycopreneur Podcast. He writes and produces content for numerous platforms in the cannabis and psychedelic space and loves learning about and participating in cannabis culture around the world.