Stay Trippin’

Psilocybin Cup focused on equity and social good beyond the doors of perception

While Sacramento argued, altered and discussed state bill SB519—to decriminalize all psychedelics—the spirit of Oakland prepared to host a psychedelic conference exemplifying the best of decriminalization, community and citizen science.

Last weekend, from April 17–19, Reggie Harris and Ian Bollinger hosted a unique online “unconference”, the Oakland Hyphae Psilocybin Cup. Part community gathering, part citizen-scientist exhibition and part educational experience, the Cup used the relatively new tactic of testing the amount of the active ingredient psilocybin in hallucinogenic mushrooms, much in the same way marijuana is now tested for THC, as a way to bring a host of communities involved in mushroom cultivation, decriminalization of hallucinogens and the legalization of all drugs, together. Dismiss all visions of a bunch of white hippies tripping off of high doses of psilocybin searching for peak experiences in the middle of Oscar Grant Plaza—this was no Summer of Love 2.0. This Psilocybin Cup was led by people of color engaged in the social good.

The Hyphae Cup was designed to function as a means for people of color and scientists outside of the academic institution to communicate and collaborate. The online panels included topics such as harm reduction, allyship, community, plant medicine, plant medicine and science, and the perennial debate between decriminalizing plant medicine as opposed to the outright legalization of such plant medicines, which will almost immediately invite big business into the practice. At the same time these online conversations were published, Bollinger ran psilocybin tests on samples of mushrooms from around the world. The event culminated on 4/20, when Harris announced the winner of the Psilocybin Cup live on Instagram.

Community is essential for both Harris and Bollinger.

Harris originally moved to Oakland to work for the Color of Change, a super PAC. But he didn’t enjoy the requirements of the job. “I’m seeing how it’s done differently now, but back then to organize meant you had to be mad and angry all the time.” But after watching Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, die of a heart attack at 27—Harris was her political advisor at the time—he decided to make a change. Harris traveled to places in the world where psilocybin cultivation was legal, and cultivated his own techniques to use his talents for the social good.

Bollinger and Harris met at a fundraising event for Decriminalize Nature in 2019, when a group of like-minded folks from diverse backgrounds joined together to petition the City of Oakland to decriminalize all plant medicines. From the beginning, they spoke about informing and connecting communities of mushroom growers with the scientists who have experimented with psychedelic fungi for decades. “This is community for community. Scientists for scientists,” Bollinger says. “The only way we step forward is on the shoulder[s] of giants. But we have to know who they are. One person shows up and says, ‘Hey, I’m really good at cultivating, but not so good at testing,’ then another community member says, ‘I’m good at testing.’ And then you meet the Reggie who says, ‘Hey, I can bridge this gap.’”

Both men are known throughout the Bay Area psychedelic community. James McConchi, of the Haight Street Shroom Shop, hails them not just for their entheogenic knowledge, but also for their commitment to grassroots activism.

“There are a lot of us working in advocacy and justice, and then there are those looking for quick access points for money,” McConchie says. “That’s testing. But Ian and Reggie make testing accessible. It’s clear that the end goal for them is community and not capital gains. There’s nothing wrong with profit, but we’ve moved away from venture capital, we’ve moved closer to ways to give back to the community. If it walks like a capitalist duck, it’s probably a duck. But what we’re building is a movement.”

The lab results from the Cup will be made public for all to see. Bollinger and Harris are already planning to open Hyphae Labs, to help spread psilocybin testing nationally and beyond. It’s only a matter of time before they make a lasting impact on the entheogenic world.

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