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Expanding the conversation around psilocybin at Telluride Mushroom Festival

 The Integration Space opens onto a quiet street in Telluride.
Gavin McGough
The Integration Space opens onto a quiet street in Telluride.

The Telluride Mushroom Festival is a storied celebration of all things mycological.

Following the recent decriminalization of psilocybin in Colorado, the festival is opening up the conversation around psychedelic mushrooms and their healing powers.

It’s the first day of the Telluride Mushroom Festival, and the back porch and back room of an art gallery on Main Street have become a shady and calming ‘Integration Space.’

And what, exactly, does that entail?

“The space came about by somebody bringing to my attention that we’ve never done something like this. And with the decriminalization of psilocybin in Colorado we felt like this was something Telluride Mushroom Fest needs to have,” said Rebecca Roberts, who works with Mushroom Fest and helped organize the space.

When Colorado voters passed Proposition 122 last fall, they decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms and opened a pathway in the state for the medicinal use of psilocybin.

Jo Young is a social worker based in Durango who specializes in psychedelic integration work.

Young says the use of psychedelics "can push us into different realities or different spaces. In that space we can have realizations, we can have more understanding of our life or our connection with nature. And it can be really hard to come back to what day-to-day life looks like.”

As more people turn to psychedelics, the Integration Space provides a safe place, an atmosphere of support and discussion, or just quiet along the way.

Although this is the first designated Integration Space that the festival has offered, Roberts says discussion of psychedelics has long been one aspect of festival culture.

“The beginning days of the festival were centered around not only being able to talk about psilocybin but also other plant entheogens. It was really science-based, and people would come from the East and West Coast to have these conversations, and they were happening really underground because in those days society just really wasn't okay with those entheogens,” she said.

The time that Roberts speaks of was the early 1980s when the festival was founded, and the U.S. was embroiled in the war on drugs, which criminalized the recreational, medicinal, and even scientific use of a whole collection of substances.

“But before that, there was a lot of research being done on substances such as MDMA and psilocybin, and even a lot more than I'm familiar with, for treating mental health, alcoholism, or even bipolar disorder,” said Young.

As the legal outlook for psychedelics is slowly and gradually reopening, there’s been a new crop of science that looks into the promising possibilities of using these substances in mental healthcare, wellbeing, and exploration.

“It’s a resurgence; it’s a remembrance; it’s not a new thing,” said Young.

“The resurgence speaks to us starting to let in all the research that can be done and needs to be done in this space," she said.

Roberts says this is an exciting moment for the Mushroom Festival, which has long welcomed all aspects of mycological culture and appreciation.

“People who normally might not have been comfortable having their say in the conversation because of worries over where the law stands are now able to openly speak about their experiences with psychedelics. I’m looking forward to seeing how that will change the festival culture this year and how this space can play a role in that,” said Roberts.

In Young’s experience, warming up to these conversations takes time.

Reflecting back on the Integration Space, she says many communities — in other countries or amongst Indigenous peoples — have a long history of using psychedelics.

It’s an accepted part of life.

“They can talk to their family members about it, they can talk with their community — wherever they’re going — whereas here it is still pretty stigmatized even though we’ve legalized it,” said Young.

“So we need these places that are safe and non-judgmental in nature in order to really express what’s happening in those experiences.”

The space is free and open to the public; no festival pass is necessary.

All are welcome, as Young and Roberts stress, anyone who might want to chat about these topics should stop by and say hello.

This story was shared with KSUT via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico including KSUT.
Copyright 2023 Aspen Public Radio.

Gavin McGough
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