Molly at the Marriott: Inside America’s Premier Psychedelics Conference

But that vision, as closely associated with San Francisco’s past as the tech industry is with its present, did not play out as advocates had hoped, and California banned the substance in 1966.


Dancing at an after-hours party during the convention.

Jason Henry for The New York Times

Over 50 years later, the advocates gathered here believe that psychedelic drugs, from LSD to magic mushrooms to MDMA (also known as Ecstasy or Molly), are taking a place in mainstream life. “We are not the counterculture,” said Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS, “we are the culture.”

The 3,000 or so attendees were a striking mix of ages and types: academics in blazers side by side with a demographic more typically associated with Burning Man than with carpeted conference rooms at the Marriott. They were united by a fierce attachment to the belief that psychedelic drugs, far from being a recreational diversion, have the potential to enlighten, cure illness and change the way people relate to one another and our planet.

Arguably no one is more instrumental in the campaign to make psychedelics commonplace than Mr. Doblin. Since 1986, when he founded the nonprofit MAPS organization, he has raised more than $40 million from sources like Dr. Richard Rockefeller, Dr. Bronner’s Soap and the Libra Foundation, funded by the Pritzker family. Mr. Doblin decided to focus about 90 percent of MAPS’s resources on MDMA, which he argues is not freighted with the same history as LSD, a symbol of antiwar protests and anti-government hippies. It is also “less psychologically challenging,” he said, referring to the effects it has on one’s thought process, though some clinicians might argue otherwise.

Mr. Doblin is determined to avoid the flagrant disruptiveness of the earlier psychedelic…

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