Eleusis, the University's first student organization committed to studying psychedelics interdisciplinarily, held its first open house yesterday.
The organization “seeks to remove the taboo” from psychedelics, according to Eleusis founder and Executive Director Sonia Joseph ’19.
Joseph explained that over the past five years, there has been a “low-key renaissance,” in which new studies have documented the use of psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), to treat mental illnesses. The research has implications for mental health treatment, therapy, and the academic study of human consciousness, according to Joseph.
Joseph said the increased interest in psychedelics is “part of a longer conversation,” which lacks an undergraduate voice. Eleusis seeks to “bridge the gap between undergraduates and academics” regarding psychedelics.
“We want to bring in people from all disciplines [to discuss psychedelics],” said Joseph, “people from anthropology, religion, public policy, neuroscience, biochemistry.”
The organization will invite speakers from the New Jersey, New York City, and Baltimore areas, host group discussions, and screen films about psychedelics.
Eleusis will approach the conversation from an academic standpoint, says its founder. Indeed, Joseph wants to dispel “a dangerous misconception” about the organization.
“We are not involved in giving out drugs,” she said, “we are not a drug ring.”
Joseph is one of the organization's six current board members.
Edgar Preciado ’18, studying Spanish and Portuguese, serves as Director of PuPolicy Change. He is writing his junior paper on drug use among Mexican Americans in the ’80s and ’90s in Los Angeles, and his interest in psychedelics comes from its potential ability to treat addiction. He noted that people in his community of Compton have had histories of substance use.
“It has motivated me, personally, to study . . . the context in which drug use is more likely to happen,” Preciado said.
Students that attended the open house had a wide range of interests.
Javon Ryan ’17, in the Classics Department, has been following the research on psychedelics.
“As a person who has been dealing with some mental health issues of my own, I’ve been interested in the potential of these compounds to help with issues such as anxiety and depression,” Ryan said. “I’m interested in following and seeing what happens in the future with the research [from] anthropological, religious, neuroscientific, and psychological perspectives.”
Many of the open house attendees are psychedelic users themselves and are interested in having a forum to discuss their experiences and best practices.
“I’ve had a long and complicated history with psychedelic use,” said Joseph. “I want to take a more neutral view.”
She noted the wide range of experiences that people have with psychedelics, noting that Eleusis will take a “safe, informed, rational perspective.”
Of the twelve total attendees, a majority said that past psychedelic use had spurred their interest in Eleusis. According to Joseph, a number of professors at the University have expressed support.
Joseph expressed concern about psychedelics’ historical image, noting that Timothy Leary and others in the ’60s marketed psychedelics as an anti-establishment drug, a sort of “middle finger to the government.”
“Eventually, I think the stigma will fade,” she added.
The open house took place in 1915 room at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Eleusis is currently recruiting board members.