If you hang out in certain circles, you may hear it discussed at parties, festivals, gallery openings or yoga classes: People are drinking ayahuasca in Joshua Tree, renting an Airbnb in Topanga for a weekend mushroom ceremony or even driving to Baja to seek addiction counseling at an Ibogaine clinic.
Los Angeles is home to an extensive community working with various mind-altering plant-based substances, often in ceremonial contexts stemming from ancient practices. With this weekend’s first ever Visionary Convergence, at East Hollywood‘s recently opened Big Art Church, this subculture is stepping into the spotlight.
The focus of the three-day conference, which begins tonight, is the safe and responsible use of “plant medicines” in the Western world. (Ayahuasca comes from the Amazon and Iboga from Africa, and peyote is an element of a Native American ritual. Cannabis and mushrooms are also included in the group.) The goal is to further legitimize and de-stigmatize substances that many consider to be legitimate tools for physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
With a resume that includes extensive work with plant-based medicines, specifically ayahuasca, in the Amazon, Convergence producer Sitaramaya Sita was inspired to organize Visionary Convergence last year while presenting at the first World Ayahuasca Conference in Ibiza. “I was like, ‘We’re doing this in my own backyard,’” she says. “We could do this locally.”
The Convergence is an opportunity for psychedelic and hallucinogenic enthusiasts to assemble and organize — and also serves as a foot in the door for those who can’t afford a plane ticket to Peru to participate in the country’s growing ayahuasca tourism industry. Sita cautions that this is not a recreational event; it’s about the use of plants as medicine.
“A big part of this is using substances that a lot of people might consider to be [recreational] drugs,” Sita says. “How can we as a culture change the face of medicine?”
The Convergence includes presentations by Chris Kilham, FOX news correspondent and the author of books including The Five Tibetans, who will talk about ayahuasca in the media as well as neurological reprogramming; cookbook author Robyn Griggs Lawrence, who will discuss cannabis as a superfood; and Dr. Joe Tafur, who has worked on integrative medicine projects throughout the UC college system and has collaborated with shamans in Peru for nearly a decade. Tafur will discuss the role of spiritual healing in modern healthcare.
Plant-based “entheogens” (a term meaning “of god” and referring to substances that typically cause a sort of spiritual awakening) are showing promise in the treatment of conditions including addiction, anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders and chronic pain. A primary question this weekend will be how to regularly involve such substances in clinical trials and how to pursue potential legalization. While one local practitioner was given an exemption by the DEA for the sacramental use of ayahuasca during services, this is the exception rather than the rule.
The Convergence also will bring together ceremonial facilitators, artists, musicians, writers, yogis and healers whose lives and work have been influenced by their use of plant medicines.
“Some of the best material that has come out on ayahuasca has in fact come out by people who have gone into it and participated in it,” Kilham says. “I believe that it’s otherwise sort of like a priest talking about sex.
Many shudder when remembering a scene from the 2012 Jennifer Aniston/Paul Rudd flick Wanderlust, in which the duo take part in an ayahuasca ceremony irreverently depicted complete with butt jokes and R. Kelly references. As the entertainment capital of the world, L.A. has the opportunity to reshape perceptions of these practices.
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“It's a very exciting time where people are doing positive work to build something as an inclusive collective,” L.A.-based artist Dave Zaboski, who will be live-painting at the event. “I feel we're building a future that I very much want to be a part of.”
Visionary Convergence takes place Sept. 25-27 at Big Art Church, 4975 W. Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood. plantteachers.com/program.