Exploring Psychedelics 2018: Reviewing zealotry and apologetics within the field of psychedelics

The 2018 Exploring Psychedelics conference was full of new, enthusiastic and well-informed psychedelic advocates as well as veteran psychonauts and therapeutic administrators. It was refreshing and exciting to see so many diverse speakers passionately pursuing interdisciplinary approaches to this field of study, and taking the time to share their information with the world. Unfortunately and quite ironically, however, the downfall of this years Exploring Psychedelics was in fact due to the actions of its coordinator, Martin W. Ball. By far the most surreal moment of the two days that I attended, was watching Martin, an adamant non-duelist and religious studies professor, ranting and pointing at his conference attendees for a few minutes while in the throes of a full-blown tantrum, repeatedly screaming such gems as, "fuck you" and, "go fuck yourself!" Martin's repeated and unfounded slandering of other authors and researchers in the field such as James Oroc and Terence McKenna, while later defending violent malpractice and non-consensual administration of psychedelics, was as shocking as it was disheartening. In the days following the conference, Martin sadly has refused to acknowledge that he did anything wrong, nor how as a representative of the psychedelic community, how he grossly misrepresented the field and actively attempted to keep a meaningful discussion regarding controversial issues from taking place.

For readers unaware of the events leading up to Martin’s outburst of unprofessionalism and egomania, some context should be given.

One of the presenters at this years Exploring Psychedelics conference, a rather controversial figure in the field at the moment, was 5-MeO Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) administrator and advocate Dr. Octavio Rettig Hinojosa. Octavio has an interesting and inspiring story from addiction, recovery via 5-MeO, to subsequently over a decade of educating on and administrating 5-MeO therapeutically. Octavio famously obtains his 5-MeO from the Sonoran Desert Toad which excretes a bioavailable form of the compound that can be vaporized and then inhaled with profound entheogenic and therapeutic effects. Octavio’s keen attention to sustainable collection methods and his efforts regarding the conservation of the Sonoran Desert Toad is more than commendable, enough to easily solidify his generally respected reputation. That said, after reportedly administering approximately 3500 therapeutic sessions, over the past two years some very troubling accusations and evidence of malpractice by Octavio has come to light. The following is a current breakdown of such accusations:

Substantiated in the form of video and eye-witness testimonies:

  • Physical assault in the form of kicking or slapping
  • Non-consensual administration of additional psychedelics during sessions
  • Unexpectedly electrically shocking participants into a standing position
  • Misogynistic bullying in an attempt to coerce participants into accepting additional doses of 5-MeO
  • Pouring water down the nose or throat of otherwise unconscious participants
  • Unexpectedly blocking the airways of participants for over 15 seconds.

Unsubstantiated rumors or accusations:

  • Unsolicited or inappropriate physical contact while under the influence (most reports are of kissing and touching)
  • Involved in the death of at least three individuals during sessions directed and lead by Octavio. Two elderly gentlemen who died officially of heart complications, and one 26-year-old woman Ana Patricia Arredondo whose body wasn't recovered until six days of search and rescue.
  • Severe psychological trauma from sessions which result in long-term depression and suicide.

These are clearly some very serious accusations and examples of malpractice. Rather than address such issues, Octavio has in the past ignored or censored criticism by flooding the internet with positive reports in an attempt to confiscate or otherwise drown out any critical or skeptical feedback. It has only been the last few months that Octavio has begun addressing such issues, but he has yet to apologize or even acknowledge why these issues are concerning to the public. Understandably, upon hearing that Octavio would be attending this year's conference a number of people directed their concerns towards Martin Ball the coordinator. I even sent a brief message politely addressing my concerns and asked Martin for an opportunity to address Octavio publicly regarding these accusations of malpractice. I received a rather curt response from Martin replying no, but that questions could be asked to anyone in the later panel discussion on 5-MeO.

During his presentation at Exploring Psychedelics, Octavio defended a well-circulated video of him kicking a participant who refused additional doses of 5-MeO. He passionately argued that essentially consent was only important up to a certain point, attempting to change ones consent was an act of cowardice, and that he as the administrator knows what is best for each person. At the conclusion of Octavio's presentation, rather than give the public a chance to respond, Martin jumped up on stage and began shouting that Octavio was a personal friend and a good person. He then began pointing out members of the audience at random and screaming that anyone who criticized or even questioned the actions of Octavio, "can go fuck yourself!" A phrase and sentiment he repeated ad nauseam for a few painful minutes. After taking my two kids out of the conference room and away from the screaming man-child, I watched no less than a dozen professional psychedelic healers and educators walk out of the same room one by one and visibly shake off the energy that had just been thrown at the audience. Throughout the conference, I overheard Martin again and again loudly referring to any negative comments about Octavio as "totally asinine."

Later during the 5-MeO panel discussion, only ten minutes were given to the audience for questioning, and depressingly after a series of audience stories the only actual question asked during that time was from my myself. Neither Octavio nor Martin made an attempt to speak in any way, although the other panelists such as Merrill Ward, Rak Razam, and Angela Ward all provided excellent responses. Both Martin and Octavio during the conference zealously defended and excused negative consequences from psychedelic administrators, maintaining that they knew best practices and blaming any negative consequences on the participants. Through no truly objective analysis or certification, their arguments at no point acknowledged the imperative nature of information, consent, and safety within psychedelically therapeutic sessions. As self-appointed experts on 5-MeO DMT, both Martin and Octavio seemed to feel no inherent need to take any administrative responsibility for negative side-effects, and quite effectively perpetuated a safe space only for those who think the way they do.

Martin spent the vast majority of his time onstage (about 90 minutes throughout the three days) self-promoting and informing the attendees about all of the great and wonderful work he does for the field of psychedelics. While it is admirable that the conference was free to the public, it is beyond me how one massive ego could organize and then systematically ruin the integrity of said conference in just a few brief minutes. As the author of eight books on the topic of ego transcendence and non-duality, the irony of Martin repeatedly screaming, "fuck you" to his attendees is hilariously apparent. I have looked for a recording of Octavio's presentation and Martin's tantrum, however, it seems Martin is in possession of the only known copy and so the hard evidence of his actions will most probably never see the light of day, lest the world see him for what he really is.

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***edit: Martin has since admirably released the audio in question on his Facebook page.***

After the conference, Octavio admirably stopped me and privately answered my question regarding the line between malpractice or malfeasance and that of otherwise taboo or unconventional practices. While Octavio was very polite and sincere in both his convictions and reasoning, I found his responses to be more apologetic diversions from the issue. As I was in the process of taking my two young kids to the car (who had just sat through nearly two hours of lectures and were releasing badly pent-up energy), we did not get a chance to talk for more than a couple of minutes. However, he did agree to be interviewed at a later date in an attempt to honestly and openly address his methods and we had a chance to exchange contact information. It is my sincere hope that we can connect in order to sort some of the facts from fiction and address the need for changes in protocol. I respect much of Octavio's work with the Sonoran Desert Toad, and it would be unfortunate to see his career ended completely over an inability or willingness to adapt towards better, or at the very least more informed and consensual practices.

It’s a shame that Martin didn’t pay better attention to the presentations given by Amanda Noconi, as this is the exact type of damaging censorship and colonization that she spoke of being perpetuated in the field of psychedelics. As Amanda stated in her presentation,”truth before comfort.” (Noconi, Amanda. “Psychedelics, Feminism, and Oppression: How Cognitive Liberty is a Feminist Issue” Exploring Psychedelics 2018.) Complacency, silence, and the 'live and let live' attitude simply cannot be an option anymore. We in the United States are in a precarious political position reminiscent of the late 1960’s. If we do not have these uncomfortable conversations and better vet our methods and protocols, than the Psychedelic Renaissance is doomed to failure. We have to evolve or die.

A lot of attention was paid at this years Exploring Psychedelics conference to intention. While unquestioningly intention is a wonderful place to start, it should by no means be that place the conversation ends. Pious fraud is a term coined in the late 17th century and denotes an individual who genuinely believes that their actions, pure or malfeasant, are justified by virtue of an arbitrarily conceived ‘greater good.' They often refuse to acknowledge or much less apologize for problematic behavior. The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Pious frauds have perpetuated some of the most grievous atrocities in human history. Individuals within the psychedelic community have to be vigilantly on guard against such insidious beliefs and over-zealous advocacy. If I may be so bold, the psychedelic field should be full of truth seekers which very critically approach those who claim to have found it.

 

By: Cody Noconi