Expanding the discussion on psychedelics

By Trevor Roberts

Shortly after graduating in 2008 as a chemical engineer, Mike Margolies took LSD for the first time and took a backpacking trip through Europe. Today, he is the Expansion Director and Networker for an organization called Psymposia. Going backpacking through Europe and taking LSD were the first two significant steps Margolies had taken toward being a part of Psymposia, and he did not even know it yet.

While on LSD, Margolies realized the goal of his life was not to climb a corporate ladder. But at the time he was fine with it.

“I was making good money and I liked my job at the time, but I put in the back of my head that I’m going to do something different ultimately.”

Margolies was taking his two weeks of vacation from his corporate job with Exxon, while he was backpacking through Europe, when he met people who weren’t on vacation like him, but just traveling. Margolies said that seeing those people planted a seed in his head – that someday he would be like those fellow travelers.

Four years later, Margolies, says he became depressed despite having a good job.  That’s when he says he first heard about ayahuasca, a powerful tea containing the psychedelic substance DMT.  Margolies says that his experience with ayahuasca didn’t really teach him anything new, but affirmed what he had already realized and affirmed that he wanted to quit his corporate job.  Margolies notes that the biggest message he learned from the powerful tea was to, “Jump without the rope.” And that’s just what he did.  

Margolies quit his job in August 2013 went back home to Baltimore. After a friend’s wedding he took a trip to Burning Man, then he had a one way ticket to India.  He was gone. For 15 months Margolies backpacked through India and Southeast Asia inspired by the people he met previously in Europe.  Margolies says that, “The idea [of the trip] was to just live and to not have a schedule or anything, but just to live and unlearn everything I had learned.”

In early 2015 Margolies was back in Baltimore visiting and had a plane ticket to go back to Asia, but at the last minute he decided to stay.  He says that prior to that he had not lived in Baltimore since high school.  Margolies adds, “I just decided after all this searching around trying to find wherever I belong and where is home. I decided to try home.”

After his trip he found himself asking, “Now what?”  Margolies had quit his job and taken this trip to do something that he was interested in and passionate about and he says he found himself asking “What the hell is that?”

Margolies found his answer while talking to some new friends saying, “There was an evening where I was explaining this ayahuasca experience to some new friends and they were really interested and asking me questions and I was happy to go on and on and on about how amazing this experience was.  The next day I was sitting at a café with this new friend saying ‘I don’t know what I want to do with myself, I don’t know what I’m passionate about.’  And he kind of looks at me like, ‘What? are you f***ing nuts?’”

That’s when Margolies realized that he was passionate about getting involved in the psychedelic scene.  He says he didn’t know what that meant at the time but he was certain that that was the space that he wanted to operate in.  

The first thing that Margolies did after his realization was to create a group called Psychedelic Seminars.  He networked a lot in the psychedelic community and got different guest speakers to come and speak at seminars.  But in June 2015 he got in touch with an organization called Psymposia.  

Psymposia had already been established for a little over a year and had thrown conferences with hundreds of attendees.  Margolies decided to become a part of Psymposia and was brought on to their main team as the Expansion Director and Networker.  Over the past year and a half they have thrown events all over the world with an event of 400 people being their largest event.  

Margolies says that the goal of the Psymposia is to create a space for people to share stories about their psychedelic experiences and experiences with the War on Drugs.  He realized that there is a stigma around people who use psychedelics and instead of waiting around for change he realized he had to be the change that he wanted to see in this world.  Margolies says that he wants to facilitate people coming out of the psychedelic closet where people can have more open conversations about their experiences with psychedelics, good and bad, without being stigmatized.  Margolies adds that he is not trying to spread reverse propaganda by saying that drugs are good.

Margolies says the point of Psymposia isn’t to box these substances in as good or bad but to open up a conversation about them on how people can get the positives out of these and mitigate risks.  He says that’s what Psymposia is about for him, “It’s about breaking down cultural barriers and letting more honest conversations happen.”

Dr. Albert Garcia, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University on psilocybin’s medical uses, has worked with Psymposia and Margolies as a guest speaker in the past.  Garcia says that he thinks that Margolies and Psymposia have done a good job at putting together good quality content in order to build “bridges between people who might not usually interact, in order to develop novel perspectives on psychedelics and their role in contemporary society.” Garcia also adds, “They usually take a pretty cautious stance about not advocating for unsafe use, which I applaud them for.”

Margolies says that the digital magazine isn’t just about psychedelics, and one of his hopes is that they will soon branch out to other topics such as sex work.  He says that Psymposia is a social activism organization.

Margolies says, “I’d like to think of us and where we are going as, we are informed by a psychedelic state of mind, but that doesn’t mean the only thing we talk about is psychedelics. We are not a magazine about psychedelics, we are a psychedelic magazine.”

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