Rob Dickins, Editorial Director of the online journal Psychedelic Press
BB: Could you tell us a little about your work with Psypress?
The Psychedelic Press UK project started in 2008 as a blog dedicated to providing a wide-ranging literature review of psychedelics texts, which quickly evolved to become an online magazine, featuring interviews and articles. Then, in 2012, I put a shout-out online asking if people would be interested in a print edition of PsypressUK, with original and in-depth articles, and the response was a resounding Yes! Since then we've gone from strength to strength and now publish a volume every 2 months.
The journal features articles from across academic fields - the sciences and humanities - along with literary and opinion pieces. Psychedelia is such an interwoven field that taking any one aspect in isolation feels rather contrived. What we aim to do is explore society and culture at large, with all their intricacies, and ask just how the psychedelic experience effects it all. My work specifically is as Editorial Director - so I manage contributions and editing - although I'm helped out by a brilliant group of writers, artists, and editors, without whom the whole project would be untenable.
BB: For you what is the value of the psychedelic experience?
Well, this is both a very easy and very difficult question to answer - the psychedelic experience is nothing if not paradoxical! In one sense, people are still fascinated by the 'what the hell is going on here?' point, yet there are many groups of people who have begun to find value in the psychedelic experience, without necessarily coming to satisfactory answers as to what exactly is happening.
For me the value of the psychedelic experience lies in one's ability to manipulate imagination through set and setting - essentially a theatrical understanding. The chaos magic tradition, if you can call it that, is particularly bang on at exploring this aspect. Whether your intention is healing, psychonautical exploration, value transformation, communing with the spirits, etc., then psychedelic substances can be a tool by which to explore these paradigms. Ultimately then, the value of the psychedelic experience is the ability to stand out from one's usual identity monikers, which socially speaking is a remarkably healthy and rewarding act - what is like to be in the boots of the other?
BB: You obviously have a significant role in bringing the subject of psychedelics in to the wider conversation; interest is perhaps as high now as in the countercultural heyday of the 60’s, why do you think that is?
Older generations have passed on now since the initial hysteria of the Sixties - in terms of revolutionary advocacy and mass-media misinformation - and I think time is ultimately the great healer. Having some hindsight and perspective does wonders! When you add the fact that mental health issues have become a primary concern in many quarters today, then there's a lot of medical people looking back at their history and saying, 'well these substances appeared to work, why aren't we using and researching them anymore?'.
Moreover, people are generally more drugs savvy on the whole now. In the 1950s medical drugs revolution, a whole generation of essentially naive people were told about the extreme wonders and horrors of drugs and they took what they were told at face value. Nowadays, we are able to make more discerning choices, and our understandings are better informed. And as alchemists have kept the psychedelic flame going for decades, it is basically impossible for the flaws in drug laws do not be shown in their full glaring horror.
BB: What’s your ideal in relation to current drug policy?
I follow the late Alexander Shulgin's position on this. The drug laws simply need to be repealed - in this country all the way back to the Pharmacy Act of 1868. Building legislation on legislation is a bureaucratic nightmare, and a recipe for a confused state-of-play. The term 'drug' can't be adequately defined: How can one produce law based on a near-meaningless word? The result can only ever be that the interpretation of it by the powers-that-be will be based on their own particular agenda - the reification of institutional racism is one example of this. Any regulation should be aimed at producers producing what they say they produce - never in the act of consumption.
BB: Psychedelics have obviously been neglected until comparatively recently as a therapeutic tool but would you concede that they could be used a tool for wider societal transformation – perhaps our collective neurosis and flawed relationships with our environment could also be transformed?
Well I think this was the essential lesson that gave rise to the countercultural Sixties with LSD, which had its roots in psychiatry. In traditional therapeutic contexts, individual neurosis was treated in the hope of adjusting the individual back to 'normality'. What certain more revolutionary minded psychiatrists and psychologists recognised was that these neuroses were often the result of 'normal society', and they were merely treating the symptom and not the cause - returning people to a state of 'alienation'. Hence they wanted a revolution in society.
In this sense, LSD revealed a societal problem. Could it possibly be a cure, however? I'm not sure. If you have a radical agenda to begin with, then it might perhaps seem that way, but not everyone believes society is broken, so while someone may gain personal and/or spiritual insight, their thoughts will not necessarily turn towards revolution. The beauty of LSD, and psychedelics more generally, is not that they're revolutionary - they're fundamentally insurrectionary. Rise up and recognise your theatre, but embody the society in order to address them - revolving who's in charge, in an 'us and them' attitude, will just bring the same problems about in a different disguise.
BB: What advice would you give the uninitiated?
If you'd like to be initiated, do so with friends, love and respect is the way to depend.
BB: Finally, what’s your longterm vision for Psypress UK?
I'd like to see PsypressUK stocked in newsagents all around the world, in a state where being educated on the effects, uses, and understandings of psychedelic substances is an important part of society!