Cognitive Liberty, Psychedelics and the Drug War

Reporting from Haight St., San Francisco, CA

--“Cognitive liberty,” Mike Margolies said on the Amtrak to San Francisco, “is freedom over one’s own consciousness.”

Cognitive liberty, he told me, is the cornerstone of individual freedom. It’s the freedom to think, intend, imagine, wish and act as you please. All other freedoms extend out of this freedom to own your own consciousness. All freedoms are informed by your individual freedom to choose.

It’s a term, though, I’ve only recently discovered via Mike, the Director of Expansion at Psymposia magazine.

Fortunately, I’ve had plenty of time this week to flesh out what cognitive liberty means to him. For a week, you might recall, Mike and I have been en route to San Francisco.

We’ve been from Black Rock City to Reno, Tahoe City, South Lake Tahoe, the Yuba River, Nevada City, Grass Valley, Auburn and, by the time you read this, San Francisco.

After running to catch the last train out of Auburn (two minutes to spare) and settling into our seats (and catching our breaths), Mike and I talked about what Psymposia magazine represents, what it means to have full “cognitive liberty” and ‘all-ternative’ modelsto make the Drug War obsolete.

In a moment, to give you a taste of our conversation, we’re going to make you a fly on the train window.

The idea of cognitive liberty, which Mike will expand on, cuts to the core of principles we hold dear. It’s the freedom, as mentioned, to do with your consciousness as you wish. So long, of course, as you don’t hurt people or take their stuff.

Within this context, Mike and the team at Psymposia want to flip the script on the Drug War. Which is why they place much emphasis on de-stigmatizing drug use and humanizing drug users.

This is important work. And if you oppose the War on Drugs, it’s key.

Allow me to explain…

More than anything, the stigma placed (deliberately, I’d say) on drugs and drug users fuels the Drug War — which, in turn, allows the government to run haywire and strip rights away from peaceful individuals willy-nilly. The most vulnerable members of society feel the brunt of the jackboot the hardest. And, slowly, it trickles up. If good people do nothing to subvert this destruction, it’ll swallow up everything in its slimy path. As it is currently in the process of doing.

Drilling down further, to psychedelics specifically, there are certain powers which fight against the unpatentable psychedelic experience. It’s far from a popular opinion, but it’s true: Psychedelics hold the potential to bust through the Big Pharma sick-care paradigm. Which is, of course, one reason there’s so much resistance to allowing uncontrolled research in the psychedelic space. 

Roni Jacobson fell on mostly closed ears (and minds) when he wrote the following truth in a 2011 Scientific American article: “Psychedelic drugs are poised to be the next major breakthrough in mental health care.”

Luckily, we live in a time where the changemakers no longer have to wait on the barbarians at the gate.

As Mike is fond of saying, with a hat tip to Bucky Fuller: “You can’t change anything by fighting the old system. You have to instead build new systems that make the old ones obsolete.”

And that’s exactly what Psymposia intends to do.

To elaborate, here’s the conversation Mike and I had on the Amtrak. Transcribed just for you.

Read on.

Chris Campbell: OK. So, for those who don’t know your work, what is Psymposia?

Mike Margolies: Psymposia is a psychedelic activism project. We throw events and produce an online magazine, covering everything from psychedelic science to the War on Drugs to personal experiences with psychoactives.

Through honest conversations and stories we move the conversation forward toward acknowledging both the benefits and the risks of drugs, and humanizing drug users.

CC: Right. That’s great. It’s the stigma, as mentioned, that allows the Drug War to go unfettered full steam ahead. And it’s one challenge we need to overcome on the ground level if we really want to end the War on Drugs.

So, you’re the first person I’ve met advocating what you call “cognitive liberty.” What is cognitive liberty and what does it mean in a broader context?

MM: Cognitive liberty is freedom over one’s own consciousness. I think it’s great that so much research is happening validating through the scientific lens the long-known medicinal and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.

But for me the issue runs deeper.

I think that we are selling ourselves short if we justify our right to use these substances solely based on a demonstrated medical value. I think that fundamentally as a human being I have the right to experiment with my own consciousness as I see fit, whether or not the FDA and DEA have deemed a substance to have accepted medical value.

CC: Agreed. But with that said, the medicinal value of psychedelics is still an important part of the puzzle, no?

What’s the most exciting research that you’ve seen coming out of the medical space?

MM: I could answer that question by pointing to any number of recent studies showing therapeutic value for psychedelics to treat addiction, to treat anxiety for people with a life-threatening illness, to treat OCD, to treat autism, to treat PTSD… but that’s not how I’m going to answer the question.

To me what’s most exciting about psychedelic research is that it’s redefining medicine itself. For so long we have existed in a paradigm where medicine simply boils down to a pill you swallow, “Take two and call me in the morning.”

Psychedelic research is showing the importance of, as any practiced psychonaut will tell you, set and setting.

You can have a completely different experience depending on two things. First is your set. Which is your mind space and your intentions. Second is your setting, which is who you’re with and where you are. In all the research that’s happening, set and setting are tremendously important parts of getting the therapeutic value.

And that begs the question… to what extent are set and setting important beyond the world of psychedelics, and more broadly to medicine and our lives in general?

CC: Absolutely. Health and wellness is panoramic. Big Pharma wants it to exist behind a tiny cellar door that only they can control, and they’ve been relatively successful, but I believe that paradigm is on its way out.

So you’re having an event in San Francisco this weekend. And we will be there, as you know, of course, filming the event.

How about you tell our readers a little bit more about that?

MM: Sure. Over the last year-and-a-half we’ve been throwing events called Psychedelic Stories. These events are partially curated, partially open mic.

You’ll be able to hear stories from some of the elders in the psychedelic community, maybe share one of your own, and perhaps most importantly, meet other people with similar or interesting experiences. Our San Francisco event will be this Saturday, Sept 17, at the Make-Out Room.

We’re also throwing similar events next week in Brooklyn and Montreal.

And we’ve just announced our biggest event to date — we’re throwing a Psychedelic Stories afterparty for the Horizons Perspectives on Psychedelics 10th anniversary conference in NY Oct 8.

Storytellers include comedian Duncan Trussell, MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) Founder Rick Doblin, and a lot more.

CC: Great. If anyone’s in the Bay Area and wants to check out this Saturday’s event in San Francisco, we’ll be there. So come on out and let’s talk.

It’s time to end the War on Drugs. And what Psymposia is doing is an important piece of the puzzle.

Until tomorrow,

Chris Campbell
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today

Chris Campbell

Written By Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is the Managing editor of Laissez Faire Today. Before joining Agora Financial, he was a researcher and contributor to