Psychedelics discussed at Human Welfare Conference 2023

Human Welfare Conference Attendees Pictured In Group Outside

The 15th Human Welfare Conference brought together speakers from diverse backgrounds to explore new and future uses of psychedelics for social and medical good. The annual student-led conference was chaired by Austen Fisher (DPhil Anthropology, 2019) and held on Monday 15 May.

A psychedelic ‘revolution’ is taking place, the conference suggested, reflected in legislative changes that have increased access to psychedelic substances, an explosion of research focused on psychedelics – including the creation of numerous institutions dedicated to psychedelic research – a booming ‘spiritual tourism’ industry, increased public acceptance of psychedelics, and the wave of media including books, documentaries and newspaper articles that have come out on the subject in the past couple of years alone. At the same time, given the use of psychedelic, or entheogenic, substances throughout human history – including their use within ancient civilizations, indigenous cultures, and potential role in the evolution of the human species – many point to a ‘renaissance’, rather than a revolution.

Bringing indigenous leaders, spiritual teachers, and anthropologists into conversation with entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and policy makers, few – if any – topic engages as many voices as psychedelics. As GTC is home to many of these voices, psychedelics represent a topic the college is particularly well-situated to explore.

Reflecting on the conference, Austen said,

‘Bringing indigenous leaders, spiritual teachers, and philosophers into conversation with entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and policymakers, psychedelics represent untapped worlds of potential with significant and far-reaching consequences.

Austen Fisher Speaking in front of conference popup

Austen Fisher

‘In hosting Oxford’s first college-led conference on psychedelics, GTC demonstrated its commitment as an innovative, interdisciplinary, and practice-oriented institution while signaling society’s growing acceptance of these extraordinary substances.’

The conference was generously supported by Paul Oliver, an Executive Education alumnus of then-Templeton College from 1996. Paul said,

‘I decided to sponsor the Human Welfare Conference to support the college. I owe Oxford and Green Templeton so much and wanted to give something back. When I chatted with Austen Fisher, the conference chair, I was so impressed I decided to increase my sponsorship.

‘It is wonderful to see young academics like Austen and his friends and colleagues creating such a fascinating and wide-ranging conference.’

Participants also commented on the intimacy of the conference, which can be attributed to the single room lecture theatre, size of the college, and decision to keep in-person only to foster an environment for collaboration.

Featuring some of the biggest names in psychedelics the conference included seven presentations spread out over the day, an engaging panel discussion and plenty of opportunities for participants to network and discuss on the sidelines of the plenary sessions.

Rosalind Watts Speaking into handheld microphone

Rosalind Watts

Dr Rosalind Watts (Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Lead at ICL, ACER Integration) highlighted some challenges/dangers she encountered while working in psychedelics, such as narcissism and the problematic egos that can arise from seeing oneself as a healer, shared caution and encouraged those working in the field to slow down.

Dr Ben Sessa (Consultant Psychiatrist and MDMA, Psilocybin and Ketamine Therapist; MD; Psychedelic Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College London; Private Consultant Psychiatrist at Dr Ben Sessa Ltd; Academic Faculty at Mind Medicine Australia; Academic Faculty at California Institute of Integrative Studies) covered findings and developments in MDMA-assisted therapy, focusing specifically on their ability process and heal trauma.

Other presentation topics ranged from indigenous ontologies, metaphysics, and exceptional human experiences, to psychedelics in ancient civilisations, modern medicine, and community health, along with some challenges encountered while working in psychedelics.

Moderated by Oxford Psychedelic Society president, Kenneth Shinozuka, the concluding panel discussion considered the implications for human welfare in a world increasingly embracing psychedelics.

Principal Sir Michael Dixon Speaking To Attendees In The Stables Bar

Principal Sir Michael Dixon speaking to attendees in the Stables

The sold-out conference was followed by a reception where participants were able to reflect on the though-provoking discussion around this area, which is anticipated to grow more than 400% between to 2020 and 2027 to become a $10.75 billion industry.

A Sketchnote by Nat Al-Tahhan commissioned as part of the conference offers an alternative interpretation of the discussions throughout the day.

Sketchnote from the conference by Nat Al-Tahhan

Audience member asking Question

There was active audience participating throughout the day

Registration desk with badges laid out and being handed out


See full details about the conference schedule and speakers

Created: 3 July 2023