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[5-min read] Q&A with Dave Hodges, Pastor & Founder
Welcome to Tricycle Day. We’re the psychedelic newsletter that doesn’t care if you’re atheist or orthodox. The only thing we’re dogmatic about is sending emails you love to read. 🙏
Dave Hodges leads the world’s largest entheogenic megachurch today. He’s the first to admit the whole idea started as a joke, but since then, The Church of Ambrosia has given him a greater sense of meaning and purpose than he could have ever imagined.
We asked Dave what he learned from taking 30 grams of mushrooms at once, what really happened when police raided his church, and why he’s stepping into policy reform with an ambitious California ballot initiative.
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What inspired you to found the Church of Ambrosia and become an advocate for the religious use of entheogens?
My journey began with cannabis. Before that, I'd have considered myself an atheist, but after cannabis, I became a bit agnostic. It was Burning Man that nudged me toward a broader spirituality and a sense that something's out there, though hard to put into words. The Church of More Pot emerged almost accidentally at Burning Man in 2010. By 2019, when I opened the cannabis church, it wasn't just a joke anymore; people took it seriously, and that's when I realized I needed to as well.
It's funny. I called it a cult jokingly, but I did have followers, people who wanted it to be a real religion. The Book of More Pot started as a Halloween stunt, but folks at Burning Man helped create a system and commandments for it. So when the opportunity to open the church in 2019 appeared, I seized it.
In Oakland, six months into running the cannabis church, the city passed laws that made entheogens like mushrooms a low law enforcement priority. It felt like a sign since, personally, I had only stuck to cannabis until then. I'd even discussed trying mushrooms with Rick Doblin from MAPS the year before, thinking I'd try them around him at Burning Man. Yet, by the next year, I'd already worked my way up to 30 grams in a single dose within three months of starting.
It was very intense. But in hindsight, it also felt like a part of the mushrooms' training program, pushing me to dive deep into this work so I could be prepared for what was coming.
What did you learn from that series of high-dose psilocybin journeys? How has it shaped the doctrine of your church?
The journey with mushrooms began with smaller doses. I had the typical experience—funny hand visuals and so forth. But running the church, I felt compelled to attempt the "heroic" five-gram dose. Things got intense. Afterward, I ended up in a loop. I kept telling myself, "Learn to breathe. Do more mushrooms." I wrote off the message about breathing, but I did take more mushrooms—this time 10 grams—and the loop persisted. I kept saying the same thing. Curious, I finally googled "how to breathe" and stumbled upon talks about diaphragmatic breathing, which made me realize I'd been doing it wrong my whole life.
Two possibilities struck me: the mushrooms either allowed me to connect deeply with myself or connected me with guides on the other side, both of which I now know to be true. At 15 grams, I met entities revealing the purpose of my life. This prompted me to seek guidance and led me to the late Kilindi Iyi, known for his high-dose experiences.
Meeting him affirmed my path, especially after receiving messages to go beyond 20 grams. His wisdom reassured me; someone with extensive experience validated my own journey. I eventually dared a 30-gram dose before Burning Man, with a trip sitter standing by.
My deep dive into mushrooms connected me to my soul and helped me understand a sense of self beyond the physical body. Now, I like to think of the mushrooms' teachings in three phases. Phase one is trauma resolution; it feels like a decade of therapy compressed. Unlike in traditional talk therapy, you are confronted by your very soul, and that conversation is immediate and unfiltered.
Phase two goes deeper into understanding the nature of one's soul, its motivations, and why it chose to come here and become you. This phase, beyond trauma, connects us to our individual purpose.
Phase three, a territory I tread cautiously, involves dealing with entities and realities beyond our own. These experiences aren't something everyone might need or want. I’ve encountered beings entertaining the total destruction and nuclear annihilation of the human race. The depth of these journeys really demands caution and intent.
Coming back to the physical plane for a moment, what did it feel like when Zide Door was raided by police? How has that experience shaped your ongoing work?
The raid on our church was something I expected. Since day one, I anticipated a legal battle. I even predicted it'd happen around the presidential election, which it did. Initially, I thought it might involve federal agencies, but it turned out to be the local PD.
The raid, however, led to a significant spike in membership. Before the raid, we operated word-of-mouth with 20,000 members. Post-raid, we hit 100,000 physical members within three years. The raid brought visibility, contrary to media claims of closure. We've never advertised, yet people kept finding us.
During the raid, I asserted religious freedom and managed to stop them from continuing by bargaining access to the safes. There was a standoff, with me demanding a legal acknowledgment before letting them in. Eventually, a compromise allowed them into one safe, which held old paperwork, not the cash they were hoping for.
This raid gave us grounds to sue Oakland PD in federal court, aligning with our original plan. Recently, we withdrew the lawsuit after being told we needed a permit. Interestingly, while churches typically don't require permits, our specific zone does. Now, we're navigating a conditional use permit process, not to operate a psychedelic church, but merely to function as a church at all. The irony is, there’s another church right across the street from us.
You’ve spent the last few months leading a California ballot initiative campaign. Can you tell us about the Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative of 2024 and its goals?
We're just kicking off the process. We have our final title and summary, and we're ready begin gathering signatures. But there's a big hurdle: money. To land on the 2024 ballot, we need $20 million just to gather enough signatures. I truly believe in this initiative, but the lack of funding is a major roadblock. Our approach isn't simple. While many debates pit decriminalization against legalization or medicalization, the truth is more nuanced. Our initiative allows full decriminalization on personal property but requires a doctor's approval for buying psychedelics elsewhere.
Safety is a key driver here. We're mandating a doctor's check to ensure users are physically fit for psychedelics. What sets us apart is our inclusion of all psychedelics listed under controlled substances, from natural to synthetic—LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and more. This isn't just about access; it's about safe access. You can grow at home, but for production, lab permits are necessary.
Another significant aspect is our inclusion of cannabis, under the umbrella of entheogens with medical benefits. The cannabis legalization landscape has left medical patients in the lurch. They're seeking edibles with higher doses than what's available through dispensaries. Our initiative fills that gap, providing medical cannabis via these channels.
So far, the initiative has garnered strong support. Our urgency to file was due to concerns about the potential chaos of an unregulated market, something we've aimed to address with stringent guidelines. However, the major hurdle remains: the $20 million needed for the ballot. We're pushing ahead because this is vital. If not now, perhaps 2026 or 2028. Missing the April 23 signature deadline could delay our efforts until 2026 at the earliest.
Looking ahead, what changes do you hope to see in the public perception and legal acceptance of entheogens, whether for spiritual or therapeutic use?
I envision a world where everyone has access to their soul.
Between the church and the ballot initiative, everything we’re doing is steering toward that goal. The progress is promising, but there's a responsibility on every individual that uses or advocates for these tools. We need to guide things in the right direction, so that history doesn't echo the pitfalls of the ‘70s. Back then, the culture moved quickly, but it lost momentum just as fast, which led to the current War on Drugs. We can’t afford to let that happen again.
In my mind, what’s needed to avoid jeopardizing the entire movement is a collective effort to ensure public safety and educate people about the responsible use of psychedelics. Knowing when and where to use psychedelics is critical. Tragic setbacks have occurred due to avoidable accidents, and a sober presence could have prevented them. It’s simple. We have to help keep each other safe. What's at stake is our connection to our very souls.
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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.