Next to bright, swirling paintings, near a bar where white wine flows, near business consultants in designer dresses and researchers in jeans, the psychedelically-inspired artist Phil Lewis hosted a silent auction at his Boulder, Colorado, art gallery last night for the Nowak Society, a nonprofit that works toward expanding access to psychedelic drugs and helping people have good trips.

Tickets were $50. There was free wine and beer and flaky pastry appetizers delivered by men in ties. Auctioned items included tickets to the ARISE music festival, CBD products, and visionary art from Lewis.

Psychedelics — LSD, mushrooms and MDMA — are on the verge of coming back to open, polite society. Some people worry they could cause problems, since they have been linked to mental health problems. But the Nowak Society hopes psychedelics can actually help people be happier, saner and live better lives.

"We have to do drugs differently," Nowak Society board member Shannon Hughes, PhD, told the crowd. "We have to change our idea of what a medicine is."

It was evident at the gathering that the status of psychedelics in society is very mixed. Some guests wore chiffon scarves and shiny black shoes; others purple hair, socks with sandals and dreadlocks.

Phil Lewis, whose art was featured on the cover of Rooster in December, said that he doesn't do psychedelics anymore, but that mushrooms were a part of his life when he was younger. They gave him an appreciation for animals and nature and the living world. He channels this feeling in his art.

The event was attended by Dr. Will Van Derveer and Dr. Scott Shannon, psychiatrists from Boulder and Fort Collins involved in the clinical trials of a psychedelic drug. They're on track to legalize the use of the club drug MDMA — also known as ecstasy, molly, x and e — together with therapy to treat post traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Shannon said he's seen amazing results, watching, for example, war vets become calmer than they ever have after just a few short sessions. MDMA therapy is expected to be legal by 2021.

Members of the Nowak Society stood on a stool and passionately asked the audience to support its mission. They said they'll use the funds for a number of projects with psychedelics and mental health. One of the biggest is the attempt to let terminally ill people use mushrooms or LSD to treat their fear of death, under laws called Right to Try and End of Life Options. They're also co-hosting a talk at the Boulder Book Store June 1 with author Michael Pollan, who is famous for writing about food but is about to publish a book called "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence." Fans of psychedelics hope his book will help reintroduce them into the lives of mainstream people who might not have thought much about them.

Lauren Ciovacco told the crowd how Nowak Society members work with Groove Medical at festivals to help folks who are having difficult psychedelic and mental health experiences, like taking three hits of acid and having a bad trip.

Nowak members worked with a transportation company called Bus to Show, which gives concertgoers rides from Boulder and Denver to Red Rocks, teaching their bus drivers the same skill set. So that if someone has a bad trip on a bus to the Dead and Company, the driver won't have to call the cops or paramedics.

When folks are having a hard time, whether it's from psychedelics or just from life, it's up to regular people to step up, Ciovacco said.

"We're not waiting on the politicians to save us," Ciovacco said. "We saving ourselves."

Nowak Society members spent the end of the evening counting up donations and handing out items to the winning bidders. They called the night a success.

[cover photo courtesy Phil Lewis]