Some experts think Denver’s growing rave scene could create more opportunities to heal from trauma after the state legalized the possession of psychedelic substances in November 2022. 

Denver’s rave scene has matured considerably since the early 1990s when police raids of underground parties were common. Now, Denver has become one of the top electronic music destinations in the country. For example, Denver-based artist Illenium played at Mile High Stadium on June 17, which the Denver Post called the “biggest electronic-dance music concert in Denver history”, and other venues ranging from The Junkyard to Red Rocks feature EDM artists as well. 

That maturation has also come at a time when Colorado policymakers are hammering out the state’s first set of regulations for its budding psychedelics industry.

To Taylor Bratches, an EDM DJ and psychedelic guide based in Boulder, it also suggests that Colorado could in the future provide fertile ground to explore new avenues for therapeutic treatments with psychedelic substances. 

Taylor Bratches speaking to the Psychedelic Club of Denver on August 16 at the Mercury Cafe.

“Raving is really about letting go of the limitations that you place on yourself, that your family places on you, or that society puts on you,” Bratches said during a talk about the healing powers of raves hosted by the Psychedelic Club of Denver Wednesday. “It’s a place to intentionally let go and be free.”

Scientists have been studying the healing aspects of raves since at least 2000 when Scott Hutson, an anthropologist at the University of California Berkeley, concluded that raves can produce “poignant and meaningful” spiritual experiences with therapeutic qualities.

“The rave can be conceptualized as a form of healing comparable both to shamanistic, ecstatic healing documented in small-scale, non-western societies and to spiritual experiences in modern western subculture,” Hutson wrote in his study.  

Bratches, who has been studying and writing about psychedelics for nearly a decade, says the connection between raves and ancient human cultures go even deeper. She compared the repetitive drum beats of EDM to similar ceremonies held by Native American tribes. She added that rave culture itself — and its mantra of promoting Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect — mirrors the initiation rites that other cultures have used to build community. 

“The rise of rave culture is all about a need to connect with our roots as humans,” Bratches said. 

Attending raves can also provide a safe space for people to have life-changing experiences, Breathes added. She pointed to a study performed by the U.K.’s University of Kent in 2021 that found the combination of dance, drums, sleep deprivation, and drugs can create “awe-inspiring” personal transformations in people, especially those who exhibit open personalities. 

Martha Newson, one of the study’s authors, said at the time that psychedelic substances could heighten those experiences, and provide a pathway to treating issues ranging from depression to anorexia. 

“We found positive associations between dancing and psychedelic drug use at these group rituals with feelings of awe and social bonding that could prove useful in supporting the growing wealth of clinical therapies,”  Newson said. 

Despite the benefits of raving, Bratches said the scene is still “not perfect” and has to grapple with its stigmatized past. Raves, like many psychedelic substances, are often described as rebellious and illicit, and face the constant threat of government intervention. For example, police in the San Diego area are warning residents of “underground raves’ happening beneath some of the city’s bridges, according to local news station CBS 8

Across the pond, Italy’s government passed a bill that outlaws raves and opens up the possibility for rave organizers to be wiretapped, the BBC reported in November 2022. 

To Bratches, the issues that exist in the rave scene today could be solved by increasing the focus on healing and integration. For example, a 42-year-old woman from the U.K. named Anu told Women’s Health Magazine in June that dancing at raves helps her “feel in tune with [herself] again.” Bratches said she’s heard several similar stories from her clients, both those who use psychedelics at rave events and those who prefer to dance sober. 

“Psychedelics aren’t always dark, they don’t always have to be about processing pain,” Bratches said. “They can be fun, too. People are looking for spaces to belong and connect with others.”