OPEN Foundation

Jeroen Neef

Summer School on Psychedelic Research 2023: a recap

Last week, OPEN executive director Joost Breeksema and OPEN board members Michiel van Elk and Patricia Pisters gave lectures during the second edition of the Summer School on Psychedelic Research in Groningen, the Netherlands. Close to 50 participants from around the globe attended the Summer School, which was co-organised by the Research School of Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN) of the University of Groningen, the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and the OPEN Foundation.

Joost Breeksema spoke about the adverse effects of psychedelic use and offered an in-depth look at his qualitative research into the personal experiences of patients undergoing treatments with different psychedelics for severe mental disorders. Michiel van Elk shed light on the working mechanisms of psychedelics and the methodological challenges of psychedelic research during his two lectures. Patricia Pisters presented a fascinating analysis of aesthetics within psychedelic cinema.

Breeksema, who is also the coordinator of the Summer School on Psychedelic Research, looks back on a highly successful second edition: ‘It was magnificent. The Summer School has grown in size and grown in quality. We had such a wide variety of Netherlands-based researchers from multiple disciplines. There are so many different angles from which psychedelics can be studied. We brought all these different perspectives together.

The Summer School welcomed students from a wide range of different academic disciplines and levels, from bachelor students to PhD candidates and postdocs. People traveled to Groningen from all over the world to take part: from China to Colombia, from Brazil to Australia and from differents parts of Europe to the US. Breeksema describes the Summer School week as ‘a sort of pressure cooker of learning, interacting and creating. Only something beautiful could come out of it.

Next to an impressive amount of engaging lectures, the Summer School students were surprised with a diverse social programme, featuring an open-air yoga session, a cozy social hangout around a bonfire and a screening of the captivating documentary Descending the Mountain. One of the major highlights of the week, according to many, was a sacred cacao ceremony where the participants experienced a deep connection with themselves and each other. 

A wide range of topics within the field of psychedelic science and research was covered during the Summer School, including but not limited to: 

  • Ketamine assisted psychotherapy for patients with trauma resistent depression (Jeanine Kamphuis, psychiatrist and researcher at the University Psychiatric Center in Groningen).
  • The use of MDMA in PTSD treatment (Eric Vermetten, professor of medical-biological and psychiatric aspects of psychotrauma at the University of Leiden).
  • Psychedelics and cognition (Stefanie Enriquez-Geppert, assistant professor at the department of clinical and developmental neuropsychology at the University of Groningen).
  • Microdosing psychedelics (Kim Kuypers, associate professor at the faculty of psychology and neuroscience at Maastricht University).
  • The philosophy of psychedelics (Aidan Lyon, philosopher at the University of Amsterdam).
  • Validity threats in psychedelic science (Eiko Fried, associate professor at the University of Leiden).
  • Psychedelics in religious studies (André van der Braak, professor of comparative philosophy of religion at the VU Amsterdam). 
  • Research dilemmas and transdiagnostic action (Robert Schoevers, professor of psychiatry at the University of Groningen, head of psychiatry at the UMCG and director of the Summer School on Psychedelic Research).

The indisputable success of the second edition of the Summer School on Psychedelic Research is best put into words by the participants themselves:

  • I realise that I had forgotten what it felt like to be truly enthralled with subject matter in a formal learning environment.
  • A top-notch summer school that exceeded all my expectations.
  • This week was absolutely amazing; it was such a privilege to connect with like-minded people. It really felt like a psychedelic experience!

Want to attend the 2024 edition of the Summer School on Psychedelic Research? Follow the Summer School Instagram profile or keep an eye on the Summer School website for more information, which will be provided early next year. Of course, we will also keep you updated through the Open Minded newsletter.

When asked whether applicants should have prior knowledge on psychedelics, Breeksema says ‘You really don’t have to be an expert, but during the Summer School, you will definitely become one! There is so much to be learned.’

Photo’s by Martin Spijker and Jeroen Neef

Dutch Government establishes MDMA state commission

The Dutch Government establishes a state commission to investigate the risks and benefits of MDMA, including its potential medical use. The commission will study the impact of MDMA on individuals, society, and public health. Additionally, the commission will examine the advantages and disadvantages of potential medical applications of MDMA. 

According to Dutch Minister of Health, Ernst Kuipers, there are good indications that the use of MDMA can help patients in specific situations where conventional forms of therapy cannot. Recently, the minister received a report from ZonMW (the Dutch organisation that subsidises scientific research to develop and innovate healthcare) about the therapeutic applications of psychedelics in the Netherlands.

The state commission will also assess the European legal context and relevant treaties related to MDMA use. This comprehensive review of MDMA’s status and potential therapeutic applications will provide valuable insights that should inform future drug policies and decisions related to psychedelic assisted psychotherapy in the Netherlands.

It’s worth noting that the state commission is an independent, ad hoc advisory body that functions autonomously from any Ministry. This means that the commission will operate with impartiality and objectivity, providing unbiased insights and recommendations to the Council of Ministers. State commissions in the Netherlands usually investigate a wide range of topics, including the functioning of the parliamentary system and democracy, euthanasia and institutional discrimination.

The commission, which includes experts in various fields such as the treatment of psychotraumas, criminology, and addiction care, aims to provide the cabinet with its conclusions and advice by January 2024.

We eagerly await the commission’s findings and recommendations. Stay tuned for updates on this important development as we continue to follow this issue closely.

OPEN Director Joost Breeksema appears on major dutch talkshow

Joost Breeksema, director of the OPEN Foundation, made an appearance on Tuesday’s episode of Dutch talkshow OP1. The conversation delved into the use of psychedelics in psychiatry. Retired professional cyclist Thomas Dekker explained how he used magic truffles to fight his depression after leaving the sport. Joost joined the table as an expert on therapeutic applications of psychedelics and a proponent of a programmatic research and implementation programme.

With the attendance of Dutch Minister of Health, Ernst Kuipers, the discussion shed light on the therapeutic applications of psychedelics and the importance of more research in this field. Minister Kuipers expressed his enthusiasm for the ongoing research and thanked Joost for showing him the work being done at the University Medical Centre in Groningen, stating that it was very impressive. 

During the conversation, Joost emphasised the importance of further large-scale research, regulatory frameworks and proper education of the public in order to protect vulnerable people in society. After the show he stated: “Although there isn’t enough time in a talkshow to convey all the nuances of this subject, it was still very encouraging to receive support from unexpected sources such as a professional athlete, the minister and the broadcasting company. The use of magic truffles to treat depression, as discussed by Thomas Dekker, still is a grey area that requires clinical testing and oversight before being approved for treatment.”

Minister Kuipers also publicly announced the establishment of a new state commission which aims to provide advice on the status of MDMA within the context of public health and the advantages and disadvantages of medicinal use.

It is a promising development that a topic as significant as the use of psychedelics in psychiatry was discussed on one of the Netherlands’ largest talkshows, with over 1.8 million viewers tuning in. This discussion has the potential to reduce the stigma associated with the use of illicit drugs in psychotherapy and encourages further research and exploration of therapeutic applications of psychedelics. We hope that this conversation will lead to more progress and support for scientific research in this area, ultimately benefiting those who suffer from mental illness.

11 December - Panel discussion on the Metaphysics of Psychedelic Experiences