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Goodbye ICPR 2022. Hello… ICPR 2024!

From touching talks to insightful perspectives, and profound new ways of thinking about reality to practical tips about doing therapy or research: ICPR 2022 has been an inspiring, thought-provoking, educational, and uplifting experience. Thanks to you all so much from the bottom of our hearts, whether you were a visitor, volunteer, speaker, presenter, digital visitor, or fan from afar: you made this conference what it was.

A common theme at ICPR 2020 was figuring out what is next for psychedelics and psychedelic therapy, now that their efficacy has been proven, their acceptance is broadening, and a professional ecosystem is developing. The presentations at ICPR were able to satisfy some questions with answers but mostly helped us all to develop new and better questions about the challenges we are dealing with in our own fields. 

“We can set the standard for how this is done in the future,” as MAPS director Rick Doblin asserted at the closing panel of ICPR 2022. “And I think the most important thing right now is the training of therapists,” Doblin said, constantly pushing the envelope on where this field might go. “Let people watch videos for example. But also make sure there is a clear and defined way for therapists themselves to take MDMA legally as part of their training.”

At the same time, Paul Stamets stated, we should not forget to look for knowledge outside of the rigor of scientific research and prohibitionist laws – and appreciate more that some of these substances, experiences, and knowledge have been with humanity for a very long time: “We shouldn’t ignore that millions of people have been using these substances for thousands of years,” Paul Stamets stated. 

Participants Panel

There was special attention for the participants of psychedelic trials, who were featured on a panel to bring a much-needed perspective to ICPR that had been missing at earlier conferences. It was the first time -as far as we know- that a panel of trial participants was featured at a psychedelic conference. 

Participants Ian Roullier and Leonie Schneider stressed the need for extensive and thorough support before and after the psychedelic experience: “set and setting, for as participants, apply before, during and after treatment. It’s not just during the medical intervention itself.”

So psychedelics give us the opportunity to radically rethink human healing, was an often-heard sentiment at ICPR: “It’s time we treat people like plants”, Pedram Dara, ICPR Manager and panel member of the participants’ trial asserted. He alluded to the care we take to change the environment of a plant when it’s not doing well – with light, water and nutrients – instead of trying to ‘fix’ the plant itself. 

Leonie Schneider underlined the need for an infrastructure and ecosystem. “Tweak the environment so that it supports them. We are not dots on a graph, we are not lab rats, we are human beings. So how do we create peer circles and support groups – a community infrastructure – going forward?”

FUTURE OF PSYCHEDELIC Therapy

Mendel Kaelen, music researcher and the CEO of Wavepaths, underlined the importance of experience as a healing agent: “We learn to walk by walking, we learn to talk by talking and we need to learn to feel safe by feeling safe” – Mendel Kaelen, CEO of Wavepaths.

Janis Phelps shared her qualms about the psychedelic experience being boxed-in too much: “I’m afraid the experience will be overmedicalized,” she said, “that we lose that sense of awe and gratitude that Roland Griffiths talked about. I don’t want to have done all this work just to the benefit of wealthy people.”

Future research was also announced and highlighted. Beckley Foundation founder and director Amanda Feilding announced a first proof-of-concept study with Basel university to study microdosing LSD in mild Alzheimer’s disease. Rick Doblin posed difficult questions around PTSD in children and proposals to explore MDMA-assisted therapy for 11-year olds.    

Roland Griffiths reflected on his own mortality and shared how he is nurturing gratitude about the mystery of life and consciousness while he walks this earth with us.

Charles Raison examined the agent of change in a psychedelic experience: are psychedelics more like psychotherapy or more like standard antidepressants ‘on steroids’? To test this, an upcoming study by Raison will administer psilocybin to sleeping participants. Will they experience a meaningful change without having conscious thoughts?

Torsten Passie reflected on his experience in psychedelic therapy: “We are not treating people. We are moderating self-healing. This is why we should guide rather than interfere with the process”, explained Torsten Passie.

Some findings

There were bigger and smaller findings about how psychedelics compare to more traditional antidepressants. Emotional blunting is a common side effect reported with antidepressants, Matthew Wall explained. And his research found that psilocybin affects emotional responsiveness less than escitalopram – as measured by the emotional faces task. In simpler terms: it found psilocybin offered a greater antidepressant effect with less downsides.

Frederike Holze presented the results of a recent study at University Hospital Basel with Peter Gasser, that a single dose of LSD correlated with a rapid, long-lasting reduction in anxiety symptoms. And that mystical experiences are correlated with longer-lasting effects.

Jennifer Schmidt presented a study that found that Methylone showed the strongest possible antidepressant effect in the forced-swim-test in rats. The study also found that methylone does not have a negative drug interaction with SSRIs, like MDMA does.

David Erritzoe found that participants who were weaned off antidepressants before taking psilocybin experienced a smaller change in depression reduction than those who were fully naive to antidepressants. David Erritzoe explained that the expectancy effect of escitalopram predicts greater efficacy than the same expectancy effect with psilocybin.

ICPR 2024!

We’ve hardly had time to catch our breath after the afterparty (and the after-after-party…) but we didn’t want to leave you with the sincere wish we can do this all again soon! The great success of ICPR 2022 means that the OPEN Foundation has a runway to organise and expand the psychedelic scientific ecosystem for the upcoming years. And it is with that confidence and love that we want to invite you to the next ICPR – now planned for 2024. Because there is much suffering in the world, the questions that psychedelics force us to ask are urgent, and there is much need to separate fact from fiction, and hype from hope, in the prospering psychedelic ecosystem.

This overview was but a snippet of the hundreds of hours we could spend on its content. But rest assured that more videos from ICPR2022 will appear over the coming weeks. Watch your email and follow us on social media to stay up to date. The community platform is where these videos will be released.

Earliest Bird tickets for ICPR 2024 are now available. 

Thanks again to all the volunteers helping out, and especially the photography, video, livestream, content and social media teams! Special mention to @martin_spijker for his amazing portraits and photos.

(Now let’s all take a well-deserved nap.)

ICPR 2022 PREVIEW: SATURDAY HIGHLIGHTS

Wow, we’re already on the final day of ICPR 2022! We’ll hear from Roland Griffiths (virtually), trial participants, Rick Doblin, Gitte Moos Knudsen, Bernardo Kastrup and others on topics such as MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, indigenous medicine, business, microdosing, and critical perspectives on the quality of psychedelic research. 

Just before lunch, there will be a screening in the Wasson Room of the film Descending the Mountain at 11:50, followed by a Q&A with co-producer Annette Badenhorst. At that same time, Corine de Boer will give an update on MDMA-assisted therapy in Europe, followed by Rick Doblin who will give an overview of the work of MAPS on MDMA. 

This will be a hard block to choose from, because at the same time we’ll hear from participants of psychedelic trials in the Shulgin Room.

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After lunch, Bernardo Kastrup will give a keynote speech on how the effects of psychedelic  point towards a much bigger puzzle about the nature of reality – while the Wasson Room will feature talks on Indigenous medicine in and beyond the Amazon.

Roland Griffiths will speak to us via video, while some perspectives and digital tools for microdosing studies are shared in the Wasson Room. There will be three different panels, discussing the business of psychedelic sciencepatient perspectives from trials, and managing issues around blinding and expectancy in research. 

For reflecting on three days of psychedelic discourse, there will be a closing panel starting at 17:30, with time to relax and connect afterward. For those who have signed up for the afterparty in Amsterdam: see you there! (Afterparty has a waitlist – check your email for more info)!

As for recordings for all rooms, we’ll need time to process. Most talks will be available for later viewing, but there is no timeline available for this yet. We’ll keep you posted.

Check out the full day 3 programme here.

ICPR 2022 PREVIEW: FRIDAY HIGHLIGHTS

And we’re off! After an amazing, warm and inspiring first day where we hugged old friends and greeted new faces, we’re now on to our second day of ICPR! Hopefully everyone knows their way around the building (and to the different “toiletten” tucked in the building) a bit more.

Friday Highlights
Some highlights of Friday are LSD Research, the mainstreaming of psychedelics, the future of funding, and psychedelic neuroscience. 

David Nutt and Amanda Feilding will dive into the neuroscience of psychedelics in the morning. And Bill Richards will give an update about his work around palliative care and psychedelics – some of the longest-running research into the possibility of psychedelics to relieve suffering of terminal patients. While Torsten Passie will teach lessons from the first wave of psychedelic research in the mid-20th century.

Brian Pace will try to break some stereotypes about the political leanings of the psychedelic ecosystem with his presentation on Right-wing psychedelia: red pills for sale. Ethics will be discussed by Carolina Seybert and Robert Schoevers.

Two concurrent panels will round up the day.

One panel will be about the mainstreaming and commercialisation of the psychedelic field and will include Rick Doblin, VICE-journalist Shayla Love, North Star project leader Julia Mande and professor in clinical pharmacology and long-time psychedelics researcher Matthias Liechti. The conversation will be hosted by journalist Thijs Roes.

The other panel is moderated by David Nutt and will discuss the future of funding and regulation in Europe. Panel members are Lionel Thelen, Gitte Moos Knudsen, Tadeusz Hawrot, and Florence Butlen-Ducuing.

At that same time, Mendel Kaelen, founder and CEO of Wavepaths, will give a talk on the role of music in psychedelic therapy based on his 10 years of research.

Having such a wide range of topics on one day again shows the value of having an interdisciplinary conference. So again, on this Friday, there is again so much to choose from. 

Highlighted topic of the day: LSD
From its accidental discovery to its long-lasting effects, and now a renewed interest in the therapeutic potential of the substance in modern psychiatry: lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is unique in the world of psychedelics. On day 2 of ICPR, you will hear from Friederike Holze and Peter Gasser about the recently published results of one of the biggest trials with LSD in the treatment of anxiety with or without a life-threatening illness.

Amanda Feilding will present an important aspect of the LSD experience, talking about blood supply to the brain. Finally, there will be an intriguing talk by Mark Juhan regarding the “entities” encountered during LSD trips. Get ready to dive deep into the history, or mystery of the LSD experience!
Cognition and perception will be explored by Isabel Wiessner in her talk LSD and the stream of thought: increased discontinuity of mind, deep thoughts and abstract flow.

Full programme
Find 
Friday’s full programme here.

ICPR 2022 PREVIEW: THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS

After many months of planning, ICPR 2022 is finally here! In this post, we’d like to look ahead to the first day of ICPR: Thursday. Here are some highlights, to help you with your planning for the three days of psychedelic science. You can find the full programme here for all the specifics about who is where and when. The full list of speakers and presenters is on the ICPR website. If you have an in-person or livestream ticket already, be sure to check your e-mail for all the latest news and updated – like getting access to our new OPEN Community Platform.

ICPR 2022 will be hosted at the Philharmonie building in Haarlem from approximately 9:00 to 18:00 each day across three stages, which include the Huxley Hall, the Shulgin Stage, and the Wasson Room. Lunch will be served in the main hall and poster presenters will have their own room. 

On Wednesday, we’re first holding The Psychedelic Science, Ethics & Business event, featuring in-depth discussions about the way forward in the business side of psychedelics. Supplemental live stream tickets are still available for those who need them and more information is here.

Let’s now dive into the programme so you can get planning and make sure you don’t miss any of the action!

THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS

The main hall of the conference, called Huxley Hall.

On the first morning of ICPR 2022, Joost Breeksema, director of the OPEN Foundation, will kick things off with an official opening at Huxley Hall at 9:15. This will be followed by chemist David Nichols, who will set the scene with an overview of psychedelics from prehistory to the present. After that, the presentations will generally run parallel.

Later highlights of this first day are neuroscientist Kim Kuypers about microdosing, mycologist Paul Stamets about synthetic psilocybin vs. psilocybin mushrooms and the three interesting panel discussions in the afternoon. Topics will be psychedelic research in the Netherlands, therapist self-experience, and the relative novelty of psychedelic compounds

Be sure to take a good look at the programme so you can plan accordingly. Because other topics for this first day will range from the commercialisation of psychedelics to mysticism, 5-MeO-DMT for depression, diversity and inclusion in the field, and psychedelic aesthetics

To round off the day, there will be a musical performance by Vincent Moon at the Shulgin Stage (de Kleine Zaal).

Check out the Full Programme here on the ICPR website or if you have a ticket, go to the programme on the OPEN community platform.

The Shulgin Stage in the Kleine Zaal

How Psychedelics Prove that Materialism is Baloney: A sneak peek into the work of Bernardo Kastrup

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep – William James

One of the most fascinating findings coming from the scientific literature on psychedelics is their ability to drastically alter our beliefs and worldview. These form the basis of how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the world. As a result, they determine how we attach meaning to our lives and whether we ultimately feel happy, sad, or depressed. Our beliefs and worldview can, in short, be considered as one of the most important aspects of who we are and how our lives unfold.

The current prevailing worldview in Western society to which most of us pledge allegiance is that of materialism. I am not referring to materialism in the consumerist sense, wherein the main preoccupation of the human being is the pursuit and obtainment of things, but materialism from the viewpoint of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the study of the fundamental nature of reality.

Bernardo Kastrup, one of the speakers at ICPR 2022, challenges the current worldview of metaphysical materialism. Specifically, he proposes analytical idealism as an alternative, the notion that reality is essentially mental and inseparable from mind. Bernardo has been leading the modern renaissance on metaphysical idealism for the past ten years and is considered one of the most energetic, diverse, and original thinkers alive today.

The story of how Bernardo came to idealism is truly fascinating. For those who are interested, I highly recommend two podcast episodes (listed below) in which he explains how he arrived at this particular understanding of metaphysics. In short, Bernardo started his career as a computer engineer, working for some of the biggest and most important companies in the world, including the Dutch company ASML, the world’s leading computer chipmaker for the semiconductor industry, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world (i.e., the Large Hadron Collider).

Despite these prestigious positions, Bernardo always remained a philosopher at heart and was thus concerned with the bigger questions: “What is life? Where do we come from? What happens to our consciousness after we die?” More than anything, he pondered endlessly as a computer engineer on the possibilities and limitations of artificial intelligence: “If you put enough elements of a computer and chips together to aggregate computing power, when will it become conscious? More so, can it become conscious?”

Materialism and The Hard Problem of Consciousness

The unanswered question refers to a notorious problem that has been troubling scientists and philosophers alike for decades. It was first coined as ‘The Hard Problem of Consciousness’ by Australian philosopher David Chalmers in his famous essay Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, which has been declared as the second most important unanswered question in science by Science. According to Bernardo, it should have been number one. 

Before we continue, let’s first briefly discuss what materialism is all about. This way we can better comprehend the Hard Problem.

Metaphysical materialism states that all of reality is composed of a small set of fundamental subatomic particles, which are described in the ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics. These particles are the basic building blocks of nature and responsible for the character and behaviors of all known phenomena, from the chair you are sitting on to the entirety of the Milky Way, to your body and loved ones, and of course your mind.

Materialism assumes that these subatomic particles are “dead” and, therefore, absent from consciousness. Now here is the rub: “How do you eventually get consciousness simply by arranging ‘dead’ subatomic particles together?” Alas, we have arrived at the Hard Problem of consciousness. Bernardo calls it a sore on the foot of materialism. In fact, it is such an obstinate problem that materialist philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett, have been accused of ‘explaining it away’.

How do you eventually get consciousness simply by arranging ‘dead’ subatomic particles together?

Other famous neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch, remain hopeful and claim that it is only a matter of time before we resolve the Hard Problem. Koch initiated his quest alongside molecular biologist turned neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick in the 1990s. Most of all, their primary objective was to discover the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs), which refers to the “the minimum neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any one specific conscious experience.” 

Similar to philosopher Daniel Dennett, consciousness has in their view a mechanistic basis and is ultimately a scientifically tractable problem. So long as we keep collecting more data about the inner workings of the brain through state-of-the art neuroimaging techniques and aggregate this over the years, we will eventually find the much sought after NCCs. The phenomenon of consciousness is, after all, produced by an assembly of dead subatomic particles that we would call a human brain. Consciousness is material brain processes at work.

Exactly how these material brain processes and the various mechanical movements of particles are accompanied by inner life remains, however, “a question left unanswered by materialism”, states Bernardo in Why Materialism is Baloney – How true skeptics know there is no death and fathom answers to life, the universe and everything.

It is here that Bernardo firmly states that such (scientific) pursuits are – and will remain – futile. We cannot solve the Hard Problem through science because of the simple fact that science cannot look at what nature is – science can only look at what nature does: “The scientific method allows us to study and model the observable patterns and regularities of nature […] But our ability to model the patterns and regularities of reality tells us little about the underlying nature of things”, writes Bernardo.

Tackling the Hard Problem: Idealism to the Rescue

To tackle the Hard Problem, we need to approach it through metaphysics, it being the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with the study of the fundamental nature of reality. Metaphysics looks at what nature is.

Now, Bernardo does not actually “solve” the Hard Problem, but rather circumvents it through his metaphysical framework of idealism. In fact, he suggests that there is no problem at all; it is only a problem when we believe the metaphysics of materialism to be true. And so long as we adhere to the materialist worldview, we keep misconstruing our conception of reality through a flawed conceptual framework that is ultimately nonsensical and self-defeating.

As I was reading about the Hard Problem and delved more and more into the framework of idealism, a quote from Einstein came to mind that perfectly encapsulates the current predicament: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Within the metaphysical framework of materialism, the Hard Problem cannot possibly be solved. It is created within a certain mode of thinking, a mode of thinking that is, according to Bernardo, the wrong one.

The Hard Problem is only a problem when we believe the metaphysics of materialism to be true.

So what, then, is idealism? As mentioned before, idealism consists of the notion that mind and reality are inseparable. Put slightly differently, it states that ‘mind’ is the medium of reality, not ‘matter’. This sounds rather abstract and confusing at first, because mind is generally referred to as something we use (although I have my doubts about some individuals) or lose. We see this particularly reflected in our everyday language: “use your mind for once!” or “he has lost his mind!”

Within the metaphysical framework of idealism, however, the mind is defined as something entirely different. In the opening of Chapter 3 in Why Materialism is Baloney, Bernardo provides a “most natural and obvious answer” to the question of what ‘mind’ signifies within the framework idealism: “Mind is the medium of everything that you have ever known, seen, or felt; everything that has ever meant anything to you. Whatever has never fallen within the embrace of your mind, might as well have never existed as far as you are concerned. Your entire life and universe – your parents and the people you love, your first day at school, your first kiss, every time you were sick, the obnoxious boss at work, your dreams and aspirations, your successes, your disappointments, your worldview, etc. – are and have always been phenomena of your mind, existing within its boundaries.”

Yet this description of mind within the framework of idealism remains just that: a description. Again, I want to emphasize here that in order to intuitively understand, or “grok” (to borrow from Bernardo’s lexicon), requires a different mode of thinking. Speaking from personal experience, this is an arduous process, particularly because the worldview of materialism is so firmly ingrained within us. It is a firmly established belief system accompanied by a habitual mode of thinking that is often considered infallible.

Mind is the medium of everything that you have ever known, seen, or felt; everything that has ever meant anything to you. Whatever has never fallen within the embrace of your mind, might as well have never existed.

To avoid eating the menu, we can use metaphors to get an initial taste of idealism. Fortunately, Bernardo provides no shortage of these in Why Materialism is Baloney – a triumphant feat on par with the wit of Alan Watts. In my view, the most intuitive analogy to start off with when trying to “grok” idealism is the whirlpool.

Whirlpools Within the Lake of Mind

Consider ‘mind’ as a lake of water. When this lake is still, water is flowing along freely without any hindrance. The water is not localized. Now, imagine a small whirlpool within the lake. All of a sudden, there is an identifiable pattern that assembles the water molecules in place within the lake. In other words, the whirlpool reflects a pattern that localizes the flow of water (see Figure 1).

We are able to point at this pattern and say: “Here is a whirlpool!” Other water molecules that are not localized through the whirlpool are ‘filtered out’ – they are kept away by the particular dynamics of the whirlpool. From this, Bernardo makes two observations regarding the whirlpool metaphor, namely that 1) the whirlpool reflects a localization of water within the lake and 2) that there is a ‘filtering out’ of the other remaining water molecules.

Figure 1
The whirlpool in a lake is a metaphor for a brain in the medium of mind (from Kastrup, 2014)

These observations lead to the following conclusion, namely that “there is nothing to the whirlpool, but the lake itself.” It is important to remember this statement in the next few paragraphs, because it contains the essence of idealism. Once more, the only thing that the whirlpool reflects is a very specific pattern of water that has been localized within the lake. Ultimately, it is all water. It is all one.

There is nothing to the whirlpool but the lake itself.

Bernardo mentions the brain as something very analogous to the whirlpool in the lake. More specifically, he talks about the brain as “an image [pattern] in mind, which reflects a localization of contents of mind.” And just like there is nothing to the whirlpool but the lake, there is nothing to the brain but mind itself. Within the metaphysics of idealism, the brain represents an identifiable pattern of the localization of mind. Similar to the whirlpool within the lake, we can point to the brain within the medium of mind and say: “Here is a brain!” And just as the whirlpool captures water molecules from the lake, the brain assembles subjective experiences from the medium of mind and ‘filters out’ experiences of reality that under ordinary circumstances do not fall within its boundaries.

There is nothing to the brain but mind itself.

Consider the following. Would you say that a whirlpool causes water? Or that flames are the cause of combustion? What about lightning being the cause of electric discharge? My guess is probably not. In fact, you would be rather perplexed when someone gives you these presuppositions: “Of course a whirlpool does not cause water. It is exactly the other way around; the water, or the lake, is the very thing that causes the whirlpool!” Naturally, the whirlpool and water are very much related to each other, but the whirlpool only represents a “partial image” of the whole process that is lying underneath it.

And the same can be said of the brain. It too represents a partial image within the broader medium of mind. According to Bernardo, saying that “the brain generates mind is as absurd as to say that a whirlpool generates water!” (italics added).

Understanding the brain to be a partial image within the broader medium of mind eliminates the Hard Problem entirely, because the aforementioned NCCs can now be interpreted differently. Yes, there still exists a clear and obvious relationship between brain states and someone’s state of ‘mind’, but now the former can be seen as a partial image of the latter. As Bernardo concludes: “The brain is an experience, an image in mind of a certain process of mind.”

What materialism is trying and claiming to accomplish is the impossible. It maintains that the brain is the very thing that causes consciousness and the plethora of subjective experiences that go along with it. But if you understand just a little bit of what has been presented so far, you can begin to see that this is a complete non sequitur. It does not follow that consciousness is the cause of brain processes, as one would similarly not infer that combustion and water are respectively caused by flames and whirlpools. Trying to fix it only results in what is keenly illustrated on a subreddit that creates some hilarious memes of Bernardo and idealism.

Of course, it would be unfair to entirely negate materialism based on just this metaphor, albeit it being a very useful one. This is where psychedelics come in, as their effects on the brain help make sense of this metaphor.

Brief Peeks Beyond: The Acute effects of Psychedelics on the Human Brain

In the past decade, Bernardo has written extensively about the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain. More specifically, he has provided evidence of how neuroimaging studies seem to support the tenets of idealism – much to the dismay of other materialist neuroscientists, which include previous ICPR speakers as Enzo Tagliazucchi and Robin Carhart-Harris.

To be clear, Bernardo never suggested “malicious intent.” Rather, the intention was to emphasize how “paradigmatic expectations can make it all too easy to cherry-pick, misunderstand and then misrepresent results so as to render them consistent with the reigning [materialist] worldview.” Indeed, it is a clear example of how materialism permeates the culture and how unaware we are of our philosophical presuppositions.

In general, neuroimaging studies examining the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain demonstrate that there is an inverse relationship between brain activity and subjective experience. Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Psychedelic substances are found to reduce brain activity, rather than increase it. Such results vehemently oppose the intuitions of materialism. After all, it is brain activity itself that is supposed to constitute subjective experience: “consciousness is brain activity.” How else are we going to find the NCCs?

Down below follows a summary of two important neuroimaging studies and Bernardo’s interpretations of their results, which led him to conclude that the evidence thus far supports idealism.

The first study examined the neural correlates of psilocybin. According to Bernardo, this study was “extremely well designed” as it countered the “uncertainties of measuring brain activity with an fMRI scanner.” Here, he is alluding to the fact that the researchers used two ‘signals’ in determining brain activity, namely arterial spin labeling (ASL) and blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). More specifically, ASL is a non-invasive fMRI technique for measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF): the amount of CBF indicates the amount of brain activity. On the other hand, BOLD measures the difference between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood in various brain regions that indicates the level of metabolism. Ultimately, it is the amount of metabolism which indicates the amount of brain activity in a given brain region.

With both these measures, here is what the authors from the psilocybin study reported: “we observed no increases in cerebral blood flow in any region” (italics added). Even more ‘alarming’: “the more the drug deactivated the brain, the more intense were the subjective experiences reported by the subjects” (italics added).

Reading further into the study, results become particularly worrisome for materialists when study participants made report of having had extremely rich subjective experiences, which included “geometrical patterns”, “extremely vivid imagination”, “seeing their surroundings change in unusual ways”, and having experiences that feature a “dream-like quality.”

Bernardo summarized the findings in one of his many blog posts and stated: “the brain largely goes to sleep. Who, then, is having the trip? It doesn’t seem to be the brain.”

Neuroimaging studies examining the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain demonstrate that there is an inverse relationship between brain activity and subjective experience

Fast forward four years later and another study came out that examined the neural correlates of LSD. This time the findings received much more attention from the public and was covered by prestigious media outlets, such as The Guardian and CNN. Bernardo responded to this “fanfare” and explained to his readers how they are being “subtly deceived (again).” Because, similar to the psilocybin study, results yet again demonstrated observed reductions of brain activity across the entire brain (see Figure 2). As you can clearly see, there is a whole lot of blue. In fact, everything is blue which indicates reductions in brain activity.

Now, to be fair, the authors from the LSD study did find one small inconsistency when comparing findings to the psilocybin study. Apparently, there were results that indicated increases in CBF in the visual cortex of the brain when LSD was compared to placebo (see third row Figure 3). Such a finding would indeed support the view of materialism, i.e., more activity in the brain equals more subjective experience.

Figure 2
Brain activity as determined by magnetoencephalography

Yet, the authors from the LSD study concluded that the observed localized increases in CBF were possibly the result of measurement artifacts: “one must be cautious of proxy [indirect] measures of neural activity (that lack temporal resolution), such as CBF or glucose metabolism, lest the relationship between these measures, and the underlying neural activity they are assumed to index, be confounded by extraneous factors, such as a direct vascular action of the drug.”

Figure 3
Cerebral blood flow as determined by ASL

This is why the authors opted to put more emphasis on findings from Figure 2, as it represents the results of magnetoencephalography (MEG). This is another widely used functional neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity. As opposed to indirect measures such as BOLD and ASL, MEG represents a direct measure of neural activity. Naturally, the LSD study authors concluded that MEG: “should [thus] be considered [as] more reliable indices [measures] of the functional brain effects of psychedelics” (italics added).

Of course, these were only two studies that examined the acute effects of psychedelics on the brain. But as many of you probably know, the psychedelic renaissance has been on full throttle in the past years. As both Bernardo and Prof. Edward F. Kelly alluded to in an opinion piece on Scientific American: “these unexpected findings have since been repeatedly confirmed with a variety of psychedelic substances and various measures of brain activity” (see 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017). 

Let us now transpose these neuroimaging findings in context of the whirlpool metaphor. Remember how we said that both the whirlpool and brain analogously represent an identifiability pattern, or image, within the broader medium of the lake and mind, respectively? And remember how we also said how they both reflect a localization and filtering of the contents of mind, which led us to conclude that there is nothing to the brain but mind itself? Here is what psychedelics seem to do.

Psychedelics perturb the dynamics of the brain to such a degree that there is a non-localization of the contents of mind (i.e., subjective experiences that are, under ‘normal’ circumstances, assembled by the brain). But now, by bringing psychedelics into the mix, subjective experiences from the medium of mind are suddenly no longer filtered out. The whirlpool stops existing, water molecules are able to flow along freely, and thus become one with the lake. Analogously, the brain stops “existing” as activity goes down that results in a bombardment of subjective experiences (e.g., “extremely vivid imagination” as the psilocybin study participants reported). Ultimately, the contents of mind that were, under ‘normal’ circumstances, assembled by the brain become one with the medium of mind. To put it in Aldous Huxley’s words, the psychedelic experience can bring about the realization that “each one of us is potentially ‘Mind at Large’.” 

The contents of mind that were assembled by the brain become one with the medium of mind

A sweet moment of irony, particularly for Bernardo, is how the authors from the psilocybin study unintentionally hinted toward the whirlpool metaphor themselves by mentioning Aldous Huxley’s metaphor of the reducing valve: “This finding is consistent with Aldous Huxley’s ‘reducing valve’ metaphor … which propose[s] that the mind/brain works to constrain its experience of the world.”

For people who are unaware, the reducing valve metaphor is a result of Huxley’s experience with the psychedelic substance mescaline. He reported his experiences in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Huxley’s description of the brain as a reducing valve – and its similarities with the whirlpool metaphor – become immediately apparent in the following passage: “The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive (italics added). Each person is at each moment capable of […] perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed […] by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.” To clarify here, when Huxley mentions that the brain’s job is “to protect us from being overwhelmed” seems to be analogous to the localization of the contents of mind. The same can be said for how subjective experiences are “shut out” and the filtering out process in the whirlpool metaphor.

Finally, these so-called peak experiences associated with psychedelics are not only reserved to dedicated psychonauts. In fact, “there is a broader pattern associating peak subjective experiences with reduced blood flow to the brain”, says Bernardo. This is further exemplified in Why Materialism is Baloney and another academic article in which he lists a host of findings from different domains (e.g., hyperventilation, meditation, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, cerebral hypoxia, cardiac arrest, and even brain damage). All seem to corroborate the phenomenon that less blood flow equals richer subjective experiences, not less.

Ego Death: Becoming One With the Medium of Mind

What I find is the earlier observation and remark that the brain, for a brief period, stops “existing.” I am alluding here to a widely studied phenomenon in the psychedelic literature referred to as ego death, or ego dissolution.

The experience of ego death consists of an altered state of consciousness in which there is a dramatic breakdown of one’s “sense of self.” Several neuroimaging studies have consistently demonstrated that psychedelics reliably facilitate this breakdown, something that occurs through the disintegration of an important brain network called the Default Mode Network (DMN) (see 2015, 2019 and 2020). The DMN is regarded by some neuroscientists to represent the neural correlates of the self or ego, as increased brain activation is primarily seen during self-referential processing. 

Bernardo interprets the neuroimaging findings in the context of idealism by using the whirlpool metaphor: “I couldn’t help but visualize the deactivation of the ego functions as analogous to someone inserting one’s hand in a whirlpool, disrupting the ‘loopy’ flow that maintains it, and thereby allowing the water molecules originally trapped in it to escape.” Within this metaphor, the hand represents psychedelics that perturb the dynamics of the brain and how it dissolves the sense of self, or ego, through disintegration of the DMN.

We have read before that study participants report “geometrical patterns” and experiences of “dream-like quality.” What else do they report during a psychedelic peak experience? More importantly, what do they report when experiencing ego death, or ego dissolution, once their DMN disintegrates? Lots of anecdotal reports can be found from the Erowid experiences vault, but these might not be considered as reliable or valid. Fortunately, there also are findings from clinical trials.

One such study was conducted by the Imperial College London. This trial’s primary objective was to investigate if psilocybin was effective in helping people overcome their treatment-resistant depression. This consisted of a group of 12 people who were seriously depressed, some of which “have had a depression for an average of 18 years and tried between three and eleven antidepressant medications and up to six courses of talking therapy and none of which had helped them.” With a response rate of 67% (N = 8) only one week after treatment, and another 42% (N = 5) of individuals who remained in remission (symptom-free) after three months, the results of this study were extraordinary, particularly considering the tenacity of the participants’ depression and after receiving only two oral doses of psilocybin.

Six months later, the study participants were interviewed by one of the research team’s clinical psychologists Dr. Rosalind Watts. She asked them a series of questions to assess patient experiences during the psilocybin sessions, including the million dollar question: “What happened during dosing?” I refer the reader to the article itself or to watch Watts’ presentation to prevent you from becoming overflowed by tedious and superfluous amounts of awesome quotes. Down below I have listed some of the most revealing descriptions that seem to correspond with the whirlpool metaphor and idealism.

In an entire paragraph devoted to the ‘Connection of a spiritual principle’, Watts describes what happened during the psilocybin session. Here, patients frequently report “strong feelings of compassion, love, and bliss” that were often beautifully put, almost poetically. For instance, one of the participants stated that during the dose: “I was everybody, unity, one life with 6 billion faces, I was the one asking for love and giving love, I was swimming in the sea, and the sea was me.” This is a particularly clear example that corresponds with the metaphor of the whirlpool, as the participant literally mentions how she was swimming in the sea and realized being a part of it.

Another report hits the nail on his head by exemplifying this transition: “Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting. You’re part of it, there’s no separation or distinction, you are it” (italics added). Other participants reported similar experiences during the dose, such as “connecting to all other souls” or that it “felt like sunshine twinkling through leaves, I was nature” (italics added). 

I was everybody, unity, one life with 6 billion faces, I was the one asking for love and giving love, I was swimming in the sea, and the sea was me

In general, the reports seem to follow a common narrative, namely that they are part of something greater than their little ‘selves’. Study participants as whirlpools have become one with the medium of the lake again. We can even be bold to suggest that these participants realized that they were “nothing to the whirlpool, but the lake itself.”

Analogously, the ego and the sense of self stops existing, as the DMN disintegrates and the contents of mind become one with the medium of mind. The great philosopher Alan Watts provides the quintessential description: “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples’. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe” (italics added).

Future Musings and Grokking Idealism

As mentioned in the introduction, our view of the world determines in large part how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world. Now, if we maintain that the metaphysics of idealism is true – and we are indeed all whirlpools of the same lake – consider first how this will affect your life and how you will behave to your fellow human beings. Bringing hurt to someone else would then literally mean bringing hurt to oneself.

But I think the implications of idealism go much further than this. In fact, idealism made me think a lot about what Carl Sagan alluded to in his brilliant TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage: “a new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.” And this is what idealism does – it recognizes that we are all, in Huxley’s words, potentially Mind at Large.

This has led me to ask two fundamental questions that hopefully can be answered in the near future. Might the metaphysical framework of idealism result in a significant reduction of unnecessary conflict and suffering in the world as it sees that we are all connected? And what important role do psychedelics play in facilitating this worldview?

The possible transition of materialism to idealism will probably take some time. In part, this is because it is extremely difficult to intuitively understand, or “grok”, idealism. This inability is exacerbated through our cultural milieu that always rejoices in the viewpoints of materialism: “we grew up to believe that mind is a product of the brain, not the other way around”, says Bernardo. As a result, it has been imprinted in our very way of being and can be considered as the lingua franca of contemporary metaphysics. It is the exact reason why Bernardo provides some solace to his readers through the advice of giving all this some thought to let the metaphysics of idealism sink in.

Indeed, the drastic change in worldview does not come naturally to us. It requires what is coined by renowned philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn a paradigm shift – a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a certain discipline. What is more, we are protected by ourselves from what is referred to as an “ontological shock.” This happens particularly when beliefs are diametrically opposed to prior held personal, religious, or spiritual beliefs – something that OPEN director Joost Breeksema and neuroscientist Michiel van Elk refer to in Working with Weirdness.

Bringing it all together, I believe we are at the precipice of another Copernican revolution and that Bernardo represents a modern day version of Giordano Bruno. Bruno was a 16th century philosopher tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition and subsequently burned at the stake for his cosmological theories (e.g., stars were distant suns surrounded by planets). Such ‘theories’ are now considered common knowledge, and more importantly, common sense. Only centuries later, Bruno has been characterized as a martyr for science. Might the same be said of Bernardo? Possibly so, as in his own words, “future philosophers will be merciless at our stupidity.” Let us not “burn” him at the stake, for Bernardo’s thoughts too can one day become common sense.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup will give his presentation titled Psychedelic effects are one piece of a much bigger puzzle on Saturday September 24th at ICPR 2022 in the Philharmonie, Haarlem.

Bio
Bernardo Kastrup is the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. 

He has a PhD in philosophy (ontology and philosophy of mind) and another PhD in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). As a scientist, Bernardo has worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the ‘Casimir Effect’ of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). 

Formulated in detail in many academic papers and books, his ideas have been featured on Scientific American, the Institute of Art and Ideas, the Blog of the American Philosophical Association and Big Think, among others. Bernardo’s most recent book is Science Ideated: The fall of matter and the contours of the next mainstream scientific worldview. For more information, freely downloadable papers, videos, etc., please visit www.bernardokastrup.com.

Podcast appearances
Jaimungal, C. (Host). Bernardo Kastrup on Analytical Idealism, Materialism, The Self, and the Connectedness of You and I [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAB21FAXCDE
Kieding, J. (Host). (2021, June 15). Bernardo Kastrup — The Man Behind the Ideas: Identity, Truth, Philosophy, and Psychotherapy [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jylqAohnzRY

Common misconceptions
There are several misconceptions about idealism (listed below). For this I refer the reader to pages 64 to 69 in Why Materialism is Baloney:
1. Idealism is not solipsism;
2. Idealism is not panpsychism;
3. Falling back into realist assumptions: “where is this mind stuff?”
4. Why can’t we influence reality at will if everything is in mind?

The music of psychedelics

Dr. Mendel Kaelen doesn’t believe the perfect playlist for psychedelic therapy exists. After ten years of research, Dr. Kaelen, Founder and CEO of Wavepaths, has developed an evidence-based, person-centered generative music product that allows the user and therapist to create a tailored music experience.

Wavepaths provides music both for and as psychedelic therapy, Mendel explained to the OPEN Foundation: “Music is a very powerful tool and I’m confident that we can view music as a psychedelic.”

He has understood this as a result of his experiences at Imperial College in London, where he worked as a PhD and postdoctoral neuroscientist, studying music’s role in psychedelic therapy.

“Psychedelics act as an agent that can reveal deeper parts of our being deeper parts of ourselves,” he explains, “and thereby can facilitate experiences that are meaningful and potentially life-changing.”

That’s revolutionary, he says: “Psychedelic therapy research is hinting at a new paradigm of understanding mental health: that the most effective way to facilitate change is by providing an experience. Not an idea, not a conversation but a directly felt fully embodied experience.”

“I’m talking about music in itself. So what we’re seeing already right now in our community is we have psychotherapists right now organically that joined our platform that are doing psychotherapy without psychedelic drugs. They are using Waveparts as an adjunct to deepen a particular experience.”

At ICPR 2022, Dr. Kaelen will shed light on the central role of music in psychedelic therapy, and hold a presentation titled The essential role of music in Psychedelic Therapy: 10 years of research.

A few last spots are still available for his workshop “Music For/As Psychedelic Therapy”, held on Wednesday September 21. Find out more at Mendel’s workshop page on the ICPR website.

SUSTAINABILITY & RECIPROCITY

Art by Aine Design 

We are extremely happy to be able to socialise with all of you soon at ICPR 2022. Yet we are fully aware of multiple ongoing crises right now. Out of care and concern for our living environment and other species, we decided to reduce ICPR’s ecological footprint per person compared to earlier conferences.

We have opted for vegetarian, mostly organic meals, have created a digital conference booklet instead of a printed one, and have dispatched with the tradition of physical swag bags.

We also reduced our oversees marketing, introduced livestream-tickets (including scholarship tickets) and have now started a fundraiser to compensate for the conference’s carbon footprint and to give back to the cultures whose knowledge informs psychedelic science today.


Green fundraiser
To compensate for the travel emissions involved in getting speakers and attendees to Haarlem, we have launched a fundraiser through One Tree Planted. OPEN will ‘plant’ the first few thousand trees, and we hope to triple or quadruple that number with your help. Go to our fundraiser on One Tree Planted to contribute.

One Tree Planted is a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation. Your donation is tax-deductible.

Reciprocity fundraiser
We acknowledge and honor the responsible relationships that indigenous peoples have forged with psychedelic plants over the past centuries. We recognize that the Global North benefits from their knowledge, and we believe that it is critical to support the organizations working to conserve the biocultural communities that have taught – and continue to teach – the rest of the world about how entheogenic plants can benefit individuals and societies. 

Our partners at the Chacruna Institute recently launched the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative, which we applaud and want to support with a second ICPR fundraiser. Please consider donating if you feel that you have benefited from psychedelics in any way.

The Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative (IRI) is a community-directed biocultural conservation program connecting directly with grassroots Indigenous organizations with the aim of ‘giving back’ to the cultural regions that support indigenous plant use and knowledge. IRI created a pool of funds that supports Indigenous initiatives with a proven track record, addressing a broad range of efforts from food security and environmental health, to economic and educational support.

IRI strives to foster a relationship of reciprocity between the rapidly growing industry generated by the mainstreaming of psychedelics in the Global North, and the Indigenous peoples who have historically received little benefit from the commercialization of their cultural and biological heritage. 

No swag bags, but…
We’re not handing out notepads and swag bags anymore, so we kindly request that all attendees bring their own writing gear. But, of course, we will not let our guests go home entirely empty-handed either! There will be some surprises that do not cause unnecessary garbage.

Previewing ICPR 2022: A Full Week of Psychedelic Science

The Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research 2022 is now only a few weeks away, and we are happy to announce the full program to ICPR 2022.

Full Programme

In its preliminary form, the  ICPR 2022 Conference Programme has been posted on the ICPR website. In the coming weeks, we will highlight its parts separately.

With the Conference Programme now live on the ICPR website, we would like to showcase all that is happening in Amsterdam and Haarlem around our conference between the 17th and 24th of September. Because outside the conference, there will be tons to do in Haarlem and Amsterdam in the week before and after ICPR, organized or co-hosted by the OPEN Foundation. Like workshops, parties and events.

ICPR 2022 GENERAL INFO

ICPR 2022 will be held from Thursday, September 21st until Saturday, September 23rd. Around 80 speakers and poster presenters will hold live presentations at the stunning Philharmonie building, a 19th-century concert hall in Haarlem. 

Haarlem is a small city close to Amsterdam, about 20 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station and a 10-minute walk from Haarlem’s. We encourage people to arrive by public transport and foot.

ICPR is attended by some of the biggest names in psychedelic research and therapy, including Rick Doblin, Erika Dyck, Paul Stamets, Amanda Feilding, Bernardo Kastrup, and many other people who have played active roles in the development of the psychedelic field in the past five decades. Alongside these established researchers, upcoming talents in the field will give presentations and present posters that provide a brief overview of their most recent work. Free organic and vegetarian lunch, coffee, tea, snacks, and more are included with an in-person ticket.

As expected of the OPEN Foundation and from previous conferences, this edition will again contain high-quality science and critical perspectives from various academic disciplines, varying from neuroscience to policymaking, philosophy and the humanities.

interesting topics

For anyone interested in the ideas and challenges surrounding psychedelics, as they again become a part of contemporary society, ICPR 2022 is an embarrassment of riches! 

  • novel treatment advances with 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine), a substance that is considered to be the most potent psychedelic. 
  • Its relative, DMT, is also being explored and discussed for individuals who are suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) . 
  • Other compounds known as entactogens, which include MDMA and its analog ‘methylone’, are presented for both MDD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Beyond psychiatry, ICPR will examine the potential use of LSD and psilocybin in navigating end-of-life anxiety for the terminally ill, as well as the use of psilocybin for migraines and cluster headaches.

Additionally, ICPR 2022 will explore the potential of novel compounds (e.g. psychoplastogens) versus existing compounds like psilocybin and LSD, how to overcome challenges around trial design like issues around placebos, expectation, hype, the ‘Michael Pollan effect’, and the potential obstacles to psychedelic therapy becoming a reality in the near future.

We’ll discuss some of the most important questions IN to psychedelic therapy today: 

  • What dominant discourses, such as the ‘psychedelic renaissance’, should we challenge?
  • What is the role and function of a therapist’s self-experience with psychedelics?
  • How can we mitigate transgressions and abuse?
  • How can we include patient perspectives in setting up clinical trials?
  • How can we consider inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism within the field of psychedelics? 
  • What’s the roles and risks of businesses and patenting in the future psychedelic commercial field?
  • What should psychedelic education look like?
  • How will psychedelic therapy legally be implemented in existing health care stuctures?
ICPR 2022 is almost here. Get your tickets before we sell out.

ICPR Side Events

Saturday, September 17th

Join us in starting ICPR 2022 by tuning into the right mindset! This event consists of an immersive 4-hour musical and meditative journey performed by a group of highly talented musicians and pioneering sound engineers. It is entirely free and donation-based, and will be broadcast live from the legendary Wisseloord Studio in Hilversum, where artists such as Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, The Police, Foo Fighters, Electric Light Orchestra and many others have recorded albums. Everyone attending ICPR (either in-person or online) can experience this amazing journey from their own homes. Do not miss it!

Wednesday, September 21st

Psychedelic Science, Ethics & Business

ICPR starts off this year with the Psychedelic Science Ethics & Business event. The day will be dedicated to an in-depth and critical discussion about the intersection of psychedelic research, treatments, and investment. We will discuss how the growing economy around psychedelics impacts science and therapy. The event consists of various leading experts from different fields, including psychedelic businesses, academia, non-profit organisations, and investment companies.

We’ll address questions such as: What is needed to bridge the gap between doing scientific research in a lab environment and eventually practising psychedelic therapy with patients? How can investment and the proliferation of startups be made compatible with core values and public benefit, including optimal patient care, and accessible and equitable treatments? What are potential business models for psychedelics? What does that mean for access and quality? And much more!

If you’re an entrepreneur, investor, executive, researcher, clinician, or someone who cares about these developments, you will walk away from this conference with unique insights into how psychedelic science can be translated into practice.

Psychedelic Workshops

Are you more interested in the practice of psychedelic therapy or learning about the most recent developments that surround it? We’ve got you covered! On Wednesday, September 21st, we have three amazing workshops to choose from facilitated by the leading experts in their respective fields.

The Psychotherapy with Psychedelics Workshop is dedicated to current and future therapists who are interested in the practice of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Important learning objectives include the core competencies and skills for therapists working with psychedelics, key elements for preparing patients and helping them with integration after psychedelic sessions or getting a better understanding of different psychological and neurobiological explanatory models for the therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

During this workshop, people will learn from the world’s most experienced clinicians in the field, including clinical psychologists Janis Phelps, PhD and William (Bill) Richards, PhD, and psychiatrist Torsten Passie, MD. Please note that this workshop is already sold out!

The Music as/for Psychedelic Therapy Workshop is hosted by Mendel Kaelen, who is the founder and CEO of Wavepaths. During this workshop, you will learn about how you can effectively guide patients and optimise therapeutic outcomes through the combined use of psychedelics and music.

The Breathwork as Psychedelic Therapy Workshop will be hosted by Katrien Franken and OpenUp. During this workshop, you will learn about and engage inbreathing exercises. This practice has been used for centuries by ancient and native cultures for cultivating expanded states of consciousness in order to facilitate transformative experiences that deepen the connection between body and mind.

OPEN Foundation director Joost Breeksema was on the Psychedelics Today podcast to talk about ICPR.

SPECIAL EVENTS AT ICPR 2022

With approximately 100 presenters, more than 60 poster presentations, various plenary lectures, panel discussions, Q&A sessions, and lots of interaction with other attendees, you become a part of the pioneering and leading scientific conference in Europe since 2007. On top of that, there will be a musical soundscape hosted by Wavepaths and live music sessions performed by Spinoza. Each day will have special events that you may attend and that are listed below.

Thursday, September 22nd

Merge
Come join us on the evening of ICPR’s first day with MERGE. This immersive, experiential gathering of the psychedelic research community will be hosted by Tactogen and ICPR, and is open to everyone.

Whether you are deeply involved in psychedelic research or are interested in getting more involved, all present will unite and come together for an evening dedicated towards creating connection, relaxation and inspiration. Dr. Tehseen Noorani and Scarlet Masius will be leading groups through interactive games to build collaborative opportunities for interdisciplinary research. Note that the attendance for this special event is free, but registration is required (maximum of 150 people).

Vincent Moon
The second event of the night is an art performance by Vincent Moon, known for his “live-cinéma.” Vincent’s performance improvises live-edited images, music and film  on-stage – to explore the boundaries between cinema, music, and expanded forms of modern rituals. Each performance contains a unique combination of films and music based on the recordings of his own Collection Petites Planètes, and created partly in collaboration with writer and explorer Priscilla Telmon. All the performances are site-specific and sometimes involve local musicians and participants, leading to a new film being created on the spot every time.

Friday, September 23rd

Networking dinner
On the second day of ICPR, there will be a professional networking dinner for clinicians and therapists currently involved or planning to become involved in clinical research or treatment with psychedelics. This event will only be accessible to professional ticket holders. Be sure to get your ticket soon, as only a few tickets are remaining!

Saturday 24th September

Descending the Mountain
All good things unfortunately must come to an end,but we will close things out with a bang. We’ll celebrate ICPR’s final day with a screening of the phenomenal documentary Descending the Mountain, followed by a Q & A with the movie’s producer, Annette Badenhorst.

ICPR Afterparty
To top it all off, we have organised an official ICPR Afterparty. This is free for all attendees, but registration is required. Be sure to do this on time so you do not miss it! The afterparty will contain amazing music, with an immersive, 360 surround sound system and artists such as Tripping Jaguar, ICPR presenters MK Ultra and Baham Collective, and many others yet to be announced. The maximum number of attendees is 500.

Michael Bogenschutz has new research on psychedelics and alcohol – AND IS COMING TO ICPR

Right after new results from his research on alcohol addiction and psychedelics emerged, Michael Bogenschutz confirmed his attendance at ICPR. A professor of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, Dr. Bogenschutz is well known for launching the first contemporary study of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder in 2015. He has published extensively on the topic of addiction and the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Just one week ago, he reached another milestone in psychedelic research through his publication of the first double-blind randomized clinical trial of psilocybin for alcohol use disorder.  This trial took a long time to complete, as the recruitment process took place from 2014 until 2020. But the wait seems worth it, as the final sample reached a total of 95 participants. 

For Dr. Bogenschutz, this means a giant leap from his initial pilot study from 2015, which consisted of a sample of only 10 individuals – an issue that often looms over contemporary psychedelic research. 

The fifth edition of OPEN’s conference on psychedelics is almost here. ICPR 2022 will be held from 22-24 September 2022. Get your tickets before we sell out. Live stream tickets for remote viewing are available.

The study

All the individuals who participated in the study struggled with excessive drinking. More specifically, those randomized to the psilocybin or placebo (diphenhydramine) group, respectively drank an average of 7.5 and 6.6 drinks per day. Both groups received 12 weeks of manualized psychotherapy and were administered either psilocybin or diphenhydramine at week 4 and week 8. 

The study wanted to assess, most of all, whether the percentage of heavy drinking days was reduced following psilocybin. They found that the psilocybin group was associated with “robust decreases in percentage of heavy drinking days over and above those produced by active placebo and psychotherapy.”

The researchers assessed this 32 weeks after their first dosing session. The percentage of heavy drinking days was still 23,6% for the placebo group, meaning they drank heavily about once every four days, but for the psilocybin group, it was only 9.7% – once every ten days. 

On top of that, there were also higher reports of individuals in the psilocybin group who had stopped drinking entirely. 24,4% of the placebo group did so, compared to 47.9% of the psilocybin group.

Future research

Through these results, Dr. Bogenschutz is genuinely changing the field of psychiatry, as there have been no new drug approvals in nearly twenty years for alcohol addiction. The only three approved conventional drugs for the treatment of alcohol use disorder are currently disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. Psilocybin, as such, might become a lifesaver for many people suffering from alcohol addiction. 

But Dr. Bogenschutz is not done yet, as he recently announced that there will be a subsequent trial that aims to include more than 200 participants. This time the study will consist of only one single dose of psilocybin and will be compared to the vitamin niacin as another active placebo. 
The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved this trial. It will be the largest to date to examine the efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

Why 5-MeO-DMT is one of the most fascinating psychedelics there is

In recent years, there has been an uptick in attention surrounding the substance known as 5-Meo-DMT. It is popularly known as a toad’s psychedelic gift – but is now also being scientifically studied in clinical research. The compound seems ideal as a fast-acting tool for ego-dissolution, with potential therapeutic use. The substance produces stunning effects that no other psychedelic seems to match, and does so within a manageable time frame. 

And oh yes: it also happens to be legally available in many locales.

This is why 5-MeO-DMT might be one of the most fascinating – and potentially useful – psychedelics there is. Just like its first cousin DMT, 5-MeO-DMT is a naturally occurring compound. It can be found in both fauna and flora, like seeds, bark, and leaves from a number of plants in the Amazonian rainforest. The Sonoran Desert Toad, official name Incilius alvarius, is its most well-known carrier and has parotid glands that provide the toad’s primary defense system: a poison potent enough to kill a grown dog. This milky secretion also happens to contain 5-MeO-DMT, or 5-Methoxy-N,N-DiMethylTryptamine. If it is collected, dried, and smoked, the toxin produces a powerful, 15-20 minute psychedelic experience that completely differs in its effects from all the other classic psychedelic compounds – including DMT, its closest molecular cousin.

The fact that it hasn’t been scheduled in many countries facilitates research into the substance. Scientists and therapists wanting to work with substances like LSD and psilocybin, which have been put on international drug control lists, need to jump through many hoops in order to get research started.

The fifth edition of OPEN’s conference on psychedelics is almost here. ICPR 2022 will be held from 22-24 September 2022. Get your tickets before we sell out. Live stream tickets for remote viewing are available.

‘Fast-acting therapeutic relief’ 

Maybe that’s part of the reason why scientific research into the useability of this substance has now taken off. In 2019, Maastricht University investigated the effects of 5-MeO-DMT. They found that in a naturalistic setting, a single inhalation resulted in enhanced satisfaction with life and decreased psychopathological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and stress – all of which were sustained for up to 4 weeks after the experience. ¹

This year (2022), the group, led by Johannes Reckweg, published a review of the current knowledge of 5-MeO-DMT and hypothesized mechanisms underlying its effects. It mapped the workings of the drug, and weighed its potential utility for mental health. It concluded that ongoing research was justified: “The current therapeutic potential of 5-MeO-DMT is mainly hypothetical and based on preliminary evidence. […] Although limited, the studies offer converging evidence of the potential ability of 5-MeO-DMT to provide fast-acting, and potentially immediate, therapeutic relief for depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders (such as PTSD) in particular.” ² 

Dr. Chris Timmermann has also been investigating the effects of 5-MeO-DMT at the Center for Psychedelic Research, at Imperial College London. He described the gripping psychedelic for us: “What makes 5-MeO-DMT truly unique,” Timmermann says, “is its apparent ability to induce states of ego dissolution in such a reliable fashion. The structure of the experience is fundamentally altered compared to other psychedelics – which usually provide a very rich visual experience. With ‘5-MeO’, users apparently experience a ‘white light’ that is closely associated with the ego-death experience. It is that ego-death experience that appears to have a radical impact on the user, especially in the case of addiction.”

According to Dr. Timmerman, the reliability with which 5-MeO-DMT appears to induce ego dissolution and non-dual consciousness is as interesting for consciousness research as it is for experimental psychiatry.  Indeed, 5-MeO-DMT appears to induce a state of “non-dual consciousness,” which refers to a state of being in which subject and object are undifferentiated, similar to that reported by experienced meditators.

Cultural origins

Chris Timmerman will moderate a panel on DMT, dose and duration, at ICPR 2022.

Unlike Ayahuasca, which has a clear indigenous lineage found in the shamanic traditions of amazonian tribes, the cultural heritage of 5-MeO-DMT remains unclear. Although numerous ceramic frog motifs found in the Santarem Territory of the Amazon suggest an indigenous connection to the animal, and some local names could allude to an elevated status of the toad, the evidence is often too ambiguous to make any direct connection to the psychedelic properties of Incilius Alvarius. Maybe future anthropological findings will shine more light into cultures that might have used it in the past. For now, its culture is a more modern tale. 

5-MeO-DMT was first synthesized in 1936 by chemists Toshio Hoshino and Kenya Shimodaira but lay dormant as far as use went. Until 1983, when the book Bufo Alvarius: the psychedelic toad of the Sonoran Desert was published by a writer calling himself Albert Most. This latin name was used for the toad until its new classification as Incilius in 2006. 

“Bufo Alvarius” is a seminal work describing the toad, its milky defense system and possible 5-MeO-DMT harvesting methods. The book opened the door to the modern culture of smoking the ‘toad venom’, as some tabloids called it and which -by the way- is an inaccurate term. In biology, ‘venom’ would mean the substance is injected by the toad, but it is not: it is sprayed.

That’s not the only confusion around the psychedelic toad. The taxonomy of the toad itself has changed. In 2006, it was classified as a member of the Incilius genus, so the book’s name is now dated. Also, the person laying the foundation for this new culture of toad toxin smoking, ‘Albert Most’, remained an enigma for many years.

The person behind the pseudonym was unknown for three decades, until he was revealed by psychonaut-journalist Hamilton Morris to be a man called Alfred Savinelli – who then was revealed to be an impostor by that same Hamilton Morris! In the third season premiere of his VICE Series Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, Morris uncovers the lie of Savinelli, and exposes the real author of ‘Bufo Alvarius’ : Ken Nelson. 

Nelson turns out to be a reclusive psychedelic researcher, environmentalist and veteran from Texas. To right past wrongs, Nelson and Morris released a new version of Nelson’s pamphlet, featuring Morris’ synthesis of 5-MeO-DMT.

Mainstreaming

Johannes Reckweg will be presenting the latest data on 5-MeO-DMT at ICPR 2022

There is still plenty of runway for the substance to create a culture of its own. It was readily available online as a ‘research chemical’ in the United States, and enjoyed limited attention. But its scheduling in the USA in 2011 provided a bolt of attention that increased its popularity. In 2019, the substance was potent enough to knock out former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who openly talked about the spiritual awakening that resulted from his use of 5-MeO-DMT.

Soon after, others followed. Media outlets such as Forbes and the New-York Times featured stories about the transformative effects of the substance and included testimonials from ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Capone and his ongoing battle to help other Special Operations veterans access 5-MeO-DMT. All this media attention contributed to the mainstreaming of this compound in the last few years, despite its illegality. 

These restrictions have hampered research into 5-MeO-DMT in the countries where it has been forbidden. But in countries like the Netherlands, multiple studies into 5-MeO-DMT are now underway. 

ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE

As said, there is no indigenous ritual surrounding the use of 5-MeO-DMT, yet treatment centers using the toad’s poison have started to spring up incorporating rituals from other psychedelic cultures. These psychedelic sessions can set you back from $250 up to $8500.

This new popularity has not been good for the Sonoran Desert Toad itself, a risk voiced by Robert Anthony Villa, president of the Tucson herpetological society. Although the toad seems comfortable in human-made constructions like irrigation ditches, suburban yards and near water tanks on ranches – it is now often poached for psychedelic purposes, after which it is stressed out to produce its venom.

A solution for this animal cruelty could be a synthetic variant of the drug which would be preferable over one involving stressing out animals. That’s one of the reasons why Hamilton Morris included the synthesis process for 5-MeO-DMT in one of his episodes. The new edition of Bufo Alvarius: the psychedelic toad of the Sonoran Desert, also features Hamilton Morris’ synthesis of 5-MeO-DMT in a Mexican lab. 

5-MeO-DMT is illegal in the United States, China, Australia, Sweden, Germany and Turkey, but is legally available in many other locales. Dutch webshops sell the substance together with many other tryptamines over the internet for use at home.

THE USER EXPERIENCE

When vaporized, a single deep inhalation of 5-MeO-DMT produces strong psychoactive effects within 15 seconds. After inhalation, the user usually experiences a warm sensation, euphoria, and strong visual and auditory hallucinations, due to 5-MeO-DMT’s high affinity for the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor subtype. The duration of these effects are comparable to those of DMT, lasting between 15 and 20 minutes. According to trip reports, at commonly-used doses, 5-MeO-DMT may possess the most complex and overwhelming effects of the classic psychedelic family. 

Physical effects can include changes in perceived gravity, pupil dilation, muscle spasms, temperature regulation suppression, and feelings of loss of breath, but also an overwhelming intensity of physical and tactile sensations that can lead to the sensation of repeated, full-body orgasms.

Cognitive effects include distortion of space and time, amnesia, ego dissolution and auditory verbal hallucinations. Visual effects can include visual acuity enhancement, with drifting, color-shifting and morphing of complex geometrical patterns, but more often, reports mention visual suppression, where a blinding white light replaces all the visual complexity usually associated with hallucinogens. Much of this is often preceded by nausea, according to Drug Science UK. 

An anonymous OPEN member described his 5-MeO-DMT experience for us as follows: “If LSD is a rollercoaster, 5-MeO-DMT is an intergalactic faster-than-light rocket that takes you to a wholly unrecognizable state of being. Landing back from a high-dose experience you are left with more questions than you came in with, but what an amazing ride it is.”

The combination of all these effects often results in transpersonal effects, during which the sense of identity of the individuals experiencing them extends beyond the personal level to humankind, nature and even the cosmos, which makes for the mystical quality of the experience. As mentioned earlier, 5-MeO-DMT also reliably induces ego dissolution, a phenomenon characterized by a complete change in normal, everyday, self-referential awareness.

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CLINICAL TRIALS

So far, very little clinical research has been done on 5-MeO-DMT. The limited number of published studies suggest the compound might be safe and useful in a clinical context. If it turns out that 5-MeO-DMT does indeed have beneficial therapeutic effects, as anecdotal and early scientific evidence suggests, the promising aspects in terms of its practical use in a clinical context would be the duration of its effects. 

The Beckley foundation has recently mentioned that MDMA or psilocybin-assisted therapy usually take up an entire working day for the therapist, which “poses a potential bottleneck to patient access in the future,” so a short-acting psychedelic like 5-MeO-DMT would help with both the clinical trial process and subsequent access to psychedelic therapy. As Michael Pollan mentioned in 2018: “a psychedelic therapist wants to be home for dinner too.”

Indeed, 15-20 minutes of medical and psychological supervision is a lot more manageable for clinical trials and therapists compared to the 3-6 hours that are necessary for psilocybin, or the 6-12 hours necessary for LSD. And this could eventually help in making the mystical experience more accessible. 

LESS IS MORE?

The properties of 5-MeO-DMT lead to fascinating questions about its future potential utility in psychedelic-assisted therapy. But is the psychedelic indeed capable of the same types of transformations that have resulted from LSD, psilocybin and MDMA-assisted therapy? In other words: does the short-acting nature of 5-MeO-DMT come at the cost of its therapeutic benefit?

The answer to those questions is unclear as of yet. The potency of its effects suggests that the short-acting nature of the experience does not impede on its quality, but ongoing clinical trials could shed more light on them.

In many ways, ongoing research on 5-MeO-DMT will give us a window into the feasibility of short-acting psychedelic-assisted therapy, and might very well determine the fate of the emerging short-acting psychedelic field. ㅤ