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’Psychedelic professors’ on the rise as universities expand courses on psychedelics

If you attended university or college and didn’t have an option to take a course on psychedelics – that was because they were practically nonexistent until very recently. Up to the beginning of this century, getting educated about psychedelics meant researching on your own, learning from elders, attending the few conferences that existed, reading available journal articles and books, or maybe joining secret psychedelic societies (in person or on the internet).

But today we are simultaneously experiencing a rise in international psychedelic research and an international acceptance of this field as a genuine, revived field of science. As a result, there is an emergence of university courses. And not just in a few places, but in some very prominent universities.

The psychedelic professors

The relative novelty of this educational endeavor spiked our interest: What are the types of courses offered? How are they organized and taught? What type of students are taking them? And what are the biggest challenges in teaching about psychedelics? We’ve interviewed three professors of current psychedelic courses at prominent research universities, who can rightfully call themselves psychedelic professors: Kim Kuypers (Maastricht, NL), Gianni Glick (Stanford University CA, USA), and Brian Pace (Ohio State University, OH) 

Kim Kuypers, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Kuypers focuses on “Me We Biology”, trying to understand the biology of mental well-being. She researches psychedelics and their effects on cognition, creativity, hormones, and the mechanisms underlying these effects. Dr. Kuypers will be a speaker at this year’s ICPR conference

Giancarlo “Gianni” Glick, MD, is a 3rd-year psychiatry resident at Stanford whose psychiatric focus is on the interdependence of emotional and physical well-being for his patients. He is also the organizer of the Stanford Psychedelic Science Group.  

Brian Pace, PhD, is an affiliate scholar with the Centre for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education in the College of Social Work and a lecturer in the Department of Plant Pathology at The Ohio State University. Trained as an evolutionary ecologist, Brian studied agroecology, climate change, and ethnobotany. He is the Politics and Ecology Editor at the 501c3 psychedelic watchdog Psymposia and is currently a part of the team organizing Psychedemia, an interdisciplinary psychedelics conference scheduled for August of 2022 at Ohio State.

Here is what they teach, how they teach it, and why it is important they do it. 

Q: Which courses on psychedelics do you teach?

A: Kuypers (Maastricht) “Psychedelic Medicine” is an 8-week long elective course for third-year bachelor’s students which is housed in Maastricht’s department of psychology. I also teach a first-year elective course in the same department, called “Drugs in the Brain”. This is for first-year students and is only 4 weeks long. This helps to serve as good preparation for those who will take the psychedelics class. 

A: Glick (Stanford) “Introduction to Psychedelic Medicine” is a 10-week course, housed in the department of psychiatry at Stanford Medical School. This semester we have 187 students enrolled. It is an elective course and the make-up is about 70% undergraduates and the rest are graduates of all kinds. We also have many auditors ranging from neuroscience postdocs to attending psychiatrists. This makes for a huge range of expertise and familiarity with psychiatry. 

A: Pace (Ohio State) “Psychedelic Studies: Neurobiology, Plants, Fungi, and Society” is a 14-week/one-semester course and it is through the Department of Plant Pathology. The course is for undergraduate bachelor’s students, without any prerequisites, but I frequently have graduate students as well. The majority are third and fourth-year students. There is also a new course being taught in our department called “Psychedelic Bioethics,” taught by my colleague, Dr. Neşe Devenot.  

Kim Kuypers teaches “Psychedelic Medicine” at Maastricht University to third-year bachelor’s students. She is also a speaker at ICPR 2022.

Q: What are the key learning outcomes for your students?

A: Kuypers (Maastricht) I want the students to know about the rich history of psychedelics and to be educated on both the positive and negative aspects of these substances. I place a major focus on how to properly read a scientific article: reviewing the research methodology, analyzing the results, and having a critical mind about it.  I see this course as really the first way of getting the students acquainted with psychedelics and from here they should be able to navigate the future research that comes out with a better eye, and maybe also be inclined to get into the research and/or work in psychedelic-assisted therapies themselves. 

A: Glick (Stanford) This question keeps me up at night, but I hope for a good cause – there are so many decisions about what to present, how to engage, what sequence of information makes the most sense. Ultimately, I want to prepare students to critically interact with everything they hear in the media and in the scientific literature about psychedelics. This course covers the foundational principles, history, and context for these students to then ask more questions and hopefully contribute to the field of psychedelics, themselves. I think one of the first questions we try to ask is: What does it even mean to call psychedelics medicines? And in doing so understand that we are applying a particular frame to it, specific to this pre-FDA-approval moment in time and space. While it’s nicer pedagogically to stay focused on psychedelics as a medicine, we also tell them that psychedelics can be many other things: sacraments, recreation, and so on. But for this course, we focus on them as medicines.

A: Pace (Ohio State) As the instructor of a course on psychedelics it is my job to prepare students to engage intellectually, become better communicators, and to have better conversations around a controversial topic that is rapidly taking center stage. Frankly, there are a lot of grifters in the psychedelic space, people who are attempting to own the space, and so part of my responsibility is to provide students with tools to critically evaluate psychedelic science and health claims, the job market they may enter, and to hopefully have these students make informed choices.

Q: What is the greatest challenge in teaching your course on psychedelics? 

A: Kuypers (Maastricht) I haven’t had too many difficulties in teaching this material. I did have an incident where I was teaching about animal research that was done with MDMA to investigate neuronal death, and in doing these studies I discussed the methodology which included decapitation to further look at their brains. As a result of saying so I had a student who left the room because they could not bear to hear this type of work. Though not directly related to in-class learning itself, I have had emails sent to me from parents of children who have abused drugs who question whether I am being too positive about these compounds, even going so far as calling me the devil. But in the 4 years of teaching this course, I have not faced many challenges from students. 

A: Glick (Stanford) Trying to figure out – what are the first principles of psychedelic medicine?  Where do you start?  How to strike a balance between asking big, zoomed-out, philosophical questions of human life and suffering (which I think is what this is really about), while staying in close contact with the data, the practice of medicine, counterpoints to my own views, and a sober take on all of this. How to teach students a kind of big picture schema that new ideas and facts and questions can fit into.

A: Pace (Ohio State) Psychedelics are inherently interdisciplinary. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not a social theorist. I’m not a political scientist. Yet these topics are as necessary to address as botanical, mycological, or neurochemical considerations–even though more broadly they may exceed the scope of my expertise. This can be challenging at times, but manageable. What is truly challenging is that issues like colonialism, addiction, and traumatic experiences are discussed in my course, and the reality is that some of the mental health distress faced globally is experienced personally by some of my students. Real injustice never gets easier to talk about, especially with those who are directly impacted by it.

One early psychedelic professor is Dr. Neşe Devenot – now an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education at Ohio State University.
She advocated for Psychedelic Studies courses for years, formally so in an essay in 2011 entitled “A Declaration of Psychedelic Studies”. Her first class, “Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience,” ran from 2011 to 2012. A later class called Drug Wars had a focus on psychedelics and featured guest lectures from Matt Johnson and others working in the field. Her “Higher Dimensions in Literature” class in 2014 read McKenna and Castaneda. She went on to teach Psychedelic Studies at the University of Puget Sound from 2015 – 2018.

Q: What pedagogical tools do you use in your course? 

A: Kuypers (Maastricht) For both the “Psychedelic Medicine” 8-week course and the 4-week “Drugs of the Mind” course I use Problem Based Learning (PBL). This pedagogy works by bringing real-world problems to the class which functions as vehicles for students to have to look up things they don’t know, synthesize an answer based on their research and these problems are generally guided, often providing one part of a problem at a time.  An example of the last PBL assignment was a problem evaluating the positive and negative of the field of psychedelic medicine. In terms of course materials, I developed a course manual and we also use recent research articles for the “Psychedelic Medicine” course. In the 1st year course “Drugs of the Mind” course we use David Nutt’s “Drugs Without the Hot Air”.  I do most of the lectures but some of my colleagues help as well. We have a limited amount of time in these courses so we provide additional resources online for students to read and watch on their own. 

A: Glick (Stanford) Two years ago the course started as a lecture series, with a different speaker each week presenting on their area of expertise.  We updated the second iteration (last year) to have a more coherent through-line and progression of topics, with added small group discussion. And this year we tried to improve that further, so we spent the first third laying the foundational principles, the second third hearing from serious experts in the field (Brian Anderson, Jennifer Mitchell, Robin Carhart-Harris), and the final third weaving everything together.  The best session is always the last one when students give 5-minute presentations to the class on any topics or psychedelics subgenres they found interesting.  This year they taught us about psychedelics in China, the Eleusinian mysteries, research in psychotic disorders, and a bunch more.

A: Pace (Ohio State) This is a lecture-based course accompanied by reading articles and watching videos that conclude with 30-minute discussions each class. Since it is a course goal is to get students to have better, evidence-based conversations around psychedelics, students write weekly reading reflections showing that they are considering the material and reflecting on how they feel, and how these topics may connect to their life. Students also do presentations which are evaluated in part by peer review. From day one I am walking students through difficult, yet respectful conversations; you can’t understand psychedelics without touching on topics like consciousness, perception, religious experiences, and criminalization. 

Q: What do you believe is the ROLE of university courses in the psychedelic renaissance? 

A: Kuypers (Maastricht) It is incredibly important to have these available. I get requests from therapists and psychiatrists who did not get these types of courses in the curriculum of their educational training. Some of them also tell me of the cost for psychedelic-assisted therapy training from private institutions that can cost upwards of 20,000-25,000 Euros, which is crazy. Instead, this type of education should be embedded within all levels of university education from bachelor’s, graduate, and medical education. We definitely need psychedelic-assisted training for therapists in the universities (instead of the private organizations). 

A: Glick (Stanford) Similarly to how Johns Hopkins, NYU, and UCLA have stewarded the research through this kind of rigorous academic environment, there is this similar way that universities may offer a credible education, with a kind of peer review process, with a set of checks and balances where you can’t just teach anything. Secondly, doctors should know about this. For medical students and psychiatry residents to be competent about medicines their patients are in some cases already using and that may soon become legal, this should be part of the curriculum.

A: Pace (Ohio State) Psychedelics were abandoned by institutions following the Controlled Substances act in 1970. The new-agey, cultish stuff we see around psychedelics now, with tuning your chakras and merging souls or whatever: that is our fault. That’s an abdication of the responsibility to investigate interesting questions and to chase down data: to find out how things work.  So where we are now is a very timid and late re-entry to the subject, more so for education than research.  Psychedelic research didn’t end when the universities and governments abandoned it. It continued in the underground. The role of the university courses on psychedelics is to identify and evaluate high-quality information on the topic. We have a lot of catching up to do and I think that should be done with humility.

Addendum: The author of this article, Dr. Joey Lichter, is a volunteer for OPEN and ICPR, but also a chemistry professor who teaches a course titled “The Psychedelic Renaissance” at Florida International University in Miami, FL USA, thereby also qualifying as another psychedelic professor.

Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures

Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures. Charles Hayes. Penguin Random House Australia. ISBN: 978-0140195743

 An anthology of fifty narratives on unforgettable psychedelic experiences from the sublime to the terrifying.

Buy this book through bookdepository.com and support the OPEN Foundation

How psychedelics can cause ‘the overview effect’

Neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris (PhD) studies the brain effects of LSD, psilocybin and MDMA. He is currently the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research, at the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London. At ICPR 2016, he held a talk on the heels of his landmark imaging studies of brains on psychedelics. The findings of the team that Carhart-Harris is a part of were a sensation far beyond academics and psychonauts. Pictures of the studies went viral and were printed in newspapers around the world, reaching mainstream attention for psychedelic science.
In this short highlight from our previous convention, dr. Carhart-Harris speaks of treating depression with psychedelics. The findings from their study suggest that the higher the dose, the higher the chance of ego-dissolution, which correlated with lower depression symptoms.
In his talk, he compares the idea of ego-dissolution to the “overview” effect experienced by astronauts: “when you listen to astronauts talking about this experience they often say that they are left with a memory, they cannot forget that experience, that wonder, that awe that they experienced. I think in terms of the psychological mechanisms, this can explain what happens when the prison house of the ego dissolves away and then you have that broader sense of connectedness with other people and with the cosmos as a whole”.

Robin Carhart-Harris’ full talk from 2016 can be watched on the OPEN Foundation Youtube channel

Remembering Jordi Riba – Pioneering ayahuasca researcher


We are deeply saddened by the loss of pharmacologist dr. Jordi Riba, probably the most prominent psychedelic researcher in Catalunya and Spain, and a true pioneer in the biomedical study of ayahuasca.
Jordi was a true explorer who conducted his scientific quest for discovery and information in the same way 15th-century discoverers explored territories on unknown continents: without navigation, but with great dedication and perseverance. He became intrigued by the effects of ayahuasca at a time when research into psychedelics was ignored by most of the scientific community, and actively opposed by governments in many countries. Despite these obstacles, he managed to bring ayahuasca to his Barcelona research clinic and published an unprecedented controlled, dose-ranging study on freeze-dried ayahuasca almost 20 years ago. Since then he has published close to 40 scientific research papers on ayahuasca, greatly advancing psychedelic research and significantly contributing to the re-emerging interest in therapeutic applications of psychedelics.
Jordi Riba was a prominent speaker at all previous editions of ICPR. The first time OPEN met with Jordi was in 2010, right before the Mind Altering Science conference. It was the first conference OPEN had ever organized. As novices in this field, we invited several experts, and to our own amazement, many of them, including Jordi, accepted our invitation. We even managed to find a hotel that would accommodate our speakers for free. Jordi Riba and his colleague José Carlos Bouso were the first to arrive in Amsterdam, and they headed directly to the hotel. Before long, they called us and stated politely but in no uncertain terms that thank you very much, we will not be staying here. Flabbergasted, we apologized and tried frantically to find an alternative hotel. Inexperienced as we were, we had not visited the hotel before accepting their offer, but sure enough, the “Hemp Hotel” was aimed at cannabis tourists; the shabby couches in the lobby were full of stoned tourists, the hemp smoke thick enough to cut with a knife, and the receptionist absolutely clueless that the hotel was reserved for our speakers. Luckily, we found them a decent hotel and by all accounts, the conference was a success. This anecdote was typical for Jordi – a polite and serious gentleman researcher from Spain who would not abide crappy hotels. He would go on to speak at all of our conferences throughout the years, and would have been present at ICPR 2020, had circumstances been different.
Looking back on fifteen years of ayahuasca research in an interview with OPEN, he shared many of the complexities – technically, culturally, and pharmacologically – of studying such a culturally embedded and variable plant mixture. To address some of these, he managed to create standardized, freeze-dried and encapsulated ayahuasca, which he administered to volunteers in various doses in his Barcelona lab. In addition to the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of ayahuasca, he used neuroimaging techniques to study the brew’s effects on humans, and used in vitro techniques to investigate the effects on a cellular level. At his last lecture at ICPR 2016, he presented ground-breaking findings, showing that the harmala alkaloids, harmine and tetrahydroharmine, induce neurogenesis, which not only provided further evidence that ayahuasca’s effects were due to more than just DMT, made available orally, but that the beta-carbolines present in the brew had important, therapeutically relevant effects of their own. It is unfortunate that throughout most of his career he conducted his research without much scientific support or resources while overall recognition of his work only emerged towards the end of his career. But Jordi accepted irony easily and embraced satire, as he was a man full of wit and humour. It’s quite telling that Don Quixote was among his favourite novels.
During the final years of his career Jordi resigned from Sant Pau Hospital while facing an existential crisis. He felt very lucky to be surrounded by warm-hearted family, friends and colleagues and had every intention to find his way back to academia. He loved the free haven of questioning and exploring minds, driven by curiosity, without prejudice, bias or agenda. Jordi Riba’s passing was sudden and tragic, and we can only remember his curiosity, scientific diligence and wry sense of humor with fondness. He will be sorely missed.

The OPEN Foundation in Vrij Nederland magazine

Vrij NederlandIn an article about the relentless rise of psychedelic research, the latest issue of Vrij Nederland magazine (December 12, 2015) extensively mentions The OPEN Foundation. In her article entitled “Tripping on prescription”, journalist Freke Vuijst sets off with some quotes from a cancer patient who was able to kick her end-of-life anxiety altogether by participating in the New York University psilocybin study. Having brushed the main aspects of the NYU study and its amazing successes, the author goes on to sketch the history of the first wave of psychedelic research and the subsequent ban on LSD and other substances. Joost Breeksema, chairman of The OPEN Foundation assesses the negative impact Jan Bastiaans’ therapeutic work in the Netherlands and the justified criticism it elicited.

The article then switches back to the present and near future, where phase-3 trials are underway for MDMA/PTSD and psilocybin/end-of-life anxiety. Absent public funding and research investments from the pharmaceutical industry, the difference between the United States and Europe is marked. Whereas the US have an important private charity tradition and large research universities, Europe and the Netherlands are used to rely on public funding, which means research is rather scarce, despite the obvious rise in public interest.

Lecture VU Amsterdam: Psychedelica als medicijn?

vspvu

OPEN organizes a lecture about the potential medicinal and therapeutic values of psychedelic substances at the VU University on Monday February 3rd. Can ibogaine or other substances help to get rid of an addiction or psychological disorders?

Joost Breeksema, the president of OPEN, will open this lecture with an overview of recent and historical research into the therapeutic applications of psychedelics. After that, Maarten Belgers and Thomas Knuijver, both physicians specialized in addiction, will talk about ibogaine and their research into this substance. What is the scientific knowledge about ibogaine until now, why do they want to research this substance, and what does this study look like? There are only 150 seats available, so if you want to ensure yourself of a ticket please arrive early. Ticket sales will start at 15:30.

Practical information:

Where: Vrije Universiteit. Van der Boechorststraat 7, Amsterdam.

When: Monday February 3rd 2014. From 16:00 until 18:00.

Price: Members VSPVU: €3 / Others: €4,50

Please note that this lecture will be in Dutch.

New online survey on ayahuasca and mourning

aya_caapi

The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research And Service (ICEERS) are setting up an ambitious research project to study the effects of ayahuasca, called “Exploring New Tools to Face Grief: The Case of Ayahuasca”. The researchers want to investigate how the intake of ayahuasca influences the mourning process, due to the loss of a loved one.

Since there is no scientific data on this topic, and no studies of this kind have been carried out, ICEERS are looking to contact a large number of people that have a relation to this topic. They are looking for people willing to share their personal experiences in detail. The goal of this study is to expand the knowledge on the process of mourning and how the intake of ayahuasca affects this process.

The researchers at ICEERS are looking for anyone who has gone through this situation. If you know of somebody, or have been through a similar process yourself, they kindly request you to alert them to this initiative. The online survey consists of 78 questions and is both anonymous and private.

Click this link to continue to the survey.

In Memory of Andrew Sewell

The sad news has reached us that Andrew Sewell passed away on Sunday July 21st while he was recovering from surgery. R. Andrew Sewell, MD, was assistant professor of Psychiatry at Yale University where he conducted fascinating research on psyche

delics. We had the pleasure of meeting Andrew at our 2010 Mind Altering Science Conference, where he presented his research as one of our invited speakers.

We will remember Andrew Sewell as a cheerful, optimistic and talented researcher with a gift for inspiring others through his lectures. We feel that his passing away is a great loss for the psychedelic research community. Our deepest sympathies go out to Andrew’s friends and family.

Among other things, Andrew was responsible for writing the well read and sobering manual on how to become a psychedelic researcher, entitled ‘So you want to become a psychedelic researcher?’, a must read for aspiring scientists wanting to study psychedelic substances.

Thank you Andrew, for your contributions to psychedelic research and for your inspiring lectures, filled to the brim with information, delivered at high speed. You’ll be missed.

Entheogens, Society & Law – Towards a Politics of Consciousness, Autonomy & Responsibility

Entheogens, Society & Law takes a major step towards a comprehensive understanding of the human condition, elucidating how empathy, meaning and purpose emerge from three intersecting areas of human life: biology, consciousness and culture.

The term “entheogen” designates a class of psychoactive plant and substance uses that have played, and continue to play, an important role as catalysts of experiences of the “divine,” “sacred” or “numinous,” as well as in divination, healing and, more recently, psychotherapy. The authors expand on these ideas, borrowing from a wide range of disciplines — pharmacology, neurology, consciousness research, psychology, semiotics, theology and mythology — and immersing the reader in a radical and empowering exegesis of influential cultural myths such as that of Original Sin. The resulting insights have practical and ethical implications in many areas of contemporary society, including education, mental health, human rights and law.

Much of the literature on psychedelics and altered states of consciousness remains firmly entrenched in the dualistic logic of prohibition discourse. Unfortunately, this detracts from its ability to engage with the broader existential, ethical and humanitarian questions that, the author’s argue, any bona fide religious or therapeutic tradition needs to address. With its focus on ethics, Entheogens, Society & Law pursues a pragmatic inquiry guided by one paramount question: how can individuals take responsibility for their own lives and wrest power and authority from institutions that deprive them of the very liberties, e.g. to explore consciousness and alter mental functioning, upon which the exercise of responsibility is premised? This question leads to a critical examination of contemporary discourses on emergent ‘technologies of the self,’ human rights, the ‘common good’ — and the extents of state interference with the self-defining choices of sovereign individuals.

The theoretical questions raised by the meta-analysis presented here propose the possibility, if not necessity, of addressing the crises of modernity, including problems surrounding drug use, as a series of contingencies generated by the competing interests of individual’s search for a meaningful existence and powerful institutions exercising hegemonic control over what we can and cannot do towards that ends. This ethical inquiry exposes the faulty premises of exercises of authority and power by demonstrating the central role of human consciousness in the generation of values that ultimately define us and determine what we become. This places discussion on the nature of ‘mind-altering substances’ at the heart of contemporary discourses on human rights, offering empowering and inspiring insights into the future of humanity.

Entheogens, Society & Law — Towards a Politics of Consciousness, Autonomy & Responsibility, door Daniel Waterman, Melrose Books, 496 pagina’s.

Lees onze recensie van dit boek
Koop dit boek via bookdepository.com en steun daarmee Stichting OPEN.

Psychedelic research in popular literature

Kijk2The Dutch KIJK magazine printed an article on research on psychedelics. “Tripping away your problems: a slow revival of drugs as medicine”. Reporter Jop de Vrieze interviewed scientists among whom psychiatrists Andrew Feldmár en Charles Grob. Upon the interviews he based that nowadays psychedelics are a “full grown part of scientific studies”. XTC is therapeutically used for emotional illnesses, psilocybine and LSD with treating life quality in terminal illnesses, ketamine is effective with depression and ibogaine with addictions. These positive effects have been known to scientists for decades, yet only recently has public research slowly been allowed again. Both Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and The OPEN Foundation are brought forth in the article as promoting these studies.

The first part of the article (in Dutch) can be read here.