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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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
When a psychedelic molecule finds its way into the 5HT2A receptor binding site, depending on its shape and charge distribution (and thus the interactions formed within the binding site), it will distort the receptor and shift it into a distinct active conformation (ON state). pic.twitter.com/d4t2KQg9yD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
There are many documentaries about psychedelics nowadays, but only so little time to watch them all, let alone figure out which one’s are worth it! That’s why we came up with a list of documentaries on psychedelics that you can watch, or binge, comfortably from your own living room. They’re selected for their scientific soundness, cultural insight, or overall high quality.
All of them are worthy study material before you join us at ICPR 2022 near Amsterdam – where some of the speakers are actually some of the people featured in these series and films. Their work is at the basis of this renaissance in psychedelic research and the new generation of documentaries that it has spawned. Enjoy our dose of inspiration.
If there is one documentary that hits all the marks when it comes to information about psychedelics, as well as other psychoactive drugs, while simultaneously delivering a high entertainment value, it is – without a doubt – Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, of which there are now three seasons.
This documentary series is written, directed, and produced by Hamilton Morris, a journalist and scientific researcher who explores the history, chemistry, and social impact of various psychoactive substances across the globe.
Hamilton illustrates how ubiquitous psychedelic drugs are and goes out on a limb to try several of them himself – showcasing his dedication and genuine curiosity when it comes to studying the effects of these extraordinary substances. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the merits of every episode on its own, but we compiled a hit list of our favorite episodes shown at the end of this commentary. That’s right – more stuff to binge this coming summer! Just watching these will suffice for at least 8 hours of entertainment, where Hamilton Morris meets with underground chemists that illegally synthesized MDMA; travels to Huautla de Jimenez in Mexico to visit the family of the legendary curandera María Sabina’s to talk about psilocybin-containing mushrooms; smokes 5-MeO DMT in the Sonoran desert under supervision of a shaman; and talks with Amanda Feilding about how she helped to fund the very first neuro-imaging study of LSD. Be sure to absolutely check this series out!
Quote of the series
“It is so strange that these compounds exist. What is the purpose of any of this? 5-MeO-DMT? This? In a toad’s venom? And people may have only started using it 30 years ago? And it produces this peak experience of love? I can’t believe it! It is so amazing!” – Hamilton Morris
Our hitlist for best episodes:
Episode 4 – Magic Mushrooms in Mexico
Episode 6 – The Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism
Episode 1 – The Psychedelic Toad
Episode 2 – Peyote: The Divine Messenger
Episode 4 – Wizards of DMT
Episode 5 – Ketamine: Realms and Realities
Episode 6 – A Clandestine Chemist’s Tale
Episode 1 – Synthetic Toad Venom Machine
Episode 4 – Synthetic Ibogaine: Natural Tramadol
Episode 6 – UItra LSD
Descending the mountain (2021)
Filled with aesthetically pleasing images, jaw dropping cinematography, a great psychedelic soundtrack, and a pinch of neuroscience, Descending the Mountain excels at every front. The documentary includes renowned psychedelic researcher Prof. Dr. Franz Vollenweider and Zen master Vanja Palmers. Their mission? To set out to a monastery on top of mountain Rigi in Switzerland to conduct a novel experiment in which experienced meditators received psilocybin-containing mushrooms in a group setting for the first time in their life. This experiment was double-blind, where neither the researchers or the participants knew what dose they received. Some of the meditators received an active dose of psilocybin, whereas others were ‘unfortunate’ (in their words) and received a placebo. It is amazing, to say the least, how these experienced meditators were able to deepen their meditation due to psilocybin, even after thousands of hours of meditation practice. One individual was completely ecstatic from the beginning till the end and amazed by what he was experiencing. Others felt it to be a collective experience, rather than an individual one, as they were able to feel the energy in the room. Ultimately, placebo or no placebo, the group setting was conducive to the experience at the mountain.
Quote of the movie
“What can the mushrooms tell us today?” – Descending the Mountain
Halfway through the documentary, Prof. Dr. Vollenweider explains briefly how psychedelics work and that neuroscientific research of today has consistently demonstrated that they deactivate the Default Mode Network (DMN) – a key brain region involved in self-referential processing. With their experiment on Mount Rigi, they too found that the participants who received psilocybin were able to enter a deep(er) meditative state and showed less activity in the DMN when compared to the placebo group. Vollenweider explains how it: “makes you less focused on yourself because, in a way, you lose your ‘self’, and that this tends to make you focus more on others around you.” This dovetails neatly with the hypothesis that psychedelics are able to alter personality and political beliefs, something that the documentary explores briefly as well through asking significant questions as: “What can psychedelics do for society today? What will happen if great leaders take these substances and make us think about our place in the world?”
Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind (2022)
Four years after the release of his book under the same name, Michael Pollan hit the big screen on Netflix with a documentary series: How to Change Your Mind. To say that his book had somewhat of an influence on the psychedelic renaissance is an understatement. Individuals even talk about a Pre-Pollan era and Post-Pollan era within psychedelic research. And now, with this new and cinematic tour du force, Pollan might continue to increase his reach by showcasing these tools to people all over the world sitting in their living room.
The documentary consists of a total of four episodes, each focusing on a specific psychedelic. The first episode focuses on the synthesis of LSD by Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1938, the research of its therapeutic use when treating alcoholism, and how it ultimately became a Schedule I substance – as it ended up on the streets through evangelist Timothy Leary and the CIA project MKUltra, that serendipitously turned on Ken Kesey. In the second episode, the viewer is brought to the world of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and features ICPR speakers William Richards, Paul Stamets, and Roland Griffiths. Here, Pollan discusses their historic use in religious settings, the introduction of the mushroom to the West, and how it is currently being researched for various debilitating psychiatric disorders, such as depression, end-of-life anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and cluster headaches. The third episode features ICPR speaker Rick Doblin and is all about the therapeutic use of MDMA for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Pollan interviews Ann Shulgin, the wife of renowned chemist Alexander Shulgin, – who recently passed away – about her personal experiences with MDMA and how it ended up becoming illegal through the so-called “Second Summer of Love”’ during the 1980s. Finally, Pollan takes a deep dive into the ceremonial use of the peyote cactus by indigineous Americans that are part of the Native American Church.
The documentary provides a solid starting point for anyone who is new to the world of psychedelics and likes to be prepared for what we have to offer at ICPR. It presents some of the most recently conducted preliminary research studies and their implications. Contrary to contemporary media headlines, it is refreshing to see that Pollan remains centered throughout the entire documentary with regards to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and messages to the audience to do the same. This is a welcoming message that is to be embraced if we do not wish to repeat past mistakes.
The Psychedelic Drug Trial (2021)
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the West, says ICPR speaker and Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology David Nutt. Across the globe, MDD is estimated to affect 350 million individuals and is responsible for more ‘years lost’ than any other psychiatric condition. Psychiatry has been desperate for novel treatments.
One of the current mainstays of treatment in psychiatry is escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), better known under its brand name Lexapro. This psychotropic drug increases the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and has been proven by earlier clinical research to be effective and well tolerated in the treatment of MDD. But this begs the question: “How does escitalopram, or Lexapro, compare to psilocybin when used for treating depression?” This is what the research team in the Psychedelic Drug Trial set out to do.
Quote of the movie
“If psychedelics can change the world, let’s put it to the test.” – Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris
The documentary presents an extensive in-depth look into how the study was conducted by displaying easy-to-comprehend visuals and various infographics. The documentary really shines here and you immediately get a clear understanding of what the study design looked like. It also exemplifies how current psychedelic therapy operates and provides the three important stages involved, which includes: preparation before the dosing session, the psychedelic dosing session itself, and the integration that follows.
What is more, you get to know some of the recruited participants who were told that they are randomized to one of two conditions. They will either receive 1) psilocybin or 2) escitalopram, not both. Almost all of the participants have been on antidepressants for decades and suffer from various side effects, including weight gain, sleep paralysis, and a flat affect. The psilocybin trial represents a “lifeline” according to some of the participants – a viable alternative to their current situation of “concentrating on staying alive” and trying “to live with this joylessness.” One participant is at the end of her ropes and tells the camera: “I would probably end my life if I didn’t go [through the trial].”
Soon after this introduction, we are taken into a living room like environment where the psychedelic therapy session took place. Participants at this point are talking about their extraordinary experiences and the various symbols they encountered during their psychedelic dosing session. The documentary really excels here due to its slow presentation of recorded monologues and by displaying aesthetic visuals that are aimed at encapsulating the participants’ experience while on psilocybin. One participant talks about one of her peak experiences where she found herself at the roots of a tree and: “was connecting with everything up there. The thing I really felt most … was a joy. Joy like I’d never experienced. It is really, really powerful stuff.”
The documentary would not have been complete without a brief presentation by ICPR speaker David Nutt on how psychedelics such as psilocybin work in the brain and how they differ from escitalopram. Nutt first explains that antidepressants as escitalopram take about an average of six weeks to work and do so primarily in the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain that is overactive in depression: “It dampens the system and you become incubated against stress, which is good, but you also become incubated by everything else.” Psilocybin, on the other hand, works differently by targeting the serotonin 2A receptor, which are widely prevalent in the neocortex. Psilocybin also works through the disruption of the Default Mode Network that Franz Vollenweider similarly talked about in Descending the Mountain. Both professor Nutt and lead researcher of the study Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris believe that psilocybin works better and faster than escitalopram.
The results of this landmark study have been published in the highly esteemed The New England Journal of Medicine. Their conclusion? Both psilocybin and escitalopram work in the treatment of depression. But when taking into account secondary outcome measurements such as suicidality, psilocybin looks better than escitalopram. More recent neuroscientific findings of the current study have been published as well, which looked at how psilocybin affects the brain and how it differs from antidepressants. All in all, more research is needed as we venture forth in our pursuit to help people alleviate their depressive symptoms.
Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness (2019)
Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness is a unique animated film that chronicles the very first psychedelic experiences of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts. The film is interspersed with commentaries on these historical and influential events by ICPR speakers Rick Doblin and Amanda Feilding, and various other researchers within the psychedelic field.
The Dropout Drug
We first witness how Timothy Leary got involved with LSD through meeting Michael Hollingshead, a British researcher who studied psychedelics at Harvard University in the mid twentieth century. Leary’s first LSD trip was: “the most extraordinary experience of his life.” Yet to my surprise, he also felt a terrible sense of loss after this trip, as he did not know what to do with these new insights: “Once you see how it is all composed, it is hard to get back to the game.” This experience demonstrates that even psychedelic evangelists as Leary, a very intelligent man who was probably one of the most well-known proponents of psychedelics, would have benefitted from the importance of integration. The world would have been a very different place indeed if Leary underwent this integral part following psychedelic use. Instead, he decided to leave the highly esteemed university of Harvard and famously told students to: “tune in, turn off, and drop out.” This resulted in the then U.S. president Richard Nixon to call him the most dangerous man of America.
Commentaries from other experts on Leary’s psychedelic experience are very informative. They exemplify how psychedelics are able to lift the veil of ordinary reality, which can either facilitate, or in the case of Leary, diminish our well-being, because we see through the illusion, i.e., the play of life. You’re catapulted out of your ego and you can spend years of life making sense of it all, which might have happened to Timothy Leary according to Dr. Tim Read. Yet, Dr .Gabor Maté states that bad trips can also be interpreted differently: “Yes, a trip can be challenging, but what you need is proper integration. This is the work of healing. The psychedelic experience and its healing properties were lost during the 60s because there was a lack of intention.
The Doors of Perception
Next we get a close look at Aldous Huxley’s famous psychedelic experience with mescaline that led him to write his famous work The Doors of Perception: and Heaven and Hell. During his experience, he realizes that “this is how one ought to see” and that the ordinary mode of consciousness is but one form of consciousness. Huxley talks about the suchness of things while on mescaline and develops his metaphor of the reducing valve of the mind, which limits our view of reality and who we really are.
According to ICPR speaker Rick Doblin, Huxley’s insights demonstrate where we should put our meaning: “not on consuming, but on something deeper.” Other psychedelic researchers talk about how people ‘wake up’ after their psychedelic experience, including alterations of the perception of the self and various changes in their value system.
The Joyous Cosmology
Finally, we witness Alan Watts taking modest amounts of LSD while in California and who decided to casually go for a stroll. His first undertaking was to listen to a priest in a church during a mass. He witnesses how people are putting on an “act of a person”, which is one of the key phrases of Alan Watts. His feeling of self became no longer confined to the insides of his skin as he felt connected to everything: “my individual of being seems to grow out to the rest of the universe.” The animated re-enactment of Alan Watts’ psychedelic experience gives us a glimpse into how psychedelics helped shape his philosophy.
Quote of the movie
“Come off it shiva, you rascal, who do you think you’re kidding!? It’s a great act, but you’re not fooling me!” – Alan Watts
Neurons to Nirvana (2013)
Neurons to Nirvana is filled with numerous psychedelic researchers who will be attending ICPR, including Rick Doblin, William Richards, David Nutt, Roland Griffiths, and Amanda Feilding. The film gives a brief overview of classic psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca, and LSD. In addition, the entactogen MDMA is briefly discussed plus the medicinal benefits of other (non-)psychoactive substances as marijuana and cannabidiol.
The film starts with the serendipitous event of how psychedelics helped shape modern psychiatry and neuroscience. LSD, as it turns out, has a very similar structure to serotonin that led to the discovery of the serotonin neurotransmitter system. As a result, psychiatry started including brain chemistry into the disease process, whereas before all the accountability went to either the individual or the environment.
It was a revolutionary period for which the famous psychedelic researcher Ralph Metzner said that discovering psychedelics: “was like discovering another continent, like Marco Polo.” Both ICPR speakers Rick Doblin and David Nichols mention how psychedelics are able to occasion a mystical experience and how this helps experience the world as one as it breaks down certain barriers. Roland Griffiths adds: “there is this quantum change during a psychedelic experience – it belongs among the most spiritual and personal meaningful experiences of peoples’ lives.”
Quote of the movie
“What is being purged actually, is psychological contents that you’ve been holding onto. You’re purging anger, you’re purging pain, you’re purging some false story about the self.” –Gabor Maté M.D.
A great feature of the film that is worth mentioning here is that it shows the capability of human individuals being able to change their beliefs when it comes to esoteric substances such as psychedelic drugs. This is illustrated when Dr. Sanjay Gupta appears on the big screen, an Emmy award-winning doctor for his show on CNN who used to vehemently oppose the use of marijuana. This was until the year 2009, as the scientific evidence started accumulating and Dr. Gupta discovered that it was used for thousands of years. He also found out that before there was a strong focus on the negative. Most importantly, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was illuminated by the benefits of marijuana: “the science is there!”. This clearly demonstrates how scientific evidence can pave the way for reconstructing our beliefs about psychedelics. Hopefully, other physicians, researchers, and politicians will follow suit.
The Last Shaman (2016)
The Last Shaman follows young adult James who is battling with crippling bouts of depression ever since he went to university. He is desperate for a way out as he tried doing everything according to the book on both a medical and personal level. In general, this involved seeing several psychiatrists, taking antidepressants, and picking up a regular meditation practice. Despite his arduous efforts, he remains depressed. At the end of his ropes, he travels to Peru to meet several shamans that might be able to help him.
The documentary is not for the faint of heart and can be very shocking in demonstrating how debilitating depression can be. James suffers from extreme anhedonia, which refers to the inability to feel pleasure: “I see a beautiful woman or a sunset and I feel nothing.” He explains how his depression affects him in front of the camera and this raw footage makes the documentary feel very personal, but also heart-wrenching to watch at times, as his eyes are filled with tears and his voice is featured by a tremendous amount of frustration and despair. He ends up meeting various shamans in different regions and engages in multiple ceremonies to finally reach salvation.
James’ journey ends deep within the forest at the Shipibo community – a place that resembles just the right amount of authenticity he is looking for. Shamans here do the practice because it is a calling, whereas the business side of things are left aside. James ventures deeper into his emotions, revealing one layer from another layer, and becomes a passionate ascetic. He maintains a very strict diet and stays in isolation for a total of four months, eating nothing but fish and rice and smoking the Mapacho tobacco. This experience ripped him of all attachments of his previous life. He believes he: “no longer has an inferiority complex anymore” and feels no more anger towards his father.
Quote of the movie
“I’m here to be a very small part of something much larger than myself, and that is extremely liberating” – James
Iboga Nights (2014)
David Graham, the director and producer of the renowned and brutal documentary Detox or Die, returns to the big screen with Iboga Nights. His first documentary consists of his mission to cure himself of his opiate addiction through ibogaine – a psychedelic substance with dissociative properties that is extracted from the root bark of the iboga tree (Tabernanthe iboga). His film became a resounding success that resulted in an explosion of media, press and news articles. This inspired other addicts to follow in his footsteps by taking up ibogaine and get rid of their opiate addiction once and for all. Iboga Nights follows several of David’s ‘apprentices’.
Iboga Nights is basically split up in three sections. The first is where we are introduced to a shaman from the Netherlands who has treated an approximate of 1,000 patients with ibogaine for their opiate addiction. To my surprise, there was almost no guidance involved; the shaman plainly administers the drug and then lets ibogaine take its course while the participants stay in their assigned bedroom. It was quite astounding to see how most turned out fine and even managed to go through the treatment without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms. However, the documentary quickly takes a dark turn that illustrates the significance of taking into account proper screening and guidance. For instance, one participant stopped breathing due to an underlying heart condition and was taken away to the hospital. Ibogaine is known for slowing down the heart rate that might be fatal. Fortunately, he survived. But another participant left the house and was hit by a truck. David wanted to end the film right there: “how can I be a spokesperson for something so dangerous?”
After these horrific events, David meets up with Dr. Ben Sessa and Dr. Jeffrey Kamlet to talk about psychedelic research and ibogaine. Both share a pessimistic view with regards to pharmaceutical companies and how they supposedly “treat” patients, as they make billions of dollars on pain pills that generally require daily use. Naturally, they scoff at this predicament: “Why do they want ibogaine that requires one dose to cure people. That does not make money?”
Quote of the movie
“Does it not feel weird to have had that life, among such affluence, and now be living in a hotel shooting up crack and heroin and taking up methadone?” – David Graham
Fortunately, the documentary also contains the amazing journey of Sid who was severely addicted to morphine and completely transformed through his ibogaine treatment. He was sexually abused by an older man when he was only 11 years old. During his session, both David and Sid are serious by taking screening and guidance into account. For example, they check if Sid is allergic to ibogaine and during the ibogaine treatment will frequently measure his heart rate and blood pressure. It is astounding to see that even after fivedays of taking ibogaine and no morphine at all, any symptoms of withdrawal are virtually non-existent. But Sid knows that the real treatment starts after ibogaine, which requires integration and (simply) staying off the drug. Several months later David returns to visit Sid and witnesses another person in front of him. He has become a completely transformed person and has much more energy and life in his eyes. Sid talks briefly about his ibogaine experience: “I did not have many visions or anything, but it took my physical dependence away.” The urge, or craving to use drugs, is totally gone. Sid simply does not: “want to do that anymore.”
From Shock to Awe (2018)
The documentary From Shock to Awe chronicles the transformative journey of two military veterans that suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because of this, everything they encounter on a day-to-day basis within their natural environment signals danger. With their bodies still in war and drugged by an arsenal of pharmaceuticals, they turn to the Amazonian brew ayahuasca as a last resort.
Quote of the movie
“I left the warrior behind and let the sunlight take the steering wheel now.”
Both veterans are filmed during their ayahuasca retreat that consisted of four ceremonies, two during the day and two at night. During all dosing sessions, we see grueling raw footage of both veterans struggling with their deep-rooted trauma. The entire retreat resembles the archetypal hero’s journey of diving into the unconscious and coming back into the real world reborn. Through ayahuasca, they realized that all life is sacred, which is: “the exact opposite of what is learned during military training.” Their perception of everyday ‘signals as danger’ changed after only one weekend, as they heard a gunshot in the woods, locked eyes, and started laughing immediately. The PTSD response was no more.
Ann Shulgin, the wife of renowned chemist genius Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, passed away at age 91 on July 9. Both were extraordinary human beings and pioneers in the field of psychedelic research, particularly due to their significant contribution in the development and therapeutic use of (novel) psychedelic compounds. To honor both, we gladly share some of her history and both their legacy.
Laura Ann Gotlieb was born in Wellington, New Zealand on March 22, 1931, and shortly thereafter lived an extraordinary life, spending her time in various places around the world, including Italy, Cuba, Canada, and finally the Bay Area in the US when the Beatnik generation was in full swing. She got married, and divorced, three times and then met her fourth husband, Sasha Shulgin, in the Fall of 1978. After three years of spending time together, they got married in Sasha’s backyard during a surprise ceremony by an official of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Yes, the DEA.
Ann used to work as a medical transcriber in San Francisco and probably became familiar with Jungian psychology through her third husband who was a Jungian psychiatrist. It was only later after marrying Sasha that she got involved in the development of novel psychedelic compounds. During this period, she started practicing psychedelic-assisted therapy in conjunction with MDMA or 2C-B at a time when these substances were still legal. She became a strong adherent of Jungian psychoanalysis and believed that psychedelics have huge potential for self-actualization when used within such a framework.
The development and various discoveries of other psychedelics together led to the authoring of two books: PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TIHKAL: The Continuation. Respectively, these titles are acronyms for “Phenethylamines/Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved.” Partly fictional autobiography and partly considered “pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs” by the DEA, both Ann and Sasha were filled with passion and courage to describe no more than over 179 different psychedelic compounds – all with the main goal of releasing information about psychedelic compounds and its therapeutic properties to the public. Psychedelics, they both believed, were there as valuable tools for human beings to explore and self-actualize. Ann briefly appears on a recent episode of Hamilton’s pharmacopeia,where we see that she continued to live in the house that contains the original lab of Sasha.
We are forever grateful for their contribution to the development and therapeutic use of (novel) psychedelic compounds and aim to continue their legacy.
Should psychedelic researchers administer psychedelics to themselves? This has been an ongoing debate since psychedelics have been around. Michiel van Elk is a Dutch researcher who studies psychedelic, religious, spiritual and mystical experiences and has received a prestigious NWO (government) grant to study the effects of psychedelics. In a series with Jasper Lucas he discusses hot topics around psychedelic research.
Michiel van Elk, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Leiden, used to be very anti-drugs after growing up in a conservative Christian community. A psychedelic experience later in life put him on a path towards psychedelic research.
Van Elk now runs the PRiSM lab, which studies psychedelic, religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences, and has received a prestigious NWO (government) grant to study the effects of psychedelics. His previous work includes themes like religion, spirituality and altered states of consciousness, employing neuroscientific as well as cognitive and social psychology research methods. He is the author of the book ‘A sober look at psychedelics’ – available in Dutch – and will also speak at ICPR 2022.
Jasper Lucas is a Master’s student in Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Leiden. He aims to pursue a career at the intersection of clinical research and practice, with a special interest in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Jasper and Michiel recently had a wide-ranging discussion about issues surrounding the psychedelic science field.
Van Elk, at a certain point, was planning to develop a protocol which included the self-administration of psilocybin to test the feasibility of the experimental design – but this did not come to pass. This is part one of their conversation – about the self-administration of psychedelics. A topic that was long considered taboo, but is now facing new scrutiny.
Jasper: First off, how did you get involved in researching psychedelics?
Michiel: I first came across psychedelics about five years ago during a sabbatical at Stanford University, where I met some highly motivated psychedelic researchers. Since then I’ve been involved in psychedelic research, initially focused on microdosing truffles. Right now I’m working on a bigger project on the influence of psilocybin on our brain, cognition, and perception, for which I was awarded a VIDI grant from the Dutch Association for Scientific Research (Stichting Nederlandse Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Instituten, NWO).
Jasper: A VIDI is one of the top government grants you can get as a researcher. What are the aims of your VIDI project?
Michiel: There are three parts to this project. The first is replication, focusing on the Relaxed Belief under Psychedelics (REBUS) model – which has garnered much attention in recent years. There is some evidence in favor of it but there is a lot of discussion on how to specify the model, for example, which areas serve as lower and higher order areas and where exactly the predictions are implemented. Furthermore, there is the question of how exactly one should analyze fMRI data. Through open science practices like preregistration and many analysts’ approaches, we aim to see to what extent existing, general findings can be replicated.
The second part concerns placebo effects. One perspective is that the effects of psychedelics are at least partially mediated by placebo effects because people have expectations about these effects. Another is that psychedelics are essentially super placebos by making people more suggestible, thereby enhancing the placebo response.
Placebo research is an extensive, established field, which includes my own research with the God helmet. We aim to integrate this field of study with research into the psychedelic experience. How do expectations influence the psychedelic experience and how can psychedelics increase the placebo response?
The third part is assessing the commonalities between different ways of inducing altered states of consciousness, including sensory deprivation, meditation and VR. We aim to assess to what extent these altered states are comparable to one another.
Jasper: You have previously mentioned that, initially, you were thinking of beta-testing the protocol by going through the entire protocol yourself or by one of your PhD students, including the administration of psilocybin. You are no longer planning on doing so, but what type of insights would you have liked to gain from this self-administration, was it purely practical to assess feasibility or did you also expect some theoretical implications?
Michiel: It’s actually almost standard practice in experimental psychology and neuroscience to try out the experiment yourself first to see what the subjective experience is. You can really learn a lot from it. But, like you said, the most important reason to self-administer for this current protocol is to assess feasibility. Are the instructions clear? Is it realistic to ask people to focus on the tasks for that long? The second reason is that almost everyone involved in this research has experience with the natural versions of the substances we use, whereas we use the synthetic versions for the study. The question of whether the natural and synthetic versions are comparable is an open one. In addition, the context is different. How is it to have these experiences in a clinical setting like a hospital. How can we facilitate the experience by making this clinical context a bit more pleasant?
Jasper: That is actually very interesting to hear. I always thought that self-experimentation was historically emphasized specifically for research with psychedelics but it’s actually a broader norm that researchers test their protocols themselves first. When it comes to modern research involving psychedelics, this becomes complicated because of the stigma on psychedelic use generally and self-administration by researchers specifically, based on historical examples like Timothy Leary for example.
Michiel: Indeed. Certain effects are intuitively experienced like Stroop or Simon effects. These effects are so “right in your face” that you immediately understand what they are when performing the task. This facilitates an understanding of what cognitive conflict means. In certain fields, it is standard practice for researchers to use themselves as participants, for example in the field of visual processing where you need a large number of trials and highly trained participants that need to fixate on a specific point for two hours at a time. The average university student would not be able to do this. Of course this can only be done for very basic processes where understanding the aims of the study does not influence the results.
Jasper: Really interesting, I never knew.
Michiel: Yeah, it’s funny how this topic came up now. I had never thought of it as an argument in favor of self-administration before.
Jasper: Besides the informal stigma on self-administration, I assume there is some formal reason why the board of ethics would not authorize it. Did you try to get permission and fail and, if so, what was their reasoning?
Michiel: No, that’s a misunderstanding. We toyed with the idea for a bit while writing the protocol. But METC permission is already very difficult in and of itselft. We wanted to make it less complicated for ourselves. There’s also the question of the public perception of our research. I remember someone pointed out to me that it would be rather awkward if one of my PhD students and I were seen coming out of the experiment room smiling and giggling about the bizarre experience we just had, despite the best intentions on our part.
Jasper: Of course what Leary did was quite different. He took psychedelics with his students in an informal setting as a means of researching them. He didn’t do this to establish the feasibility of a protocol he was working on or anything. But the stigma that resulted from that period is still felt today.
Michiel: Yeah but of course there’s a broader question at play here. What is the role of self-administration by clinicians. I interviewed a psychiatrist for my book who said he doesn’t need to have tried all the medications he gives his patients himself first. Some psychiatrists disagree though, and argue that it is actually important to try certain medications such as SSRIs or Ritalin to get an understanding of their subjective effects. Still, I’m not sure whether I support self-administration of the sort that we were planning to do. You could probably gain similar insights by using a few experienced users, you don’t need the first-person experience for that. I personally find self-administration interesting mostly as a source of inspiration, which I see a lot in other psychedelic researchers who use it a lot in their personal life. It’s one thing to use it as a personal source of inspiration and quite another to do so to improve the research that you’re doing.
This is the first part of Jasper and Michiel’s conversation. The next part will be on the placebo effect. Follow OPEN on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter – or subscribe to OPEN’s Newsletter – to stay up to date for its release.
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.
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 useProblem 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.
LSD, My Problem Child. Albert Hofmann. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0198840206
In a highly candid and personal account, the father of LSD details the history of his “problem child” and his long and fruitful career as a research chemist. An essential read for anyone wanting to learn about how LSD originated and Hofmann’s view on its transition to recreational use.