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Public Lectures

Lecture: Michael Pollan on psychedelics

On Monday December 10th, OPEN is hosting an event with best-selling author Michael Pollan. On this evening, he will discuss his own research into psychedelics, and the implications of the latest scientific findings for therapy, consciousness and personal transformation.
In his newest book ‘How to change your mind‘, best-selling author and journalist Michael Pollan investigates the science of psychedelics, and their relation to consciousness, therapy and transformation. Pollan is best known for his award-winning writing on food, such as ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and ‘Food Rules’. His style of ‘immersive journalism’ is ideally suited to explore the world of psychedelics, and he reluctantly experiments with LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and 5-MeO-DMT to find out what psychedelics are all about. In addition he interviews many neuroscientists and therapists.
The result is a fascinating journey through the history of psychedelics, moving from promising psychedelic treatment for alcoholism and death anxiety in the fifties to present-day neuroscience research, and the renewed interest in therapy for depression, addiction and trauma. Can psychedelics help us to improve our relationship towards ourselves and our surroundings? Come and find out on December 10th.
Doors open at 19:30, and the program starts at 20:00. Address: Tivoli/Vredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, Utrecht.
Tickets are in limited supply and can be bought here.
After the lecture, you will be able to purchase the recent Dutch translation of ‘How to change your mind’. Michael Pollan will be available to sign your books.


European Psilocybin Seminar at Tyringham Hall

Tyringham Hall In June 2017, a two-day seminar on psilocybin for European therapists and researchers took place at Tyringham Hall, in the UK. The event was organised by OPEN in collaboration with UK mental health company Compass Pathways.
During a wonderful weekend at Tyringham Hall, near Oxford in the UK, attendees were invited to learn from leading experts in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, to discuss necessary competencies and other requirements for clinical applications of psilocybin, and to better understand pathways towards regulatory approval and patient access.
Facilitated by leading experts in the field of psilocybin research and therapy from the US, Switzerland and the UK, the participants discussed competencies for (new) therapists aiming to conduct research into psilocybin for various clinical indications. Attendees could learn from both patients and therapists on the importance of preparing, and supporting people in psilocybin-facilitated treatment at NYU, Imperial College and in Switzerland.
This small meeting consisted of a great mixture of academic researchers, clinicians and therapists from all over Europe: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Israel and the United Kingdom. With serious discussions, plenty of time for everyone to connect and share experiences, in a breath-taking setting, this was an inspiring first meeting of like-minded researchers and clinicians.

Breaking Convention 2015: Looking back (and forward)

BC_report_2Psychedelic researchers gathered from all over the world to present their findings at the third biannual Breaking Convention conference (BC). The conference took place at Greenwich College in London between 10 and 12 July and hosted 140 presenters from about 40 countries as well as performers, artists and musicians. Over 800 people attended the event, which included renowned presenters such as professors David E. Nichols, David J. Nutt and Roland Griffiths, along with a great variety of academics from different disciplines.

According to Dr. Ben Sessa, one of the conference’s organisers, the conference was a success: “We have had a lot of great feedback. BC is a very ‘home grown’ affair, with almost a third of delegates participating in one way or another. People feel a great deal of personal ownership over the conference, which means the atmosphere is great and a lot of important networking gets done.” Sessa was one of the co-founders of BC in 2011, and explains how the conference has built momentum since then: “We set up BC as a platform to showcase psychedelic research and culture. The conference has grown tremendously and we hope it will continue to expand and inspire young people and seasoned enthusiasts to propagate this important subject.”

One of the participants was Michael Kugel, an undergraduate medical science student from Sydney, Australia. He travelled 17.000 kilometres to meet world leading researchers in current medical cannabis and psychedelic research. He thinks his trip was worthwhile and shows that Sessa´s hopes are not in vain. “I’ve met a lot of great people here”, says Kugel. “I met Allan Badiner, author of Zig Zag Zen, who introduced me to MAPS founder Rick Doblin, who in turn told me about a psychiatrist who is trying to get approval in Australia to study MDMA for PTSD in war veterans. At lunch I bumped into Lumír Hanuš, who was part of the team that discovered anandamide [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][an endogenous cannabinoid, ed.], and who currently works with Raphael Mechoulam. I offered him my (limited) lab skills – we’ll see where that leads. I´m feeling really good about it all so far.”

For Tehseen Noorani, a researcher who has participated in a psilocybin studie at Johns Hopkins along with Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson, coming to BC was a no-brainer: “I do research on psychedelics and these conferences are rare. They are also big, so it totally makes sense to come and present work and find out what else is going on. When you´re in this space, you realise how much is going on – there are so many small pockets of activity all over the world.

Noorani thinks it’s important to undertake efforts to further convince funders that psychedelics are a topic worthy of research. “For me there are a lot of sciences,” he said. “I work with pharmacologists and the steps forward for clinical trials seem to be pretty straightforward. As there´s a growing acceptance of the impressive outcomes of strictly scientific research, what we really need now is money.” He also underlined the importance of taking social scientific research around psychedelics more seriously: “My background is in anthropology, and I would say anthropological work needs to be taken more seriously. Firstly, research needs to connect the important anthropological and political questions of today. Secondly, ethnographic research needs to be recognised as serious research by so-called harder sciences, and by the public, because to be interested in psychedelics is to be interested in pretty profound stuff.”

Levente Móró, a consciousness researcher from Finland currently based in Hungary, also found what he came looking for: “Along with the interlaced biennial conference by the OPEN Foundation, BC is the most important European meeting of the international psychedelic science field. I wanted to get updated about the status of current research, to meet old and new fellow researchers, and to put forward my own ideas and receive feedback. The conference provided abundant amounts of knowledge, from all the various fields related to psychedelics. It is nice to receive fresh input and viewpoints, also from outside my own fields of study. Moreover, it has been extremely nice to meet more people from Finland, as a result of the recently organised psychedelic science activism.” A group of academics in Finland, who aim to promote practical research and evidence-based information on psychedelics, organized their first small psychedelic seminar last April, with presentations from Teri Krebs, Murtaza Majeed and Helle Kaasik, among others.

Móró’s own presentation at BC was based on a bioethical analysis of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs he produced with his colleague Imre Bárd, who wasn’t present. He focused on representations of ‘evil’ and demonstrated how the UN drug laws used a language of religious immorality to justify drug prohibition. His presentation, although based on a convention that was signed over half a century ago, found resonance in current legislative practices. One of the hot topics mentioned during many of the BC presentations was the new Psychoactive Substances Bill (2015), proposed by the British government just weeks before the conference. The new bill would increase the regulation of most psychoactive substances (not including alcohol and tobacco) and further complicate psychedelic research. An open letter was published on the conference website, addressed to the British Prime Minister, in which the undersigned urge for the content of the Bill to be reconsidered. It was signed by over 40 professionals, including academics, former and current members of Parliament and police officials.

This more politically active role of psychedelic researchers was welcomed by Levente Móró: “It was nice to see that psychedelic researchers have been getting involved more and more with drug policy reform issues.” Despite the possible tightening of regulatory practices in the UK, Ben Sessa seemed optimistic about the future of psychedelic research. “Psychedelic research requires a major Public Relations drive. Most researchers believe that psychedelic drugs are useful, safe and efficacious tools for medicine, growth and development. But sadly, for the majority of the general public, high levels of stigma and misinformation remain attached to these fascinating substances. This means we need to detach ourselves, to some extent, from the “hippie” genre and demonstrate that ‘normal’, everyday people can use psychedelics safely and with personal and communal benefits. One way of doing this is to increase the exposure of psychedelic medicine to people everywhere through the media. This is partly why I wrote my novel ‘To Fathom Hell Or Soar Angelic’, which was launched at BC15. In the meantime, my clinical colleagues and I continue to carry out robust scientific studies to determine the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy.”

One way to relieve the stigma could be for researchers to openly discuss their own experiences. But could this harm their credibility as scientists? Noorani: “As a researcher I would say there´s a real dilemma around admitting to having (not) taken psychedelics in terms of how it legitimises or delegitimises the research you do.” Móró believes that scientific credibility should not rest on the researcher´s person: “Researchers might get insights from their own experiences, or become more motivated to investigate phenomena they find personally fascinating and meaningful. Besides, scientific credibility should not depend on a researcher’s personal background. It should be objectively assessable and independent of the researcher’s non-scientific traits or parameters.”

While Sessa openly discussed his own experiences, he also recognises how legal restrictions might affect the extent to which professionals publicly speak about their use of psychedelics: “I am fortunate to have participated in a number of legal psychedelic research studies in the last 6 years, so I can say, on the record, that I have taken ketamine, LSD and psilocybin in those studies.” Sessa supports the idea that ‘coming out’ about safe and beneficial experiences could be a good way to forward the emancipation of these substances: “This method worked well for driving the normalisation of homosexuality in recent decades. However, I also understand professionals – especially doctors – who feel reluctant to do this. The possession of illegal drugs is still penalised in most countries.”

Next year, the special session of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) will, among other things, give directions for the future of psychedelic research, and the outcomes will probably be extensively presented, discussed and debated at the next BC in 2017.

This report is based on on-site recorded interviews and post-conference email interviews.


Symposium October 30th: Comeback of psychedelic drugs in science and medicine

11227635_1628720620748797_8237747453050699295_nAfter 50 years of prohibition, psychedelic drugs are making a comeback in science and medicine. On the 30th of October, four scientists from the pioneering labs of David Nutt and Tomas Palenicek will present their cutting edge work from the forefront of psychedelic research. Cognito, in collaboration with Czech Psychedelic Society and the OPEN Foundation, is pleased to invite you to this extraordinary event.

Date: October 30th, 16:00-20:00
Location: Oudemanhuispoort, University of Amsterdam


Four speakers will present their experiments on the influence that certain psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) have on ordinary consciousness. The use of neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), has recently shed light on the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying these altered states of consciousness. A total of four speakers from Prague and London will present and discuss these exciting new findings in the symposium.


16:00 – 16:20 doors open
16:20 – 16:30 short intro

Speaker: Filip Tyls, MD
Title: Psychedelic research in the Czech Republic – comeback after 50 years
Abstract: Filip Tyls is a psychiatrist and PhD Researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health in Prague. His main research interest is the neurobiology of psychedelics, addiction and serious mental disorders. Filip will kick off the symposium with an introductory talk entitled: “Psychedelic research in the Czech Republic – comeback after 50 years”. He will provide a short historical overview of psychedelic research and discoveries in the Czech Republic. In addition, he will present current ongoing projects and prospects for the future.

Speaker: Tomas Palenicek, MD, PhD
Title: Psychedelics as unique tools for understanding psychosis.
Abstract: Tomas Palenicek is a researcher and psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Prague. Since 2001, he has been researching the neurobiology of various psychopathologies in a clinical neurobiology setting, using psychedelic drugs. Tomas’s research team was the first to be granted approval to conduct research on psychedelics with human subjects in the Czech Republic after 50 years. His talk, entitled “Psychedelics as unique tools for understanding psychosis”, will argue for the relevance of modern research with psychedelics, and provide examples of how these substances can be used in clinical settings.

17:50-18:10 Coffee/tea break

Speaker: Mendel Kaelen, MSc
Title: t.b.a
Abstract: Mendel Kaelen is a PhD candidate at Imperial College London. His research focusses on the effects of psychedelics on music-evoked emotion, and on the role of music in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. He recently published a paper on this topic in the scientific journal “Psychopharmacology”, and in his talk he will continue this discussion by sharing insights from his research at Imperial College London. This will include neuroimaging studies with LSD and music, as well as a recent study to the role of music in psychedelic-assisted therapy for severe depression.

Speaker: Robin Carhart-Harris, PhD
Title: t.b.a.
Abstract: Robin Carhart-Harris is a post-doctoral researcher at the centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College London. Robin is one of the leading investigators of the field of psychedelic science. By using neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI and MEG, Robin hopes to reveal the brain mechanisms underlying altered states of consciousness caused by the use of psychedelic substances. Moreover, he is an author of the Entropic Brain theory, which provides a connection between modern neurobiology, psychoanalysis and theoretical physics.

19:30 Room for questions and discussion

Symposium Utrecht University: Psychedelics – Novel Applications for Depression


Psychedelics – Novel Applications for Depression

An evening symposium dedicated to recent research into the potential anti-depressant effects and mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs. Organized in collaboration with U.P.S.V. “Unitas Pharmaceuticorum”.

There’s a recognized need among therapists for more effective interventions for depression. The currently available psychopharmaceutical medications don’t work for everyone. What do we know about the effectiveness of psychedelics? To discuss these topics, we invited three young researchers, from three countries and three related disciplines. All presentations will be in English.

  • Tobias Buchborn is a German neuropsychologist, doing research at the Otto van Guericke University in Magdeburg. He studied the antidepressant potential of LSD in animals and will present his findings and implications for the clinical practice.
  • Mendel Kaelen is a Dutch neuroscientist working at Imperial College London. His talk will cover neuroimaging studies concerning the brain mechanisms of psychedelics and music, and their role in psychedelic-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression. You can read about his most recent publication here.
  • Tharcila Chaves is a Brazilian pharmacist, who is currently studying the effects of orally administered ketamine for therapy resistant severely depressed patients at the Medical Centre of the University of Groningen (UMCG).

There will be time for a plenary discussion and Q&A with the researchers afterwards. Please be on time!

Date: September 15th, 2015
Time: 19:00 – 22:00
Location: Marinus Ruppertgebouw (blue lecture hall), Leuvenlaan 21, Utrecht.
Tickets: €2,- for members Unitas Pharmaceuticorum / €7,50 for non-members. Sold on location.
Reserve your ticket(s) by sending an email to (Unitas Pharmaceuticorum)

Also see the Facebook event page for updates and more information.

Lecture University of Groningen: The comeback of psychedelic science

At Monday May 18th, there will be a lecture by Joost Breeksema, the president of OPEN, at the University of Groningen. This lecture is organized by the English lecture committee of student society VIP (Psychology University of Groningen), in collaboration with the OPEN Foundation.
VIP created a Facebook event with more information on this lecture.
Discussing the therapeutic and mystical potential of psychedelics
When LSD was discovered in 1943, it was initially seen as a tool to mimic and understand psychosis. In the following years, psychedelics would be regarded as valuable instruments that could provide insight into otherwise inaccessible realms of the human mind. Pioneering Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof thought that ‘psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for medicine or the telescope for astronomy.’ Shortly after, however, psychedelics and related research were outlawed.
Recently a ‘psychedelic renaissance’ took off, ushering in a whole new phase of scientific investigation. Can psilocybin really help people overcome their fear of death? How does MDMA interact with the brain to heal heavily traumatized patients? Can psychedelics be used to treat addiction? And what role do mystical experiences play in all this?
In this lecture Joost Breeksema discusses past, present and future research directions, the latest scientific results and whether we really need science to understand the potential that psychedelic experiences offer.
This lecture will be in English

Symposium about psychedelic research at Utrecht University

On Thursday May 7th there will be a symposium on academic research with psychedelic drugs at Utrecht University. This symposium is organized by the student society Brainwave (Neuroscience Utrecht University), in collaboration with the OPEN Foundation.


Leon Kenemans – Professor Psychopharmacology Utrecht University.

Mendel Kaelen – PhD student Imperial College London and board member OPEN Foundation.

Joost Breeksema – President OPEN Foundation and harm reduction expert.

Barbara van Zwieten-Boot – College ter Beoordeling van Geneesmiddelen (Medicines Evaluation Board).

Leon Kenemans will open the symposium by providing a general overview of the brain mechanisms of various psychoactive drugs. Following this, Joost Breeksema will introduce the topic of psychedelic drugs, and argue for the relevance of modern research with psychedelics. Subsequently, Mendel Kaelen will talk about the brain mechanisms of psychedelics on the basis of recent research at Imperial College London. There he studies the brain mechanisms of LSD and the effects of LSD on music perception. Next, Barbara van Zwieten-Boot, will talk about the potential risks of medicines. Finally, there will be discussion between the speakers with the possibility for questions by the audience.

Brainwave created a Facebook event at which people can register themselves for this symposium. People without a Facebook account can register here.

The language of the symposium will be part English and part Dutch. Mendel Kaelen and Joost Breeksema will speak English. Leon Kenemans and Barbara van Zwieten-Boot will speak in Dutch.

Second part of special issue compiled by OPEN published

cdarcoverAt the end of last month we published the first part of a special issue on the beneficial effects of psychedelics in the treatment of addiction of the scientific journal CDAR. Now, the second part has been published with three more articles on this subject.

In the first article, Robin Mackenzie argues that too little attention is paid to how psychedelics might positively influence both one’s life and one’s death. It is her contention that too often, neuroscientific research focuses on remedying diseases or disorders. Instead, she argues for cognitive liberty and posits that neuroscience should illuminate the role psychedelics might play in improving well-being and ‘human flourishing’.

A review by Mitch Liester traces the turbulent history of LSD, from its initial use as a ‘psychotomimetic’ (a substance that mimics psychosis-like states of consciousness) to its employment as a pharmacological aid in helping ‘addicted’ patients and its widespread association with counterculture movements in the 1960s. Liester provides an overview of its pharmacology, neurobiology and a detailed phenomenology of its subjective effects. The author argues that it is time for an unbiased reexamination of LSD’s potential as a pharmacological adjunct in addiction treatment.

Recently, studies at Johns Hopkins University have drawn attention to the significance of transcendental or mystical aspects of the psychedelic experience. These studies suggest a pivotal role for mystical-type experiences in promoting wellbeing, leading to measurable positive changes in the behaviour, attitudes, and values of healthy participants. The rigorous research study conducted by Albert Garcia-Romeu and colleagues at the same university provides further insight in how psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences translate to the context of heavy tobacco dependence. Their clinical pilot study shows abstinence rates after psilocybin treatment that are significantly higher than that of conventional treatments for tobacco dependence, which motivates an important discussion on the future of addiction treatment.

The articles are open access and can be found here.

We are very proud to be in the position to share these articles with you and would like to extend our gratitude to all the writers and peer reviewers that have helped us in putting this special issue together.

Article Overview
Editorial (Thematic Issue: Introduction to ‘Beneficial Effects of Psychedelics with a Special Focus on Addictions’)
What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About the Potential of Psychedelics in Healthcare? How the Neurophenomenology of Psychedelics Research Could Help us to Flourish Throughout Our Lives, as Well as to Enhance Our Dying
A Review of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in the Treatment of Addictions: Historical Perspectives and Future Prospects
Psilocybin-Occasioned Mystical Experiences in the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction

Special issue compiled by OPEN published in scientific journal

cdarcoverThe OPEN Foundation is proud to announce that we compiled two special issues of the journal CDAR (Current Drug Abuse Reviews). The title of the Special Issues is ‘Beneficial Effects of Psychedelics with a Special Focus on Addictions’.

The idea of this special issue originated at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research, organised by the OPEN Foundation in 2012. This special issue of CDAR takes an interdisciplinary approach to the topic of psychedelics and mental health, while maintaining a particular focus on applications of psychedelics in the fields of substance abuse and addiction. This special issue also takes a critical look at some widespread assumptions about psychedelics, introduces new ideas and suggests novel directions for future research.

For instance, in the first article, Beatriz Labate and Kenneth Tupper take a critical approach towards the instruments of modern science. They reflect upon the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, which is rapidly gaining popularity, both from individuals interested in experiencing its effects as well as from scientists studying this plant admixture. Drawing from the ever-expanding and interdisciplinary field of ayahuasca studies, Tupper and Labate question the possibility of absolute objectivity when studying ayahuasca and other psychedelics. They also look at how psychedelics are generally regarded and how these conceptualizations influence current research and the scientists pursuing their investigations.

How should one respond to individuals undergoing a difficult experience after ingesting a psychedelic substance? Is it possible to transform such a negative experience into a beneficial one? These questions are at the heart of Maria Carvalho and colleagues’ article. The authors provide a detailed account of how an integrated service that offers ‘compassionate care’ to music festival participants may be effective in mitigating the negative effects occasioned by the use of psychedelics, taken in an unfamiliar and highly stimulating environment. Their article shows how an intervention that combines principles from harm reduction, risk reduction and crisis intervention can effectively deal with the unintended negative consequences of recreational (psychedelic) drug use. This increases knowledge on the risks and benefits of altered states of consciousness – not just those induced by psychedelic substances – for both the individual and professional caregivers.

In the first wave of scientific interest in psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s, their effects on ‘alcoholism’ represented one of the early approaches. Michael Winkelman’s article reviews the historical evidence on the safety and efficacy of various psychedelics used as aids in the treatment of substance dependence disorders. The author also provides an overview of the various possible mechanisms of action that underlie the effectiveness of these therapies. Given the safety of psychedelics and the limited success of current conventional treatments in treating addiction, Winkelman argues that medical professionals have a moral duty to further pursue the investigation of treatment with psychedelics.

As the field of neurosciences makes its advances, more researchers look towards the potential offered by psychedelics in understanding the brain mechanisms underlying their idiosyncratic effects. Samuel Turton’s article provides unique insights in the subjective experiences of study participants. He describes the phenomenology of the experiences of fifteen participants in an fMRI-scanner after intravenous psilocybin administration.

Brazilian neuroscientist Rafael Guimarães dos Santos contributes to this special issue with a thorough review on how the extremely potent, but little investigated non-classical psychedelic Salvinorin A might be effective as a pharmacological agent in treating psychostimulant substance addiction. In his article, he reviews the available data on κ-opioid receptor agonists and their mechanisms of action in animal studies, presenting a novel perspective on the potential effectiveness of this psychedelic substance in the treatment of addiction to psychostimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine.

The next part of the special issue will feature articles by Mitch Liester, Robin MacKenzie and Albert Garcia-Romeu, Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson.

The articles are open access and can be found here.

Article overview

Editorial (Thematic Issue: Introduction to ‘Beneficial Effects of Psychedelics with a Special Focus on Addictions’)

Ayahuasca, Psychedelic Studies and Health Sciences: The Politics of Knowledge and Inquiry into an Amazonian Plant Brew

Crisis Intervention Related to the Use of Psychoactive Substances in Recreational Settings – Evaluating the Kosmicare Project at Boom Festival

Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Evaluating Treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca

A Qualitative Report on the Subjective Experience of Intravenous Psilocybin Administered in an fMRI Environment

Salvinorin A and Related Compounds as Therapeutic Drugs for Psychostimulant-Related Disorders