Psychedelics Today Affiliate Webinar: A Course Overview and Q&A Session

Join us for an engaging and informative webinar, where we’ll delve into the exciting world of psychedelic education and how you can harness it to benefit both yourself and the larger community. As a valued affiliate, this is your chance to learn more about the plethora of courses available in the Psychedelic Education Center and explore how you can contribute to the expansion of psychedelic knowledge while earning revenue.

Webinar Agenda:

  • Introduction to Psychedelics Today: Gain insights into the mission, vision, and values of Psychedelics Today and how you can align with our community.
  • Course Spotlight: Explore the diverse range of courses offered in the Psychedelic Education Center, designed to empower individuals with knowledge about psychedelics, mental health, therapeutic applications, and more.
  • Affiliate Program Overview: Learn about the Psychedelics Today Affiliate Program and how you can participate to generate revenue while sharing valuable educational resources.
  • Benefits of Affiliation: Discover the advantages of being a Psychedelics Today affiliate, including revenue potential and the opportunity to be featured on our prominent social media platforms.
  • Tips and Tools for Maximizing Efficiencies: Discover strategies and tools to enhance your promotion efforts, ensuring effective and efficient outreach to your audience.
  • Q&A Session: Get your questions answered by our expert team and fellow affiliates, ensuring you have a clear understanding of the affiliate program and how to maximize your involvement.

The Ultimate Guide to Psychedelics in Australia

Australia recently achieved a world first, becoming the first country to officially recognise the medicinal and therapeutic uses of psilocybin and MDMA. While this change can seem like it’s come out of nowhere, it’s actually the result of the explosion of activity around psychedelics in Australia over the past decade. Only a short time ago, we were under the radar. Now, we’ll likely be one of the first countries where patients can receive psychedelic-assisted therapy without being part of a clinical trial.

So, whether you’re currently in Australia, or just thinking of moving here, a career in psychedelics is suddenly more of a possibility. If you’re thinking of pursuing this path in Australia, there’s lots you need to know to navigate psychedelics here. What is or isn’t legal? Who are the critical nonprofits and corporations? Which universities are pursuing psychedelic research? 

The short answer: Nowhere, except in minimal circumstances.

In most cases, classic serotonergic psychedelics are classified in the Poisons Standard as Schedule 9 – Prohibited Substances by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Ketamine slides into Schedule 8 – Controlled Substances, due to its extensive medical applications, though it’s worth noting that using it to treat depression is still considered “off-label” here. This off-label use is technically legal, but a 2015 controversy over clinics that allegedly skimped on psychiatric supervision and sent patients home to self-inject their ketamine doses has led to relatively few psychiatrists offering this service.

In February, the TGA announced that psilocybin and MDMA will be added to Schedule 8, permitting their use as Controlled Drugs, but only allowed to be prescribed by specialist psychiatrists under the following conditions: they must have approval from a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), and they must be authorized by the TGA under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme to prescribe the substances for these conditions.

Psilocybin will be permitted only for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and MDMA will be permitted only for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This means that the therapeutic use of MDMA and psilocybin will remain illegal, unless it’s occurring under the specific circumstances the TGA decision describes. For all other uses, they will remain in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances). Therapy using other psychedelics such as LSD, mescaline or novel analogues will remain strictly limited to research trials.

The importation of psychedelics is tightly controlled and only allowed for approved legal research. A range of federal laws for serious drug offenses carry significant custodial sentences. For example, being convicted of trafficking or importing a “marketable quantity” (250 grams – 2 kilograms) of N,N‑Diethyltryptamine (DMT) can result in a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and/or a fine of around $1.11 million AUD.

Most day-to-day drug law is dealt with at the state/territory level in Australia, which generally reflects federal scheduling. This means using, possessing, growing, manufacturing, and selling psychedelics is generally illegal. The one exception is found within the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of most drugs, including most common psychedelics. This doesn’t override federal law, and the federal government could seek to resolve any conflict in the High Court, but are unlikely to in the short term.  

Australian Psychedelic Organizations 

If you want to be across the breadth of psychedelic activity and experience in Australia, you need to start with the organizations in the field: Understanding who they are, how they relate to each other, and what communities they connect with is essential to navigating psychedelics here. 

Psychedelic Charities & Nonprofits 

Australian Psychedelic Society 

Founded in Melbourne in 2017, the Australian Psychedelic Society is a grassroots and community-led not-for-profit. Through events such as picnics, film screenings, integration circles, and workshops, they aim to provide connection, education, and harm-reduction information relevant to psychedelic communities. The Australian Psychedelic Society also advocates for drug law reform, including decriminalization, recently putting their case to the federal Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and planning a range of advocacy activities centered around upcoming elections. 

Entheogenesis Australis (EGA) 

Entheogenesis Australis is a charity using education to help grow the Australian ethnobotanical community and its gardens. EGA hosts various events around entheogenic and psychoactive plant and fungal medicines, most notably the biennial EGA Symposiums, now known as Garden States. Since 2003, they’ve been encouraging knowledge-sharing on botanical research, conservation, medicinal plants, arts, and culture. Attending EGA events is the most effective (and fun) way to connect with the key individuals and organizations in the field here. 

Mind Medicine Australia 

Mind Medicine Australia (known, somewhat confusingly, as MMA) is a charity founded to support clinical research and work towards regulatory-approved and evidence-based psychedelic-assisted therapies. Mind Medicine Australia doesn’t advocate for the recreational or non-clinical use of psychedelics. Nor do they advocate for any changes to the law concerning non-clinical use, including decriminalization.

Through their for-profit subsidiary, Mind Medicine Institute, MMA supplies what was, until recently, Australia’s only training program around psychedelics, the Certificate in Psychedelic Assisted Therapies (CPAT). 

Psychae Institute 

The newest kid on the block, Psychae is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing new psychedelic therapies as approved medical treatments for mental disorders and other diseases, as well as supporting psychological well-being. 

Psychedelic research in Science and Medicine (PRISM) 

Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine (PRISM) is a charity established in 2011 to undertake and support research into the applications of medicinal psychedelics and related therapies. Currently Australia’s leading psychedelic research organization, they partnered with Dr. Margaret Ross at the St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, for an end-of-life psilocybin trial, and are presently involved with Australia’s first MDMA trial

Psychedelic Companies 

New psychedelic-related companies and businesses are emerging in Australia every day. This is just a selection of some of the better-known ones. 

Enosis Therapeutics 

Through their Virtual Reality Psychedelic Psychotherapy (VRPP) protocol, Enosis aims to help therapists guide patients through all stages of their psychedelic healing journeys. Preliminary results suggest that their bespoke VR scenarios are a positive addition to the psychedelic-assisted therapy process, with hopes that these will be confirmed by future clinical trials. 

Little Green Pharma 

Perth-based Little Green Pharma is a cannabis company that’s recently moved into the psychedelic space, announcing in late 2021 that it had received a license from the Western Australian Department of Health to grow psilocybe mushrooms and supply psilocybin for researchers in Australia. It’s also pursuing psilocybin research through its subsidiary, Reset Mind Sciences.


Using computational chemistry, Psylo is focused on developing next-generation therapeutic psychedelics, including short-acting and sub-perceptual substances. Partnering with UNSW and the CSIRO and having attracted considerable funding, this company is one to watch. 

Australian Psychedelic Research 

A few years ago, there were barely a handful of psychedelic researchers at universities here. Australia was characterized as “falling behind” international psychedelic research. Now, it would be easier to list the places that don’t have some involvement in psychedelic research.

Notable university researchers include: Dr. Stephen Bright at Edith Cowan University, who is running our first MDMA trial and is founding member of PRISM; Dr. Paul Liknaitzky at Monash University, who is leading investigations into using psilocybin for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and involved in numerous other research projects around the efficacy of MDMA for PTSD; Dr. Vince Polito at Macquarie University who is probably our foremost microdosing researcher and has recently finished a longitudinal study of microdosing psilocybin for mild/moderate depression; and Dr. Monica Barratt at RMIT/NDARC, whose research explores the social and public health implications of digital technologies for people who use illicit and emerging psychoactive drugs.

Those are just the researchers who have a public profile and a longer history of engaging in research that’s directly related to psychedelics or psychedelic communities. In the past 2-3 years, many established psychology or psychiatry researchers around the country have quietly turned their attention to psychedelics, and are now engaging more publicly through high profile publications, large projects, or the formation of research centers. Examples of this are Swinburne University’s upcoming randomized controlled trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, led by Professor Susan Rossell, and the University of Melbourne’s formation of its Medicinal Psychedelics Research Network (MPRN).

Searching the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry for psychedelic-focussed clinical trials that are currently recruiting does not produce a huge number of results, but what is listed is illuminating, with hospitals playing a key role in these investigations across diverse areas including tolerability studies of Field Trip’s FT-104 molecule and a pilot study into psilocybin-facilitated treatment for methamphetamine use disorder.

How can I take part in psychedelic research in Australia? 

Besides word of mouth or being lucky enough to see the right ad on Facebook, you can check out the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry. Trial matching services such as HealthMatch may also be helpful. 

The Underground 

Organizations and researchers are great, but they’re not the beating heart of psychedelics in Australia. That would be the people and communities who use psychedelics, and many people involved in above-ground psychedelic activities are also long-time & active members of underground communities. 

What Psychedelics are common in Australia? 

While psychedelic use in Australia is relatively rare, it is on a steep upward trend. In 2019, 10.4% of the population had used psychedelics in their lifetime, and 1.6% had used psychedelics in the past year. That 1.6% might not sound like much, but that’s up from 1% in 2016!

The 2019 National Household Drug Survey found that the most used psychedelic in Australia is LSD, followed by psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline. Official surveys don’t get into fine detail, but anecdotally, there’s a bit more nuance. Mushroom use splits somewhat geographically, with Psilocybe cubensis being more common in warmer areas than the native P.subaeruginosa. DMT is used as vaporized crystal, smoked as Changa, or imbibed in local Ayahuasca analogs, with Acacia often replacing Chacruna leaves as the DMT component. Peyote is rarely used, with San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi) or Bolivian Torch (Trichocereus brigesii) cactus being the most common sources of mescaline. 

Sure, but what’s the scene really like? 

It’s hard to generalize what psychedelic use and communities are like here. Many psychonauts are growing obscure plants and pursuing arcane knowledge, loosely bound by social media and the occasional camping trip, bush doof, or picnic in a local botanic garden. For the uninitiated, bush doofs are outdoor dance parties that emerged in Australia in the 90s and have become a significant part of the country’s alternative subculture. Typically held in remote areas of the bush, these events are often characterized by an eclectic mix of electronic music (especially psytrance), psychedelic art, and drug use. From humble and unsanctioned beginnings, the doof is now often incarnated as large outdoor multi-day dance festivals such as Rainbow Serpent and remains a cornerstone of the enduring relationship between psychedelics, rave culture, and music.

Compared to a few years ago, many more people are aware of the potential benefits of psychedelics. So, there’s a sense that this isn’t a wholly countercultural thing anymore. Anyone you meet could use or be interested in psychedelics – you never know!

People are facilitating psychedelic experiences all over the country (more, in my opinion, than there used to be.) This can be one-on-one or in groups. Many of these facilitators and guides have extensive experience and skill in serving and holding space for the people in their care. It could be smoother sailing, though. Allegations of facilitators having inappropriate relationships with ceremony participants or following unsafe dosing practices (e.g., dosing people with MDMA too soon after Ayahuasca, thus risking serotonin toxicity) are not uncommon. While most of these alleged incidents never make it to court, a Queensland man has been charged with the sexual assault of four women who had participated in his “spiritual healing” Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Community concerns around ethics and standards of care have driven engagement with international efforts such as the Ethical Psychedelic International Community (EPIC). EPIC is a group of ethicists, facilitators, and community organizers who are dedicated to creating safe and ethical psychedelic spaces, specializing in supporting and advising individuals, communities, and organizations within the psychedelic and plant medicine world who are navigating challenging ethical situations. The same concerns independently led to local community members founding the Psychedelically Aware Talking Circle Hub (PATCH.) PATCH is a space that supports people who’ve experienced harm in psychedelic contexts, and aims to leverage community discussions of harm minimisation to produce processes and resources that will allow communities to address issues around safety and ethics as they arise.

Regardless of setting, and whoever they’re with, lots of people are using psychedelics and want to talk about their experiences. There is high demand for both community-led integration circles and professional integration therapy. 

The Future of Psychedelics in Australia 

Where we go from here is difficult to predict. Australia has taken the first step towards clinical access for psychedelic-assisted therapy. How widespread and accessible will this be? That depends on patient advocates overcoming the conservative stance of the TGA, health officials, politicians, and the psychiatric establishment.

It’s pleasant to imagine that acceptance of therapeutic psychedelics will lead to broader legal reform, as medical cannabis has in much of the US. But our medical cannabis system here is much more restrictive and heavily regulated. Every single patient who is prescribed cannabis is processed through a federally administered access scheme and there are no legal walk-in dispensaries. Doctors and cannabis companies aren’t even supposed to advertise their services or products (though they regularly bend these laws.) We’ve technically had medical cannabis since 2016, and there is little indication that this will automatically lead to adult recreational legalization.

The situation isn’t all doom and gloom, though. The number of people aware of psychedelics and their potential has grown astronomically in recent years. The number of people who have had psychedelic experiences has grown just as rapidly. So, I hope we can expect political and regulatory progress to follow the social changes we’re currently experiencing.

My prediction is that non-clinical psychedelic access will be community-based, with more nonprofit psychedelic social clubs rather than neon-lit dispensaries. The medical use of psychedelics will evolve but remain heavily regulated until the medical model itself changes.

Whatever happens, there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in psychedelics in Australia.

Have you been considering getting involved in the burgeoning psychedelic field in Australia? Spaces in Navigating Psychedelics for Clinicians and Wellness Practitioners: Australia are open for registration until Sept. 25. Don’t miss out on your chance to make history in Australia and enter a new paradigm of mental healthcare. Seats are limited – register here.

Bridging Dimensions: Understanding the Mystical Experience

Throughout history, mankind has been drawn to the profound realm of mystical experiences. Psychedelics have long been used to generate these experiences. Recent research suggests that when psychedelics are used to treat illnesses such as depression, addiction, or end-of-life anxiety in relation to cancer and other terminal illnesses, people who have mystical experiences during the treatment session have more positive outcomes.

Mystical experiences were fundamental to man’s religious experience in both the East and the West. They have informed speculations about the true nature of reality. The psychedelic space has been guided by the wisdom of Indigenous peoples, and central to their journey is the embracing of the mystical as used by shamans and healers.

Understanding mystical experiences can be approached in two ways:

1. Naturalistic Approach: Using science and logic to understand the inherent laws by which the universe runs. This approach might be taken by those who see the nature of the world as explainable by cause and effect relating to the laws of science.

2. Transcendent Approach: Based on the assumption of a universe run by a higher intelligence and not subject to inherent laws. A transcendental approach may be seen to be more compatible with religion and spirituality.

Core Features of the Mystical Experience

Much of the basis for this discussion of what is traditionally considered the core features of the mystical experience, comes from philosopher Walter Stace’s work Mysticism and Philosophy and philosopher and psychologist William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience.

The core features of a mystical experience include:

1. A Non-Ordinary State of Consciousness 

A non-ordinary state of consciousness is profoundly different from the ordinary, mundane everyday experience. It generates a sense of timelessness and a loosening of the sense of relatedness to the outside world occurs — a blurring of what’s inside and what’s outside. There can be a loss of one’s sense of self — ego dissolution or ego death are commonly used terms to describe this.

Mystical experiences can occur in religious as well as non-religious circumstances, coming unbidden in the midst of everyday life. They can happen as a part of meditation, as a result of practices such as sensory deprivation, holotropic breathwork, and of course as a result of taking psychedelics.

Mystical experiences may also occur in moments of deep intimacy in relations between two people. For instance, as might take place in a psychotherapy relationship during a session. The psychoanalyst Alice Bar Ness has discussed the possibility that a mutually occurring mystical experience might be generated by the therapist and client in a psychoanalytic therapy. Recognizing this type of experience can be of great value in therapy.

2. Feeling of Connectedness

One core feature of the mystical experience has been described as that of an interconnectedness between all persons and things in the universe. Feelings of beneficence and love often but not always predominate. There is often a feeling of a deep connection to nature. In a more religious context, there can be a sense of connectedness with God or with some aspect of the Divine. William James described it as “becoming one with the Absolute.” Stace describes this form of “looking outward through the senses” as an extrovertive mystical experience.

An introvertive mystical experience, on the other hand, occurs when one looks inward, into the mind. Rather than becoming one with all that is out in the world, mystical unity occurs as a dissolution of one’s sense of personal identity. This can result in what has been described as a ‘pure consciousness experience’ in which there are no longer thoughts, memories or perceptions but yet one is still somehow aware. This state is a common goal of eastern religious meditative experience.

It should be noted that there is controversy about the existence of a pure consciousness experience. “Consciousness is always consciousness of something to a subject […]. Thus, […] there can be no experiences free of any content.” 

3. Ineffability

Mystical experiences, often described as ineffable, reflect a reality that transcends words and logic. As per William James, they are deeply emotional and cannot be transferred, and must be experienced directly. They can’t be put into words and communicated to another. Both transcendent and naturalistic viewpoints acknowledge ineffability as a crucial part of the mystical experience and despite being indescribable, humans naturally seek to express these profound emotions, leading to the creation of myth, poetry, and art.

4. Transformative Revelation

People having had these experiences have a sense of having received a deep and transformative knowledge about the most profound nature of reality. As James said, “They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance…” The term used to describe this type of knowledge is noetic. It is important to understand the idea that the received knowledge is not obtained by use of the rational intellect or by logical thinking. Noesis rather involves a sudden, intuitive flash of insight, a revelation about the deepest truth. This is a consistent feature of some Eastern traditions—Zen ‘satori’ being one example and of course revelation is an integral feature of Abrahamic religion.

5. Paradox

Mystical experiences often entail paradox, situations where opposing statements both appear to be true and yet exclusive of one another. As an example, consider, as discussed above, that mystical experience can involve receiving a deep and transformative knowledge as a result of an encounter with the Absolute (which is paradoxically said to be ‘beyond knowing‘). Contemplation of paradox is a common feature of Eastern tradition. The Zen koan is an example. 

Some Naturalistic Approaches to Understanding the Mystical State

1. Depth Psychology

Traditionally, psychology has used a naturalistic approach in trying to understand mystical experience. This field is notably associated with Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, despite Freud’s denial of the mystical. Depth psychology explores the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. Speculation about the nature of the unconscious goes back well before modern-day psychology and has been addressed by every human civilization both East and West. Psychoanalysis is one form of depth psychology. It is, of course, notably associated with Sigmund Freud although, in most of his work, he denied the significance of the mystical.

The connection between mystical experience and psychoanalysis, both from a theoretical and clinical standpoint has however, been fruitfully taken up by some modern psychoanalytic thinkers.

There are a group of psychoanalysts known as the psychoanalytic mystics. One of the most prominent is Michael Eigen who regards the mystical process as a model for psychotherapeutic change.

Eigen and others have looked at traditional psychoanalytic concepts through the lens of mystical tradition. One such concept is the idea of very early infantile experience with the mother as a fundamental cause of the development of the ‘self’.

Some conceive of the infant’s experience at this stage of development of the self as including states of blissful union with the mother during nursing, alternating with feelings of terror and rage when hungry or cold or alone and then again blissful union when again cuddled and fed.

Disagreeing with early psychoanalysts who pathologize mystical experience as regression, Eigen sees these early, ‘primordial’ experiences of consciousness of self as an equivalent of the mystical experience per se.

This description of the infant’s experience has been seen by Eigen and others as “the prototype of the death-and-rebirth process.”Eigen correlates this with the recurrent mythical theme of death and rebirth as described by for example Joseph Campbell.

Alice Bar Ness has used Martin Buber’s concept of the I-Thou relationship as a basis for the idea that both therapist and client might undergo a mystical experience during a psychotherapy session. Buber considered the I-Thou relationship as a deep, meaningful experience occurring between two people such as might occur in a person’s experience of the divine. These experiences can be ineffable, noetic and transformative and so can be considered mystical. They can be utilized to great advantage in a psychedelic therapy setting where the material which arises during these moments of mystical communion can resonate with the client’s experiences which might have arisen while in the psychedelic state.

2. The Jungian Perspective

The psychedelic space has made much reference to Carl Jung’s theories, notably his concept of archetypes. There are differing views as to the exact nature of archetypes however, they are commonly seen as symbolic representations of biological instincts manifest as images occurring in dreams and fantasies. Jungian James Hillman described these images as having autonomous personalities. His  descriptions seem at times similar to the often-described psychedelic entities encountered during DMT experiences.

3. Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

The relationship between the mind and the brain has long been discussed by philosophers and theologians. Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have tried to answer this question, also termed as “the hard problem” – can mind function be reduced to neural activity?  Seen through the lens of naturalism, it has been taken up by neuroscience and cognitive psychology using modern technology.

Neuroscientists, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), can generate images of changing brain activity during meditation and after dosing with a psychedelic substance. Cognitive science has developed a series of psychometric tools such as the Mystical Experience Questionnaire which, using mystical experience criteria as outlined by Walter Stace, can reliably determine the occurrence of these experiences in subjects involving studies of psychedelics and meditation.

Research on the neural correlates of the mystical experience explores the effect of psychedelics and meditation on neural networks in the brain. Neural networks are webs of neurons which carry out specific, information processing functions. Individual networks can be widespread or ‘large-scale’, that is, a connection between groups of neurons located within the brain at a longer distance from each other. Networks can also be more localized or ‘small-scale’, consisting of interconnected neurons which are spatially adjacent. The often-mentioned default mode network is an example of a large-scale network. Other large-scale networks include the salience network and the dorsal attention network. Together, neural networks interact in complex ways to create our experience of the world including one’s sense of self as well as the boundaries of this self. Psychedelics  break down existing connectivity within both local and large-scale networks and increase connectivity between networks not previously connected.

As a result of these changes, the brain is able to respond to stimuli in a more diverse and adaptable way. This translates into the distinctive sensory and cognitive phenomena commonly described during the psychedelic experience and may result in loss of sense of self and of one’s place in time and space – all elements of the mystical experience.

A Transcendental Approach to Understanding the Mystical State

Some Jungians and the transpersonal movement view the mystical experience as arising from higher states of consciousness and spiritual realms, not explainable by using rational, scientific concepts. In this view, “reality consists of multiple levels which mirror each other” in some way, commonly referred to as “correspondence.” Connections between these multiple levels are animated by a universal force which underlies the cosmos, also referred to as cosmic consciousness.

Correspondence between ‘multiple levels of reality’ gives rise to the idea that the universe or heavens (macrocosm) is reflected in the essential makeup of the human being (microcosm). Furthermore, this connection may influence interactions between different levels of reality. These concepts can be used to explain the core experiences and underlying nature of the mystical experiences. Additionally, they provide a “theoretical basis for astrology, alchemy and magic.”

These concepts can be illustrated by examples from the Western Esoteric tradition. For instance, the German mystic Jacob Boehme [1575-1624] describes the key to wisdom about God comes about by “looking within one’s self-consciousness, gazing upon, knowing and feeling all that formerly was [conceived of] as beyond.” Here, the mystical experience arises when contemplating the existence of the divine within – a connection between the macrocosm and the microcosm. This can be considered a form of interoceptive mystical experience. 

The writer and composer Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] wrote about her mystical visions throughout her life. She described a vision in which “my soul rises up high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out among different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places.”. Here is an example of exteroceptive mystical experience.

The Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia developed a form of meditation involving repetitive utterance of Hebrew letters signifying the divine names of God. This enabled him to enter a higher state of consciousness in which souls “return to their origin which is one without duality… towards the original unity.”

Carl Jung’s [1875-1961] mystical visions are described at length in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and in The Red Book. While Jung’s work can be seen naturalistically and transcendentally, his personal experiences are considered to be of a transcendent nature. In fact, Jung himself considered his writings to be of a transcendent nature. 

A better understanding of the mystical experience can be beneficial to the psychedelic space. While the two approaches discussed here may appear to be fundamentally incompatible, they both offer valuable insights and can complement each other.

Psychoanalysis has much to offer when seen through the lens of mysticism but also in a more straightforward consideration of its basic theory and clinical practice. As an example, psychoanalysis has long considered the problem of boundary crossings and violations as they occur in the analytic relationship. This has significant relevance to attempts at harm reduction in psychedelic therapy. 

Finally, the examples of transcendent experiences are taken from writings that are part of the Western Esoteric tradition. A greater understanding of the history of these traditions as related to mystical experience would greatly benefit the psychedelic community.

Opening Critical Periods with Psychedelics

Neuroplasticity, a term that has quickly become a buzzword in the psychedelic space and beyond, refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections or altering existing ones. Although it’s at its highest during early childhood, neuroplasticity persists throughout life and is central to our ability to learn from our experiences, adapt to new environments, and heal from our injuries.

Studies have consistently found that psychedelics significantly amplify neuroplasticity, thereby acting as potential catalysts for lasting changes in neural circuitry and behavior.

The neuroplasticity induced by psychedelics, which persists beyond the psychedelic experience itself, is thought to be central to the lasting positive benefits of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Recently, striking findings published in Nature have shed further light on the pro-plasticity effects of psychedelics. In brief, this study – led by Dr. Romain Nardou within the lab of Dr. Gul Dolen at Johns Hopkins University – revealed that psychedelics can re-open plasticity in certain parts of the brain in a manner that’s usually only possible in the first couple months after birth. In scientific terms, psychedelics were found to open the “social reward learning critical period”. This is a highly significant finding, with huge implications for the therapeutic mechanisms of psychedelics. Let’s dive into what this all really means.

What are Critical Periods?

In order to understand the significance of opening a critical period, we need to know what a critical period is. In a nutshell, a critical period is a window of time during the development of the brain where it’s extremely receptive to specific kinds of environmental stimuli. That is, it’s a period of time in which being exposed to certain stimuli is critical for proper brain development. The development of different functions in our brains – whether it’s vision, sense of touch, or our social tendencies – have different, but typically overlapping, critical periods. During a given critical period, experiences can have a lasting – and typically irreversible – impact on particular neural circuits and, consequently, certain aspects of our perception, thinking, and/or behavior. 

Some notable examples come from the classical experiments conducted by the neuroscientists (and, later, Nobel laureates) David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel in the 1950s/60s on the development of the visual system in cats. In some ethically questionable experiments, they investigated how controlling the types of visual inputs a cat receives during early development impacts their vision perception throughout their lifetime. In particular, they raised newborn cats in a completely enclosed room where all they ever saw were vertical lines. Researchers found if this was done during a particular period of time (the critical period) the cats never developed the ability to see horizontal lines. These cats would consistently walk right into objects that featured horizontal surfaces, such as tables, and no amount of horizontal line exposure after the critical period allowed them to see horizontal lines. This illustrates how experiences that occur during a critical period early in development can lead to lasting changes in neural circuitry throughout the lifespan.

Critical Period Reopening with Psychedelics

In the Nature study with psychedelics, the researchers assessed a different kind of critical period, this time in rodents, pertaining to the ability to learn social rewards. This type of learning is assessed using the Social Conditioned Place Preference (SCPP) paradigm. SCPP is a way to measure a rodent’s natural preference for a location that has been previously associated with social interactions. In this paradigm, the rodent is placed in a cage that features two distinct rooms, and they are only exposed to social interactions with other rodent friends in one of the rooms. After this exposure, researchers put the rodent into the cage by itself and assess the proportion of time it chooses to spend in the room that they had social interactions in, relative to the one where they were always alone.

Social reward learning, therefore, refers to the extent to which an animal is able to learn to associate a specific environment with the rewarding aspects of social engagement. Interestingly, research has found that this ability is at its highest at around 20-50 days after birth in rodents, after which it steeply drops off and becomes negligible. In other words, there is a clear critical period during which positive social engagement is necessary for rodents to learn that social environments are desirable to seek out. 

As you might be anticipating by now, the Nature study found that psychedelics – including the serotonergic psychedelics psilocybin and LSD, the atypical psychedelic ibogaine, and the quasi-psychedelics ketamine and MDMA – all have the capacity to reopen this social reward learning critical period in adult mice. In fact, they restored social reward learning to an extent that matched or went beyond the maximum that occurred during their critical period.

In addition, they intriguingly found that the duration of this reopening was proportional to the length of the drug’s acute subjective effects in humans. For instance, ketamine-induced reopening only lasted for 48 hours, while it was two and three weeks for psilocybin and LSD, respectively. Ibogaine-induced critical period reopening was found to last the longest, at four weeks. For the neuropharmacology nerds out there, this raises interesting questions on how the lasting neurobiological effects of these drugs may be fine-tuned based on their pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties. It also has clear implications for psychedelic psychotherapy and optimal integration practices – which we will get to in a moment. Before that, there’s one more finding from this study worth highlighting.

In particular, the researchers found that this critical period reopening was mediated by increases in a specific kind of neuroplasticity called ‘metaplasticity’. Metaplasticity refers to the general ability for the brain to neuroplastically mold itself – it’s essentially the “plasticity of plasticity”. It can be contrasted with “hyperplasticity”, which refers to the targeted changes in specific sets of connections between neurons (as opposed to a generalized increased ability to do so). The study specifically found that restoring oxytocin-mediated plasticity in the reward system of the brain – in a region called the nucleus accumbens – mediated the observed re-opening. What this suggests is that psychedelics may, in certain brain regions, remove the “brakes” on adult neuroplasticity, thereby inducing a neuroplastic state similar to early childhood. As such, during the psychedelic experience, and in the days and weeks immediately after, we may have a unique ability to make deep changes to our neural circuitry and tendencies in thought and action – to an extent that was not available since childhood.

Interested in learning more about psychedelic neuroscience? Reserve your seat in Psychedelic Neuroscience Demystified: How Psychedelics Alter Consciousness and Produce Therapeutic Effects. Classes begin Oct. 4 – limited seats available.

Implications for Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

The ability of psychedelics to reopen social critical periods and induce metaplastic changes has profound implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It provides a neurobiological framework that could help explain the long-lasting therapeutic effects observed in the treatment of disorders such as depression and PTSD. It highlights that re-learning positive social associations may be a core part of therapy – an idea consistent with recent work highlighting how the quality of the therapist-client relationship is a core mediator of positive outcomes. It also underscores the importance of community-embedment and the quality of one’s interpersonal relationships following a psychedelic journey.

Moreover, the finding of increased metaplasticity provides direct neurobiological support for the importance of psychotherapy and other interventions following a psychedelic journey. This is because metaplasticity might allow the brain to be more able to mold itself in response to such interventions. Strictly speaking though, this remains speculative, since we do not know whether these metaplastic changes extend beyond social reward learning specifically. However, we are very much in the early stages of this research and there is so much yet to be studied and discovered.

The ability of psychedelics to reopen social critical periods and induce metaplasticity offers a compelling avenue for future research and therapeutic applications. These findings could revolutionize our understanding of how psychedelics work at a neural level and how they can be effectively incorporated into psychotherapeutic frameworks. As we continue to decipher their intricate and multifaceted neurobiological mechanisms, the horizon looks promising for the application of psychedelics in treating a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

reMind Psychedelics Business Forum

Register today for the reMind Psychedelics Business Forum, a two-day conference and networking event on Nov. 28 – 29 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, in partnership with MJBizCon and Psychedelics Today. The forum brings together the entrepreneurs, business owners, investors, policymakers, and healthcare professionals at the forefront of the rapidly evolving psychedelic marketplace. Registration includes breakfast, lunch, a coffee break, and a networking reception. Use the link below or code REMPSYCTODAY for 10% off – ticket prices increase Sept. 29.

Homecoming: The Psychedelic Practitioner’s All-In-One Platform for Practice Management

Join David Drapkin and Yuriy Blokhin, CEO & Founder of Heroic Hearts Project and Homecoming, as we dive into the all-in-one client management platform that connects the way you practice with how you improve as a practitioner. Homecoming supports psychedelic coaches and therapists not just as practitioners, but as people on their own journey of growth and transformation. Join us for this one-hour webinar to learn more about their exciting and innovating new platform.