Though psychedelics have been used for thousands of years, modern technology is beginning to teach us more – much more – about their effects on our minds and bodies. We caught up with Apollo Neuro co-founder and neuroscientist and board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. David Rabin, to learn more about how people are using wearables to gather new insights about their trips.
Alexa: For anyone who isn’t already aware, can you give us a high-level overview of what wearable tech is for, who might want to use it, and why?
David: I think of wearable technology as a powerful tool in our health toolkits to help combat the stresses of modern life, just like mindful practices like meditation, breathwork, and exercise. The wearable technology that we’ve developed at Apollo is safe for children and adults alike, so it’s really for anyone who feels they could use a tool to help them feel more safe, in control, and calm and experience better sleep, less stress, and a brighter mood. When we feel more secure, we’re able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, focus more effectively, socialize more freely, and sustain energy throughout your daily tasks
Alexa: Can you explain the synergy between technology and psychedelic treatments in achieving better mental health outcomes?
David: Psychedelic-assisted therapy can be scary or intense for people, especially during their first time. Wearables can serve as a somatic anchor for both the patient and the therapist so they can stay in tune with their bodies. It helps the therapist to remain impartial on any difficulties or challenges that the patient may be experiencing, and it helps the patient to have a smoother journey.
To date, we have never had access to modern tools to help us solve these challenges that exist within and around the psychedelic experience. Today, the Apollo wearable is the only patented technology to reduce uncomfortable experiences associated with medicine-assisted therapy. So far the results from Apollo plus psychedelic-assisted therapy in the real world have been tremendous, including reducing anxiety in advance of medicine administration for easier drop in, reduction in ‘bad’ or uncomfortable trips, and improved ease of integration afterward. Apollo represents the very first example of how wearable technology can empower us to make healing with psychedelic and non-psychedelic techniques easier and more accessible for all.
Alexa: Can you share some examples of scientific research or studies that support the effectiveness of wearable tech and its combination with psychedelic therapies?
David: Currently, the Apollo Neuroscience Clinical Research Team is running an IRB-approved clinical trial with the support of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit sponsoring the most advanced clinical trials of a psychedelic-assisted therapy. The purpose of this study is to understand how the Apollo wearable touch therapy impacts long-term outcomes and improves integration following MDMA-assisted therapy in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Two large clinical trials evaluating the Apollo wearable in PTSD patients are currently underway and recruiting participants. The first is taking place at the Rocky Mountain VA in Denver, CO and the second, a nationwide trial, is evaluating the Apollo wearable to sustain remission from PTSD following MDMA-assisted therapy, described above. Anyone who has participated in a MAPS trial of MDMA-assisted therapy is eligible to join the MDMA-Apollo study and receive an Apollo wearable for the study.
We’ve seen tremendous results with the Apollo wearable in thousands of traumatized individuals and those who have participated in psychedelic-assisted therapy thus far. Some of the most promising responses were in people receiving ketamine-assisted therapy, particularly those new to psychedelic medicines or who have a lot of anxiety in anticipation of new experiences. We care about the outcomes, and anything we can do to help people stay in remission or feel better for longer periods of time is a big win for our field. We are very much looking forward to seeing how the Apollo wearable will contribute to the integration period following MDMA-assisted therapy.
Alexa: Have there been any clinical trials or user feedback demonstrating the positive impact on mental health?
David: The Apollo Neuro technology has been studied in over 1,700 research subjects in seven complete and 14 ongoing real-world and university clinical trials demonstrating very promising improvements in everything from sleep, pain, and fatigue to mood, anxiety, and focus. Ongoing studies of the Apollo technology include studies of PTSD, ADHD, and TBI, metastatic breast cancer pain, and severe autoimmune disorders.
Alexa: There are tons of wearable devices out there these days, could you share an overview about Apollo and how it’s different?? What specific features or technologies does Apollo employ to support mental health?
David: The Apollo wearable is different from other wearables as most wearables are trackers. They tell you what is going on with your health but leave it up to you to make decisions to improve it. The Apollo, on the other hand, actively improves your health through soothing vibrations that shift you out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest,” or a parasympathetic state. You can actively choose how you want to feel on the Apollo Neuro app on your phone – Focus, Social, or Unwind, for example – and the wearable plays vibrations that help to shift you into that state, much like the way certain songs pump you up or chill you out.
Alexa: What mental health benefits can users expect from your wearable technology on its own, and how does your wearable tech complement or enhance the effects of psychedelic therapies?
David: On average, users experience 40% less stress and feelings of anxiety, an 11% increase in heart rate variability (HRV), up to 25% more focus and concentration, and up to 19% more time in deep sleep. In an ongoing real-world sleep study, users get up to 30 more minutes of sleep a night. Less stress and feelings of anxiety is especially helpful in a psychedelic-assisted therapy setting, as well as an increase in HRV, as that is the biggest indicator of how well your body responds to stress.
Alexa: What does the future of this type of therapy look like? Do you collaborate with mental health professionals, therapists, or healthcare providers to integrate your technology into treatment plans?
David: The future of Apollo being used in this type of therapy is that it will be used by clinicians and patients in the office or treatment facility where medicine is administered, beginning in the waiting room or before arrival, to improve short term experiences. It will then be used, as it is today, by patients/clients after their experiences at home to improve clients engagement in treatment and enhance their outcomes from integration practices, which are the most important piece of treatment and often ignored.
Alexa: If a healthcare provider is interested in incorporating wearable tech into their practices, what is the process for going about that?
David: We work with hundreds of healthcare practitioners ranging from holistic health clinicians, centers for ADHD and autism, psychedelic assisted therapy clinics, trauma therapy practitioners, Chiropractors and more. Our goal is always to work hand in hand with them to tailor a program that meets the needs for their clinic and their patients. To learn more about partnership options with Apollo, Practitioners and Clinicians can reach our partnership team directly by filling out this form on our website.
Alexa: How do you see the intersection of technology and mental health evolving in the coming years? Are there plans for further advancements or updates to your technology to enhance its mental health benefits?
David: The future of mental health involves the convergence of technology, psychedelic techniques, and our current practices. As Apollo learns from people over time, it will personalize vibes for each individual user based on their needs at any given time today. This is already happening with Smartvibes for sleep, which is the first wearable technology AI collaboration to give us 30-60 minutes more sleep each night that is concentrated in deep and REM sleep, just by understanding our sleep signature and acting on it predictively to prevent unwanted middle-of-the-night wakeups. This will only get better over time!
Interested in trying the Apollo Neuro, or gifting it to a friend or loved one? Purchase through this link and save $50.
Amidst the fervent cries of psychedelic-centric victory heard around Colorado since the passing of the Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA), it is important to remember those less publicized, less well-funded, and less white, human beings who continue to suffer and die from various manifestations of the War on Drugs – the same political ill that prevented access to “natural medicines” in the first place.
A malignant disease afflicting the collective body of culture, the War on Drugs is among the most horrific, anti-human disasters in the history of American policy. Lack of access to psychedelics is one symptom of this disease, but there are many others; including the opioid overdose epidemic, mass incarceration, the creation of Mexico’s narco-state, the militarization of police, the erosion of personal rights, and continued institutionalized racism. Like a very expensive band-aid triumphantly placed on the skinned knee cap of a dying person by self-congratulatory doctors, the NMHA does absolutely nothing to alleviate these most malignant symptoms of the disease that is the War on Drugs. In this way, the NMHA and other psychedelic-centric drug policies paradoxically represent the continuation of oppression more than its end.
Passed on November 8th, 2022 by Colorado voters through a ballot initiative, the NMHA brought immediate statewide decriminalization and pending legalization of certain “natural medicines” including psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and iboga. Those unfamiliar with the details of the NMHA can read about them extensively here. As far as psychedelic policy goes, the NMHA is a reasonably cutting-edge development, merging both legalization and decriminalization models. But there is no such thing as a “psychedelic policy,” only drug policy.
Gazing through the glamor and capitalist speculation currently surrounding the psychedelic phenomenon reveals a more essential truth: Psychedelics are morally-neutral substances just like any other. Our inability to see this is our responsibility, but, in part, not our fault. America has a long-standing tradition of simplistic moralistic judgments around substances which began with the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in the 1800s and continued through programs like D.A.R.E. Our cultural soil is deeply seeded with the idea of “good drugs” used by “good people” and “bad drugs” used by “bad people.”
After decades of wrestling with this tired old narrative, we’re finally managing to change it, but only along those same dualistic lines of thinking. By highlighting the positive effects of psychedelics, we have begun to politically pry some useful substances from the realm of “bad” drugs. The DEA is now considering releasing MDMA from its unscientific schedule I clutches while states legalize and decriminalize some psychedelics. This is the entire basis of the psychedelic renaissance. What has unfortunately not been considered is the problem with assigning a moralistic value to substances in the first place.In a compensatory over-swing of the flawed rhetorical pendulum, “psychedelic people” and their “medicines” are now coming to be seen as “good.” Such thinking leads predictably to unjust policy outcomes. This is, after all, the same fallacious logic that sparked the War on Drugs in the first place.
The categorical separation of “good” drugs and “bad” drugs is synonymous with the assignment of human beings into those same categories. The prevalence of this bias in the psychedelic space, implicit or explicit, betrays a deep lack of contextual awareness leading to oppressive behavior, which is contrary to the kind of societal-level healing that the movement claims to represent. Despite the political utility of rhetorically distancing psychedelics from other substances, our “natural medicines” are still ultimately “drugs” that must be considered within the larger context of American drug policy.
The Cultural Context of Psychedelics: A Brief Reminder of The War on Drugs
To triage the symptoms of prohibition, addressing each by their lethality, reveals a clear picture of the injustice inherent in a myopic focus on psychedelic-centric policy change. While it’s true that lack of access to psychedelics is preventing untold numbers of people from receiving helpful treatments for things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, etc., these kinds of maladies are collectively overshadowed by more immediately fatal symptoms of prohibition.
Itemizing the harms of the War on Drugs is something akin to sorting through the rubble of a war-torn metropolis while bombs are still falling – an extensively horrific task far exceeding the scope of this article. Two vignettes that partially describe the scope of destruction can be found in the interwoven phenomena of the opioid epidemic and mass incarceration; two direct symptoms of the War on Drugs.
The number of people who died from opioid overdose in 2022 was the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every 2 weeks, and rising in 2023. After September 11th, 2001, the U.S. reacted swiftly to pass a series of sweeping legislation, initiate new programs, and even go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opioids clearly kill many times more people than terrorism ever has, but no such action is being taken. We won’t even mention the fact that opium production in Afghanistan was higher under U.S. control. The solutions to the opioid problem can be clearly found in harm reduction-based policies such as those implemented in Canada and Portugal. These policies stand on much firmer empirical ground than those arguments that drove our country to war in the Middle East, so where is the commiserate response?
Throughout alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, simple logistical realities incentivized clandestine distillers to manufacture the strongest possible concentrate of their drug, and moonshine was born. It was both easier to conceal and more profitable per gallon than beer or lesser-proof spirits. Fentanyl is the same story. One pound of Fentanyl is as potent as nearly 50 pounds of heroin, and one pound of carfentanil is as potent as 100 pounds of heroin. Which is more likely to be smuggled across a border? The manufacture and indiscriminate distribution of the most lethal substances is not stopped by the War on Drugs, it is directly caused by it.
An article published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics titled “We Can’t Go Cold Turkey: Why Suppressing Drug Markets Endangers Society” names U.S. drug policy itself as a “key accelerant that transformed this wave of addiction into an inferno of death, disease, and personal destruction.” It’s well known that a policy approach centering harm reduction and public health over criminal punishment greatly reduces overdose deaths. Yet, we continue to quietly tolerate more than a hundred thousand American deaths each recent year.
Overdose is only one of many dark manifestations of prohibition untouched by psychedelic-centric policies. The United States, the “land of the free,” only has 4% of the world’s overall population, yet holds 20% of the prison population. Of those people in U.S. prisons, 45% are there for nonviolent drug offenses. This means that nearly 10% of human beings in prison on planet Earth are imprisoned in the United States as non-violent victims of the War on Drugs.
The outcome of American drug policy is so horrifically maligned with the logicalgoals of such policies (public health & safety) that one can’t help but question the intentions of policymakers. Far from the realm of fringe conspiracy, we have seen institutional harm inflicted intentionally on substance users in the past. In the 1920s, the U.S. Government intentionally poisoned alcohol heading for the underground market, resulting in the death of at least 10,000 people. This action was justified using logic that claimed people who use drugs are bad, morally reprehensible humans – that same tired old trick of moral conflation. If the goal of the War on Drugs was to reduce drug use and create a safer society, then it has failed horribly. If the goal is to punish “bad” drug users in some of the most severe ways imaginable, then the War on Drugs has been a resounding success.
Through the lens of trauma-informed care, which invites us to see substance use as a result of trauma, the situation becomes downright sinister. A common American story might be told as such: A traumatized person turns to substances as a momentarily helpful coping mechanism. (Those with 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences are 1,350% more likely to abuse opiates than the general population). As a direct result of prohibition itself, the substances they find on the street are concentrated to the highest potency imaginable. There are few, if any, harm reduction or effective mental health services available. Instead, a militarized police force backed by an 80-billion-dollar prison industry is actively seeking to put this person in a cage – that is if they don’t overdose first. It is into this maelstrom that policies like the NMHA interject: “Legalize psychedelics!”
Interest Convergence: Suddenly The Privileged Care About Drug Policy
It’s an unfortunate truth that our beloved Renaissance and all of the psychedelic research and policy are predominantly reflective of white interests. One historian asserts that “psychedelic culture [is] dominated by privileged white men.” Indeed, a recent U.S.-based survey of over 41,000 people found that more than half of the white respondents had used psilocybin or LSD, “whereas less than one-quarter of Black [people] reported lifetime psilocybin use.” A relevant meta-analysis examining 18 studies on psychedelic-assisted therapy that occurred between 1993 and 2013 revealed that “82.3% of the participants were non-Hispanic white.” Psychedelic exceptionalism appears to have firm roots in institutional racism and white privilege.
As if by design, historically oppressed groups suffer and die from the War on Drugs at higher rates than white people. Though the recent intensification of overdose deaths allows a more clear view, we have seen these same kinds of disparities for decades with little attention given. Besides MAPS, which is perhaps the first pharmaceutical company in history to explicitly oppose the War on Drugs, there have been few for-profit organizations working to fight prohibition in any way. Now we see psychedelic ticker stocks, psychedelic venture capitalists, and psychedelic certificate programs all vehemently fronting the narrative of “healing” while functionally ignoring the collective disease that is the War on Drugs.
It seems institutional racism, the at-scale death of opioid users, and mass incarceration were not enough to attract the attention of the wealthy and powerful to drug policy. Only the promise of greater wealth has been sufficient to finally stir society’s biggest players into support of limited reform. Suddenly, every venture capitalist is a psychedelic advocate, but where are the drug policy advocates? After all, the only true difference between the heroin dealer and the “psychedelic entrepreneur” is that one is on a side of the culturally created narrative which happens to be favored at this particular moment in history. Tomar Pierson-Brown puts it succinctly in saying: “It’s not irony, it’s interest convergence.”
Healing Without Harming: Anti-Oppressive Psychedelic Advocacy
Psychedelic modalities are without-argument desperately needed as accessible tools for front-line mental health professionals, but policy efforts focused on them exclusively are oppressive. Ibram Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist, explains that “there is no such thing as not racist, there are either anti-racists or racists.” In this same way, drug policy is either anti-oppressive or oppressive. There is no in-between. Without applying this attitude, policy and organizational efforts within the psychedelic space are destined to become embodied examples of oppression.
Anti-oppressive approaches “minimize the effects of structural inequalities, social hierarchies, and power differentials.” As we have seen, psychedelic-centric policies like Colorado’s NMHA actually accentuate the power of the dominant groups and do absolutely nothing for the people suffering most from the War on Drugs. Drug policies like the NMHA neglect the most destructive aspects of the War on Drugs in favor of the more profitable, ‘sexy,’ and privilege-aligned substances (like psychedelics). These kinds of policies pander to the dominant culture while ignoring the core problem.
Fervent psychedelic purists (I know because I used to be one) will argue that making psychedelic healing widely available would lead to the amelioration of addiction. While this is true to a degree, it would not happen fast enough to meaningfully stem the tide of overdose deaths and is a backward way to approach the problem; like using nicotine patches to treat lung cancer.
Anti-oppressive psychedelic advocacy must necessarily include and prioritize an end to the War on Drugs as a whole, not just psychedelic legalization or decriminalization. The systemic situation that prevents access to psychedelics is the same that has created the overdose epidemic, mass incarceration, and a slew of other hugely destructive phenomena. It’s the War on Drugs and the disease of prohibition. As beneficiaries of recent drug policy changes, psychedelic institutions of all kinds have a clear responsibility to advocate for an end to the War on Drugs writ large. To ask “How can I make a psychedelic dollar?” without simultaneously asking “What can I do to help end the War on Drugs?” is unjust and tone-deaf. Only by directly addressing the core disease itself, and not just a single symptom, can we begin to truly heal as a culture.
The most culturally significant shift around psychedelics since the 1960s is currently underway. As promising research emerges, societal attitudes shift, and governments around the globe reform drug legislation, psychedelics are poised to radically change healthcare and wellness – forever.
In recent years, many individuals have chosen to pursue a new career – or adapt a current career or practice – to include psychedelics in some form. Specialized training programs like Vital are preparing professionals to enter or enrich the workforce with psychedelic awareness, and support the healing of the world in a time of an unprecedented global mental health crisis.
And as the world watches, many are asking what the future holds for this field, what access to psychedelics will look like, how services will be delivered, and by whom.
But currently, the data on the psychedelic workforce is limited. So over 2022 and 2023, 130 current psychedelic students and past graduates of the Vital program were surveyed to understand:
Who will populate the future psychedelic workforce
How diversity will be present within the field
How workers will be servicing clients, businesses, and communities
The results were analyzed and packaged into a new free report, titled The Emerging Psychedelic Workforce.*Scroll down to download*
Note: While Psychedelics Today acknowledges this sample of respondents does not fully capture the global sum of those engaged in psychedelic work today – including many Indigenous, ceremonial, or underground contexts of psychedelic work – we propose the findings as a reasonable representation of the future global psychedelic workforce of trained individuals.
As a fully remote global training program with many scholarship recipients, underground acceptance, and no advanced licensure requirements, Vital’s student body is highly diverse, and populated by professionals who will service a broad spectrum of communities, in a wide variety of capacities – not limited to psychedelic facilitation.
We offer these findings as a predictive snapshot of the trained psychedelic workforce, who they are, their motivations, and how they will work in the field.
Working with Marginalized Groups: 81.4% plan to work or are working with unspecified marginalized groups. This points towards a broad understanding and intention to cater to diverse and often underserved communities.
Non-Facilitation Specialties: 50.4% are interested in working in areas beyond facilitation and therapy, including media, academia, biotech, cultivation, marketing, and finance, indicating the breadth and diversity of interest in the field.
Incorporating into an Existing Career: 47% of students are not switching careers. Instead, they are incorporating psychedelics and altered states into their current career for the first time. This might include therapists or holistic practitioners seeking to integrate these new tools and modalities into their practice.
Making Money Isn’t the Goal: A staggering 98.3% of respondents indicate that making a lot of money is not their primary motivation to enter the field.
Aware of Risks but Unconcerned: 63.6% acknowledge potential personal and professional risks of arrest, social, family, or license implications, but are undeterred and willing to work in the field regardless.
Download Your Complimentary Copy
Interested in reading the full report and a shareable infographic? Simply enter your information below, and we’ll send it right to your inbox.
Bogdan* is a 43-year-old asylee who lives in New York City. He has a Master’s degree from the University of Sussex. He used to live in student accommodation on the King’s Road near my old house in Brighton on the south coast of the UK, but he is currently homeless and living in what he calls a “ghetto.”
A series of highly traumatic ayahuascatrips with a famous ‘shaman’ led Bogdan to become seriously ill. It wasn’t helped by later trips with LSD and san pedro, either. Blighted by a debilitating mixture of chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and brain fog, he says he “feel[s] like a 100-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.” Bogdan suggests that successive traumas have left his central nervous system “fried.” He has no medical insurance, and so cannot pursue the Somatic Experiencing therapy people have encouraged him to try.
Bogdan did five sessions with ICEERS’ free integration service, but he doesn’t think “just talking with someone on Zoom will help” him. A cash handout from the local Eastern European community was helpful, yet it only lasted so long. One wonders how much processing his ‘stored trauma’ would alleviate living in a homeless shelter.
Or take Kristen*, a 39-year-old who participated in a Canadian clinical trial for psilocybin. In between each dose of psilocybin, Kristen developed debilitating spikes in anxiety that eventually manifested as a visual complaint, which in turn flowered into full-blown HPPD after two ‘therapeutic’ trips once the trial ended. What was driving Kristen spikes in anxiety? It wasn’t only the likely dysregulating effects of psilocybin’s serotonin dump. It was also significant financial stress. That didn’t just go away.
For those with severe HPPD, the visual presentation is so intense as to impair one’s ability to work. Reliance on scant welfare and disability benefits is not unheard of; I remember a phone call with one long standing HPPDer who was on the continual brink of homelessness for the destabilizing and disabling effects of his condition.
Possibly as many as 60% of homeless people have schizophrenia, and over half may have serious mental health problems. If we take seriously how dangerous psychedelics can be, these will be the outcomes. There will be many more people like Bogdan, Kristen, or those whose lives are destroyed by HPPD, increased anxiety, depression, or brain fog brought on from a challenging experience with no support, or simply the financial and life stress that continue on after even the greatest experience. Suicide is a tragic and occasional fact one cannot escape in HPPD communities – something that has been openly acknowledged by the late, great Roland Griffiths.
So what is the answer? As is hopefully becoming clear, ‘harm reduction’ is not just a matter of appropriate drug testing or set and setting and integration. It is a matter of having enough money to muffle a mental health crisis’ worst outcomes – to pay for help, stay housed, and stay healthy amid the stress and chaos that can follow a trip. Simply put, if we want to help those most affected by the challenges of psychedelic exploration, there may be a case for direct monetary transfers: giving people money to safeguard their material container.
A Cost of Living Crisis
There is a curious gap, a kind of Uncanny Valley, between our dreams of healing the ‘Mental Health Crisis’ with psychedelic mystical trips, while an arguably more primary Cost of Living Crisis is tearing apart people’s wallets. The association between anxiety, depression, addiction, and poverty is well known, and requires no elucidation. Even those who are not on the streets or actively facing homelessness in the future need money.
Have you looked at how expensive therapy is lately? $75-$150 a session is not viable for someone on a low income, so what could be a necessity becomes necessarily optional. It’s the same for gym memberships, exercise equipment, or good food and nutritional check-ups: all vital ingredients for good mental health and recovering from a psychedelic shockwave. The costs of therapy especially can add up while one shops around to find a suitable practitioner, or at least one who isn’t a weirdo – a genuine concern in psychedelic circles.
After an extremely destabilising LSD experience in September 2021 – whose sequelae included a deep depression, cannabis dependency, and suicidal ideation – I first tried a ‘psychedelic integration’ specialist based in Brighton. He wasn’t good. A couple of friends and I were wondering whether to do mescaline together, and I thought that might be a terrible idea. My ‘therapist’ urged me to wonder whether the second thoughts were perhaps the internalized voice of the “free market.” I burned through about £600 with this guy. I then burned through another £350 on another, thankfully more helpful therapist who gave me a discounted rate. It still amounted to £50 a session, or $60 USD.
Most people cannot afford to do this. And if they cannot afford to seek help while suicidal, they may die. We ought to consider the history lessons of psychiatric research. The ‘Decade of the Brain’ set in motion by President Bush in 1989 envisioned a future of revolutionary psychiatric treatments furnished by data from brain imaging and genetic research. This has not happened. Psychiatric outcomes have deteriorated. SSRI medications are of uncertain value relative to placebo and involve a staggering list of side-effects. Neurobiological markers have so far proved too wide and confounded to guide treatments – not least when our brains must exist in a world that’s crumbling.
“[W]hile we studied the risk factors for suicide, the death rate had climbed 33 percent. While we identified the neuroanatomy of addiction, overdose deaths had increased threefold,” Dr. Thomas Insel, the former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, reflected in his 2021 book, Healing. “While we mapped the genes for schizophrenia, people with this disease were still chronically unemployed and dying twenty years early.”
In many ways, we already know what works: people need social support, housing, good therapeutic rapport, and food on the table. What will spell the difference for many people is the possession of resources that will enable them to reach for such low hanging fruit.
What Would a Harm Reduction Fund Look Like?
It is already well-known that the psychedelic movement is overwhelmingly middle- and upper-middle class and white, and has a particular representation among the aristocracy. The psychedelic movement is mainstreaming, though, and more people of color and low income are joining ranks of users. This means more people are at unnecessary risk, for lack of social and economic resources, of the worst outcomes of psychedelic drugs.
The psychedelic movement needs to own this risk, because the public sector and existing infrastructure probably won’t. As discussed above, welfare support is measly and the most vulnerable will be without medical insurance – if such packages would even cover the debilitations of drugs illegal in many parts of the United States. The Zendo Project, DanceSafe, and Fireside Project are laudable, but their applications for those struggling after their trips are limited.
It is often accepted that some proportion – usually dismissed as a merely ‘rare’ occurrence – of people will be greatly damaged by psychedelic drugs, and end up homeless, dead, or struggling with severe mental illness. What if we stopped accepting these as inevitable?
If we are really interested in harm reduction, one option may be a fund for those harmed by the effects of psychedelic drugs.
Suppose there was a fund of $500,000 – similar to the resources required in a study – which was focused on those facing suicide, homelessness, or mental health crisis after a trip. The details can be discussed and fleshed out by anyone who wants to take my proposal seriously, but it would simply provide bursaries, cash transfers, and much needed subsidies to people struggling in the wake of psychedelic journeys to seek help. Perhaps the effects of the help they seek can be recorded to collect data. Perhaps it could fund legal action against therapists and ‘Shamans’ that leave their clients in tatters, much as Bogdan is facing now. Such projects would likely mean saving or seriously changing dozens of lives. I welcome feedback on my loose suggestion.
Of course, there would be a risk of people ‘gaming’ the system, but I imagine its wastage would be comparable to a study, which has large opportunity costs in terms of the direct help such a fund could provide. Search costs would be invested to ensure the person is who they say they are: interviews, conversations with family members and friends, possible documentation. Different priorities would be made. Do we invest 80% of our budget for search costs on that 20% at the greatest risk of peril? Or ought we to prioritize creating free support in other ways, like expanding free therapies along the lines of ICEERS?Alternatively, as I suggest in a new article for Ecstatic Integration, immediate support could occur through peer support groups organized through Reddit, whose potential is, in many ways, untapped.
Certain challenges would no doubt arise through using private money, as well as exporting what should likely be a government task, such as through a Universal Basic Income – there’s a risk that some measure (number of people helped vs. number of dollars invested) would become a core indicator rather than real value provided. There’s likewise a risk that the kinds of interventions and support deemed worth subsidizing will fit with donors’ own biases, or that the pool of therapists deemed acceptable will be narrow and normative.
I would not be surprised if the data were relatively unsurprising. Income support and housing for those most debilitated would be a clear game changer. Free CBT, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, membership to a local gym that has a sauna and a pool, or full blood work to scan people’s nutritional deficiencies and inform a better diet would all likely help. These are relatively inexpensive interventions, but the marginal gains are probably enormous, and could be, at the very least, comparable to the hundreds of thousands raised to fund studies – which will not necessarily translate into interventions and treatments, nor with any particular immediacy.
The Psychedelic Movement and Owning the Risk
One may wonder if a post-psychedelic fund is arbitrary. All mental health problems, including but not limited to psychedelics, vary with poverty and access to resources. Why have a post-psychedelic fund and not one concerned with mental health in general? How can we ever separate the two? I suppose similar questions can be raised about the psychedelic sector on the positive end as well. Why the interest in psychedelics, when similar experiences can be engendered by other means like meditation – including with similar risks? To focus on post-psychedelic risk is likewise only repeating the same distinction already explicit in psychedelic risk management: that psychedelic trips can meaningfully create adverse outcomes even while connected to broader life concerns.
Even if this proposal doesn’t make sense to you, something needs to be done to address post-psychedelic harm. I believe we know more than enough to do something right away – and something specifically targeted towards those worst affected, for whom every dollar of subsidy and support reaps massive gains in social benefit – and saves lives.
These are new ideas, but let’s start the dialogue.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of sources profiled in this writing.
The mental health landscape is undergoing a sea change, in part, due to increased recognition of psychedelic-assisted therapy as a paradigm shift in the field. This new avenue for treatment offers a rare opportunity to address the root cause of trauma – all more quickly than usual approaches primarily oriented to symptoms. As this new territory unfolds, practitioners must navigate a unique set of possibilities and challenges.
Successfully integrating psychedelic-assisted therapy into practice can include:
– Building novel skills through training programs like Vital – Overcoming imposter syndrome – Successfully applying training theory in the real world – Adopting new integrative care workflows – Attracting enough new clients to sustain one’s business
So, where should you begin? As a practitioner, preparing for these challenges and opportunities holistically will set you up for deep client impact, and personal and professional fulfillment.
Psychedelic Therapy as a Bridge Between Modern and Traditional
Overall, modern and traditional medicine traditions diverge across several vectors; there is merit to both modern and traditional approaches, and tremendous value in enabling a complementary relationship between them. Though modern medicine is capable of performing miracles in treating illness, in practice, patients in a Western context primarily seek conventional healthcare when sick. Especially in the case of U.S. healthcare, the system’s design financially rewards providers when they treat illness or injury, not when they help build a healthy lifestyle. The concept of “health” in the West is generally limited to the physical body: whether one’s heart is beating in rhythm, musculature working harmoniously, and they’re free of observable illness. U.S. health insurance companies only started covering mental healthcare broadly 15 years ago – a striking proxy for mental health’s lagging priority – and still don’t do it adequately. At the same time, modern medical innovation is grounded in research data, and only canonized following randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard of medical research, which ensures conclusions are drawn without bias. The benefit of this approach is that it safeguards the medical field from interventions that are not safe or effective.
Traditional medicines from across the world usually represent a broader and more integrative approach, equally focused on balancing the mind, body, and spirit dimensions to achieve a whole-person health outcome for an individual and community. Functionally speaking this may mean building a mindfulness and embodiment practice, immersing yourself in community, and cultivating a deep relationship with nature and beyond. Harnessing practices that move energy effectively throughout your body can build tremendous resilience, equanimity, and aliveness, which can reflect quantitatively in biomarkers too. While traditional medicine generally lacks the evidence base assembled through RCTs, its many lineages and modalities have gained significant support in recent years, accelerated by a mental health epidemic and tremendous anecdotal impact.
Psychedelic therapy represents a unique bridge between these two worlds. It has descended from long lineages of Indigenous traditions across the world, but legal access in the West will be initially limited to substances approved by the FDA and delivered by clinicians with formal credentials. Whereas traditional talk therapy often centers on distinct sessions, the psychedelic integration process is a continuous therapeutic container, and often incorporates embodied practices like breathwork, yoga, journaling, and meditation, as core agents of change in between sessions where lasting transformation happens. Clients themselves are viewed as the agents of change, empowered to take full ownership of their own healing. The medicine serves as a potent catalyst for this evolution, and the psychedelic practitioner is a space-holder and champion for the client on their journey.
Addressing Imposter Syndrome Among New Practitioners
Given these differences, coupled with traditional rigors of embarking on a major professional change, it isn’t surprising that new practitioners often experience a sense of imposter syndrome. While methods of working through imposter syndrome are well-established, there are practical approaches which new psychedelic practitioners in particular can take.
First, participating in a peer community of diverse types of practitioners can help combat feelings of “stuckness” and isolation. The psychedelic therapy space attracts providers of different backgrounds, mindsets, and worldviews – but this can feel abstract unless providers have ongoing structured opportunities to collaborate as professionals. Peer groups that meet regularly, or broader digital communities (ideally both), can help validate thinking, enrich perspectives, and make the often solitary business of holding space more collaborative and fun. In many cases collaboration can be literal: providers with different specializations often establish referral relationships that prove to be in the best interest of a client. They can also cultivate supervisory or accountability relationships, and they can overcome initial logistical friction points, like feeling comfortable with setting appropriate payment rates.
Second, providers can create structure for ongoing client communication and measurement, helping them progress from intention setting to lasting transformation. This growth can be charted quantitatively, in the form of anxiety/depression scoring or practitioner’s own “homebrew” assessments, and qualitatively, in the form of collaboratively tracking and focusing on client progress milestones beyond their initial intention. In either case, observing client progress can give providers a sense of organization and confidence in attracting new clients in the future.
The Right Systems to Support Psychedelic Therapy Workflows
New providers stepping into this space may be frustrated with workflows that are not provider-centric and an abundance of outdated or unsupportive technology systems. A recent study by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing suggested that a third of the behavioral health workforce spends more time on admin than actually working with clients.There are many administrative functions necessary to support the modern practice: intake and scheduling, session note-taking, invoicing, and client communication, to name a few. When performed on separate systems, providers are forced to repeatedly context-switch, which depletes energy and pulls them away from their core mission: supporting client growth.
Beyond practice management’s traditional requirements, structuring the preparation and integration container across sessions may look different from traditional therapy workflows. A client’s integration work starts – it doesn’t stop – when a session with their provider ends. As such, many providers are meticulous about sharing and tracking recaps, and guidance and resources between sessions, which can include embodied practice recordings, podcasts or journaling prompts. Seasoned providers end up building out a library of resources to share with clients, as opposed to searching for them ad-hoc, but managing this ever-growing library and sharing via separate communication tools can be onerous.
Providers creating an on-going digital container often do so across multiple mediums (email, text, Whatsapp), which can quickly become disorganized and lose most of the context; this can lead to struggles maintaining momentum with clients if they’re forced to track down different conversation threads. For clients, provider resource sharing and communication is only as effective as it is utilized, and when spread across different surfaces, clients are less likely to engage in integration resources. On the other hand, using familiar communication channels often means co-locating client communications with personal messages across the chat apps and email. This can be tempting for ease of use, but over the long run proves hard to maintain when personal and professional lives start to bleed into one another.
Existing technologies, such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), unfortunately, have not evolved to support the modern client-centric dynamic so critical in this space. An EMR platform fulfills the primary capability of insurance billing and reimbursement, but even the most technologically innovative Patient Portals (the communication module of most EMRs) remain clunky, inflexible, and largely logistically-focused. They haven’t kept up with the rising modern client expectations for a simple, intuitive, and well-designed user experience they take for granted in other areas of their lives.
Attracting New Clients To Your Psychedelic Therapy Practice
We won’t bury the lede here: there is no magic bullet to building a meaningful client panel for your psychedelic-assisted therapy practice, but there are best practices you can follow. For those with the time and means, investing in an attractive website, paying for web traffic to your site, and optimizing how online searches are triaged to your site (SEO), can all be effective for growing your visibility and presence online. There’s also been a proliferation of online directories which can help generate leads, with varied success rates; there’s little downside to joining these, though from a client’s perspective it can be tough to differentiate among providers, and client routing can be opaque. Providers who anticipate a deluge of new clients should temper their expectations.
For psychedelic practitioners, client connection and trust is paramount, so successful providers often establish their own unique niche: a subset of the market with which they will uniquely resonate, and from which they will derive energy. Are you a sex therapist who does your best work helping divorced middle aged men re-discover their intimacy groove? Does your cultural heritage give you a unique perspective on de-colonization and working with intergenerational trauma? Whatever the case, expert providers own their narrative and unique perspective; it’s not bad to be clear and unapologetic in your messaging so that clients know exactly why they’re there. Counter-intuitively, loosely appealing to everyone typically means you’re not strongly appealing to anyone. Take a stance and communicate your message confidently.
Psychedelic providers can also generate client referrals by investing in peer communities of practice (which, consequently, also benefits from providers inhabiting a specific niche and specialization). In holistic circles, providers tend to create informal “constellations” of care in support of client transformation. Clients might benefit from working variously with a psychedelic therapist, a breathwork facilitator, and a yoga therapist (as an example) to hardwire new behaviors. Optimal client care is, in part, dependent on those providers building personal relationships, understanding each other’s unique approaches, and trusting each other’s work.
Modern Solutions for Modern Practitioner Challenges
Here’s where intuitive tech comes in. Yuriy Blokhin, Founder & CEO of Homecoming shares, “We built Homecoming with the goal of equipping providers who blend both mystical and medical traditions with the tools, content, and community to do their life’s best work. What if, we thought, we could create an all-in-one platform that streamlined into a single place what you need to get best client results with how you learn and grow as professionals?“
Working in direct collaboration with psychedelic practitioners, Homecoming brings all client communication together under one roof, and co-locates it with a customizable library for providers to have everything at their fingertips to support client integration and drive impact. Communications are flexibly sent from an intuitive web dashboard or practitioner mobile app to client’s preferred inbox, whether it’s SMS, email, or a dedicated client mobile app, while letting you see all your client conversations from a single view in Homecoming, so you never “lose the thread” of conversation and can present confidently and professionally. Administrative functions like session note-taking, scheduling, and invoicing, are integrated, so you can reduce time spent away from deep client work.
Holistic practitioners who work with Homecoming are constantly learning and growing through the adoption of new modalities and techniques, which inspired development of the Homecoming content ecosystem. Leading providers across the spectrum of mystical and medical traditions have curated resources for practitioners on Homecoming to discover and further curate their libraries, and are immediately able to share their new findings with clients. The provider community, embedded in the platform, is the ideal place to connect with peers, build professional relationships, and pressure-test new approaches. The vision, Homecoming says, is to build a collaborative network of practitioner factions across different healing traditions, and to serve as an educational bridge for all providers, to the benefit of clients everywhere.
Guiding the Way Forward
As the realm of psychedelic-assisted therapy continues to unfold, practitioners find themselves at the forefront of a transformative approach to healing. For providers to navigate this new paradigm requires them to anticipate and embrace the distinct demands of the field. This means not only developing expertise in this new modality itself, but building familiarity with adjacent holistic approaches, and preparing one’s mindset and systems for a new way of supporting client impact. Psychedelic medicine will never be a panacea, but preparing providers to thrive in this new landscape is an important step in a broader expansion of consciousness and reduction of suffering.
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?
Where are Psychedelics Legal in Australia?
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).
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.
Australian Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Practitioners
The Australian Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Practitioners (AMAPP) was formed in 2023 to be Australia’s peak body for psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT). AMAPP is working to provide a framework for the safe, ethical, accountable, and effective introduction of PAT, focusing on achieving the best client outcomes. They are also working towards a searchable and verified register of credentialed psychedelic practitioners.
New psychedelic-related companies and businesses are emerging in Australia every day. This is just a selection of some of the better-known ones.
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.
Psychedelic Institute Australia
Psychedelic Institute Australia (PIA) is a new organization whose mission is to offer the highest quality psychedelic-assisted therapy training and education to therapists and clinicians in Australia. PIA was founded by a team that includes some of Australia’s foremost psychedelic researchers and clinicians, and aims to use their experience working in psychedelic clinical trials to provide theoretical and practical training for practitioners at varying levels of knowledge & development.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you been thinking about where your next trip might take you? Why not make it a journey within?
Psychedelic retreats are the ultimate working vacation: a chance to unwind, connect with the earth, and to devote time to what’s truly most important – your well-being.
Here are a few ways psychedelics retreats can help people create meaningful changes in their lives:
Enhanced self-awareness: Retreat participants often come out with new insights about their behaviors, thought patterns, relationships, and past experiences.
Trauma healing: when delivered in a supportive container, retreats can help people process and overcome trauma.
Ego dissolution: the erosion of the ego during a powerful psychedelic experience can lead to a greater sense of unity with others and the universe, as well as a reduction in the feelings of separation or isolation.
Connection with nature: Many retreats are in natural settings, which can amplify the sense of connection to the natural world.
Sense of meaning and purpose: Some people come away from psychedelic retreats with a renewed sense of purpose or understanding of their place in the world.
Breaking addictive patterns: Preliminary studies, especially with substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca, have indicated potential in breaking addictive behaviors, including smoking and alcohol dependence.
Professional guidance: Psychedelic retreats usually provide experienced guides or facilitators who help participants navigate their experiences, making it safer and more therapeutic than using psychedelics without guidance.
Structured setting: The set (mindset) and setting (environment) play crucial roles in influencing the nature of a psychedelic experience. Retreats offer a structured, safe, and supportive environment which can lead to more positive and therapeutic outcomes.
Community: Sharing experiences with others in a retreat setting can create a sense of community and understanding. It can be therapeutic to process experiences with others who have gone through similar journeys.
Integration: Many retreats emphasize not just the psychedelic experience itself but the importance of integrating the insights and revelations into daily life. This can lead to lasting personal growth and transformation.
But how should you choose what kind of retreat is right for you? Domestic or international? Would you prefer to start with breathwork, or dive right into a psychedelic substance? Would it be better for you to share accommodations or have solo time in a private room? There can be a lot of options to choose from, and when it comes to retreats, no one size fits all.
That’s why we’ve created opportunities for our community to experience some of the most transformative in-person retreats on the planet, and anyone who feels called is welcome to join us. Here’s everything you need to know at-a-glance to choose the best retreat for you:
Netherlands: Psilocybin – Sept. 6 – 11, 2023
Journey highlights/what’s included: – 7 days/6 nights accommodation at Land van Yemaya – 1 psychedelic journey as journeyer / 1 psychedelic journey as sitter – 1 on 1 consultations with a facilitator before, during, and after the retreat – Preparation & Integration (2 group calls, support manuals) – Daily somatic practices – Self-inquiry and creative integration workshops – Unique soundscapes for the journey – Nourishing vegan meals – Holistic practices including yoga, movement, somatic & sound work, art, and embodiment practices – Shuttle from Amsterdam to the venue and back
What’s not included: – All flights – Any transportation outside of the scheduled group transportation – Travel insurance
Tuition: – $3,750 – $4,050 USD w/ shared and private room options – $45 Euros (for truffles to be purchased on arrival)
Journey highlights/what’s included: – 6 days/5 nights accommodation at Atman Retreat in Montego Bay – A psilocybin journey with a dose tailored to your intentions, preferences, and experience – The opportunity to practice holding space for another member of your training group while they journey – Comprehensive preparation and integration – Group movement and meditation – Abundant indoor and outdoor space at a beachfront villa, access to private beach and swimming pool – Transport to and from Montego Bay International Airport
What’s not included: – All flights – Any transportation outside of the scheduled group transportation – Travel insurance
Tuition: – $1,495 to $4,695 w/ comfortable accommodations including camping, quad, triple, double, and single room options.
Learn more and register here. (For Sept. 20 – 25 retreat) Learn more and register here. (For Sept. 27 – Oct. 3 retreat)
Journey highlights/what’s included: – 7 days/6 nights accommodation at Monte de Orada – 4 Transpersonal Breathwork sessions (two as a breather, two as a sitter) – 3 fresh, vegan, farm-to-table meals/day – Access to walking trails, the biopool, floating on the irrigation canal, and the sauna – Daily yoga, intuitive movement, and CrossFit practices – Free wifi – Group airport transfer from LIS (around 2 hrs.) – Taxes and gratuities
What’s not included: – All flights (R/T flight to LIS) – Any transportation outside of the scheduled group transport option – Optional massage treatments available on request – Travel insurance (We recommend World Nomads)
Tuition: – $2,700- $4,500 w/dorm, quad, triple, double, and single options
Costa Rica: Transpersonal Breathwork – Jan. 6 – 13, 2024
Journey Highlights/what’s included: – 8 days/7 nights accommodations at Blue Osa – 4 Transpersonal Breathwork sessions (two as a breather, two as a sitter) – 3 fresh, farm-to-table meals/day – $50 gift certificate to the luxurious Blue Osa Spa – Gorgeous chemical-free pool – Access to miles of secluded jungle beach – Daily yoga, Intuitive movement and CrossFit practices – Free wifi and internet access – Group airport transfer from PJM to Blue Osa (around 30 min.) – Taxes and gratuities
What’s not included: – All flights (R/T flight SJO and R/T flight from SJO to PIM) – Spa treatments – Optional adventures on free days – Travel insurance
Tuition: $3,325- $4,900 w/ triple, double, and King Deluxe options
Neurology physician Dr. Burton Tabaac’s interest in psychedelics began almost by accident. He happened upon the topic through a 2019 presentation during his fellowship training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine – and may not have pursued a dedicated interest in the field if he hadn’t attended.
“… In four years of medical school and four years of residency training, psychedelics were not mentioned – not even once as part of a comprehensive allopathic education,” Tabaac told Psychedelics Today.
The Hopkins lecture inspired the physician down a non-typical path for those in his profession: research on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in treating mental health diseases. Today, he explores psychedelics beyond their traditional association with mental health. Entities inclusive of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury are of particular intrigue with potential for psychedelics to promote healing, Tabaac shares.
Exploring Psychedelics’ Versatility
In his recently appointed role for the Mckenna Academy of Natural Philosophy, founded by Dennis McKenna, Dr. Tabaac serves as an advisor for educational pursuits and evidence-based methodology. Through this collaboration, he is dedicated to investigating the possible role of psychedelics beyond their use in the mental health realm, and is passionate about exploring whether these substances could help with functional neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.
“There are specific indications that I feel warrant additional study and funding to assess and discover,” he says. “There has already been a lot of research and literature published dedicated to psychedelics for treating depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD; I’m very eager to partner in pushing the frontier further to investigate what else psychedelics may have the potential to address.”
In the current landscape of psychedelic research, this alliance highlights the evolving role of physicians stepping beyond traditional methods to investigate alternative solutions. The demand for more research signifies a promising future for psychedelic research, with the potential of extending the possibilities of these substances in treating various conditions.
Obstacles to Holistic Approaches
In the healthcare world, it isn’t uncommon to find that many doctors tend to favor Western medicine while overlooking holistic approaches. Doctors don’t typically embrace integrative routes, because the current medical system is guided primarily by evidence-based research, Tabaac says. Treatments typically require strong evidence of their efficacy before they are widely adopted, which doesn’t bode well for most federally scheduled psychedelics in relative nascent stages of research.
“I also think that having psychedelics as a restricted Schedule I class of drugs prohibits a lot of providers from even being able to offer these therapeutics off-label,” he says. “When you look at where the medical/legal field is heading, there’s a lot of promise with the Phase 3 trial that MAPS has presented demonstrating the potential for MDMA to treat PTSD.”
PTSD patients in the MAPS study received three doses of MDMA, supplemented with psychotherapy. The trial results yielded 50 per cent of participants no longer meeting the criteria for PTSD. One year later, without any additional MDMA doses, the number of patients no longer meeting the criteria increased to 70 per cent, “showing that there is some underlying effect on the brain that is sustainable,” Tabaac said.
The MAPS study highlights the transformative impact that psychedelics – combined with psychotherapy – can have on mental health disorders like PTSD, Tabaac says. As more research emerges, it is expected that the medical community will gradually embrace these alternative treatments and integrate them into mainstream healthcare, ultimately empowering physicians to treat patients with greater efficacy and enriching the field of allopathic medicine.
The Power of Virtual Community for Doctors
Back in December 2021, Tabaac stumbled across the Psychedelics Anonymous(PA)platform, a web3 community that shared his enthusiasm for the potential of NFTs to bridge communities of like minded individuals. PA offers a secure environment where members can connect without revealing their identities, utilizing avatars to engage in discussions about psychedelics, and exchange personal or professional experiences.
Membership in Psychedelics Anonymous brought with it additional perks, Tabaac said, offering access to educational opportunities such as a plant medicine course at Cornell and participation in the recent Psychedelic Science 2023 conference in Denver. The project has also established a podcast, The Zero Hour, where Tabaac interviews the top minds in the psychedelic space. The most valuable aspect, Tabaac says, was the connections made with fellow colleagues. He connected with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and researchers who were curious about psychedelic medicine and established this virtual space where they could openly discuss without stigma, judgment, or fear of retribution.
“I attribute a lot of my own development and personal growth and passion for the space to the Psychedelics Anonymous project, because prior to getting involved in that community, there was trepidation over being judged by friends and by society at large, as a lot of the negative press and stigma still remains, dating back to Nixon’s War on Drugs,” he says. Psychedelics Anonymous also catalyzed Tabaac’s passion in the field to present a TEDx talk discussing Mental Health Meets Psychedelics. In this talk listeners are challenged to question their preconceived notions and judgements as it pertains to the group of restricted therapeutics in the psychedelic class. Tabaac asks if this class of drugs can serve as a paradigm shift in the way mindfulness therapy and mental health is approached.
Balancing Passion and Clinical Practice
Dr. Tabaac recognizes the difference between his passion for advancing psychedelic medicine and his commitment to ethics. “I infrequently discuss psychedelics with my patient population, exceptions including clinical trial offerings if inclusion criteria is met. Doctors and health practitioners are constrained by the limits of their medical licensure, and must remain patient until FDA approval is achieved,” Tabaac says. “I think it’s still premature and out of my scope to offer psychedelics to my patients. My mission and my role is better served in pushing clinical research forward, commiting patient enrollment in trials, and inviting speakers who are experts in the psychedelic space to present on my podcast I incorporate teachings on psychedelics to the medical students that rotate with me as it is the only space where they have exposure to learning about these modalities. The enthusiasm and interest among the next generation of physicians is encouraging.”
The demand for alternative mental health solutions continues to increase. Organizations like the Psychedelic Medicine Association, dedicated to providing ketamine treatments and with whom Tabaac is affiliated, are addressing the needs of individuals seeking non-traditional routes. While certain prescriptions may fall beyond the scope of some physicians, adopting a holistic approach becomes crucial. With physicians like Tabaac considering various facets of a person’s well-being, such as sleep, lifestyle, nutrition, social support, mindfulness practices and physical health, individuals can benefit from more comprehensive and personalized mental health care. This avenue goes beyond medications, recognizing the broader needs of patients. It underscores the importance of tending to various dimensions of a person’s life to foster holistic well-being and empowers individuals to explore diverse modalities for emotional harmony. Tabaac emphasizes the moniker of focusing “mental health as part of whole health.”
The Future of Psychedelic Medicine
For physicians like Tabaac, exploring the uncharted waters of psychedelic medicine opens up new possibilities for patient treatment and professional development. It provides access to innovative therapies, nurtures professional growth, and enables them to explore new frontiers beyond the constraints of conventional methods. By breaking stigma, advancing the field, and advocating for holistic modalities, physicians have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in enhancing the field of mental health and allopathy, offering new hope and potential healing pathways to patients. A new era in Western medicine, where evidence-based methodologies, holistic approaches, and comprehensive care intersect, holds the potential for a transformative landscape on the healthcare horizon.
Peace signs reigned in the 70s. Yin yangs were the symbol of the 90s. And today? Mushrooms have become the token of our generation.
Mushrooms. Are. Everywhere. You’ll find them on and in everything, from home decor to health foods, festival campgrounds, and your morning beverage. Our ancestors used mushrooms for thousands of years, so why did fungi fever hit so suddenly in the 2020s?
Trend or Truthsayer?
Civilization is at a turning point. Climate activists fear the worst, mental health issues are at an all-time high, and the political landscape seems more tumultuous than ever. With fear and uncertainty all around us, our collective whole-body and societal health is suffering, and people are desperate for solutions.
It’s no secret that the Western healthcare model wasn’t designed to cure the root of illnesses, but instead, to address their symptoms. While pharmaceuticals can be lifesaving, they’re not a sustainable treatment for long-term use for many illnesses, with side effects that sometimes cause more harm than the initial diagnosis. Patients may be better served by combining the cutting-edge science of Western practices alongside the ancient wisdom of Eastern modalities. Enter the mushroom.
Therapists, practitioners, and doctors have begun to take a holistic approach to caregiving by incorporating plant medicines into their protocols. Innovators and entrepreneurs are taking action too, developing mushroom-based products to enhance the body’s natural ability to protect itself from toxins, stressors, and ultimately, to heal itself. Canada-based Mind Mend carries a full line of capsules, gummies, and fruiting bodies they say were designed to address the current health crisis.
“People are turning to psilocybin in their search for alternatives to traditional mental health treatments,” Mind Mend founder Matt Smith told Psychedelics Today. “They’re disheartened by the side effects and potential dependence associated with pharmaceuticals, and we provide access to the healing benefits of mushrooms – a natural, plant-based solution.”
“We encounter a prevalent myth: that psilocybin mushrooms are solely recreational or even harmful. We’re here to challenge that. We see psilocybin as a valuable tool for mental health, capable of therapeutic wonders when used responsibly,” Smith continued. “It’s not solely a substance for supporting creativity and freedom, but a potential lifeline for those struggling with mental health issues.”
*While psilocybin has shown promise for improving mental health or performance, it’s strongly advised that those curious about utilizing them, magical or otherwise, do personal research and seek resources that are vetted by community and/or industry professionals.
Form & Fungtion
There are over 50,000 (!) species of mushrooms, and many have various benefits including boosting immunity, increasing energy levels, aiding in digestion, improving sleep, and enhancing cognitive performance. Functional mushrooms, or adaptogenic mushrooms, are non-psychedelic fungi that contain biologically active compounds that have been used for thousands of years due to their superfood characteristics.
The most popular include reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps, tremella, and turkey tail, and even non-mushroom lovers can reap their rewards. Functional mushroom company Fungies offers three delicious, vegan gummy blends which include lion’s mane for brain health, cordyceps for energy and performance, and reishi for immunity and stress. And this conscious company also gives back with every purchase.
Rob Kaufman, Fungies co-founder explains, “After the birth of my son I realized how important proper nutrition was for both expecting mothers and children. That’s why we’re proud to partner with Vitamin Angels to help provide women and children with the nutritional support they need to build the foundation for a healthy life. For every bottle of Fungies sold, we make a 1-for-1 donation to provide a pregnant woman or child with life-changing nutritional support around the world and here at home. We’re helping to build a healthier world, one gummy at a time.”
In addition to the tangible health benefits of functional mushrooms, psilocybin-bearing mushrooms have more abstract, yet deeply impactful advantages. Psilocybin can heighten our sensory perceptions and awareness of self. Research is also showing promise in treating end-of-life depression, suicidal ideation, addiction, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and more. Psilocybin can conjure feelings of wholeness and connectedness within those partaking, and those perspectives may remain even after the trip fades.
Similar to cannabis, different strains and types of mushrooms offer various benefits and they can be consumed in many forms. Take Brain Flow honey for example, by Haj Botanics. Their proprietary microdosing honey formula combines the innate antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of raw honey with their specially cultivated Shakti psilocybin mushroom blend, designed to help unlock creative potential, enhance mental clarity, and offer relief from anxiety and ADHD symptoms. Their Brain Buzz line is an adaptogenic, non-psychedelic blend formulated to bolster energy, enhance skin and heart health, and improve cognitive function. All of their lines are available both as infused honey and vegan capsules, ensuring accessibility for diverse dietary preferences.
Mushrooms have served as agents of transformation and healing in the lives of Haj Botanics’ founders, Hayley and Taj. Hayley is a courageous sex trafficking survivor whose journey to recovery led her to mushrooms. Their ability to provide not just temporary relief, but enduring, deep-seated healing, brought about profound change in her life and opened her eyes to their power and effectiveness. Taj, who once struggled with ADHD and the complexities of racial identity, found solace and understanding through his work with mushrooms. His personal experiences of enhanced focus, calm, and emotional resilience through microdosing illuminated a path towards holistic mental wellness that was not previously clear to him.
Honey and gummies are just the tip of the shroom-berg. Coffee replacements, beverage elixirs, tinctures, teas, and chocolates are inundating our IG feeds and DMs. But in addition to mushroom-infused consumables, mushroom experiences are gaining popularity, too. With the rise in demand for psychedelic therapists and coaches, it’s essential that clinicians be practically trained with professional guides to safely provide sessions to those in need. Psychedelics Today is working alongside Kiyumi Retreats to offer legal opportunities in the Netherlands for practitioners to work with psilocybin in a group setting. We’re not only holding a container for personal healing, but our Vital students are able to work with the medicine and be a facilitator for their colleagues. So regardless of psychedelic comfort level, mushrooms in all their beautiful forms are becoming more accessible by the minute.
Not only are mushrooms valuable in enhancing the human experience in mind, body, and spirit, but they have superpower-like abilities in remediating environmental distress. Unlike plants that get their energy from the sun, mushrooms thrive by decomposing organic matter like plants, animals, and other substances potentially toxic to humans. Organizations like Corenewal are actively conducting mycoremediation projects on sites damaged by oil spills, chemical leaching, and wildfires; they are researching how fungi can clean contaminated waterways and soils polluted with heavy metals – mushrooms are not a phase, but our future!
Maybe the best part about them is that they are able to be grown anywhere and even in the comfort of our homes. From home-grow companies like Wonderbags, you can purchase a kit today and learn how to cultivate your favorite strains.
Zach Dorsett, Wonderbags founder says, “Mushrooms are a model for our society. In the mycelium, individual cells connect with each other, work together, and share resources for the benefit of all of the cells. They recycle waste into resources for growth and elevate one another to higher purposes. Mushrooms can greatly impact physical health, provide food security and sustainability to local economies. Many mushrooms are not only nutritious, but in some cases, give us access to superfoods that can only be found in them. Lions mane, for instance, is the only known source for Hericenones and Erinacines which have been shown to have powerful neurogenic and neuro-regenerative properties. I have a lot of gratitude for the community of Indigenous people that paved the way for us to heal with mushrooms.”
Shroom Bloom or Gloom?
While we support the exploration of psilocybin (and other mushrooms) for their healing potential, it’s worth acknowledging that there is no quick fix for mental illness or centuries of humanity’s planetary impact. Doing deep work is essential to discovering the source of our dis-ease in order to heal ourselves, our society, and the environment.
So while the explosion of the mushroom market is promising, remain cautious about companies claiming to cure this and solve that. Education is paramount, understanding topics like personal dosing, legality, set and setting, and mental health history, can make or break an experience. There is still much work to be done to heal our culture, but a future with more mushrooms may be a brighter one for humanity. If we can learn anything from them, it’s that symbiosis is key – we are all interconnected and the health of one is the health of all.
Psilocybin-containing mushrooms grow wild on every continent except Antarctica. Over 200 species of fungi contain psilocybin, so our planet is unlikely to be in short supply anytime soon.
Nevertheless, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where we don’t have enough mushroom medicine. This could be because our access is limited, or because we’re dancing around legal limits on dosing.
Thankfully, there are some simple hacks we can use to get the most potency out of the medicine we have available.
The Role of Psilocin in Trips
Psilocybin is a pro-drug – a pharmacologically inactive substance when ingested. Upon consumption, it is metabolized into the compound psilocin – the active component responsible for your trip.
Stomach acid is essential for metabolizing the mushrooms into psilocin. It can take an hour or longer after eating the mushrooms for the trip to begin, as it takes time for the hydrochloric acid of the stomach to sufficiently break down the mushrooms and metabolize the psilocybin.
Unfortunately, many people nowadays have low levels of stomach acid. These include our seniors (hydrochloric acid production decreases with age), people on conventional reflux medications (which decrease stomach acid production), individuals with hypothyroidism (who have slower metabolisms), those with Helicobacter pylori infection (it damages the stomach lining and reduces acid production), and people with some other medical conditions.
Many hacks for speeding up the trip onset and making the mushrooms come on stronger are rooted in increasing hydrochloric acid levels and imitating the acidic environment of the stomach.
Light Eating for Quick Tripping
Eating a big meal before taking mushrooms slows the body’s metabolism of psilocybin to psilocin. That’s because the mushrooms you eat after a large meal go to the end of the line for processing. After the stomach is done churning out hydrochloric acid to bust up that double bacon cheeseburger, it’ll see what it can do for that last course of mushrooms.
Having less food in the stomach helps the digestive system get to the task of breaking down the psilocybin in the mushrooms, getting the trip started faster. It can also reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting.
Note: if you tend to get hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), then eating a little something to stabilize your blood sugar levels before, during, and after the trip is a good idea.
The Hidden Cost of Acid Inhibitors
Omeprazole, a medication that reduces stomach reflux, is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the developed world nowadays. Sold as “the little purple pill” under the brand name Prilosec in the States, omeprazole temporarily alleviates the symptoms of acid reflux by inhibiting the stomach’s secretion of hydrochloric acid. Omeprazole and calcium carbonate tablets like TUMS should not be used for longer than two weeks at a time, but most people use them for months, and even years, not realizing the harm they’re doing to their health.
We need hydrochloric acid to properly digest our food and pull the nutrients out of what we eat. Without enough hydrochloric acid, we’re more likely to develop low bone density and dementia later in life. We’re also more likely to experience bloating, gas, and other digestive ailments because we can’t properly digest our food. To learn more about the risks of conventional reflux treatments and healthier alternatives, check out my article on TUMS and Prilosec.
Note: Even if you want to stay on your acid-suppressing medications, you might want to skip them on the days you trip.
Acidic Shortcut to Psilocybin Conversion, aka. the Lemon Tek
Lemon juice, lime juice, and vinegar mimic the acidic environment of the stomach, thus beginning the conversion of psilocybin into psilocin outside of the body before you ingest mushrooms. To prepare a lemon tek, simply chop up the mushrooms or grind them in a coffee grinder and let them soak in an acidic juice for about 15 minutes, then drink up.
This preparation is a great option for folks on antacid medications, the elderly, and those who tend to feel nauseous from mushrooms. It’s also a handy remedy for people who know that it takes a long time and a lot of mushrooms for them to start tripping.
Don’t leave the mixture to soak beyond 20 minutes, however, as more time can cause the psilocin to degrade. It’s crucial to note that lemon tekking is not permitted in Oregon’s psilocybin service centers, but luckily there are things you can do to increase your stomach acid levels at home before you head to the service center.
Naturally Increase Stomach Acid Levels
A variety of natural remedies can help increase the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid. Here are some tried and true remedies, all of which you can do at home.
Drink lemon juice: Squeeze the juice of half of a fresh lemon into a small amount of water and drink it, ideally on an empty stomach, at least 15 minutes before taking psilocybin.
Apple cider vinegar: Drink one-fourth to one-half a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar diluted in a little water, ideally on an empty stomach, at least 15 minutes before taking psilocybin.
Kale: Chew on a little piece of raw (uncooked) kale, chard, or dandelion greens at least 15 minutes before taking psilocybin.
Herbal bitters: Herbal bitters can commonly be found in the health food store. My personal favorites include gentian, wormwood, and skullcap. As the name implies, bitter formulas taste bitter! They can be purchased in liquid or capsule format. While both work, I find that the liquid works better than the capsules. Bitter flavors on the tongue trigger the stomach to reflexively make more hydrochloric acid. Note that liquid bitters products are usually extracted in alcohol, so if you’re sensitive to alcohol, go for a glycerin preparation or capsules.
Betaine HCl: Betaine is the closest thing we have in pill form to what the stomach produces. This supplement is best used under the guidance of a naturopathic physician (ND) or herbalist. The gist to using HCl is this: start with one capsule at mealtime. At every meal, increase the dose by one more capsule (with breakfast take, one capsule; with lunch, take two; with dinner, take three). When you hit the dose that causes heat or burning in the throat or upper chest, stop. Reduce the dose by one capsule at mealtimes, and by two capsules on the day you take the mushrooms. For example, if you find that five capsules at mealtime cause burning and nausea, then take four capsules at all meals to help you digest your food. Then, on the day you trip, take three capsules on an empty stomach around the time of your mushroom dose.
Individuals on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) also sometimes need higher doses of psilocybin before they reach optimal effects. It’s worth noting that some professionals urge caution around combining antidepressants with psilocybin, but many of my patients have healed on mushrooms while on an SSRI without any adverse effects.
More research is clearly warranted on this topic.
The Role of Cannabis
Cannabis is an interesting (and controversial) adjuvant to psilocybin treatment, and one that doesn’t increase stomach acid levels.
Typically the way that cannabis is used in this context is to eat the mushrooms first, and then wait. If after an hour not much has happened, you can use cannabis to help you “launch.”
During my work in Jamaica, I saw many times that just a couple of puffs of marijuana helped people fully “take off” into their trip. The downside to using cannabis is that it can cause dry eyes, dry mouth, and dopiness – especially in people who don’t regularly use it. If you know that you need more than five grams of mushrooms to achieve your desired effect, then you may hit a glass ceiling at an Oregon service center. While the facilitator isn’t supposed to allow clients to take a hit of weed after they consume the mushrooms, what individuals do prior to entering the center is a matter of personal discretion.
Utilizing Breathwork to Amplify Psilocybin
Working with a practitioner who is trained in techniques like Holotropic, Reichian, or other types of breathwork can also help catalyze a psychedelic experience. Mushrooms pair nicely with “getting high on your own supply,” as the saying goes. Seriously: don’t underestimate the power of breath work. Even without a single milligram of psilocybin, breathwork alone is enough to send people into powerful, transformative trips.
The deeper you’re able to go in healing before taking psilocybin, the more you’re likely to get from the trip. In my own practice, I’ve found that the patients who do a couple of counseling appointments prior to tripping are the ones who have the most healing psychedelic experiences. There are many paths to “thinning the veil,” as I call it. People who are guarded – or have an iron curtain around their subconscious – need more medicine to help them “break through” their defenses. Patients who have a “thinner veil,” however, often just need a little bit of medicine to start the work.
On a recent retreat, we had a guest who wasn’t at dinner on the first night. When I went to check on her I found her in her room, sobbing. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she moaned, “but I’ve just felt so sad ever since I unpacked my suitcase!”
The way I understood it, this guest’s healing had already begun. Just by arriving at the retreat site, the part of her subconscious that was holding things together had softened, allowing the dam of tears to break. Her veil, in other words, was thin. This guest took very little psilocybin in the days that followed, yet she went deep in her work. If you don’t have a counselor to work with, then you can experiment with journaling, talking to friends, doing guided meditations, writing letters, or engaging in other practices to start letting repressed thoughts and feelings arise. I highly recommend the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which offers deceptively simple prompts for journaling and reflection. These practices will likely help you get more mileage from your psychedelic trip. Or, as one of my friends often says, “the medicine is just part of the medicine.”
The Less-is-More Approach to Psychedelics
While we often glorify heroic doses, it’s important to remember that plenty of learning, growth, and healing can happen with small amounts of psilocybin, too. Personally, the most life-changing trip I ever had was on just one gram. On my last retreat, one woman cleaned childhood trauma out of her cells on just 2.5 grams, and in research settings, people report some of their most spiritually significant experiences on the equivalent of 3.5 grams of mushrooms. More isn’t always better, and, in fact, dosing medicine too high can increase the risk of throwing too much at the nervous system, which can be destabilizing and can cause more harm than good.
So, if you find yourself with less psilocybin than you initially thought you needed, try some of the hacks above. But even if you don’t, you’ll probably learn something.
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