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How Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy Changed My Life by Tania de Jong AM

From Singing to Psilocybin

I don’t drink or smoke. I’ve never taken any drugs till four years ago. Yet today, my life revolves around psychedelic medicines — heavily stigmatized substances still illegal in this country and most others across the world.

How did this happen?

Singing has always been my super wonder drug! Neuroscience shows that singing fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins and makes us happier, healthier, smarter and more creative. Our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways, improving our memory, language and concentration.

When we sing with other people this effect is amplified. What was not understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronizes our heartbeats. Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is not of high quality. Everyone singing in a group is lifted up, no matter their singing ability.

That’s why belonging to a choir is a great way to address isolation, boredom, anxiety, PTSD, depression and even dementia.

Twelve years ago I created the charity Creativity Australia and the social inclusion program With One Voice. My hope was to bring people from different backgrounds, generations, faiths and cultures, haves and have-nots together through the experience of singing in choirs. We are changing the world, one voice at a time and alleviating loneliness, depression and social isolation.

My ultimate mission in life is to help people find their voice, unleash creative potential and bring light into our shadows. I’ve witnessed how song can be a powerful tool in achieving this end.

I also believe psychedelics have a monumental role in helping achieve this. In fact, I know they will allow me to scale this mission in a way I’d never dreamed possible.

Over the past two decades, I’ve founded seven companies and three charities. I’m a Member of the Order of Australia, a sought-after global speaker, and an international soprano, performing both as a soloist and as part of a group. I’ve released 12 albums.  Throughout my life I’ve always had a niggling feeling that I’m not experiencing the full picture in spite of all my achievements.

I hope this article provides a deeper understanding of why I co-founded Mind Medicine Australia (MMA).

Taking an illegal substance had never occurred to me until stumbling across Michael Pollan’s article in The New Yorker magazine titled “The Trip Treatment” via a blog I received from Tim Ferriss. Reading it not only made me aware for the first time of the current resurgence in psychedelic research, but also helped me to understand how these ancient plant medicines were assisting people to heal from depression and trauma and come to terms with end-of-life anxiety. Something about this resonated so strongly with me.

From that point on, my interest in trying these hallucinogenic plants for myself began to grow and I realised that many people expose themselves to these altered states on a regular basis. I wondered if I was missing out on perhaps an essential experience of what it means to be human and further exploring my psyche. What could psychedelics teach me about who I am or who I could be? What unknown parts of myself and our cosmos could they grant me access to? What healing might be available for my mind, body and spirit?

So, I recruited the support of Peter, my partner at the time and now husband, and we set out on a quest to have a therapeutic experience with psilocybin mushrooms. Having lost his father to suicide in his early teens, Peter was also interested in dealing with past traumas in a way he’d never thought available to him.

However, being able to do this in a safe and legal setting proved difficult. This was important to us. After first trying, and failing, to get into multiple trials happening globally at the time, we were eventually referred to a private therapist in the Netherlands, where the use of psychoactive truffles is legal. Our search over, we flew overseas, met him, and ingested a large dose of psilohuasca — a combination of psilocin-containing fungi and Syrian Rue, a MAO inhibitor used to enhance and prolong the effects of a trip.

Inner Journeying

Describing what it was like for me to take one of these substances is difficult. My first time was so far removed from anything I’d encountered before.

Heading into this, I was incredibly nervous. Having never lost control before, combined with everything I’d heard about psychedelics and drug use in general, I thought that the medicine was going to obliterate or destroy my brain. That turned out to be as far as possible from reality.

What happened for Peter and me was one of the most meaningful experiences of both our lives. The medicine completely shot us into space. What initially overwhelmed me was this incredible sense that everything is in me and I’m in everything…we are ONE. These realizations were profound for me, but it’s the deeper insights Peter and I gained that have left a lasting impression. What we learned from this one session was so profound and powerful, we didn’t feel compelled to have another for a whole year.

Far more important than the psychedelic encounter itself is the integration of the experience. That takes time.

This work continues to touch multiple areas of my life. For example, being born Jewish as the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, the majority of our relatives were murdered. I’ve lived with transgenerational trauma for as long as I can remember. Whether I wanted to or not, I’ve confronted a lot of this during my medicine trips and undergone significant healing as a result.

My creativity has also increased massively. I’m able to access more moments of flow and purity in my singing, public speaking, curation of immersive events and writing. I’ve also noticed real lifts in my energy and consciousness. I feel more intelligent. Overall, it feels as if a number of neural pathways have reconnected for me and a whole lot of new ones have been formed. It’s as if all these missing parts of myself have been found.

Creating a Movement, Making a Real Difference

Fast forward three years, Peter and I now seek out a session every four to six months. We call it our regular reset/reboot experience. It’s a bit like defragging the hard drive! Every single time we work with these medicines, the experience is different. We get new insights, clean up physical and mental baggage and heal a little more.

Not only have we woven psychedelic use into our lives, but the immense value we’ve gained from taking these medicines  is what inspired Peter and me to establish our fifth charity, Mind Medicine Australia, in early 2019. If this medicine has had such positive and healing benefits for us, we thought it could help the millions of people suffering with mental illness.

Mental Health in Australia

Mind Medicine Australia exists to help alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness in Australia through expanding the treatment options available to medical practitioners and their patients.

We seek to reduce Australia’s terrible mental health statistics, which are worsening as a result of the current and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular concern are the high levels of mental illness, addiction and suicide amongst the veteran, first responder and other marginalised population groups.

Pre-COVID, 1 in 5 Australians were experiencing a mental illness and existing treatments are failing for the majority of patients. Pre-COVID, 1 in 8 Australians were estimated to be on antidepressants (including 1 in 4 older adults and children as young as five) and their use across Australia has risen by a massive 95% over the past 15 years. Yet our mental health statistics continue to worsen, resulting in one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world.

Numerous mental health experts in Australia recently announced that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a 25% jump in the suicide rate if unemployment reaches 11%, which is highly likely. It also goes without saying that mental illness in the community is at an all-time high. The incidence of trauma, anxiety, depression and substance abuse are all accelerating as this pandemic and the fall-out from it continues.

These statistics cannot do justice to the heartache, suffering and community damage that mental illness is currently having on our society.

Depression treatment methods haven’t substantially changed for decades. Reversion rates are high following antidepressant medication, and side effects and withdrawal symptoms are significant.

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies

MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapies have been found to be low in toxicity. They have not been shown to produce organ damage or neuropsychological side effects that are risks with some psychiatric medications. Furthermore, they are not typically considered drugs of dependence.

Research on the effectiveness of e therapies is being conducted at prestigious universities, including Johns Hopkins, Yale, UCLA, Harvard, Cambridge and Imperial College, London.

The FDA has granted a “breakthrough therapy designation” for psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, a designation that will help speed clinical trials of these two psychedelics. In the United States, MDMA is in Phase 3 trials as a treatment for PTSD.

In addition to the current late-phase FDA trials, there are also trials underway of psychedelic therapies for the treatment of end-of-life depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug addiction, dementia, anorexia and other eating disorders, cluster headaches and chronic pain. A summary of psychedelic medical research can be found here.

Access to these therapies is now legally available in a number of countries via Expanded or Special Access Schemes in USA, Switzerland and Israel. A number of Australian psychiatrists have also recently received approvals through our Special Access Scheme for use of MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant patients.

Theories of Why Psychedelics May Work

A number of theories have been put forward to account for the possible therapeutic effects of psychedelics. One thought is that classical psychedelics may help with issues like depressive, addictive and obsessive disorders by allowing the mind to “break out” of repetitive and rigid styles of thinking, feeling and behaving. Psychedelics temporarily alter activity and increase connectivity between novel neural networks within the brain, breaking patients out of pathological patterns of thought and habit. This helps to develop a form of “active coping” and creates a fertile ground for change, restoring patient agency.

Psilocybin primarily activates the 5HT2a receptor in the brain. Recent research suggests that this receptor aids adaptivity through enhancing sensitivity to context, learning and unlearning, cognitive flexibility and synaptogenesis (new neuronal connections).

In a therapeutic setting, psychedelics may produce profound personal or existential insights, feelings of empathy and self-compassion, and a sense of connection or unity with other people, things and the world in general. Research shows that these characteristics are correlated to therapeutic outcomes and that patients regard these experiences among the most meaningful of their lives.

Mind Medicine Australia

Our goal at MMA is to ensure that these therapies become an integral part of our mental health system, that they are accessible and affordable to all Australians in need and that they achieve high remission rates leading to a substantial improvement in our mental health statistics.

To achieve this, we need practitioners who are trained to provide psychedelic-assisted therapies in medically controlled environments. Aspiring professionals need to learn the different therapy modalities that will inform their work with “non-ordinary states of consciousness.” They also need to be very capable of “holding space” for a period of hours, which is unlike the normal one to two-hour sessions usually delivered.

Another important area to be well versed in professionally before working with psychedelics is trauma. It’s critical to be experienced in somatic practices, as well as understanding and being comfortable with transference and projection. This level of comfort comes from both training in the subject matter and doing your own inner work. Processing one’s own non-ordinary states of consciousness can help others do the same.

Our Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies course is being developed by Renee Harvey (a senior Clinical Psychologist from the UK who was part of the Imperial College Therapist Team for these modalities). This is the first professional development program in the Southern Hemisphere, compares favourably with existing ones in the United States and the United Kingdom, and is being designed in collaboration with the world’s leading programs.

We also hope to provide an opportunity for clinicians to receive their own MDMA-assisted therapy session and participate in transpersonal breathwork to assist in altering consciousness.

We are also working to ensure that therapeutic treatment for patients takes place in medically supervised environments, without losing the essence of the transcendental which underpin their healing potential.

Mind Medicine Australia is in the process of establishing an Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies. Its main mission is to expand the mental illness treatment paradigm in Australia and boldly position Australia as a global leader in mental health innovation, with partnerships encompassing University, philanthropic, private industry and government sectors.

MMA is also partly-funding the nation’s first psychedelic clinical trial. Currently underway at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital, the study is looking at the potential of psilocybin to treat end-of-life depression and anxiety.

Other key aspects of our strategy involve educational events, webinars and awareness building, funding for relevant and novel clinical trials, the development of an appropriate legal and ethical structure for discussion with regulators, rescheduling applications for psilocybin and MDMA, the development of reliable sources of pharmaceutical grade psilocybin and MDMA in Australia and maintenance and expansion of international information flows and rollout strategies so that all Australians who need these therapies can access them through the medical system. We are also planning a major international summit for 2021.

We’ve recruited a Board and Advisory Panel that includes leaders in researching these therapies, such as Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins University, Professor David Nutt, Head of Neuropsychopharmacology and Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London, and Rick Doblin from MAPS.

Mental illness keeps a person separate and alone. Rigid thought structures, feelings of despair and the belief that things aren’t going to work out for them… that feeling of not being loved and whole. These are the kinds of struggles people everywhere are dealing with. I know, because every day we get emails and letters and calls from those who’ve tried every other type of medication and therapy and are at the end of the road. It breaks my heart how much suffering and loneliness there is.

At Mind Medicine Australia, we’ll continue to work to establish safe and effective psychedelic-assisted treatments, with the ultimate hope we can alleviate the unnecessary suffering that millions of Australians face every day.

Please watch this 2-minute animation to find out why psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy needs to be available to those who are suffering.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are wholly Tania de Jong AM’s and do not represent those of the charities and businesses which they are affiliated with.

Psychedelics Can Raise The Collective Consciousness by Brooke Fletcher and Dr Alana Roy

Man looking at the stars

By Brooke Fletcher and Dr Alana Roy

As a human being in the current social-political and economic climate we are faced with many challenges such as the rise of mental health, the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, gender inequality, unemployment, poverty, and climate change, to name only a few. For many, the current culture arguably promotes individualism, competition and profit; this can instil a heavy sense of existential dread [1]. We have been warned for decades the devastation of a society trying to control nature;

The ‘Takers’ are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness. The world of the Takers is one vast prison, and except for a handful of ‘Leavers’ scattered across the world, the entire human race is now inside that prison” (Quinn, 2006).

As we read on we can see the enormous benefits of breaking free from the bonds of our ego and the world as we know it. The psychedelic journey holds the keys to release those shackles. As popular journalist and author Michael Pollan affirms “makes losing your mind sound like the sanest thing a person could do”.

Our developing ego consciousness has created the illusion of separateness, our inner dialogues have estranged our connection and relationship with the Earth, each other, and the deepest nature of our own selves. Our sense of self is constructed by fragmented and disconnected perceptions of reality. From this normalised state of consciousness and humanity’s attempts to deny its vulnerability against nature and the greater chaotic forces, our relational and internal structures become increasingly hierarchical. Our narcissistic bubble informing our needs and desires, is a reflection within mirrors of the capitalist society and disproportionate power struggles that surround us.

“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong” (Terence Mckennacited Monteith, 2016).

The weight of the world can feel too heavy for many, however there is compelling evidence through recent psychedelic research that ‘awakening consciousness’ is possible. People who engage with psychedelic medicines often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ as they previously had known, distinct from the rest of the world, has diminished or dissolved altogether (Letheby & Gerrans, 2020). Neuroscientific studies show, through brain imaging, the brain exhibits more characteristics of criticality in the psychedelic state than what are apparent during normal waking consciousness (Carhart-Harris, 2018). Imagine a wire circuit where only half the wires are firing, however, there is a switch that can activate all wires once.

When guided with experience in a control setting, Psychedelics have the ability to disrupt stereotyped predictive patterns of thoughts and behaviours leading to transcendence experiences and complete ego dissolution, following only a few dosages (Roseman et al., 2019). Participants in psychedelic ceremonies and clinical trials have reported profound psychotherapeutic effects of alleviated emotional imbalances, working with interpersonal relations, and exploring the inner realm, intrapsychic structures, and spiritual development. Returning to the aforementioned analogy, following the reboot, the wire circuit (in the mind) is rewired permanently in a healthy yet transformed state. It is as if the transformative experience invites us to lose ourselves as we know, to reconnect with the parts that had splintered off, discovering the purest version of ourselves.

These experiences lead to a heightened feeling of wellbeing through a sense of unconditional love, awe and acceptance. Often achieved through intensified interconnection with nature, spirituality and the newfound ‘acknowledgement of all things beauty’. When awakened awareness of nature and impact of dominant structures occurs, an alternative view can emerge which informs and cultivates change in myriad ways (Wolfson, 2018). Psychedelics take us into realms of untouched states of consciousness, offer lineage of spirituality through refined wisdom, sense of safety and freedom, to express one’s unique individual self. Having these experiences in a heightened states, acts as a reboot for our minds, enhances the capacity to reach similar sense of being in normal waking consciousness. Liberating the way, we think and feel, the psychedelic experience for many has created clear personal ownership of one’s identity and purpose.

Through all of history, mankind has ingested psychedelic substances. Those substances exist to put you in touch with spirits beyond yourself, with the creator, with the creative impulse of the planet” (Ray Manzarek).

Psychedelics increase a sense of connection to self, community and nature. They amplify our imagination, our dream lives, our creativity and our sense of justice. Psychedelics are arguably some of the world’s most powerful tools on the planet for raising the individual and collective consciousness (Pollan, 2018). I encourage you to raise your consciousness, seek out and explore unknown terrain. In the words of Terence McKenna,

“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness” (Monteith, 2016).


Carhart-Harris, RL 2018, ‘The entropic brain — revisited’, Neuropharmacology, vol. 142, pp. 167–178 , Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Letheby, C & Gerrans, P 2020, ‘Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience’, OPEN FORUM INFECTIOUS DISEASES, vol. 4, no. 1, Oxford University Press

Monteith, A 2016, ‘“The Words of McKenna”: Healing, Political Critique, and the Evolution of Psychonaut Religion since the 1960s Counterculture’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 84, no. 4, pp. 1081–1109, Oxford University Press

Pollan, M author. 2018, How to change your mind : what the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence, Penguin Press, New York

Quinn, D 1992, ‘Adventures of Mind and Spirit’, Ishmael. Bantam Books, New York, NY

Roseman, L, Haijen, E, Idialu-Ikato, K, Kaelen, M, Watts, R & Carhart-Harris, R 2019 ‘Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’, Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 33, no. 9, pp. 1076–1087, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Wolfson, P 2018, Psychedelics the Spiritual and Consciousness — an Evolving Confluence in the Cultural Stream

Pushing Taboo: Exploring the Role of LSD in Transpersonal Psychology by Diego Pinzon Rubiano

Staring at the stars

By Diego Pinzon Rubiano


“It does not seem to be an exaggeration to say that psychedelics used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.“ – Stanislav Grof (Grof, 2008, p. 12)

The field of Transpersonal Psychology was founded in the late 1960’s as a response to the limited scope of psychology at the time, namely the behaviourist, psychoanalytic and humanistic views (Sotillos, 2010). The term transpersonal refers to that which transcends the individual or personal experience. The pioneers of this new field broadened the scope and considered non-ordinary states of consciousness as an important subject of study and research (Walsh, 1993). The term non-ordinary states is used to differentiate our everyday waking consciousness from any other state which we do not experience as often. For example, dreaming, being drunk on alcohol or feeling ecstatic joy while dancing are non-ordinary states of consciousness. Abraham Maslow, a pioneer of transpersonal psychology, placed great value on peak or transcendental experiences (Maslow, 1969). Peak experiences are characterized by an individual perceiving: (a) loss of the sense of time and space, (b) freedom from inner conflicts, (c) loss of fear and inhibition, (d) feelings of oneness with the universe, and (e) feelings of ultimate happiness and fulfilment (Maslow, 1968). These experiences were reported by exceptionally healthy individuals and are identical to those of religious people who experienced communion with God or revelation (Grof, 2009; Maslow, 1969).  As such, these experiences fall within the realm of the transpersonal and non-ordinary.

One of the most effective means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness and peak experiences is through the ingestion of psychedelic substances (Grof, 2008). This essay explores the role of the controversial substance Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in Transpersonal Psychology and psychotherapy. It provides a brief history of the substance and presents an overview of the work of transpersonal researcher Stanislav Grof. Additionally, recent research on psychedelics is reviewed. To finalize, it integrates my personal experience as a transpersonal seeker into the benefits and potentials of this substance through a short story.

Introducing LSD

The term psychedelic literally means mind manifesting. That is to say, psychedelic substances reveal contents of the mind. LSD is classified as a psychedelic substance and is perhaps the most widely studied. Other substances include: (a) psilocybin, the psychoactive component in some species of mushrooms; (b) mescaline, the psychoactive component in the San Pedro cactus; and (c) dimethyltryptamine, one of the psychoactive components in the indigenous South American plant-based concoction Ayahuasca.

LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann (Hofmann, 2005) in 1938 as part of a systematic study of lysergic acid at Sandoz laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. But it was not until 1943 that the psychoactive effects of this substance were discovered (Fadiman & Kornfeld, 2013). In what could be commonly regarded as an accident, Hofmann intoxicated himself by an unknown amount of this substance (Grof, 2008). Due to the extraordinary nature of the effects, he later decided to try a dose of 250 micrograms. Further experiments were conducted at Sandoz labs that led to the publication of a report of the effects of LSD in normal volunteers and psychiatric patients in 1947 (Grof, 2008). This report became widely popular in the scientific community and led to a high number of clinical and laboratory research studies in several countries (Grof, 2008).

Unfortunately, use of psychedelic substances was banned around the world in the late 60’s. Widespread irresponsible experimentation, coupled with government and mass media propaganda, managed to create a stigma and prejudice towards these substances that is beyond absurd. The fact that someone is legally allowed to possess a firearm at home, but not certain plants or non-toxic substances should make anyone question the rationale and motives behind prohibition. Psychedelic substances were used in clinical research, psychology and psychiatry for over two decades up until the early 1970’s. Recently, several research projects have been carried out around the world, giving birth to what is commonly known as the psychedelic renaissance.

The Work of Stanislav Grof

Let us now examine the work of Stanislav Grof (2008, 2009), a Czech-born psychiatrist and founder of transpersonal psychology, whose career dramatically changed after being the subject of an LSD experiment. Before the time of LSD prohibition, Grof worked in Europe and later in the United States as a psychiatrist and researcher. He analysed over 3000 LSD sessions and developed a theoretical basis for the experiences people were having. Furthermore, he developed two approaches to psychedelic therapy: the psycholytic and the psychedelic approach. The psycholytic approach used low to medium doses of 75 to 300 micrograms of LSD, and aimed to resolve tensions in the mind of the patient. The psychedelic approach used high doses of LSD, from 300 to 2000 micrograms, and aimed for the patient to experience ego death and have a peak experience. Grof (2008) considered the psychedelic approach to be the most therapeutic and time effective.

The psychedelic approach is the most relevant to the field of Transpersonal Psychology as people achieve powerful therapeutic breakthroughs through direct experience of transpersonal states. Grof (2009) stresses that this is facilitated by full validation and acknowledgement of transpersonal experiences. He classifies these experiences into two categories: “experiential extension within objective reality” (p. 159) and “experiential extension beyond objective reality” (p. 160). The first category of experiences includes a temporal expansion of consciousness in which a person can: (a) experience him or herself as an embryo or foetus, (b) live a past-incarnation, and (c) experience clairvoyance, clairaudience, or a precognition. Also among the many experiences in the psychedelic approach is a spatial expansion of consciousness in which a person: (a) identifies with another person, animal, or plant, (b) has out of body experiences, or (c) has an experience of oneness with life and all of creation. The second category of experiences includes: (a) people communicating with spirits, (b) encounters with suprahuman entities, (c) other universes and their inhabitants, (d) encounters with deities, and (e) activation of the chakras and kundalini energy which are Sanskrit terms referring to subtle energies within the human body. Although some of these experiences are very rare, Grof (2008, 2009) has been a witness and documented many of these experiences in a clinical setting.

Recent Psychedelic Research

Researchers at the Imperial College in London have been leading the current research on psychedelic substances. In 2016, a study examining the effects of LSD using modern neuroimaging was published (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016). This study is the first of its kind in human history. For the first time, the effects of LSD were successfully mapped using three different kinds of brain imaging techniques. The findings of this study shed light on the mechanisms of action of psychedelic substances. This is an area that has remained in the dark due to government prohibition. To summarize the results of the study, it was found that under the influence of LSD, the visual cortex became highly connected with areas of the brain that it would normally not. Also, reduced blood flow was observed in the default mode network, an area of the brain which plays a key role in internal or self-generated thought (Andrews-Hanna, Smallwood & Spreng, 2014). This is of clinical significance for psychology as some mental disorders reflect a failure to regulate activity of the default network or self-generated thought (Andrews-Hanna et al., 2014). Therefore, we can argue that psychedelics have the potential to assist in the treatment of these disorders. Furthermore, this network is also considered as the “seat of the ego” (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014, p.8) and users of psychedelic substances have reported experiencing loss of the sense of ego (Carhart-Harris & Nutt 2010) which brings transpersonal experiences as a result. Thus we can say that psychedelics can be used for facilitating transpersonal states which can have a strong therapeutic potential.

Another study examined the therapeutic effects of a similar psychedelic substance, psilocybin, which is the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016a). Twelve individuals with treatment-resistant depression were given psilocybin along with psychological support before, during, and after the sessions. Results showed a significant decrease in depression scores 1 week and 3 months after treatment. This study represents a landmark in the literature of this field as it shows that a psychedelic substance used in a safe and supportive setting can deliver results that no other current treatment has been able to achieve. However, the sample size of this study was small as only 12 people participated.

A recent review of modern clinical research on LSD found no serious or negative long-lasting effects of the substance (Liechti, 2017). This report reviewed six studies, five in healthy participants and one in anxious individuals. The latter, examined the effects of LSD-assisted psychotherapy in patients suffering anxiety related to a life-threatening illness. Results of this study found significant reduction in anxiety 2 months after treatment (Gasser et al., 2014) and improvement in quality of life and reduced anxiety 12 months after administration of LSD (Gasser, Kirchner & Passie, 2015). It is important to note that the participants of this study were only given LSD on two occasions and a moderate dose of 200 micrograms. Also, only 12 individuals participated in this study which makes the results difficult to generalize to a broader population.

Additionally, an analysis of controlled clinical trials that used LSD for the treatment of alcoholism found that a single dose was associated with a decrease in alcohol misuse (Krebs & Johansen, 2012). This analysis included 6 trials and 536 participants. It is important to mention that this recent analysis considered only the literature of the 1960’s and 70’s and the studies did not find any long lasting harmful effects from the use of LSD.

A Personal Therapeutic Experience with LSD

I would like to share a personal experience that gave first-hand experience on the therapeutic potential of LSD. This experience was so significant that LSD and other psychedelics quickly became a new area of personal interest which later turned into a professional pursuit towards psychedelic studies.

A couple of friends, my partner and I rented a holiday house for a couple of nights near the beach. In a comfortable and safe setting, I ingested 150 micrograms of LSD. While on the peak of the experience my thoughts took me to revisit an old relationship. When I was 19 and left my home country to move overseas, I had to end a romantic relationship I had with a woman. She was my first love and a person I truly dedicated myself to and saw a bright future with. While living in this new country, I struggled severely with depressive symptoms for what could be months and years. Anything that reminded me of her elicited a strong emotional reaction, which I pushed away in order to not feel the pain. Six years later, I was totally convinced that I had processed all the feelings that had to do with the breakup; I thought I experienced all the sadness, and I was able to finally let her go. Well, not quite. Anything that reminded me of her would still elicit a reaction, not as strong as before but an uncomfortable feeling in most cases. I had buried my feelings deep.

While remembering her under the influence of LSD I saw some pastel sticks and a notebook I had brought to document my experience. I chose a blue and purple pastel; the blue represented myself and the purple my ex-partner. These were our favourite colors and had a strong association to both of us. I started randomly coloring the whole page in blue. I then decided to color in some purple. As I was doing this, I was remembering all the impact she had in my life, all the precious and beautiful moments we had together which I still felt attached to. The purple coloring started with great intensity remembering those moments, then slowly diminished as my memories took me to the end of our relationship. I noticed the paper started getting wet, and then I realized that I had been crying for some time while doing this drawing. I was so immersed in the memories and coloring that I did not notice the crying. I was expressing all this emotion through art. When I stopped coloring purple, I had a realization: there was still blue, this was me without her and I was fine (Figure 1). I felt a strong sense of connection to myself and a sense of independence and self-assurance. I felt a very powerful sense of relief and calmness. I laid down and felt an immense sense of peace and weightlessness. I was finally able to connect with and express all those previously repressed feelings.

Figure 1. Pastel drawing under the influence of LSD.

Figure 1. Pastel drawing under the influence of LSD.

In the words of Grof (2008): “a person who has taken LSD does not have an ‘LSD experience’ but takes a journey into deep recesses of his or her own psyche” (p. 11). This is clearly exemplified with the above story as I was able to reconnect with the feelings I purportedly hid from myself to avoid feeling pain. LSD facilitated a connection with deeper areas of my mind which allowed me to bring them to my conscious awareness and express them by means of creative art. My experience is also a great example of Grof’s psycholytic approach to LSD psychotherapy in which medium doses are used to assist a person to resolve inner conflicts or tensions. LSD allowed me to bypass or penetrate my own psychological defence mechanisms which repressed emotions and left them unprocessed. Furthermore, this experience shows us that art can be a very effective tool for therapy in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Therefore, I can argue that current methods of experiential psychotherapy can be blended with non-ordinary states to produce quick and effective results.


To summarize, LSD is a psychedelic substance that acts as an amplifier of contents of the mind not previously accessible for observation. Its psychoactive properties were first discovered in 1943, the substance became a sensation in the world of psychiatry but was later prohibited for any use by governments worldwide. Recently, several research projects have been carried out exploring the effects of this substance. Results suggest that LSD, along with other psychedelics, when used in a safe setting and with psychological support, can help people with treatment resistant conditions such as depression. Recent research also found that LSD can reduce anxiety in individuals suffering from a life-threatening disease. I had a powerful abreaction experience during an LSD session which sparked a passionate interest in the field of psychedelic studies and their applications in psychotherapy. Following the literature revised, the research findings and my own experience, I argue that LSD is of great importance to the field of transpersonal psychology. LSD is a substance that has been shown to facilitate transpersonal experiences, help resolve inner conflicts in a short time, and assist in the treatment of mental and substance abuse disorders more efficiently than any other treatments currently available. Transpersonal psychology should fully embrace the field of psychedelics in order to show the world the great healing potential of transpersonal experiences and the spiritual and interconnected nature of all humanity.

I would like to finalize this essay by inviting the reader to seriously consider the evidence presented and to examine the references provided to develop a deeper understanding of the subject if it is of interest. Non-ordinary states of consciousness are part of our human experience and they allow us to perceive new aspects of our mind and our world which can lead us to revising or expanding these views. To suppress a particular method of inducing these states without any scientific basis is a serious mistake, which not only cripples scientific progress in numerous areas, but our development as a human species.


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Science not Stigma: Safety of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy for Mental Illness by Victor Chiruta

By Victor Chiruta

The conversation of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has moved from the scientific community into the mainstream. In Australia, the two psychedelic compounds that have been proposed for rescheduling as controlled medicines are psilocybin (a compound from magic mushrooms) and MDMA (an ingredient sometimes present in ecstasy). Recent media coverage has raised the issue, that some believe there isn’t enough evidence in safety for the medical use of these compounds. This article will point to a number of respected peer-reviewed scientific journals giving evidence and confirming that both psilocybin and MDMA are safe if used in a medically controlled environment. The first compound we will examine is psilocybin.

The scientific journal Addictions reports the toxicity of psilocybin and magic mushrooms to be very low[1]. The lethal dose of psilocybin is extrapolated to 6g in humans. This is 300x the typical therapeutic dose of 20mg. Let’s just imagine consuming 300x your usual cup of coffee, dose of Panadol, pint of beer, or even your daily multi-vitamin! The Japanese Journal of Legal Medicine and the Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society have published that fatal intoxication due to ingestion of magic mushrooms is extremely rare[2][3]. A review on the harm potential of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms published in the scientific journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, found only two deaths due to direct overdosing internationally since 1960[4]. For comparison, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported 276 deaths from antidepressants and 663 deaths from anti-anxiety medication during 2016 in Australia alone[5]. The lethal toxicity of fresh psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms in humans is 17kg[4]. It would be highly unusual and very challenging to consume 17kg of mushrooms.

“…normally people do not die from a magic mushroom overdose, because they are not very toxic and the potential victim will spontaneously vomit keeping the final dose low.”
– Dr. Jan van Amsterdam, Addiction Specialist

The scientific journal Addiction Biology, reports that there is no evidence of physical dependence with psilocybin administration[6]. Further to this, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse concludes that available evidence indicates psilocybin is non-addictive[7]. Moreover, psilocybin profoundly facilitates remission from addiction in people with alcohol and tobacco dependency. Psilocybin is currently in clinical trials for treating cocaine and opioid addictions[8][9]. If used within a controlled setting, psilocybin has little to no adverse reactions[10]. Early therapeutic use of the pharmaceutical psilocybin, Indocybin® developed by Sandoz, was without complication[6]. In more recent trials, there have been no significant adverse events with psilocybin use[11].

The Journal of Psychopharmacology conducted a population study across a cohort of 135,000 and found no link between psychedelic use and psychosis[12]. The researchers found that, individuals who had taken psychedelics were not at increased risk of developing mental health problems, including schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide attempts. A scientific committee on drugs in the UK concluded that, psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are amongst the least harmful psychotropic drug to the user and those around them[13].

Current controlled medicines buprenorphine, methadone, fentanyl, cannabis, ketamine, amphetamine; prescription medicines anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines; and unscheduled drugs tobacco and alcohol, all ranked as causing more harm to the user and more harm to others when compared to psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms. This research was recently repeated with similar results in Australia by a panel of 25 experts including psychiatrists, police, addiction specialists, doctors, and child protection workers[14].

Harm graphic

Figure 1. Circled in green the category ranking the harm of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms in comparison to other medicines and illicit drugs within Australia in 2019[14]. Circled in orange the ranking of harm of the category containing MDMA.

MDMA may have a reputation by being associated with the overdoses and deaths in relation to ecstasy pills at dance parties. In assessing the safety of MDMA, important distinctions need to be made between medicinal MDMA and the street-drug ecstasy:

Medicinal MDMA is administered in a medically-controlled clinical setting. It is pharmaceutical grade, dosage is known, patients are properly screened, the use of the medicine is regulated, and the medicine is administered only by trained health professionals. Understanding the distinction between the two types of drugs is fundamental when examining the evidence of MDMA for safety.

MDMA was first synthesised in 1912 by Merck[15]. Although it wasn’t until 1977 when MDMA began its use in psychotherapy when the safety of this compound was first studied. We have over 40 years of data to evaluate the toxicology and safety of medicinal MDMA in a therapeutic environment. The lethal dose of MDMA in humans is 10-20mg/kg[16]. The largest dose used in clinical studies is 1- 2mg/kg[17]. The lethal dose for MDMA is 10x greater than the therapeutic dose. Early therapeutic use of MDMA in psychotherapy was without complication[15]. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have evaluated all 1,837 participants involved in recent controlled clinical MDMA studies[18]. MAPS has published that no unexpected serious adverse reactions were reported.

All serious adverse effects have been rare and non-life threatening. The Canadian Medical Association Journal have published, that MDMA administered therapeutically in a controlled environment does not produce dependence[19]. Therapeutic treatment with MDMA has not been shown to increase illicit drug use[18]. Morbidity and mortality of MDMA use has only occurred in uncontrolled non-clinical settings[20]. The International Journal of Drug Policy has published that in Australia between the years 2000 to 2018, 14 deaths have occurred due to MDMA toxicity only[21]. In comparison, the ABS reports 170 deaths due to paracetamol just in the year 2016[5]. In Figure 1, we see that MDMA is evaluated by Australian experts to cause less harm to the user and harm to others than the same medicines and illicit drugs as psilocybin.

There is no scientific or medical evidence to suggest that psilocybin nor MDMA when administered in a controlled clinical setting is linked to either mental illness or negative health outcomes. On the contrary, MDMA and psilocybin have been shown to be safe, non-toxic, and non-addictive when administered in a medically-controlled clinical environment. It is justifiable and evident why the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has granted both MDMA and psilocybin breakthrough medicine status in the US. The FDA has opened an ‘expanded access scheme’ for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with MDMA, the Israeli Ministry of Health has embraced the treatment of PTSD with MDMA under ‘compassionate use’, and compassionate MDMA therapy has been conducted in Switzerland. With the remarkable results of these psychedelic medicines, it would be detrimental for suffering Australians not to have medically supervised access to these breakthrough treatments.


  1. Gable RS, 2004, ‘Comparison of acute lethal toxicity of commonly abused psychoactive substances’, Addiction, vol. 99, no. 6, pp. 686-696.
  2. McCawley EL, Brummett RE & Dana GW, 1962, ‘Convulsions from psilocybe mushroom poisoning’, Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society, vol. 5, pp. 27-33.
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  8. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020, Adjunctive Effects of Psilocybin and Buprenorphine, viewed 6th September 2020,
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  14. Passie T, 2018, ‘The early use of MDMA (‘Ecstasy’) in psychotherapy (1977–1985)’, Drug Science, Policy and Law, vol. 4, pp. 1-19.
  15. Jerome L, Schuster S & Yazar-Klosinski BB, 2013, ‘Can MDMA play a role in the treatment of substance abuse?’, Current Drug Abuse Reviews, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 54-62.
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Investigating the profound and bizarre link between creativity, psychedelics and music by Charlotte McAdam


“Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”

By Charlotte McAdam

Is the popular Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds really an acronym for LSD? Or was it innocently inspired by a drawing created by John Lennon’s son? This question has exercised the minds of Beatles fans since the song first appeared in the 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band. This magical mystery may never be solved; however, it is certain that the legendary band dabbled with psychedelic drugs throughout their career.

The Beatles are far from being the only band that make references to these substances, or consumed them to inspire their work. It is common knowledge that particular drugs are used, and of course abused, by artists around the world.

Together, let’s take a trip and explore why so many successful musicians were inspired by psychedelics. Is there a much deeper connection between our emotions, music and the therapeutic benefits of these substances? And if music itself is an act of creativity, is there more to inspired thought than we currently think?

The first stop on our journey is looking at creativity, which is a multilayered phenomenon. It can be defined as a human ability that provides artistic, organisational, and scientific innovation that moves the world forward. It is a skill that transcends traditional ways of thinking or acting to develop new and original ideas, methods or objects.

One of the cornerstones of creativity has been described as divergent thinking, which is the power to think outside the box. Music is one of the most creative activities known, as it involves the application of divergent thinking by putting the brain into a ‘state of flow’. Studying creativity can be a difficult thing to do. However, advances in technology and the birth of psychology have helped us map out the brain and consequently have a greater understanding of how it functions.

Mark Beeman, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at North Western University and author of the book The Eureka Factor, researches the cognitive neuroscience of insight. He explains that much of the research on the neural basis of insight has been framed by hemispheric differences, namely, that the right hemisphere contributes relatively more to insight solving, whereas the left hemisphere contributes more to analytic solving. “The world is so complex that the brain has to process it in two different ways at the same time,” Beeman says. “It needs to see the forest and the trees. The right hemisphere is what helps you see the forest.”

Image of the brain

Beeman extended his research and found that these sudden moments of insight can be measured by combining both fMRI and EEG technology. When the brain has an ‘Aha!’ moment, it is preceded by an equally sudden burst of brain activity – a spike of gamma-wave rhythm, which is the highest electrical frequency generated by the brain. Gamma rhythm is believed to come from the binding of neurons: cells distributed across the cortex draw themselves together into a new network that is then able to enter consciousness. Where does this burst of gamma waves come from? Beeman discovered the ‘neural correlate of insight’: the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG). This is a small fold of tissue, located on the surface of the right hemisphere just above the ear.

Interestingly, Beeman also demonstrated that people who score high on a standard measure of happiness solve about 25 percent more insight puzzles than people who are feeling angry. It seems positive moods allow us to relax, we focus less on the troubling world and more on these remote associations.

While it’s commonly assumed that the best way to solve problems is to relentlessly focus, this clenched state of mind inhibits the sort of creative connections that lead to breakthroughs. This is why interrupting one’s focus – perhaps with walk outside or a game of Ping Pong, commonly seen at innovative companies such as Google – can be so helpful. Alpha waves emanating from the right hemisphere are closely related with relaxing activities, which explains the concept of people have some of their best ideas during a warm shower. When our minds are at ease and alpha waves are rippling through the brain, we’re more likely to direct attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. Bob Dylan says it best, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Nevertheless, creative innovation requires more than only personal insight. Even if a person experiences a useful epiphany, that new idea is rarely the end of the creative process. More recently, research shows that the neural pathways and subsequent networks play an important role in the brain’s inclination towards creativity.

This involves the interaction of three main brain networks – executive brain network, default mode network and salience network. The ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated things is a central tenet in creative thinking. Exposure to different stimuli – such as new sounds, sights and sensations – create connections in the brain via the synapses, the points of connection, between the neurons. The more neurons, the more neural pathways and synapses, the greater the opportunity to spark new ideas and solutions.

Great innovation comes when we are not only captivated by the moment and imaginative but also motivated and compassionate to engage in the activity. Creativity requires both intelligence and imagination. We must have both an ability to learn what has come before us and have foresight and envision the way the world could be. Building on the foundations that have come before us.

Freddie Mercury is seen as the creative genius behind Queen. However, if it wasn’t for the combination of the talents of his other band members, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, with the addition of producers, recording technology and radio, we perhaps wouldn’t have iconic hits like Bohemian Rhapsody.

Creativity is truly an act of collaboration.

A new wave of scientific research in the past few years has shown time and again that psychedelic drugs offer extreme therapeutic potential in treating mental health issues including depression, PTSD and anxiety. These studies have also given way to new findings on their possible use for creative innovation.

It’s certainly no secret that psychedelics hold incredible potential to enhance creativity. Many highly- acclaimed artists, scientists, writers and musicians have credited these substances as playing key roles in their lives. For example, Francis Crick was reported to be using low doses of LSD when he discovered the double-

helix structure of the DNA molecule. Nobel-prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis explicitly stated that psychedelics helped him to develop the polymerase chain reaction, that allows you to replicate DNA sequences in a lab. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, championed the LSD experience, describing it as one of the most important experiences in his life. And you certainly don’t have to look far to find examples of art and music that are influenced by psychedelic experiences.

Image of the brain

So, exactly how do these compounds act as an aid for creativity?

In June 2018, researchers at the Imperial College London published a study examining the effects of psilocybin mushrooms, DMT and LSD. The participants were tested for a range of personality traits after taking the psychedelics. At the end of the three-month period of the study, results showed that the patients displayed a significant increase in cognitive flexibility or “openness” – which, according to the researchers, is at the crux of imagination, aesthetic appreciation, non-conformity, and creativity.

Ground breaking research funded by the Beckley Foundation has revealed that psychedelics allow new, unique connections to be made by connecting areas of the brain that normally keep to themselves. It’s possible that this is the basic mechanism through which these psychoactive compounds have their effect on creativity. Cutting-edge brain imaging technology shows the increased brain connectivity after LSD (right), compared to placebo (left).

Michael Pollan, author of the book How to Change Your Mind writes about the science behind psychedelics. He explains that people who try psychedelics, experience something that is known as “ego dissolution,” which is what happens when the sense of “self” totally disappears. When people report this feeling, there is a precipitous drop-off in activity in a part of the brain called the default mode network (DMN). This network seems to play some kind of regulatory role in how the brain communicates with itself. The brain starts to form new linkages and new connections. Parts of the brain that didn’t communicate before suddenly strike up conversations. It seems that psychedelics open the pathways for the brain to more actively collaborate within itself, and quietens the DMN or the ‘inner critic’.

Marijuana seems to make insights more likely. A paper by scientists at University College London, found that not only does cannabis lead to states of relaxation, but it also increases brain activity in the right hemisphere. This explains why marijuana has so often been used as a creative fuel; it seems to make the brain better at detecting the remote associations that define the insight process.

While constant interval conversations and collaboration in the brain may birth amazing creativity and “out of the box” thought, there can, however, be too much of a good thing.

For example, Methadone in an administered and controlled situation, can be moderately safe and is regularly used today by medical professionals for pain management. From the same source the street drug Heroin is made, which can become life-threatening with a high potential of abuse.

Similarly, there needs to be protocols put in place for psychedelics to be used in not only a safe setting, but in a controlled way to reap the most from their creative benefits. The purpose of going down the proverbial “rabbit hole”, is to bring something back with you.

This notion is best summed up in the words of Alan Watts “If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen.

A person can’t live in a constant state of having these light bulb moments any more than a top athlete can maintain peak performance over extended periods of time. Psychedelics however, could be a switch to help turn the creative mind on and off again. Already we are seeing the start of positive steps in this direction, with micro-dosing growing in study and usage in Silicon Valley in the USA. Since creativity lies at the heart of solving the problems we face as a species, it is an essential part of moving humanity forward. Psychedelics could just be that missing link.

Like any good journey, there are many factors that play into a person having a positive trip. Set and setting, are the most important aspects in the psychedelic experience. A person’s mindset “set” and the physical and social environment “setting” in which the user has the experience can greatly influence the outcome.

Music album covers

The drug itself does not produce the transcendent experience; it acts as the chemical key to open the mind. Which is where music comes into play.

The story of psychedelics is intertwined with the story of music, and tracing their relationship can feel like going in circles. It’s well known that rock musicians have always been heavily influenced by psychoactive compounds, inspiring an entire genre known as ‘Psychedelia’.

From Sting, the lead singer of The Police who wrote various hits after his experiences with Peyote and Ayahuasca to Green Day, who’s lead singer Billie Joe named the band after his first pot experience. From the band The Doors, who got their name from the Aldous Huxley book titled The Doors of Perception (which is based on the writer’s psychedelic experience under the influence of Mescaline) to Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Grateful Dead. The list is as endless and timeless as the music itself. Interestingly, they also all explore similar themes of love, universal connection and peace.

The echoes of the psychedelic musical revolution are still seen today, influencing a whole new generation of musicians. Artists including Chance the Rapper, A$AP Rocky, Post Malone, Harry Styles, Noah Cyrus and Kacey Musgraves have all spoken about their experiences and how their music has been inspired from their trip.

We all know a particular song that can transport our minds to the moment we first heard that piece. Perhaps we remember the people we were with or the emotions we were feeling at that time. But the way we react to instrumental music, orchestras and symphonies, also allow us to connect to emotions and have vivid memories of times not linked to that song. It is almost as though music is so embedded into our nature, that it allows us access to deeper parts of our subconscious.

brain light

Do we share a connection with music that transcends what we know about ourselves and perhaps even the cosmos?

To understand this concept, we need to travel back in time to around 550 BC. Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, is attributed with discovering that a string exactly half the length of another will play a pitch that is exactly an octave higher when struck or plucked. One of his most important discoveries was that harmonic musical intervals could be expressed by perfect numerical ratios, a finding that led him to the realisation that all sensible phenomena follow the pattern of number. Therefore, the current music scale that we use is credited to Pythagoras.

He is also responsible for a theory known as The Harmony of the Sphere’s. Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds, which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.

Pythagoras believed music was medicine, and could heal diseases in the body. He used various intervals of harmonic ratios to “align souls to their divine nature”. The philosopher taught that music should never be approached merely as a form of entertainment. Rather, he proposed that music was an expression of “Harmonia”, the divine principle that brings order to chaos and discord. Music, just like mathematics, has a dual value because it enables humans to see into the structures of nature.

Music has evolved exponentially since that time, with its origins unknown, it is an integral part of human history. Music is found in every known society, past and present, including the most isolated tribal groups.

It seems music and the mind have always been closely connected. From the drums that motivate men to action or the calming sounds of a mother singing her child to sleep. What we can see from our history is that music has always been a part of uplifting or easing our emotions. Just like the stars gravitational orbit, music appears to bring order to the chaos of our minds.

Several studies published in ‘PLOS ONE’, have found positive changes that happen in the brain when people listen to music. One study found that listening to “happy” music – defined as classical tunes that were upbeat and stimulating – helped people perform better on tasks that involved “divergent” thinking.

Another, found that people who listened to classical music were more willing to share personal information about themselves in writing. Catherine Jackson, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Chicago, noticed a similar effect during neurotherapy sessions when she played classical music while patients engaged in deep breathing. Jackson says “Some patients who typically have a hard time sharing or discussing emotional content are better able to open up and share,” adding that music may help relax people enough to open up about painful issues. Music can be an important component for healing during a psychology session, and studies have shown that it’s a pivotal part of psychedelic-psychotherapy.

Around the 1960s, scientists began studying the relationship between psychedelics and music. The scientists found that what LSD does to your brain seems to be similar to jazz improvisation “Just like these musicians use many more musical notes in a spontaneous and non-random fashion, your brain combines many more of the harmonic waves (connectome harmonics) spontaneously yet in a structured way.”

Much of the music used within this type of therapy is not especially “trippy.” Rather, it’s is there to evoke and support emotional experiences, including emotionally intense memories, thoughts or experiences. Most of the music used in psychedelic-assisted sessions is instrumental, and if there are vocals present, they are in an unfamiliar language. This is to make sure that the music is not conveying a specific meaning or telling a specific story.
This is similar to how indigenous tribes use singing, chanting and drumming during ceremonial use of psychedelic plants. The shamans of the amazon region believe the most important tool used during Ayahuasca ceremonies is the ‘icaro’. These traditional songs sung or whistled by shamans positively influence the internal landscape of a person’s psyche. Shamans believe drinking the ayahuasca brew puts you in direct contact with the spiritual plane, opening you up to both beneficent and bad spirits. Ultimately, the purpose of the icaro is guidance.

Iboga ceremonies in Africa, are another example of where music is used to facilitate subjective effects of the hallucinogenic substance. Participants who digest the iboga root, are subjected to polyrhythmic drumming by the shamans to induce a powerful trance. Researchers who have observed this practice of spirit mediumship have been informed that music acts as a safety-rope between this world and ‘the hereafter’. The increase in rhythmic changes, which stimulates the cerebellum and hippocampus in the same way as the plant, is assumed to augment the effect of the psychedelic substance. Researchers suggest that music and sound construct the place which is visited during the experience.

Psychedelic Art

Since psychedelic treatment can assist in a wide variety of mental illness, and sound therapy can do the same, can the combination of the two be one of the most powerful tools humans have to change the connections in the individual’s brain?

Tania De Jong, founder of Creativity Australia and co-founder of Mind Medicine Australia, explores the topics of creativity, music and neuroscience in her celebrated TEDx Melbourne Talk. Tania explains “the neuroscience of singing, shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways”. She continues by stating that research shows that music, like psychedelics, fire up the right frontal lobe, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative.

Tania additionally quotes an interesting study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which measured the heart rates of choir members. The researchers found that when a group sings together long enough, everyone’s hearts start beating as one, in a unified rhythmic pattern.

This activity creates physical changes in the body including lowering the stress hormone cortisol in the blood stream to toning our intercostal muscle, improving oxygen levels to the brain and boosting our immune system. The Swedish study goes on to say “singers may change their egocentric perspective of the world to a we-perspective – this touches on the fundamental question of why music is a universal phenomenon. If collective singing creates joint perspectives, it would indeed be bonding in the deepest sense.” 

This research accurately emphasises the importance of set and setting during a psychedelic experience. Music is an essential component for these substances to be beneficial in the healing process. Music is a key element as it helps connect personal themes and emotions. Psychedelics and music work together, like a beautiful symphony.

Creativity, psychedelics and music is a relationship that seems to be connected in a never-ending cycle. Harmoniously working alongside each other to assist in fine tuning wiring in the brain. Whether that’s through providing creative solutions or provoking intensely meaningful experiences. Psychedelics help open the mind, while music acts as a sort of mental tour guide, to lead you to your destination, wherever that might be.


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DE JONG, T. 2013. How singing together changes the brain: Tania De Jong AM at TEDX Melbourne. [online]


Lehrer, J., 2012. Imagine. [Grand Haven, Ml]: Brilliance Audio.

McRae, M., 2020. LSD Treatments Can Actually ‘Harmonise’ The Brain, Study Shows. [online] ScienceAlert.

Kuypers, K., 2018. Out of the box: A psychedelic model to study the creative mind. Medical Hypotheses, 115, pp.13-16. PYTHAGORAS AND THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MUSIC AND MATH

Stewart, J., 2020. Timeline 002: Pythagoras And the Connection Between Music and Math. [online]

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Staff, P. and Staff, P., 2020. The Spiritual and Therapeutic Benefits of Icaros Songs in An Ayahuasca Ceremony. [online] Psychedelic Times.

Vox. 2020. Why Psychedelic Drugs Could Transform How We Treat Depression and Mental Illness. [online]

How to Explore Altered States of Consciousness Without Psychedelics


By Dr Alana Roy, Melissa Warner & Anna Lutkajtis

Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy puts the recipient into an altered state of consciousness, which enables them to explore and tune into their inner experience in order to enhance the quality of their lives and capacity to show up in the world.

But given that these therapies are not available to everyone as yet, we thought it would be helpful to explore some other practices that support the natural (and legal) development of altered states of consciousness. These practices can be used to help prepare individuals who are waiting for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy through the SAS-B scheme, or for those who are not eligible but would like to experience the benefits of self-exploration in altered states of consciousness.

Access to Medicinal Psychedelics

Currently, psychedelics are restricted in most countries, which means that many people have been travelling overseas to visit legal psychedelic retreat providers and psychedelic therapy centres. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions on travel caused by COVID-19, this option is not currently available for most people. People in Australia who have a diagnosis of PTSD and or chronic depression may be eligible for a psychiatric assessment and treatment with MDMA and psilocybin via the SAS-B scheme. In the meantime, for those who are waiting for their SAS-B psychedelic assisted psychotherapy session (and for those who are not eligible) there are benefits from practices that support the natural development of altered states of consciousness.

How Do Psychedelics Work in Therapy?

Psychedelics create a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by a psychedelic compound. While psychedelic altered states are highly specific to particular compounds (e.g. the psilocybin experience is different to the LSD experience) and the range of effects and responses that people experience is wide, there are certain subjective features of the psychedelic experience that occur for most people. These include changes in perception, emotion and cognition. These experiences are characterized by a sense of interconnection, insight and positive feeling with a brain state which makes it easier to shift old beliefs and perceive new ideas. Psychedelics exert these effect in part, by increasing the ‘dynamic flexibility of the brain’ by decreasing the rigidness of major brain networks, such as the Default Mode Network (DMN) and increasing communication across brain regions that don’t normally communicate (Carhart-Harris & Friston, 2019).

The DMN is area of functional connectivity associated with the ‘sense of self’ as well as daydreaming and rumination. When ‘set’ and ‘setting’ are controlled, psychedelics have also been found to reliably induce mystical experiences and changes to the sense of self, including an awareness of impermanence and the interconnection between all life. Recent research suggests that the positive therapeutic effects of psychedelics are related to their ability to induce such altered states. For example, in a recent trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, found that having a transformative experience, also described as a ‘peak experience’ or ‘mystical-type experience’, predicted positive clinical outcomes (Roseman, Nutt, & Carhart-Harris, 2018) .In a therapeutic set and setting, psychedelic experiences can provide an opportunity to reorient your habitual way of thinking and experiencing, enhancing self-agency.

Person medidating

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is an evidence-based, age-old practice of honing awareness thereby training the navigation of conscious phenomena. Against popular belief, meditation is not about silencing or quieting the mind but includes methods of increasing awareness, the capacity to ‘be with’ all conscious processes including sounds, sensations, vision, thought and emotion (Matko & Sedlmeier, 2019). The goal is to break the spell of our habitual way of thinking — to become aware of unconscious patterns of avoidance, stuckness and grasping — to cultivate an easeful state of mind.

The term mindfulness has arisen from integration of meditation into the western psychological practice. Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, and Toney (2006) completed a five-factor analysis of mindfulness traits to distil the five key components of a mindful state. The facets of mindfulness are presence, being non-judgmental, non-reactive, the ability to describe one’s inner world and the capacity for self-observation. Meditation is the practice of developing these capacities with intention, attention, and compassionate awareness (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). There is some evidence that psychedelic plants were used in rituals in the early years of Buddhism which you can read Michael Crowley’s book the Secret Drugs of Buddhism. Both psychedelics and meditation affect the DMN of the brain in similar ways, downregulating the activity of the seat of our rumination (Millière, Carhart-Harris, Roseman, Trautwein, & Berkovich-Ohana, 2018).

Meditation practice has great potential to prepare patients for psychedelic-assisted therapy. A meditation practice has been shown to be protective against any challenging experiences during psychedelic-assisted therapy, such as anxiety (Smigielski, Scheidegger, Kometer, & Vollenweider, 2019). Numerous phone apps, like Waking Up by neuroscientist and writer Sam Harris, provide an easy and effective support to make meditation part of your life.

Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation

The therapeutic effect of some psychedelics, in particular MDMA, may be due to their ability to increase feelings of compassion and empathy towards the self and others. However, while psychedelics are undoubtedly powerful healing tools, there are other ways of cultivating the connection and closeness that is the goal of MDMA assisted therapy. One way is through the practice of ‘loving-kindness’ meditation (LKM) which aims to cultivate a state of unconditional kindness towards the self and others. LKM is a particular kind of meditation, developed from the practice of ‘metta’ in traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice. Although techniques vary, practitioners of LKM typically repeat phrases such as ‘may your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being’ while visualizing a person (e.g. another person or one’s self) experiencing the outcome of such wishes.

Research has shown that LKM results in positive effects on wellbeing, including increases in positive emotions, perceptions of social connections, and vagal tone (Kok et al., 2013). Similarly, neuroimaging studies suggest that both LKM and compassion meditation (CM; which involves cultivating deep, genuine sympathy for those stricken by misfortune, together with an earnest wish to ease their suffering) may enhance activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy (Hofmann, Grossman, & Hinton, 2011). Therapeutic techniques that are inspired by LKM and CM have also shown promise in the treatment of treatment-resistant conditions such as psychosis Braehler et al. (2013) and personality disorders (Lucre & Corten, 2013). Researcher and psychologist Kristian Neff has a range of loving kindness and self-compassion meditations available on her website.

Shamanic Drumming

“From the Sami to the Siberian shaman, the Irish bodhran to the Indian dhol, the Native Americans to the Australian Aborigines, the drumbeat has led us into song, dance and into journeys through the worlds” (Weekes, 2014) Shamanic drumming involves a repetitive and rhythmic sound in a frequency range of 4 to 7 Hertz (HZ). Drumming releases endorphins, enkephalins, Alpha and Theta brain waves in the brain, which are associated with general feelings of well-being and euphoria.

These states are commonly known in shamanic drumming circles as “trance states” are associated with deep relaxation, metal imagery and meditation (also found in hypnosis and REM vivid dreaming states (Gingras, Pohler, & Fitch, 2014). Drumming is a tool that is easily accessible and is used widely around the world for solo journeys and community (free flowing) fire circles. Drumming can facilitates self-expression, movement, and somatic releases such as grief, trauma, anger, anxiety, pain and fear (Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011). Drumming has been found to have many physical, psychological and spiritual benefits such as; stress reduction; boosts in your immune system (Bittman et al., 2001), increases in mindfulness and your ability to connect with rhythm and flow of your body and the natural world.

Person writing notes

Expressive Writing

Dear diary, would you believe it, by writing in you I am alleviating both stress and improving my immune function? Believe it or not, expressive writing, the simple act of keeping a journal, can have long term benefits on stress levels, mood, confidence, mindfulness, and physical health (Pennenaker & Chung, 2011). By giving expression to our experience we translate emotions into language by writing them down, essentially making the experience graspable, suggests James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas at Austin. You also don’t have to write that long to reap the benefits of journaling. Even writing for 15–30 minutes during a difficult time can make a significant difference. Expressive writing can even improve immune function, decreasing the risk of illness (Pennebaker & Smyth, 2016). Expressive writing for 15–20 minutes a day around once a month over a four-month period was found to reduce blood pressure (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). Practices like the five-minute journal are a great place to start with a formulation of gratitude, affirmations and goal setting. The five-minute journal style is used by high performers such as Tim Ferris to ground the self and prepare for the day.


Yoga consists of a range of techniques including postures, breathing exercises, and meditations. While many people think of yoga as a physical exercise, when practiced mindfully, yoga develops strength, balance, and flexibility of both the body and the mind. Recently there has been a growing interest in yoga for mental health and research is showing promising results. For example, a study by de Manincor et al. (2016) found that yoga plus regular care (e.g. medications, complementary therapies, counselling, psychotherapy, or other mental health services) was more effective in reducing symptoms of depression compared to regular care alone.

How does yoga influence mental health? The positive effects of yoga seem to be related to its capacity to reduce stress and allostatic load, balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the autonomic nervous system, reset the vagus nerve and downregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Evidence suggests that practicing yoga might also decrease the level of certain hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, while increasing serotonin, melatonin, and gamma-aminobutyric-acid (GABA) (for a review of possible mechanisms see de Manincor et al., 2016). A recent systematic review also found a positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of various brain regions and networks, including the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and the default mode network (DMN) (Gothe, Khan, Hayes, Erlenbach, & Damoiseaux, 2019). Programs like Down Dog offer various levels of training and are an easy and accessible way to start practising right at home, for any level of experience.


Although breathing comes naturally to us all, methods of conscious breathing have been shown to have a variety of positive impacts on both mental and physical health. Breathwork has played an important role in the wellbeing practices of many cultures throughout history.

The prolific Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh once wrote “The breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness”. Changes in both physiology and consciousness can occur when changing the pacing of the breath, holding the breath, or focusing on nasal breathing. The physiology behind these changes is linked to the activation of the “rest and recover” branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the parasympathetic system (McCraty & Zayas, 2014) .

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time intervals of the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate. HRV is a reliable biological measurement that indicates the activity of your ANS, with increased variability indicating a more relaxed state (Kim, Cheon, Bai, Lee, & Koo, 2018). HRV can be modulated and trained with breathwork practices such as cardiac coherence, which involves paced breathing with a longer exhale. Practices such as cardiac coherence can provide immediate relief from anxiety and long term, can improve psychological resilience by permanently modifying neural circuits (Zaccaro et al., 2018). A variety of devices like Heart Math’s Inner Balance, which is now also available in Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, can support your breathwork and HRV training by providing live feedback. There are also a number of free apps like My Cardiac Coherence which help guide breathwork to improve HRV without biofeedback.

Holotropic Breathwork

Some breathwork practices can even produce altered states. Holotropic breathwork, was developed by Stanislav Grof, a pioneering psychedelic-psychiatrist and his wife Christina Grof, to naturally recreate aspects of the psychedelic-experience. After psychedelic therapy was made illegal in response to “the war on drugs” in the 1970s there was a great need in psychiatry for an alternative to method of increasing patient receptivity and access to unconscious material. Holotropic breathwork takes place with guided fast paced, deep breathing, which induces an alternate state of consciousness, only through the breath. One benefit of Holotropic breathwork is that the depth of the altered state can be lessened or deepened by simply modulating the breath. A report reviewed reports of 11,000 Holotropic breathwork participants found most reported significant benefits of emotional release with no adverse reactions reported (Eyerman, 2013). Further clinical research would be beneficial to develop a greater understanding of the benefits of Holotropic breathing. It is advised to only explore Holotropic Breathwork with a trained Holotropic Breathwork practitioner.

Person hiking


Research is demonstrating what many of us already know intuitively — that time spent in nature is good for us. For example, nature therapy or ‘ecotherapy’ is a form of therapy that involves spending time with nature to enhance healing. According to an ecotherapy perspective, human health is directly connected to the health of the Earth, and time spent in nature helps to remind us that we are all part of an interconnected ecosystem. Ecotherapy might involve horticultural therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, however, it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Studies have shown that simply exercising in nature (‘green exercise’) can have significant benefits. For example, Akers et al., (2012) found that during cycling, green scenery brought about greater improvements in mood compared with grey scenery. Similarly, Aspinall et al., (2015) found that people were more likely to experience meditative-like brain waves and exhibit less frustration if they were walking in a green space, compared to an urban shopping street or busy commercial district. Psychological benefits have been shown to occur with as little as five minutes (Barton & Pretty, 2010) to thirty minutes (Shanahan et al., 2016) of green exercise. One of the benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy found in trials is an increased sense of ‘connectedness to nature’ (Lyons & Carhart-Harris, 2018). Happily, going for a walk or sitting in the garden with a book and tea is accessible to many of us. Especially during periods of social distancing, going for a walk to a green space can alleviate tension and stress.


Connected to our relationship with our appreciation of the vast and complex natural ecosystem is the experience of awe. Recent research from psychology suggests that the experience of awe — the feeling evoked by being in the presence of something vast that transcends our current frames of reference — can have beneficial effects on wellbeing (Anderson, Monroy, & Keltner, 2018). This is not surprising given that awe commonly involves positive feelings of wonder and amazement. However, perhaps more interestingly, evidence suggests that awe can also significantly alter the self-concept by triggering a sense of ‘smallness’ of the self in relation to the environment and the greater world (Piff et al., 2015). This perspective shift may be beneficial because it temporarily shifts our attention away from personal day-to-day concerns and reminds us that we are part of something far greater than ourselves (Shiota et al. 2017).

Interestingly, recent research suggests that the experience of awe may be associated with reduced activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN) (van Elk, Arciniegas Gomez, van der Zwaag, van Schie, & Sauter, 2019). Neuroimaging studies that have used psychedelics such as psilocybin to induce ‘ego dissolution’ have also shown that this experience is accompanied by a reduced activation of the DMN (Lebedev et al., 2015). Therefore, seeking out opportunities to experience awe such as live music, art galleries, museums, spending time in nature, or simply allowing unstructured time for exploration may be an easy and accessible way to transcend the small self and re-connect with the mysteries of the world around us. Therapeutic virtual reality programs are also being developed which combine awe-inspiring virtual environments with meditation practices (Guardian, 2019). Even watching an episode of Cosmos, Carl Sagan’s classic voyage through our universe or David Attenborough’s Planet Earth may be enough to spark a visionary mood.

The Benefits of Wellbeing Practices

Regular wellbeing practices are rituals of personal meaning and growth which can be engaged with at any time to enhance psychological wellbeing. Practices such as eco-therapy, meditation, journaling, breathwork or yoga support the preparation for psychedelic-assisted therapy and may even be more suitable for certain individuals. Our practices act as a foundation for growth and support us to connect with the process of cultivating a meaningful life. Practices can also be a consistent and conscious container in which to connect to a local group or community either physically or online. Each day is an opportunity to turn towards the opportunities of our unique and precious life.


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The Challenges of Depression Treatment in 2020 by Prof Paul Fitzgerald

Trees and the sunset

Over recent years there has been a laudable and impressive effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions such as depression, and to engage more people with these conditions in treatment, especially here in Australia. However, this has not been accompanied by a clear reduction in the consequences of depression, such as suicide, in our community. There are lots of possible reasons for this failing but a completely under-recognised one concerns the limited effectiveness of the treatments we currently have available.

Whilst there are also issues with access to, and the effectiveness of, psychological treatments, I want to focus here on the limitations of existing antidepressant medication treatments. I want to make really clear up front that some patients are helped extremely well by these medications, they can change the lives of patients who respond to them, restoring their ability to function and lead fulfilling lives.

If you are taking one of these medications, what I am writing is not meant to persuade you to stop the medication, not at all, don’t do this! If your medication is not working, however, talk to your doctor and make sure you actively explore what other options you have. You should set the bar high and aim to get well, to get your old life back.

The main problem with antidepressant medication I want to highlight is that they are just not effective for enough people and this limits the size of the group of people who can get the life changing benefits from them that they deserve.

The largest study that has investigated the effects of antidepressants was the sequenced treatment alternatives to relieve depression (STAR*D) study [1]. This impressive effort was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, independent of the pharmaceutical industry. It involved the sequential treatment of several thousand patients with depression who received up to 4 different steps of treatment, starting with the standard SSRI antidepressant citalopram. The study examined remission rates: the percentage of the patients who effectively got better with each stage of treatment. In the first round of treatment, ~ 37% of patients became symptom free taking citalopram, only about 30% to the second medication they tried, less than 15% to the third and only 13% to the fourth. There were also significant rates of withdrawal from treatment at each level: 21% after stage 1, 30% after stage 2 and 42% after stage 3.

Although these statistics are concerning, they don’t quite paint a picture as to how bad things were as overall outcomes are determined both by whether you get better on a medication, but also how long this benefit lasts. Unfortunately relapse, a return of depression, was quite common. It was especially striking that patients who had struggled to get better initially, especially those who needed more than one medication to do so, experienced relapse at quite high rates. In fact, if a patient was in the group who didn’t respond to the first medication but then did get better, there was a greater than 50% chance that they would relapse in the next 12 months. Relapse rates were even higher if patients had required three or four courses of initial treatment.

It is possible to take these rates and to estimate the chance that a patient will respond and then remain well over a period of time: the overall value of the medication. In a paper published in 2016, Harold Sackeim did this with data from the STAR*D study [2]. His analysis found the following. The chance you would get better with the first medication, citalopram, and stay well for 12 months was about 27%. However, if a patient failed to respond to 2 initial antidepressant medication trials, the likelihood that they would respond to a subsequent medication trial and then remain well for at least 12 months fell to less than 5%. In other words, once a patient has failed to respond to 2 medications, the likelihood that they will achieve sustained benefit with the third or subsequent medication is going to be less than one in 20.

These results are really sobering and should be a siren call for attention and action. Clearly some patients do wonderfully well with treatment but many don’t and once a few medications have failed, the chances of persistent response to future trials falls substantially. This has several direct and important implications.

First, we need to think more creatively in the treatment of patients who are not getting better with initial medication treatment. Consider other options, things like repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) — my hobby horse and clearly an effective option in medication non responsive patients — , other forms of psychotherapy and even ECT. If medication treatment is being pursued and especially if the patient has responded, they need to be followed really closely. Everything that is possible from biological, psychological and social perspectives needs to be done, for example mindfulness based cognitive behavioural psychotherapy, to reduce their risk of relapse over time.

Most critically we desperately need a broader range of new accessible and affordable therapies. This is going to take meaningful investment in experimental therapeutics, clinical trials and translational infrastructure. We need to invest in the development and testing of novel medications, but also new non invasive froms of brain stimulation such as transcranial alternating current stimulation and focused ultrasound. We also need to be open to development of other novel forms of therapy, such as psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, which is fortunately now starting to get evaluated carefully. The investment in new treatment development is critical and timely as our patients really deserve that this be taken as seriously as the other major health problems in our community that attract widespread funding.



[2] Sackeim H. Acute continuation and maintenance treatment of Major depressive episodes with transcranial magnetic stimulation. Brain Stimulation 9 (2016) 313–319

Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy to Treat Sexual Abuse Victims by Priscilla Duarte and Dr Alana Roy

Image of a white flower

By Priscilla Duarte and Dr Alana Roy

Sexual abuse is a safety and health problem all over the world, affecting people of all ages, socioeconomic and demographic groups; in Australia, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence and 1 in 22 men were sexually abused, resulting in severe individual and social impacts. In the Mental Health field, it has been a challenge for professionals to properly help those victims, but recent research on Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy is leading us to a paradigm expansion in treatment.

Sexual assault survivors tend to develop a range of chronic psychic illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, problems in social adjustment, sleep difficulties, and addiction. Traditional talk therapy can be challenging or even re-traumatizing for the victims as it’s often difficult for them to talk about the trauma, or even access their own feelings. It can also be challenging to establish confidence and therapeutic alliance with professionals.

Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy has been used to great success in treatment-resistant mental illnesses. By helping the patient to alter their subjective experiences, substances such as MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca can make treatment far more effective and create optimal conditions for psychotherapy.

How do those substances work?


MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy has been successfully tested to treat PTSD, and it’s already been considered a breakthrough treatment for trauma-related conditions; This is a well-known prosocial drug and has been classified as an “entactogen” or “empathogen” due to its role in producing experiences of emotional openness and empathy, not only towards others but to oneself as well, increasing self-compassion and acceptance.

In a psychotherapeutic context, this wellbeing state facilitates building up a strong therapeutic alliance with professionals, and accessing memories and feelings with a decreased sense of anxiety and fear. Findings suggest that at the same time that empathy is stimulated, and fear and anxiety decrease, the prefrontal cortex is stimulated, improving modulating emotions and thought, facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic memories. That may explain why people can approach their worst memories and feelings with psychotherapists without being retraumatized.

Psilocybin and Ayahuasca

In contrast to MDMA, Psilocybin and Ayahuasca are classical psychedelic compounds. Generally, Psychedelic substances help to access repressed feelings and memories, and in a supportive environment can trigger the release of meaningful and cathartic experiences.

Psilocybin is a substance found in some mushroom species, and it stimulates cognitive flexibility due to its capacity to alter communication among brain networks, such as the Default Mode Network, helping the patient to break out rigid styles of thinking, feeling and behaving, and to prospect new perspectives for the future. The therapeutic use of this substance has shown good results to treat Major Depression, Existential Anxiety, OCD, and Addiction.

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian brew made from the combination of two plants, one containing DMT (commonly Psychotria viridis) and the other one containing MAOi (usually Banisteriopsis caapi), which makes the DMT able to be consumed orally as a drink. The use of Ayahuasca creates a dream-like state in the brain, enabling patients to access liminal sub-conscious content. It has been successfully used to treat depression and it is also a promising treatment for addiction.

Psychedelic Assisted Therapy is building new pathways to future mental health practices, and it’s showing a new way to effectively approach what we consider today as “difficult-to-treat” mental illnesses, including sexual abuse trauma. As such, it’s important that we legalize and regulate these kinds of treatments to make them available to people who are struggling with mental suffering, and who cannot find relief in the currently available treatments.

Find out how you can contribute to make that possible here!

Webminar session

Here is a recording of our webinar held on 22 April and facilitated by Dr Alana Roy and Renee Harvey.

The River of Dreams by Charlotte McAdam

Exploring the connection between Aboriginal Mythology and plant intelligence.

The River of Dreams-1

By Charlotte McAdam

“The dreaming”. An oral history of the world and its creation, shared by Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The concept is more commonly known to English speakers as “the dreamtime”, which is an inadequate translation, due to its complexity and non-finite nature.

Westerners refer to these stories in past tense, however, for the indigenous people of Australia they are “Everywhen” – past, present and future.

The dreaming stories are how imperative knowledge, cultural values and traditions are passed down through generations. They are linked to specific places, the environment and the cosmos and are told through mediums such as ceremonial body painting, song, dance and the didgeridoo. They are based on visionary and intuitive insights into mysteries and convey the timeless concept of moving from dream to reality, which itself is an act of creation. Aboriginal dreaming stories are among the longest surviving continuing beliefs in human history.

One of the most ancient tales is that of “The Rainbow Serpent”, known by many different names in various Aboriginal tribes. They all tell variations of this story, which speaks of a powerful, creative and often dangerous snake. The serpent is considered the ultimate creator of everything in the universe, and controls our most precious resource – water. It is closely associated with the rainbow, rain, rivers, waterholes and fertility.

The serpent can be found in nearly every ancient culture as symbols for spirit, the divine, enlightenment and the power of transformation. They are often used to represent rebirth and renewal, because of the snake’s unique ability to shed their skin.

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It is seen in the Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, which is associated with healing and used famously by the medical industry. Its referenced in the book of Genesis; where it is intimately associated with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A snake represents the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, who is similarly identified as the god of creation and a giver of life. Again, Ouroboros, which is an ancient symbol of a serpent eating its own tail that signifies the perpetual cyclic renewal of life and the eternal return.

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The serpent is also seen in Hinduism as a form of divine feminine energy known as kundalini, which means “the coiled one”. This is the invisible holy energy that yogis believe resides at the base of our spines, close to the coccyx and through kundalini awakenings travels up the spine. The object of activating this energy and its progress to the head and seventh chakra, is to awaken the pineal gland, which is believed to result in the opening of the third eye, connecting humans to subtler planes of spiritual life. This leads to the deeply occult significance of the serpent, namely the universal, divine, creative and ever-active life-force.

The serpent entity is interestingly enough one of the most prevalent visions seen in Ayahuasca experiences, the psychedelic brew used by indigenous tribes in the Amazon. It contains a blend of two plants – the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) and a shrub called Chacruna (Psychotria Viridis) which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine or ‘DMT’. In Jeremy Narby’s book, “The Cosmic Serpent”, he describes the serpent as the DNA double helix. Ayahuasca is claimed to repair the DNA of its imbibers, which could be the reason it presents as a serpent in visions to many consumers of the brew. The anthropologist proclaims that encompassing every atom of the body, there is a subatomic network of the DNA, which contains our genetic code and the memories of the entire species that has been passed on through evolution. Though research of DMT is limited, you could make the conclusion that it allows us access to a genetic level of consciousness, where ancestral memories are stored.

DMT is often referred to as ‘The Spirit Molecule’ because of its powerful, but poorly understood, effects on the human brain. This tryptamine alkaloid produces an intense psychedelic experience when ingested and appears in trace amounts in the human body and many plant species. Dr. Rick Strassman, author of “The Spirit Molecule” conducted U.S. Government-approved and funded clinical research of DMT at the University of New Mexico. Strassman popularised the notion that the brain releases large amounts of the compound when we dream, die and are born, which could explain the profound imagery we experience when we sleep. The book makes the bold case that DMT, naturally released by the pineal gland, facilitates the soul’s movement in and out of the body and is an integral part of the birth and death experience.

A naturally occurring compound, DMT is found in significant quantities in Acacia trees. The historical use of Acacias as psychoactive drugs has been reported from species in Africa and the Americas. Certain varieties have ancient traditions of sacred significance in the Middle East and India. It has been suggested throughout history that Acacia trees play an important role in religion, art and mythology. Evident in many ancient texts, the Acacia tree is often referred to as ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ and this may be because it contains high levels of DMT. However, this is only speculation as this knowledge was kept secret not only thousands of years ago, but still to this day.

The ‘Golden Wattle’ (Acacia Pycnantha), is the official botanical emblem of Australia and the reason behind our national colours of green and gold. Wattle species are considered ‘sacred’ by the Aborigines, with many being native to our land. It is well documented that these native species also contain high amounts of DMT, although the actual levels vary from species to species. The molecule can collect in the leaves, the blossoms, bark, or wood of the tree.

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Many of these species are micro endemic, which means that they only grow in one small geographical area. This makes them highly susceptible of becoming endangered or extinct.

Australian’s indigenous people have had a deep understanding of the properties of native plants for over 50,000 years, and lived sustainably with them. Over that time, 600 different dialects were spoken across the country, with only around 20 of these still remaining. This is why research of the connection between Australian Aborigines and psychedelic use is extremely limited. Initiated only knowledge, Aboriginal elders want to protect the land and prevent more destructive harvesting.

Ceremonial use of these plants is kept hidden from others in the tribe and is very rarely shared with outsiders. It is not to appear in print or be discussed in public, and this is true for a wide variety of bush medicine, not just the Acacia species.

Still there are instances of medicinal uses of Acacias by Aboriginal people which could hint at psychoactive agencies. For example, smoke treatment or smoking ceremonies, were used most commonly during childbirth or funerals. This consisted of digging a small fire pit, where leafy branches would be laid on top. The patient would either sit in the smoke and/or inhale it. Several wattle species were used for this purpose. In particular, Acacia Aneura was burnt for mothers and their newborn children to promote good health and prevent post-partum bleeding. Ether extracts from this species potentially contain up to 2% of DMT in the dried leaf mass. However, whether or not this is psychoactive is unknown.

Numerous other Acacia species were utilised by the Australian Aboriginals. Acacia Pellita is a particularly interesting medicine, as its seeds were used to relieve pain, but also its branches and leaves added to fire to calm over excited children, which strongly suggests there is some sedative effect. One of the most common medicine created by the Aboriginal people was called ‘Pituri’. It was made by the ash from the Mulga tree (Acacia Aneura) mixed with native tobacco. The ash increased the potency of the drug, enabling the latter to become more easily absorbed and better able to cross the blood-brain barrier. It causes a stimulating or calming effect on the user, depending on composition and usage. No early record exists of Aboriginals describing what chewing pituri did for them, though many Europeans left written records of the practice. From their view, Aborigines achieved two main objectives: the drug energised users thus alleviating physical stress; and suppressed appetite so they could travel long distances without food.

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Although evidence of Australian Aboriginal use of psychoactive plants is limited, you could come to this conclusion because of the similarities they have with other indigenous tribes throughout the world. It can’t be coincidental that majority of native people use similar shamanic traditions, such as ceremonial dancing, smoking, chanting, painting and meditating for the purpose of connecting with ancestral spirits. Just like the Native American tradition, our indigenous tribes also have totems, which is a natural object, plant or animal that is inherited by members of a clan or family as their spiritual emblem. They would be responsible for the stewardship of the flora and fauna of their area, as well as the sacred sites attached to their area.

Native spirituality gives meaning to many aspects of life including the relationship to oneself, other humans, animals and the environment. This ancient knowledge at its core is about understanding that everything is living and shares the same soul and spirit as humans. The use of psychedelics for healing and self-exploration has been documented throughout history and used in numerous cultures. I.e. the shamans of the Amazon’s use of DMT in Ayahuasca, the North American natives use of Mescaline in San Pedro and Peyote, and the African Sangomas use of Ibogain in Iboga. Many historians also believe that psilocybin found in magic mushrooms have been used as far back as 9000 B.C. This belief is based on representations in rock paintings by North African indigenous cultures. All psychoactive plants were recorded as significant spiritual tools to induce trance, produce visions and communicate with the gods.

Many people consider the use of psychedelics, and experiencing altered states of consciousness, as being unnatural and potentially harmful. However, these states are not alien to our nervous systems but rather they are expressions of neural pathways built into our species, which only need the necessary stimuli to be triggered. When the biochemistry of certain plants is introduced to our nervous systems, they can be powerful catalysts which have the potential to reveal, sometimes in one session, that which may take years or even a lifetime to discover by other means. If you think of your nervous system as a radio antenna, which can be tuned temporarily to a different frequency, then perhaps psychoactive plants allow us access to these frequencies. It is feasible that they are not illusory fantasies, but valid extensions of reality, of which we are usually unaware.

Plants are the great incorrupt life force, that the majority of consciousness inhabits, and account for most of the earths living biomass. Humans represent just 0.01% of all living things, yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants.

Even though plants can’t communicate with us due to the limits of our senses, maybe humans can learn from them when they are consumed. For too long, we as a technological race have been thoughtlessly damaging links in ecosystems we are only starting to understand. Research tells us that even minor changes in these systems can have enormous consequences for the system as a whole. Our relationships with, and awareness of ourselves, other beings, and our surroundings are in great need of repair. In today’s society, rarely are we reminded that we depend on plants and other forms of life for our survival, without them we would ultimately have no water, no food, no oxygen, no consciousness and therefore no life. Given the debt we owe them for our existence, we must learn to respect them and the spirit that inhabits them.

Maybe we’re not so different from our ancestors after all, perhaps we too can learn to listen to nature, and dance with the spirits of the land. My personal experience with consuming Ayahuasca in the sacred valley of Peru, left me feeling lost and fairly depressed. I couldn’t make sense of what I had been through, and found it difficult to relate to those around me. Eventually I discovered this feeling was connected with our society’s rejection of indigenous knowledge. What these plants show us, go against what is encouraged in our current culture. Obsession with productivity, financial success, physical appearance, fake identities and an addiction to validation are fuelling this generations mental health crisis.

We have lost our connection to oneness, which in essence is our connection to spirit. We are a part of nature, not separate from her, which essentially is what the Australian indigenous are expressing in dreaming stories. Europeans believed that they were teaching the natives a better way of living, but perhaps the first Australians held the secrets all along. Since westerners don’t have the language to grasp the concepts the Aborigines were portraying in these stories, it might be better understood by the lyrics of the modern- day story teller Billy Joel. Maybe we’ve all been searching for something, taken out of our soul, something we’d never lose, something somebody stole. In the middle of the night…

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ABORIGINAL USE OF WATTLES 2020. [online] Available at:

AUSTRALIANS TOGETHER 2020. Australians Together | Aboriginal Spirituality. [online] Available at:

Wise Women of the Dreamtime

Lambert, J. and Parker, K., 1993. Wise Women of The Dreamtime: Aboriginal tales of the Ancestral powers. Rochester: Inner traditions international.

The Cosmic Serpent

Narby, J., 1999. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA And the Origins of Knowledge. USA: TARCHER JEREMY PUBL.

Timmermann, C., 2019. Neural Correlates of The DMT Experience Assessed with Multivariate EEG. [online] Available at:

Ayahuasca Analogues

Ott, J., 1994. Ayahuasca Analogues. Kennewick, WA: Natural Products Co.

Plants of the Gods

Schultes, R., Hofmann, A. and Rätsch, C., 2001. Plants of The Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, And Hallucinogenic Powers. 2nd ed. Healing Arts Press.

DMT, The Spirit Molecule

Strassman, R., 2001. DMT, The Spirit Molecule: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

THE DREAMING 2020. ‘The Dreaming’. [online] Available at:

Garden of Eden

Voogelbreinder, S., 2009. Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness.

The Ethics of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies by Dr Simon Longstaff AO

Few measures better reveal the character of a society than its approach to those who suffer. Occasionally, the suffering we encounter is beyond our capacity to relieve. In those cases, we can be held to no higher standard than that we have responded with care and compassion. However, what is to be said of a society that could have offered relief – yet refused to do so? How might such a society be judged? Will history excuse those who plead ignorance, or prejudice, or a lack of moral courage to do what was not only possible but necessary? I think not.

Such is the case in our society’s response to those who suffer from mental illness yet are denied access to the increasingly proven benefits of psychedelically assisted clinical therapies. Too often, those who suffer have already given all in service of their society: military personnel, first responders who too often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Can we justify the continuing harm done to such people when we know that, in many cases, effective treatment options are locked away for no good reason? I think not.

Mind Medicine Australia begins and ends with scientific evidence.

The world abandoned prospective treatments not because they were unsafe or ineffective but because they were associated with the ‘wrong’ side of politics. So, what politics abandoned, let ethics restore.

Let us not be a society condemned for the suffering we might have prevented – if only we had made better choices, for a better world.

Dr Simon Longstaff AO is Executive Director of The Ethics Centre and a Director of Mind Medicine Australia.

Mind Medicine Australia celebrates its First Anniversary by Tania de Jong AM

Today, Mind Medicine Australia turns one year old! In our first year, we have made remarkable progress in growing public awareness of Medicine-Assisted Therapy in Australia. We are already seeing a paradigm shift in the curiosity, acceptance, and interest into the use of medicine-assisted therapy for depression, addiction, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and other challenges in our communities.

What we have achieved in our first year with your support:

The Vasudhara Foundation for Australia’s first psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy trial at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

The St Vincent’s and PRISM psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy clinical trial for end-of-life depression and anxiety, partially funded by Mind Medicine Australia, has begun. This is a momentous milestone for psychedelic therapy and research in Australia.

The progress we are making in public education was exemplified in several headlining media articles including in Australian Financial Review, The Australian, The Saturday Paper and Vogue Australia, as well as the release of our own in-house educational animation on medicine-assisted psychotherapy.

Our primary focus over the next couple of years will be on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, given their “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) in the United States and the mounting clinical evidence that supports both their effectiveness and safety.

Behind the scenes, we are working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that these therapies will be accessible and affordable to all Australians needing these treatments, so that cost and geography is not a barrier.

In the last year, we have assembled a comprehensive leadership team with expertise in non-profit development, business, neuroscience, pharmacology, public health, psychology, events and educational development.

Mind Medicine Australia is also supported by an outstanding Board, Ambassadors and an Advisory Panel of local and international experts in medicine, science, ethics, law, policy, anthropology business and therapy.

We are currently preparing for our International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness to be held in Melbourne this November. We have a global line-up of world leaders in medicine-assisted psychotherapies and other outstanding thought leaders on topics ranging from medicine and anthropology to neuroscience and ethics. We are now confirming financial, endorsing and media partners and would like as much support as possible to produce a brilliant event.

Likewise, interest in our Medicine-Assisted Psychotherapy professional development program is growing as we approach the introductory workshop to be held just prior to the Summit. This workshop will be facilitated by leading Psychotherapist and Founder of the UK TRIPP Network Maria Papaspyrou (UK) and Clinical Psychologist for the psilocybin trials at Imperial College, Renee Harvey (UK).

The full training program is expected to debut in 2021 and there is a diverse group of GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and counsellors already on the waiting list.

As we begin 2020, our vision and capacity continue to grow, as does the need to make medicine-assisted psychotherapy a legally available treatment for the increasing number of individuals suffering.

We ask for your continued and expanded support so that we can fund the path for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help treat the millions experiencing mental illness in Australia.

MMA was founded by social entrepreneurs Peter Hunt AM and Tania de Jong AM following their successful experience setting up other charities and working with people diagnosed with a mental illness.

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by Melissa Warner and Paul Liknaitzky

Melissa Warner – Education and Communications Officer
Paul Liknaitzky – Advisory panel member

In the treatment of PTSD, both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy present additional challenges. PTSD is notoriously hard to treat, with current anti-depressant pharmacotherapy achieving relief from symptoms in about 20%-30% of sufferers[i]. In psychotherapy, PTSD patients have a high drop our rate of 30%. Therapeutic efficacy may be limited by a patient’s ‘narrow therapeutic tolerance’, caused by the anxious arousal associated with traumatic memory[ii]. Current treatments are ineffective for up to 50% of PTSD patients enrolled in clinical trials[iii].

The last 15 years has seen a resurgence in psychedelic-assisted treatments for mental illness. Evidence is mounting for the safety and efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Final phase 3 trials have commenced. There are a number of well-controlled Phase 2 trials that have shown excellent safety and remarkable treatment effect sizes. Indeed, many mental health experts are now paying close attention to this resurging field, in the hope that MDMA-assisted psychotherpay may offer breakthroughs in mental health treatment of the likes we have not seen in decades.

Through a series of worldwide trials, The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has finalised Phase 2 trials for the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants underwent two or three 90-minute preparatory psychotherapy sessions which was followed by two to three supervised MDMA (or placebo) sessions. The data across these trials was collated for a paper in Psychopharmacology which showed MDMA has a 50 percent efficacy rate for treatment-resistant PTSD sufferers, compared to 23 percent in the placebo group.  The six trials included in this study were conducted between 2004–2017 with a total of 103 participants.  It was also found that once treated with MDMA, patients continue to improve as observed in subsequent follow ups a year later with 68% in remission at this time point[iv].

In fact, MDMA has been granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), expediting the transition to prescription medicines subject to positive outcomes within current trials[v]. This designation highlights the FDA’s anticipation that these MDMA-assisted therapy may offer substantial advantage over current treatments.  Critical data is expected to be released within the next. If these results confirm the treatments to be effective, MDMA for the treatment of PTSD may become available as early as 2021 in the US and psilocybin for the treatment of depression within the next five years in some countries. MDMA has recently been approved for advanced access (Compassionate Use) in Israel for patients who have not improved with current modalities. Likewise, MDMA is pending approval for a similar program (Expanded Access) in the USA.

[i] Stein, D. J., Ipser, J., & McAnda, N. (2009). Pharmacotherapy of posttraumatic stress disorder: A review of meta-analyses and treatment guidelines. CNS Spectrums, 14, 25–31

[ii] Thal S, Lommen M. (2018). Current Perspective on MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder . Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 48, 99–108

[iii] Mithoefer, M., Wagner, M., Mithoefer, A., Jerome, L., & Doblin, R. (2011). The safety and efficacy of ± 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder: The first randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(4), 439–452.

[iv] Sessa, B., Higbed, L., & Nutt, D. (2019). A Review of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 138.

[v] 2017. FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD, Agrees on Special Protocol Assessment for Phase 3 Trials

Breaking Convention: The next steps for psychedelic-assisted therapy by Melissa Warner

With mounting credentials and rising public awareness, psychedelic-assisted therapy is becoming an emerging property of the zeitgeist. With great promise, and the growing hopes of many, comes a need for foresight and acumen in the psychedelic research community. Vital to this is clinical investigation, knowledge sharing and conversation. To better forecast the emerging science and international mood, I journeyed to Breaking Convention, Europe’s largest psychedelic science conference.

I was curious to experience what happens when you bring 1200 psychedelic research pioneers, stalwarts and beneficiaries to unite in London, the first city to home a Centre for Psychedelic Research and, soon to be, model treatment centre at Imperial College announced earlier this year[i]. Breaking Convention is a leading biannual conference, gathering the international psychedelic research community since 2011. Within the picturesque walls of Greenwich University, beneath the swell of a celebratory mood – a nuanced exploration of what lies next for psychedelic-assisted therapies was seen to be emerging. As research on psychedelic-assisted therapy burgeons past the threshold of legitimacy, published data is supported by the synthesis of leading scientific and therapeutic models outside of psychedelic research.

View of the Greenwich University from the Thames

The awe inducing view of Greenwich University from the Thames – an apt landscape for a psychedelic conference

Dr Robin Carhart Harris, head of Imperial College’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, presented a model which creates a synergy between psychotherapeutic practice and neuroscience, “a middle way bridging the biomedical to psychotherapy”[ii]. Dr Carhart-Harris’ model explores how psychedelic medicines may be involved in enhancing the ability to change and heal at both an experiential and neuropharmacological level. Mental illness is characterised by invisible psychological filters which cloak everything we experience both externally and internally. Psychedelics, in a therapeutic context, change the ‘weighting’ of these filters of prior belief, opening new ways of feeling, thinking and being. This maybe, in part, due to the serotonin 5HT2a receptor, the key receptor in the brain psychedelics activate[ii].

Dr Carhart-Harris discussed two pathways within the brain’s serotonin system; “we have a system that helps us get by, and a system for no longer just getting by but for creating a substantial change”. The system associated with change is mediated by those serotonin 5HT2a receptors which psychedelics activate. 5HT2a receptors increase in number within the brain under conditions of high stress, such as sleep deprivation[iii] and hypoxia (a lack of oxygen)[iv] and may evoke an adaptive response akin to a ‘healing crisis’[v].   Recent research suggests that the 5HT2a receptor aids adaptivity through enhanced sensitivity to context, learning and unlearning, cognitive flexibility and synaptogenesis (new neuronal connections).

This mechanism contrasts with how antidepressants work in the brain, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRI’s have a noticeable benefit in around 40-50%[vii] of patients but between 50-80%[viii] relapse when daily dosing stops. Whereas SSRIs may “mitigate stress, stop the bottom from falling out and help you get by… psychedelics are not about getting by but about transformation” says Dr Carhart-Harris.  In fact, recent research has questioned if long-term pharmacotherapy is beneficial[viii][ix]. While SSRI’s can make life more tolerable, psychedelics may work by encouraging and enhancing a patient’s capacity for change, aiding them to ‘pivot’ and shift into a revised way of being. By this increase in mental flexibility, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy frequently provides a transformative launchpad. Through the biochemical and phenomenal substrate of a new and profound experience, patients may break free of overly patterned and constricted ways of being.

Regional distribution of serotonin 1A and 2A receptors in healthy volunteer measured with PET. DOI: 10.1177/0269881117725915

After all, our experiences map the available set of expectations, predictions and thus the actions and behaviours that weave the tapestry of our lives.  An experience of psychedelic-assisted therapy shifts the weighting of our prior beliefs, creating an opening and an opportunity to realign to the forward flowing self. So many of us are held back by storylines which tend to be relived throughout life. This is particularly insidious in instances of early trauma as our reality is deeply governed by our early attachment experiences[i]. In an exploration of the prevalence of a history of childhood abuse and trauma in those with addictive disorders, Psychiatrist and researcher Dr Ben Sessa suggested that maladaptive adult behaviours, such as addiction, were once “neuroadaptive behaviours” in traumatising conditions[ii]. Dr Sessa is currently investigating the treatment of MDMA in alcohol use disorder in a collaboration between Bristol University and Imperial College.[iii] Previous research has focused on the use of MDMA in the treatment of post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD). As popularly reported, MDMA has been labelled a ‘breakthrough treatment’ by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is expected to be available for the treatment of PTSD in 2021[iv].

Dr Sessa’s study will be the first study to investigate MDMA as a treatment for addiction. MDMA “selectively inhibits the fear response whilst leaving other faculties intact” says Dr Sessa, making it an ideal adjunct for psychotherapy. In both the UK and Australia alcohol use disorder is a major cause of death and ill health at great cost to families, the workforce and economy.  Roughly 90% of alcoholics will relapse within 4 years after completing treatment[i]. Dr Gabor Mate, addiction and trauma specialist, has described addiction as a patient’s ‘attempt to solve the problem’ but the key question for treatment outcomes is ‘not why the addiction, why the pain’[ii]. Yet, as Dr Sessa’s presentation points out, current first-line pharmacotherapy may work to salve pain without addressing root causes of trauma.  Trauma is notoriously difficult to treat as patients are easily “re-traumatised” by the memories of their experience[iii].  SSRI’s have a lower success rate in instances of trauma with around 20-30% of patients finding some improvement[iv].  A pharmacotherapy model predicated on getting by, in cases of trauma, frequently leads to “polypharmacy” and the addition of each new medication “papers over the gaps”, said Dr Sessa. Patients are left in stasis by treatments which metaphorically oil the torrid psychological depths of trauma, with limited long-term outcomes.

Rosalind Watts, clinical psychologist and clinical lead from Imperial College London, described an emergent shift in clinical psychology towards a treatment model which “goes towards pain, through pain rather than numbing pain through suppression.” This shift has been ushered by leading therapeutic models such as Acceptance, Commitment Therapy (ACT)[i] and Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT)[ii].  Both ACT and DBT consolidate aspects of modern psychological practice with mindfulness, an evidence-based practice originating from Buddhist philosophy.

Visual representation of the Accept, Connect, Embody (ACE) model used in trials at Imperial College

Visual representation of the Accept, Connect, Embody (ACE) model used in trials at Imperial College

At Breaking Convention, Watts introduced the foundation of a therapeutic model for psychedelic-assisted therapy: Accept, Connect, Embody (ACE)[iii]. With foundations in ACT, ACE is being used to guide trial participants at Imperial College. A paper expanding on the process will soon to be available (stay tuned!). In a vivid unveiling of the ACE process, Watts likened the psychedelic-assisted therapeutic process to that of diving for pearls – deep in the ocean of experience, hidden in cognitive clams. Healing occurs below the waves of thought, through the tangled weeds of memory, habit and pain, deep in the unconscious. Through the opening of our psychological shells, held in a willingness to confront and grapple with the matrix of our experience, psychedelic-assisted therapy may catalyse a phase transition of pain into pearls of wisdom.

Six stages of The ACE process

1. Let go: Dive down from your busy mind into the depths of your body.
2. Sense: Sweep your awareness from your fingers to your toes.
3. Feel: Open yourself up to emotion. Lift the lid of that closed shell

(What is this feeling trying to tell you? This message is the pearl. Collect it. Swim up!)

4. Self: Take deep breaths, feel expansive, warm, and calm as the sunlit sky
5. Meaning: Look at the pearl in your hand. Put into words what it represents, why it matters.
6. Intention: Make a promise about how you will honour this pear with actions.

Psychedelic research is more veracious, more widely recognised and is perhaps more consequential than ever before. The need for more options in the treatment of mental health is apparent at a glance of the statistics internationally and in our home country. Australians were the second largest users of antidepressants of thirty countries assessed in both 2000 and 2015[i]. Our nations use of anti-depressants has continued to rise since 2015 with around 25% of our elderly population prescribed. Surprised? I was surprised too, yet these untenable demographics are consistent with a 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report showing Australia to be the equal second most depressed country in the world[ii].  It is my hope that we may harden towards the vital enterprise of understanding, discussing and working towards reducing these statistics, as individuals and as a community.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy reveals traits and propensities, environmentally and neurologically, of what the path out of mental illnesses may look like.  As the trailblazers of psychedelic research continue to mature therapeutic technique; define models of neurological mechanism; assess the growing spectrum of treatment indications, psychedelic-assisted therapy may reveal to us some of the very conditions conducive to psychological health. Psychedelics are a piece of the puzzle but not the entire picture. Mental illness is not simply a condition of the individual but of their experience, environment and the conditions that gave rise to them. Trauma and abuse are not simply conditions of the individual but of a culture in which abuse propagates.

My call to action is education – and anyone can help. We all have the opportunity to learn as much as we can, to engage in conversations that refine our perspective and to support causes that are meaningful to us. As we ourselves break free of what holds us back, as we come into personal sovereignty and orient to the world – we can support others to do the same. By getting curious about the science of psychedelic medicines, we may shed light on the underlying processes of the mind, the origins of mental illness and the path towards psychological health.

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[i] Centre for Psychedelic Research, Imperial College London

[ii] Dr Robin Carhart-Harris – A Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics. Breaking Convention 2019

[iii] Carhart-Harris & Friston. (2019). REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews 71(3):316-344

[iv] Carhart-Harris & Nutt. (2017) Serotonin and brain function: A tale of two receptors. Journal of Psychopharmacology 31(9)

[v] Maple et al.  (2015). Htr2a expression responds rapidly to environmental stimuli in an Egr3-dependent manner. ACS chemical neuroscience, 6(7), 1137-1142.

[vi] Moya & Powell. (2016).  Effects of A2A and 5-HT2A Antagonists on Hypoxic and Hypercapnic Ventilatory Response in Rats Exposed to Chronic Sustained Hypoxia. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. 30(1).

[vii] Pigott H E. (2015). The STAR*D Trial: It Is Time to Re-examine the Clinical Beliefs That Guide the Treatment of Major Depression. Can J Psychiatry. 60(1): 9–13.

[viii] Mueller, T. I., Leon, A. C., Keller, M. B., Solomon, D. A., Endicott, J., Coryell, W., . . . Maser, J. D. (1999). Recurrence after recovery from major depressive disorder during 15 years of observational follow-up. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(7), 1000-1006.

[ix] Danborg et al. (2019). Long-term harms from previous use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: A systematic review. Int J Risk Saf Med.2019;30(2):59-71

[x] Vittengl. (2017). Poorer Long-Term Outcomes among Persons with Major Depressive Disorder Treated with Medication. Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics.86:302-304

[xi] Sessa. 2019. Dr Ben Sessa – MDMA Therapy: A Child Psychiatrist’s Perspective. Breaking Convention.

[xii] Drug Science 2019. First safety study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder.

[xiii] 2017. FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD, Agrees on Special Protocol Assessment for Phase 3 Trials

[xiv] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1989). Relapse and Craving

[xv] The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power: Gabor Maté at TEDxRio+20

[xvii] Mueller, T. I., Leon, A. C., Keller, M. B., Solomon, D. A., Endicott, J., Coryell, W., . . . Maser, J. D. (1999). Recurrence after recovery from major depressive disorder during 15 years of observational follow-up. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(7), 1000-1006.

[xviii] Baer R. 2006.  Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches. Elsevier.

[xix] Dr Rosalind Watts. 2019. Psilocybin For Depression: Introducing the ACE model (Accept, Connect, Embody). Breaking Convention.

[xx] Health at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators Antidepressant drugs consumption, 2000 and 2015 (or nearest year) OECD Publishing.

[xxi] ​Australia named among second most depressed countries in the world​

Letter from Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Director, Mind Medicine Australia

My hope for Mind Medicine Australia (MMA) is that it will play a direct role in reducing the incidence of avoidable suffering in Australia. I think we are obliged to reduce harm in the world by pursuing ends that are good through means that are right. Thus, MMA should always aim to relieve suffering through ethically justifiable means. Yet, even as I write these words, I feel that something is missing. The preceding formulation is correct, but it is fundamentally deficient in that it tends to obscure the gritty, disturbing reality of those who suffer. That reality can never be forgotten or glossed over. So, how are we to proceed?

In the case of MMA, our approach is to support further exploration of psychedelic-assisted treatments for specific forms of suffering associated with mental illnesses, like depression and PTSD. However, we also hope to contribute to the alleviation of other forms of suffering, such as the dread of approaching death.

For those affected, suffering is not a ‘concept’; it is a lived experience. Unless you have been there, it is hard to imagine what it is like when the ‘black dog’ takes a hold. The world literally shrinks, energies flag, the blame-of-self gnaws at your deepest parts. Then there are those who suffer PTSD – who carry permanent wounds no less deep and debilitating for being unseen.

The tragedy is that the world turned its back on psychedelic-assisted therapies that could have relieved the suffering of millions. There are many ideas as to what caused the rejection of psychedelic-assisted therapies – despite their showing so much promise during the early days of research. This is not the place to rake over those old coals – except to note the role played by Nixon-era politics (rather than science and medicine) in determining the outcome. Instead, we should be looking to the future: which is why the establishment of MMA is so timely.

MMA wishes to encourage and support scientific research to unlock new therapeutic possibilities. However, that is only half the challenge. We also need to take a lead from the emerging data and inform a change in thinking amongst regulators, policy makers, and mental health service providers. This will require MMA to name and allay old fears and prejudices. We will need to engage citizens so that they hold governments accountable for the effects of their policies.

Most politicians love to be associated with the men and women who serve in the defence forces, as police, in emergency services, etc. It is an easy thing to extol their virtue, to take advantage of a photo opportunity, to bask in their reflected glory. Easier still is to turn a blind eye to the suffering they needlessly endure, due to traumatic stress. I feel this very personally – having played some minor role in the preparation of defence force personnel prior to their deployment to theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It sickens me to think that we would be laggards in the development of promising therapies to assist those who suffer – without adequate treatment options – as a consequence of their service.

With every passing day, the science in support of psychedelic-assisted therapies is becoming more compelling. Where other treatments fail, it succeeds. The only downside to the science is that not enough of it is happening in Australia. That needs to change.

So, my hope is that in five years’ time we will be enjoying mature, evidence-based discussions about how best to fund and deploy a new class of clinical services that augment existing approaches to the treatment of mental illness. I hope that governments have developed the courage to put the welfare of their citizens ahead of their fear of controversy – and that our politicians have used their considerable skills and positions of influence to nurture a balanced and objective understanding amongst the public.

Finally, I return to my simple hope that fewer people are suffering.

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