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Returning to Our Roots

Australia, we did it. The first country to formally recognise psychedelics as medicines. Which of course, is what they were and always have been. The decision to criminalise the use of psychedelics is only a recent memory. However, history paints a different picture with psychoactive plants being used as a healing tool for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced that from July, certain psychedelics will be considered schedule 8 drugs – meaning they’re approved for controlled use when prescribed by a psychiatrist. This comes after a plethora of studies published around the healing potential of psychoactive substances to treat certain mental health conditions. The drugs include MDMA for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and psylocibin for treatment-resistant depression. Whilst the rescheduling took many by surprise, countless advocates who have been laying the groundwork for decades are relieved, including Mind Medicine Australia, who made the successful applications to the TGA.

The momentum for psychedelic therapy has been gaining traction in recent years. The conversation around altered states of consciousness is now loud and proud, and remarkably being well received. Mainstream media is saying that we are a society becoming more progressive. Yet, ancient culture would argue that we are only starting to remember our ancestral past. The scientific data undeniably favours therapeutic use of plant medicine. It seems the typically voiceless plant intelligence, is finally speaking for itself.

It was only in 1968, that use of psychedelics was outlawed by the U.S. federal government. Whilst hippy counterculture was running rampant, use of these drugs, particularly LSD, became closely associated with anti-war demonstrations. Before this time, psychedelic therapy, based on the work by psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer, was taking off. It involved a single large dose of LSD alongside psychotherapy. Osmond and Hoffer believed that hallucinogens are helpful therapeutically because of their powerful ability to make patients view their condition from a fresh perspective.

Some 40,000 patients were prescribed one form of LSD therapy as treatment for neurosis between 1950 and 1965. As well as similar psychedelics having promising results for treating depression, PTSD, addiction, OCD, relationship issues and other conditions. During this period over 1,000 scientific papers had been produced and six international conferences were held regarding the research and potential healing effects of hallucinogens.

Research came to a halt throughout the War on Drugs, with many practitioners and researchers having to go underground. The 1990s, however, saw a renewed interest in the field. During this time, Ethnobotanist and psychedelic advocate Terence McKenna published a book called ‘Food of the Gods’. This publication explored humans’ symbiotic relationships with plants and chemicals. He surmised that Homo sapiens’ cognitive leap forward was owed to their discovery of magic mushrooms. This theory was as controversial as McKenna himself.

More recently, the ‘Stoned Ape Theory’ gained a new supporter, mycologist Paul Stamets, who suggests that McKenna was right all along. At Psychedelic Science 2017, Stamets presented “Psilocybin Mushrooms and the Mycology of Consciousness” regarding the theory. He advised that the hypothesis is a plausible answer to an age-old evolutionary riddle. “What is important for you to understand is that there was a sudden doubling of the human brain 200,000 years ago. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s an extraordinary expansion. And there is no explanation for this sudden increase in the human brain” Stamets explained. McKenna’s notion constitutes a “very, very plausible hypothesis for the sudden evolution of Homo sapiens from our primate relatives.”

Even if you believe the stoned ape theory is a bit far-fetched, it does arouse curiosity around humans and our relationship to mind-altering substances. Amanda Feilding of the psychedelic think tank Beckley Foundation states, “The imagery that comes with the psychedelic experience is a theme that runs through ancient art, so I’m sure that psychedelic experience and other techniques, like dancing and music, were used by our early ancestors to enhance consciousness, which then facilitated spirituality, art, and medicine.”

Psychoactive plants have been used by non-Western cultures as sacramental tools throughout millennia. They have shaped the course of various established religions and are still used around the world today as part of religious ceremonies. This is well documented in texts from ancient Greece, and Sanskrit texts that form the Hindu religion. Modern day practice includes the Amazonian use of Ayahuasca, the Native American traditions surrounding the Peyote cactus, and the worldwide use of psychoactive mushrooms such as some indigenous tribes in South America. Not to mention suggestibility of certain Australian Aboriginal tribes’ use of the Duboisia genus, a plant hallucinogen called Pituri.

What most of these cultures have in common is using plant medicine as part of a ceremony – usually led by a shaman. They combine techniques to alter consciousness, such as chanting and drumming, to connect to the spiritual world and induce a dreamlike state. Additionally, the ceremonies are beneficial to their communities, helping them to resist certain trappings of Western culture. These communities are largely associated with lower levels of mental illness than those who are more heavily influenced by alcohol abuse.

Furthermore, it’s not only humans that show a tendency towards inducing altered states of consciousness. Evidence shows that many species of the animal kingdom similarly consume psychoactive plants, both recreationally and medicinally. From cats, cows, reindeer and other mammals to insects and fish being attracted to hallucinogenic plants and fungi.

The rise in mental health conditions around the world has certainly been one of the catalysts for the demand of alternative options. Current treatment for many has failed. As our world gets more complex and complicated, so too does our suffering mental health. With Australia now in the limelight, what does it mean to legalise these drugs for therapeutic use?

In a recent TIME article, Rick Doblin (MAPS’ founder and executive director), commented on the rescheduling in Australia. Doblin explains “Australia’s approval of these drugs may only expedite the approval process in the U.S.” However, despite their decision to make these medicines available to patients, Australian regulators have not approved any medications. Additional adequate training for practitioners must also be undertaken. Doblin says, “The drug is not the treatment – it makes the therapy more effective, but it’s about the therapy.”

Mind Medicine Australia’s Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) features a world-leading Faculty. It gives qualified clinicians the additional skills and awareness they need to facilitate psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies safely and successfully. 240 clinicians have already completed the course with many more to come. New intakes are commencing in July 2023. The 90-hour course includes a 6-day intensive utilising holotropic breathwork for all participants. This provides an effective tool for teaching therapists the power of altered states for their own healing and development. They get the opportunity to “sit” with other therapists and learn how to support the patient through these transformational experiences. It will be imperative to train as many therapists as possible over the coming years to meet the growing demand for these treatments.

An integral part of the psychedelic experience comes from its innately spiritual insights. How will therapists respond to this if they haven’t experienced it themselves or are closed off to a transcendental understanding? Dr Rick Doblin and MMA both agree that it will be important for therapists to take these medicines – resulting in a better understanding of how to integrate these experiences with other therapists in Healthy Persons’ Trials.

We need to handle this next phase with care and respectfully bridge the world of ceremony with that of psychedelic therapy. Many have voiced uncertainties around the manufacturing of these drugs. Typically, in a traditional setting there is extreme variability in dosage, which leads to drastically different experiences. This makes it difficult to measure and deal with effects for researchers and practitioners. How do you carefully create a consistent psychedelic experience? And does that perhaps take some of the magic out of it?

‘Filament Health’ is one of the countless companies trying to make psychedelic therapies more accessible. For individuals who can’t make a trip to South America, the Vancouver based company is pioneering a breakthrough medical grade Ayahuasca pill. However, the challenge now lies in striking a balance between the commercialisation and medicalisation of sacred plants.

There are also questions concerning prior and informed consent from indigenous groups for the project, as well as the allocation of money for delicate and pressing issues such as natural species conservation. On one hand, a pill can provide healing for many suffering in the West. Yet on the other, indigenous intellectual property is being made profitable whilst many remain in poverty. There must be a protocol for pharmaceutical companies respecting and paying back. Why should the West get to benefit all the time?

We need to honour the indigenous roots of the psychedelic movement. As a person who had the privilege to consume Ayahuasca in its traditional setting, I recognise the shaman’s guidance as a pivotal part of the experience. Indigenous knowledge must be incorporated to better understand these medicines and altered states of consciousness. Communities also need to be a safe container and be involved.

Rescheduling psychedelics felt like an impossible hurdle, especially in Australia. Seems the hard work is paying off, but we still have a long way to go. We must create a new paradigm. For these treatments to reach as many of those suffering as possible, we will need to develop a new set of values and skillsets. Many of us got involved in the movement because we see a new way of doing things in the world. How do we continue to push against that? With all these unknowns around how the rollout will unfold, we do know one thing for certain – the rest of the world will be watching.

REFERENCES

A brief history of psychedelic psychiatry | mo costandi (2014) The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2014/sep/02/psychedelic-psychiatry (Accessed: February 20, 2023).

Ducharme, J. (2023) The future of MDMA, psilocybin, and psychedelics in the U.S., Time. Time. Available at: https://time.com/6253702/psychedelics-psilocybin-mdma-legalization (Accessed: February 26, 2023).

Holyanova, byM. (2023) Vancouver Company creates World’s first ever ayahuasca pill, Psychedelic Spotlight. Available at: https://psychedelicspotlight.com/vancouver-company-creates-worlds-first-ever-ayahuasca-pill (Accessed: February 15, 2023).

The human brain doubled in power, very suddenly, 200,000 years ago. why? (2022) Big Think. Available at: https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/stoned-ape-return (Accessed: February 20, 2023).

Video: Honoring the indigenous roots of the psychedelic movement (2021) https://www.instagram.com/harvardcswr. Available at: https://cswr.hds.harvard.edu/news/2021/03/18/honoring-indigenous-roots-psychedelic-movement (Accessed: February 12, 2023).

Charlotte McAdam

I am a natural health consultant, globetrotter, music enthusiast and freelance writer specialising in the natural healthcare industry. A psychonaut, who draws from my life story and many experiences with indigenous ceremonies from around the world. I am passionate about the ancient teachings of these medicines and how they can help heal our relationship to ourselves, each other and mother earth.

Three Weeks Down Under: My Mind Medicine Australia Psychedelic Lecture Tour

 

I have just come back from a 3-week lecture tour of South-Eastern Australia supporting the cause of the charity Mind Medicine Australia (MMA).

They have been raising money for psychedelic research for about 4 years with considerable success. Through their efforts, the Australia government last year put up $15 million for psychedelic research and seven grants have been funded covering either psilocybin or MDMA in disorders such as treatment-resistant-depression, PTSD, anorexia, addiction and OCD, several of which I am acting as an advisor to. So, it was good to catch up with these researchers as part of my tour. MMA have organised and paid for the importation of GMP supplies of both psilocybin and MDMA. Medical-grade psilocybin has now been imported into Australia with medical-grade MDMA ready for importation, so the research is good to go once all necessary approvals have been obtained.

But the main point of my visit was to raise awareness of the current research situation for both psilocybin and MDMA, putting it into context for donors (MMA is a charity), researchers, clinicians and most importantly regulators. I gave over 15 talks to a total of over two thousand members of the public, hundreds of academics and 130 members of the TGA and the Commonwealth Department of Health.

In a demanding schedule, I gave a public lecture in Byron Bay, Canberra, and several in Sydney and Melbourne as well as to the controller of the national drug regulatory system the TGA. In addition, I met with several State health ministers, Commonwealth and State policy advisers and lead psychiatrists. In these lectures [please see summary on the MMA website]. I exploded the long-standing myths of the harms of the medicines and shared the new clinical trials and brain imaging data.

A major reason for my visit was to support local psychiatrists who have been campaigning for several years for compassionate access to psilocybin and MDMA for patients who have failed to respond to conventional therapies. Australian Federal regulations allow these drugs for compassionate use but till now, for reasons that are unclear, not one State or Territory nor the Military medicine organisations have allowed this. After discussions with several of the State and National leads for psychiatry as well as representatives of the RANZCP it became clear that many of the historical myths of these drugs were still being used to defend the lack of action. Myths such as: they are very harmful, addictive and there are safer alternatives.

I learnt from the partner of one man with depression who was denied psychedelic therapy despite having failed to respond to 96 ECTs and 24 TMS treatments and over 40 different medicines who then killed himself in despair. One has to ask what purpose was served by denying compassionate access to this man? Is there anyone who could reasonably claim that 96 ECTs might be more effective and safer than a single dose of psilocybin? My sense is that professionals were preferring to defend decisions made decades ago on the basis of limited and often false evidence rather than accept that there is now sufficient evidence of efficacy and safety in resistant depression for psilocybin and in PTSD (many trials including a phase 3 one).

To overcome this impasse MMA has made available one million dollars for an open observational study of these treatments given for compassionate access in these treatment-resistant conditions — providing real-world evidence [RWE] data in treatment-resistant patients. The terms of trial entry are listed below. The outcome data will be curated in an independently managed Register hosted at Monash University. This will use the latest adaptive and Bayesian stats methods to provide regular updates on outcomes and adverse effects. This will be the first such RWE trial in psychedelic-assisted therapy in the world and will provide vital corollary data to support the ongoing RCTs, so allowing optimal clinical roll-out once they achieve marketing authorisation. And till then they will offer hope to hundreds of Australian with mental illnesses not amenable to current treatments.

The MMA RWE Research Proposal

Background: MMA has set up a world-leading training course that has trained several hundred potential therapists. They have many hundred psychiatrists ready to engage in the trial. They have also engaged Ambassadors and an Advisory Panel of top international experts and patients and relatives with lived experience.

MMA has arranged for the import into Australia of medicinal grade psilocybin and MDMA for compassionate use to be provided for the trial

The RWE protocol for treatment-resistant patients requires for each patient

a. approval of diagnosis and treatment plan

i. by the TGA

ii. and by an independent psychiatrist

b. The treatment administering psychiatrist has been trained in whichever medicine is to be used

c. Drug treatment is given to standard protocols including preparation and integration sessions

d. For the whole period of the drug treatment session there are two health care professionals present

e. The drug treatment session is filmed for safety reasons

In addition:

A Register of Patients who are given this therapy will be set up at Monash University:

i. Entering this register will be a requirement for treatment [though patients will be anonymised] –

ii. Patients will give informed consent as the treatment is off-licence

iii. The register will contain pre-and post-treatment data including standard measures of illness severity

iv. Data collection on any adverse effects

v. Patient-reported outcomes especially quality of life and other relevant outcomes e.g. sleep and wellness scores

The register will provide an independent report in a regular fashion on outcomes and safety data distributed to all stakeholders on a regular basis

Clinical efficacy will be evaluated using adaptive and Bayesian methods that have been shown within another compassionate-use clinical-register program to provide the most optimal statistical evidence of efficacy

We believe that with the above in place, psilocybin and MDMA can be administered safely to patients who have been failed by current treatments.

This compassionate use programme for treatment-resistant depression and PTSD with a Register which is constantly updated will be the first of its kind in the world. As well as helping many hundreds of patients who are currently failed by psychiatric medicines and/or conventional therapy, it will provide critical Real World Evidence (RWE) of the value of these treatments that will make a significant contribution to the growing clinical knowledge derived from commercial and other RCTs on these medicines.

RWE is now being acknowledged as a vital part of the overall evidential base for new medicines development and roll out. The former head of the UK NICE and MHRA Sir Michael Rawlins said this in his RCP Harvey Lecture in 2008: [1]

“Randomised controlled trials, long regarded at the ‘gold standard’ of evidence, have been put on an undeserved pedestal. Their appearance at the top of ‘hierarchies’ of evidence is inappropriate; and hierarchies, themselves, are illusory tools for assessing evidence. They should be replaced by a diversity of approaches that involve analysing the totality of the evidence base.” As a result, the UK NICE and MHRA are now asking for RWE as part of decision-making [2]. It seems likely other national regulatory authorities will follow suit.

References

  1. Rawlins, M. (2008) De testimonio: on the evidence for decisions about the use of therapeutic interventions The Lancet Dec 20;372(9656):2152–61. DOI: 10.1016/S0140–6736(08)61930–3
  2. https://www.nice.org.uk/corporate/ecd9/chapter/introduction-to-real-world-evidence-in-nice-decision-making

Professor David Nutt’s Lecture Tour – November 2022

Mind Medicine Australia was delighted that Professor David Nutt, Head of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, could come to Australia for 3 weeks in November 2022. As a result of the discussions and following feedback from various meetings and events, the following Position Statement on Compassionate Access was confirmed by MMA.

Professor Nutt presented keynote presentations and lectures including Q&A panels with the Professor, a range of researchers, clinicians and those with lived experience. Sell-out events took place at Byron Theatre, Paddington Town Hall and the University of Melbourne with the International Keynote Topic ‘Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies: History, Neuroscience and Myths’.

Professor Nutt also presented for a large audience hosted by Professor Russell Gruen and Professor Paul Fitzgerald of the Australian National University’s College of Health and Medicine and was the Keynote Speaker at a Symposium for the Monash University, University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute Neuromedicines Discovery Centre on ‘Next Generation Medicines for Better Mental Health’ alongside Professor Arthur Christopoulos and other leading researchers in the field. VIP events included lunches and dinners with philanthropists and other interested partners and supporters at the Australian Club in Sydney and Melbourne.

He also presented to Adjunct Professor John Skerritt and over 130 staff at the TGA, a large group of clinicians and researchers from Black Dog, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler’s Advisor, Australia’s Chief Psychiatrist and the Department of Health, clinicians, researchers and parliamentarians from Canberra and the ACT Government, the Mental Health Minister and the Shadow Health and Mental Health Minister for NSW, NSW Department of Health Psychiatrists, Joint Health Command regarding Veterans mental health and suicide, the RANZCP, Professor Patrick McGorry and Professor Mal Hopwood and psychiatrists from the Albert Road Clinic in Melbourne.

There was significant media interest in his visit, and he was interviewed by many of the major media in Australia. Please be inspired by some of the articles and interviews here.

We are deeply grateful to Professor Nutt for his outstanding support and contribution to MMA. We have received wonderful feedback about his presentations and celebrate his knowledge, wisdom, warmth, compassion and wit.

Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Charlotte’s Experience with Psilocybin

Joshua Tree

 

In this blog series, we are sharing some of the healing stories from our recent book: Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia. In this blog, we share the story of Charlotte and her experiences with psilocybin.

 

During the summer of 2019, I once again found myself searching for answers. I was visiting Joshua Tree in the United States on a road trip I had planned with friends to see a band tour concert. At that point in my life, I had been experimenting with psychedelics for a while. For the last few years, I spent my time travelling to and from America, using cannabis recreationally. I had flown to Peru the previous year and partook in three separate Ayahuasca sessions. Shortly after, I consumed Peyote in a traditional Native American setting and picked ‘magic mushrooms’ in Australia.

*****

The reason I keep returning to psychedelics is the truly magical healing you receive when you use them at the right time in your life, with the proper ‘set’ and ‘setting.’ Trips, undeniably, do have the potential to go wrong. However, if these medicines are used with intention and respect, they can open people up to incredible insights about themselves and the world around them.

*****

I had been an avid traveller for many years and understood the power of manifestation and synchronicities. Knowing how to use your intuition and creativity are skills well-practiced when you’re a young girl exploring wild, yet potentially dangerous situations in countries, unfamiliar to your own. During my many explorations in America, I met and became very close to a group of friends. These people ended up playing a central role in my life and personal growth.

They travelled with me on this adventure, and we got to talking about our life experiences. We shared vulnerable parts of ourselves, which was therapeutic in itself. One of the women and I both suffered from anxiety and negative self-beliefs, which manifested in different health conditions. I developed an eating disorder and my friend developed trichotillomania (see Glossary). For many people with these disorders, it is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, anxiety, tension, boredom, loneliness, fatigue, or frustration.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from some sort of mental health struggle. It started when I was in primary school, where I dealt with depression and anxiety because of an undiagnosed mental disorder. Feeling hopeless and alone, I developed an eating disorder, which then was followed by extremely low self-esteem and self-worth. I noticed patterns of addiction with other substances, but nothing compared to the high of a binge and purge cycle. I had very little confidence by the time I turned eighteen.

Eating disorders and trichotillomania are extremely difficult conditions to treat. Both of us had tried psychiatric medications and talk therapy which helped, but just like most recovery journeys, we found ourselves reverting back to our dysfunctional behaviours.

During this trip, we consumed a North American species of magic mushrooms. The experience was wonderful and insightful. We laughed and cried, but more importantly, we all started questioning our automatic behaviours. We spoke deeply about our body image and felt like we strengthened our relationship with ourselves, each other, and we deepened our connection with nature.

We all reported similar feelings of self-love. Instead of knowing we are worthy of love, we actually felt worthy of love and held the memory of that sense in our bodies long after the experience. We bonded over music and played tracks that helped guide our trip. Because I have researched and had many experiences with these medicines, I understood the importance of doing them correctly. We felt safe in our environment and with each other to be able to explore our inner psyches.

As a result, I better understood the impact that my inner turmoil has on my physical body. Since a major component of eating disorders is the control and restrict aspect, I was able to clearly see how damaging black and white thinking can be. That insight, coupled with a deeper admiration for nature as a result of the psychedelics, has improved how I eat. I now eat more consciously, instead of punishing myself if I eat the ‘wrong’ thing.

This experience in Joshua Tree had positive long-lasting effects on my life, as well as the lives of the other women in our group. It created a profound connection between us that I can reflect on when I start to feel my disorder symptoms returning.

Psychedelic medicines have the potential to help such a variety of mental conditions, that it’s practically criminal to not allow them to be used in a clinical setting. In saying that, psychedelics are not a ‘cure all’ — they are a crash course that can speed up recovery, which is desperately needed for those whose mental illnesses are potentially life threatening.

Integration is just as important as the experience itself. We are all in need of healing in some capacity, it is a part of being human, no one’s life is perfect. However, healing is a journey, and psychedelics with proper integration are powerful medicines that can help us lead healthier and happier lives.

 


 

Curious to read more? Read the Stories of 53 Australians That Experienced Psychedelic Healing, In Their Own Words.

This book will show you the deeply human side of the effect this medicine can have, and give you hope, inspiration, and clarity around what is possible for Australians when we get fair access to these breakthrough medicines.

If the Medicine Works Shouldn’t We All Have Access to it? A Recent Poll of Australians Says Yes We Should By Scott Leckie and Tania de Jong AM

(As published in The Daily Telegraph on 16th February 2022)

The painful COVID-era will fade but it will never be forgotten. This unanticipated period will be remembered for many things – death, suffering, economic and social disruptions and words like lockdown, iso, quarantine, social distancing, Zoom, omicron…

But beyond changes in the way we live and communicate, it is the devastating toll on our mental health that will continue for generations to come. Depression, anxiety, trauma, suicide, addiction, loss of livelihoods, domestic violence and broken families are increasing. We have never felt more isolated, alone and uncertain about our futures.

Our families and communities are suffering, and we urgently need access to preventative and curative medicines and medical care that is safe and effective.

Mental health charity Mind Medicine Australia recently commissioned Essential Research to conduct a representative opinion poll of more than 1,000 Australians. It found that only a small minority was aware of the immense promise of psychedelic-assisted therapy, with just 11% of those asked aware of the medicinal properties of these substances and their potential use in controlled settings. This is despite over 160 recent studies by some of the most prestigious research institutions – Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, Oxford, Yale to name but a few – clearly showing the quantifiably positive impacts that these substances can have when used as medicines in combination with therapy, under the guidance of trained doctors and therapists in a clinical environment.

These ground-breaking treatments offer therapeutic access to either psilocybin (the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’) or MDMA, a synthetic medicine. These therapies have been scientifically proven to be safe, non-addictive and effective cures for depression, trauma, end-of-life anxiety and addictions after a short treatment program. Remission rates range between 60-80% with no serious adverse events.

Both medicines have been granted Breakthrough Therapy Status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States to fast-track their approval. This designation is only given to medicines that may prove to be vastly superior to existing treatments.

Although the recent poll showed that only one in nine Australians was aware of these impacts, when they were informed about the results of recent studies, their views changed dramatically towards supporting access to these promising medicines that remain illegal under Australian law. 67% agreed that ‘People experiencing terminal illness should have the choice to use psychedelic-assisted therapy to ease end of life distress’, 63% agreed ‘People experiencing mental illness should have the choice to access them in medically-controlled environments and as an alternative option for treatment-resistant patients’’, and 60% agreed ‘The difference between medical and recreational use of psychedelic substances should be legislatively recognised’.

Trials are underway in Australia and the demand for these therapies is accelerating rapidly. As ever more legal jurisdictions legalise, decriminalise or otherwise tolerate these substances – Oregon, Washington DC, Jamaica, Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere – support will grow further. Given our publicly funded health care system, mental health epidemic and human right to access to all forms of safe and effective medicine, huge majorities rightly believe that people should not be prevented from legally accessing medicines in therapeutic settings that can help them in ways that no other pre-existing medicines can.

An official decision by the Therapeutic Goods Authority last year refused to reschedule both psilocybin and MDMA as Controlled Medicines (Schedule 8). This rescheduling would make it easier for doctors to access these therapies in clinical environments for treatment-resistant patients through our Special Access pathways. If these legislative changes continue to be delayed, many more desperate people will seek the treatments underground. Everyone deserves the chance to get well.

A new international campaign on the Right to Universal Access to Safe and Effective Medicine is now underway seeking support for a declaration to this effect, while another initiative is seeking the international rescheduling of psilocybin under the UN drug control regime. There is a growing global movement and a trillion dollar market is emerging. Continuing the status quo not only makes little sense in terms of public health but it is also cruel. There is increasing awareness that help is available, yet these treatments are being withheld even though existing medicines don’t work for the majority.

Arguably, continuing to deny access to these medicines is also a clear human rights violation. Refusing and making illegal therapeutic access to safe medicines with a proven effect violates a whole range of internationally recognised human rights, including the right to the highest attainable level of physical and mental health, the right to access all forms of safe and effective medicines, the right to access pain medication, the right to dignity of the human person, and even the right to be free from inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that we all deserve access to high quality treatment. As the pandemic becomes endemic, let’s turn our collective minds to ensuring that everyone everywhere has access to each safe and effective medicine. Medicines that are non-addictive, non-toxic, voluntarily taken, administered by trained medical professionals and implemented lawfully, without the threat of sanction for either the patient or the doctor involved.

This issue is not only relevant to conservative, progressive or ecological voters. It is personal because an estimated 50% of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime. The people are ready and support change. It’s time for the politicians, political parties and all our Governments to follow suit and act with urgency to avoid further avoidable suffering and suicide.

Scott Leckie

Scott A. Leckie is an international Human Rights lawyer, Law Professor and Director and Founder of Displacement Solutions, an NGO dedicated to resolving cases of forced displacement throughout the world, in particular displacement caused by climate change. He also founded and directs Oneness World Foundation (www.onenessworld.org), a think tank exploring questions of world-centric political evolution and new forms of global governance.

He hosts Jointly Venturing, a podcast dedicated to the question of world citizenship, and manages the One House, One Family initiative, an ongoing project in Bangladesh building homes for climate displaced families. He regularly advises a number of United Nations agencies and conceived of and was the driving force behind more than 100 international human rights legal and other normative standards, including UN resolutions – most recently the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States. He has written 22 books and over 250 major articles and reports.

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is the co-Founder and Executive Director of Mind Medicine Australia. She regularly presents on psychedelic-assisted therapies, mental health and wellbeing at major conferences and events around the world and to Governments, regulators, clinicians, philanthropists and the general public.

Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Umbrella Foundation, Creative Innovation Global, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk has sparked international interest. Tania has garnered an international reputation as a performer, speaker, entrepreneur and a passionate leader for social change. Her mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Healing A Troubled Mind: A Personal Perspective On Victoria’s Stagnant Mental Health System by Dr Eli Kotler

Person standing near lake

The Royal Commission’s report on the Victorian mental health system sent shockwaves throughout the State, one of which landed squarely on a patient of mine. They noted that Victoria’s mental health system is “not geared for…change”. Just to ensure we got the message, and despite a Federal Government TGA approval, my request to treat my traumatized patient with MDMA-assisted therapy was declined by our state’s regulatory authority.

To be clear, my disappointment lies not with the state government regulators, nor with the medical opinions suggesting MDMA-assisted therapy should not be used for treatment of traumatized patients (despite excellent emerging evidence that it works with little risk). I understand these opinions, though I certainly do not agree with them.

My issue is a more troublesome one. Underlying these opinions is a problem with how we practice psychiatry, which in turn reflects the alienated community in which we live. Mental health paradigms are always a reflection of the society which supports them. You see, us Australians are alienated both intra-personally (from our own emotional worlds) and inter-personally.

Our current paradigms tend to view mental illnesses in a biologically reductive way. In other words, mental illnesses are both understood and treated primarily as biological diseases (which they are not). The posters at your doctor’s rooms will teach you – depression is just like any other medical disease, such as heart-failure or emphysema. In this paradigm, entities such as addictions and depression are seen as distinct phenomena. They are treated in our current system as totally different diagnoses by entirely different teams. The alienated individual who suffers from depression and addiction is labeled with the alienating and erroneous term ‘dual-diagnosis’, which enshrines the division. Furthermore, if addictions are understood (as they are) as inherited conditions (which they are not), and primarily as brain diseases based in dysfunctional dopamine rewards circuits, they will be primarily treated as inherited brain diseases, by doctors with medications.

But what if we have got it all wrong (which we do). You see, addictions are heritable but not inherited (there is a big difference, I recommend looking it up), and the chemical dopamine in no-way explains addictions. Rather, it is the human experience of dopamine (along with numerous other chemicals) which explains addictions, suggesting that addictions are rooted in difficulties with the human experience of life, rather than the neural correlates of those experiences.

The events which lie at the root of illnesses such as addictions and depression are those which overwhelm the mind’s ability to process and integrate. We know that the presence of adverse childhood experiences is present in the majority of (if not all) people with addictions and chronic depression. But rather than seeing these conditions as consequences of trauma (which they are) and treating the underlying emotional issues (which would help), our society mistakes the symptoms (depression and anxiety) for the disease itself. We treat depression as depression and addiction as addiction and all the while we are missing the forest for the trees. The real disease is the high prevalence of trauma, alienation, and neglect in our society. After all, it is these conditions which twist and distort the mind into the contortions which fill the latest catalogues of mental illnesses.

Which brings me back to my patient. Traumatized when young, she has suffered from every diagnosis a psychiatrist’s finger can point at. She has had every treatment a medical guideline can fathom. Yet her trauma remains in place, because no-one has been able to reach it. Suddenly, on the horizon, a change is coming. Treatments like MDMA-assisted therapy appear to touch the root of the trauma, allowing individuals to process the unintegrated parts of their minds, and offer the chance of real healing. But we don’t change. Our outlooks have ossified, our diagnoses have desiccated. And all the while we suffer in our own blindness. People continue to kill themselves, and my patient will continue to suffer in silence until the Victorian Government allows me to access a new treatment which may finally bring peace to a troubled mind.

Dr Eli Kotler

MBBS MPM FRANZCP Cert. Old Age Psych. AFRACMA

Eli is a consultant psychiatrist and psychodynamic psychotherapist. He is the Medical Director of Malvern Private Hospital, an addiction and trauma hospital in Melbourne. Eli completed the inaugural CPAT course, and has since been on its faculty. He was appointed as the course’s Australian Course Director in 2023.

As a psychiatric trainee, Eli was awarded the Royal College of Psychiatrists Trainee Prize for his Scholarly Project on Depression, as well as a Research Committee Trainee award for his work on Philosophy of Mind. As an adjunct lecturer at Monash University, he oversees medical students on their addiction medicine rotation. He has been invited as a key-note speaker to several conferences and meetings to discuss addictions, trauma and psychedelics. Eli sits on the Committee of the ANZMHA to help organise their yearly addiction conference. He also sits on the inaugural Clinical Advisory Group for the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Eli is an Associate Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, and is a member of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs. He also has extensive research experience with novel therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.

Due to his interest in trauma, Eli has been appointed an Independent Medical Examiner by WorkSafe Victoria. He has been appointed by the Minister for Workplace Safety to sit on the Victorian Medical Panels, and is an expert witness in historical abuse cases.

Clinically, Eli works in a psychodynamic framework, and attempts to help his patients find freedom from their addictions and trauma through relational experiences, and experiential self-awareness. He is part of the AFL Player’s Association referral network for addiction issues, and his interests in depth-psychology and neuroscience led him to found the Melbourne Neuropsychoanalytic Group.

Mind Medicine Australia Celebrates 2-Year Anniversary by Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM

Second anniversary

 

This week Mind Medicine Australia turns two years old! In our two years, we have made remarkable progress in growing public awareness of Psychedelic-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 mental and physical illnesses in our communities.

In order to help those who are suffering with mental illness we have focused on four key strategic areas. Please see our strategic objectives to build the ecosystem in Australia for these medicines here.

Strategy

What we have achieved in our two years with your support:

Awareness and Knowledge Building

Access to Medically Approved Therapy

Professional Development Program (Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies)

Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies (CEMHT)

The progress we are making in public education was exemplified in several headline media articles including in the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, the Age, Herald Sun, The Saturday Paper and Vogue Australia and media interviews including with The Project, ABC and other stations.

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 strong clinical evidence that supports both their effectiveness and safety. We are also interested in developing other medicines to treat a variety of conditions.

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 in medically-controlled environments, so that cost and geography doesn’t become a barrier.

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

Mind Medicine Australia is also supported by an outstanding Board, Ambassadors and an Advisory Panel of over 60 local and international experts in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, research, science more broadly, ethics, law, policy, anthropology, business and therapeutic practices.

We are currently preparing for our International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness to be held at the Sofitel 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 appreciate as much support as possible to produce a brilliant event.

Our much anticipated Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies launched in January 2021. We are thrilled to welcome a wonderful group of GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, addiction specialists and counsellors.

As we begin 2021, our vision and capacity continues to grow, as does the need to make medicine-assisted psychotherapy a legally available treatment through our medical system for the increasing number of individuals suffering as a result of the pandemic, environmental challenges and global trends which challenge social cohesiveness and social inclusion.

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. This is personal for every one of us.

“Psychedelics are to the study of the mind what the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy.” – Dr Stanislav Grof

Enormous gratitude to all of our supporters, partners, Board, Ambassadors, Advisory Panel, Team, Chapters and volunteers.

This is a collective mission and we need all of you by our sides.

On behalf of Mind Medicine Australia

Peter Hunt AM, Chair & Tania de Jong AM, Executive Director

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is the co-Founder and Executive Director of Mind Medicine Australia. She regularly presents on psychedelic-assisted therapies, mental health and wellbeing at major conferences and events around the world and to Governments, regulators, clinicians, philanthropists and the general public.

Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Umbrella Foundation, Creative Innovation Global, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk has sparked international interest. Tania has garnered an international reputation as a performer, speaker, entrepreneur and a passionate leader for social change. Her mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Peter Hunt AM

B.Com, LL.B

As an investment banker Peter Hunt AM advised local and multi-national companies and governments in Australia for nearly 35 years.  He co-founded one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership and was Executive Chairman of Greenhill Australia. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

Peter is an active philanthropist involved in funding, developing and scaling social sector organisations which seek to create a better and fairer world.  He is Chairman of Mind Medicine Australia which he established with his wife, Tania de Jong, in 2018. He regularly presents to Governments, regulators, clinicians, philanthropists and the general public on psychedelic-assisted therapies and the legal and ethical frameworks needed to ensure these treatments can be made accessible and affordable.

He founded Women’s Community Shelters in 2011. Peter is a Director of The Umbrella Foundation. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia.  He was formerly Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines.

Peter was made a member of the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2010 for services to the philanthropic sector.

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