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It’s Time To Give Our Military The Medicine They Need

Military

Following the American decision to bring their troops home from Afghanistan after some 20 years in that troublesome country, Australia will also soon do the same. After losing 41 Australian lives, 261 wounded in action, facing war crimes allegations and billions of dollars of expense, thousands of our country’s bravest men and women will soon be coming home. Sadly, many of the more than 39,000 soldiers who served in Afghanistan will have varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is nothing unique to the ADF. All soldiers everywhere suffer from PTSD. It’s just a question of degree; whether they know it or not.

Imagine the trauma then, when they come to learn that upon their arrival back in the lucky country, how unlucky they are that they still cannot access medicine with an incredibly successful track record in treating PTSD, that is cheap, plentiful and, most importantly, that works.

More than 150 recent empirical studies have shown the remarkable success that the therapeutic use of either psilocybin (the naturally occurring active ingredient in what are colloquially known as ‘magic mushrooms’) and MDMA (known more commonly as ecstasy) can have with people suffering from PTSD. These medicines can assist them in dealing effectively and permanently with the traumas of war. Yet when they return home, our soldiers will not have legal access to these medicines.

Both psilocybin and MDMA remain illegal in Australia and cannot legally be prescribed by doctors for patients, even though more and more people realise that such substances can be of great benefit in dealing with a range of mental disorders including PTSD. They cannot be grown or manufactured in Australia, cannot be imported and cannot be medically prescribed for patients in need, including returning military personnel. Yet they are available through Expanded and Compassionate Access pathways in many of our closest allies, including the United States, Israel, Switzerland and Canada.

Among other critics of the status quo, Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre says that it is unethical and inhumane to withhold these treatments from those who are suffering. Existing treatments for PTSD lead to remissions in only 5% of patients compared to remissions for 60–80% of those receiving 2–3 medicinal doses of MDMA or psilocybin combined with a short course of psychotherapy.

In a recent trial supervised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 105 participants (many of whom were veterans and first responders) had been suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD for an average of 18 years. Just three medicinal doses of MDMA with a short course of psychotherapy led to remission in 52% of cases immediately and in 68% of cases at the 12 month follow up.

Brigadier General Sutton, New York City’s Commissioner of Veteran Services said: “If this is something that could really save lives, we need to run and not walk toward it. We need to follow the data.” This same approach should be taken in Australia and inform the recently announced Royal Commission into Veteran Suicide.

Former Defence Force Chief, Admiral Chris Barrie has repeatedly confirmed that psychedelics offer the “only possibility of a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder”.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has launched a new Centre for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research (one of 6 similar Centres recently launched in the UK and USA), to discover novel and more efficacious therapies for PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction and other stress-related conditions in the veteran and civilian population. The Centre will focus on studying MDMA, psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds.

Think of the immense suffering, mental illness and suicides that could be prevented if our veterans could finally get well through having access to all medicines that could potentially help them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could lead meaningful and healthy lives contributing their skills and courage to our community?

Our health care system and the services it provides is in many respects the envy of the world. Medicare and private health services provide immediate access to both care and medicine for everyone in need. No one falls through the cracks in this country and no one has to show up in an Emergency Department just to access a doctor, as is the case in one of our closest allies, in particular. We should be justifiably proud of this, but also open to how this remarkable system could be improved.

After all, international laws, including those that have been ratified by Australia clearly recognise the right of everyone to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. This must mean that everyone needing effective medical treatment should have access to all medicines that work, including psilocybin and MDMA which are proven to be safer and more effective than existing treatments, particularly when given under professional medical supervision.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently considering rescheduling these medicines, which if successful, will mean that this medicine could then be prescribed by professionally trained doctors for patients that they feel will benefit from its use. It does not mean that these substances will be legal in a recreational sense. However, they will be part of the full medicinal arsenal available to all trained doctors to provide to all people in need, including our soldiers. With mounting pressure, the TGA recently announced an Independent Review on rescheduling both psilocybin and MDMA. A final decision is expected within months, and there is a large and growing chorus of voices who are calling on the TGA to provide medical access to these treatments to prevent further avoidable suicides and suffering.

Mind Medicine Australia and a rapidly growing global network will soon be releasing a short and, what we hope will be widely applied, Declaration on the Right to Universal Access to All Forms of Safe and Effective Medicine which calls upon governments everywhere to make available, to all persons, every reasonably accessible form of safe and effective medicine — regulated only for reasons of safety and efficacy, and then only to the extent strictly necessary.

Many people, and especially our soldiers, simply cannot afford to wait any longer.


Scott Leckie is an international human rights lawyer. Tania de Jong AM is a social entrepreneur and the Executive Director and co-Founder of the charity, Mind Medicine Australia.

This article was originally published by The Spectator on 6th May 2021.

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 a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 5 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. 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 ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Where Psychedelics and Intimacy Meet

Mushrooms

The Psychedelic experience is inherently intimate. These medicines are not passive, rather they demand that we pay intimate attention to our inner world, confront it and allow ourselves to be transformed. Many people that work with psychedelic medicines in more traditional settings speak of the medicines as personified beings that come and work directly with them at the deepest levels of their psyche; if that is not intimate then I don’t know what is! [1] In a more modern therapeutic setting, what does it mean to work in an intimate way with a medicine? How do we navigate the intimacy that these medicines evoke in the context of this re-emerging paradigm of healing in the West? [2] Below I share seven aspects of intimacy that are worth considering before embarking on your inward journey.

 

1.     In the days before, hold your own energy close

 

In preparation for undertaking medicine work with Psychedelics participants are sometimes encouraged to not have sex in the days leading up [3]. As a Sexologist and Relationship Counsellor, there are a few reasons why this makes sense. During sex we merge our energy with another person and the oxytocin (bonding neurotransmitter) that is released in the brain afterwards drives us to want to be with that person (preferably wrapped up in a cuddle with them and not facing the world) [4]. The psychedelic experience is a journey out of the safety of our usual relational containers and into the unknown, so it can be a good idea to start that separation gently and in advance. Secondly, during orgasm energy is released outwards which is the reason we can feel so relaxed after orgasm [5]. Holding onto this energy for a few days (including refraining from self-pleasure) can ensure that you have lots of energy to get you through the medicine work, and lots of energy that can fuel the content of your psychedelic journey [6]. Taking this further, prepare in the days before Psychedelic Therapy by not dissipating your energy via news, social media and other people’s opinions or issues. Hold yourself close and spend time alone in nature, eat nourishing and gentle foods and take some time to reflect on what is currently present for you at a deep level.

 

2.     Preparation with your therapist or sitter

 

Most of the studies since the 1990s utilising Psychedelic Assisted Therapy have used two therapists or sitters [7]. This is preferable as it is such an intimate space to share, even if there is no touch and very little speaking. Touch is rarely utilised in modern counselling sessions, even giving a counselling client a hug at the end of a session can be taboo [8]. There are very good reasons for this- the intimacy and vulnerability that is created in therapy has been taken advantage of in the past [9]. People who have backgrounds of sexual assault, abuse and other types of trauma can find it hard to articulate their needs around touch and may go into a traumatic freeze response if it is initiated [10]. A discussion about touch is therefore crucial and must be approached with the highest level of integrity, clarity and openness. Psychedelic experiences differ greatly from one hour counselling sessions and there are times when you may want to reach out for a caring hand to hold, or where your therapist or sitter may feel compelled to place a reassuring hand on your shoulder. In order to ensure this is safe and welcomed, it is encouraged to practice before hand with your sitter or therapist what touch will be like during the Psychedelic experience and negotiate how you might navigate it within the session, limited to holding of a hand or a comforting hand on the shoulder.

 

3.     Sensuality and Arousal During the Psychedelic Experience

 

The Psychedelic experience is as varied as people who have taken these journeys, and yet there are some common themes and similar things people go through [11]. Feelings of blissful rapture to intense fear and everything in between are reported; but with the presence of a therapist or sitter and good integration, even the most difficult of times can be extremely beneficial [12] [13]. People regularly feel a deep sense of compassion and love for themselves where before they were not able to access any caring or kind self-sentiments [14]. Pleasure and sensual sensations can flow through the body as energy is unlocked and moved. Arousal may be felt and like anything else that comes up in session, is to be allowed [15]. Using anger as an analogy; if anger arises in the session, then it is advised to let yourself experience this. Be with it, see what is there with an attitude of curiosity and go with it, you will not be at risk of acting it out in a harmful way. In a similar vein, do not be afraid of experiencing arousal in session, if it arises just let it be there. Despite stigma, it is extremely rare for psychedelics to render someone totally unaware of what they are doing, and your therapist or sitter is trained to support you graciously through anything that happens.

 

4.     Healing Relational Wounds through Psychedelic Medicine

 

People say that Psychedelics have helped them to go towards difficult emotions they have regarding people that have hurt them, [16] or to work through grief for people no longer in their lives. Others have a sense of being with people who have died in a way that gives them comfort and understanding that they weren’t aware of before [17].

 

The relationship with your therapist or sitter and feeling them there with you in the Psychedelic experience is a major part of the healing process. Most traumatic experiences are relational wounds. Another person has caused harm, people who were meant to love and protect did not, people who you turned to for help dismissed or shamed you. To heal these experiences within the Psychedelic session (if they come up), we need to feel the presence of our sitter or therapist as a deeply compassionate and non-judgemental witness. [18]. We bathe in the sense that this time you will not be left by yourself to cope. This time someone is there to hold your hand through the fear, shame or self-blame.

 

This time, we are not alone.

 

Sometimes the therapist or the sitter becomes a proxy for a parental figure or another important person. Internally the person journeying can project these qualities onto them, in what is called transference by counsellors. In this context it is not a negative process, the therapist or sitter may not have an exact understand of what is happening, but healing can occur through this mechanism if the therapist or sitter remains present, compassionate and supportive [19].

Couple Sky

5.     Intimacy with Everything

 

One of the hypotheses in understanding why Psilocybin is of such benefit for people who are facing the existential angst of imminent death through a terminal illness is that it regularly provides people with a sense that they are an intimate and loved part of the whole. People who have gone through these studies commonly say things to the effect of ‘I felt at One with everything’ or “I somehow knew that I am loved and always will be”. This deeply intimate experience transcends individual relationships and tends to stay with people as a deep knowing. Many people also come out of a psychedelic experience holding a sense of connectedness with all of nature [20]. With good integration these feelings of knowing can become a healing panacea in times of fear and doubt.

 

6.     Holding the experience intimately afterwards

 

When we experience something that was either glorious or extraordinarily difficult, we are compelled to speak of it, often over and over to integrate and process what we just went through. While the speaking of an experience does create a sense of narrativizing it into an experience that can be remembered rather than something we are still going through- it is not advised straight after Psychedelic medicine work. Even if the work was done within a legal research study and therefore it is safe to talk about, there is something about telling it to everyone that can water it down. Probably the most common attribute in people describing their journey is the sentiment ‘It’s hard to explain”. In trying to squash the experience into words too quickly we can lose some of the healing benefits that lie within which cannot be easily described and may be more of a felt sense [21].  Ideally stick to some gentle sharing of how you are straight after with your therapist or sitter, then come back the next day to slowly start discussing your process. Integration groups are also wonderful safe spaces to talk about your experience [22]. Just be mindful that your unfathomable realisations or explorations to the darkest depth of your soul may not be easily understood by your family or friends, so spend some time thinking about what and how much is most helpful to share.

 

7.     Coming back to intimacy with loved ones

 

The person who left the family, friendship group or relationship to do Psychedelic medicine work is not necessarily the person who returns [23]. We often want our loved ones to “Get It!”. We have woken up to something new and special and naturally want the same for the people we care about. However, utilising the mantra ‘softly, slowly’ is crucial. Your loved ones may not have a context in which to frame or understand what you are talking about. They may feel scared that this new you may no longer value the relationship you have with them. These understandable insecurities can make it feel like they are not supportive of you but go gently with them and give them time to adjust to potentially new dynamics as you integrate what you have experienced into daily life. Reassure them and ask explicitly for what you need; a cuddle? Some quiet time together? Some time by yourself to journal or meditate? [24]. And try not to neglect your relationships, it can be thrilling to experience and learn a new way of being in the world, be sure to share this (gently) with those you love. The move from feeling disconnected to a sense of connection is one of the change agents in psychedelic therapy [25]. Be sure to take advantage of this potential shift and step into community spaces that feel like they are a good match and are safe. Healing is ultimately experienced through the power of our relationships and not something we can do alone. [26].

 

References:

 

1.     Goldstein, R. (2021). Ayahuasca and Arabidopsis: The Philosopher Plant and the Scientist’s Specimen. Ethnos, 86 (2). 245-272.

 

2.     Nichols, D., Johnson, M. and Nichols, C. (2017). Psychedelics as medicines: An emerging new paradigm. Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics,  101 (2) 209-219.

 

3.     Orsolini, L., Chiappini, S., Papanti, D., Latini, R., Volpe, U., Fornaro, M., Tomasetti, C., Vellante, F. and De Berardis, D. (2020). How does ayahuasca work from a psychiatric perspective? Pros and cons of the entheogenic therapy. Human psychopharmacology, 35 (3) e2728

 

4.      Behnia, B., Heinrichs, M., Bergmann, W., Jung, S., Germann, J., Schedlowski, M., Hartmann, U. and Kruger, T. (2014). Differential effects of intranasal oxytocin on sexual experiences and partner interactions in couples. Hormones and behavior, 65 (3) 308-318

 

5.     Sewell, K. W. (2005). The experience cycle and the sexual response cycle: Conceptualisation and application to sexual dysfunctions. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18 (1), 3–13.

 

6.     Mike L. & Elena A. (2011) Tantric orgasm: beyond Masters and Johnson, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 26:4, 389-402

 

7.     Pilecki, B., Luoma, J., Bathje, G.,  Rhea, J. and  Narloch, V. (2021)  Ethical and legal issues in psychedelic harm reduction and integration therapy. Harm Reduction Journal. 18.

8.     Harrison, C., Jones, R. and Huws (2012). We’re people who don’t touch”: Exploring clinical psychologists’ perspectives on their use of touch in therapy. Counselling psychology quarterly. 25 (3) 277-287.

 

9.     McNulty, N., Ogden, J. & Warren F. (2013). ‘Neutralizing the Patient’: Therapists’ Accounts of Sexual Boundary Violations. Clinical psychology and psychotherapy. 20 (3). 189-198

 

10.  Lloyd, C., Lanius, R., Brown, M., Neufeld, R.,  Frewen, P.,  McKinnon, M. (2019) Assessing Post-Traumatic Tonic Immobility Responses: The Scale for Tonic Immobility Occurring Post-Trauma. Chronic stress. 3. 2470547018822492-2470547018822492

 

11.  Breeksema, J. Niemeijer, A,  Krediet, E.,  Vermetten, E. and Schoevers, R. (2020). Psychedelic Treatments for Psychiatric Disorders: A Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Patient Experiences in Qualitative Studies. CNS drugs. 34 (9). 925-946

 

12.  Carbonaro, T., Bradstreet, M., Barrett, F. MacLean, K., Jesse, R., Johnson, M. et al. (2016). Survey study of challenging experiences after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms: acute and enduring positive and negative consequences. Journal of. Psychopharmacology. 30, 1268–1278.

 

13.  Barrett, F.,  Bradstreet, M., Leoutsakos, J. Johnson, M. and Griffiths, R. (2016). The Challenging Experience Questionnaire: Characterization of challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. Journal of psychopharmacology 30 (12) 1279-1295.

 

14.  Stansbury, K. (2019). The Influence of Psychedelic Induced Ego-Dissolution on Self-Compassion. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

 

15.  Carhart-Harris, R., Erritzoe, D., Haijen, E.,  Kaelen, M. and  Watts, R. (2018). Psychedelics and connectedness. Psychopharmacology. 235, (2) 547-550.

16.  Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R. and Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory. Journal of psychopharmacology. 33 (9) 1076-1087

 

17. González, D.,  Cantillo, J., Pérez, I.,  Farré, M.,  Feilding, A.,  Obiols, J. and  Bouso, J

(2020). Therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in grief: a prospective, observational study. Psychopharmacology (4). 1171-1182

 

18.  Phelps, J., Anthony P. and Grob, C. (2017). Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists. The Journal of humanistic psychology. 57 (5), 450-487

 

19.  Taylor, K. (1997). Ethical caring in psychedelic work. Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for the psychedelic studies. 7 (3) 6-30

 

20.  Kettner, H., Gandy, S.,  Haijen, E. and Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). From Egoism to Ecoism: Psychedelics Increase Nature Relatedness in a State-Mediated and Context-Dependent Manner. International journal of environmental research and public health. 16 (24). 5147

 

21.  Noorani, T. (2019). Sciencing the mystical: the trickery of the psychedelic trip report. New writing 16 (4). 440-443

 

22.  Trope, A., Anderson, B., Hooker, A., Glick, G.,  Stauffer, C. and Woolley, J. (2019). Psychedelic-Assisted Group Therapy: A Systematic Review. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 51 (2). 174-188

 

23.  Nour, M., Evans, L. and Carhart-Harris, R. (2017). Psychedelics, Personality and Political Perspectives. Journal of psychoactive drugs. 49 (3). 182-191

 

24.  Gorman, I., Nielson, E.,  Molinar, A., Cassidy, K. and Sabbagh, J. (2021). Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration: A Transtheoretical Model for Clinical Practice. Frontiers in psychology. 12. 645246-645246

 

25.  Watts, R., Day, C.,  Krzanowski, J., Nutt, D., Carhart-Harris, R., Anthony P. and Grob, C. (2017). Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression. The Journal of humanistic psychology, 57 (5). 520-564

 

26.  Zender, R., Olshansky, E. and Groer, M. (2012). The Biology of Caring: Researching the Healing Effects of Stress Response Regulation Through Relational Engagement. Biological research for nursing. 14 (4). 419-430

My Awakening…

Here I was a successful entrepreneur living a millionaire lifestyle. I had made it! Or so I thought. But something was missing. I didn’t feel the happiness that I’d been promised by society. I felt lied too, that I’d been somehow tricked.  The success, I had valued and strived my whole life for, had left me empty and in a marriage that had died in the process. I don’t think anyone can describe the loss of a marriage. The loss of the family you had always wished for, the loss of everything you essentially knew, the look of despair in your children’s eyes, the dreams you had created together. Your combined friends, family and memories.  They all disappear. In the midst of all the trauma, change and never-ending tears something else dawns on you too.

I am now…alone.

In my aloneness, I grew afraid. The world had lost all meaning and I felt completely disconnected from everyone and everything. Nothing bought me joy and I was trapped in extreme suicidal ideations that left me unable to work and be social. My family was unable to understand me, and I was gradually losing all my friendships. Leaving me more disconnected and isolated. For 3 years I struggled through, tortured by my thoughts and grief. I went to every western Doctor and tried various medications that made my symptoms worse. Then I tried yogis, naturopaths, psychics, body somatic work, acupuncture, counselling, hypnosis and meditation. I even went vegan and moved to the beaches of Byron Bay. You name it, I did it. I was desperate!

Synchronistically, in a yoga class, I met a girl that had just come back from the Amazon and said she had been healed of her depression.  She told me that what I was experiencing, in shamanic terms, was what can only be described as a ‘dark night of the soul’ and that the mystics before me spoke of an experience that is likened to a deep spiritual depression or existential crisis that was necessary to live an authentic life.  They saw it as an initiation. A rebirth. A transformation from the old self into a profoundly liberated state and new way of being in the world. Could this explain my intense and prolonged suffering? The reason why I’d divorced, why I’d lost everything?  At last, I felt understood, I felt hope, I felt called into something greater.

Within 3 months, I was sitting in the Peruvian jungle at the feet of a renowned and very powerful shaman.

The Amazon is not an easy place to be. But It’s hauntingly beautiful with the most ancient lush green trees. The tallest I’ve ever seen. With beautiful hummingbirds and colourful butterflies that land on your arms. You are also dangerously aware that there’s anacondas, tarantulas and piranha around too. But I had nothing to lose, because I already felt dead. So what was there to be afraid of?

I was wrong.

I was living with an indigenous tribe in very poor conditions. The shaman spoke no English but was so welcoming and kind. He told me in Spanish that my spirit was very sick and my energies needed to be realigned. I had ceremonies in which he sung icaros (their magical songs) and gave me various plant medicines including Ayahuasca (the vine of the soul). The first night was one of the most frightening nights of my life. I was confronted with all my grief and trauma and challenged to find my power within it. I felt the shaman and medicine, training me to be strong, resilient and face all my fears. I’d had an initiation that was sacred and profound.  I felt new, clean, strong. Most importantly, I had been given the ability to dream again. I could actually see a future. I had direction, I had hope. I was ready to dream my new life into being.

But the greatest gift of all was that I wanted to live.

Words can’t describe the sense of freedom and possibilities that I now felt. I realised the key to my mental and spiritual health was the complete letting go of my old life, past, ancestral history, culture, trauma and subconscious programming.  It was more than a psychological healing though. I had awakened into something new. It was like choosing the red pill in the matrix.

“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more”. Morpheus

I’d chosen a different path to others. I wanted the TRUTH. It was a far cry from Western medicine and taking a pill to fix things quickly.  I don’t believe in a happiness pill. There is no such thing. I’d worked hard for my mental health. I’d fought hard for my life. And it was all without a doubt for my 2 boys. I had to get well for them. The greatest loves of my life.

My way is not for everybody. I’d searched for my own truth, and worked out what was true for me. In the process, I was profoundly connected with something greater than myself. The realisation had dawned on me that I was never ……alone. It really was a divine journey that had been orchestrated by a divine force to lead me back to my authentic self, to bring me home.

How lucky am I, how blessed to have taken this path that others would traditionally interpret as a descent into mental illness. It was far from that!! I’d reconnected with life, humanity, my divine purpose. I guess it’s in times of crisis that we finally yield and discover who we really are.  I have a peaceful acceptance of my past now, as painful as it was, and I realise that nothing happened by accident. I see clearly now why I had to go through that suffering. I felt like a warrior returning from war into a bright, new world filled with possibilities.

On my return from the Amazon I worked for World Vision Australia as Head of Social Enterprise, which enabled me to economically empower women globally.  I was then voted in the top 50 Business People of the Year in Australia by Inside Business magazine for my contribution to humanity. I am currently CEO of a national organisation and a guest lecturer for Monash University. Most importantly I am a loving and present mum to my two gorgeous boys.

Big love Sim

Healing A Troubled Mind: A Personal Perspective On Victoria’s Stagnant Mental Health System

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, holds an academic position at Monash University through the Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, and is the medical director of Malvern Private Hospital, the first addiction hospital in Australia. He is a member of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD). Clinically, Eli is interested in the deep connections between trauma and addiction and works within a neuro-psychoanalytic framework. Eli has overseen the development of a clinical program for addictions focused on trauma, particularly developmental trauma. This has led to an interest in medication-assisted trauma therapy. Eli worked for many years researching neurodegenerative diseases and was the principle investigator on numerous trials for novel therapeutics. He is founding member of the Melbourne Neuropsychoanalytic Group and welcomes new members. Through involvement with Monash University, Eli oversees the addiction rotation for medical students.

Utilizing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy to Help Process Challenging Experiences with Psychedelics

EMDR

The last twenty years has arguably led to a renaissance of scientific investigation into the therapeutic benefits and risk of a range of psychedelics. LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin and ayahuasca that are increasing in popularity as alternative therapies used to address a host of mental health challenges [1] [2] [3]. These include anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction [4] [5], existential fear, relationship issues, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder [6] [7].

Psychedelics can cause profound shifts in consciousness, personal belief structures, relationships and alter the trajectory of one’s life [8]. Although psychedelics may provide you with 10 years of psychotherapy in one night this does not necessarily equate to 10 years of practical insights that can be translated and integrated easily into one’s daily life. Many people require psychological support and a range of integration practices to process these profound states of consciousness [9].

High quality psychedelic integration can help facilitate deep exploration and processing of the bio-psycho-social-cultural-spiritual and political domains of the individual. Examples of these can be found across multimodal and complementary therapies such as somatic experiencing, movement, music, nature, exercise, nutrition, acupuncture, massage, yoga, breathwork, art and creative forms of expression, rituals, prayer, meditation and psychotherapies [9] [10].

 

What is EMDR and how can it help people integrate their psychedelic experience?

The writer is the National Practice Manager at Mind Medicine Australia Psychological Support Services. One of the writer’s psychedelic integration tools in her tool kit is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR can be used to support psychedelic assisted psychotherapy as an integration tool. Clients safely confront material that arose during the psychedelic experience and continue to process meaning, body sensations, emotions, blocked and challenging content.

EMDR was originally designed to reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories [11]. There have been more than 30 controlled outcome studies with positive results conducted on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. It is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense and Australian Medicare system.

For a detailed outline of the EMDR phases and results of clinical trials refer to www.emdr.com/frequent-questions.

EMDR had expanded beyond trauma and is often used to help clients access new perspectives, improve self-esteem and to shift and expand rigid belief systems [12]. The writer has utilized bilateral stimulation, which is a left and right repetitive eye movement technique with clients requesting psychedelic integration. The client follows the therapist’s fingers and is assisted to concentrate on a distressing memory, emotion and/or challenging and dynamic psychedelic content whilst moving their eyes rapidly back and forth [13].

People naturally do bilateral stimulation every night in during REM sleep. The left to right eye movement is believed to be storing our memories from the day [14]. Retrieving a traumatic memory and following eye movements requires more working memory capacity than is available and subsequently the clients working memory is taxed. Consequently, the client is able to experience the distressing content with fewer associations with fear, anger or sadness.

As the process unfolds, the client often taps into somatic experiencing (e.g., crying, shaking, sensations in their gut, throat etc.) and one’s natural ability to locate helpful beliefs, perspectives and anchors to process and integrate the challenging experience emerge. Clients often report a sense of experiencing new insights and downloads (e.g., information, shifts in core beliefs, a new way to interpret and experience the psychedelic content). Furthermore, clients can process any left-over tensions, emotions and energetic blocks from the previous psychedelic experience; this often results in clients feeling more relaxed, grounded and a sense of ease with the psychedelic material.

Bilateral movements also happen when we walk, run, write, read, cook, play music, and when we are making art. Therefore exercise, hobbies, creative arts, and expressive arts are effective ways to help people with trauma healing and integrating challenging psychedelic experiences.

 

Can EMDR be used to support Hallucinogen-Persisting Perception Disorder?

HPPD is a very rare condition which causes a person to keep reliving the visual element of an experience caused by psychedelics. Little is known about why HPPD occurs and the specific mechanisms behind the experience. However, it should be noted that HPPD does not cause people to have full delusions [15]. HPPD flashes are typically characterized by seeing bright lights, circles, blurry patterns and various size and shape distortions [15]. Due to the persistent nature of these flashbacks and the persons inability to stop them from occurring randomly people can experience agitation, fear and anxiety [15].

 

There are two types of HPPD

Type 1: This is where people experience HPPD in the form of random, brief flashbacks.
Type 2: People with this kind of HPPD experience ongoing changes to their vision, which may come and go.

[16].

The writer has also utilised EMDR to help people who are experiencing HPPD to confront the distressing visual content, and the associated emotions and physical responses. Throughout the session the client visualizes the hallucination and what this image means for them in regard to associated negative beliefs, fear and anger. Clients can organically construct a more meaningful narrative (whilst releasing somatic movements, sounds and sensations) and often reported seeing the visual/hallucination in a new light. In so doing, clients often make the commitment to have a different relationship with the imagery post sessions (e.g., as a reminder to ground, a teacher, a cue to slow down etc.) thus integrating the psychedelic experience and overcoming anxious and fear-based states.

To date there is little research regarding the efficacy of EMDR, psychedelic integration, and/or treatment of HPPD. Future research could explore how the mechanisms of bilateral stimulation (left and right repetitive eye movement technique) and strong therapeutic rapport can support these clinical experiences.

If you would like to know more about psychedelic integration and EMDR please email alana@mindmedicineaustralia.org

 

References

[1] J. Daniel and M. Haberman, “Clinical potential of psilocybin as a treatment for mental health conditions”, Mental Health Clinician, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 24–28, January, 2017. doi:10.9740/mhc.2017.01.024

[2] Curtis, R, Roberts, L, Graves, E, Rainey, HT, Wynn, D, Krantz, D & Wieloch, V 2020, “The Role of Psychedelics and Counseling in Mental Health Treatment”, Journal of Mental Health Counseling, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 323–338, October, 2020. doi:10.17744/mehc.42.4.03.

[3] J. Sarris et al. “Ayahuasca use and reported effects on depression and anxiety symptoms: An international cross-sectional study of 11,912 consumers”, Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, vol. 4, 100098, pp. 1–8, 2021. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadr.2021.100098

[4] M. Winkelman, “Psychedelics as medicines for substance abuse rehabilitation: evaluating treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca”, Current drug abuse reviews, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 101–116, 2014. doi:10.2174/1874473708666150107120011

[5] A. Loizaga-Velder and R. Verres, “Therapeutic Effects of Ritual Ayahuasca Use in the Treatment of Substance Dependence — Qualitative Results”, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 46, no. 1, 63–72, doi:10.1080/02791072.2013.873157

[6] M. Ot’alora et al. “3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine- assisted psychotherapy for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized phase 2 controlled trial”, Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 32, no. 12, pp. 1295–1307, 2018. doi:10.1177/0269881118806297

[7] M. Mithoefer et al. “Durability of improvement in posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine- assisted psychotherapy: A prospective long-term follow-up study”, Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 27, pp. 28–39, 2013. doi:10.1177/0269881112456611

[8] R.R Griffiths et al. “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial”, Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 30, no. 12, pp. 1181–1197, 2016. doi:10.1177/0269881116675513

[9] A. Garcia-Romeu and W.A. Richards, “Current Perspectives on Psychedelic Therapy: Use of Serotonergic Hallucinogens in Clinical Interventions.” International Review of Psychiatry, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 291–316, 2018. doi:10.1080/09540261.2018.1486289.

[10] J. Guss, R. Krauseand and J. Sloshower, “The Yale Manual for Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy of Depression (using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Therapeutic frame)”, 13th August 2020, [Online], Available: https://psyarxiv.com/u6v9y/

[11] F. Shapiro, (1989). Eye Movement Desensitization: A New Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry [Online]. 20(3), pp. 211–217. Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/reader/pii/0005791689900256/pdf

[12] Griffioen, B.T. Van Der Vegt, A.A. De Groot, I.W and De Jongh, A, “The effect of EMDR and CBT on low self-esteem in a general psychiatric population: A randomized controlled trial” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 1910, pp. 1–12, November, 2017. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01910

[13] F. Shapiro, “Efficacy of the Eye Movement Desensitization Procedure in the Treatment of Traumatic Memories” Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 199–223, 1989. doi:10.1002/jts.2490020207

[14] F. Shapiro, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. New York: Guilford Press, 2001.

[15] J. Halpern and H. Pope “Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder: what do we know after 50 years?”, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 109–119, 2003. doi:10.1016/S0376–8716(02)00306-X

[16] L. Orsolini et al. “The ‘Endless Trip’ among the NPS Users: Psychopathology
and Psychopharmacology in the Hallucinogen-Persisting Perception Disorder. A Systematic Review”, Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 8, pp. 1–10, November, 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00240

Dr Alana Roy

Ph. D Psychology, B. A Social Work (MHSW)

Dr Alana Roy is a psychologist, social worker and therapist and has spent the last 13 years working in mental health, suicide prevention, trauma, sexual abuse, family violence and the disability sector. Alana has worked with borderline personality and dissociative identity disorder in various roles in the community such as: Rape Crisis Centres with victims of ritual abuse, childhood and adult sexual assault, supporting women in the sex industry, survivors of human trafficking and now as a psychedelic integration specialist.

Alana focuses on harm minimisation, community and connection. She is dedicated to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and plant medicines. She has engaged with, and provides integration therapeutic support services for communities across Australia. Alana works at several universities as a Research Fellow and supervisor of students on placement. Alana passionately advocates for public policy, community education and legislative changes so that these treatments are regulated and supported by a strong, connected and skilled sector.

Psychedelic Healing Stories: Michael Raymond

Abstract

 

My name is Michael Raymond. I served in the Airforce for 16 and a half years, serving initially as an Avionics Technician, working on Fighter Jets such as the F-111 and F/A18F Super Hornet. 10 years into my career I commissioned to become an Electrical Engineer Officer and worked on a number of projects, as well as what many refer to as the Australian version of the Pentagon near Canberra. As a side job I also became a Motorcycle Instructor and by the end of my Defence career was regularly coaching the fastest rider group at the Sydney Motorsport Park racetrack. My other passion was martial arts: training and fighting in Boxing, MMA, Shaolin Kung Fu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

In late 2018, I was medically retired after battling with mental and physical illness, including, Major Depression, Anxiety Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had been in a state of suppression following some near-death experiences both in and out of service, one including an engine explosion during a flight with the US Airforce, narrowly avoiding impact with the ground and involving an evacuation of Waikiki beach, Hawaii. I managed all my struggles by working myself harder, training harder, pushing my limits more on the motorcycle and drinking on the weekends to blow off the steam. I was also prescribed antidepressants and sleeping medication, some of which I later found out was above the recommended maximum dosage.

Prior to my personal research and experiences with Psychedelic Therapies, I held many negative assumptions and judgements regarding the use of psychedelics which deterred me from any consideration of their healing qualities. I believed they were for party goers or drug abusers who had little interest in being a productive member of society or successful within the professional workspaces. I also had a preconceived notion that they were dangerous, addictive, or may even cause a mental breakdown. It is funny to look back on now.

I also had little understanding of my own sub-conscious behaviours and beliefs, which prevented me from exploring potential avenues for healing, self-love, self-growth and acceptance. I was able to keep everyone at an arm’s length, avoid truly dealing with my deepest fears, traumas, lack of self-worth and unknowingly perpetuate a decline into depression and anxiety, to the point of feeling like suicide was my only reprieve. It was in that darkness and in a failing relationship, my partner at the time convinced me to investigate psychedelic plant medicines and their success with helping people recover from severe depression, as well as other mental illnesses. I was intrigued enough to max out the credit cards and book my flights to South America the next month.

My first introduction to Psychedelic Plant Medicines was Ayahuasca and San Pedro at a healing retreat. We had to follow a regimented routine of preparation both mentally and dietary in order to prepare for the ceremonies with the traditional South American Shaman. This included stopping my anti-depressant medication which had terrible side effects, and I was severely dependent on them for mental and emotional stability. I was very sceptical from the start and held little hope for anything significant to change.

Taking Ayahuasca was life changing for me. I was humbled and vulnerable in the ceremony. The medicine seemed to have a mothering energy, disciplining me with cold hard and undeniable truths but also holding me and supporting me through the emotions which inevitably followed when having them highlighted. I had always struggled to cry and could not understand why a man would show what I perceived as weakness. In these moments of nausea and confronting truths, I let go of my grip of control and had a much-needed release of deep sadness I had been holding for far too long.

The next day I felt renewed. I found my sense of humour which my friends and partner had missed. I was laughing and felt joy and peace with the world for the first time in years. It felt like the weight of the world was no longer on my shoulders. The following ceremonies offered me healing beyond what I could have imagined, they all felt like I was conversing with the wisest parts of myself or some spiritual teacher such as Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts. It was truly life-changing, and my depression seemed to evaporate. I could see the beauty in living and my self-worth no longer felt conditional. Someone had pressed the reset button on my brain. I was more present and felt this peace within me, the type I only ever glimpsed after riding motorbikes on the racetrack at full speed. My ADHD mind was silenced! It was as if I had defragmented my mind and it was now running beautifully again.

Like any healing modality there is no magic pill to instantly resolve chronic and complex traumas; rather, the healing process is often in layers. On my return from South America this proved true as I faced new and emerging layers of my trauma. Thankfully, I was free from my dependence on anti-depressants after 10 years on them and had shifted the stigma around psychedelic plant medicines. I also now knew I had a way to shift my perspective when my internal program of pessimism, lack of hope and/or purpose had run me into a dead negative dead-end once again. Journeying with plant medicines had revealed my intrinsic worth purely from my existence, and that life is worth living.

After my initial experiences I started to understand that taking the psychedelic plant medicines was only one aspect of the healing. The integration, support, intention and understanding of the medicine all contributed to the success of my recovery from cannabis dependence and mental illness in the long term. When combined with exercise, purpose, community engagement, diet and other healthy lifestyle choices, the results were drastically improved, and I was astonished at how powerfully healing these journeys were.

Having experienced both the Western medicine (anti-depressants, talk therapy psychotherapy) and Psychedelic Plant Medicine approach to my mental health, I reflected on the results. I cannot speak for everyone of course, but for me the difference was significant to the point of wanting to share my story.

If we were to imagine myself as a sick tree, the anti-depressants solution would be in line with building a greenhouse around the tree. It is an externally dependent relationship that did not improve my resilience and only sheltered me from feeling the full brunt of life’s weather patterns. The Psychedelic Therapies approach, however, felt like diving deep into the soil to uncover the origin of what may be causing the sickness; then finding that fundamental issue and taking action to improve the soil and health of the roots system. In doing so improving its resilience. I felt exactly this, more resilience and self-empowerment to take on what life throws at me.

With my community of friends and three of my bothers having served in the military, I am aware there will be many barriers to shifting the stigma around Psychedelic Therapies. I do, however, believe that therapeutic use of Psylocibin and MDMA are a godsend for Veterans who may be dealing with complex traumas, such as PTSD and other mental health issues. If rescheduled, I have no doubt about the positive effects organisations such as Mind Medicine Australia will have on the mental health of so many of those who are suffering within the veteran and wider community. So that they are no longer just surviving life, they are thriving.

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