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Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Kerry’s Healing with DMT

 

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 Kerry and her experiences with DMT.

Trigger warning: suicide attempts and suicide ideation


What led you to seek healing through psychedelic medicine?

I grew up with no love, experiencing “trauma by omission” as quoted by Gabor Mate. I hated myself and suffered deep self-loathing throughout my childhood until my first experience with DMT at fifty-eight years old.

When I was ten years old, I developed bulimia and when I was sixteen, I fell in love with the first boy who came along and got pregnant. I was forced to give my first child up for adoption. My self-loathing got worse and I descended into multiple addictions including alcohol, drugs, and always, food.

I eventually started a family but was still haunted by my self-loathing. I tried multiple suicide attempts until my children made me promise not to do it again, but I still wanted to die every minute of every day. I tried every medication possible and every alternative course, book, and modality without relief from the crushing and incessant wish to die. I was a chemotherapy nurse, listening to patients wanting to live one more week, one more month, while my diaries were full of longing for ‘god’ to give me cancer. By that stage, I was deep in the throes of alcoholism and drug addiction.

What was your psychedelic experience like?

I was offered the chance to take DMT by a therapist. As soon as I took the dose, I felt an instant love for self and for ‘source,’ which is something I had never felt before. This experience healed me in a profound way.

How have you been able to integrate this experience? How has it contributed to your healing process?

I gave up all my physical addictions and released my negative and destructive behaviours. I started yoga and Vipassana meditation, which developed my feelings of connection to source. I started to eat nutritious, whole foods and my health has drastically improved. My family and friends are blown away by the changes.

It took fifty-eight years of hell and truly wanting to die every day, to have my healing experience with DMT. I now appreciate life and I have a deep love for myself, and strong faith in my connection to ‘source’, ‘god’, creator.


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.

Granny’s Trips by Kerry Soorley: How Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies saved my life

“Trauma by omission” as Gabor Mate calls it, was my childhood. I grew up feeling abandoned, rejected and with so much self-loathing and shame from the earliest of times and my memories have always been that I have been on a self-destructive personal path.

I was the last of six children from a Catholic family with about 18 years between the eldest and me. I fell pregnant at 16. I was overjoyed to be in love and having a baby of my own to love. It happened that my father died during the pregnancy, and I was forced by my family to adopt my child out, they said, “it’s for the baby’s best”. They said “if I really loved it” that’s what I should do, even though I was engaged and even went on to marry the father and have 3 more children.

The baby was never allowed to be spoken of again, as if it didn’t happen. My husband had been so devastated by the situation, that it fuelled his already burgeoning alcoholism.

I went nursing for 2 months after the adoption hoping that by helping others it would improve my self-esteem and my grief. But my addictions and self-destructive path just became worse due to the deep loss of both my father and my baby.

Despite the cigarettes and diet coke addiction, the eating disorder that I managed to keep hidden from everyone was truly eating away at my soul.

I went on to have 3 more children and tried to have a ‘normal life’ and be the best mother I could be. My first born was always in my thoughts. However, the addictions and terrible depressions combined with grief were ever present.

I went on my first anti-depressant at about age 20 which didn’t work.

After many years continuing down this destructive path I was reunited with my first born but even that did not stop the depression or addictions. Then I left my husband, and everything kicked up a notch. I really did not want to be here.

Alcohol, drugs and destructive relationships entered the picture as well. My alcohol problem became so bad I had to drink daily despite saying each day I was not going to have a drink. I would wake up after blackouts with injuries and I had no idea how they had occurred. I embarrassed my children.

Looking back over my diaries, marijuana was the only thing that stopped me having more suicide attempts. ‘Pot’, had the ability to change my state, only if I had it rarely.

I didn’t want to be this way so I tried everything that I thought could help. Every book, course, healing modality, therapist, vipassana. Multiple antidepressants were tried as well. There was no alternative.

At this stage I was working in the chemotherapy unit and listening to my patients talk about just wanting to see out one more Christmas or birthday. Meanwhile I was writing in my diaries that I just wanted to die.

I had a couple of suicide attempts and ended up in a mental hospital for a month. The place made me think there was no hope because the people I met in there were on the turnstile of in and out regularly, with no end in sight or hope to be found. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical company that owns this hospital and many other mental hospitals are very much about customers for life. They charged $5000 per patient per week for daily visits to a psychiatrist, multiple visits to psychologists and different group therapy sessions that the clients didn’t want to go to. However, the big pharma companies get money from health funds for all of this. So, it is not in their best interests to get these people well. Sadly, many of the clients want it that way too. It’s almost seen as a party place to come to catch up with their buddies.

I was addicted to benzodiazepines, and I just wanted to sleep and not wake up from the emotional pain.

Eventually, an amazing therapist offered me DMT to smoke and my life was never the same again.

I felt instant love, joy, and the pure connection that I had been craving all my life. And like an onion, with the help of truly compassionate guides and therapists, I have been able to shed so many of the walls and layers of baggage that have built up over the years.

I was able to give up my addictions and self-destructive ways and exchange them for yoga, meditation, good food, daily swims, and nature.

I became a different person. I became the passionate advocate I now am for the healing and therapeutic possibilities of psychedelic medicines.

Over the years, I also received a Graduate Diploma in Palliative Care and worked in that area for many years. I believe the existential crisis felt by the dying could be relieved by psychedelic medicines and research has shown this to be the case.

It’s now time to reschedule these medicines and enable all Australians who are suffering with treatment resistant mental illnesses access.

We have a chance to halt the real pandemic: our terrible mental health crisis NOW.

We all know someone with either mental health issues, addictions, trauma, and abuse that may be helped by this medicine. It’s time to stand up, support Mind Medicine Australia and write to politicians. Talk to people like myself, there are so many of all ages and walks of life that are benefitting from psychedelics.

A friend’s son told me to call this blog Granny’s Trips. I hope to still be around in my mid-nineties to do be able to do this with all my grandchildren if they want.

Kerry Soorley

Nurse

Kerry Soorley is a nurse of 44 years, mother of four and grandmother to nine, specialising in palliative care. She had suffered depression, addictions and suicidal ideation all her life. “Trauma by omission” Gabor Mate calls it. Forced adoption of first child and death of her father during pregnancy at 16 just escalated her mental health issues further including suicide attempt and hospitalisation. Every antidepressant, therapy, book, course and seminar all failed and just left her feeling hopeless and wanting to die even though she was so blessed. At age 58 she had opportunity to try DMT. It reset my brain and gave me, joy, self-love and connection for the first time in my life. It’s not called the God molecule for nothing. She is committed and passionate to helping others get benefits of psychedelic therapy in a safe environment and sees great potential for palliative care as well.

Mind Medicine Australia’s Progress and Achievements Since 2019

In our first three and a half years, we have made remarkable progress in growing public awareness of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy in Australia. We are seeing a paradigm shift in the curiosity, acceptance, and interest in the use of psilocybin and MDMA-assisted therapy for depression, addiction, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia, cognitive decline, end-of-life stress, and other mental and physical illnesses in our communities.

Our goal is to build the ecosystem for these treatments in Australia and ensure they are accessible to all who need them in medically controlled environments. Please see our key strategic objectives below.

What we have achieved in three and half years with your support:

 

Awareness and Knowledge Building

• 200+ webinars, screenings and special events attracting 41,000+ participants

• Launch of free online Global Webinar Series where World-leading experts provide illuminating presentations and conversations about the ground-breaking opportunity psychedelic-assisted therapies offer.

• Launch of Mind Medicine Australia Podcast series

• Over 550,000 visits to the Mind Medicine Australia website

• Over 39,000+ followers on our social media channels

• Over 500,000+ views on our YouTube Channel

• 6000+ visits to our e-book about psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies

• Over 35,000+ people in our database incl. over 15,000 health professionals and over 1000 psychiatrists

• 500+ regular donors

• 200+ media appearances

• 33+ local Chapters around Australia and New Zealand with 2200+ members and growing

• 55,000+ views to our TGA How-to guide during the 2022 public submission period

• Video animation explaining the mental illness epidemic in Australia and the benefits of psilocybin and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with 80,000+ views

• Created a short documentary, Science vs Stigma, to dispel some of the myths associated with these important medicines with over 28,000+ views

• Over 150,000+ views of Shroom Boom, a light-hearted music video

• Implemented a Board Observership program in conjunction with VMIAC.

• Appointed as member of peak body, Mental Health Australia

• Launch of MMA online shop selling a range of unique merchandise including Australia’s first book of Psychedelic Healing Stories

• Initiated Australia’s first Essential Research poll to gauge the sentiment of the Australian public on the issue of access to psychedelic medicines in medically controlled environments as treatments for key classes of mental illness. 67% agreed that ‘People experiencing terminal illness should have the choice to use psychedelic-assisted therapy to ease end of life distress’.

• Presented and produced Mind Medicine Australia’s inaugural International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness in November 2021

• Nearly 1000 people registered for our two-day workshop and Global Summit from every state of Australia and more than 15 other nations

• Over 90,000 views of our Summit sizzle reel

• Over 80,000 visits to the Summit website

• Over 5000 queries received from the Summit website

• 110 virtual breakout rooms

• 32 global leaders in the field presented on a range of topics

• 19 major Corporate partners

• Over 160 Education partners

• 17 Supplier Partners

• 15 Media Partners

• 8 Scholarship winners

• 5 Poster winners

• 1 global 4-day event with massive impact

 

Access to Medically Approved Therapy

• Further submissions made to the TGA to reschedule MDMA and psilocybin from Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances) to Schedule 8 (Controlled Medicines)

• Australia’s TGA has granted approvals through SAS-B for psilocybin and MDMA assisted therapies for patients on a case-by-case basis

• Continued review and lobbying of Federal and State legislative and regulatory requirements to permit the medicines for clinical use to treatment resistant patients

• Granted an Innovation Patent over an improved method of synthesis of MDMA

• Successfully procured medical grade GMP standard psychedelic medicines for import to Australia for use in trials

• Developing a gold standard National Care Program, clinical protocols and standard operating practices for psychedelic-assisted therapies in partnership with leading clinical groups around Australia

• Key university student placement partnerships with University of Melbourne

 

Professional Development Program

• Our highly anticipated Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies commenced in January 2021 featuring a world class Faculty. We have been thrilled to welcome 260 therapists including GPs, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, addiction specialists, paramedics and counsellors.

• Confirmed world-leading facilitators for our Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) professional development course

• Described as “the best course of its kind in the world” by Prof. David Nutt on ABC Radio National interview (UK)

• Over 500+ applications received since launch

• Over $200,000 raised for CPAT grants through philanthropy to support those in regional and rural areas and therapists suffering financial hardship. Over 50 grants have been awarded so far.

• Over 127,000+ views of the CPAT sizzle reel

• Mind Medicine Institute (MMI) established to further develop educational and training courses

• Launch of the Fundamentals in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies Course with over 320+ participants so far

Recognition by key peak/membership bodies of our professional development and training programs
Engagement with University Sector and Novel Research

• Successfully advocated for $15 million to support innovative mental health clinical trials utilising psychedelic-assisted therapies from the Federal Government through the Medical Research Futures Fund

• Launch of The Monash University Neuromedicines Discovery Centre, initially proposed by MMA and developed over a 2-year period

• 17+ current trials of psilocybin, MDMA, LSD and Ibogaine in Australia and New Zealand.

• Developed a BLOG, significant education resources and partnered with Universities to disseminate these as well as sharing these via our website

• Discussions with key University stakeholders continue

 

Noteworthy from Media Releases:

TGA Expert Review Findings Support the Therapeutic Use of Medicinal Psychedelics in Treating Mental Health Crisis in October 2021

Mind Medicine Institute Launched as a Dedicated Training, Education and Clinical Services Organisation Focusing on Psychedelic Assisted Therapies for Mental Illness and the Developing Understanding of the Mind, Cognition and Human Consciousness in October

Mind Medicine Australia Launched Australia’s First Book of Psychedelic Healing Stories in October 2021

Monash University announced the establishment of the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre to Focus on Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies for the Treatment of Key Classes of Mental Illness in November 2021

Mind Medicine Australia hosted Australia’s Inaugural International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness online in November 2021

Mind Medicine Australia joined a global coalition launched to secure a rescheduling of psilocybin under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances in January 2022

New Polling by Mind Medicine Australia Revealed Over 60% of Australians Support Increased Access to Psychedelic Medicines in February 2022

Mind Medicine Australia Lodged New Applications for the Restricted Medical use of MDMA and Psilocybin Assisted Therapies for Patients with Treatment Resistant Mental Illnesses in March 2022. The full applications can be found here.

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 Channel Nine, Channel 10, The Project, ABC and numerous other TV and radio stations and online media.

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 18 months, 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, marketing and educational development.

Mind Medicine Australia is also supported by an outstanding Board, Ambassadors, and an Advisory Panel of over 70 local and international experts in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, research, science more broadly, ethics, law, policy, anthropology, business and therapeutic practices. We have also developed a Lived Experience and Young Leaders Panel.

As we move through 2022, our vision and capacity continue to grow, as does the need to make these effective and safe therapies 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 and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help treat the millions experiencing key mental illnesses in Australia. This is personal for every one of us.

As Carl Jung said, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

With gratitude for your interest and generosity. There has never been a more important time to support innovation in the treatment of mental illness.

Peter Hunt AM and Tania de Jong AM

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 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and 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!

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 and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. 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 founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

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.

A message from Dr Simon Longstaff AO

Mental health

Few measures better reveal the character of society than its approach to those who suffer.

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

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

Mind Medicine Australia begins and ends with scientific evidence.

The world abandoned prospective treatments not because they were unsafe or ineffective but because they were associated with the ‘wrong’ side of politics. So, what politics abandoned, let ethics restore. Let us not be a society condemned for the suffering we might have prevented – if only we had made better choices, for a better world.

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

Dr Simon Longstaff AO

B.Ed., Ph.D

Dr Simon Longstaff commenced his work as the first Executive Director of The Ethics Centre in 1991. He undertook postgraduate studies in Philosophy as a Member of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Simon is a Fellow of CPA Australia and in June 2016, was appointed an Honorary Professor at the Australian National University – based at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies. Formerly serving as the inaugural President of The Australian Association for Professional & Applied Ethics, Simon serves on a number of boards and committees across a broad spectrum of activities. He was formerly a Fellow of the World Economic Forum.

Simon’s distinguished career includes being named as one of AFR Boss’ True Leaders for the 21st century. In 2013 Dr Longstaff was made an officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to the community through the promotion of ethical standards in governance and business, to improving corporate responsibility, and to philosophy.”

Social Media Attacks and Ethical Issues in the Psychedelic Sector – Why can’t we all get on together for the greater good? By Peter Hunt AM

An Open Letter from our Chairman, Peter Hunt AM

 

Tania and I started Mind Medicine Australia three years ago because we wanted to help people who are suffering from mental illness, particularly treatment resistant mental illness. Australia’s mental health statistics are terrible and the level of suffering has become significantly worse during the covid pandemic. Many people who suffer from mental illness have received multiple treatments that have failed often combined with debilitating side effects.

Our mission has always been to expand the treatment options available to practitioners and their patients to reduce the immense suffering in this country.

We chose to work with psychedelic-assisted therapies because the overseas trial results have been so strong. These therapies are curative rather than palliative and the remission rates in overseas trials have been simply stunning. They are also safe and non-addictive when used in appropriate clinical settings by trained practitioners.

We gave ourselves the huge task of developing the ecosystem in this country so that these therapies could become part of our medical system as quickly as possible, and available and affordable to all Australians that could benefit from them.

Over the last three years we have:

Along the way we have met so many outstanding medical and health practitioners and researchers who give of themselves tirelessly every day. They are caring and inspiring people who desperately want to help patients who are suffering from debilitating mental illnesses.

We’ve also met many of the patients. Some of them have received these therapies overseas or though the underground and tell us how much they have been healed from their long-term mental illnesses. Sadly, there are so many more people suffering from long term depression and trauma who reach out to us daily, and tell us about the multiple failed treatments that they have received. They are desperate to be given the opportunity to legally access these therapies. These people just want to be given a chance to lead healthy, happy and meaningful lives.

However, it is with great sadness that I have to say that we have also experienced the dark side of all of this.

There is a small group of people from the psychedelic community that feel threatened by our drive for change. They seem to want things to remain largely the same, with incremental progress subject to ongoing, expensive and time-consuming small research trials which replicate larger trials completed overseas. This group is led by a tiny group of psychologists and young researchers. They operate by making nasty social media attacks on our organisation and highly personal and defamatory attacks on Tania and myself. They send anonymous defamatory and vindictive letters to our advisors and stakeholders. They are too cowardly to speak directly to us or identify themselves on their social media posts. They generally hide behind fake identities or don’t provide any name at all.

Their accusations come under the following headings:

(1) Tania and I are evil capitalists and Mind Medicine Australia is a front for us to make money out of the system. They completely ignore the fact that as a registered charity Mind Medicine Australia’s accounts are audited by external auditors, that we are large funders of its work and that Tania and I work full time for the charity as volunteers and receive zero payment for all the work that we do. They don’t seem to understand that we are simply driven by compassion and a desire to help others.

(2) They attack the quality of the educational courses that we run and don’t appear to realise that the teaching Faculty is led by leading clinicians and educators and includes industry leaders from around the World. Our certificate course was described by Professor David Nutt (one of the leading researchers in this field globally) as the best course of its kind in the World.

(3) They attack the pace of change that we are driving and seem to want people suffering from debilitating mental illnesses to be patient and simply wait until they believe it is time for these therapies to ‘emerge’.

(4) They argue that we don’t believe that research is important and choose to ignore the fact that we are actually funding research trials, have many researchers on our advisory panel and made representations to the Government that led to $15 million of grant funding becoming available for psychedelic research. They do not appear to understand that ongoing research is completely consistent with the use of unregistered medicines in a controlled way on compassionate grounds when circumstances are appropriate, and that this is a normal part of our medical system.

(5) They attack our work environment and ignore the fact that we have an incredible team, some of whom have been with us almost from the start. They point to staff turnover but do not understand that turnover is normal with any organisation especially in its early stages. Sometimes staff members also have to be encouraged to leave because they are disruptive to the culture and/or poor performers. These people have never started or run an entrepreneurial organisation focused on driving change and seem to have no idea of the pressures and work involved.

(6) They justify hiding their identity with the assertion that we would legally attack them if they publicly identified themselves, but ignore the fact that we would have no basis for a legal challenge if their public statements weren’t defamatory and they weren’t engaged in harassment, victimization and bullying.

They particularly attack my wife Tania, an incredibly talented and caring human being who has started three charities to help the disadvantaged and alleviate suffering. Tania works tirelessly to help people, She is deeply compassionate and caring and works as a volunteer for no financial return. Perhaps they find this concept of unpaid service to others challenging and are daunted by her drive and determination to have impact. But that is no excuse. Attacking and trolling any person vindictively on or offline, and particularly a woman, should be unacceptable to all of us. It’s even worse when the perpetrators work in the mental health sector and therefore understand the mental damage that this sort of conduct can cause.

These personal attacks also send a message to the regulators that we are a community divided by pettiness and that we are incapable of coherent and professional discussion of differences. This choice of behaviour is simply self-destructive.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in these people. We know that they are all regular users of the medicines and, indeed, some of them serve the medicines to others. However, they seem to think that it is their right to prevent people suffering from mental illness from accessing these therapies through the medical system until they themselves are ready for this to happen.

They suffer from cowardice and a sense of entitlement. We know who these people are and we have reached out to them on multiple occasions to try to build understanding. These people hold professional qualifications and by their conduct are derogating their professional duties and violating their ethical obligations. Instead, these people keep attacking us and hiding their identity when they send their anonymous letters to third parties and make horrible social media comments.

I am writing this note simply because I want to make you all aware of the unnecessary challenges that we constantly have from a small group of spiteful, selfish and rather sad people. I also want to emphasise that these people will not divert us from our goal of making these therapies accessible to all Australians who need them through our medical system.

What is often referred to as the ‘psychedelic community’ is a broad group of diverse people with many different agendas. Most of the community are decent and caring people who want to see all those who are suffering from relevant classes of mental illness being given the opportunity of accessing these incredible treatments through our medical system. However, the darkness of the small faction that is attacking us needs to be dealt with.

I would therefore ask all of you who know who these people are to insist that they behave decently and in a caring and respectful way. Ask them to consider the importance of the work that we are doing and to consider the implications before posting small-minded and defamatory material. Please ask them to behave as professionals and bring concerns into the clear and open air where we can assess differences and hopefully come to some form of understanding.

It’s fine to have different opinions on how to progress this incredibly important work provided that the discourse is respectful and inquiring. Disagreeing on something can be a feature of a healthy and mature mind if a person remains thoughtful and curious. We welcome anyone with issues with our work to reach out so that we can address them collaboratively.

We should all be working together for the greater good.

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 and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. 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 founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

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.

Shadow Work and Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies by Nigel Denning

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is a term coined by Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychoanalyst and close collaborator of Sigmund Freud. It refers to working with all the aspects of the mind that are obscured or hidden from view. When we gaze up into the night sky we are often met by the glow of the moon. We see the brightness and the subtle contours of aspects of the moon’s surface if we look closely enough. We also understand that there is a dark side of the moon, hidden from our view but no less clearly there. In shadow work we are speaking about the dark side of the mind. Not dark in the Judeo-Christian sense of bad or evil, but simply that which isn’t seen. Called variously the unconscious or the subconscious, it is the repository of emotions, experiences, memories, culture, family patterns, all of which are obscured but which also impact on the function of our personality.

In Jungian terms, many psychological problems emanate from the impact of the shadow on our ordinary waking consciousness. Our hidden desires, our envies, our bitterness or anger, when not fully understood, not brought fully into awareness, can influence our reactions; our behaviours; our attitudes; and our relationships. Parts of our personality that we would rather not acknowledge, like the spiteful child, or the angry bully, the trembling coward: parts that we do not like to acknowledge as they conflict with the view we have of ourselves. These parts dwell in the shadow, influencing us in ways that we do not quite understand. The shadow may also contain great resources, parts, or aspects that we fail to see or acknowledge, strengths, abilities or talents that may be hidden from us. The shadow is thus not a place of positivity or negativity, it is simply a place of the unseen.


Why is shadow work important / what can it do for you?

It is important because it raises the hidden into the light, the unknown into awareness. Whatever we do not understand can influence us in ways in which we are unaware. If I do not know I have a gift for music, I might spend a lifetime avoiding musical settings but not knowing why. I limit my choices in life without even understanding that I am doing it. If I am filled with rage but fear acknowledging it in case I lose control and become destructive, I might spend a lifetime avoiding conflict by avoiding close relationships or challenges in which the rage is stimulated.

By exploring the shadow, we bring the unknown into the known. When we bring forth knowledge and understanding we equally bring forth choice. We become more clear in the motivations for our actions and attitudes. A person who actively works on their shadow comes to know themselves more deeply and more fully. They become aware of the foibles, the limits, the hidden talents that they possess. There are less unpleasant surprises in life because the unconscious is less likely to arise spontaneously, and yet there is also much greater access to creativity and to exploration. Life becomes an adventure because there is nothing about oneself that you are unwilling to explore or to engage.


How does one do shadow work?

Shadow work is best done with a trained therapist. There are many self-help books and websites that can help develop an interest or curiosity, but because we are dealing with aspects of ourselves that remain hidden, it is best that the works at least begins with someone who is trained to help us see into this part of ourselves.

By therapeutic mirroring, the act of skilfully feeding back what is experienced and observed, by gentle amplification (the skill of developing and elucidating the unseen), we can quickly start to expand the cartography of our own minds. It is easier to enjoy a good bush walk with a clear map of the terrain, it is easier to relax into the environment if you know where you are going, so the guide in shadow work helps to map the terrain of the shadow.

As we become more skilled and understanding, we can explore more independently. There is never a complete end to the shadow just like there is no complete end to the known universe. What is different in well-supported shadow work, is the sense of adventure in the exploration. Fear recedes and is replaced by open curiosity; reactivity is replaced with choice.


Psychedelics and the Shadow

The use of psychedelics and empathogens is another way of accessing the Shadow. These medicines, in differing ways, reduce the rigidity of our ordinary waking consciousness and allow access to the wide and disparate contents of the mind beyond awareness: the Shadow. Material breaks through. Sometimes symbolic material, sometimes ancestral, sometimes personal, and biographical, sometimes existential. With the use of these medicines, we open to the vast extent of possibility.

The work then becomes the way in which we ground these new insights and experiences, the way in which we integrate them into the always changing affective narrative of self. This is a narrative that is not just a sequence of events, but events embedded in the felt sense: the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the love and the loss, the birth and death, the creativity and excitement of our always evolving story of who we are in this life. The content of the Shadow can be fascinating to us.

Effective integration supports our discrimination: it helps us draw upon those aspects of experience that can best help us improve our own lives and relationships through emotional stability, generosity, kindness, compassion, gratitude and connectedness. Without this skillful process of integration and discrimination, we run the risk of becoming lost in the multiplicity or possibilities contained within the Shadow.

You may have met people like this: slightly ungrounded, constantly searching for new experience but perhaps without being fully present. These people have access to the Shadow but are perhaps yet to learn to skillfully navigate it, instead they are buffeted by waves of emergence, unclear in which direction to walk.

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, when conducted by an appropriately trained and qualified clinician, can be a skillful means through which we can learn to move through the contents of the Shadow: navigating, discriminating, and integrating those aspects that can help one move beyond the constraints of suffering. These therapies can help one move into a new realm of possibility; towards a richer and more meaningful and more integrated affective narrative of self.

Nigel Denning

MA, MPsych

Nigel Denning is a Counselling Psychologist with 30 years of experience in the mental health sector.  He is the Managing Director and co-founder of Integrative Psychology and the Mind Medicine Institute.

Nigel’s expertise covers developmental trauma, institutional abuse, family violence, attachment disorder, relationship therapy and advanced concentration meditation.  He works with individuals, couples, families, groups and organisations.  Nigel has been involved in therapy and court reporting on several hundred cases from the Royal Commission into Childhood Institutional Sexual Abuse.  Nigel is a former Family Violence Coordinator for Relationships Australia. He has conducted research at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Medicine, under the supervision of Professor Kelsey Hegarty on male perpetrator typologies. For over 10 years Nigel facilitated group psychotherapy for male perpetrators of family violence.  Nigel is an expert in trauma.

Nigel has extensive experience with psychedelic work internationally.  He began working with altered states of consciousness 35 years ago when he was introduced to Holotropic Breathwork through the guidance of Alf and Muriel Foote.  Twenty-five years ago, Nigel began to work with Dr Stanislav Grof, one of the leading pioneers in the clinical application of psychedelics.  Nigel co-founded the world’s first Spiritual Emergency Centre based on Grof’s work, in partnership with Tav Sparks, Director of Grof Transpersonal Training in North Carolina.  He was also lucky to meet Dr Albert Hoffman at a workshop organised by Grof at HR Geiger’s Museum/Gallery in Gruyere Switzerland. Nigel has also trained with the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and successfully completed their clinician qualification. Nigel is passionate about educating clinicians into the potential of non-ordinary state work when done ethically and skillfully.

Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Daniel’s Experience with DMT and Psilocybin

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 Daniel, 39 y.o. Student (Mental Health/Addiction Studies) and his experiences with DMT and Psilocybin.

What led you to seek healing through psychedelic medicine?

The suicide of both of my parents twenty years apart led me to suicidal ideations, depression, and anxiety. With children of my own, I wanted to leave no stone unturned in trying to heal myself. Psychedelics were the last stop before I would finally check out. Luckily, they changed my life.

What was your psychedelic experience like?

Two experiences stand out.

The first was a spiritual awakening using DMT, where I discovered two distinctly different voices in my head. One was full of fear and the need to try to control the experience; the other was my true self, the part of me that’s infinite. The next day in looking for a self-help book, I discovered Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, which explained in the intro, exactly what I had experienced. The voice in my head that wants and fears was not the real me, but my ego.

The second experience was on psilocybin, where my intent was to heal my anxiety. Very soon after ingesting the mushrooms, I felt like my son and I were drowning. This obviously invoked a strong fear response. The hallucination was so vivid that it spanned across multiple senses. I could actually taste the freshwater. Then one by one the experience showed me everything in my life that caused me anxiety. Somehow, I was able to see the underlying pattern that links all my anxiety triggers, and I could trace them to one source, one thought. My father’s suicide when I was just a boy had left a deep-seated subconscious belief that ‘I’m not good enough.’

How have you been able to integrate this experience? How has it contributed to your healing process?

Discovering the infinite part of myself changed my life completely. To roughly quote Eckart Toll, “What a liberation to know that you are not your thoughts.”

My thoughts were toxic drops that were poisoning my entire outlook on life. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations are mostly derived from thoughts, and I was finally free, after decades of suffering.

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.

Will Australia take a lead in psychedelic therapy? By Kevin Ke

Papercut head

By Kevin Ke

On September 30th 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia published an eagerly awaited report on the use of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions. It is an independent review of the evidence surrounding two particular substances: MDMA and psilocybin, commissioned by the regulatory agency in order to inform its decision making process towards these substances. Currently, these substances are placed in ‘Schedule 9’ of the ‘Poisons Standard’ – the most restrictive classification which includes other substances like heroin. The TGA is in the midst of evaluating a proposal to move them into ‘Schedule 8’, a less restrictive category. Schedule 9 substances are considered ‘Prohibited substances with high potential for abuse and misuse’, and are only accessible for purposes of medical research, in order to severely limit access. Although we are in a time of increasing awareness and interest in psychedelic substances, the history of psychedelic research in the modern era is complex. The current restrictions on psychedelic use for recreational and medical purposes are closely intertwined with US government anxieties about counterculture movements in the Vietnam War era.

The proposal to reschedule is led by an Australian nonprofit, Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), and has the support of world leading experts in psychedelic research. If successful, it will lead to a situation where Australian patients suffering from mental illness can access psychedelic substances for use in therapy. There are no proposed changes to the status of recreational use of psychedelics, which will remain in Schedule 9. A range of safeguards will be in place – for example, prescription will be restricted to being prescribed by psychiatrist or specialist addiction physician. MMA has been training cohorts of qualified psychotherapists specifically in psychedelic-assisted therapy in anticipation of future demand. Access is envisioned to occur in a medically controlled environment with the patient never taking the substances home. As unregistered medicines, prescribers will still require approval on a per patient basis from both the TGA (under Special Access Scheme B) and the State or Territory Government where the treatment is to occur. Mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are frustratingly difficult to treat, with debilitating impacts on patient’s lives and those around them – and it is envisioned that these patients stand to benefit from a psychedelic experience given in a controlled and supervised setting.

 

What’s the evidence for psychedelic-assisted therapy?

In recent years, psychedelic research has reached an inflection point, with accelerating recognition worldwide of its therapeutic value in a range of mental health conditions. A landmark phase 3 trial evaluating MDMA for the treatment of PTSD read out earlier this year, sponsored by the pioneering US based nonprofit MAPS. A total of 91 patients with severe PTSD were randomised to two groups, with the average patient having carried the diagnosis for 14 years. A large majority (92%) of patients had experienced suicidal ideation during their lifetime, and 1 in 3 had attempted suicide in the past.

Both groups received a structured program of therapy over 18 weeks, but only one group received MDMA across three sessions, with the other receiving an inactive placebo in its place. The group that had received MDMA-assisted therapy responded considerably better than the group without – with 67% (28/42) of patients no longer meeting the criteria for PTSD diagnosis, compared to 32% (12/37) in the therapy-only group, as measured 18 weeks after initiation of treatment. In a patient group with such severe and intractable disease, these results are remarkable – clearly demonstrating the potential of psychedelic assisted therapy to heal patients who may otherwise never respond to conventional treatment regimes.

 

How does psychedelic assisted therapy work?

The experience of increased empathy and connection appear to be central to the way that MDMA seems to produce these results. Pharmacologically, the drug increases levels of serotonin in the brain, also acting to increase noradrenaline and dopamine to lesser degrees. Modulation of serotonin neurotransmission is the primary proposed mechanism by which both MDMA and psilocybin are able exert psychological effects. On one hand, an increased level of serotonin binding to the 5HT-1A receptor is thought to lower anxiety, while action on the 5HT-2A receptor increases neuroplasticity and the capacity for learning. In this state of lowered barriers and heightened flexibility of thinking, the individual is able to confront and reprocess their trauma with the assistance of their therapist. Unlike MDMA, psilocybin is a ‘classic psychedelic’ as it predominantly acts on the 5HT-2A receptor like LSD, DMT and mescaline. Experiences of psilocybin have been demonstrated to be effective for conditions like depression, even when the patients are resistant to other therapies. When 5HT-2A receptor activation increases, patients enter into a state of cognitive flexibility and creative thinking where enduring patterns of thought are able to be rewired. Individuals often rank it as among the most challenging and meaningful experiences of their lives – undergoing intense emotional realisations which persist long after the therapy has ended. In this way, psychedelics represent a different approach to treating conditions characterised by fixed mindsets and beliefs like depression and anxiety. Treatment is considerably shorter in duration (a few sessions), and may have more durable results than other treatment modalities. This is quite significant because conventional antidepressants and psychotherapy are known to take several weeks to months to achieve effect, requiring considerable resources. Psychedelics therefore represent a novel modality with distinct therapeutic benefits.

According to proponents of psychedelic assisted therapy, the therapy itself is a crucial part of healing. Also, it is emphasised that the substances are medical grade, produced to purity and stability specification – reducing risks of contamination and adulteration. Theoretical risks that arise from overdose or drug interactions can further be mitigated when given in a supervised setting. While the history of psychedelic research is intricately linked to diverse fields including psychoanalysis, consciousness, religion, and anthropology, the current movement is seeking first to focus on the medical applications, and this stands to reason. It has been reported that the growing acceptance of recreational cannabis use stems largely from its recent medicalisation, with cannabis being explored for a range of diverse applications ranging from anxiety and stress to autism and seizures. In medical cannabis, the TGA also has an important precedent for psychedelic regulation. In February this year, low doses of cannabidiol (the non psychoactive component of cannabis), were rescheduled to Schedule 3, the category for over the counter sale. In practice, it will be some time before pharmaceutical companies achieve registration of their medicines – requiring demonstration of efficacy and safety through clinical trials, a process that can take years. Nonetheless, similar arguments can be drawn between ‘psychedelics’ and medical cannabis, and the shifting tide of public opinion towards this group of substances is also self-reinforcing.

 

An independent expert review

The original TGA submission from MMA dates back to July 2020, and from there, the original decision of the regulatory agency was to retain the status quo and to not reschedule. Some groups have a different perspective of the benefits and risks of this psychedelic assisted therapy. Medical bodies like the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists emphasised a need for clinical trial processes, including careful assessment of efficacy and safety, under strict protocols and ethical oversight. For these groups, psychedelic research is still in its infancy, with ‘limited but emerging evidence that psychedelic therapies may have therapeutic benefit’, and emphasis is placed on their status as illicit substances. The initial decision was challenged by MMA, prompting an independent review of the evidence, bringing us to the recent report.

The expert panel was tasked with reviewing the available evidence on MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of mental health conditions. Benefits and risks, therapeutic value, and applicability to the Australian healthcare system, were all aspects that were considered. For MDMA, a total of 8 randomised controlled studies were found to be relevant and pooled together, and their results analysed. The rationale is that looking at the results in totality may provide us with better estimates than looking at these studies individually. Results are collated and compared using the statistical quantity ‘standardised mean difference’, or ‘effect size’ – calculated by taking the difference in mean severity scores between groups relative to the standard deviation in these scores. This can be helpful when a range of different severity scores are used between trials, as ‘effect size’ allows for comparisons between different disease scoring systems. However, comparing interventions indirectly through looking only at ‘effect size’ can also be misleading, as different trials inevitably recruit patient populations which are heterogenous or homogenous in their own ways. Trials involving more homogenous patient populations will inevitably have higher effect sizes, while the converse is also true, with all else being equal. With that said, in our report, MDMA assisted therapy was found to have an effect size of -0.86 compared against the control arms, considered generally as a large effect size (almost one standard deviation). This is a promising result considering that the controls also received placebo medication, and the same course of intensive psychotherapy. In other words, patients will experience a large benefit from this treatment, beyond what you might expect from psychotherapy alone. The importance of these results are highlighted when we consider that the only two FDA-approved drugs for PTSD are the SSRI drugs sertraline and paroxetine, which both have modest efficacy, being 2-3 times less effective than MDMA, when compared using absolute change in the CAPS-2 score (and effect size). For psilocybin, six studies were identified by the panel as relevant to their evaluation. Their main findings were that psilocybin was better than placebo for treatment resistant depression, and that it showed efficacy for treatment of anxiety. It was also compared to escitalopram, a common antidepressant – and no ‘statistically significant’ differences were observed, although there is a good argument to be made that this is due to limited statistical power. A closer, critical read of an important recent trial comparing psilocybin with escitalopram would be worthwhile for any interested reader, as the data itself is promising (additional data is in the article appendix).  The authors of our TGA report conclude: “MDMA and psilocybin may show potential as therapeutic agents in highly selected populations when administered in closely supervised settings and with intensive support. Evidence appears strongest for MDMA.”

The case for psychedelic assisted therapy is strong, and the high quality evidence which has been generated to date cannot be ignored for long. The recent independent review highlights the clinical efficacy of this treatment, and the TGA is well placed to enact regulatory changes that will encourage the development of the field. In the midst of our current mental health crisis, patients with intractable conditions stand to benefit considerably from a rescheduling of these medicines.

The Ethics and Importance of the Role of Therapists in Working in Non-Ordinary States By Dr Traill Dowie and Nigel Denning

Psychedelics

We would like to say something about the ethics and importance of the role of therapists in working in non-ordinary states. Nigel has personally worked in this space for 35 years in various forms including many decades in Holotropic Breathwork. We are often working with patients or clients who carry with them deep personal trauma.

This trauma can manifest in many ways and can express in completely unexpected symptoms. In working with many survivors of complex trauma, including ritual abuse, clergy abuse, intra family abuse, cult abuse, warfare, and other crimes, it is so important that we as therapists and the staff that support therapists, keep a willing and open mind to people’s suffering.

The average report time from first crime to first report for survivors of Institutional sexual abuse, for instance, is 33 years. Often this abuse has been ignored or actively repressed. It is incumbent on us all to hold the importance of the voice of survivors and to give them our belief and support.

Working with non-ordinary states and medicines can raise many deeply buried issues and traumatic experiences can manifest from many different sources, some from biographical memories, others from other symbolic processes. Projection onto therapists in this space during and immediately after sessions is not uncommon. This is one reason why, consistent with world best practice, we recommend 2 therapists always be present during trial and special access sessions, and, when rescheduling occurs, therapy sessions.

It is important that we are making ourselves and our clients safe and maintaining the most ethical and clear containers to allow this work to unfold as we develop greater clinical knowledge and skill.

Therapists who do transgress boundaries and behave in an unethical manner should be appropriately managed under legal and professional codes. Therefore, it is important that anyone working in this field be registered in a professional governance system such as AHPRA or PACFA.

Transgressions against patients in this field, like all others, should not be tolerated or accepted. The only way to create healing is to build trust and safety for all. Working together, openly supporting ethical behaviour and outing all forms of abuse and those who collude with it, it imperative.

Warm regards,

Nigel Denning & Dr. Tra-ill Dowie

Directors, Mind Medicine Training and Education

Nigel Denning

MA, MPsych

Nigel Denning is a Counselling Psychologist with 30 years of experience in the mental health sector.  He is the Managing Director and co-founder of Integrative Psychology and the Mind Medicine Institute.

Nigel’s expertise covers developmental trauma, institutional abuse, family violence, attachment disorder, relationship therapy and advanced concentration meditation.  He works with individuals, couples, families, groups and organisations.  Nigel has been involved in therapy and court reporting on several hundred cases from the Royal Commission into Childhood Institutional Sexual Abuse.  Nigel is a former Family Violence Coordinator for Relationships Australia. He has conducted research at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Medicine, under the supervision of Professor Kelsey Hegarty on male perpetrator typologies. For over 10 years Nigel facilitated group psychotherapy for male perpetrators of family violence.  Nigel is an expert in trauma.

Nigel has extensive experience with psychedelic work internationally.  He began working with altered states of consciousness 35 years ago when he was introduced to Holotropic Breathwork through the guidance of Alf and Muriel Foote.  Twenty-five years ago, Nigel began to work with Dr Stanislav Grof, one of the leading pioneers in the clinical application of psychedelics.  Nigel co-founded the world’s first Spiritual Emergency Centre based on Grof’s work, in partnership with Tav Sparks, Director of Grof Transpersonal Training in North Carolina.  He was also lucky to meet Dr Albert Hoffman at a workshop organised by Grof at HR Geiger’s Museum/Gallery in Gruyere Switzerland. Nigel has also trained with the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and successfully completed their clinician qualification. Nigel is passionate about educating clinicians into the potential of non-ordinary state work when done ethically and skillfully.

Dr Tra-ill Dowie

PhD

Dr Traill Dowie is a polymath philosopher, academic, psychotherapist, minister of religion and martial artist. He holds dual PhDs in Philosophy and Psychiatry. Traill is a co-founder of the Mind Medicine Institute, the head of school at Ikon Institute, a research fellow at La Trobe University in Philosophy, sub-editor of the Philosophy International Journal (Medwin Press) and has also trained with the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and completed their clinician qualification.

Traill is a lifelong martial artist, holding black belts in multiple disciplines. He has worked professionally as both an athletic and performance coach for high level athletes, including world champions, at a national and international level.

Growing up in the Northern Territory, Traill spent a lot of time on country where he developed an interest in ethnomedicine and traditional healing practices. This interest led Traill to Dr Raphael Locke, an anthropologist, psychoanalyst, consciousness researcher and initiated Iroquois shaman. Traill apprenticed with Dr Locke in shamanic practice for 20 years and has explored ethno-medicine and traditional practices across Australia, Asia, Central America and North America. This interest in healing and state-based technologies has been coupled with his interest in psychotherapy and psychology.

Traill has 25 years of experience working as a clinician in a variety of settings including in private practice and organisations. He began his career working in eco-psychotherapy and wilderness therapy working with complex presentations. Traill has worked in both in-patient and outpatient settings focusing on the treatment of complex trauma. Traill was the co-founder of Integrative Psychology where he co-authored a paper with his colleagues Nigel Denning and Linda Tilgner, which was tabled at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He worked with Nigel Denning to develop a protocol for individual and group psychotherapy for victims of cult abuse. Traill also chaired the Australian Counselling Association’s Trauma Standards Panel.

Anyone for a Magic Mushroom Medicine? By Tania de Jong AM and Scott Leckie

In the lucky country we like to think of ourselves as free, prosperous and privileged. But is our luck running out and what might we do to get it back? Australia is now ranked as the OECD’s worst performer on tackling climate change, our vaccination rollout has by every measure been a dismal failure with Australia today ranked 113th in vaccinating its people, and we are now the nation with the second worst mental health statistics in the world, with only Iceland behind us. Something is clearly not right.

Somehow, we have created a society which promotes the consumption of all forms of alcohol, and where gambling is an addictive source of government revenue. Yet fungi that possess incredible medicinal powers and grows all by itself can, if consumed, put you behind bars.

We allow Australians to drink and smoke, eat ever-growing amounts of sugar, trans-fats and processed foods, causing an obesity epidemic of massive proportions that costs society billions of dollars a year. Doctors easily dole out anti-depressants and pain-killing opiates. Only an estimated 30-35% of depressed individuals in the general population experience remission from current pharmacotherapies or psychotherapies, with the majority experiencing ongoing symptoms, and significant side effects, and between 50% to 80% relapsing after treatment stop. To create positive change and healing, we need to be innovative and broaden the tools available to our medical practitioners and qualified therapists working in this area.

And how free are we if we don’t have access to all of the safe and effective medicines that could cure us when we are ill?

History, science and increasing amounts of data, now clearly demonstrate the enormous potential social benefits of psilocybin mushrooms (psilocybin is the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms) to our mental health, creativity and productivity. Yet digestion of psilocybin remains illegal in Australia, both for medical and recreational uses. Why do prevailing State laws make it illegal to eat completely safe, non-addictive, non-toxic and free wild mushrooms, which may just be growing right outside your door in this magic mushroom season? And yet it is perfectly legal to pick a poisonous mushroom growing nearby that may possibly kill you!

 

 

Far from making us ‘lose our minds’, it turns out that the educated, careful and responsible consumption of psilocybin mushrooms might just make us better and healthier people. And yet our minds, the cornerstone of everything we do in this short and finite life, are not as free as we may think.

There is nothing particularly radical or new about humans picking and consuming mushrooms, even those with psychoactive properties. Indeed, we would be hard pressed to find a single human culture anywhere, throughout thousands of years of recorded human history, that did not revere and use these medicinal sacraments to heal a variety of physical and mental ailments. Indeed, many now believe that the original story of our beloved Santa Claus is thought to have come from Nordic indigenous peoples who, along with their reindeer, were known to have regularly consumed the famous Amanita Muscaria mushrooms.  Their white dots against a red-capped mushroom dome became the key colours of Christmas cheer.

Though these mushrooms may have a reputation as daunting and dangerous, the science clearly shows that the individual and social dangers associated with the taking of psilocybin is far safer than almost all other drugs, even in recreational environments.

In scores of medical trials of these therapies at the world’s most prestigious Universities including Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Imperial and Johns Hopkins we are seeing remission rates of 60-80% amongst thousands of patients suffering with depression, anxiety, addictions and end-of-life distress. These results occur after just two to three medicinal doses in clinical settings, combined with a short course of psychotherapy. They have been shown to be effective, safe and non-addictive. Many patients describe the therapy as one of the top five most meaningful experiences in their lives! Whoever says that about any medicine?

These outcomes are so promising that psilocybin-assisted therapies are now being studied for the treatment of anorexia and other eating disorders, a range of addictions, obsessive compulsive disorder, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and cluster headaches. The therapeutic use of mushrooms has been legalised in Canada and the U.S. State of Oregon, and compassionate access to these treatments for treatment-resistant patients is being granted in the USA, Switzerland, Israel, and even Australia.

Aside from the realm of mental health, mushrooms are known to fundamentally change things for the better. The pioneering work of globally well-known mushroom experts, including American Paul Stamets, demonstrates that mycelial networks from which mushrooms grow constitute a significant portion of the world’s precious topsoil. They are the neural pathways by which trees and other plants actually communicate with one another. These infinitely complex networks also have qualities that can detoxify waste and greatly enhance the strength and resilience of topsoil. Clearly, mushrooms can do extraordinary things!

Psilocybin mushrooms can intensely reconnect one’s mind and significantly alter consciousness in ways almost impossible to describe to those who have not had this experience. Psilocybin binds to a serotonin receptor called 5-HT2a and takes the brain into a state where it can flow more freely, unconstrained by prior and rigid beliefs about how the world is supposed to work. Psilocybin works through cracking open complexes of suffering contained within the body and brain. It is often said of conventional antidepressants that they merely ‘plaster over’ the root causes of suffering, whereas the defining property of psychedelic therapy is the ability to accelerate self-understanding through revelation leading to complete remission for many.

How can ingesting a mushroom that grows naturally all over Australia still be illegal? In a country that is ‘free’, how can picking a magic mushroom in your garden leave you subject to prosecution and imprisonment? Increasingly, with compassionate motivations, we allow people to use drugs to end their lives via euthanasia, yet we prevent the management of mental illness with a safe and effective medicine that could assist millions to overcome a whole range of health challenges.

As Covid-19 has shown, it is easier to treat an illness if you understand it. Mental illness is the world’s number one cause of disability, and depression is the largest contributor to this burden. Pre-Covid-19, anti-depressant medications were prescribed to one in eight of the adult population in Australia including one in four older adults and one in thirty children.  And yet our rates of mental illness and suicides continue to grow. We clearly need a better approach based on science and proven treatments that get to the root cause of our suffering.

Our hope is that professionally delivered psychedelic therapy using psilocybin mushrooms can meet the massive need for breakthroughs in mental health care.

Action is needed now to ensure that these medicines are accessible and affordable to all and prevent further avoidable suffering and suicides. The recently completed Global Drug Survey showed that thousands of people sought self-treatment for psychiatric conditions and emotional distress with psychedelic-assisted therapies:  85% of them said their conditions improved as a result. People are taking matters into their own hands because they cannot wait any longer for a legal and medically controlled pathway.

Australia was a world-leading innovator in major issues such as the eight-hour work day, women’s vote, our superannuation and healthcare system and so much more. We often initiated positive change, but now our reefs, forests, unique animals, climate and coastlines are under severe threat and our international reputation is losing its shine. We need to find a way back.

Providing safe, medically controlled and legal access to effective medicines to everyone who needs them may be one of the answers. If we want to regain our world leading stature, we all need to reassess what it means to truly be free and make choices about the medicines that may heal us.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is currently conducting an Independent Review to reconsider the rescheduling of MDMA and psilocybin from Schedule 9 (Prohibited Medicine) to Schedule 8 (Controlled Medicine), while the Australian Government also recently announced a $15 million grant round for research into psychedelic-assisted therapies. However, huge obstacles remain, and there is still much to achieve to ensure we catch up and heal the immense suffering.

The next step is to ensure that all Australians enjoy the right to the highest attainable level of health, a right that is recognised under a plethora of human rights treaties Australia has freely ratified. To fully possess this right, everyone needs to have access to all the medicines in the medicine cabinet, and that includes magical mushroom medicine.

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 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and 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!

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.

Psychedelic Medicines: How My Journey Into The Jungle Changed My Life by Dr Alana Roy

 

My name is Dr. Alana Roy and for those who know and love me, Lani Roy. I am the National Practice Manager of Mind Medicine Psychological Support Services and the Co-lead on CPAT (Mind Medicine’s ‘Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies’). I am a Social Worker, Psychologist, Counsellor, Researcher, Teacher, mother, and wife.

I am also an Ayahuasca dietero* a psychedelic and plant medicine advocate… And I am finally ready to share my story.

When I turned 30 years old, I was a decade into my career as a sexual abuse and suicide prevention therapist. I had always loved my work and had enormous energy and joy for my clients and projects.

During this time, I was completing my PhD, raising my two young sons, growing my private practices, and working multiple roles in the community. Slowly but surely, I began a descent into what I can now see as a “spiritual crisis and emergence.” Over a two-year period, I experienced extreme levels of existential anxiety, fear of death, and excruciating levels of suffering – suffering for all the women, men, and children impacted by sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. I began to lose hope in the current treatments offered by mainstream mental health services, which contributed to occupational burnout; an endless revolving door of wounded souls taking far too long to feel relief. I felt that I was failing them.

Over this two-year period as I completed my PhD, navigated complex trauma cases, and attended parks and playgroups with my children, my body, mind, and spirit began to shut down. I plummeted into a dark, dense black hole of nothingness – I would oscillate from feeling nothing to extreme terror. I tried everything – meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, exercise, therapy, supervision, spending time with friends and family. I had resources, support, and a happy and loving marriage of 18 years, but the suffering deepened. People did not know how to help me. My psychologists were running out of ideas and the capacity to hold my darkness.

I finally understood the suicidal mind. I had supported people with suicidal thinking my entire professional life. Yet, I never quite grasped their level of pain until I experienced my spiritual emergence.

I also gained a deeper respect for myself as a woman and a mother during this time; I was able to compartmentalise my pain and keep significant levels of joy and happiness flowing in my household for my children. However, this was exhausting, and something drastic needed to happen. Death and panic met me each morning as I made my children’s cereal and kept me awake all night. In the late nights, as my beautiful family slept, I fell apart. I began researching alternative treatments for over a year. I explored topics ranging as far and wide as atheism, panpsychism, physics, cosmology, theories of space and time, neurotheology, and of course nihilism. Somewhere in this rigorous, yet desperate search, I found Ayahuasca.

I remember looking at my husband and saying, “It is either I go to the jungle or a psychiatric ward.” The next day I booked my ticket to Peru.

Getting on that plane alone was the bravest thing I had ever done. My psychologist told me not to go and that I was making a mistake. I felt fear and trepidation at letting go of my consciousness and what little sanity it had left. In my mind, I said goodbye to my husband and children. I felt that I was approaching death, and I was right. Something did die, my fear.

My first night drinking Ayahuasca was both the death, and the birth of me. I sat down in the dark and drank two big cups; with cosmic levels of fear, I pulled the psychedelic trigger. During this journey I processed memories of my past sexual abuse and domestic violence; my ego and sense of self dissolved; I experienced the most fear I have ever experienced in my life; I died; I was born; I purged out global, archetypal, personal, and client traumas. I also experienced realms, dimensions, spirits, downloads, and the external feeling of being known and held.

After this experience, I was sent into isolation to hang with the monkeys and the bats for five days to participate in a mapacho (tobacco dieta). Each day under strict supervision I drank mapacho and spent time in deep meditation; grounding, integrating, processing, and healing. Over the coming weeks, I went on to do San Pedro cactus and more Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Both medicines worked synergistically for me. Ayahuasca expanded me beyond my biggest and wildest fears, whilst San Pedro helped me experience the drumbeat of the natural world; I could hear the animals, the trees, the jungle, and in a sense the beat of my own heart and all the aspects in my life which connect me to a sense of meaning and purpose. San Pedro grounded me back into my body, my heart, and my practical and rational mind. This ultimately helped me to process many aspects of my Ayahuasca journeys, which for me, remain beyond language, space, and time.

San Pedro

I will never forget the feeling of jumping into the Amazon River with no fear. As I swam with excitement, I could see my new sense of self emerging. I drove out of the jungle on a little rusty boat in the darkness of the early morning, into the light of the bustling city of Iquitos, and knew I was ready to return home. However, were people ready for me?

On my return to Australia, I was left to integrate these experiences alone, with no professional support, and no community to understand me. I felt a deep sense of reverse culture shock. I retuned with eyes that could see the environment that our modern world can generate; the disconnection, mass consumption, greed, sheer lack of depth and empathy for others.

Few people wanted to engage with me on the epistemology of plant spirits, or could tolerate the notion that my most life changing experience involved losing my mind in the dark with an exotic brew. Professionals didn’t trust that my progress would last and were not willing to engage with me in discussion regarding the huge potential of psychedelics and mental health.

My family and friends saw the changes in me and would often say “Lani, you look and sound so different, how did you get better?”

It took me a long time to be able to say, with confidence and without censorship “I went to the jungle and drank Ayahuasca, San Pedro and spent a lot of time alone with a master plant, that’s what changed me.”

I am an Ayahuasca dietero

I am a Psychologist/ Social Worker

I am a Scientist-Practitioner

I wear all these titles and more, embracing paradox and complexity with pride. Can this make people uncomfortable? Yes…. But progress and growth are often uncomfortable.

Each day I wake up with a new mystery and adventure to explore. My ability to hold darkness and trauma has expanded beyond what I could have ever imagined

In a few short years, I am now running Mind Medicine Australia National Psychological Support Services and helping to grow a national community of professional experts who are skilled in harm minimisation, preparation, and integration services for people seeking out psychedelics in legal clinical trials, as well as community and overseas contexts.

I have revitalised hope for the mental health system as we, as a global community, pioneer the clinical use of psychedelics. I work each day providing clinical support to people who have had similar experiences. After 15 years of working as a trauma specialist, I am finally seeing fast and deeply transformative results with psychedelic medicines. The clinical evidence can no longer be ignored. Our policy and lawmakers need to move beyond the stigma of psychedelics and listen to the science.

I have the privilege of walking side by side with a team of wise, humble, and skilled academics and practitioners in the Certificate of Psychedelic Therapies and together, with you, and the wisdom of these plants and molecules… we will change the mental health system.

This is only one chapter of my story; there are many layers and journeys left untold.

I am growing as a wife, mother, friend, leader, mentor, teacher, researcher, medicine woman. I have so much to learn, but with my plant teachers by my side and the support of professionals with integrity, I will do my best with what time I have on this earth to generate as much healing, joy and dreaming as I can.

 

*Ayahuasca is taken in combination with other ‘master plants’ is referred to as a shamanic dieta (Gearin & Labarte, 2018). The term ‘dieta’ in Spanish simply means diet. However, in this context, a dieta encompasses a range of dietary and behavioural practices in which apprentices make lasting relationships with the spirit/essence of the specific plants, including ayahuasca, over a number of days.  

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 reduction, 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.

Learn more about Alana’s experiences in: Psychedelic Medicines: How My Journey Into The Jungle Changed My Life

Peter’s Story: Finding Acceptance, Being Generous And Healing Grief Through Psychedelic Medicines by Peter Hunt AM

Psychedelic roof

 

As a young person, I never thought that I would be an Australian. I lived in a country town in England and my family seemed secure and loving (even though relationships between my mother and my father were sometimes strained). Then when I was 13, without any warning, my father committed suicide. He hadn’t let on that his business was failing, and he dealt with the burden of impending bankruptcy by taking his own life. In his letter to my mother, he said that he thought taking his life was for the best. What he didn’t realise was the lifelong damage that he would do to all of us.

My mother was an extraordinary person. In an instant, she had lost her husband, her home, her financial security, and nearly all of her possessions. But she was incredibly determined with lots of inner strength and decided that we should start again by emigrating to Australia. At the time the Australian government paid for virtually everything; a 6-week journey by ship to Australia with my mother paying just 10 pounds (about $20 Australian dollars at the time), and with me coming for free because I was under 16 years of age.

I can remember the ship coming into Sydney Harbour on a beautiful and crisp winter’s morning with the mist rising from the water. I can remember feeling excited by this new country where the light seemed so bright compared to the pastel colours of England and where the buildings in the city seemed so high. I could feel the energy, but I also remember feeling my deep sadness. I felt deeply the loss of my father and nearly everything that I had ever known, my home and my childhood friends.

Looking back, I now realise that I dealt with this sadness by becoming incredibly good at building barriers around my heart; going inwards and working incredibly hard to succeed in my education and in my career. I was lucky to get the chance to go to a great school, which encouraged me to excel, then to go to university (which was then basically free), and then to get a job as a lawyer at a top law firm before moving into investment banking.

As an investment banker, I did far better than I could ever have believed possible. I eventually started my own firm and then sold the firm 10 years later to an American investment banking group. Looking back, I now realise that the hard work, the constant need to achieve, and the financial rewards were all a way of escaping from the pain that I felt deep down. Sadly, this pain prevented me from experiencing the true intimacy in my relationships with other human beings that everyone should have.

As I got older, I started to realise how lucky I had been. I could so easily have taken a different road, unable to cope and spiraled down. Luck gave me an amazing mother with the courage to start again and gave me the intellect, health, and determination to make a go of my new life. But it all came at a cost.

My way of dealing with my sense of luck was to get more and more involved in the not-for-profit sector both as a philanthropist and as an active participant – first going on to Boards and then starting new charities to help disadvantaged people who hadn’t had the luck that I had experienced. By the time that I met my beautiful wife Tania nearly 10 years ago, I had been extensively involved across the not-for-profit sector (particularly in the areas of homelessness and poverty alleviation). I had also started the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter (with my previous partner) and then Women’s Community Shelters (www.womenscommunityshelters.org.au). The more I dealt with people who were suffering, the more I realised that it could so easily have been me. The only difference was that I had been lucky and they hadn’t been.

About 6 years ago, I can remember Tania getting excited about a Michael Pollan article she read in the New Yorker Magazine, explaining the outstanding trial results that were being achieved by researchers at major universities in the UK and North America using psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy as a cure for key classes of mental illness. I must have been busy on other things at the time because I didn’t immediately get excited about this research, and given the outstanding results being achieved, I should have.

However, Tania is a determined person and a great connector, and she quickly developed relationships with leading overseas researchers in this field. She tried to get us enrolled in trials in London so that we could experience these psychedelic substances, but we didn’t qualify (no mental illness – at least that we know of). Tania didn’t give up though and she found a therapist in Holland (where the therapy is legal) and arranged for us to have a psychedelic experience with psilocybin.

Even then I wasn’t that excited, but I went along because I trusted Tania and this was something that she was obviously passionate about and wanted to try. I had never tried any mind-altering substances (other than alcohol) and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

I have to say that the experience with psilocybin was “out of this world!” The therapist helped us get into the right mindset and the setting was quiet and peaceful. Then we took the psilocybin-containing mushrooms and for the first 20 minutes, nothing happened. It felt like a bit of a let-down. Eventually, with my eyes covered by an eye mask, lying down, and eyes closed, I started to “see” the amazing psychedelic shapes and colors that people talk about.

Kaleidoscope

I was then transported into another world that was timeless and where I became an observer. The experience is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t taken the medicine: wondrous, confronting, beautiful, extraordinary, altogether another realm of consciousness.  I came out of the experience changed, as if the blinkers that so many of us hide behind had been removed.

The argument that these substances are addictive is complete nonsense. The experience was so deep and meaningful that it took Tania and I a year before we had a second go, and that was even more powerful.

It was now decision time for us. Tania and I could either keep the experience to ourselves or work towards making these therapies available to everyone who needed them in safe environments with trained therapists. Mind Medicine Australia was born from a deep desire to help make these therapies part of our medical system so that many more Australians suffering from debilitating mental illnesses, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, could get well and realise the joy of life which should be available to all human beings.

Mind Medicine Australia is a charity because we want to make these therapies – with their incredible remission rates – available to all Australians that need them, irrespective of wealth or where they live. We don’t want a need to make money to get in the way.

So how do I feel now about the impact of these medicines on me and the prospect of making them available to all Australians that need them?

The self-made “protective” barriers around me have fallen away a lot in the last 6 years since my first psychedelic experience, as my capacity for acceptance has grown. My sense of wonder in the beauty of the natural world and all human beings has increased in a profound way. It’s impossible to explain this miracle.

How extraordinary that a molecule that exists naturally in some types of mushrooms locks perfectly into a certain type of receptor in the human brain and causes that person to go inwards into another realm of consciousness and, in doing so, examine the wonder of life and the connectedness of all living things. The medicine has been an amazing gift for Tania and I, and we want this gift to be available to all Australians in need.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about out mental health system. I’ve learned that its full of the most inspiring health practitioners who give of themselves every day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is also a huge amount of entrenched thinking, vested interests and hubris shared by some participants in the mental health system, which (despite claims to the contrary) isn’t based on the available science and data and which inhibits positive change, prevents people from getting well, and leads to more suffering.

Mind Medicine Australia continues to make good progress and I am increasingly confident that these therapies will become available for Australians that need them. The big question is how long will this process take? We need to move quickly to break down bias, prejudice, ignorance, hubris, and vested interests. There are just too many people suffering needlessly.

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 and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. 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 founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

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.

The Enormous “Elephant in the Room” in the Government’s Mental Health Funding by Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM

Elephant in room

Mind Medicine Australia (MMA) welcomes the Government’s commitment to mental health and its drive to improve the mental health of Australians and reduce suicide rates. The increased funding for the sector announced in the Budget is an especially important part of this.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his Budget speech that suicide prevention was a “national priority”, however the enormous and largely unspoken “elephant in the room” is the lack of effective treatments for many Australians suffering from mental illness.

Too many Australians who seek help are not getting well simply because of the lack of effective treatment innovation in the sector for decades. As a result, the sector has become too focused on managing mental illness (a palliative approach) rather than providing cures (a curative approach).

There is a strong correlation between mental illness and suicidality. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for depression and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder is demonstrating remarkably high remission rates in overseas trials and both now have Breakthrough Therapy Designation with the FDA in the United States. They are being provided to treatment resistant patients under government approved Expanded Access Schemes in North America, Israel, and Switzerland. Trials are also taking place for a range of other debilitating mental illnesses such as anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, substance abuse disorder and early-stage dementia. These treatments represent a major paradigm shift in the treatment of mental illnesses.

The treatments only take place in medically controlled environments, combining 2–3 medicinal sessions with psychotherapy. They have been shown to be safe and non-addictive and curative rather than palliative. Mind Medicine Australia encourages the Government to make these new innovative treatments a central part of its mental health strategy.

We will never solve this problem if we do not invest in new and better treatments.

Mind Medicine Australia is building the infrastructure in Australia for the rollout of these therapies including, the development of training courses for experienced mental health practitioners, the development of clinical protocols and treatment manuals and the development of medicine manufacturing capabilities and supply arrangements. However, to expedite the introduction of these new therapies we need the Government to be proactive in developing the regulatory environment and the medical benefits system to ensure that all Australians in need (and not just wealthy Australians) have access. We also need State and Territory Governments to be working cooperatively with the Commonwealth Government to make this happen.

The Chairman of Mind Medicine Australia, Peter Hunt AM, commented that: “This budget increase is a clear sign that the Government recognises that the current system is failing many Australians. However, the high rates of mental illness in our Society won’t be solved simply by providing more and better facilities and making them more accessible. We need treatments that work for more Australians and much higher remission rates than those currently being achieved. Psilocybin and MDMA assisted therapies offer a new treatment paradigm in mental health so that many more people suffering from mental illnesses have the opportunity to get well. Rescheduling these substances under the Poisons Standard so that they can be used as part of therapy as controlled medicines in medically controlled environments and the development of an accommodative regulatory and fiscal framework needs to be an integral part of Government strategy”.

Executive Director of Mind Medicine Australia, Tania de Jong AM said: “Research from many overseas trials indicates that these medicines are safe and non-addictive when administered within a medically-controlled environment and can lead to remissions in 60–80% of patients after just 2–3 medicinal sessions in combination with psychotherapy. There have been no adverse events in any of the trials, involving thousands of patients. Finally, there is a chance to prevent the immense suffering and suicides in our community.”

The use of psychedelic medicine, within a clinical framework, is the new paradigm for the future of mental health care. MMA continues to build the ecosystem for these medicines to become available and accessible to those who are suffering through raising awareness, educating medical practitioners and the community.

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 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and 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!

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 and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. 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 founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

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.

It’s Time To Give Our Military The Medicine They Need by Scott Leckie and Tania de Jong AM

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 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and 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 by Ella Shannon Morter

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

A Mother’s Prayer To The TGA by Annie Mason

Woman on boat

I am writing this as a mother, in the hope that my words may open the closed minds of our politicians, the TGA and the RANZCP, who we rely upon to ensure every Australian has access to the latest medical therapies.

Our 26-year-old daughter suffers from treatment resistant PTSD and severe depression as a result of a trauma when she was only 11.  Rape at any age is devasting, but for a child the impact is profound. We live with the daily fact that with the current treatment of anti- depressants and anti- psychotic drugs available to her in Australia, there is only a 5% chance of her getting well. We also live with the fear that we could lose her. We have journeyed with her for the past 15 years and have seen her suffering as she has tried every treatment available to her. We have all been profoundly impacted by her illness. Our current mental health system has failed our daughter. We need answers. We need treatment. And, we need it now. Tomorrow our daughter may not be here.

Unless you have lived with the fear of your child taking their own life, you will never truly know how it feels. Thousands of mothers, live with that fear every day. Our journey has taken us to countless specialists and across the world. We have watched the work with treatment resistant PTSD using Medicinal MDMA, which is often confused with the recreational drug Ecstasy, Ecstasy is frequently adulterated with more dangerous substances and taken in unsafe environments. We learnt about the outstanding remission rates from Medicinal Psilocybin (which in its natural form comes from certain mushrooms) for treatment of depression. We are confident that these medicines offer real hope. We know that no treatment, even the current ones advocated by our government, is without risks and that the answers are not simple. But we deserve hope.

Clinical trials with medicinal MDMA conducted overseas demonstrate remission rates between 60-80% for treatment resistant PTSD. We were confident Australia would embrace this research in an applied way. Surely, we would act when potentially one of the greatest shifts in psychiatric medicine is knocking on the door? You can imagine our dismay when the TGA refused to reschedule MDMA in its recent Interim Decision. The news was heartbreaking.

The irony is that the TGA is already authorising individual requests from psychiatrists to use these medicines with therapy under its Special Access Scheme, but their listing as prohibited substances in Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard means that there is no ability to get State and Territory Government approval which is also required so that patients can be treated and have a chance to finally get well.  All this will change if they become Schedule 8 Controlled Medicines.  What a cruel system we have. Providing hope with one hand and taking it away with the other.

I contacted the TGA for answers and found their response deeply disturbing. Their justifications were not based on data or science, but rather demonstrated deep bias and misrepresentation (for example, calling these medicines ‘illicit substances’ when they would, in fact, be used only in clinical medical environments). Their responses were offensive to sufferers and their families.

I contacted the RANZCP in the hope that they would show the capacity to lead us out of this crisis. It was clear that they cannot accept the facts which are undeniable and globally supported by leading experts, that these treatments are a viable and safe treatment option.

These bodies MUST begin to rely upon the validated data generated by the wider medical community. Do they suggest the outstanding research done at the leading Universities around the world is not valid or sufficient? Do they believe that countries that have enabled psychiatrists to use these therapies under Expanded Access Schemes have done so without high levels of regard?  These therapies have been granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation by the USA regulator and my daughter should be given the chance to access these therapies in Australia. Sadly, the Australian community is losing trust in the ability of our institutions to lead us forward. They risk becoming irrelevant as more and more Australians seek treatments conducted illegally by underground therapists.

I contacted every Australian Senator and the common response I have received was “we are sorry for your suffering but it is in the hands of the TGA and RANZCP”. These responses reveal that the TGA and RANZCP have too much power; beyond that of even my elected representatives. I elected my politicians to speak for me and lead us forward, and, as yet, few seem willing to ask if these bodies are advising them correctly and acting in the best interests of Australians. Who will challenge them on my behalf? Has my government forgotten they are here to serve my daughter?

This is so much bigger than my daughter. I speak also for those who don’t have a voice. For the lives already lost and for the families too enmeshed in simply surviving to speak out. Our nation is in a mental health crisis where 1 in 5 Australians have a chronic mental health condition and at least 1 in 8 are on antidepressants including 1 in 4 older adults and 1 in 30 young children.

Anxious adult

Australia should be leading the world in treatment, but instead our system is on its knees, bogged down by regressive thinking that places us as one of the poorest performing countries. We need innovation and leadership from our politicians and our medical establishment.  We can make Australia a leader in this field.  I imagine a day when the world looks to us. A day when no Australian suffers unnecessarily or dies from a treatable mental health illness.

I have NO doubt that the tide is turning and we will see these medicines rescheduled. The push from Australians like myself, WILL bring about this change. I believe the government knows this too.  They know they WILL lose the battle but don’t seem to care about those that will die in the final days of this “war”.

So, it’s time. Enough procrastination, posturing and politics. Our representatives MUST do the job that we have a right to expect of them.

I am praying that the TGA’s announcement this week, that it will be seeking further advice before making the final rescheduling decisions for MDMA and psilocybin will at last mean that the data and facts will come to the surface and block out the bias and stigma. Then finally, change will happen. The TGA has promised an Independent Expert Review into the therapeutic value, risks and benefits to public health outcomes for these medicines. My daughter and so many other sufferers need this so urgently, but I am not holding my breath.

If our government and health agencies continue to fail us, we will be forced to re-mortgage our house and attempt go overseas for treatment. To countries that lead the world in the treatment of mental health. To countries that care in actions, not just words. I will then shout from the roof tops, that my government has failed me and I am deeply ashamed of the country we have become.

Annie Mason

Annie Mason is an educator with a wide range of experiences including classroom teaching K-12, Special Education and Student Wellbeing. She was a Principal for over 15 years and has a special interest in Gender Equity, Social Justice and Women in Leadership. She is a strong advocate for the legal and ethical rights of those with mental health issues.

My Awakening… by Simone Dowding

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 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, 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.

Eli graduated from the first intake of the Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) in June 2021. He has also been recently appointed as the Principal Investigator to lead Emyria’s upcoming MDMA trial.

When You Trip Upon A Star By Charlotte McAdam

 

Unraveling the inspiration behind various acclaimed Disney films.

Can psychedelics be used to address childhood trauma and better understand imagination?

Walt Disney films are a cornerstone of childhood. Today, the Disney corporation is one of the most powerful media and entertainment enterprises in the world. Without even realising it, the company has probably influenced your own imagination, and in some way shaped your beliefs, values, and morals. However, before it turned into a global giant, it all began with a mouse.

Undeniably, Walt Disney had an enormous influence on the animation industry. He is the most renowned animator, filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer in cinematographic history. Hailed as “the Father of Animation”, he was the first to pioneer full length cartoons with synchronised sound and technicolour. Walt had one of the most important impacts on the development of animation and ultimately produced over 650 films or shorts in a career that spanned decades. Since then, Disney researchers and animators have continued his legacy, with further contributions to animation, science, and technology.

While Walt Disney’s career is not without pitfalls and controversy, it is indisputable that he changed the world with his creativity. How did he manage to always keep that childlike perspective? As Walt himself said, “That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.”

Disney was known for being an innovator. He was continually one step ahead of his peers and was constantly seeking new ideas. Could it be that the act of his creative mind was influenced by psychedelics? Walt is not alive to confirm or deny these rumours, yet widespread speculation of his use of hallucinogens is commonly assumed. Perhaps we will never be able to prove these claims, but there is one thing that is certain — the magic of Mr. Disney was his ability to preserve his childlike imagination throughout his lifetime.

There has long been reports that members of the creative Disney team were involved in the use of psychoactive substances. Is it such a far cry for Walt himself to have indulged as well? According to a letter by Paul Laffoley, an American visionary artist, Disney was indeed influenced by the hallucinogen mescaline, found in the Peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii).

The letter goes on to say that in an attempt to explain “artistic implications of the new field of animation”, Walt arranged an interview with Josef Albers, the artistic director for the experimental liberal arts school — Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Josef, however, turned down the request. As a result, Walt then switched his intentions to the students at the college to aid his animated ventures. It was during this interaction with the students that he learned of their avid use of mescaline during their summer breaks in Northern Mexico. Laffoley claims this was the catalyst needed for Disney to become a frequent user himself.

Mescaline is a psychedelic alkaloid that occurs naturally in Peyote, San Pedro, Peruvian Torch, and other cactus varieties. These plants produce an experience similar to LSD or magic mushrooms: extravagant visuals, increased sense of connection, appreciation toward small and mundane details, and novel interpretations of the world around you. Studies show that mescaline can enhance creativity, which would explain why the art students would be enthusiasts of the substance.

Walt genuinely was determined to make real art. He was not only inspired by the natural world, but also by other visionary artists. This motivated him to team up with famed surrealist artist Salvador Dalí for the movie ‘Destino’, which initially started in 1945 but only saw eventual completion in 2003 by Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney. Although the project was put on the back burner, both artists got more than what they bargained for out of their partnership. What started as a creative collaboration led to a lifelong friendship. Salvador Dalí is well known to have incorporated the psychedelic experience in many of his creations. With infamous artwork such as ‘The Psychedelic Flower’ and ‘The Hallucinogenic Toreador’, it would seem Dali was very open about referencing psychedelic terminology.

Another good friend of Walt Disney was none other than well-known and prolific English writer Aldous Huxley. Best recognised for his novel ‘Brave New World’ which presents a world where psychological manipulation is encouraged by regularly taking the drug ‘Soma’ — a potent hallucinogen that creates a strong sense of well-being. Additionally, Huxley is known for the notorious psychedelic inspired ‘Doors of Perception’ where he openly recounts his experience with the psychoactive compound mescaline.

In the fall of 1945, Disney brought in Huxley to work on the live action animation script for what was to become ‘Alice and the Mysterious Mr. Carroll.’ It has been stated that Walt rejected the script because it was too “literary” and didn’t capture what he wanted. Sadly, a fire destroyed more than four thousand of Huxley’s annotated books and documents, including most of his involvement on the ‘Alice’ project. Fortunately, the Disney Archives still has some of the story meeting notes and parts of the original script.

The classic children’s book ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll, is a tale that revolves around a girl who quite literally falls down a rabbit hole and finds an entirely new world to explore. Examining the psychedelic undertones within Alice in Wonderland’s storyline is not a recent phenomenon. The theory has been pursued by artists and critics alike. There is a possibility that people attribute this because it was written during an era when psychedelic use was rampant, not necessarily because Carroll was actually under the influence of anything. However, with characters like the hookah smoking caterpillar and the fact that Alice finds herself under the influence of a mushroom does make you wonder if the story was a by-product of mind-altering drugs.

No one knows for sure if Walt Disney himself was truly an avid user of hallucinogens. None the less, there is no doubt that he had many connections with certain collaborators who were well-documented in partaking in altered states of consciousness. Additionally, Disney’s work frequently reflected that of the psychedelic experience itself.

These references in Disney films are not an unusual occurrence. The feature film ‘Fantasia’ was even re-released in 1969 with a psychedelic poster and embraced by the counterculture amid speculation that Walt was under the influence when he produced it. The popular hallucinogen at that time was LSD, which wasn’t brought to the USA until 1949, too late to have been the original driving force behind Disney’s Fantasia. It is more likely that mescaline was involved.

The combination of classical music and visuals of nature coming to life is a typical blueprint of the entire psychedelic experience. Even the casual observer would notice the impressive context and landscapes in Fantasia. In particular, scenes such as the dancing Amanita Muscaria toadstool mushroom fuels the psychedelic influence speculation. The species contains two main psychoactive compounds, ibotenic acid and muscimol.

This scene was created by animator Art Babbitt, who was fully aware of the gossip surrounding the film and its possible link to drugs. So much so that in an interview, he sarcastically quipped: “Yes, it is true. I myself was addicted to Ex-lax and Feenamint” — which are merely over the counter laxatives. Other psychedelic plants can similarly be spotted in the film. These include: Morning Glory (LSA), Angel Trumpets (Scopolamine), Poppies (Opium), and what appears to be Datura (Atropine).

Fantasia is still considered one of the best visual works of all time. It continues to astound even though it was made in 1940. It’s mythological, spiritual, and occult visuals mixed with massive musical scores paved the way for animation. It allowed other animators to think outside the box. Walt even invented the multiplane camera to give the film the depth and dimensions to immerse the viewers visual senses. Disney was aware that the feature was an intricate and complex piece of art, that was unlikely to grab the attention of young children. What he wanted was to create discussion among the adults by presenting a work that changed the way they thought.

Fantasia is not the only Disney film that includes psychedelic undertones. Another infamous substance inspired clip was in the 1941 film Dumbo. The Pink Elephants on Parade is one of the most iconic trippiest scenes in cinematic history. Naturally at the time, it was negatively received and a risky move for a company who was in financial distress. The song is the result of a drunken trip Dumbo and Timothy have after inadvertently drinking a bottle of champagne. The pair start to hallucinate a collection of Pink Elephants. The lyrics of the song do a decent job of summing up the intensity of a psychedelic trip — “Technicolor pachyderms is really too much for me.” The scene is unlike anything Disney had ever done or has ever done since.

Countless other scenes in Disney animations such as Pinocchio, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians and The Little Mermaid show characters smoking. As a result, these movies have now had their availability limited on streaming services. Obviously, not all these scenes are referring to psychedelic use, however, some do seem questionable. In particular, the clip of Pinocchio’s reaction after inhaling what appears to be an ordinary tobacco cigar. His head spin seems fairly intense after his ne’er-do-well friend Lampwick tells him he is not doing it right. “Take a big drag. Like this.” The effect suggests many Disney animators might have been familiar with a bong.

You may be asking yourself; okay Disney was possibly inspired by psychedelics? So what? Well, since psychoactive compounds are still illegal in most countries, I believe it is critical to expose and emphasise the numerous key public figures that used these medicines. Not only have they certainly been the motivation for art and music, but behind notable innovations that have impacted the world, and changed the course of history. We may owe a lot more to psychedelics than we think.

They additionally have the potential to change the current mental health paradigm. Statistically this is getting worse every year, especially in children, and exaggerated by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Sure, back in Walt Disney’s time the state of the world was certainly not all positive. Post World War II would have had an enormous traumatic effect on the collective consciousness. However, in general people’s lives would have been much more sheltered, contained and community based.

Humans today are exposed to more information than ever before. Scientists concluded that in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986. This overwhelms the brain and continues to cost our mental faculties a great deal. The rise of social media in combination with consumerism, has led to an unrealistic view of our ourselves and what we think we should be. Constant exposure to the world’s troubles, have a detrimental effect on our psyche and raises levels of depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Walt was always focused and dedicated to family entertainment. He was determined to create Disneyland even when it was shunned by the rest of the Disney team. It was a major financial risk to the company, and Walt had to borrow from his life insurance to help fund the project. Fortunately, his vision paid off and today Disneyland is considered the most successful amusement park of all time. Walt truly wanted a place for children and adults to come together. Encouraging grown-ups to connect to their imagination without fear of judgement.

Interestingly, psychedelics seem to aid in connecting fully developed adult brains to their childhood state of mind. Carhart-Harris, a popular psychedelic researcher and Alison Gopnik, a researcher of Psychology at UC Berkeley, have both stated that the effects of psychedelics seem to resemble the mind of an infant.

Research using fMRI scans show that children have decreased default mode network (DMN) activity compared to adults, something that is observed in psychedelic users as well. The DMN is thought to be involved with ‘resting state consciousness’ and tasks requiring one’s attention seem to suppress this network. The DMN is not as strong in children because they have yet to develop strategies of ‘auto-pilot’ work, requiring more immediate awareness than adults. It also has to do with a less conditioned state of mind, as the DMN can be known as our ‘inner critic’.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris explains how the effects of psychedelics can assist those struggling with psychopathologies, that can be caused by certain childhood traumas and experiences. “Certain patterns, certain configurations in the brain can become overly reinforced. And some of the range of brain activity becomes sort of narrowed and limited. If you have these very debilitating disorders, then perhaps you could introduce something like LSD, which works to introduce a kind of window of plasticity or malleability — conditions for change, essentially — to try and sort of dismantle these entrenched patterns.”

It goes without saying that these medicines should only be used by adults. Legalising psychedelic psychotherapy could greatly assist those struggling, therefore, having an immediate effect on the way we raise the children of tomorrow. If done so with careful preparation, attendant psychotherapy, and proper integration psychedelics perhaps have the power to create a better future for all.

Disney Pixar’s newly released ‘Soul’, is an incredible exploration of the meaning of life. It is not the first time a Disney movie has posed the kind of big-life questions that face many middle-aged adults. The film is known in the Disney community as a sort of next chapter of the animation ‘Inside Out’ (which depicts characters that represent certain emotions, in the hopes of explaining psychological concepts to children). Both were equally successful at the box office and in exploring the metaphysical.

Soul’s protagonist, Joe, goes on a spirited adventure and is faced with questioning his purpose, if his dream was enough to fulfill him, and what life is really about. After finally getting his big break, Joe accidently dies and is drawn towards the proverbial light (similar to descriptions of 5meo-DMT and near-death experiences). Ultimately, spoiler alert, one of the movie’s many morals is that it is the little things that truly make life worth living. Joe realises that happiness may not arrive from accomplishing that which he dreamed of, but rather, by appreciating each quotidian moment.

In the film, “lost souls” wander the astral plane because they are anxious and depressed. Becoming too obsessed with anything, even if you believe it is your purpose, can lead to dissatisfaction and a disconnection from reality. Moonwind, the captain of a psychedelic galleon bearing a troupe of “mystics without borders”, helps rescue the lost souls. These characters also mention other transcendental practices or techniques such as yoga, meditation, drumming and psychotherapy.

The movie wants to leave its audiences asking questions about the meaning of life and the human experience as a whole. Introducing complex themes to children such as the idea of the flow state in the creative process, the fleeting nature of life itself and other philosophical debates. The fact that Disney animation is so comfortable with talking about the meaning of existence is a testament to how far we have come.

Personally, it is similar to my own experience with taking psychedelics, which in fact was the inspiration behind this article. I suppose the teachings and insights I received were similar to those themes explored through various Disney movies, even once seeing the Cheshire Cat during an Ayahuasca session in Peru. While there is already wisdom behind this character, the cat strangely explained to me through various visions that life is a riddle, and I will never figure it all out. Further reminding me that life is absurd and laughing at that is part of life’s whole trip.

I have directly struggled with mental health issues, especially with my own self-image. I believe this is associated with my childhood experiences; however, it has been further exaggerated by societies focus on the external. Psychedelics helped me better embrace my quirks, talents, and gifts that I have to give to the world. It was the first time I truly saw myself for who I am — a spiritual being having a human experience. It gave me a deeper understanding of the reasons why we are here.

Disney has always provided its audience with profound meanings. Some films are majorly influenced from ancient cultures and native indigenous spirituality, some who are well-documented for using plant medicines as a healing tool. These messages can be heard in the soundtracks from films such as Pocahontas, Brother Bear, The Lion King, Tarzan, Moana, Mulan, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney has forever been teaching children about understanding those with different backgrounds. With lyrics like “Show us that in your eyes, we are all the same” from Brother bear or “You think you own whatever land you land on; the Earth is just a dead thing that you claim” from the renowned ‘Colours of the Wind’. And who could forget the deep-rooted ideas in the iconic ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King, showing us the connectivity of everything.

In a world that is trying to make us fit in, Disney inspires us to stand out. What makes us different, makes us unique. As we grow older, we are no longer encouraged to be creative or playful. Becoming an adult is inevitable and can be wonderful when we hold onto our childlike curiosity. Certainly, nobody wants to be that person with Peter Pan syndrome. Yet, it is healthy to be reminded that we once were all children, trying to figure out and navigate the world around us. We still have an inner child; we must learn how to connect and heal them. A great deal of work is done in therapy around parenting your own inner child.

The reason Disney films are notorious for striking a chord with our emotions, is because it reminds us of our own childhood. We become nostalgic of a more innocent time when we would let our imaginations run wild. Sentimental of a period when the little things in life bought us so much joy. This is a key ingredient to healing the trauma of our collective past. Psychedelics reminds us of the magnificence of creation. They push us to take better notice of the beauty in nature or the emotion behind music. They help us see the interconnectedness of everything.

So, perhaps next time you sit down to watch a treasured Disney film or go to play one of their unforgettable classic movie soundtracks; you will have greater appreciation for those magical plants that maybe inspired fantasy worlds to be bought to life. I believe that they influenced and even played a starring role in countless Disney masterpieces. Seems in many ways, psychedelics and Disney go hand in hand, always encouraging us to bring more animation into our lives.

 

REFERENCES

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Maltin, L., 2021. When Disney got trippy. [online] Bbc.com. <https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20151112-when-disney-got-adult-and-trippy> [Accessed 2 February 2021].

Medium. 2021. LSD, Childhood Memories, And the Science of Nostalgia. [online] <https://medium.com/@psychedelicsaremedicine/lsd-childhood-memories-and-the-science-of-nostalgia-32bebb1fe1e9> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

Npr.org. 2021. NPR Cookie Consent and Choices. [online] <https://www.npr.org/2016/04/17/474569125/your-brain-on-lsd-looks-a-lot-like-a-babys> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

Open Culture. 2021. When Aldous Huxley Wrote a Script for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. [online] <https://www.openculture.com/2014/12/when-aldous-huxley-wrote-a-script-for-disneys-alice-in-wonderland.html> [Accessed 15 February 2021].

Paullaffoley.net. 2021. » Walt Disney and Josef Albers Official Paul Laffoley Website. [online] <https://paullaffoley.net/writings-2/walt-disney-and-josef-albers/> [Accessed 21 February 2021].

Psychology Today. 2021. “Soul:” A Psychedelic Adventure into Meaning. [online] <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psyche-meets-soul/202101/soul-psychedelic-adventure-meaning> [Accessed 25 February 2021].

Gwerky science. 2021. The Phoenix Effect: Reversing Mental Age with Psychedelics. [online] <https://mad.science.blog/2020/08/16/the-phoenix-effect-reversing-mental-age-with-psychedelics/> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

Secret of the Vine. 2021. Disney Psychedelics & the Occult | Secret of the Vine. [online] <https://www.secretofthevine.com/disney-psychedelics-and-the-occult> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

A Magic Medicine Journey By Tania de Jong AM

Psychedelic Prism

I want to start with a snapshot of how I am possibly different from the average person. I don’t smoke or drink. Before this chapter of my life began, I’d never taken any drugs besides prescription medication (and those as rarely as possible). I live in Melbourne, the coffee capital of Australia, and don’t even drink it.

Yet today, my life revolves around psychedelic medicines – heavily stigmatised substances still illegal in most countries. This huge shift is likely confusing. However, my personal journey can hopefully provide a deeper understanding of why I co-founded Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), and how psychedelic-assisted therapy could change the face of mental health treatment.

Helping People find their Voice

Over the past two decades, I’ve founded 6 companies, 3 charities and am a Member of the Order of Australia. I’m a global speaker and an international soprano – performing both as a soloist and as part of a group and have released 12 albums.

Singing has always been a huge part of my life. This motivated me to create the charity Creativity Australia and social inclusion program, With One Voice. My mission was to bring together people from different backgrounds, generations, faiths, and cultures by forming social inclusion choirs that bring together ‘haves’ with ‘have-nots’. Singing together can help alleviate loneliness, depression, and social isolation. I explain this further in my recent TED talk, which has received over 100,000 views so far.

I’ve personally witnessed that helping people find their voice can unlock their full creative potential. Similarly, I also believe psychedelics have a monumental role in helping achieve this. I know they will allow me to scale this mission… but I’ll get back to that. First, I think it’s important to tell you about my own experiences with psychedelics.

From Sober to Psilocybin Seeker

Taking an illegal substance had never occurred to me until I stumbled across Michael Pollan’s article in The New Yorker titled ‘The Trip Treatment.’ Reading it not only made me aware of the current resurgence in psychedelic research but also helped me to understand how these ancient plant medicines were assisting people to heal from a host of mental health issues.

From that point on, my interest in trying these hallucinogenic plants began to grow. I had no idea what it was like to be drunk or out of control. Yet the majority of people expose themselves to these altered states on a regular basis. I wondered if perhaps I was missing out on an essential human experience. What could psychedelics teach me about who I am or who I could be? Through exploring my psyche, what unknown parts of myself and our cosmos could psychedelics grant me access to?

So, I recruited the support of my now-husband Peter, and set out on a quest to have a therapeutic experience with psilocybin mushrooms. Having sadly lost his father to suicide in his early teens, Peter was also interested in dealing with past traumas.

However, being able to do this in a safe and legal setting proved difficult. After first trying and failing to get into global trials for healthy patients, we were ultimately referred to a private therapist in the Netherlands, where the use of psychoactive truffles is legal. We ingested a large dose of psilohuasca – a combination of psilocin-containing fungi and Syrian Rue, a MAO inhibitor used to enhance and prolong the effects of a trip.

The Inner Journey

Fair warning – describing what it’s like when you take psychedelic substances is difficult. My first time was completely removed from anything I’d encountered before. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, there’s really no reference point for understanding what it’s like. However, I can tell you that from then on, my life veered off in a very different direction.

The combination of having never lost control before and hearing stereotypes around psychedelics, made me incredibly nervous. I believed that it was going to destroy my brain. Turns out, this is far from reality. What happened was one of the most meaningful experiences of both our lives.

Firstly, the medicine completely shot us into space and, at the same time, through the Earth, rivers and oceans. What initially overwhelmed me was this incredible sense of oneness.It was as if all boundaries dissolved and I was left with the sheer magnificence of our planet. The connectivity of everything was indescribable. I haven’t been able to eat meat or even step on an ant since.

Being confronted with personal pain is a common experience during a psychedelic trip. For myself, as the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I’ve lived with transgenerational trauma my whole life. I was faced with this horror during my experience and have undergone transformational healing as a result.

These realisations were profound, but it’s the deeper insights we gained about ourselves that have left a lasting impression. The self-development Peter and I dove into following that first overseas expedition was vital for us to really integrate our life-changing experience. These lessons were so powerful, we didn’t feel compelled to have another session for a whole year. Research shows that the psychedelic experience significantly decreases activity in the brain’s default mode network. However, it’s the work that’s achieved in subsequent integration that leads to lasting wisdom. Incorporating the experience into your life, is just as important as the experience itself.

The neurogenesis and increased neural plasticity created by the medicines is truly remarkable. It’s like hitting the reboot button on your brain’s computer and defragging the faulty drives. I’ve noticed my creativity has increased tremendously. I’m able to access more moments of flow and purity in my singing, public speaking and writing. I’ve also recognised real lifts in my energy and consciousness. I feel many neural pathways have reconnected for me, new ones have formed and missing parts of myself have been found.

Psilocybin and Placebo

Creating a Movement and Making a Difference

Fast forward a few years later and Peter and I now seek out a session every four to six months. We call it our reset button. Every time we work with these medicines, we get new downloads and join more dots. Not only have we woven psychedelics into our lives, but the immense value we’ve gained from these magical medicines is what inspired us to establish our fifth charity, Mind Medicine Australia in 2019. Whilst our other charities are helping thousands of people through women’s shelters, social inclusion choirs, educational programs, poverty alleviation and microfinance, we acknowledge that at the heart of any kind of social isolation or disadvantage lies mental illness.

Mental illness keeps a person isolated. Sufferers often deal with rigid, negative thought patterns and intense feelings of despair. Every day we get emails and calls from those who’ve tried medication or therapy and are at the end of the road. We need to treat the underlying cause if people are to genuinely heal and lead more meaningful lives.

Having celebrated our second anniversary in February 2021, MMA is focused on expanding the treatment paradigm available to specialist health practitioners to reduce Australia’s terrible mental health statistics, which are worsening because of the current and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular concern and pertinence are the high levels of mental illness, addiction, and suicide amongst the veteran, first responder and other marginalised population groups.

Before the pandemic, 1 in 5 Australians were experiencing some type of mental illness. 1 in 8 adults, 1 in 4 older people and 1 in 30 children (some as young as four) were estimated to be on anti-depressants. Their use across the country has risen by a massive 95% over the past 15 years. Still, mental health statistics continue to get worse, resulting in one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. Recently, mental health experts announced that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a 25% increase in suicide rates. Incidence of trauma, anxiety, depression and substance abuse are all accelerated by the pandemic.

Depression treatment methods haven’t substantially changed for decades and reversion rates are as high as 80% following medication. Side effects and withdrawal symptoms are common problems. Anti-depressants and psychotherapy lead to remission for less than 35% of suffers and the rates for PTSD are around 5%.

On the other hand, MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapies are considered safe with remission rates of between 60-80% being achieved from over 150 current and recent trials. Evidence suggests psychedelics are low in toxicity, non-addictive, and show no signs of producing organ damage or neuropsychological side effects. These medicines are also proving to be very effective at treating various addictions. Practitioners describe them as ‘antibiotics for the mind’ due to their outstanding efficiency and short nature of treatment programs.

Research showing the benefits of these therapies are taking place at many of the world’s most prestigious universities including Johns Hopkins, Yale, UCLA, Harvard, Oxford and Imperial College London. Furthermore, these therapies are already legally available in the USA, Switzerland, Canada, Israel via Special Access Schemes. Some psychiatrists and prescribing physicians we work with have also recently received approvals for use of MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapy for their treatment resistant patients via Australia’s SAS-B pathway.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD have achieve “Breakthrough Therapy” designation from the FDA in the USA. This designation is only granted to medicines that could be vastly superior to existing treatments to fast-track the approval process. MDMA, which is in Phase 3 trials, is likely to be a prescribed treatment for PTSD in the USA within 18 months. There are also trials underway for the treatment of end-of-life depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug addiction, dementia, strokes, anorexia and other eating disorders, cluster headaches and chronic pain.

Scaling the Mission to Set People Free

In preparation, we need to ensure that practitioners are properly trained. Our Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies commenced in January 2021. This is the first course of its kind in this field in the Southern Hemisphere and is being designed in collaboration with the world’s leading programs and features a Faculty of global leaders in this field. Both our intakes for 2021 are proving popular with practitioners including psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, mental health nurses and social workers.

Mind Medicine Australia is in the process of establishing an Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies. Its main mission is to expand the mental illness treatment paradigm in Australia and boldly position Australia as a global leader in mental health innovation, with partnerships encompassing University, philanthropic, private industry, and government sectors. MMA is also a part-funder of the nation’s first psychedelic clinical trial, currently underway at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital. We are also currently planning a Major International Summit for 2021, attracted a great Board, Advisory Panel and have support from major players in the psychedelic space. These include pioneers Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins University, David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London, Rick Doblin from MAPS and many others.

What psychedelic medicines provide is an extremely effective treatment option for medical professionals who are desperately seeking innovation in the way we treat mental illness. They can help us rediscover our connection to ourselves. We can’t love others unless we first love ourselves. Psychedelics used intentionally also have the potential to help us solve other serious challenges, such as environmental and political issues, homelessness, and domestic violence.

A great deal of pain and suffering could be alleviated by introducing genuine connection back into people’s lives. If the pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s that humans are social creatures, and losing that connection can drastically affect our health and wellbeing. My first mission was to heal through the power of music, and don’t get me wrong, I’m still very dedicated to doing this. Yet today, with MMA, we’re taking that mission and scaling it in a way I could’ve never imagined possible.

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 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and 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!

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