psychedelics · Mind Medicine Australia
Mind Medicine Australia logo Menu

New Horizons in Healing: Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy’s Bold Leap Forward

This article was originally published by Dr David Reiner here. Connect with David on LinkedIn here.

A New Chapter in Mental Health Care

On January 19, 2024, the landscape of mental health care was changed forever. In an unprecedented move, MDMA was given to a patient not as part of a trial but as a prescribed treatment. This bold step came less than a year after the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) decision to sanction MDMA for the treatment of PTSD.

As we acknowledge the weight of this moment, it is fitting, as many of us are, to be celebrating. The patient under the care of Ted Cassidy and Monica Schweickle, grappling with chronic treatment-resistant PTSD, reportedly experienced profound therapeutic gains. Writing on LinkedIn, Dr Cassidy said, “one day with MDMA-assisted therapy achieved more than is usually achieved in a year.”

This event should fuel our optimism for the future of psychiatric treatment. Yet, it also serves as the perfect point for us to pause and ponder the journey that has brought us here, and to balance our enthusiasm with the right amount of caution.

As we stand on the cusp of a new era in mental health intervention, one that could promise great leaps forward in healing, it’s vital we remember our commitment to patient safety and evidence-based practice.

The Mavericks of Medicine

The trajectory of medical science has been and continues to be a journey into the unknown. The strides forward that we now accept as conventional thought first required someone to view things unconventionally, sometimes at great risk to their personal and professional reputations.

Consider Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, the tragically marginalized pioneer of antiseptic procedures, who was branded a charlatan and met his end in a Viennese asylum. While it is the mavericks and iconoclasts who have propelled science forward, his story is a sobering reminder of the price paid for radical thought.

Overlooked or not, some of the greatest scientists in history started as outsiders and rebels. In medicine, the field of psychiatry perhaps best exemplifies this spirit of rebelliousness, with unconventional figures such as Freud littered along its annals of fame. It seems fitting, then, that psychedelics—long associated with counter-culture—have found a niche within this rebellious lineage.

Rigour in the Face of Revolution

Yet, in the pursuit of progress, we should anchor ourselves with a healthy level of scepticism – the vital counterbalance we use in science to ensure that our optimism does not outpace the evidence available.

It is our duty, as doctors within the psychedelic space, to rigorously scrutinize, research, and refine our methods. So, as we congratulate Ted Cassidy and Monica Schweickle for conducting the first MDMA dosing session beyond a research setting, let’s also commit to the meticulous study that this new frontier demands.

The initiation of MDMA in clinical therapy is a significant leap, yet our journey is far from complete. Continued research is essential to refine our treatment protocols and to validate the efficacy of our work with patients. Though the road ahead is promising, it will be long and filled with complexity and controversy, just as the road to this point has been.

Navigating Complex Currents

The journey toward the TGA decision in 2023 to approve MDMA and psilocybin as medicines was a complex one. Just a year before the decision, a proposal to down-schedule these substances was rejected, with major professional bodies like the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Psychological Society supporting this stance.

The eventual shift in policy seems to have been catalysed by advocacy from groups like Team Mind Medicine Australia and notable scientists such as Professor David Nutt, despite little new scientific evidence at the time. This pivot highlights the nuanced dynamics at play in the landscape of psychedelic medicine.

As a result, reactions to the TGA’s decision have been polarized, with some such as Professor Nutt embracing it as a beacon of hope for patients with few alternatives, while others voice apprehension. Prominent psychiatric professionals, including Orygen CEO Patrick McGorry , have voiced concerns about the potential implications of “intense private lobbying” on regulatory decisions.

Decisions in the medical field ought to be grounded in rigorous scientific evidence and to be made with the utmost integrity. As we continue to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, we must maintain balance. However, there are patients out there suffering from chronic and treatment-resistant conditions. For them, waiting for new treatment options risks prolonged suffering and the pace of governments and bodies is overly risk-averse.

The Cultural Catalysts

Psychedelic medicine is currently at a pivotal crossroads, experiencing a shift propelled by a diverse cohort including clinicians, researchers, and, notably, entities from the med-tech sector, venture capitalists, and investors. The entrance of for-profit interests into this sphere inevitably prompts scrutiny over the motivations steering the field.

Amidst this transformation, cultural contributions such as Michael Pollan’s “How To Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics,” now a successful Netflix series, have catalysed public curiosity and piqued demand for psychedelic-assisted therapies. The resultant surge in public interest has significantly outpaced the more measured approach traditionally taken by established medical bodies.

This disparity in pace has been highlighted by the actions of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has only recently begun to actively engage in establishing a dedicated working group on psychedelics and forming a committee to write clinical guidelines for psychedelic treatment.

The slow response from such established institutions has left a void, now being filled by non-traditional actors. Their readiness to step in reflects a broader trend where, in the face of pressing public demand and the potential for profound therapeutic benefits, the impetus for innovation emerges from outside the medical establishment.

Toward a Future of Healing

We can hope that this pioneering first case of MDMA as a medicine in a clinical setting could catalyse a broader movement towards accessible and affordable mental health treatments. As evidence supporting psychedelic therapies grows, so too does the potential for government support and integration into healthcare systems

The broadening of the evidence base is a crucial factor that could pave the way for psychedelic treatments to be integrated into mainstream healthcare systems. If these therapies can continue to demonstrate efficacy and safety in clinical use, it stands to reason that they might soon be considered for inclusion in national healthcare schemes like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Medicare.

The potential for reducing the financial burden on patients and increasing the availability of innovative therapies is a hopeful prospect, one that could transform the landscape of mental health treatment and offer new hope to those for whom traditional therapies have fallen short.

A New Dawn with Due Diligence

As we stand at the cusp of what could be a revolution in mental health care, our shared mission must be to proceed with informed enthusiasm and cautious optimism. Let us embrace the new dawn of MDMA-assisted therapy with diligence, ensuring that every step forward is taken with care for those we serve and respect for the science that guides us.

Dr David Reiner

B.Med, F.A.N.Z.C.A, PG Dip Echo

Dr David Reiner graduated medical school in 2003 and completed his anaesthesia training at the Prince Of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

He has been working as a Anaesthesiologist at The Canberra Hospital (public) since 2011. He was the quality and safety officer for the Australian New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in the ACT for 3 consecutive years – during this time he activated the WEBAIRS platform in the ACT – the Adverse Incident Reporting System. He has administered anaesthesia to over 16,000 patients. The majority of his clinical practice involves anaesthesia for neurosurgery. Anaesthesiology by definition involves using mind altering drugs. Every medication has side effects/complications including the ones we are trialling – Dr David Reiner is skilled at managing drug disturbances to physiology. Having an anaesthesiologist during the clinical administration of novel drugs increases safety of that trial. Anaesthesiologists are capable of basic life support and advanced life support. Acute circulatory, neurological and respiratory disturbances due to drugs are part of Dr Reiner’s everyday practice. Like all anaesthesiologists he alters consciousness, blood pressure and breathing patterns of every single patient under his care.

Top Takeaways from Mind Medicine Australia’s Psychedelic Public Lecture with Dr. Ben Sessa

 

By Natasha Baer

A full hall gathered at St Kilda Town Hall to hear Dr. Ben Sessa present a lecture on Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies: The New Frontier in Mental Health Treatments. Dr. Sessa spent much of October and November in Australia co-leading the Intensives for Mind Medicine Australia’s Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) course and presenting public lectures and workshops.

Hosted by Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), a charity that aims to alleviate the suffering and suicides caused by mental illness, the event saw MMA founders Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM give an update about the charity’s progress in the space. There was also a Q&A panel with Psychiatrist Dr. Eli Kotler and Psychotherapist Marjane Beaujeois, both graduates of MMA’s acclaimed Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies course.

The headliner of the event was speaker Dr. Ben Sessa, a UK-based Psychiatrist and Resarcher, at the forefront of psychedelic research. Dr. Sessa highlighted groundbreaking research in the field and shared his ideas for progress in psychedelic treatment. Without further ado, here’s a wrap-up of the talking points and takeaways, so you can find out what’s what, whether you were lucky enough to be in the room or not.

 

Australia is ahead of the curve

Australia has often been criticized abroad for not being agile or on the bleeding edge of innovation. However, in the field of psychedelic treatment for mental health issues, following the successful rescheduling of psilocybin and MDMA, Australia is now in a unique global leadership position.

On July 1, 2023, Australia became the world’s first country to legalise MDMA and psilocybin officially. Other countries and territories Australia has outpaced include Canada, the USA, the UK and Switzerland.

Dr. Sessa notes that even if any country were to submit an application for legalisation today, it would take about three years for it to be confirmed into law.

Psychedelic drugs are safe…

…in a clinical setting. MMA is solely focused on clinical and legal use only, supported by emerging science, clinical data and legislative processes.

Dr. Sessa said, “A lethal dose is over 1000 times the typical intoxication dose, which equates to consuming 17 kg of fresh mushrooms”. That’s one heck of a beef wellington.

When safely using classical psychedelics clinically, the following outcomes are assessed as low risk:

Psychological risks: Low

Psychosis and suicide: Low

Dependency risks: Low

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder: Rare

Psychedelic therapy works for many mental disorders
Research studies spanning from 2006 to 2022 show that psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine have successfully treated:

One way Dr. Sessa described this broad treatment was: “Psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers of psychotherapy”. The results have been so positive that on a chemical construction level, Dr. Sessa said, “If someone were to invent a cure for PTSD, they would invent MDMA.”

Treatment is drug-based AND talk-based
MMA does not condone simply taking a dose of these medicines. Instead, the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) decision to reschedule MDMA and psilocybin grants Authorised Prescriber status to psychiatrists trained in psychedelic-assisted therapies who are approved by Ethics Committees to treat their patients with these therapies.

Psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine create neuroplasticity, which biologically allows more flexibility and a window of opportunity for healing stuck and rigid thought patterns and programs. Then when paired with bespoke focused clinical psychotherapy, patients can tackle rigid narratives and allow for psychological change.

 

 

The time to act is now

There’s no better time to get involved, Dr. Sessa concludes, “We are in the midst of a global mental health crisis epidemic. We’ve had 100 years of sub-standard treatment. Psychedelics represent the newest technology in psychiatry in the last 50 years — and also the oldest!”

Dr. Sessa calls industry professionals to get involved. Psychiatrists can apply to the ethics boards and the TGA to become Authorised Prescribers. For psychiatrists and other health professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, therapists, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers, pharmacists and others, robust training is available and required.

 

Mind Medicine is ramping up activities!

Wherever you are, you can attend an MMA online event and listen to the MMA podcast series. And importantly, donate to MMA so they can continue to establish safe and effective psychedelic-assisted treatments to treat a range of mental illnesses. Together we can all help to relieve the immense suffering in our families, communities, workplaces and world.

Grateful for the Dead

 

The life and legacy of the late, great Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Why he was a key figure in the 1960’s counterculture movement, and responsible for ultimately altering the collective consciousness of a generation.

The tropical Cairns of Far North Queensland is the last place you’d expect to see someone with such celebratory status as Owsley Stanley. Yet, this is where he’d chosen to live for the last two decades of his life. A climate change refugee, Australia became his home after he predicted that the northern hemisphere would be ruined by uncontrollable storms causing a new ice-age. It was here he died, a citizen of the country, in a car accident in March 2011.

Owsley Stanley neighboured with the untouched vastness of the Daintree rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world — which is where our journey begins. Likewise, this is too where I called home for the past year of my life. A music and psychedelic enthusiast myself, my path and Owsley’s met when I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking to his daughter Redbird Ferguson, who is also Chief Financial Officer of the Owsley Stanley Foundation.

The more I learnt about Owsley Stanley’s life, the more I realised why we have him to thank for paving part of the way for the psychedelic resurgence. His legacy only validates and unveils the unique psychedelic tapestry that links creativity and culture. His story reflects the connection between the psychedelic experience and its impact on human consciousness and cognition in ways that influence innovation, scientific inquiry, and philosophical exploration.

 

EARLY LIFE

Known to many under his life-long nickname ‘Bear’, the pioneering sound man for the Grateful Dead was born in 1935. His father was a prominent government attorney, and his grandfather was elected as Governor of Kentucky in 1919. Even without graduating high school, he was admitted to the University of Virginia, where he studied engineering for a year. Although he eventually dropped out of college, his lack of formal education didn’t hinder him. Bear ultimately secured a position in the United States Air Force in 1956 as an electronics specialist, serving for 18 months.

He was first introduced to psychedelics when he was enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley for a semester in 1963. After consuming the original Sandoz LSD, he became determined to learn how to synthesise it himself. Using his Berkeley lab, he ordered 500 grams of lysergic acid monohydrate, the basis for LSD, which was legal at the time. Bear went on to perfect and produce a staggering 300,000 doses of LSD in his home laboratory.

 

THE ACID TESTS

It was Bear’s acid behind the infamous ‘Acid Tests’ conducted by the novelist Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, the group of psychedelic devotees. The tests were essentially a series of parties held during the mid 1960’s. They comprised of musical performances along with strobe lights, fluorescent paint and of course, LSD. The Acid Tests are notable for their influence on the counterculture of the San Francisco area and subsequent transition from the beat generation to the hippie movement. As bands such as the Dead played, the audience drank Kool-Aid laced with LSD.

Bear eventually used the money he generated selling acid to help fund the early days of the Grateful Dead. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix sampled his product, as did the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Pete Townshend of The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, and The Beatles among others.

John Lennon had apparently developed an appreciation for LSD in England and wanted to obtain enough high-quality acid to fuel his creative endeavours. According to legend, Lennon approached Bear about a lifetime supply. The effects of the Beatles’ psychedelic experiences on Bear’s acid likely contributed to the band’s trippy ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film. It is said that even Albert Hoffman, the first synthesiser of LSD, was quite impressed with the product Bear created, as he was the only one who had ever got the chemistry correct.

Some people view LSD as the prime catalyst of the hippy counterculture. It couldn’t be confined to research and government-led projects. By 1966, “Turn on, tune in, drop out” was the catchphrase popularised by LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary, who credited Bear for his contribution. In his ‘Sixties anthology of essays, Politics of Ecstasy’ Leary predicted, “The television folk heroes of today are the merry outlaws of the past. The Television Robin hoods of the future, the folk heroes of the twenty-first century, will be the psychedelic drug promoters, A.O.S. 3, acid king, LSD millionaire, test-tube Pancho Villa, is the best-known of a band of dedicated starry-eyed crusaders who outwitted the wicked, gun-toting federals and bravely turned on the land of the young and the free to the electronic harmony of the future.” A.O.S.3. was Leary’s acronymic code for the name that Bear was given at birth — Augustus Owsley Stanley III.

 

 

When he wasn’t making the colourful acid tabs known on the street as “White Lightning,” Bear served as the sound engineer for the Grateful Dead. An early and enthusiastic fan, he worked for years to develop the Dead’s “wall of sound,” a 40-foot-tall bank of more than 600 speakers whose output could be controlled by the musicians on stage. This system redefined concert sound reinforcement and set new standards for immersive live experiences. Additionally, he designed the band’s symbol of a lightning bolt inside a skull, known as the “Steal Your Face” logo.

Bear’s use and distribution of high-quality LSD had a significant impact on musicians and their creative processes. Many artists credited LSD with expanding their consciousness and influencing their musical compositions. The psychedelic experience often found its way into the lyrics, sounds, and imagery of the music produced during that era.

BLENDING OF SENSES

“Psychedelics seemed to give me access to my head in some way… I got involved with it because the first time I did it, I realised it opened a door and it was a place I wanted to explore. I wanted to know what I was doing… I guess I’m a good cook. It was the introduction to magic. I’m sure it was the root source of my ability to manipulate sound” (Stanley, 1991).

Bear continued “I was looking at sound coming out of the speakers…” describing an LSD induced trip and added that he’s never met anyone else who’s had the same experience. Interestingly, again this is where Bear and my story intertwines. A high school dropout myself, I eventually went on to study Music at University and too became profoundly transformed by psychedelic revelations. During a psylocibin trip in Joshua Tree, I and the two other women who partook in the ceremony witnessed similar visions to Bear. A phenomenon known as ‘synesthesia’, is where you experience one of your senses through another. For us, it occurred after strumming a guitar and physically seeing the vibrations being fashioned from the strings. The science of how and why this happened fascinates me.

 

 

There have now been numerous accounts of synesthesia being experienced during psychedelic trips. With a study being done by David Luke, a London-based researcher at the University of Greenwich. Luke and colleagues found that, a diverse set of drugs can cause synesthesia. LSD and other tryptamines, such as DMT and psilocybin, are more commonly able to induce the phenomenon. These drugs predominantly affect the serotonin systems which aligns with past research suggesting that synesthesia follows a serotonergic pathway. Luke believes research on psychedelic produced synesthesia could be “a back-door way to understand synesthesia,” as 57% of LSD users surveyed experience it.

Luke adds that research about synesthesia can shed light on what neurobiology researchers call the “binding problem.” This is how items that are encoded by distinct brain circuits can be combined for perception, decision, and action. How do humans take different pieces of sensory input that are processed in distinct regions of the brain, such as the motion of a car or the colour red, and bind them cognitively into one coherent perceptual experience? It helps us understand and navigate the world, and it’s a process that’s not yet deeply understood on a neurobiological level. Research on synesthesia and how it relates to the binding problem, may point toward a relationship between psychedelics and human cognition. According to Luke, his work “goes a long way to substantiating or shoring up the stoned ape hypothesis of Terence McKenna… synesthesia induced by psychedelics may have been important in the development of language.”

PSYCHEDELIC AND ALCHEMY INTERTWINE

Another link between psychedelic and human consciousness is one that is more commonly dismissed as a pseudoscience but was frequently referred to by Bear. He was “a savant with an obsession for quality, but his rigor was influenced by spiritual concerns as much as scientific ones” (Jarnow, 2001). “Since LSD itself modulated the mind, Owsley assumed that it was profoundly sensitive to the atmosphere in which it was made, and he approached making it as an alchemical act, with a fanatical concern for purity of both heart and chemistry. His standards were so exacting that he rejected a significant proportion of his yield” (McNally, 2001).

Bear openly spoke about alchemy and psychedelics. These seemingly unrelated realms of human exploration share a captivating connection that spans across time, geography, and cultural contexts. Both fields delve into the depths of transformation and transcendence, whether it be of matter or of consciousness. By recognising these connections, we gain a deeper understanding of the human drive to explore the unknown and to seek transformation in both the external and internal realms.

 

Alchemy, a mystical and proto-scientific pursuit, emerged in various cultures across the world, from ancient Egypt and Greece to medieval Europe. It aimed to transmute base metals into precious ones and discover the elusive “philosopher’s stone” that held the key to eternal life. Turns out J.K Rowling didn’t pluck Harry Potter from thin air. While on the quest for the stone, alchemists spent a great deal of time studying properties of chemicals and how they interacted. Consequently, alchemy formed the foundation of modern chemistry and medicine.

“Let it be known there is a fountain, that was not made by the hands of men.”

– Ripple, The Grateful Dead

Similarly, indigenous cultures and ancient civilisations have long employed natural substances, often psychedelic plants, or fungi, for spiritual and transformative purposes. Shamans and mystics used these substances to access altered states of consciousness and gain insights into the nature of reality. Both alchemy and psychedelics share an underlying theme of transcendence. Alchemists sought to transform not only physical substances but also their own spiritual selves, embracing the belief that material and spiritual evolution were intertwined. This mirrors the experiences reported by individuals who have undergone psychedelic journeys, often describing a profound shift in their sense of self and connection to the universe. The seven steps of the alchemical process include: calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, fermentation, distillation, and coagulation. The parallels between these steps and the psychedelic experience itself is often speculated.

In today’s world, the connection between alchemy and psychotropic experiences continues to intrigue scholars, scientists, and artists alike. As research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics gains great momentum, similarities are drawn to the alchemical pursuit of transformation and healing. The exploration of the mind’s hidden depths through psychedelics echoes the alchemical quest to unveil hidden truths within matter.

 

 

RETURN OF A REVOLUTION

Owsley Stanley was an outlier from birth. Society at the time, perceived him as a threat to the status quo. He rejected the idea of fame, expressing to Rolling Stone magazine “I’m not into being a celebrity, because I think celebrityhood has no value to anyone, least of all the celebrity.” However, in death his fame is still emerging. I believe his story is an important one to tell, as the Summer of Love might have only been an ordinary season without Bear’s pharmaceutical input. It is my objective to shine light on key figures in history that changed the trajectory of our world through the enhancement of their imagination and creativity by psychedelics.

In saying this, we need to be aware of the reasons that the 60’s went sideways. LSD Dose-for-dose tops all other hallucinogens in potency, as other hallucinogens require a much larger dose. Notorious figures such as Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey passed out the drug far and wide to anyone. Even though it was a small amount, it was blowing people out of their minds. Potency is possibly why you don’t see as much research on LSD versus other psychedelics like psilocybin. People need to be mindful of its effects and when and where to indulge. With the therapeutic use of psylocibin and MDMA now legal in Australia, I assume other countries will shortly follow suit. We are being presented with the opportunity to steer psychedelics back on the right path and use them how they should have been intended, as medicine.

I have previously written in articles about the more specific research behind psychedelic medicine, and how it can unlock creativity by quietening the default mode network, consequently creating new thought patterns in the brain. Perhaps the average person may not invent the next million-dollar idea or scientific discovery, but they have the possibility to change their life and in turn fill it with more beauty. This directly influences others around them and the world at large. With that said, in a world heading for environmental crisis, who knows what problems may be solved by having psychedelics in the right hands. As science and spirituality converge, advocates are starting to bridge the gaps and harness the potential of these compounds for societal betterment. As the legalisation of psychedelic-assisted therapy proposes solace to the terminally ill and those suffering with mental health challenges, it too offers insights into the human psyche.

Bear introduced a generation to the power of these medicines. Beyond his direct influence on music production and performances, his innovative spirit inspired a generation of musicians, engineers, and artists. Bear’s emphasis on pushing boundaries and embracing experimentation left a lasting mark on the music industry and continues to influence how music is created today.

As psychedelics start to become reintroduced into society, I trust that the world will begin to remember our ancient history. Psychedelics is the thread that weaves cultures together. We are only starting to unravel the mysteries of alchemy and psychoactive compounds. We now stand at the crossroads of ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science, seeking to unlock the keys to transformation, both within and beyond. So, thank you Bear for your countless contributions, I’m grateful our paths met in a roundabout way. In the words of the Dead, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

 

REFERENCES

Adams, B.M. (2023) The age of Alchemy, High Times. Available at: https://hightimes.com/culture/the-age-of-alchemy/ (Accessed: 28 July 2023).

Bannerman, M. (2019) The man who brought LSD to America invented something else that also changed music forever, ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-24/stanley-owsleys-work-with-1960s-bands-must-be-preserved/10871062 (Accessed: 28 July 2023).

Bears Sonic Journals (2022) Owsley Stanley Foundation. Available at: https://owsleystanleyfoundation.org/ (Accessed: 15 August 2023).

Brown, E. (2023) ‘Bear’ Stanley, who made the LSD on which Haight-Ashbury tripped, dies at 76, The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/bear-stanley-who-made-the-lsd-on-which-haight-ashbury-tripped-dies-at-76/2011/03/15/ABt95Ib_story.html (Accessed: 12 August 2023).

Cassandra, R. (2022) Psychedelics open opportunity to study synesthesia — lucid news, Lucid News — Psychedelics, Consciousness Technology, and the Future of Wellness. Available at: https://www.lucid.news/psychedelics-open-opportunity-to-study-synesthesia/ (Accessed: 12 August 2023).

Getlen, L. (2016) This guy made the best LSD of the ’60s, New York Post. Available at: https://nypost.com/2016/11/19/this-guy-made-the-best-lsd-of-the-60s/ (Accessed: 15 August 2023).

Kitchens, T. The Johnny Appleseed of LSD (2016) KY for KY Store. Available at: https://kyforky.com/blogs/journal/owsley (Accessed: 12 August 2023).

McNally,Dennis (2002) A long strange trip: The inside history of the Grateful Dead. Broadway Books, NY.

NonDirectionalFilms (2022) OWSLEY STANLEY INTERVIEW. [Online video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjWKNw4nKOs (Accessed: 28 July 2023).

Pierce, M. (2023) The alchemical journey: Exploring the parallels with the psychedelic experience, Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@mikejaypierce/the-alchemical-journey-exploring-the-parallels-with-the-psychedelic-experience-ca7708ccd71d (Accessed: 15 August 2023).

Charlotte McAdam

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

Returning to Our Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte McAdam

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

Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Juleane’s Experiences with 5-MEO-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 Juleane and her experiences with 5-MEO-DMT.

 

What led you to seek healing through psychedelic medicine?

It was by chance that a friend of mine was given some medicine and wanted to share the experience with me. I feel that psychedelic experiences aren’t only valuable to people with mental illness, but in fact everyone.

Although at the time I wasn’t seeking any healing, in hindsight I believe that it’s played a critical role in alleviating the pressures I felt in my everyday life.

What was your psychedelic experience like?

The anxiety I had around my life decisions and responsibilities, all changed in the months following my experience with 5-MEO-DMT. The actual experience was brief (lasting about 10 minutes) yet extremely profound.

It felt disorienting at first but once I relaxed and surrendered, I felt an intense, warm loving energy flow throughout my body. The experience is difficult for me to articulate — I felt like I was being told that I was loved, and I am safe, despite not actually hearing any spoken words. The visual distortions induced the 5-MEO-DMT were so vivid that I felt like I was living in video game, giving rise to a strong sense of wonder and awe.

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

Feeling unconditional love and safety brought about the biggest change in my life — the courage to embrace life’s uncertainties. The experience also made me realise that I was living under a lot of societal and self-imposed pressures.

It initiated a slow but steady process of healing my yearning for certainty of outcomes and recovering the people-pleaser in me. The subsequent reflections have enabled me to take bigger risks in my career, appreciate the novelty that comes from taking chances, develop a deep gratitude for life and trust my own feelings.

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The MMA RWE Research Proposal

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

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

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

a. approval of diagnosis and treatment plan

i. by the TGA

ii. and by an independent psychiatrist

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

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

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

e. The drug treatment session is filmed for safety reasons

In addition:

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

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

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

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

iv. Data collection on any adverse effects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Zinevara’s Story with Changa and MDMA

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 Zinevara and her experiences with Changa and MDMA.

 

What led you to seek healing through psychedelic medicine?

I felt disconnected from myself and from life, like I was standing on the outside looking in. I’d never felt connected to anything. I spent years being told I will never heal from my traumas, that I will always be plagued by its shadow. I could only hope to be accepted as ok, as normal both by myself and others, constantly struggling to keep my head above water. I found psychedelic medicine after doing my own research.

What was your psychedelic experience like?

It was the most life-changing experience that I am still learning from every day. During my trip, I felt safe, gentle, and loved. That’s not to say the experience wasn’t painful. It was like labour, without the physical pain, just the emotional pain. Yet throughout this birthing experience I felt held in love, gentleness, and safety, and I did not feel scared. I did try and fight the process as I didn’t want to face my trauma but the harder I fought, the more I felt loved. This experience was magical, and my deep-seated trauma was diffused in fifteen minutes.

Now I can think and speak about my trauma without the waves of pain that once devoured me, triggering PTSD. I’m no longer attached to my trauma. I feel connected to myself and to life. I experienced so much more than this, like being taken to other places and times but I hesitate to explain this part because the focus of this story is on healing.

I have also found healing through another substance, which with a gentle chat from a trusted friend has allowed me to face the less intense parts of my traumas (I have several).

I want to stress the importance of doing these medicines in a safe place with a safe and trusted guide or therapist. I once had the misfortune of being maliciously triggered by someone while under the effects of a psychedelic and it was a difficult and horrible experience. This is why I STRESS the importance of being in a safe environment with a trained therapist to help deal with any trauma, painful experience, or unforeseen reactions.

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

My experiences with psychedelic medicines have shown me I’m not a lost cause. It didn’t “fix” me in fifteen minutes, but I experienced so much healing. Even now as I unravel the whole process, I find myself smiling. I now have inner strength, and a goal to fight for… me! I have hope that I will be able to heal completely. I am more aware of myself and my triggers, and I have the energy to keep working towards my highest and whole potential.

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.

Psychedelic Healing Stories from Australia: Maree’s Story with Psilocybin and LSD

Healing Stories

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 Maree and her experiences with psilocybin and LSD.

 

What led you to seek healing through psychedelic medicine?

I experienced several traumatic events in my military career, which inevitably lead to moral injury and PTSD. I was experiencing depression, flashbacks, and nightmares, which, regardless of my best efforts seemed like I could not escape. I had tried talk therapy, mindfulness, gratitude, meditation, and other healing practices. I felt hopeless, life was void of joy and meaning. I could no longer see the good in the world or the value in my life. A friend mentioned how psychedelic medicine may help me. It was the only avenue I had not explored. I was nervous and hesitant to use the compounds at first but spent several weeks conducting my own research into the experiences, their benefits, and what conditions would lead to a beneficial experience.

 

What was your psychedelic experience like?

My first psychedelic experience completely changed my life. I gained a new perspective on myself, my experiences, life, the universe, and I felt a deep sense of connectedness to everything. It has been the single most potent spiritual experience of my life. I had a sense of being held, loved, and supported by the universe as I travelled with the medicine.

Consequent experiences took me deep within myself to directly address my trauma in a gentle way, which allowed me to shift my perspective and integrate the trauma. Not only was I able to explore my consciousness, but I was able to experience deep realisations that immediately and continue to improve my life. My psychedelic journeys have been the most healing, powerful, and spiritual experiences of my entire life.

 

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

I initially struggled to integrate the realisations I had in my early experiences simply because they were so profound and so mind-expanding. Over time they were integrated seamlessly, along with the insights and realisations I had during more gentle journeys. My psychedelic experiences were the single most important part of my healing process.

I have not experienced depression, nightmares, or any other negative consequence of my trauma to date. I can now look at them with appreciation, as these challenges have only contributed to my overall growth as an individual. Not only have I healed and become a happier person, but I now have a deeper respect for all of life, a relationship with the divine, and an appreciation for all of life’s experiences. I cannot be more grateful for these compounds entering my life.

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.

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.

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 one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership and was Executive Chairman of Greenhill Australia. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership and was Executive Chairman of Greenhill Australia. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hunt AM

B.Com, LL.B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay in touch with Mind Medicine Australia:

×