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A Magic Medicine Journey

Psychedelic Prism

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

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

Helping People find their Voice

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

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

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

From Sober to Psilocybin Seeker

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

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

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

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

The Inner Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psilocybin and Placebo

Creating a Movement and Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling the Mission to Set People Free

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

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

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

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

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

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

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

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Medically Assisted Psychotherapy in a Global Context

 

World from space

Written by Amelia French and Dr Alana Roy

Psychedelics and plant medicines have been used around the world since early humanity for spiritual, ritual, divination and recreational purposes.[1] Indigenous cultures used plants as medicines for millennia and many cultures carry on this tradition today.[2] Despite the growing evidence for use of psychedelics by humans as modern-day medicine for mental health disorders, they were abruptly made illegal to supply and possess by the United Nations convention in 1971 as a result of President Nixon’s War on Drugs.[3] Studies suggest psychedelics could be a breakthrough therapy for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, addiction, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through their ability to work on a deep emotional as well as biological level. [4] Currently statistics of Mental Health in Australia is one in four people.[5] Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.[6] There needs to be innovation and change for the treatment of mental illnesses. MMA are advocating for the therapeutic use of Psilocybin and MDMA to support people with treatment resistant depression and Post traumatic stress disorder, respectively.

Current pharmacotherapy treatments for depression and anxiety work in 20–40% of cases.[7] Psilocybin has been shown to alleviate depression in 67% of patients within one to two doses even where standard treatments have failed.[8] Current pharmacotherapy has even lower efficacy in the treatment of PTSD with success rates of around 20%, MDMA has been shown lead to remission from PTSD in 78% of cases where standard treatments have not worked.[9] Current treatments such as antidepressants must be taken every day for months, often years. With medicine-assisted psychotherapy, patients frequently experience long-lived reductions in symptoms within a few single dose sessions.

Around the globe we are seeing countries take the lead in medically assisted psychotherapy with the legalization or decriminalization of psychedelics with logical, research-based, and tolerant policies on psychoactive substances. There are currently no countries in which psychedelics are regulated and approved medicines. Also, psilocybin is legally available in the Netherlands and both psilocybin and MDMA are decriminalized for personal use in Portugal, Czech Republic and several countries in South America.[10] When we explore the research into countries with decriminalization of MDMA and Psilocybin from across Europe there is statistics to show the positive outcomes for mental health.

“When delivered safely and professionally, psychedelic therapy holds a great deal of promise for treating some very serious mental health conditions.” Dr Robin Carhart-Harris Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research

Portugal allows the use of psychedelic drugs through the decriminalization of drugs since 2001 and opted for a harm minimization approach to drug use.[11] Portugal have found that removing criminal penalties for personal drug possession did not cause an increase in levels of drug use but rather drug use is dependent on social and cultural factors and trends.[12] Decriminalization allowed space for research into mental health, supporting those with addictions better access to services by reducing the taboo and shame around drug use.[13] The Dutch drug policy is also driven by the idea that each person should make informed decisions on matters of their own health and recognize that drug policy is also a social issue.

The Dutch are world-renowned for their more logical, research-based, and tolerant policies on psychoactive substances. However, this does not mean psychedelics are completely legal in the Netherlands. Just like many other countries, the Dutch government classifies some drugs, including certain psychedelics, as illegal substances however the use of psychedelics is regulated. Drug policy in the Netherlands is guided by the principle that suppressing drug use and having a blanket ban on all drugs does not make mental health illnesses associated with drug use disappear but quite the opposite, makes mental health outcomes worse.[14] This is reflected in literature that mental health issues become far more difficult to minimize and control without appropriate education and prevention of drug abuse disorders is one of the most effective ways to reduce the impact of mental health on individuals and wider society, this is done through education, effective treatments and reducing cultural stigma or shame around mental health. Mental health disorders are exacerbated through lack of recognition to research and suppression through drug policy.[15] Psychedelic assisted therapies can positively impact mental health outcome and has shown to be safe in therapeutic contexts.[16] The Netherlands are embracing medically assisted psychotherapies through clinics, which are leading a movement to transform the way people approach emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well-being, through safe and legal medically assisted psychotherapy backed by research.[17]

Switzerland have allowed the legal therapeutic use of LSD and MDMA for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when used alongside non-drug psychotherapy sessions with an experienced practitioner.[18] In Switzerland, limited medical use of non-registered drugs, or compassionate use is available from psychiatrists to prescribe MDMA for therapeutic use in conjunction with talk therapy for the treatment of trauma disorders.[19] Subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder experienced clinically meaningful improvements and no evidence of harm after participating in a Swiss study evaluating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.[20] The field of medicine-assisted psychotherapy needs to be driven by evidence-based studies to inform policies and law. Through evidence-based research we can effectively improve the quality of people’s lives and to promote healthier societies through policy reform of medicine-assisted psychotherapy. Mind Medicine Australia are advocating for clinical changes to bring these new innovative mental health treatments to Australia. Law is socially constructed by the culture and social influence, and it is ever changing with new research and knowledge emerging. Psychedelics have been shown to have significant therapeutic potential which is seen to outweigh ill-informed anti-drug laws.[21]

There is significant evidence to support the safe use of medicine-assisted psychotherapy when used in a clinically controlled space and appropriate screening is conducted.[22] Research suggests that there is no link between the use of psychedelics and the development of mental illnesses.[23] Further to this, there has been no negative health outcomes associated with the use of psychedelic medicines.[24] However, psychedelic use is highly context dependent and we only advocate for clinical use of psychedelics.

Mind Medicine Australia is an Australian registered charity (with DGR-1 status) seeking to broaden the treatment paradigm available to medical practitioners and their patients and improve treatment effectiveness by establishing, safe, accessible and effective Medicine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Australia for major Mental Illnesses.

 

References

[1]. Nicola Bragazzi et al., ‘Ancient Shamanism and Modern Psychotherapy: From Anthropology to Evidence-Based Psychedelic Medicine,’ Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 4, no. 1 (2018): 142, https://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/688; David Smith, ‘The Role of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs in the Evolution of Psychedelic Medicine,’ Journal of psychoactive drugs 51, no. 2 (December 2019): 98–101, https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1589607

[2]. Richard Doblin, Merete Christiansen, Lisa Jerome, and Brad Burge, ‘The Past and Future of Psychedelic Science: An Introduction to This Issue,’ Journal of psychoactive drugs 51, no. 2 (April 2019):93–97, https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1606472; Smith, ‘The Role of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs,’ 98–101; Michael Winkelman, ‘Shamanic guidelines for psychedelic medicine,’ in Psychedelic medicine: New evidence for hallucinogenic substances as treatments, ed. Thomas Roberts (Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2007), 143–168, https://www.academia.edu/4165474/Shamanic_Guidelines_for_Psychedelic_Medicines

[3]. Doblin, Christiansen, Jerome, and Burge, ‘The Past and Future of Psychedelic Science,’ 93–97; Smith, ‘The Role of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs,’ 98–101

[4]. Tanya Calvey and Fleur Howells, ‘An introduction to psychedelic neuroscience,’ Progress in Brain Research 242, no. 1 (2018): 1–23, https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.09.013

[5]. Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Canberra: ABS, 2008. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-survey-mental-health-and-wellbeing-summary-results/latest-release

[6]. World Health Organization. Prevention of Mental Disorders Effective Interventions and Policy Options. France: WHO, 2004. https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/prevention_of_mental_disorders_sr.pdf?ua=

[7]. Courtney Hutchison and Sara Bressi, ‘Social Work and Psychedelic‑Assisted Therapies: Practice Considerations for Breakthrough Treatments,’ Clinical Social Work Journal (January 2020), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-019-00743-x

[8]. Mind Medicine Australia. A new paradigm for mental health. Australia: MMA, 2020. https://mindmedicineaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Mind-Medicine-Australia-EBook-09102020-small.pdf

[9]. Smith, “The Role of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs,” 98–101

[10]. Jeff Lebowe, ‘A Global Guide to Where Magic Mushrooms and Psilocybin Are Legal or Decriminalized,’ Mary Jane, May 29, 2020, https://merryjane.com/culture/a-global-guide-to-where-magic-mushrooms-and-psilocybin-are-legal-or-decriminalized

[11]. David Bronner, ‘The Unified Field Theory of Psychedelic Integration and Portugal Style Decriminalization,’ Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 30, no. 1 (2020): 14–19, https://maps.org/news/bulletin/articles/439-bulletin-spring-2020/8126-the-unified-field-theory-of-psyhedelic-integration-and-portugal-style-decriminalization

[12]. Linnae Ponté, ‘Decriminalization and Harm Reduction in Portugal: An Interview with Dr. João Goulão,’ Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 25, no. 1 (2015): 18–21, https://maps.org/news/bulletin/articles/387-bulletin-spring-2015/5671-decriminalization-and-harm-reduction-in-portugal-an-interview-with-dr-jo%C3%A3o-goul%C3%A3o

[13]. Scott Bernstein, Emily Amirkhani, Dan Werb, and Donald MacPherson, ‘The regulation project: Tools for engaging the public in the legal regulation of drugs,’ International Journal of Drug Policy 86, no. 1 (December 2020):102949, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102949

[14]. Bronner, ‘Unified Field Theory’

[15]. Bernstein, Amirkhani, Werb, and MacPherson, ‘The regulation project,’ 102949; WHO, Prevention of Mental Disorders

[16]. Calvey, and Howells, ‘Intro to psychedelic neuroscience,’ 1–23.

[17]. Bernstein, Amirkhani, Werb, and MacPherson, ‘The regulation project,’ 102949

[18]. Peter Gasser, ‘Psychedelic Group Therapy in Switzerland,’ Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 27, no. 1 (2017): 28–29, https://maps.org/news/bulletin/articles/420-bulletin-spring-2017/6622-research-update-psychedelic-group-therapy-in-switzerland

[19]. WHO, Prevention of Mental Disorders

[20]. WHO, Prevention of Mental Disorders

[21]. David Nichols, ‘Psychedelics,’ Pharmacological Reviews 68, no. 2 (April 2006):264–355, https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.115.011478; Tingying Chi and Jessica Gold, A review of emerging therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses,’ Journal of the Neurological Sciences 411, no. 1 (Jan 2020): 116715, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jns.2020.116715

[22]. Jacob Aday et al., ‘Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review,’ Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 113, no. 1 (June 2020): 179–189, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.017

[23]. Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen, ‘Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study,’ PLoS ONE 8, no. 8 (August 2013): 1–9, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063972

[24]. Krebs and Johansen, ‘Psychedelics and Mental Health,’ 1–9

Dr Alana Roy

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

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

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

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

Amelia French

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