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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Soorley

Nurse

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

Mind Medicine Australia’s Progress and Achievements Since 2019

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

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

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

 

Awareness and Knowledge Building

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

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

• Launch of Mind Medicine Australia Podcast series

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

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

• Over 500,000+ views on our YouTube Channel

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

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

• 500+ regular donors

• 200+ media appearances

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

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

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

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

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

• Implemented a Board Observership program in conjunction with VMIAC.

• Appointed as member of peak body, Mental Health Australia

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

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

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

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

• Over 90,000 views of our Summit sizzle reel

• Over 80,000 visits to the Summit website

• Over 5000 queries received from the Summit website

• 110 virtual breakout rooms

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

• 19 major Corporate partners

• Over 160 Education partners

• 17 Supplier Partners

• 15 Media Partners

• 8 Scholarship winners

• 5 Poster winners

• 1 global 4-day event with massive impact

 

Access to Medically Approved Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Key university student placement partnerships with University of Melbourne

 

Professional Development Program

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

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

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

• Over 500+ applications received since launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Discussions with key University stakeholders continue

 

Noteworthy from Media Releases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The progress we are making in public education was exemplified in several headline media articles including in the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, The Age, Herald Sun, The Saturday Paper and Vogue Australia and media interviews including with Channel Nine, Channel 10, The Project, ABC and numerous other TV and radio stations and online media.

Our primary focus over the next couple of years will be on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, given their “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) in the United States and the strong clinical evidence that supports both their effectiveness and safety. We are also interested in developing other medicines to treat a variety of conditions.

Behind the scenes, we are working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that these therapies will be accessible and affordable to all Australians needing these treatments in medically controlled environments, so that cost and geography doesn’t become a barrier.

In the last 18 months, we have assembled a comprehensive leadership team with expertise in mental illness including psychology, neuroscience and pharmacology, non-profit development, business practices and networks, public health, events, marketing and educational development.

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

As we move through 2022, our vision and capacity continue to grow, as does the need to make these effective and safe therapies a legally available treatment through our medical system for the increasing number of individuals suffering as a result of the pandemic, environmental challenges and global trends which challenge social cohesiveness and social inclusion.

We ask for your continued and expanded support so that we can fund the path for psilocybin and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help treat the millions experiencing key mental illnesses in Australia. This is personal for every one of us.

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

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

Peter Hunt AM and Tania de Jong AM

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021.

Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has sparked international interest.  Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Peter Hunt AM

B.Com, LL.B

As an investment banker Peter Hunt AM advised local and multi-national companies and governments in Australia for nearly 35 years.  He co-founded and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

Peter is an active philanthropist involved in funding, developing and scaling social sector organisations which seek to create a better and fairer world.  He is Chairman of Mind Medicine Australia which he established with his wife, Tania de Jong, in 2018. He founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

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

A message from Dr Simon Longstaff AO

Mental health

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

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

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

Mind Medicine Australia begins and ends with scientific evidence.

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

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

Dr Simon Longstaff AO

B.Ed., Ph.D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Leckie

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

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

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021.

Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has sparked international interest.  Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

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.

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

Military

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Scott Leckie

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

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

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 4 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, Umbrella Foundation and Driftwood – The Musical, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She was Founder and Executive Producer of the award-winning future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.  She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 and named one of the 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021.

Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has sparked international interest.  Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

A Mother’s Prayer To The TGA by Annie Mason

Woman on boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxious adult

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

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

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

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

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

Annie Mason

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

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

Person standing near lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Eli Kotler

MBBS MPM FRANZCP Cert. Old Age Psych. AFRACMA

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

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

Utilizing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy to Help Process Challenging Experiences with Psychedelics by Dr Alana Roy

EMDR

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

There are two types of HPPD

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

[16].

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Alana Roy

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

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

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

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

Psychedelic Healing Stories: Michael Raymond

Abstract

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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