scott leckie · Mind Medicine Australia
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Anyone for a Magic Mushroom Medicine?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 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!

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.

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

Military

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Scott Leckie

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

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

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

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

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

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

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