By Natasha Baer
A full hall gathered at St Kilda Town Hall to hear Dr. Ben Sessa present a lecture on Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies: The New Frontier in Mental Health Treatments. Dr. Sessa spent much of October and November in Australia co-leading the Intensives for Mind Medicine Australia’s Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) course and presenting public lectures and workshops.
Hosted by Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), a charity that aims to alleviate the suffering and suicides caused by mental illness, the event saw MMA founders Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM give an update about the charity’s progress in the space. There was also a Q&A panel with Psychiatrist Dr. Eli Kotler and Psychotherapist Marjane Beaujeois, both graduates of MMA’s acclaimed Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies course.
The headliner of the event was speaker Dr. Ben Sessa, a UK-based Psychiatrist and Resarcher, at the forefront of psychedelic research. Dr. Sessa highlighted groundbreaking research in the field and shared his ideas for progress in psychedelic treatment. Without further ado, here’s a wrap-up of the talking points and takeaways, so you can find out what’s what, whether you were lucky enough to be in the room or not.
Australia is ahead of the curve
Australia has often been criticized abroad for not being agile or on the bleeding edge of innovation. However, in the field of psychedelic treatment for mental health issues, following the successful rescheduling of psilocybin and MDMA, Australia is now in a unique global leadership position.
On July 1, 2023, Australia became the world’s first country to legalise MDMA and psilocybin officially. Other countries and territories Australia has outpaced include Canada, the USA, the UK and Switzerland.
Dr. Sessa notes that even if any country were to submit an application for legalisation today, it would take about three years for it to be confirmed into law.
Psychedelic drugs are safe…
…in a clinical setting. MMA is solely focused on clinical and legal use only, supported by emerging science, clinical data and legislative processes.
Dr. Sessa said, “A lethal dose is over 1000 times the typical intoxication dose, which equates to consuming 17 kg of fresh mushrooms”. That’s one heck of a beef wellington.
When safely using classical psychedelics clinically, the following outcomes are assessed as low risk:
Psychological risks: Low
Psychosis and suicide: Low
Dependency risks: Low
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder: Rare
Psychedelic therapy works for many mental disorders
Research studies spanning from 2006 to 2022 show that psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine have successfully treated:
- Eating Disorders
- End-of-Life Stress and Anxiety
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
One way Dr. Sessa described this broad treatment was: “Psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers of psychotherapy”. The results have been so positive that on a chemical construction level, Dr. Sessa said, “If someone were to invent a cure for PTSD, they would invent MDMA.”
Treatment is drug-based AND talk-based
MMA does not condone simply taking a dose of these medicines. Instead, the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) decision to reschedule MDMA and psilocybin grants Authorised Prescriber status to psychiatrists trained in psychedelic-assisted therapies who are approved by Ethics Committees to treat their patients with these therapies.
Psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine create neuroplasticity, which biologically allows more flexibility and a window of opportunity for healing stuck and rigid thought patterns and programs. Then when paired with bespoke focused clinical psychotherapy, patients can tackle rigid narratives and allow for psychological change.
The time to act is now
There’s no better time to get involved, Dr. Sessa concludes, “We are in the midst of a global mental health crisis epidemic. We’ve had 100 years of sub-standard treatment. Psychedelics represent the newest technology in psychiatry in the last 50 years — and also the oldest!”
Dr. Sessa calls industry professionals to get involved. Psychiatrists can apply to the ethics boards and the TGA to become Authorised Prescribers. For psychiatrists and other health professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, therapists, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers, pharmacists and others, robust training is available and required.
Mind Medicine is ramping up activities!
Wherever you are, you can attend an MMA online event and listen to the MMA podcast series. And importantly, donate to MMA so they can continue to establish safe and effective psychedelic-assisted treatments to treat a range of mental illnesses. Together we can all help to relieve the immense suffering in our families, communities, workplaces and world.