Prohibition Partners Conference: Psychedelics & Mental Health

Psychedelics are emerging as a key player in mental health, wellbeing, and personal growth. But we can't reap the rewards if the system doesn't change. How can we achieve this new paradigm?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Every year, the Prohibition Partners Conference unites the leading experts in the field to discuss the cannabis industry. One key field of research emerging in plant-based medicines is that of psychedelics and mental health.

The idea of psychedelic-assisted therapy may seem far-fetched to some, but its inception dates back to the 1950s. After a period of dormancy from the counterculture of the "psychedelic sixties", the past two decades have been dedicated to the re-emergence of its medicinal benefits. As it stands, research, education, and awareness of these controversial chemical compounds have become a necessary feat in the success of psychedelics as a credible form of treatment.

As experts discussed the implications of psychedelics, a thematic consensus surfaced: the resurgence of psychedelics within the medical framework could lead to a complete paradigm shift in the way we look at healthcare. This shift could completely change the global healthcare infrastructure. Essentially eradicating the dogmatic mindset of plant-based medicines – a mindset that emerged as a result of the 'war on drugs'.

The effects of psychedelics elevates our mood, increases empathy, and broadens our mindset. But what does it mean for our overall mental health? What are the barriers of achieving this paradigm shift? And how can we overcome them?

Let's take a closer look.

What Can Psychedelics Offer Us?

Cultures and religions have utilised psychedelics for thousands of years. Beyond its therapeutical value, psychedelics can induce insights into self-identity, feelings of transcendence, and personal growth.

While their effect on reducing one's addiction and anxiety is credible, it was also once considered a rite of passage. Today, psychedelics remain accessible, albeit illegally, for recreational use among those seeking out the "mystical experience".

Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Synthesis Retreats, Martijn Schirp, states that clients seek out the psychedelic experience for both medical and non-medical reasons. Synthesis Retreats offers a legalised, medically supervised safe space for those wanting utilise the benefits of psychedelics.

While some are there for treatment for addiction, depression, anxiety, and PTSD; others seek out a wellness transformation or an "immersive experience" to enrich their perspective on life.

There is a lot of strategising into how to scale the psychedelic experience in a way that really pioneers the standard in the field. It allows for an opportunity to explore what psychedelics can mean. . . not just in the medical model but. . .also in wellness.Martijn Schrip – Prohibition Partners Conference: ' Psychedelics for Depression & Wellbeing'

When we consider this, the prospect of what psychedelics can do for mental health means its potentials seem boundless. Schrip goes on to suggest that because of its multi-religious, ceremonial, and spiritual history, we need to look beyond the medical model. This is incredibly important regarding the training of specialists to guide patients into their own tailored experience.

Furthermore, Schrip suggests that the only way to "maximise this potential" is to look back into its religious and spiritual uses. Research shows that phenomena such as the "mystical experience" is correlated with higher success rates of mental health recovery. Therefore, by utilising the ceremonial and interpersonal settings of psychedelics, individuals have the opportunity to experience life-changing insights.

Schrip states that "we can learn from indigenous people, but we have to make it our own and something that fits our westernised psyche." Here, we can see the impact from learning from the historical and anthropological use of psychedelics.

The interpersonal importance of mental health therapy already seems to be a catalyst into transitioning into a newly formed framework.

Psychedelics as a Treatment

The resurgence in research towards psychedelic-assisted therapy occurred in the early 2000s. Since then, research indicates that psychedelics can lead to the cessation of opioid and tobacco addiction, PTSD, and mood disorders.

A 2016 study found that the use of psychedelics were able to significantly decrease depression and anxiety levels in life-threatening cancer patients after a single dose of Psilocybin. This effect not only drew parallels with the "mystical experience" but was also maintained for at least six months after the conclusion of the study. Psychedelics also help patients who are suffering from "end-of-life PTSD or existential distress".

The long-term effects of psychedelics have been consistent across several studies for psychological support in both cancer and non-cancer patients.

As it stands, psilocybin is only legal for research purposes. Meanwhile, medical prescriptions for ketamine is legal and is seen as a "breakthrough in the treatment of depression." Meanwhile, MDMA is has been awarded Breakthrough Therapy Designation (FTD) – accelerating the process towards it being FDA approved for the assisted treatment for PTSD.

Psychiatrist and psychedelics researcher, Dr. Ben Sessa, states that the current medical framework stipulates a "narrative" that categorises diagnoses as separate issues.

The one challenge will be breaking down of those narratives. . .In ten years. . .we won't be talking about diagnoses, we'll be talking about functioning from multiple facets and psychedelics have a part to play in that. Dr. Ben Sessa – Prohibition Partners conference: 'Psychedelics for Depression & Wellbeing

Dr. Sessa is currently involved in opening of one of the worlds first psychedelic medical therapy centres in the U.K. With plans to incorporate the use of MDMA and psilocybin in the future, ketamine will be utilised in therapy sessions. Dr. Sessa believes that psychedelic-assisted therapy will be the future of mental health recovery as well as a means for "personal growth and development".

Meanwhile, Dr. Matthew Johnson, a front-runner in psychedelic research, stated in the Psychedelics as Medicine seminar that the broad scope of mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, addiction etc.) are based on the "narrowing of behavioural and mental repertoire. . .whether it's an addiction to a substance or. . .a way of thinking about yourself."

Subsequently, the key to mental health recovery perhaps lies within the way in which psychedelics alter our personality constructs. In turn, demounting life-long ingrained beliefs and allowing us a pathway to broaden our mindset.

What's the Hold-Up?

While the research, support, and awareness of psychedelics continues to grow, the industry still has many obstacles to overcome. Similar to the upheavals of the cannabis industry, overcoming this process means breaking away from dogmatic views while instilling more education and training.

Julie Armstrong, Founder and CEO of Aurelias Data, pharmacist, and cancer survivor states that the current medical model is lacking in terms of access to "equitable healthcare". In the seminar 'Data, Tech, & Community in Psychedelics' Armstrong goes on to say that "The goal should always be quality of life. . .whatever we need to do to get better quality of life is a financial win for everyone."

Having gone through chemo[therapy] myself, I would have very much liked to have known about MDMA in the first few rounds rather than the fourth."Julie Armstrong, Prohibition Partners Conference: 'Data, Tech, & Community in Psychedelics'

Armstrong discusses that the option of providing patients with psychedelics is stunted by a lack of education from physicians and pharmacologists. Furthermore, the current medical model traps patients and physicians in a "universal system". Therefore inhibiting the scale of whether or not mainstream pharmacological medications are successful in all modalities of severity and symptoms.

Furthermore, psychedelic research – beyond regulatory red tape – is expensive; R&D stems from either investor or donation-based funding. One key player in the awareness and research around psychedelics is the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is continually working towards the regulation and normalisation of psychedelics in a medical framework.

MAPS-trained psychotherapist, Dr. Sessa, states that the dogmatic mindset that psychedelic use is associated with "chakras and incense" can deter patients. Dr. Sessa suggests that "there is a paradox" into what psychedelics mean for individuals considering them as a treatment.

Although the spiritual and ceremonial aspects are paramount in its success, the patient needs to play a part in the process. Without a comfortable and safe interpersonal setting, patients will not achieve the optimal effects.

In a similar context, Martijn Schrip discusses the implications of training therapists and facilitators. "Not every healthcare provider will be the right person for guiding someone through a trans-personal journey". This means preparing for a new school-of-thought that hasn't been developed yet.

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What's Next?

In order to understand what psychedelics can achieve, we must look beyond the medical framework. Psychedelics have been utilised for thousands of years in across different cultures. In many respects, it is rite of passage rather than a solution to a problem. This class of understanding will be pinnacle in achieving a shift into what modern medicine will look like in the future.

David Champion, CEO of Maya Health, suggests that a paradigm shift will emerge into a "holistic continuum of care". From this, the patient-physician relationship will change. As a result, we'll see a transition into a framework where patients will guide the physicians regarding their own treatment plan.

Similarly, Dr. Sessa predicts that modern medicine will also merge into a new paradigm of dealing with mental health. "SSRI's in mild cases of depression and anxiety don't work. I think we're. . .[integrating] into clean, safe, and efficacious models of psychotherapy assisted by clever pharmacology and this is the psychedelic model."

Dr. Sessa also believes that this new paradigm shift will result in more patient/client-driven treatment plans. Psychedelics must be an individualistic experience in order to maximise its effects. Without patient input, treatment will continue to be trapped in the "universal system". In this regard, as cannabis use has taught us, medicine is not a one-size-fits-all model.

The parallels between the psychedelic and cannabis industry are becoming more apparent. Therefore, it's no surprise that psychedelics are creeping closer into the medical framework. Similar to that of cannabis, the attitudes towards psychedelics need to be "broadened" into the healthcare paradigm. In the meantime, the conversation of psychedelics for mental health needs to be pursued.

In the seminar, Data, Tech & Community in Psychedelics, Julie Armstrong states that mental health recovery should be revolved around "quality of life, not quantity of life". As it stands, it looks as though cannabis and psychedelics are the answer.

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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