The word “psychedelic” comes from the Greek which means mind manifesting.
In the last few years, many of you may have heard about the resurgence of psychedelics, and the renaissance of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. We are indeed living in interesting times as we watch some of these medicines be decriminalized, while research and clinical trials show the efficacy of their treatment far beyond what anything in current psychotherapy is able to accomplish. The medicines which are receiving primary focus right now are ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin.
If you, like so many who are curious these days, are interested in pursuing these medicines, it is extremely important that you know that you can do so legally only with ketamine at the present time. Yes, there are many “underground providers” who provide this service with other medicines. Let me be perfectly clear here: I do not condone nor encourage the illegal use of psychedelic medicines. Yet, I am also aware that people are going to experiment during these times. In the spirit of harm reduction, I encourage you to choose wisely when working with a practitioner — there are many skilled ones around, and there are many who are not. Be sure that they understand the concepts of “set and setting,” have the necessary skills and experience in holding and facilitating non-ordinary states of consciousness, and include integration as part of their work.
I have had the extraordinary good fortune to take part in an MDMA Phase 2 Clinical Trial through the FDA and MAPS (see more below) as a result of my breast cancer diagnosis in 2015. Participating in that Study did nothing short of save my life!
Since that time, I have trained and been certified in Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy through the Center for Transformational Psychotherapy in San Anselmo, California; and I am a recent graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) Certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Research (CPTR) program. I am also a facilitator at Myco Meditations, a Psilocybin Retreat Center in Jamaica. Additionally, I am a frequent speaker at Trainings, Conferences, and Workshops related to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
I also provide Integration Services to psychotherapy clients who have utilized these medicines outside of the country or in other settings, and who want to work with the material that came up in their sessions, and learn how to integrate and translate it into their everyday lives.
I have come to believe more strongly than ever that the Integration process of working with psychedelic medicines is the most important, especially with a skilled and experienced therapist or guide. When one steps in to the mysterious world of non-ordinary states, having someone who can help smooth the transition back to this reality is essential. There may have been challenging images, painful memories, or unclear messages which came through; and it is often difficult to understand or interpret them. Working with someone who can assist with the translation of those experiences, remind you of your intentions, and serve as a witness to your process is invaluable. When people are working with long-held trauma, depression, or anxiety, the process of integration can help to address the underlying and often lifetime structures and patterns that have calcified and gotten in the way of remembering who you are. Sometimes people have significant and potent experiences, and don’t realize it. This is where – again – a skilled and experienced integration psychotherapist or guide can help you to find the meaning, value, and purpose of your experiences.
The remarkable results that I have experienced, witnessed, and supported in this work inspire me to continue to advance this work so that it can be accessible, available, and affordable for everyone who could benefit from its extraordinary promise.
If you are interested in my performances, presentations, podcasts and more related to psychedelic medicines, please go here.
Ketamine is currently the only legal psychedelic (along with cannabis in some states, including California), and is available at many clinics for the treatment of depression, anxiety, acute suicidality, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Along with three colleagues, I have recently founded and opened the first psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy clinic in Sonoma County — Temenos Center for Integrative Psychotherapy — where we currently provide ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, and are gearing up for the FDA Expanded Access Program for MDMA (more on that later). If you want to know more about ketamine, and our ketamine services, go here:
A Short History of MDMA & Psilocybin
MDMA was first synthesized by Merck in 1912, and was further researched into the mid-50’s and then largely disregarded. It was rediscovered in 1976, by a chemist named Sasha Shulgin. Soon after that, psychiatrists and psychotherapists began working with it as an adjunct to psychotherapy for individuals and couples with great results.
MDMA then became part of the recreational drug scene, and was known as Ecstasy or Molly. In 1985 during the War on Drugs, it was reclassified and criminalized, virtually shutting down the ‘above ground’ work and research into its effectiveness.
In 1986, Rick Doblin — who has a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard — founded MAPS – the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. He realized that the only way to legitimize MDMA was by proving its efficacy through rigorous clinical trials administered by the FDA. By the late 80s, studies began at Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities.
Since that time, MAPS has raised over $70 million dollars, and has funded and conducted 12 clinical trials around the world focused primarily on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, as well as anxiety related to life-threatening illness (the trial I participated in), and social anxiety in autistic adults. Plans are underway for additional studies focused on race-based trauma and transgendered clients.
MDMA works by countering hypoactivity in both the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and hyperactivity in the amygdala. For those of you, like me, who are not up on all the brain stuff:
- The hippocampus is in the temporal lobe of each cerebral cortex. It regulates motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.
- The prefrontal cortex processes information and contributes to a wide variety of executive functions.
- The amygdala coordinates emotional responses, especially fear and anger.
Because of MDMA’s ability to decrease the fear response and increase empathy and interpersonal trust, it was recognized as having great potential for PTSD. The studies have shown this to be overwhelmingly accurate.
Here we are in 2020, and results across all the studies remain consistent and impressive. For participants with “treatment resistant PTSD,” (two or more failed courses of conventional therapy) — 75% of them no longer meet the criteria for PTSD an average of 3 1/2 years after study completion. That is indeed impressive — no other current treatment modalities for PTSD show this level of efficacy. Not even close.
MAPS is currently in Phase 3 Trials with MDMA, then comes Expanded Access some time later this year, and we expect MDMA to be rescheduled and available by prescription by next year or early 2022.
There are similar studies and impressive results with the use of psilocybin, the psychedelically-active ingredient in magic mushrooms. There are reports of the use of psilocybin mushrooms in Africa dating back to 9000 BC, and indigenous cultures in the Americas have used them for millenia.
David Nichols, a pharmacologist and chemist, started the Heffter Institute in 1993 with the sole focus of researching the efficacy of psilocybin mushrooms to address mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol-use disorder. Roland Griffiths, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, and Tony Bossis, a psychologist at NYU, have focused their research with psilocybin on people at the end of life. With only one treatment of psilocybin, their studies consistently show dramatic reduction in end-of-life distress for these participants. Additionally and of great note, a large percentage of study participants rate their psilocybin experience as one of the most spiritually meaningful of their lives.
Johns Hopkins recently received $17 million dollars in grant money to fund and open a psychedelic research center, and the Usona Institute is moving clinical research through the FDA Trial process. Psilocybin, like MDMA, has been “fast-tracked” by the FDA because of the promising results of the Trials. It is currently in Phase 2 Trials, and will likely also be rescheduled and availably by prescription within the next few years.
Stay tuned for more updates and news as it become available!