Later in the year, Polly and I plan to do some training in Melbourne with Mind Medicine Australia in Psychedelic Assisted Therapies. We will also attend the International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness. It’s a great opportunity to learn about new developments arising from a growing body of work, clinical trials and research. I also get to visit Melbourne, COVID permitting!
“Psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen, is a chemical produced by more than 100 species of mushrooms worldwide” (Daniel, & Haberman, 2017, p.25).
In conjunction with psychotherapy, psilocybin has shown itself effective in addressing treatment-resistant depression, end-of-life-related depression and anxiety, and major depressive disorders. Psilocybin is also being trialled in areas relating to addiction (alcohol and tobacco cessation), and obsession and compulsion (eating disorders). Used in the appropriate set and setting, psilocybin also has the capacity to induce neuroplasticity and changes in functional connectivity.
“Psychedelics, a term which means mind-manifesting, was first used in 1956 by Humphry Osmond to define a group of substances with potent psychoactive properties” (Friedman, 2006, p.39).
Research on the application of psychedelics grew rapidly in the 1950s. The pre-prohibition research window (1950 – 1970) revealed fascinating new learnings relating to serotonin and its role in mental functioning. However, the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act in the US and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) effectively shut down research in this field.
The active component, psilocybin, is listed under the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (United Nations, 1971). Due to current Australian legislation, access to PAP is strictly monitored via registered clinical trials and psilocybin is listed under Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substance) of the Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Administration.
There are many moving parts to this prohibition. In the US, it was essentially in response to the growing opposition to US involvement in Vietnam. The counter-culture movement of the 1960s had become associated with the recreational use of LSD. In an effort to stabilise the country, Nixon declared his ‘war on drugs’, making LSD and other psychedelic drugs (e.g. mescaline, psilocybin, and DMT) illegal (Bright & Williams, 2018).
Australian policy appears to follow the status quo established by the US, UK, and Canada in regard to prohibited substances. Tension exists within this discussion regarding how much Australian policy follows and what our relationship to innovation is.
Beyond social stigma, government and industry propaganda, and mental health politicking sits real opportunities to build knowledge and science safely and ethically with the long-term gain of bringing a safe, plant-based solution to the mental health crisis in Australia. An analysis of the Australasian-based literature suggests that this would require a shift away from the current medical paradigm, which involves prescribed pharmaceuticals, and moving toward a ‘set and setting’ model (Bright & Williams, 2018).
In summary, you could say that psychedelic assisted psychotherapies are having something of a renaissance.
It would be easy to think that this ‘new’ approach stems from a hipster-informed, ‘woke’ and utopian landscape. I agree it does sit somewhere between Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘GOOP’ and Michael Pollen’s seminal work titled How to Change Your Mind. It is a relatively new area – but also not so new… The Australian government recently funded a new research centre in Melbourne named The PSYCHAE Institute to build on existing research and evidence.
Below are a number of resources if this is something that interests you:
As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above resonates with you in light of your own situation.
Bright, S., & Williams, M. (2018). Should Australian Psychology Consider Enhancing Psychotherapeutic Interventions with Psychedelic Drugs? A Call for Research. Australian Psychologist, 53(6), 467-476.
Daniel, J., & Haberman, M. (2017). Clinical potential of psilocybin as a treatment for mental health conditions. The Mental Health Clinician, 7(1), 24-28.
Friedman, H. (2006). The Renewal of Psychedelic Research: Implications for Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 34(1), 39-58.