Alicia Danforth PhD – ICPR 2020: Ethical Challenges in Psychedelic Medicine

In this episode, Joe interviews Clinical Psychologist, Alicia Danforth. In the show, they cover topics including how to get involved in the space, consent, research, MDMA, Autism and more.

3 Key Points:

  1. Alicia Danforth is a Clinical Psychologist who will be having a talk on Ethical Challenges in Psychedelic Medicine at the ICPR Conference in the Netherlands, April 2020.
  2. There is a possibility for MDMA to have a non-responder effect. No one has done research dedicated to why some people don’t react at all to MDMA.
  3. Psychedelic science is very hard to talk about. We have the language of science that studies the psychopharmacological effects of drugs but no language that holds the effects of an altered state of consciousness yet.

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Navigating Psychedelics

Show Notes

About Alicia

  • Her path to her current place is such a random road that led her to where she is
  • She was going to burning man and getting into harm reduction when she realized the untapped value of psychedelics, its where her interest began
  • She began volunteering, doing administrative work for a doctor
    • She was offered to be a study coordinator
  • She got introduced to the power of psilocybin as a medicine, for dying cancer patients
    • The patients had a prognosis from 6 months to a year
    • To see how this state of consciousness helped people transition to the end of life so smoothly, that is what inspired her
  • 5 months after she started working on the study, she got a cancer diagnosis

Getting Involved in the Space

  • Alicia would always get people approaching her about how to get in the field and she tells them “what field?”
  • Her Power Point making skills, are what technically got her involved in this field
  • “You never know what skill may be needed in this field” – Alicia
  • Alicia encourages people to look into their own collection of skills, and dig deep into that, find your niche, and then use that to contribute to the movement
    • Clinical therapists and psychologists are not the only people in this field
      We need accountants, marketers, etc


  • People start to get really religious around this field
  • Joe mentions a story where someone performed non-consensual reiki

Current Research

  • She is currently looking at why psychedelics appeal to people who typically like to abuse power
  • She did a talk at burning man about ‘coming down from the psychedelic power trip’
  • She tries to cite as many references and research as possible
  • Her talk at ICPR is going to be the very professional, version of that talk
  • Why are individuals who seek to abuse these tools so irresistibly drawn to psychedelics?
  • “If someone gets abused, and people say don’t come out about it because it’s not good for the movement, then what kind of movement is that?” – Joe


  • MDMA is known as an Empathogen
  • Can empathogens help people who are not empathetic, become empathetic?
  • Cohen’s D is the measure of effect size
    • Big pharma uses this all the time, to determine the effects of one drug compared to another
    • The Cohen’s D is how large that difference is

Non-response MDMA

  • There is a known, non-responder effect with MDMA
  • There was a few double-blind sessions, where the patient received MDMA, and they didn’t react, their vitals didn’t change
    • At the end,  it was revealed that they truly received MDMA, and then even to be sure, they would do a blood test, and it showed up in the blood
  • No one has done research dedicated to why some people don’t react at all to MDMA
  • It’s probably common, that for people who are relying on MDMA to work as their last resort option and try it and not feel anything at all, to end their life afterward

Media and Support

  • It’s the most difficult thing in dealing with the media
    • When you are entirely dependent on funding, if you don’t talk about what you’re doing, then you can’t get funding at all
  • There is a crisis in science on the replicability on these studies
    • Joe says its cool to have these studies replicated outside of the US
  • Psychedelic science is very hard to talk about due to the subjective nature of the psychedelic experience. We have the language of science that studies the psychopharmacological effects of drugs. There is no language that holds the effects of an altered state of consciousness yet.” – Alicia
  • The rapport that the patient and facilitator have, and the effect of that relationship, is a variable



About Alicia Danforth

Alicia received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto in 2013. Since 2006, she has worked in clinical research at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on clinical studies for adults with anxiety related to advanced-stage cancer and with autistic adults who experience social anxiety. She is currently a lead clinician and supervisor for a clinical trial at UCSF for psychological distress in long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS. She is also certified in Trauma-Focused CBT and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.  

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