In this episode – with the 2024 edition of Vital announced and officially on sale – we’re launching another series of Vital Psychedelic Conversations, with David hosting Jasmine Virdi: Vital instructor, writer, educator, and activist who works at Synergetic Press and volunteers for Fireside Project; and Tabata Gerk: Vital student, psychotherapist, and facilitator.
As always, they discuss what they think the most vital conversation should be right now, largely expressing concerns over the medicalization of psychedelics and the idea of a ‘traumadelic culture,’ where psychedelics are often only seen as healers of trauma and not doorways to mysticism and new ideas. And they point out another concern: the romanization of Indigenous culture and not recognizing that these are contemporary cultures that are affected by the same Western, capitalist paradigms that affect us all.
They also discuss the concept of epistemic injustice and needing to respect other ways of knowing; hyper-individualism and why we became so reductionist as a society; the role of money (who defines the problem and the solution?); concerns over who decides who is allowed to use these substances; the power of small steps of change; and, through talking about Gerk’s recent Amazonian ayahuasca experience, they dig into what it is about these experiences and surrounding communities that make them so special. Could we take some of that and effectively incorporate it into our Western models?
“In this day and age that we exist in, I think there’s a medicalization of psychedelics, and they’re really kind of honed in on for their ability to treat different mental health and behavioral disorders. And I think that they’re so much more than that.” -Jasmine
“I think that there’s a lot of romanticization of Indigenous cultures as well, and through that, there can be an active erasure of those cultures. Indigenous cultures have been evolving alongside Western, industrial, globalist culture, so they’re not peoples who are stuck in time, and I think that the Western mind, a lot of people want to perceive those cultures as kind of like, ‘Oh, they kept something pure, and we’re going to go back to these people because they have this purity that they’ve maintained over time.’ It’s like perpetuating this idea of ‘the noble savage.’ I think that Indigenous people also are contemporary, so I think it’s really important to recognize that. …These cultures have problems, these cultures are evolving, and these cultures are influenced by modern Western, industrialized, globalist culture, [and] capitalism as well.” -Jasmine
“Plant medicine was one of the things that brought me healing there. We have three ayahuasca ceremonies, we have Kambo ceremony. But it was not only that. Everything that I saw, every conversation that I have with them was a part of the healing I received there. Not to mystify the Indigenous community, [but] their healing doesn’t come only from plant medicine. It comes from daily basis. It comes from the way they work, they relate. They are connected on a daily basis.” -Tabata
The mental health landscape is undergoing a sea change, in part, due to increased recognition of psychedelic-assisted therapy as a paradigm shift in the field. This new avenue for treatment offers a rare opportunity to address the root cause of trauma – all more quickly than usual approaches primarily oriented to symptoms. As this new territory unfolds, practitioners must navigate a unique set of possibilities and challenges.
Successfully integrating psychedelic-assisted therapy into practice can include:
– Building novel skills through training programs like Vital – Overcoming imposter syndrome – Successfully applying training theory in the real world – Adopting new integrative care workflows – Attracting enough new clients to sustain one’s business
So, where should you begin? As a practitioner, preparing for these challenges and opportunities holistically will set you up for deep client impact, and personal and professional fulfillment.
Psychedelic Therapy as a Bridge Between Modern and Traditional
Overall, modern and traditional medicine traditions diverge across several vectors; there is merit to both modern and traditional approaches, and tremendous value in enabling a complementary relationship between them. Though modern medicine is capable of performing miracles in treating illness, in practice, patients in a Western context primarily seek conventional healthcare when sick. Especially in the case of U.S. healthcare, the system’s design financially rewards providers when they treat illness or injury, not when they help build a healthy lifestyle. The concept of “health” in the West is generally limited to the physical body: whether one’s heart is beating in rhythm, musculature working harmoniously, and they’re free of observable illness. U.S. health insurance companies only started covering mental healthcare broadly 15 years ago – a striking proxy for mental health’s lagging priority – and still don’t do it adequately. At the same time, modern medical innovation is grounded in research data, and only canonized following randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard of medical research, which ensures conclusions are drawn without bias. The benefit of this approach is that it safeguards the medical field from interventions that are not safe or effective.
Traditional medicines from across the world usually represent a broader and more integrative approach, equally focused on balancing the mind, body, and spirit dimensions to achieve a whole-person health outcome for an individual and community. Functionally speaking this may mean building a mindfulness and embodiment practice, immersing yourself in community, and cultivating a deep relationship with nature and beyond. Harnessing practices that move energy effectively throughout your body can build tremendous resilience, equanimity, and aliveness, which can reflect quantitatively in biomarkers too. While traditional medicine generally lacks the evidence base assembled through RCTs, its many lineages and modalities have gained significant support in recent years, accelerated by a mental health epidemic and tremendous anecdotal impact.
Psychedelic therapy represents a unique bridge between these two worlds. It has descended from long lineages of Indigenous traditions across the world, but legal access in the West will be initially limited to substances approved by the FDA and delivered by clinicians with formal credentials. Whereas traditional talk therapy often centers on distinct sessions, the psychedelic integration process is a continuous therapeutic container, and often incorporates embodied practices like breathwork, yoga, journaling, and meditation, as core agents of change in between sessions where lasting transformation happens. Clients themselves are viewed as the agents of change, empowered to take full ownership of their own healing. The medicine serves as a potent catalyst for this evolution, and the psychedelic practitioner is a space-holder and champion for the client on their journey.
Addressing Imposter Syndrome Among New Practitioners
Given these differences, coupled with traditional rigors of embarking on a major professional change, it isn’t surprising that new practitioners often experience a sense of imposter syndrome. While methods of working through imposter syndrome are well-established, there are practical approaches which new psychedelic practitioners in particular can take.
First, participating in a peer community of diverse types of practitioners can help combat feelings of “stuckness” and isolation. The psychedelic therapy space attracts providers of different backgrounds, mindsets, and worldviews – but this can feel abstract unless providers have ongoing structured opportunities to collaborate as professionals. Peer groups that meet regularly, or broader digital communities (ideally both), can help validate thinking, enrich perspectives, and make the often solitary business of holding space more collaborative and fun. In many cases collaboration can be literal: providers with different specializations often establish referral relationships that prove to be in the best interest of a client. They can also cultivate supervisory or accountability relationships, and they can overcome initial logistical friction points, like feeling comfortable with setting appropriate payment rates.
Second, providers can create structure for ongoing client communication and measurement, helping them progress from intention setting to lasting transformation. This growth can be charted quantitatively, in the form of anxiety/depression scoring or practitioner’s own “homebrew” assessments, and qualitatively, in the form of collaboratively tracking and focusing on client progress milestones beyond their initial intention. In either case, observing client progress can give providers a sense of organization and confidence in attracting new clients in the future.
The Right Systems to Support Psychedelic Therapy Workflows
New providers stepping into this space may be frustrated with workflows that are not provider-centric and an abundance of outdated or unsupportive technology systems. A recent study by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing suggested that a third of the behavioral health workforce spends more time on admin than actually working with clients.There are many administrative functions necessary to support the modern practice: intake and scheduling, session note-taking, invoicing, and client communication, to name a few. When performed on separate systems, providers are forced to repeatedly context-switch, which depletes energy and pulls them away from their core mission: supporting client growth.
Beyond practice management’s traditional requirements, structuring the preparation and integration container across sessions may look different from traditional therapy workflows. A client’s integration work starts – it doesn’t stop – when a session with their provider ends. As such, many providers are meticulous about sharing and tracking recaps, and guidance and resources between sessions, which can include embodied practice recordings, podcasts or journaling prompts. Seasoned providers end up building out a library of resources to share with clients, as opposed to searching for them ad-hoc, but managing this ever-growing library and sharing via separate communication tools can be onerous.
Providers creating an on-going digital container often do so across multiple mediums (email, text, Whatsapp), which can quickly become disorganized and lose most of the context; this can lead to struggles maintaining momentum with clients if they’re forced to track down different conversation threads. For clients, provider resource sharing and communication is only as effective as it is utilized, and when spread across different surfaces, clients are less likely to engage in integration resources. On the other hand, using familiar communication channels often means co-locating client communications with personal messages across the chat apps and email. This can be tempting for ease of use, but over the long run proves hard to maintain when personal and professional lives start to bleed into one another.
Existing technologies, such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), unfortunately, have not evolved to support the modern client-centric dynamic so critical in this space. An EMR platform fulfills the primary capability of insurance billing and reimbursement, but even the most technologically innovative Patient Portals (the communication module of most EMRs) remain clunky, inflexible, and largely logistically-focused. They haven’t kept up with the rising modern client expectations for a simple, intuitive, and well-designed user experience they take for granted in other areas of their lives.
Attracting New Clients To Your Psychedelic Therapy Practice
We won’t bury the lede here: there is no magic bullet to building a meaningful client panel for your psychedelic-assisted therapy practice, but there are best practices you can follow. For those with the time and means, investing in an attractive website, paying for web traffic to your site, and optimizing how online searches are triaged to your site (SEO), can all be effective for growing your visibility and presence online. There’s also been a proliferation of online directories which can help generate leads, with varied success rates; there’s little downside to joining these, though from a client’s perspective it can be tough to differentiate among providers, and client routing can be opaque. Providers who anticipate a deluge of new clients should temper their expectations.
For psychedelic practitioners, client connection and trust is paramount, so successful providers often establish their own unique niche: a subset of the market with which they will uniquely resonate, and from which they will derive energy. Are you a sex therapist who does your best work helping divorced middle aged men re-discover their intimacy groove? Does your cultural heritage give you a unique perspective on de-colonization and working with intergenerational trauma? Whatever the case, expert providers own their narrative and unique perspective; it’s not bad to be clear and unapologetic in your messaging so that clients know exactly why they’re there. Counter-intuitively, loosely appealing to everyone typically means you’re not strongly appealing to anyone. Take a stance and communicate your message confidently.
Psychedelic providers can also generate client referrals by investing in peer communities of practice (which, consequently, also benefits from providers inhabiting a specific niche and specialization). In holistic circles, providers tend to create informal “constellations” of care in support of client transformation. Clients might benefit from working variously with a psychedelic therapist, a breathwork facilitator, and a yoga therapist (as an example) to hardwire new behaviors. Optimal client care is, in part, dependent on those providers building personal relationships, understanding each other’s unique approaches, and trusting each other’s work.
Modern Solutions for Modern Practitioner Challenges
Here’s where intuitive tech comes in. Yuriy Blokhin, Founder & CEO of Homecoming shares, “We built Homecoming with the goal of equipping providers who blend both mystical and medical traditions with the tools, content, and community to do their life’s best work. What if, we thought, we could create an all-in-one platform that streamlined into a single place what you need to get best client results with how you learn and grow as professionals?“
Working in direct collaboration with psychedelic practitioners, Homecoming brings all client communication together under one roof, and co-locates it with a customizable library for providers to have everything at their fingertips to support client integration and drive impact. Communications are flexibly sent from an intuitive web dashboard or practitioner mobile app to client’s preferred inbox, whether it’s SMS, email, or a dedicated client mobile app, while letting you see all your client conversations from a single view in Homecoming, so you never “lose the thread” of conversation and can present confidently and professionally. Administrative functions like session note-taking, scheduling, and invoicing, are integrated, so you can reduce time spent away from deep client work.
Holistic practitioners who work with Homecoming are constantly learning and growing through the adoption of new modalities and techniques, which inspired development of the Homecoming content ecosystem. Leading providers across the spectrum of mystical and medical traditions have curated resources for practitioners on Homecoming to discover and further curate their libraries, and are immediately able to share their new findings with clients. The provider community, embedded in the platform, is the ideal place to connect with peers, build professional relationships, and pressure-test new approaches. The vision, Homecoming says, is to build a collaborative network of practitioner factions across different healing traditions, and to serve as an educational bridge for all providers, to the benefit of clients everywhere.
Guiding the Way Forward
As the realm of psychedelic-assisted therapy continues to unfold, practitioners find themselves at the forefront of a transformative approach to healing. For providers to navigate this new paradigm requires them to anticipate and embrace the distinct demands of the field. This means not only developing expertise in this new modality itself, but building familiarity with adjacent holistic approaches, and preparing one’s mindset and systems for a new way of supporting client impact. Psychedelic medicine will never be a panacea, but preparing providers to thrive in this new landscape is an important step in a broader expansion of consciousness and reduction of suffering.
In this episode, Joe interviews Ethan Nadelmann: author, speaker, Founder and former Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, host of the PSYCHOACTIVE podcast, and one of the leading voices in drug policy reform and harm reduction.
Nadelmann shares his journey from Princeton University to founding Drug Policy Alliance, to working with George Soros, encouraging Gary Johnson to push cannabis legalization, and interacting with prominent figures like Milton Friedman and Grover Norquist. He explores the motivations behind the drug war, the massive growth of incarcerations it led to, why the US spread its war on drugs abroad even when it went against our best interests, and, thankfully, the progress made in fighting the drug war – particularly with cannabis and psychedelics.
And he discusses much more: the banning of drug testing kits; the damages of our slow learning curve against the idea of a safe supply; the risks of under-prescribing opioids for people who actually need them; how libertarians, the right, and left are all starting to become against the drug war for the same reasons; why cigarette smokers should all switch to vaping; the concept of needing to pass a test at the pharmacy to prove you understand (and won’t abuse) medication; and some strong arguments for decriminalization as an incremental step. And he asks some pretty important questions that we can all simmer on for a bit: how do we find a balance between helping people and not opening the rest of society up to harm? How do we challenge abuse in a way that doesn’t hurt future harm reduction efforts? And how do we incentivize people into acting in their own best interests?
“The drug war resulted in the unnecessary arrests of tens of millions of Americans, the unnecessary incarceration of millions of Americans (oftentimes for very long periods of time), hundreds of thousands of people dying in this country with HIV/AIDS unnecessarily, tens of thousands dying of overdose unnecessarily. That was the drug war.”
“If I could snap my fingers and all of the 30, 35 million American cigarette smokers in the country today, or all of the 1.1 billion smokers around the world were to suddenly stop smoking cigarettes, and all of them were to take up vaping (the e cigarettes); …it would represent one of the greatest advances in public health in U.S. and global history, because the risks of smoking are so dramatically, dramatically greater than the risks of consuming nicotine in non-combustible forms.”
“You look at people pursuing that type of legal course of action where they claim it’s about helping bring attention, but in fact it’s having exactly the opposite results. Yes, it’s important to fix these things, but the methods and ways you go about it are incredibly important. It’s just like the same thing when you had that case involving the therapist in the MAPS training program who did stuff that was sexually inappropriate, etc. And on the one hand, you definitely need people to bring attention to that, and more credit to them for bringing attention to those abuses. On the other hand, one has to have the basic realization that that happens in all areas of psychotherapy. You can’t eliminate this stuff. It’s human nature, it’s humankind. You can minimize the incidence of it, you can bring attentions to the abuses, but make sure that what you’re advocating as the fix is not leading to doing more harm.”
Dive deep with David Drapkin, LCSW as he explores the nuances of the budding world of psychedelic therapy.
Discover the Resurgence: Get an intimate look into the burgeoning field of psychedelic therapy and the transformative potentials it holds. An age-old wisdom is now weaving its way into modern therapeutic techniques, and while it can be nerve-wracking to take the plunge, it’s equally as exciting.
Chart Your Own Path: Curious about carving out a niche for yourself in this arena? We’ll demystify the various career trajectories that beckon. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or someone just stepping in, there’s a space for everyone.
Navigating the Tape: The world of psychedelics is as intricate legally as it is mentally. Dive into an exploration of the legal and regulatory terrains that shape this groundbreaking therapy.
Blue Osa is a gem set in the pristine jungle in the Southern Osa Peninsula, one of the earth’s most vibrant natural environments. There is no resisting the lure and awe of nature and her healing powers in this place. Around the property are places to relax and tap into nature’s exquisite beauty and healing powers. When we reconnect to nature, we also reconnect to ourselves.
It was built from the ground up as a sustainable micro-grid that runs primarily on solar power, intending to leave the smallest footprint possible and live in harmony with the environment. As an intimate beachfront eco-resort off the beaten path, Blue Osa’s mission is to provide every guest with an unforgettable experience that nourishes their body, mind, and spirit.
Your VITAL Journey Includes:
8 days / 7 nights accommodations at Blue Osa, a private and remote eco-resort
4 Transpersonal Breathwork sessions (two as a breather, two as a sitter)
Three fresh farm-to-table meals a day
$50 gift certificate to the Blue Osa spa
gorgeous chemical-free pool
access to miles of secluded jungle beach
sunrise, guided birdwatching hike
daily yoga, intuitive movement, and CrossFit practices
free Wi-Fi and internet access
group airport transfer from PJM to Blue Osa
taxes and gratuities
What’s Not Included:
all flights (R/T flight to SJO and R/T flight from SJO to PJM
In this special episode, Melanie Pincus, Ph.D. and Manesh Girn, Ph.D., who joined David in episode 403 to discuss the launch of their new course, essentially interview each other.
As the 2nd edition of their popular course, Psychedelic Neuroscience Demystified, begins on November 1, we wanted to give them a chance to highlight some of the aspects of neuroscience students can expect to learn in the course, and what so many people who are interested in psychedelics don’t fully understand: What does neuroplasticity actually entail? Can one predict if a patient is more apt to have an experience with ego dissolution? How does the amygdala relate to mood disorders? When are critical periods of greater plasticity and socialization at their most beneficial? How does neuroplasticity relate to chronic stress?
They also discuss lessons they’ve received from their own journeys; why they created the course; serotonin; psychological flexibility; body-based versions of self vs. memory-based versions; psychedelics and re-encoding memories (and the potential for false memories); how psychedelic therapy is different from standard drug treatments; psychedelics and the default mode network (is the story oversimplified?), and much more.
For more information on their course, and to sign up, click here!
“A major insight from my psychedelic journeys is just how dense and heavy thoughts and mental content can be. And we often feel the need to overanalyze and think about things and get lost in our concepts and internal dialogue as opposed to experiencing things in the moment, as they are, in a more deeper kind of intimate way – having a greater intimate relationship with our senses, with the immediacy of what’s happening. And my psychedelic experiences, whether it’s with psilocybin or 5-MeO-DMT or what have you, have allowed me to glimpse into states where that stuff is just totally removed, and I’m just immersed in the rawness of experience and just how beautifully vibrant and alive and spontaneously intelligent that is, and how superfluous a lot of our thinking really is, and it just weighs us down. I think my journeys have just allowed me to live with greater ease and hold on to my identity and my narratives much more lightly. So I see them, I acknowledge them, but I’m not totally lost in them. I don’t identify strongly with them.” -Manesh
“Perhaps what’s happening is that MDMA induces a super positive mood where you feel really socially connected, really empathogenic with your therapist or whoever’s around you, you feel so safe and supported. And so if challenging traumatic memories come up, there’s this mismatch between the emotional trace of the traumatic memory and the unique state you’re in with the MDMA on board. And so this mismatch drives the memory reconsolidation process so that your traumatic memory is amended with less fear to be more in line with your current way you’re feeling of being so safe and supported.” -Melanie
Join us for an engaging and informative webinar, where we’ll delve into the exciting world of psychedelic education and how you can harness it to benefit both yourself and the larger community. As a valued affiliate, this is your chance to learn more about the plethora of courses available in the Psychedelic Education Center and explore how you can contribute to the expansion of psychedelic knowledge while earning revenue.
Introduction to Psychedelics Today: Gain insights into the mission, vision, and values of Psychedelics Today and how you can align with our community.
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Australia recently achieved a world first, becoming the first country to officially recognise the medicinal and therapeutic uses of psilocybin and MDMA. While this change can seem like it’s come out of nowhere, it’s actually the result of the explosion of activity around psychedelics in Australia over the past decade. Only a short time ago, we were under the radar. Now, we’ll likely be one of the first countries where patients can receive psychedelic-assisted therapy without being part of a clinical trial.
So, whether you’re currently in Australia, or just thinking of moving here, a career in psychedelics is suddenly more of a possibility. If you’re thinking of pursuing this path in Australia, there’s lots you need to know to navigate psychedelics here. What is or isn’t legal? Who are the critical nonprofits and corporations? Which universities are pursuing psychedelic research?
Where are Psychedelics Legal in Australia?
The short answer: Nowhere, except in minimal circumstances.
In most cases, classic serotonergic psychedelics are classified in the Poisons Standard as Schedule 9 – Prohibited Substances by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Ketamine slides into Schedule 8 – Controlled Substances, due to its extensive medical applications, though it’s worth noting that using it to treat depression is still considered “off-label” here. This off-label use is technically legal, but a 2015 controversy over clinics that allegedly skimped on psychiatric supervision and sent patients home to self-inject their ketamine doses has led to relatively few psychiatrists offering this service.
In February, the TGA announced that psilocybin and MDMA will be added to Schedule 8, permitting their use as Controlled Drugs, but only allowed to be prescribed by specialist psychiatrists under the following conditions: they must have approval from a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), and they must be authorized by the TGA under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme to prescribe the substances for these conditions.
Psilocybin will be permitted only for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and MDMA will be permitted only for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This means that the therapeutic use of MDMA and psilocybin will remain illegal, unless it’s occurring under the specific circumstances the TGA decision describes. For all other uses, they will remain in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances). Therapy using other psychedelics such as LSD, mescaline or novel analogues will remain strictly limited to research trials.
The importation of psychedelics is tightly controlled and only allowed for approved legal research. A range of federal laws for serious drug offenses carry significant custodial sentences. For example, being convicted of trafficking or importing a “marketable quantity” (250 grams – 2 kilograms) of N,N‑Diethyltryptamine (DMT) can result in a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and/or a fine of around $1.11 million AUD.
Most day-to-day drug law is dealt with at the state/territory level in Australia, which generally reflects federal scheduling. This means using, possessing, growing, manufacturing, and selling psychedelics is generally illegal. The one exception is found within the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of most drugs, including most common psychedelics. This doesn’t override federal law, and the federal government could seek to resolve any conflict in the High Court, but are unlikely to in the short term.
Australian Psychedelic Organizations
If you want to be across the breadth of psychedelic activity and experience in Australia, you need to start with the organizations in the field: Understanding who they are, how they relate to each other, and what communities they connect with is essential to navigating psychedelics here.
Psychedelic Charities & Nonprofits
Australian Psychedelic Society
Founded in Melbourne in 2017, the Australian Psychedelic Society is a grassroots and community-led not-for-profit. Through events such as picnics, film screenings, integration circles, and workshops, they aim to provide connection, education, and harm-reduction information relevant to psychedelic communities. The Australian Psychedelic Society also advocates for drug law reform, including decriminalization, recently putting their case to the federal Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and planning a range of advocacy activities centered around upcoming elections.
Entheogenesis Australis (EGA)
Entheogenesis Australis is a charity using education to help grow the Australian ethnobotanical community and its gardens. EGA hosts various events around entheogenic and psychoactive plant and fungal medicines, most notably the biennial EGA Symposiums, now known as Garden States. Since 2003, they’ve been encouraging knowledge-sharing on botanical research, conservation, medicinal plants, arts, and culture. Attending EGA events is the most effective (and fun) way to connect with the key individuals and organizations in the field here.
Mind Medicine Australia
Mind Medicine Australia (known, somewhat confusingly, as MMA) is a charity founded to support clinical research and work towards regulatory-approved and evidence-based psychedelic-assisted therapies. Mind Medicine Australia doesn’t advocate for the recreational or non-clinical use of psychedelics. Nor do they advocate for any changes to the law concerning non-clinical use, including decriminalization.
Through their for-profit subsidiary, Mind Medicine Institute, MMA supplies what was, until recently, Australia’s only training program around psychedelics, the Certificate in Psychedelic Assisted Therapies (CPAT).
The newest kid on the block, Psychae is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing new psychedelic therapies as approved medical treatments for mental disorders and other diseases, as well as supporting psychological well-being.
Psychedelic research in Science and Medicine (PRISM)
Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine (PRISM) is a charity established in 2011 to undertake and support research into the applications of medicinal psychedelics and related therapies. Currently Australia’s leading psychedelic research organization, they partnered with Dr. Margaret Ross at the St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, for an end-of-life psilocybin trial, and are presently involved with Australia’s first MDMA trial.
Australian Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Practitioners
The Australian Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Practitioners (AMAPP) was formed in 2023 to be Australia’s peak body for psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT). AMAPP is working to provide a framework for the safe, ethical, accountable, and effective introduction of PAT, focusing on achieving the best client outcomes. They are also working towards a searchable and verified register of credentialed psychedelic practitioners.
New psychedelic-related companies and businesses are emerging in Australia every day. This is just a selection of some of the better-known ones.
Through their Virtual Reality Psychedelic Psychotherapy (VRPP) protocol, Enosis aims to help therapists guide patients through all stages of their psychedelic healing journeys. Preliminary results suggest that their bespoke VR scenarios are a positive addition to the psychedelic-assisted therapy process, with hopes that these will be confirmed by future clinical trials.
Little Green Pharma
Perth-based Little Green Pharma is a cannabis company that’s recently moved into the psychedelic space, announcing in late 2021 that it had received a license from the Western Australian Department of Health to grow psilocybe mushrooms and supply psilocybin for researchers in Australia. It’s also pursuing psilocybin research through its subsidiary, Reset Mind Sciences.
Using computational chemistry, Psylo is focused on developing next-generation therapeutic psychedelics, including short-acting and sub-perceptual substances. Partnering with UNSW and the CSIRO and having attracted considerable funding, this company is one to watch.
Psychedelic Institute Australia
Psychedelic Institute Australia (PIA) is a new organization whose mission is to offer the highest quality psychedelic-assisted therapy training and education to therapists and clinicians in Australia. PIA was founded by a team that includes some of Australia’s foremost psychedelic researchers and clinicians, and aims to use their experience working in psychedelic clinical trials to provide theoretical and practical training for practitioners at varying levels of knowledge & development.
Australian Psychedelic Research
A few years ago, there were barely a handful of psychedelic researchers at universities here. Australia was characterized as “falling behind” international psychedelic research. Now, it would be easier to list the places that don’t have some involvement in psychedelic research.
Notable university researchers include: Dr. Stephen Bright at Edith Cowan University, who is running our first MDMA trial and is founding member of PRISM; Dr. Paul Liknaitzky at Monash University, who is leading investigations into using psilocybin for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and involved in numerous other research projects around the efficacy of MDMA for PTSD; Dr. Vince Polito at Macquarie University who is probably our foremost microdosing researcher and has recently finished a longitudinal study of microdosing psilocybin for mild/moderate depression; and Dr. Monica Barratt at RMIT/NDARC, whose research explores the social and public health implications of digital technologies for people who use illicit and emerging psychoactive drugs.
Those are just the researchers who have a public profile and a longer history of engaging in research that’s directly related to psychedelics or psychedelic communities. In the past 2-3 years, many established psychology or psychiatry researchers around the country have quietly turned their attention to psychedelics, and are now engaging more publicly through high profile publications, large projects, or the formation of research centers. Examples of this are Swinburne University’s upcoming randomized controlled trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, led by Professor Susan Rossell, and the University of Melbourne’s formation of its Medicinal Psychedelics Research Network (MPRN).
Organizations and researchers are great, but they’re not the beating heart of psychedelics in Australia. That would be the people and communities who use psychedelics, and many people involved in above-ground psychedelic activities are also long-time & active members of underground communities.
What Psychedelics are common in Australia?
While psychedelic use in Australia is relatively rare, it is on a steep upward trend. In 2019, 10.4% of the population had used psychedelics in their lifetime, and 1.6% had used psychedelics in the past year. That 1.6% might not sound like much, but that’s up from 1% in 2016!
The 2019 National Household Drug Survey found that the most used psychedelic in Australia is LSD, followed by psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline. Official surveys don’t get into fine detail, but anecdotally, there’s a bit more nuance. Mushroom use splits somewhat geographically, with Psilocybe cubensis being more common in warmer areas than the native P.subaeruginosa. DMT is used as vaporized crystal, smoked as Changa, or imbibed in local Ayahuasca analogs, with Acacia often replacing Chacruna leaves as the DMT component. Peyote is rarely used, with San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi) or Bolivian Torch (Trichocereus brigesii) cactus being the most common sources of mescaline.
Sure, but what’s the scene really like?
It’s hard to generalize what psychedelic use and communities are like here. Many psychonauts are growing obscure plants and pursuing arcane knowledge, loosely bound by social media and the occasional camping trip, bush doof, or picnic in a local botanic garden. For the uninitiated, bush doofs are outdoor dance parties that emerged in Australia in the 90s and have become a significant part of the country’s alternative subculture. Typically held in remote areas of the bush, these events are often characterized by an eclectic mix of electronic music (especially psytrance), psychedelic art, and drug use. From humble and unsanctioned beginnings, the doof is now often incarnated as large outdoor multi-day dance festivals such as Rainbow Serpent and remains a cornerstone of the enduring relationship between psychedelics, rave culture, and music.
Compared to a few years ago, many more people are aware of the potential benefits of psychedelics. So, there’s a sense that this isn’t a wholly countercultural thing anymore. Anyone you meet could use or be interested in psychedelics – you never know!
People are facilitating psychedelic experiences all over the country (more, in my opinion, than there used to be.) This can be one-on-one or in groups. Many of these facilitators and guides have extensive experience and skill in serving and holding space for the people in their care. It could be smoother sailing, though. Allegations of facilitators having inappropriate relationships with ceremony participants or following unsafe dosing practices (e.g., dosing people with MDMA too soon after Ayahuasca, thus risking serotonin toxicity) are not uncommon. While most of these alleged incidents never make it to court, a Queensland man has been charged with the sexual assault of four women who had participated in his “spiritual healing” Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Community concerns around ethics and standards of care have driven engagement with international efforts such as the Ethical Psychedelic International Community (EPIC). EPIC is a group of ethicists, facilitators, and community organizers who are dedicated to creating safe and ethical psychedelic spaces, specializing in supporting and advising individuals, communities, and organizations within the psychedelic and plant medicine world who are navigating challenging ethical situations. The same concerns independently led to local community members founding the Psychedelically Aware Talking Circle Hub (PATCH.) PATCH is a space that supports people who’ve experienced harm in psychedelic contexts, and aims to leverage community discussions of harm minimisation to produce processes and resources that will allow communities to address issues around safety and ethics as they arise.
Regardless of setting, and whoever they’re with, lots of people are using psychedelics and want to talk about their experiences. There is high demand for both community-led integration circles and professional integration therapy.
The Future of Psychedelics in Australia
Where we go from here is difficult to predict. Australia has taken the first step towards clinical access for psychedelic-assisted therapy. How widespread and accessible will this be? That depends on patient advocates overcoming the conservative stance of the TGA, health officials, politicians, and the psychiatric establishment.
It’s pleasant to imagine that acceptance of therapeutic psychedelics will lead to broader legal reform, as medical cannabis has in much of the US. But our medical cannabis system here is much more restrictive and heavily regulated. Every single patient who is prescribed cannabis is processed through a federally administered access scheme and there are no legal walk-in dispensaries. Doctors and cannabis companies aren’t even supposed to advertise their services or products (though they regularly bend these laws.) We’ve technically had medical cannabis since 2016, and there is little indication that this will automatically lead to adult recreational legalization.
The situation isn’t all doom and gloom, though. The number of people aware of psychedelics and their potential has grown astronomically in recent years. The number of people who have had psychedelic experiences has grown just as rapidly. So, I hope we can expect political and regulatory progress to follow the social changes we’re currently experiencing.
My prediction is that non-clinical psychedelic access will be community-based, with more nonprofit psychedelic social clubs rather than neon-lit dispensaries. The medical use of psychedelics will evolve but remain heavily regulated until the medical model itself changes.
Whatever happens, there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in psychedelics in Australia.
Throughout history, mankind has been drawn to the profound realm of mystical experiences. Psychedelics have long been used to generate these experiences. Recent research suggests that when psychedelics are used to treat illnesses such as depression, addiction, or end-of-life anxiety in relation to cancer and other terminal illnesses, people who have mystical experiences during the treatment session have more positive outcomes.
Mystical experiences were fundamental to man’s religious experience in both the East and the West. They have informed speculations about the true nature of reality. The psychedelic space has been guided by the wisdom of Indigenous peoples, and central to their journey is the embracing of the mystical as used by shamans and healers.
Understanding mystical experiences can be approached in two ways:
1.Naturalistic Approach: Using science and logic to understand the inherent laws by which the universe runs. This approach might be taken by those who see the nature of the world as explainable by cause and effect relating to the laws of science.
2. Transcendent Approach: Based on the assumption of a universe run by a higher intelligence and not subject to inherent laws. A transcendental approach may be seen to be more compatible with religion and spirituality.
The core features of a mystical experience include:
1. A Non-Ordinary State of Consciousness
A non-ordinary state of consciousness is profoundly different from the ordinary, mundane everyday experience. It generates a sense of timelessness and a loosening of the sense of relatedness to the outside world occurs — a blurring of what’s inside and what’s outside. There can be a loss of one’s sense of self — ego dissolution or ego death are commonly used terms to describe this.
Mystical experiences can occur in religious as well as non-religious circumstances, coming unbidden in the midst of everyday life. They can happen as a part of meditation, as a result of practices such as sensory deprivation, holotropic breathwork, and of course as a result of taking psychedelics.
Mystical experiences may also occur in moments of deep intimacy in relations between two people. For instance, as might take place in a psychotherapy relationship during a session. The psychoanalyst Alice Bar Ness has discussed the possibility that a mutually occurring mystical experience might be generated by the therapist and client in a psychoanalytic therapy. Recognizing this type of experience can be of great value in therapy.
2. Feeling of Connectedness
One core feature of the mystical experience has been described as that of an interconnectedness between all persons and things in the universe. Feelings of beneficence and love often but not always predominate. There is often a feeling of a deep connection to nature. In a more religious context, there can be a sense of connectedness with God or with some aspect of the Divine. William James described it as “becoming one with the Absolute.” Stace describes this form of “looking outward through the senses” as an extrovertive mystical experience.
An introvertive mystical experience, on the other hand, occurs when one looks inward, into the mind. Rather than becoming one with all that is out in the world, mystical unity occurs as a dissolution of one’s sense of personal identity. This can result in what has been described as a ‘pure consciousness experience’ in which there are no longer thoughts, memories or perceptions but yet one is still somehow aware. This state is a common goal of eastern religious meditative experience.
Mystical experiences, often described as ineffable, reflect a reality that transcends words and logic. As per William James, they are deeply emotional and cannot be transferred, and must be experienced directly. They can’t be put into words and communicated to another. Both transcendent and naturalistic viewpoints acknowledge ineffability as a crucial part of the mystical experience and despite being indescribable, humans naturally seek to express these profound emotions, leading to the creation of myth, poetry, and art.
4. Transformative Revelation
People having had these experiences have a sense of having received a deep and transformative knowledge about the most profound nature of reality. As James said, “They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance…” The term used to describe this type of knowledge is noetic. It is important to understand the idea that the received knowledge is not obtained by use of the rational intellect or by logical thinking. Noesis rather involves a sudden, intuitive flash of insight, a revelation about the deepest truth. This is a consistent feature of some Eastern traditions—Zen ‘satori’ being one example and of course revelation is an integral feature of Abrahamic religion.
Mystical experiences often entail paradox, situations where opposing statements both appear to be true and yet exclusive of one another. As an example, consider, as discussed above, that mystical experience can involve receiving a deep and transformative knowledge as a result of an encounter with the Absolute (which is paradoxically said to be ‘beyond knowing‘). Contemplation of paradox is a common feature of Eastern tradition. The Zen koan is an example.
Some Naturalistic Approaches to Understanding the Mystical State
1. Depth Psychology
Traditionally, psychology has used a naturalistic approach in trying to understand mystical experience. This field is notably associated with Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, despite Freud’s denial of the mystical. Depth psychology explores the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. Speculation about the nature of the unconscious goes back well before modern-day psychology and has been addressed by every human civilization both East and West. Psychoanalysis is one form of depth psychology. It is, of course, notably associated with Sigmund Freud although, in most of his work, he denied the significance of the mystical.
The connection between mystical experience and psychoanalysis, both from a theoretical and clinical standpoint has however, been fruitfully taken up by some modern psychoanalytic thinkers.
There are a group of psychoanalysts known as the psychoanalytic mystics. One of the most prominent is Michael Eigen who regards the mystical process as a model for psychotherapeutic change.
Eigen and others have looked at traditional psychoanalytic concepts through the lens of mystical tradition. One such concept is the idea of very early infantile experience with the mother as a fundamental cause of the development of the ‘self’.
Some conceive of the infant’s experience at this stage of development of the self as including states of blissful union with the mother during nursing, alternating with feelings of terror and rage when hungry or cold or alone and then again blissful union when again cuddled and fed.
Disagreeing with early psychoanalysts who pathologize mystical experience as regression, Eigen sees these early, ‘primordial’ experiences of consciousness of self as an equivalent of the mystical experience per se.
This description of the infant’s experience has been seen by Eigen and others as “the prototype of the death-and-rebirth process.”Eigen correlates this with the recurrent mythical theme of death and rebirth as described by for example Joseph Campbell.
Alice Bar Ness has used Martin Buber’s concept of the I-Thou relationship as a basis for the idea that both therapist and client might undergo a mystical experience during a psychotherapy session. Buber considered the I-Thou relationship as a deep, meaningful experience occurring between two people such as might occur in a person’s experience of the divine. These experiences can be ineffable, noetic and transformative and so can be considered mystical. They can be utilized to great advantage in a psychedelic therapy setting where the material which arises during these moments of mystical communion can resonate with the client’s experiences which might have arisen while in the psychedelic state.
2. The Jungian Perspective
The psychedelic space has made much reference to Carl Jung’s theories, notably his concept of archetypes. There are differing views as to the exact nature of archetypes however, they are commonly seen as symbolic representations of biological instincts manifest as images occurring in dreams and fantasies. Jungian James Hillman described these images as having autonomous personalities. His descriptions seem at times similar to the often-described psychedelic entities encountered during DMT experiences.
3. Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology
The relationship between the mind and the brain has long been discussed by philosophers and theologians. Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have tried to answer this question, also termed as “the hard problem” – can mind function be reduced to neural activity? Seen through the lens of naturalism, it has been taken up by neuroscience and cognitive psychology using modern technology.
Neuroscientists, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), can generate images of changing brain activity during meditation and after dosing with a psychedelic substance. Cognitive science has developed a series of psychometric tools such as the Mystical Experience Questionnaire which, using mystical experience criteria as outlined by Walter Stace, can reliably determine the occurrence of these experiences in subjects involving studies of psychedelics and meditation.
Research on the neural correlates of the mystical experience explores the effect of psychedelics and meditation on neural networks in the brain. Neural networks are webs of neurons which carry out specific, information processing functions. Individual networks can be widespread or ‘large-scale’, that is, a connection between groups of neurons located within the brain at a longer distance from each other. Networks can also be more localized or ‘small-scale’, consisting of interconnected neurons which are spatially adjacent. The often-mentioned default mode network is an example of a large-scale network. Other large-scale networks include the salience network and the dorsal attention network. Together, neural networks interact in complex ways to create our experience of the world including one’s sense of self as well as the boundaries of this self. Psychedelics break down existing connectivity within both local and large-scale networks and increase connectivity between networks not previously connected.
As a result of these changes, the brain is able to respond to stimuli in a more diverse and adaptable way. This translates into the distinctive sensory and cognitive phenomena commonly described during the psychedelic experience and may result in loss of sense of self and of one’s place in time and space – all elements of the mystical experience.
A Transcendental Approach to Understanding the Mystical State
Some Jungians and the transpersonal movement view the mystical experience as arising from higher states of consciousness and spiritual realms, not explainable by using rational, scientific concepts. In this view, “reality consists of multiple levels which mirror each other” in some way, commonly referred to as “correspondence.” Connections between these multiple levels are animated by a universal force which underlies the cosmos, also referred to as cosmic consciousness.
Correspondence between ‘multiple levels of reality’ gives rise to the idea that the universe or heavens (macrocosm) is reflected in the essential makeup of the human being (microcosm). Furthermore, this connection may influence interactions between different levels of reality. These concepts can be used to explain the core experiences and underlying nature of the mystical experiences. Additionally, they provide a “theoretical basis for astrology, alchemy and magic.”
These concepts can be illustrated by examples from the Western Esoteric tradition. For instance, the German mystic Jacob Boehme [1575-1624] describes the key to wisdom about God comes about by “looking within one’s self-consciousness, gazing upon, knowing and feeling all that formerly was [conceived of] as beyond.” Here, the mystical experience arises when contemplating the existence of the divine within – a connection between the macrocosm and the microcosm. This can be considered a form of interoceptive mystical experience.
The writer and composer Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] wrote about her mystical visions throughout her life. She described a vision in which “my soul rises up high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out among different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places.”. Here is an example of exteroceptive mystical experience.
The Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia developed a form of meditation involving repetitive utterance of Hebrew letters signifying the divine names of God. This enabled him to enter a higher state of consciousness in which souls “return to their origin which is one without duality… towards the original unity.”
Carl Jung’s [1875-1961] mystical visions are described at length in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and in The Red Book. While Jung’s work can be seen naturalistically and transcendentally, his personal experiences are considered to be of a transcendent nature. In fact, Jung himself considered his writings to be of a transcendent nature.
A better understanding of the mystical experience can be beneficial to the psychedelic space. While the two approaches discussed here may appear to be fundamentally incompatible, they both offer valuable insights and can complement each other.
Psychoanalysis has much to offer when seen through the lens of mysticism but also in a more straightforward consideration of its basic theory and clinical practice. As an example, psychoanalysis has long considered the problem of boundary crossings and violations as they occur in the analytic relationship. This has significant relevance to attempts at harm reduction in psychedelic therapy.
Finally, the examples of transcendent experiences are taken from writings that are part of the Western Esoteric tradition. A greater understanding of the history of these traditions as related to mystical experience would greatly benefit the psychedelic community.
She talks about graduating college and going straight to Esalen, where she had little concern over therapy or integration, and how, after 20 years of ayahuasca experiences, she learned to see psychedelic-assisted therapy and ceremonial, transformational experiences as very different things. She discusses her ayahuasca journeys; a surprising MDMA experience; what having an ongoing relationship with the spirit of ayahuasca means; Ann Shulgin’s concerns over going through death’s door while in a journey; what true integration is; how psychedelics can help prepare for death, and more.
And she talks about her new book, Swimming in the Sacred, which collects the stories, unique perspectives, and wisdom of 15 female elders who have been working in the underground for at least 15 years each, and how their experience has led to a somatic-based intuition and ‘know it in their bones’ feeling that so many new practitioners and facilitators need – and can only come with time.
“I kind of want to say to the newly-hatched psychedelic therapists: ‘Well, get this experience,’ but it’s very hard. And they’re not going to wait six years before practicing, so there’s such a need for them, and I can’t, in every podcast, (I mean, you’ll laugh at this), I can’t say, ‘Go do a lot of drugs,’ right? I’m trying to be more elegant about this, but that’s part of the elder women’s experience, is they really know the territory.”
“I know you’ve done a real apprenticeship, and I really respect that. And, yes, it’s very hard to find them, but that is the way people learn. So, what’s the best way to become a psychedelic therapist? It’s to be a patient with someone who’s a very experienced psychedelic therapist.”
“My priority was to work on myself and to grow and evolve. And so I always think of integration as part of a whole life: it’s not something that happens in a couple of sessions. But after these experiences, then what do we do with our lives and how do we live a more integrated life? And how do our lives unfold?”
Last year, Joe attended his first Burning Man, and sadly, we didn’t hear much about it. In this episode, recorded just a few days after Joe returned from his second outing of nearly 12 days on the playa, Victoria changes that, asking Joe all the burning questions we all want to know.
He talks about preparing for Burning Man and the numerous obstacles he and his partner, Ali, encountered on their very slow journey there; the media’s interpretation of the rain and mud vs. the reality of being there in the middle of it all; the bogus reports of an ebola outbreak and disaster zone surrounded by FEMA officials (and was that all a prank by Burners?); the debate over the environmental impact of such a massive event, and more.
And he talks about the many joys of Burning Man: how, despite the weather and needing to remain at camp more, the community, abundance, embracing of all that is weird, and passion to share and make the best of it all made this a better year for him in many ways. He learned the importance of patience, avoiding a frantic state, and fighting panic with positive vibes, which was made infinitely more easy with the Big Krab Car: the art car Ali built and they drove around, DJing on all week.
“We did some neighborhood block party/dance parties, we were just giving away some stuff, we had some amazing DJs. I think I, at one point, did a 5 and half hour DJ set from my phone through these gigantic sound systems, and people were over the moon about it. So it’s about: how do we fight that panic with positive, welcoming, generous vibes when we can? That’s how we did it. I know it was really hard for some people, but I’ve actually not seen anybody that I know that went that didn’t have the most amazing time at Burning Man. It was better for me this year than last year in a lot of ways.”
“That was actually the first thing I saw: the TMZ article. ‘Oh ok, this actually might make the news worldwide. Fascinating,’ which actually made the experience really interesting, to know that all the world’s eyes were on us. It made us want to show up better and do a better job.”
“Being held by a small community in your camp: if you find, luckily, a group of people that are just amazing to be with, like my camp, it’s just shocking and beautiful to be held and loved in that way and accepted in that way for a week and a half or however long it is. It’s life-shattering, life-changing, and so good. That was probably one of the biggest joys. And then just expanding your circles of friends after that’s your baseline, and you meet all their friends and it just balloons out to all these amazing new networks and connections.”
In this episode, Kyle interviews General Stephen Xenakis, MD: an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist who retired from the U.S. Army in 1998 at the rank of Brigadier General and began a career starting up medical technology companies and clinical practice to support human rights and new methodologies of healthcare.
In June, he became the new Executive Director of the American Psychedelic Practitioners Association (APPA), whose mission is to bring practitioners together as a community; develop the best training programs and practices; shift to a more patient-centered, integrated model of care; eventually accredit practitioners to practice with legal substances; and overall, help to make these new modalities more mainstream.
He discusses their path to success, which began with their publishing of the first professional practice guidelines for psychedelic-assisted therapy practitioners, and will continue on with ethical guidelines and clinical practice guidelines in the future. And he talks about the idea of a safety net for people who have adverse effects from psychedelic journeys; what clinicians need to know about psychedelics; concerns over accessibility; and the importance of identifying the correct treatments for the correct patients, as each person’s path to healing will likely be drastically different.
“We live in a world of disease-centered treatments, and we want to shift to a patient-centered model. We want to know that we’re not just treating your symptoms, we’re not just treating the problems that you have; that what you’re getting out of this is, in fact, helping you live the life that you want to live. What do those outcomes look like? How do we know [what] they are? How do we collaborate with you? It’s a partnership, it’s a rapport. It’s an alliance between you and me so that you’re getting what you feel is most important and we’re doing our job in providing it. That’s a big shift in medicine.”