In this episode, Kyle interviews psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and certified Holotropic Breathwork® facilitator: Marc Aixalà.
Aixalà is part of the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS), offering integration psychotherapy sessions, developing theoretical models of intervention, and training and supervising therapists. He is also the writer of the recently released, Psychedelic Integration: Psychotherapy for Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness, of which you can win a copy by entering our giveaway here!
Aixalà wrote the book after receiving more and more emails from people asking for guidance on how they were supposed to process a recent experience, and he realized that so much was unknown around the concept of integration: What exactly does it entail? Has the psychedelic space created a narrative that you need integration when maybe you don’t? When is the work considered integration and when is it psychotherapy?
He talks about some of the metaphors he uses to explain integration; the seven scenarios he typically sees in people seeking integration (and how to respond to each); philosophical constructivism and the importance of working with someone within their preferred cosmology; how the psychedelic hype has created a marketplace full of competition (and why that could be bad); and why he thinks being trained in Holotropic Breathwork is perhaps more important than being trained in facilitating a psychedelic experience.
“One of the things that psychedelics show us (or for me, the main thing) is that somehow, healing is inside of us and growth is inside of us, and they teach us accountability, they teach responsibility, and they teach us that we are the expert of ourselves – that our journey does not depend on an external person. So in my way of practicing integration, I also want to honor that, and do integration when it’s needed, but not create an additional need for people that don’t have it.”
“I think that that’s the richness and the beauty of psychedelics and the psychedelic experience, is that it cannot be understood from just one prism. No, it’s a trans-disciplinary approach that will give us a more subtle understanding of different dimensions included. I don’t think that there’s one way that is better than the other of using psychedelics, [just] as I don’t think that there’s one Shamanic tradition that is better than another Shamanic tradition. Things are there for a reason and we find what resonates more with us.”
“I believe that breathwork can be more effective than psychedelics to deal with certain emotions; things like anger, rage. The body and the somatic part of a traumatic event; that has worked very well with breathwork in my opinion – better than with other substances because it provides some sort of mental clarity that is not distorted by the archetypal aspects of psychedelics.”
An NYU psilocybin depression study participant discovers an unforeseen application for psychedelics: the treatment of chronic pain. Part 1 of the series: Psychedelics and Chronic Pain.
Everything Worked, but Nothing Lasted
In the fall of 2020, I was living a pretty successful and happy life – on paper. I had co-founded a very popular, leading-edge CrossFit gym in NYC; one of the first in the world. I held multiple advanced certifications in applied neurophysiology through Z-Health, helping clients with challenging pain and performance issues. As an early adopter of kettlebell training, I became a nationally top-reviewed instructor and trained Team 6 Navy SEALs, astronauts, pro athletes, wounded veterans, and members of the FBI, NYPD, NYFD, and ROTC. I was featured in Men’s Fitness, the NY Times Sunday Routine, and USA Today. I had 30 years in the pain & performance field, training and teaching at a high level, and was becoming widely known for helping people with difficult mobility problems or chronic pain, using unique methods from the leading edge of neurological rehabilitation. On top of all of that, I was 17 years sober.
However, not all that glitters is gold. A now ex-business partner was committing a Ponzi scheme to the tune of millions, and his case followed him like a shadow, turning my life’s passion into an emotionally and financially toxic nightmare that economically devastated my family. My best friend, Kirk MacLeod, who I had completely rehabbed from chemo & cancer surgery, died six months after being declared in remission. My first son had developed undiagnosed GERD and couldn’t sleep more than an hour and half at a time, which meant my wife and I slept even less.
Unsurprisingly, my episodic depression returned after more than a decade and a half, and I was now increasingly treatment-resistant; unresponsive to psychiatric drugs that had previously worked. All my pain neuromodulation interventions that worked on my clients no longer worked for me, and I had developed chronic pain myself.
I share all my background here to demonstrate that I was not under-resourced in either knowledge, networks, or diversity of approaches, practice, or experiences. I poured over all my certification materials looking for anything I had missed, but had fallen into an increasingly deeper recovery hole; everything worked, but nothing lasted. I was hitting a new bottom in my life, deeply sinking into the midst of an increasingly treatment-resistant depression episode that had likely been ongoing for five years.
But then I became aware of ongoing studies on psilocybin for depression happening locally in NYC. I had experienced a few high-dose psychedelic sessions nearly a quarter century ago and had been an avid Terence McKenna fan (even speaking with him directly after a lecture in Seattle), but I had never taken psychedelics therapeutically, and my recreational interest had effectively vanished once I became sober from alcohol. Intrigued, I connected with the local clinical research coordinator, Leila Ghazhal, at the NYU for the clinical trial of Psilocybin for Major Depressive Disorder study (sponsored by the Usona Institute), and took all the online and over-the-phone assessments, passing them easily. The primary investigator (PI) on my study was Dr. Stephen Ross, who had been leading psychedelic research at NYU for more than a decade. Amazingly, I made it into the trial within a month and a half, learning that I’d actually beat out 8500 other applicants for just 100 spots nationwide.
Trying Not to Hope
When I first entered the trial, I was in a state of denial about how severe my depression was, but once I took the MADRS assessment, there was no avoiding that I had moderate to severe depression with suicidal ideation.
I remember a specific moment very well during this process, when I was finally cleared to enter the study and the study coordinator was speaking with me about the results of my assessment and my upcoming participation. I asked what would happen if I didn’t receive psilocybin during my session, and he reassured me that they would not just drop me off in the middle of the ocean to dog paddle – that there were other interventions and studies available and they would be sure to find me something, but there was a good chance I would receive psilocybin and hopefully get some good results. At this point, my mask cracked a little bit and some protective cynicism came out, and I quipped with a bit of a shrug: “Well, we’ll see.” I hadn’t meant it to be dismissive or sarcastic but it came out that way, and the conversational atmosphere rapidly shifted. He looked right at me and suddenly he wasn’t the primary investigator anymore, lost in the myriad details and logistics of a very involved study. Now he was the deeply experienced clinician and therapist, and, having heard something within the tone of my voice, dropped all the way in and asked softly: “What’s going on behind that, Court?” Suddenly, all the masking dropped and there was no more place to hide because I was so, so tired at this point, and had been waiting for this moment. In and out of therapy for years, dozens if not 100 self-help books, so many modalities, so many somatic systems, and here I was with a chance for something new to help me. When I realized why there was cynicism behind my statement, my voice cracked, I started crying, and I answered him: “Trying not to hope.”
The one glimmer of hope I did have was reading a 2018 paper by lead author Calvin Ly describing psychedelics’ neuroplastic activity in the prefrontal cortex. As someone who had studied the neurology of pain for years, this was revelatory. Many pain conditions are, in fact, nociplastic or noxious conditions arising out of the central nervous system (CNS); there’s no more injury or damage if there ever was, but your CNS is still continuing to put out a maladaptive alarm signal that is perceived as pain. So learning that psilocybin was creating actual structural change within my cortex – not “just” psychological change – was completely astonishing.
My dosing date was on March 5, 2020, and I remember looking down at the capsule sitting in the cup, saying to it: “I really hope that’s you.” I was terrified inwardly that I would receive the placebo, that I wouldn’t respond to the psilocybin, or that it would only work just a little bit, only for its effects to slowly fade. But within half an hour, there was no denying that I had received psilocybin, and I earnestly pursued all the procedures everyone on my care team at NYU had worked with me on for weeks in preparation for this day.
I was genuinely shocked at the sheer volume of psychological material from my childhood and early adulthood that came up. I had profound transpersonal experiences and healing, revisiting instances that were pivotal in my childhood. I had an encounter with the first woman I had ever loved, who had committed suicide three years after we had broken up. Her death had caused a profound grief in me that drove my drinking for a decade after. I thought I had released the majority of my grief around her once I got sober, but clearly, there was so much more to heal that had been deeply suppressed as I tried to move forward with my life.
Reset, Renewed, and Reborn
The biggest shock of all, though, was waiting for me at the end of the day when one of my facilitators casually pitched a seemingly routine question while closely watching me out of the corner of his eye: “So, how do you feel?” Without thinking, I reflexively replied, “Good,” but then, just as reflexively, scanned more deeply inward, and in a sudden rush, realized my depression was completely gone – not just better, but vanquished, exclaiming: “Good! That fast? Are you fucking kidding me, that fast? Is it gone already?”
It felt as if a huge mass had been surgically removed from me or as if an entire continent within my interior was now suddenly revealed. No matter how many times you read the word “remission” and the percentages behind it in scientific studies, very little will prepare you for the shocking reality of it. The contrast between before and after was profound. All of the iterative rumination was gone, and it took no effort for that to happen. And it only seemed to strengthen as the days passed. Miraculously, all suicidal thoughts ceased on that day and never returned.
Shockingly, only ten days after my dosing session, NYC went into a complete pandemic lockdown, my entire industry closed, and my two young boys were now at home with me 24/7, tele-learning. I cannot imagine what 2020 would have been like for me if I had received the placebo. It’s almost unimaginable.
But here is where the story takes an even more profound and impactful turn. During the session, my leg started intensely tremoring/spasming. I had been evaluated for musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction that I had acquired through a host of injuries over the years of my performance career, and in fact, had just been in the doctor’s office a few months earlier trying to determine if I had arthritis or something worse. But right there in the session room, I started having a neurological revision, with my muscles and nerves in my right inner thigh firing in an effort to recalibrate the sensory and motor inputs and outputs in that part of my kinetic chain. It was almost like a self-generated TENS unit (Transdermal Electromagnetic Nerve Stimulation, used to generate muscle contractions and neuromodulate pain signals with micro-electric pulses) getting my leg back online by creating intense motor activity in the muscles of my thigh.
While I partially understood what had happened, I was understandably beyond eager to learn more, and to see where else this realization could take me: Why did this work so well? Has our understanding of chronic pain been wrong? And if psychedelics are the answer, what does treating chronic pain with psychedelics actually look like?
This is part 1 of a 2-part piece and part of a larger series on chronic pain and psychedelics. In part 2, I will dive into the research around remapping and mirror box therapy, and why my psychedelic experience seemed to be so effective.
Future articles will focus on:What is pain and what causes chronic pain, old assumptions vs. new science, the suspected mechanisms of action behind the interaction between psychedelics and pain, and best practices and safety concerns for working with psychedelics to alleviate chronic pain.
In this episode, David interviews Dr. Ben Medrano: Co-Medical Director with Nue Life, board-certified psychiatrist specializing in integrative psychiatry, and former Senior Vice President and US Medical Director of Field Trip Health.
He discusses his path to Nue Life; from growing up around mental illness, to the rave scene, to Buddhism, to his years working for the underserved in an East Harlem Assertive Community Treatment, and his biggest takeaway from that time: that the healthcare system he knew was not truly helping people. He talks about stigmatization (of some modalities like electro-shock treatment, of psychedelics, and of ketamine – which seems to be stigmatized even within the psychedelic space); his concerns that the at-home ketamine model is at risk as we make our way out of the pandemic; and how at-home ketamine can drastically reduce the cost of treatment.
Medrano tells a great story of a patient who saw incredible improvements through ketamine, and discusses some Nue Life highlights: their just-released 664 participant-study in Frontiers Psychiatry showing the safety of at-home ketamine (and that at-home is just as effective as other routes of administration); Nue Care, their model for aftercare using digital phenotyping, goals, and a scoring system (which he believes could be the new model for integrative psychiatry); and their Nue Network, which could be a solution for better education on ketamine and for granting access for patients through prescribers who typically don’t understand much about its efficacy.
“All the different interests, personalities, visions, [and] goals that are in this sort of circus of psychedelic commercialism is very necessary to understand. And for me, I think the biggest takeaway is that there is one thing that binds everybody who’s involved, and that is hope, really. I think there’s a lot of hope in this sphere.”
“The hazards of a benzodiazepine are well known, and to some extent, one might even argue that with some of these DEA-regulated substances that we do ship at home; that if we’re going to say that we need to subject ketamine to a higher standard, then we need to do it for the rest of these DEA-regulated substances, because they have very hazardous risk profiles. …I can’t help but think that there’s a little bit of …stigma [around] what it is that we’re doing.” [On an at-home ketamine patient’s success]: “He is able to get out of the house every day and enjoy the sunshine, and the way he views his trauma is at a level that I think all of us would aspire to: really, as something that has sort of made him into the man that he is today, with something really unique and powerful to offer as a human to others – rather than as a wound.”
In this Veteran’s Day episode, Joe checks in with two members of the Heroic Hearts Project: Founder and President, Jesse Gould, and Chief of Operations, Zach Riggle.
Heroic Hearts’ mission is to create a healing community that helps veterans suffering from military trauma recover and thrive through helping them gain access to psychedelic treatments, professional coaching, and ongoing peer support – and we’re always happy to have them on the podcast to remind listeners about the extremely important work they do.
Among other projects, they are currently running several studies: psilocybin for gold star wives (spouses of fallen soldiers), ayahuasca for combat veterans, and ibogaine for special operations veterans through the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School’s Center for Psychedelic Research & Therapy; a study with the University of Georgia on personality change through psychedelics; a gut microbiome study with University of Colorado Boulder; and a psilocybin for head trauma study through Imperial College London. And today, they released the short film, “It’s Time – A Documentary of Veterans and Pro Athletes Seeking Healing Through Psychedelics.”
Gould and Riggle discuss the growth in interest and acceptance in psychedelics they’ve seen over the last few years; the importance of people telling their stories; relative trauma and how people too often wait to seek help; how trauma isn’t always due to a single event; Colorado’s Proposition 122 (which passed!); the need to have standard measurements in psychedelic studies; and how people who go through trauma together can heal together.
“At what point do we ask for help? I think, just as a society, we feel like things have to be in full-on crisis before we need to seek some sort of assistance. And we want to put [it] out there that that doesn’t have to be the case – that if you’re able to look at your life and realize that there may be some areas where things could improve and you might need some help in improving them, then don’t be afraid to reach out, because we’re not going to turn you away.” -Zach
“In the standard medical world, the physicians [or] the psychologists are looking at that qualifying incident and trying to heal that, trying to address that. And there’s some things that are pretty effective …but they’re working largely on that single incident, and ignoring all the other things that may have happened over time. And that’s where psychedelics can be so beneficial, is that they address that whole issue with a full system reset.” -Zach
“You take a population that largely (due to their illness) has been isolating, pushing everyone away, and just sitting back and looking at how amazing everyone else’s life is while theirs continues to deteriorate. Well, we plug them back into a community, bring them in, and help them to heal together. That’s a powerful thing to realize: that communities that were traumatized together; they heal better together.” -Zach
In this episode, Kyle interviews Dr. Steven Radowitz: Medical Director at Nushama, a wellness center in New York City primarily offering IV ketamine, with a strong focus on letting the experiencer explore their journey undisturbed.
Recorded in-person at Nushama’s flagship location just over a year after opening, Radowitz talks about his past and why he became interested in ketamine, the look and feel of Nushama, their process, and why they favor IV ketamine. He highlights his biggest takeaways from the year: the surprise in just how effective ketamine has been; the role of integration and what aftercare truly looks like; and the importance of learning to hold space and be a compassionate listener – that the doctor isn’t the healer and the psychedelic isn’t the magic bullet cure; instead, they are just tools that allow the patients to heal themselves.
He discusses how he sees psychedelics as a dimmer switch for the ego; how disorders are tools to deal with trauma; why he is reframing trauma as a learning experience; why he thinks ketamine will survive once psilocybin and MDMA are legal; why group work is so effective and powerful (and likely the new model for psychedelic therapy); and the importance of staying humble through all of this – humble to the power of the medicine and humble to the amazing capacity for people to heal and grow, simply by being allowed to explore their journey and be heard.
“I’m not a healer, and I often tell people [that] during their preparation, when I do my medical intake. I talk to them about that. I say, ‘I’m not here [to heal you], I’m here just giving you a tool. You’re the healer. All this stuff does is [that it] just takes away what’s blocking you from realizing that. It’s like a dimmer switch on the ego [and] on the mind.” “I’m trying to move away from the word ‘trauma.’ It’s a difficult life event that’s there to teach us. It’s there for something. And with every one of those events; there’s a little jewel within it, but you have to go in there and go through it. And it’s just a cloud, just a myst, almost, that’s preventing you. Just push [through it] and hold space. As long as people are in a safe place to go there and journey there, then they’ll realize that it’s just an event. It’s just an experience, and you move on. That wisdom is: a memory without the emotion.”
“I think any type of journey work, any type of psychedelic work, I almost think you have to be called to it in a way. You shouldn’t be coerced, ever, into this. …I find that the ones that are really ready to do the work are finding us on our own.”
A Vital student introduced Kyle to Montjoy’s research on ketamine and PTSD and presented with her at the recent ICPR conference in Amsterdam, where this was recorded in-person (as Kyle and Johanna were there, representing Psychedelics Today). Montjoy talks about her protocol, the self-transcendent scale she’s using with clients pre- and post- induction, how ketamine can help people get over past trauma through shifts in emotional memory, and what she sees most in successful cases: a gradual shift toward self-agency.
She discusses how integral titration is to her process; how ACE (adverse childhood experience) scores work; how dissociation can help with childhood trauma; how clients often naturally fall into using Internal Family Systems to describe their process; and how physicians and therapists shouldn’t be afraid of the concept of ceremony and opening sessions with intention – and, as she likes to say, giving one’s mind coordinates on where it can end up.
“I do think it’s helpful to have a skillset and general understanding of that so you know what’s happening in real time, but for the most part, I subscribe to the philosophy that we all have an inner healer. We all have that inner wisdom, but most of us don’t have access to it because we have these managing protectors from our trauma.”
“Often [for the] opening, I’ll ask the higher self to step into the light, to take the reins and let all those parts know that the goal here is not to annihilate or bypass them. That’s the language I consistently use in opening, because as the facilitator, we want to align with those parts too. We’re not the enemy.”
“Don’t be afraid to incorporate ‘ceremony.’ …I think that makes a lot of physicians maybe uncomfortable; that idea. [But] opening and closing [the ceremony] can be very helpful tools, [and] making sure we’re asking about intention before each session. I call that the coordinates, because we want to give the unconscious mind the coordinates.”
In this episode, Joe interviews Christopher Dawson & Andrew Galloway: Co-Founders and CEO and COO, respectively, of Dimensions; a Canadian-based company creating retreats that blend traditional plant ceremonies with neuroscience and a luxurious, five-star environment.
Dawson realized what so many people were starting to learn about psychedelics after attending a 2015 conference in Peru that mixed neuroscientists with traditional healers, but for Galloway, it was direct experience, as he gives credit to plant medicines for helping him to heal from a 6-year addiction to crack cocaine. They each tell their story and how it led to the beginnings of Dimensions, where they worked for a year with a “Dreamlab” team of MDs, psychiatrists, practitioners from different fields, and even a design agency to create different programs for different substances – all with a focus on true set and setting and integrating perfectly with nature. They’re in the middle of a soft launch right now, offering cannabis in a ceremonial, group setting context to friends and families at their Algonquin Highlands location; perfecting everything before opening up to the general public. And once the law catches up with them, they hope to offer psilocybin and other psychedelic-assisted therapy across several new retreat locations.
They talk about Health Canada and the country’s trajectory towards legal psychedelics; critiques of traditional addiction treatment and the efficacy of 12-step programs; the tension between the psychedelic space and traditional healing space; investing in biotech; the polyvagal theory; how animals deal with trauma (and how we don’t); and the concept of integration: If you’re just taking a pill and not doing the work, are you missing the point entirely?
“We’re biased (we’re in the retreat business), but I don’t think that psilocybin, as an example, should be reduced to a pill that you take with your juice in the morning and you no longer take your SSRI because this is your new pill. For us, it’s the psychedelic-assisted therapy that actually maximizes the potential of the psychedelic experience, and that’s the mechanisms through which fundamental, behavioral change can take place. I think the idea that a pill can replace all of that means that you’re kind of missing the point about the whole experience.” -Chris “I don’t want to slam traditional treatment because it actually did work for me to some degree. …I had a crack-cocaine addiction for six-seven years and ended up in rehab for six months and came back and participated in 12-step programs and remained abstinent. That part worked. The difference for me when I got involved with plant medicine was something else: I got healed. Instead of just abstaining and not using to cope or to manage with whatever I was dealing with, I actually healed through plant medicine.” -Andrew “Is it a pill or is it the therapeutic process? If you don’t engage in integration, then you’re just taking a pill.” -Chris
“We talked about stigma earlier; it’s changing, and [for] the general public, the stigma around the war on drugs is changing too. I think people have finally figured out that it doesn’t work. No war works. We only declare war on things that we can make money from.” -Andrew
Christopher Dawson is the Co-Founder and CEO of Dimensions, a growing collection of retreat destinations combining neuroscientific research with plant ceremony in immersive natural environments. Prior to co-founding Dimensions, Christopher was the founder and CEO of Edgewood Health Network, where he oversaw the largest private network of residential/outpatient treatment providers in Canada and led the merger and acquisition of Canada’s top three treatment centers to create that network.
About Andrew Galloway
Andrew Galloway is the Co-Founder and COO of Dimensions, a new paradigm for healing, combining ancient ceremonial plant medicines with modern science in safe, legal, and nurturing natural environments. He leads the organization’s clinical teams and operations for Dimensions Retreats, a new collection of immersive, transformational healing retreats combining neuroscientific research with plant ceremony and luxurious hospitality. Prior to co-founding Dimensions, he was a National Director of Edgewood Health Network; leading 10 outpatient centers. Andrew was the former VP at GreeneStone Muskoka, an international certified alcohol and drug counsellor, and has 14 years of experience working directly for the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program.
Shannon feels that the majority of people who are interested in (and could benefit from) psychedelics would prefer that their experience be as close to a conventional medical setting as possible. And especially with the risks of rogue practitioners, licensing boards want to see predictability, uniformity, regulation, and (perhaps most importantly) that we as a psychedelic culture are placing importance on being accountable and self-governing. He wants to establish a certification process that’s standard enough that which medicine the patient is using will become secondary.
He discusses what the certification process will likely look like; why uniformity is so important; the challenges of respecting and integrating Indigenous traditions into a medical model that’s drastically different; what people should look for in psychedelic education; and the importance of breaking from a siloed and hierarchical model into one that’s cross-disciplinary, where professionals of all types can work together for the betterment of the patient.
“The premise of the certification board is that we’re trying to certify a process …of medication-assisted, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy that looks at integration [and] prep, that looks at set and setting, that looks at the sacred container of this relationship; and that we build that, and that is the core of it, and the medications become a little bit secondary. We can bring ketamine in, we can bring DMT in, we can bring psilocybin [in], [and] we can bring MDMA in; because these medications, frankly, they’re not really chemically-related or that similar, but what’s similar is the process that patients go through with them.” “There’s always the question of: ‘How do I get training?’ …The Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative just did a survey of the field of education and found that there are now over 50 providers of psychedelic education, and four years ago, there might have been a handful. But someone coming [up]: What do they do? ‘How much do I need to study?’ These things are expensive. It’s confusing. So we want to create a clear, professional path [where] someone says: ‘I’m going to step into this and do this as a career. Here’s what I need to do? Good. I can do that.’”
Scott has been a student of consciousness since his honor’s thesis on that topic at the University of Arizona in the 1970s. Following medical school, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy became a facet of his practice before this medicine was scheduled in 1985. He then completed a Psychiatry residency at a Columbia program in New York. Scott studied cross-cultural psychiatry and completed a child/adolescent psychiatry fellowship at the University of New Mexico. Scott has published four books on holistic and integrative mental health including the first textbook for this field in 2001. He founded Wholeness Center in 2010 with a group of aligned professionals to create innovation in collaborative mental health care.
Scott is a past President of the American Holistic Medical Association and a past President of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. He serves as a site Principal Investigator and therapist for the Phase III trial of MDMA assisted psychotherapy for PTSD sponsored by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. He has also published numerous articles about his research on cannabidiol (CBD) in mental health. Scott founded the Psychedelic Research and Training Institute (PRATI) to train professionals in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and deliver clinically relevant studies. Scott co-founded the Board of Psychedelic Medicine and Therapies in 2021 and currently serves as the CEO for this non-profit public benefit corporation. He lectures all over the world to professional groups interested in a deeper look at mental health issues and a paradigm shifting perspective about transformative care.
In this episode, Joe interviews Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and certified sex therapist, Courtney Watson. In just two years’ time, Watson grew from “Psychedelics are white people drugs” to opening a ketamine clinic to serve the marginalized communities she comes from. She shares the work she is doing through Access To Doorways; her Oakland-based non-profit whose mission is to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy to queer, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and two spirit communities.
This discussion is all over the map, from the platform of African traditional religion through the prospect of trauma healing for white supremacists, across BIPOC erasure in psychedelic research studies, and down into the realms of connecting to the spirit of entheogens from our pasts. Watson waxes on Black resilience; Hoodoo; how ALL plants are entheogenic; how conceptualization and talk in the psychedelic space often falls short of real action; ancestral veneration and ways to connect with one’s ancestral past; andthe concept of “spirit-devoid” synthesized compounds actually being the evolution of those plants’ spirits. She breaks down thoughtful considerations for queer and trans people in the psychedelic space, pointing out that while our society places too much emphasis on gender and sex, the acknowledgement of gender diversity and tearing down of the myths of hetero- and cisnormativity is hugely important. She believes that true access to these medicines can lead to true healing, which leads to love, justice, and actual equality. You can support Access to Doorways by making a donation here.
“Our people will talk to us. They will guide us. They will direct us. Especially for folks that don’t have ancestral practices in their day to day and haven’t had for generations; ancestors are starving for attention. They’re like, ‘Thank God you see us!’ Give them some light, give them some love, give them some attention, and they will open roads for you in all sorts of ways that you never knew were possible.“
“I think we also place way too much emphasis on gender and sex in this culture in this way that ends up stigmatizing the fact that there is gender diversity. …Holding all of this knowledge that heteronormativity is a thing and cisnormativity is a thing, and that these are not the default when we’re working with trans folks and folks that do not identify as heterosexual – that is really important.” “Healing could actually help shift what’s happening. It can help turn things in the ways that they need to be turned; in the ways towards love, towards justice, towards actual equality. It’s only when we are healed that we can actually do that; 1) because we have enough energy to be able to do that, but also because we have enough vision and foresight to be able to do that. The clarity of what it means to actually love only comes when we are healed.“
“There’s a lot of conversations, there’s a lot of talk, there’s a lot of conceptualizations, there’s a lot of dreams. But there’s not a lot of action. …So many people get stuck in the conceptualizing piece of it and the philosophizing piece of it that action gets missed. Access to Doorways is action. With $7000, we have given 4 subsidies. I know people that have raised ten times more than us and have not done that much. It is completely about doing what we say that we’re doing. It is completely about action towards healing.”
Courtney Watson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex therapist. She is the owner of Doorway Therapeutic Services, a group therapy practice in Oakland, CA focused on addressing the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous & People of Color, Queer folks, Trans, Gender Non-conforming, Non binary and Two Spirit individuals. Courtney has followed the direction of her ancestors to incorporate psychedelic-assisted therapy into her offerings for folks with multiple marginalized identities and stresses the importance of BIPOC and Queer providers offering these services. Courtney has received training from the Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research at CIIS, MAPS, and Polaris Insight Center to provide psychedelic-assisted therapy with a variety of medicines. She is deeply interested in the impact of psychedelic medicines on folks with marginalized identities as well as how they can assist with the decolonization process for folks of the global majority. She believes this field is not yet ready to address the unique needs of Communities of Color and is prepared and enthusiastic about bridging the gap. She is currently blazing the trail as one of the only clinics of predominantly QTBIPOC providers offering ketamine -assisted therapy in 2021. She has founded a non-profit, Access to Doorways, to raise funds to subsidize the cost of ketamine/psychedelic-assisted therapy for QTBIPOC clients (now accepting donations!!!). When not in the office seeing clients or in meetings for the businesses she leads, she’s watching Nickelodeon with her kids, kinda working on her dissertation and more than likely taking a nap!
MAPS has recently been at the center of media scrutiny, notably through the New York magazine‘s “Cover Story” podcast series, which chronicled instances of alleged sexual abuse within the MAPS clinical MDMA trials. Since reporting on this issue has largely called into question the design of MAPS’ clinical trials, data reporting, quality control, and claims around the efficacy of MDMA in the treatment of PTSD, we wanted to provide an opportunity for Doblin to respond to these very real concerns – and he does just that.
He discusses how MAPS reacted, what could have been done better, what it has all meant for the non-profit, and how it feels to now be considered the enemy by many in a space MAPS helped build. He addresses the concerns of sessions ending too soon (highlighting how that may suggest a desire for additional therapy) and asks anyone who has participated in a MAPS trial to complete a long-term follow-up survey so the organization can improve their process and ensure their data is as accurate and robust as possible.
He also discusses what the post-approval psychedelic landscape could look like; their goals for facilitator training and how they align with requirements in Oregon; their desire for a patient registry or “global trauma index”; and the importance of collecting and analyzing real-world evidence. And he talks about MAPS and their globalization goals: how exploring psychedelic therapy specifically in countries with little to no tradition of psychotherapy can lead to new therapeutic models. Rather than exploring areas where there is guaranteed revenue, they are seeking areas that are high in trauma instead – to bring these medicines where they are most needed.
“I think you can have solutions that go too far. The podcast people put out a solution, saying that there should be no touch in therapy. …They’ve also said that [our] studies should be shut down and that we need experts to think about this for years. I think that kind of thinking is out of balance with the amount of suffering that seems to actually be alleviated.”
“The more dangerous the drug, the more important it is that it be legal.”
“We’re really wanting to bring this to the police, [and] we’ve done a lot of work with veterans. The breakthrough that we’re still looking forward to one day would be to treat the first active duty soldier. So far, it’s only been veterans, but if we can treat active duty soldiers, I think that would be [great]. The closer you can treat people to the trauma, probably the better.”
“Even though we’re focused on MDMA and there’s all these other things for MDMA, really, what we’re doing is opening the door to psychedelic medicine. So what we want, ideally, is therapists to be cross-trained with MDMA, ketamine, psilocybin, ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT, ayahuasca, whatever. And then the psychedelic clinics of the future will not be: ‘Here’s a ketamine clinic, here’s [an] MDMA clinic, here’s a psilocybin clinic.’ It will be psychedelic clinics, and the therapists will be cross-trained and they’ll customize a treatment program for each individual patient with any number of different kinds of psychedelics at different times in a sequence.”
Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences. He also conducted a 34-year follow-up study to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment. Rick studied with Dr. Stanislav Grof and was among the first to be certified as a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner. His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife, with three children who have all left the nest.
Barnett discusses the importance of building community in psychedelic spaces; psychedelic experiences as preventative medicine, and the differences between (and value within) the sanitized medical model and more ritualistic experiences. He talks about his own personal journey with addiction and recovery and looks at the interrelation between trauma, addiction, trust, and how psychedelics operate as disruptors – with a sense of meaning and purpose.
He discusses many of the current clinical trials happening around psychedelics and addiction; Alcoholics Anonymous and LSD; Vermont’s developing decriminalization bill (Measure H.644); the psychiatric workforce shortage and the potential solution of more prescribing psychologists; and, considering Oregon’s budding psilocybin therapy model, points out that one doesn’t need to be a licensed clinical practitioner with specific schooling to be a good psychedelic facilitator. Could we instead build models that are based largely on competency?
The Psychedelic Society of Vermont is putting on the Psychedelic Science & Spirituality Summit on the summer solstice (June 20-21) in Stowe, VT, with the goal of holding space for both the scientific and spiritual side of psychedelia. The conference is specifically for healthcare professionals, but all others are welcome to virtually attend or come to the summer solstice celebration after the conference. For more info, head to vermontpsychedelic.org.
“I had several profound experiences with LSD when I was a kid, and when I crashed and burned on alcohol and wound up in a 12-step rehab (the Hazelden Foundation), I quickly recognized that my experiences with LSD made me extremely receptive to the message that was being put forth to me in a 12-step-oriented rehab program. Concepts like surrender and a connection to spirituality, a connection to open-mindedness, willingness, being honest with oneself, taking one’s inventory – these kinds of concepts that are so common in 12-step programs – they resonated so strongly with me because of my experiences with LSD.”
“We have the ability to instill a sense of trust with our patients, and they can begin to trust themselves, and to trust the therapist, and to review some of these old hurts and really get into it over the course of therapy in a way that’s very healing. So it can happen with therapy, and I don’t think one is necessarily a substitute for the other. I think [psychedelics and therapy] work very well together. Psychedelics are yet another tool, just like therapy is a tool, just like AA is a tool, just like Suboxone and Methadone are tools. They’re all tools, and it’s really important to respect and honor that each one brings something positive, potentially, for an individual.”
“An AA program, a harm reduction program, a therapy program, a psychedelic program, [a] meditation retreat: All these things provide a nudge, and potentially a very transformative nudge in the direction of like, ‘Okay, and then what?’ What are you doing in your daily life? …That ‘assisted’ part is not just assisted by a therapist. It’s not just assisted by a drug. It’s not just assisted by a shaman or an integration coach. It’s assisted by everything.”
Dr. Rick Barnett, Psy.D., is the Co-Founder of the Psychedelic Society of Vermont, the Legislative Chair and Past-President of the Vermont Psychological Association, the founder of the non-profit organization, CARTER, Inc., and is a clinical psychologist and addiction specialist in private practice in Stowe, VT. Dr. Barnett has worked as a Clinical Psychologist in nursing homes, hospitals, and outpatient programs, and has trained hundreds of health professionals through workshops on addiction and mental health issues over the past 20 years. He is in long-term recovery of alcohol and substance abuse and is an active advocate for addiction treatment and recovery resources. Dr. Barnett holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, a Doctorate and Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychopharmacology. He is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and holds certificate in Problematic Sexual Behavior (PSB-S) and Gambling Disorder.
In this episode of the podcast, Kyle interviews psychiatrist, Dr. Reid Robison, and clinical psychologist, Steve Thayer, Ph.D. Together, they host the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast and work at Novamind; Robinson as the Chief Medical Officer, and Thayer as the Clinical Director of Education & Training. They talk about their respective journeys from psychology into the field of psychedelic medicine, their current work with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) at Novamind, and their combined efforts in educating and training future KAP therapists and clinicians – a need they feel is going to become increasingly urgent as ketamine becomes more mainstream. To meet the challenge of scaling accessibility of psychedelic therapies, Novamind recently combined forces with Numinus Wellness, creating a platform and standard of mental health care within psychedelic therapy.
Robison and Thayer discuss the different ketamine dosing modalities and purpose for each; the ketamine sessions Novamind provides for frontline healthcare workers (called ‘FrontlineKAP’ or FKAP); how difficulties in emotion-processing are often at the heart of mental health struggles; and how ketamine can help loosen emotional binding, allowing greater access to them. They also discuss current clinical trials on LSD for anxiety and alcoholism; how ketamine can be used for therapist burnout; the challenge of long LSD sessions and therapist stamina; the benefits of group ketamine sessions; the concept of combining ketamine with other therapeutic modalities (or substances); and the power of stepping aside and allowing the inner healer to take over.
“Difficulties in emotion processing are often at the heart of many mental health struggles. And if we can support the clients in developing skills and confidence in moving towards their emotions, and leverage the power of the corrective experience, the healing power of caregivers, [and] supporting them with emotion coaching skills, then we’re wrapping the client in this really powerful therapeutic healing environment and leveraging ketamine as a catalyst.” -Reid
“People will tend toward self-actualization and transcendence if you give them the environment to do so. To be well is not something we have to teach people to do, it’s something that they can remember how to do. It’s in them. If we can help them peel away the negative programming and conditioning and trauma and all that stuff, they’ll find their way to health and healing.” -Steve
“To me, it makes complete sense to use something like LSD for anxiety because what we think perpetuates something like generalized anxiety is what Steve Hayes of ACT might call ‘experiential avoidance’; that we don’t want to feel these intense feelings of fear or embarrassment or rejection or whatever it is, so we worry chronically, we get addicted to worry itself, [and that] keeps us safe from having to do scary stuff. And the LSD experience is just (for a lot of people) going to crack that open and give you an opportunity to face your fears, so to speak. It’s like exposure therapy on psychedelic steroids.” -Steve
Dr. Reid Robison is a board-certified psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at Novamind. He is adjunct faculty at the University of Utah, founder of the Polizzi Free Clinic, co-founder of Cedar Psychiatry, the medical director for the Center for Change, and was voted Best Psychiatrist in Utah in 2020. Over the past decade, Dr. Robison has led over 200 clinical trials in neuropsychiatry. Notably, he served as Coordinating Investigator for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study of eating disorders. As an early adopter and researcher of ketamine in psychiatry, Dr. Robison led a pivotal IV ketamine study for treatment-resistant depression by Janssen, leading to FDA approval of Spravato™. Dr. Robison is also the co-host of the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast.
Dr. Steve Thayer is a clinical psychologist and Clinical Director of Education & Training at Novamind. As a USAF military veteran, Dr. Thayer maintains his commitment to serving the veteran and first responder community through his position as the Executive Director of Therapeutic Operations for the World Voice Project. At Novamind, Dr. Thayer conducts and provides training in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. He serves as Lead Therapist on several clinical trial studies involving psychedelic medicine. Dr. Thayer is also the co-host of the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast.