The psychedelic science and medicine in the XXI century

Oct 15, 2015 | English | 0 comments

Brad Burge

Brad Burge

M.A. in Communication

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It is a sincere honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with you today. This is my first time in Mexico, and I believe that it is also the first time that anyone has presented on behalf of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Spanish or in Latin America. Thank you all for your patience and attention, since this is my first time in Mexico and my first time presenting a lecture in Spanish. I will be reading this presentation since it is more comfortable for me, and almost certainly easier on your ears. Finally before I begin, I wish to thank my esteemed colleague Bia Labate for inviting me to speak today.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a non-profit research and educational organization with the mission to make psychedelics a safe and legal tool to assist with therapy for a variety of mental illnesses, and to create more opportunities for psychedelics to be used by people all over the world for beneficial purposes, including spirituality, enhancing creativity, and facilitating personal growth. An important part of MAPS’ vision for the legalization of the medical uses of psychedelics is the creation of a network of clinics, much like ibogaine clinics in Mexico today, where patients can receive legal psychedelic therapy together with preparation and integration services.

MAPS was founded in 1986 by our current executive director Rick Doblin as a direct response to the criminalization of MDMA, which happened in the U.S. in 1985. Today, MAPS have allocated over $23 million to research and educational projects in alignment with our mission, and worked with thousands of researchers and volunteers around the world, with every dollar donated by individuals and family foundations that want to see psychedelic science re-established as a legitimate field of study after decades of suppression.

In addition to helping scientists design, fund, and conduct studies into the beneficial uses of psychedelics, MAPS also maintains a strong public education program. Our educational projects include media and public relations, crowdfunding campaigns, publishing the MAPS Bulletin three times a year, publishing original books about psychedelic therapy research, hosting large conferences and small local events, sending regular emails to our supporters, and helping other organizations and individuals involved in psychedelic and medical marijuana research and policy to reach new supporters and expand their programs. The goal of our public education work is create a broad base of support for psychedelic science and therapy, resulting in more sources of financial and political support while decreasing stigma.

MAPS is not the only organization working in this area. The Heffter Research Institute, the Beckley Foundation, and the Council on Spiritual Practices are other organizations sponsoring careful scientific research into psychedelics. Of course, there is also a lot of research internationally into the medical uses of cannabis, though MAPS is the only organization in the U.S. planning research that could make the whole cannabis plant a legal prescription medicine. MAPS is also at the forefront of the current research using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a plan to make it a prescription treatment as soon as 2021. Today I will focus on the work of MAPS, but will also mention work being done by other groups.

Primero repasaré brevemente la historia de la terapia psicodélica, y resumiré investigaciones internacionales actuales sobre varios usos específicos de las drogas psicodélicas, incluyendo la psicoterapia asistida por la MDMA para tratar trastorno por estrés postraumático (TEPT, o PTSD) y ansiedad. También describiré qué estamos aprendiendo al respeto a la terapia asistida con uso de ayahuasca para el TEPT y la adicción a otras drogas, la terapia asistida con uso de ibogaína para tratar la adicción, psicoterapia asistida por el LSD para la ansiedad asociada con enfermedades que amenazan la vida, y unos otros usos experimentales.

También discutiré esfuerzos corrientes para desarrollar el cannabis botánico hacia un tratamiento legal disponible por prescripción, y repasar cómo las drogas psicodélicas se están transformando en los medios de comunicación desde drogas de abuso hacia herramientas medicinales, espirituales, y creativas. Finalmente, exploraré la visión que MAPS intenta manifestar con el apoyo de la comunidad científica internacional, incluso el establecimiento de clínicas legales para la terapia psicodélica y la legitimación de conocimientos y prácticas occidentales e indígenas para los usos benéficos del cannabis y de las sustancias psicodélicas.

History of psychedelic therapy

Psychedelics have been part of human spiritual ceremonies and cultural practices for all of recorded history. Interest in exploring psychedelics from a scientific angle probably started centuries ago. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s there was an explosion of scientific research into psychedelics due to the introduction of psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, and (in the late 1970s) MDMA and its chemical cousins into American and European culture. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, researchers at major research universities around the world were investigating the use of psychedelics for various therapeutic purposes. Some of the leaders of this early movement were Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, who worked in the U.S., and Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo. There were many others, and all together thousands of psychedelic therapy sessions conducted, before psychedelics were criminalized.

It was only when the global War on Drugs launched in the 1970s that legitimate psychedelic science was forced into the shadows. It has taken decades for the irrational stigma against careful psychedelic research to erode, and for the early results of scientific studies to get the attention of the mainstream press and increasing numbers of donors. The re-emergence of psychedelic science and therapy that we are seeing now is actually a promising old field finally coming to light again.

The criminalization of psychedelics and marijuana was part of the War on Drugs, which started in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was designed to criminalize specific groups of people—students, activists, minorities, and others—deemed threatening by elite politicians and industry leaders. The “un-discovery of psychedelics,” which one researcher called it as recounted in Tom Shroder’s excellent new book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal (available at maps.org/store), was the result of scientific ignorance and political opportunism, all carried out under the legal umbrella of the Controlled Substances Act.

MAPS is primarily focused now on the development of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy into a legal treatment for PTSD. MDMA itself has a long and interesting history. MDMA was first synthesized in 1912, by the Merck pharmaceutical company in Germany as part of a larger research program, but it was not studied for its effects in humans until the 1950s, as part of the U.S. Army’s infamous secret MK-ULTRA experiments which were exploring whether psychedelics could be used as effective tools for mind control, torture, and interrogation. Those experiments were not successful, and soon after MDMA was forgotten again until the late 1970s, when a group of psychotherapists (mostly in California) discovered that MDMA could be an effective tool for enhancing therapy.

The first major proponent of MDMA’s use in therapy was Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a chemist who was working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It was Shulgin and his psychotherapist friends who first made MDMA popular as a therapeutic drug. At this time there was no careful, controlled research into the safest and most effective ways to use MDMA, only a large collection of individual accounts and case reports.

Soon after therapists starting using MDMA legally, people outside the therapeutic community discovered that it was also an effective party drug. By the early 1980s, MDMA was being sold legally in dance clubs in the United States and United Kingdom, and the rave scene officially started. After several high profile deaths related to the recreational use of MDMA, government regulators in the U.S. moved quickly to make MDMA an illegal Schedule I drug. The DEA ignored testimony from numerous scientific experts, and MDMA was made illegal in the U.S. in 1985. Other countries soon followed.

It is important to note that the criminalization of psychedelics, such as LSD and MDMA, did not really prohibit research into their medical or other uses. Instead, the criminalization of psychedelics had an indirect, though nearly complete, chilling effect on research due to the stigma which marked them as not only dangerous, but unworthy of scientific investigation. After criminalization, government agencies and major private funders, and few researchers, wanted to remain associated with psychedelics, since they were now labeled as drugs of abuse.

Here is an example of the discouragement and harassment that psychedelic researchers faced when the War on Drugs stopped psychedelic research: Last May, in Toronto at the American Psychiatric Association conference, I spoke with one elderly psychiatrist who was actively studying the cognitive effects of psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD (among others) at a major research university when one day he came to work to find that his experimental compounds had been confiscated and that he had been ordered by federal law enforcement officials to stop his work. Federal officials even went to his house and physically intimated him. He told me that he had been literally traumatized by this experience, and expressed his delight that psychedelic research was once again, after over 40 years, coming out of the shadows.

I would say that two main challenges that MAPS has overcome since 1986 have to do with the regulatory system on one hand, and with the mainstream media on the other. When MAPS was founded, officials at the FDA would not even review proposed research into the benefits of psychedelics for therapy that they received; it was either ignored, moved to the bottom of the stack, or accidentally fell in the wastebasket. Since then, internal changes within the FDA combined with more scientifically savvy research protocols have resulted in an easy willingness on the part of the FDA and other regulatory agencies not only to review the research protocols, but also to approve them in an expedient way. Similarly, in 1986, news coverage of psychedelics was overwhelmingly slanted to exaggerate the negative consequences of using psychedelics, and to ridicule or ignore their potential positive benefits. Today, more and more news outlets around the world are making the distinction between the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics and marijuana, and the negative consequences of the War on Drugs including adulterated substances and unsafe settings.

I would say that the main three reasons that public interest in in the subject is blossoming right now are our culture’s declining faith in conventional antidepressants and anxiety medications and the associated epidemic of reliance on pharmaceutical drugs, together with a declining faith in the War on Drugs. Another reason is that we are now facing an unprecedented international challenge when it comes to treating PTSD (especially resulting from war and sexual assault), which affects millions of people worldwide and for which more effective treatments are urgently needed. Plus, as more research gets completed, and as more of the public and policymakers learn about the research through media and social media, the clearer the case is becoming for increased support for psychedelic and medical marijuana research.

The overreliance on conventional pharmaceuticals, the sheer numbers of people taking prescription drugs on a daily basis, and the tendency of conventional psychotropics to dull or mute our experience are all motivating factors for me as we work to make psychedelics and marijuana a legal part of the medical system. For some people, conventional pharmaceuticals work well, but it’s clear that used in the right ways, by the right people, psychedelics can enhance therapy and even work to get people off of other drugs. These are profoundly important tools for healing and growth that should not be used lightly, and which need to be available for people to benefit from them.

The media are helping accelerate changes in public perception of psychedelic science and medicine. In the last four years, the number of media mentions of MAPS and our work has tripled, with 183 unique mentions in 2012 and over 500 last year. Popular news outlets, including newspapers and television, magazines, military news sources, documentary films, and professional medical journals are making a big difference in reducing stigma by sharing research results and personal stories from subjects. The very fast growth of our social media audience, such as Facebook and Twitter which more than doubled last year, is also evidence of the widespread public acceptance of psychedelic science and medicine.

MDMA

I will now share the research that we are currently conducting as part of our efforts to restore psychedelics to a legitimate place in therapy, science, and public policy.

As I mentioned, MAPS’ current main project is completing the research necessary to make MDMA-assisted psychotherapy a legal, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved treatment for PTSD. MAPS has completed two small studies with very promising results, one in the U.S. in 19 subjects, and one in Switzerland in 12 subjects. This year we’ll complete four additional studies that will contribute to the existing data: two in the United States (in Colorado and South Carolina), one in Canada, and one in Israel. These Phase 2 studies are the last step before we meet with the FDA to plan the larger Phase 3 studies that will be required before the FDA approves the treatment. We are currently expecting that decision to happen in about 2021, provided that we get the donations we need—about $22 million, small change in pharmaceutical development terms—to complete the research.

We are conducting an international series of FDA-regulated studies into whether MDMA can enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy for people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. All of our subjects have been people who have tried other treatments (medications and psychotherapy) and who have not experienced improvement.

While more research needs to be done to determine the real mechanism of action, most researchers believe that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy works by directly reducing activity in the amygdala, the brain region associated with conditioned fear, making it easier for subjects to talk about frightening memories. MDMA also increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with attention and memory recall, which may enhance subjects’ ability to recount their experiences. Finally, MDMA encourages the body to release natural hormones, such as oxytocin and prolactin, which are associated with feelings of trust and bonding, which may strengthen the relationship between subject and therapist, thereby helping the subject go deeper than they normally would. The real mechanism is probably a combination of these effects, plus others we don’t yet know about.

In our first completed pilot study (which won an award last month for being the most cited paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2011) researchers found that 83% of participants no longer qualified for PTSD after receiving just two MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions. This is compared to just 25% of subjects who received psychotherapy alone. These subjects, who were primarily female survivors of sexual abuse, had already tried conventional medications and psychotherapy, and had suffered from PTSD for an average of 19 years. Our long-term follow-up of these subjects showed that those results did not disappear after the study ended; rather, the results lasted for as long as we followed the subjects (3.8 years, on average).

It’s important to mention that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, like all other psychedelic-assisted therapies, do not rely on the drug alone for their effects. The effectiveness of psychedelic therapy results from the combination of the pure substance and a specialized form of psychotherapy that is designed to make the most of the drug’s effects for the purposes of helping people address the root cause of the trauma. Unlike conventional pharmaceuticals, psychedelic therapy does not just try to reduce symptoms, such as nightmares, anxiety, and insomnia in the case of PTSD. Instead, psychedelic therapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in particular attempt to resolve the root cause of PTSD, which is the subject’s underlying relationship with their traumatic memories.

There have been a lot of stories circulating around the media now that we’ve treated so many subjects in our clinical studies (111 as of right now) and so many have been both willing and excited to speak about their experience. My favorite story, since it exemplifies the potential of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy not just to heal PTSD but also to encourage people to transform their lives, is that of Tony Macie, a U.S. Army veteran who developed PTSD after serving in Iraq. He enrolled in our study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for U.S. veterans, firefighters, and police officers with PTSD and dropped out of the study after a single low-dose session (we’re exploring the effectiveness of different dosages and he didn’t even receive the full dose).

Since he dropped out, we can’t include his data in the final analysis even though he didn’t have PTSD anymore after his treatment.  He had been on prescription opiates and was abusing alcohol prior to his experimental session, and afterwards he had no desire to use either. He didn’t even want a second MDMA session, having decided that he no longer needed drugs to get through life. Since then, Tony has become a proactive advocate for psychedelic therapy and medical marijuana research, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congressional support for more research. We’ve collected lots more stories like Tony’s in the MAPS Bulletin and on the MAPS website.

I want to highlight that MAPS’ MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD research is not just focused on veterans. Our first two studies in the U.S. and Switzerland were open to people with PTSD from any cause, and so are our ongoing studies in Colorado, Canada, and Israel. Study participants have had PTSD resulting from war, sexual assault, violent crime, terrorism, natural disasters, and many other causes.

Psychedelic research is also correcting much of the negative propaganda and bad science surrounding the risks of MDMA and other psychedelics. Many of us are familiar with the infamous claim that MDMA causes holes in the brain. This claim is still repeated in the media, despite the original research on which those claims were based has since been proven false and formally retracted. Unfortunately, scientific retractions do not get as much media as original publications and many people still believe it to be true. It is not true. Since the 1980s, over 1,000 human subjects have received MDMA in clinical trials with no evidence of negative long-term effects, no evidence of brain damage, and no evidence of addiction or craving after a limited number of doses.

Not everyone who has received MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in our studies has recovered from PTSD. Some people receive smaller reductions in their symptoms, some require more than two sessions, some don’t improve at all, and occasionally someone gets slightly worse. One reason we are conducting so many Phase 2 trials (ultimately six) is to discover how we can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of the treatment, and learn for whom the treatment tends to work, and for whom it does not.

In addition to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, MAPS is also conducting clinical studies of MDMA combined with therapy for social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum, and for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness. We are conducting these studies now so that after the FDA approves MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD, we will already have started the research that could result in approval for the use of MDMA to assist with therapy for additional conditions. Our hope is that PTSD will open the door—politically and financially—for the broader use of MDMA and other psychedelics in therapy.

Our study of MDMA-assisted therapy for social anxiety in autistic adults started last year, in 2014. A scientific paper describing the rationale behind the study was published in March 2015, in the journal Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. Unlike our PTSD research, the therapeutic method in this study does not use psychotherapy, but instead uses MDMA to enhance the therapeutic relationship and help subjects feel more comfortable in social settings, and develop communication skills. We are not trying to “treat” or “cure” autism, but instead to reduce the anxiety that autistic people often feel in social situations. This study has now enrolled nine out of 12 subjects, and preliminary results are very encouraging. The study is being conducted at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, by Dr. Charlie Grob and Alicia Danforth, Ph.D. We are also working with researchers at Stanford University to examine blood plasma concentrations of hormones, such as oxytocin and prolactin, thought to be involved in the therapeutic effectiveness of MDMA when combined with therapy.

Our study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness, which started this year, has enrolled five out of 18 subjects. The reports from the study therapists have been extremely positive, and we are excited to see how those reports will be reflected in the final data. Led by Dr. Phil Wolfson in Marin, California, north of San Francisco, this study is using MDMA combined with psychotherapy to reduce anxiety in people who have a life-threatening illness. Our hope is that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will help subjects feel more content with their life, and more comfortable with the idea of death. This is an exciting study since anxiety about death is something that we all experience, while not everyone will get PTSD. If the FDA eventually approves MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for this purpose, it could help millions of people and their families have a more comfortable transition.

Other psychedelic

The MDMA research that MAPS is conducting is just the first step towards the broader use of psychedelics and cannabis for healing, creativity, spirituality, personal growth, and other beneficial purposes. In addition to our MDMA research, we also sponsor research into LSD, ibogaine, and ayahuasca.

In 2014, the results of our first study of LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness were published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. This was the first completed study of LSD in humans in over 40 years. This small study in 12 subjects found statistically significant reductions in anxiety after two sessions of LSD-assisted psychotherapy. These improvements continued for an average of one year after treatment. The results showed that LSD-assisted psychotherapy could be safely administered in these subjects, and clearly justify additional research. MAPS hopes to start more LSD research in the future, and also to support other researchers wishing to conduct this research.

The results of our completed study of the long-term ibogaine-assisted therapy for addiction in Mexico are now being prepared for publication in a scientific journal. This is an observational study, which means that we are not administering ibogaine to subjects. Instead, since ibogaine therapy is legal here in Mexico, we had the opportunity to collect information from patients at independent ibogaine clinics, both before and after treatment, and again 12 months later. The preliminary results have been strong, showing a significant benefit from ibogaine therapy for subjects addicted to opiates. Ibogaine therapy may be an effective “addiction interrupter,” helping reduce withdrawal symptoms and giving patients a chance to change their lifestyle. The results of the Mexican study will be compared to the results from our second observational ibogaine study, conducted in New Zealand, which is now in the final stage of data collection.

The global popularity of ayahuasca is growing rapidly, which is why exploring the safety and benefits of ayahuasca-assisted therapy is another priority for us. We also support conferences, meetings, and publications about the scientific, therapeutic, sustainable, and spiritual uses of ayahuasca. We also serve as non-profit fiscal sponsor for organizations that support these uses.

In June 2013, the paper describing the results of our completed observational study of the safety and long-term effectiveness of ayahuasca treatment for drug addiction and dependence was published in Current Drug Abuse Reviews. The treatment included a four-day retreat in British Columbia, Canada, facilitated by Dr. Gabor Maté, which combined group counseling with two ayahuasca ceremonies. Group counseling sessions consisted of various psychosomatic techniques along with group sharing and dialogue. The study found significant improvements in measures of mental and behavioral health related to substance use disorders, and significant reductions in cocaine use following treatment. MAPS is also supporting an upcoming observational study of ayahuasca treatment for veterans with PTSD, which will take place in Peru under the direction of a U.S. Marine veteran.

By combining Western therapeutic techniques with indigenous practices for using naturally occurring psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine, this research is helping legitimize those knowledges within contemporary frameworks of knowledge and power. Psychedelic science and medicine helps create a space where native practices can be understood and appreciated, rather than excluded, from the perspective of Western science.

Another very promising area of psychedelic science and medicine in the 21st century involves research into psilocybin, the principal psychoactive component of “magic mushrooms.” MAPS is not sponsoring any psilocybin research at this time because of our focus on getting regulatory approval for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. The current main funder of psilocybin research worldwide is the Heffter Research Institute, a U.S. organization based in New Mexico. This research is especially exciting since it has earned a great deal of media attention along with its promising results. It’s likely that after MDMA, psilocybin will be the next psychedelic substance to be approved for use in therapy.

Current psilocybin research includes psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with cancer, psilocybin treatment for nicotine addiction, and psilocybin treatment for alcoholism. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University led by Roland Griffiths have even developed a valuable way to measure the mystical experiences associated with psilocybin when used in therapy. Researchers are also beginning to look at the basic science of psilocybin, including brain imaging and the relationship between psilocybin and meditation.

Ironically, in the U.S., it has been easier to conduct psychedelic drug development research than to conduct cannabis drug development research. Even though medical cannabis has broad support in the U.S., and even over 50% of the U.S. thinks that recreational cannabis should be legal for adults, we have made more progress starting psychedelic therapy research than botanical cannabis research. There is a lot of research happening with isolated and synthetic cannabinoids, and with non-smoking delivery systems for cannabis, but no research has been completed that could help make botanical cannabis a federally legal prescription medicine in the U.S. This has been due to a U.S. federal monopoly on cannabis available for research, which has restricted the cannabis available for researchers, and due to an additional obstructive review process for cannabis research which the Obama administration finally eliminated in June, after decades of public pressure from MAPS and others.

After working for 13 years to start medical cannabis research, MAPS is getting ready to start our first study of smoked cannabis for PTSD. This study will explore the safety and effectiveness of cannabis (the whole plant) for symptoms of PTSD in 76 U.S. military veterans at two research locations at Johns Hopkins University, and in Phoenix, Arizona.

Our hope is that through our efforts to conduct the research necessary to develop whole plant marijuana into a prescription medicine for PTSD, we will demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA that marijuana has a legitimate medical use. The legalization of marijuana in the U.S. would need to be accompanied by its removal from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. MAPS is not directly involved in efforts to legalize marijuana, but hope that our work to open the doors for research will assist those more direct political efforts.

The vision

In addition to research and public education, MAPS also maintains an active program of psychedelic harm reduction at festivals, concerts, and events around the world. By assisting guests in changing their experiences into valuable opportunities for learning and growth, psychedelic harm reduction helps prevent and transform difficult experiences, and provides an effective public health-based alternative to hospitalization and arrest. The Zendo Project, which our program is called, provides a safe space and professionally trained staff to care for individuals at festivals, concerts, and other events. Zendo Project staff and volunteers also work closely with event security and medical response teams to provide comprehensive psychedelic first aid services.

In the last four years, the Zendo Project has provided services at events in the U.S. (Burning Man and others), Costa Rica (Envision), South Africa (AfrikaBurn), and Portugal (Boom Festival). Since 2012, the Zendo Project has assisted over 800 guests, most of whom were having challenging psychedelic experiences when they arrived. We have trained approximately 600 volunteers to provide psychedelic harm reduction services at events, totaling over 11,000 hours of volunteer time. Our psychedelic harm reduction services are part of our efforts to create a model for a post-Prohibition world.

As part of our efforts to prepare for the legal uses of psychedelic therapy, early this year we announced the formation of the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MPBC), a new wholly owned subsidiary of MAPS. The special purpose of MPBC is to serve as a vehicle for conducting MAPS’ research, and to balance social benefits with income from the legal prescription sale of MDMA, other psychedelics, and marijuana. MPBC is a key part of MAPS’ strategy to become a sustainable non-profit organization. When MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is approved, MPBC will manage prescription sales of MDMA, a taxable activity not possible with MAPS’ designation as a non-profit. Research expenses incurred by MPBC will be used to reduce taxes on income received by MPBC from legal sales of MDMA. Income from prescription sales of MDMA will help fund further research and educational projects in accordance with MAPS’ mission, reducing our reliance on donations over the long term.

While encouraging research results and increasingly balanced media coverage are helping more people realize the beneficial potentials of psychedelics and marijuana, we still sometimes encounter resistance when broaching the subject of psychedelic science. That’s certainly to be expected, and it’s my job—and my passion—to seek out points of resistance and help open up spaces for healing and acceptance. We had high hopes for a positive reception at the American Psychiatric Association conference in Toronto this year, and we were pleasantly surprised. Instead of resistance, we received curiosity, educated questions, and healthy skepticism. Some psychiatrists expressed their dismay at how many medications they prescribe, and at how many of their patients fail to respond to currently approved drugs; many of them were also visibly encouraged by the idea of psychedelic therapy requiring far fewer administrations, and addressing the root cause of PTSD rather than simply covering up the symptoms.

Here are several talking points that I’ve found useful when introducing policymakers, educators, doctors, journalists, and others to psychedelic therapy research:

  • Most currently approved drug-based treatments must be taken every day (often for years), can have serious side effects, and often still do not work for many patients. Psychedelic psychotherapy involves a very limited number of doses—usually two or three—and is always combined with psychotherapy.
  • Currently approved pharmaceutical treatments are only approved to address the symptoms of mental illness, while psychedelic therapy seeks to address the root cause. In the case of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, the root cause is the individual’s difficult relationship with their traumatic memories.
  • MAPS is a non-profit pharmaceutical company working closely with the FDA, DEA, and other U.S. and international regulatory agencies to develop MDMA-assisted psychotherapy into a legal prescription treatment for PTSD by 2021.

I look forward to continuing this conversation with you for the rest of the conference, and into the future. I hope you’ll join us for our 30th anniversary event in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area in April 2016, and for our major Psychedelic Science conference in April 2017, also in the San Francisco Bay Area. Psychedelic Science 2017 will bring about 2,000 attendees for lectures, workshops, and conversations about psychedelic science and medicine from clinical, scientific, as well as social scientific perspectives, plus a special track focused on ayahuasca and other botanical psychedelics organized by Bia Labate.

For me, the most rewarding part of our work is helping create the interpersonal and organizational connections that are strengthening the field of psychedelic science, therapy, and advocacy. It’s thrilling for me to give students interested in psychedelics hope by introducing them to the field, to spread the word about new and important research, and to try to find a way to say “yes” to everyone who offers to help. I see our work educating the public about psychedelics as helping creating safe spaces for us to develop healthier, more compassionate relationships with each other and ourselves.

Gracias.

Brad Burge

Brad Burge

M.A. in Communication

Brad Burge es Director de Comunicación y Marketing de la Asociación Multidisciplinaria para Estudios Psicodélicos (MAPS). Recibió su licenciatura en comunicación y psicología por la Stanford University en 2005 y su maestría en comunicación por la University of California, San Diego en 2009. Sus estudios se enfocaron en los cambios políticos, científicos y culturales que se requieren para transformar las drogas ilegales en medicinas legítimas. Como estudiante en Stanford, pasó cuatro meses estudiando español y la cultura latinoamericana en Santiago, Chile. Ha trabajado en el campo de reforma de la política de las drogas de desde 2008, y empezó a trabajar con MAPS en 2009. Brad también sirve como consultor, escritor y editor para organizaciones e individuales trabajando en la ciencia de el cannabis y drogas psicodélicas, la política de drogas y la terapia psicodélica. Brad nació en California, y vive en el este de la Bahía de San Francisco.