Episode 41: Jon Hopkins on Music for Psychedelic Therapy

 

“As if in each of us There once was a fire

And for some of us

There seem as if there are only ashes now

But when we dig in the ashes

We find one ember

And very gently we fan that ember

Blow on it

It gets brighter

And from that ember we rebuild the fire

Only thing that’s important is that ember

That’s what you and I are here to celebrate”

– Ram Dass quote, lyrics from “Sit Around the Fire”

Some big news before we get to the episode with Jon Hopkins: This episode of the Numinus podcast will be its last. Joe will be joining the team at the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast as a co-host. The Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast is hosted by Dr. Steve Thayer and Dr. Reid Robison. It is a “weekly conversation about psychedelics, research and the therapy that makes them so powerful as agents for lasting change in mental health.”

This last episode of the podcast will also be hosted on any of the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers platforms. You can more information about that here. Joe was also recently interviewed on the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast. You can find that episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

 

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Jon Hopkins, musician and producer. Jon is a prolific musician who specializes in electronic music. He has been playing music for over 20 years. He has written six studio albums and has collaborated and produced albums for Coldplay and Brian Eno. His album, Singularity, received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album in December 2018.

He also collaborated with Brian Eno to create music for Wavepaths. Wavepaths was founded by Mendel Kaelen and Anna Wakefield. The purpose of Wavepaths is to create therapeutic tools that integrate “psychedelic science, machine learning, music theory, psychotherapies and experience design, in collaboration with artists, therapists and researchers.”

His newest album, Music for Psychedelic Therapy, was specifically written to be used in psychedelic therapy sessions.

In this interview Dr. Joe and Jon explored:

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Jon from the interview:

 

“That core wound, whatever that may be, we all have one, I think, of some kind. And we’re eternally trying to heal. As I got older and more in touch with that, I’m more and more clear that all the music-making is a direct response to that.”

 

“We all share great pain just through the nature of existence, and through the nature of what we witness and experience. We’re also able to share the healing of that and the joy that being alive can also bring. This album, whether consciously or not, has an expression of all those things in it.”

 

“When I hear [Music for Psychedelic Therapy] under the influence, I’m like, ‘Wow, where did that come from? Because it’s not me. It’s everywhere. It’s from everything.”

 

“All I know is that beauty is not an isolated feeling or concept. For me, the most beautiful things have a tinge of sadness or melancholy. Maybe beauty without sadness is meaningless.”

 

“What that ember is–to me–is the divine spark. When you connect to it, whether it’s through meditation or psychedelics, you sink into that place of total oneness or unity. It’s the inherent knowledge that there is a part deep inside of you that is shared by everyone. That is the divine spark.”

 

“The most important thing is daily practice because psychedelics open a door and occasionally you need a reminder that will get you there. It’s what you do everyday that has the biggest chance of fanning that ember.”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

I want to actually ask you about the lyrics [of “Sit Around the Fire”]. I was really, really touched again listening to them recently. And if you’ll humor me for a second, I’m just going to read the last section so that the listeners know what we’re talking about.

 

“As if in each of usThere once was a fire

And for some of us

There seem as if there are only ashes now

But when we dig in the ashes

We find one ember

And very gently we fan that ember

Blow on it

It gets brighter

And from that ember we rebuild the fire

Only thing that’s important is that ember

That’s what you and I are here to celebrate”

I’m a little embarrassed hearing my own voice do that because on the track it’s just so beautifully performed by Ram Dass. But I wanted to ask you, from your really, really intimate relationship with those words in the music, what is the fire? What is the ember? What are we celebrating?

Let’s start with the ashes. You know, we often feel isolated, alone. We’ve kind of somehow been persuaded that all of this is meaningless to some degree. Some of us have–

I’m definitely familiar with the ashes, Jon [laughs].

Yes, we know what the ashes are.

Didn’t ask you about those [laughs].

Well, in order to think about the ember, it’s nice to think about the ashes, because I feel like as you said you’re familiar with the ember as well. I would say the stage I’m at is that I found that ember and I’m desperately blowing on it and trying to rebuild the fire. But really what the ember is to me is the divine spark.

When you connect to it, whether it’s through meditation, psychedelics or for me, it’s always the way the two inform each other, you sink into that place of total oneness and unity. And that’s  your inherent knowledge that there is a part deep inside of you that is shared by everyone that is the divine spark. I mean, the words for it don’t really cover it, but that’s there. And I think you touch on that sometimes. People with atheistic views will also touch on that, perhaps just not use the same words.

But, you know, you can feel that infinite oneness through looking at a landscape or gazing at a loved one or being in love or, you know, staring at your newborn child. That magic, that kind of ineffable wonder.

And in psychedelics, you get to spend some time there. You get to spend sometimes a few hours in that state. And when you’re in there, you’re like, ‘how will I ever not be like this again?’  Of course you come out and everything comes back. But in that time, you’re fanning the ember. You’re not forgetting everything. You come out–Okay, you go back to normal, but not quite back to normal. And each time you find it.

For me, the most important thing is daily practice for sure because psychedelics open a door, and on occasion, you need a reminder that they will get you there. But it’s what you do everyday that has the biggest chance of finding that end.

And then as to what the fire is, I like to think of it as the collective, all finding their own embers, and collectively, rebuilding the knowledge of our own innate divinity, that we need in order to make sense of this and also to survive.

And he’s also talking about infinities, talking about the fact that, after all, this is a belief system. It is really after your physical body is no longer with you. Consciousness is just, you know–your spark of consciousness just goes back to join the rest and you’re all one again. That’s what’ll happen in the end anyway. So maybe that’s what the fire is.

 

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Episode 40: Dr. Robert Grant on Internal Family Systems Therapy

“What’s healing is the self to part relationship. And that relationship gets built based on the part being able to tell its story without repercussions.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Robert Grant. Dr. Grant is an Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, a ketamine-assisted psychotherapist, a pulmonary physician, a professor of medicine at UCSF, a former researcher in HIV prevention and treatment, and a cofounder of the Healing Realms Center. The Healing Realms Center is a clinic specializing in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

Dr. Grant is especially well known for his work as an IFS therapist specializing in ketamine treatments. IFS was developed by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz. It is a therapy based on the notion that the human mind is made up of inner parts. And healing involves the cultivation of harmony among these parts. It is commonly used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress.

 

In this interview Dr. Joe and Dr. Grant explored:

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Dr. Grant from the interview:

 

“It was the human connection that was curative. And the mescaline was helpful maybe because it facilitated that connection.”

 

“Other people may trigger different parts of us that give us an opportunity to learn about our inner processes.”

 

“‘Self’ is the part of us that can see our own trauma without being re-traumatized.”

 

“Healing is a process of hearing out that inner dialogue. So we can really develop a relationship with our parts.”

 

Sometimes spaciousness actually fosters connection because it allows us to see each other more clearly.”

 

“Parts are still there after the healing process. You’re not trying to get rid of them. You’re just trying to allow them to be seen and to play healthy roles that are playful, pleasant, and productive to a certain extent.”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

Let’s talk about healing. That’s where I wanted to go next. You said things like, ‘this part needs to tell their story.’ And you gave the example earlier about, maybe someone coming to therapy because they feel confused about whether to stay in or leave a relationship. And that the purpose of the therapy is not to arrive at a conclusion, but to create space for these stories to be heard. Can you tell me what’s healing about having these parts express themselves?  

It’s the beginning of the healing process. So I think that what’s healing is the self to part relationship. And so that relationship gets built based on the part being able to tell its story without causing a reaction or without having repercussions. So creating a connection between the self and the part by listening to their story is an essential step in the process of building those relationships.

We have a number of heuristics which are actually helpful. And if I can digress a bit, the founder, Rick Schwartz, in his most recent iteration of his book with Marta Sweezy, said that IFS could be conceived of as a psychodynamic theory. And so it is in this lineage of psychodynamic process. And because it does embrace the multiplicity of the mind, it allows for conflicting, psychodynamic relationships within the person.

What I like about IFS is that it goes one step in the direction of giving us tools for uncovering exiled or subconscious material. And so a classically trained psychoanalyst might expect to spend hours or days or years listening to the client on the couch, and eventually the subconscious material will bubble up, either in terms of dream interpretation or day time fantasies or behaviors that create ambivalence within them. I mean, they’ll just wait for it. And I love that idea of just waiting, witnessing. And so I have great respect for thoroughly trained psychoanalysts.

And IFS does give us some tools that allow us to move pretty quickly toward uncovering subconscious or exiled material. And so it has a toolbox that allows us to be expeditious. But I don’t think the process is very different from what a psychoanalyst would do. It’s just a little more guided and a little more intentional.

So one of the heuristics that IFS has is called the 6 F’s, and so I can walk us through those. You want to find parts. So whatever part we want to find, we want to see what’s up for the person. It might be that a single part has very strong feelings that need to be heard out. Or there may be a pair of parts that want to stay in or want to get out, a polarized pair of parts. So you want to find the one or two or three that you’re going to work with on that day. And then you want to focus on them, let them know that you’re here to listen to them. And when I say you, it’s actually the client ‘self; is there to listen to them. Now, the therapist’s ‘self’ energy is also very important in this process, so that the therapist ‘self’ and the client ‘self’ are there to listen to the parts. So, you know, it’s intuitive that that’s reassuring. I mean, if you’re wanting to make friends with someone, what do you do? You focus on them. You look them in the eye and you focus and then you flesh out.

So that’s the third F. ‘Tell me more about that. Tell me what that was like for you. Tell me what was the worst part of that or the best part of that? What did you do with that?’ And then there’s this phrase that we use is, ‘how do you feel toward the part?’ And that’s actually a key step because, you know, if you asked me, Bob, ;how do you feel toward that part that’s carrying shame?; And if I say something like, ‘well, I actually dislike that part, it’s annoying. It bothered me my whole life. Why would I be ashamed of it?’ Those are not self qualities. So what that tells you when I answer that way is that it’s not a self to part relationship with being developed. You’re hearing from another part of me that is trying to exile that part carrying the shame. And so you would at that point having asked me how I feel toward the part, but having not heard from self, you would say, ‘okay, can you give attention to the part that wants to get rid of that shame and let’s find out about it. What is it trying to do? What is afraid will happen if we heard  about the shame? What would it rather do if we didn’t have to suppress that part that had all the shame all the time?’

And, you know, and so we change the focus to the part that came up in reaction to the other part, and we continue to do that. And then we’ll ask, ‘how do you feel toward that part that wants to get rid of the shame?’ And, you know, at some point I’ll say, ‘well, I’m curious about what is it trying to do? And I want to know more. And  that’s self energy. And so then that’s our green light to start doing the real work of developing self to part relationships. So the feel toward is one of 6 F’s.

And then and then you want to unblend as much as possible. You want the part to be able to see the self, and the self to see the part and and parts don’t like doing that. They like being connected to self. They like being connected to self so much that they stick to self, like a glove. And so one thing that I like to say is, ‘can we ask the part to give us some distance and spaciousness so that you can see it better and so it can see you better?’ So one of the beautiful things about connection is whether it’s between people or within our parts, within ourselves. Sometimes the spaciousness actually fosters connection because it allows us to see each other more clearly. And then, you know, that can be healthy and relationships as well. Sometimes that relationship I mentioned earlier, ‘do I stay and do I go out?’ Maybe there is a middle ground. It’s, you know, let’s just take some space and, you know, we don’t spend  every day of our lives together. But we think we can walk and have some spaciousness. And that may be all the relationship wants or needs.

And it’s the same way within parts within ourselves, but sometimes asking them to unblend, they’ll say, ‘no, no, I cannot unblend.’ They’re desperate for more attention. But they said, ‘Well, no, it’s if you just give us some space, then I can see you better. You can see me better.’

So there’s unblending and then there’s befriending, just continuing to say, ‘it’s so great that I’ve been trying to protect Bob from feeling shame. You’ve done such a great job. And look how well he’s done in school and that has led to a career. And that’s so great.’ But do you really want to keep doing that all the time? And often they’ll say, ‘No, I’m exhausted.’ I’d rather that Bob, if there were a way for Bob to deal with his shame without me having to work all the time, I would like that, but I don’t think there is a way to do that. That’s why I’ve constructed this job. So the part may say that. You could say, ‘well, you know, I think there is a way to help Bob with the shame without you having to work all the time.’ Sometimes the part would say, ‘I’m not sure that’s possible, but I would want that. So, you know, let’s give that a try.’ And then you can ask, you know, that protective part to rest and it can stay close and watch if it wants, just in case something comes up that makes it afraid. It can step back in if it needs to. But that then gives you an opportunity to go back to that exile, which initially caused the protected part to come up. But that part now is befriended and it’s willing to rest. And so you can work with the exile material.

And then ultimately you would want to get to a point where whatever caused the burden of shame to come to that exile part, then that part can have a chance to leave that situation and unburden that shame. And then the whole system can appreciate that , ‘Yeah, there was a way to deal with the shame that didn’t involve having to compulsively work all the time.’

So the healing process is really one of befriending the parts and airing them out and ultimately giving the exiled parts a chance to be retrieved from the hard situation and then to unburden the beliefs that were important to survive that hard situation. And then to have the rest of the parts come back into the situation, and ask them, ‘did you see what happened there?’ And some of them will come back in and say, ‘oh, yeah, wow, I’m impressed. I didn’t think there was a way to solve that problem. But yeah, there was.’  So great.

And some of them may come back and be a little frightened. Like the example I gave might say, ‘you know, I spent my whole life working obsessively to do well in school. And now what do I do? I don’t know what my job is.’ ‘It’s okay. You know, I’ll work with you. There’s lots of jobs that you could do. Maybe you can work on writing a book or something other than school.’ Maybe oftentimes the job that the protectors want to do has nothing to do with what they were doing. The part of me that wanted to do well in school might want to take up finger painting or, you know, writing poetry like I was doing in college. Maybe they want to go back and do that or, you know, like, hey, who knows? But letting them do what they want, it’s an important part of being a good self for them, a good self leader for them.

I mean the parts are there, they’re still there after the healing process. You’re not trying to get rid of any part. You’re just trying to allow them to be seen and to play their healthy roles, which are roles that are playful and pleasant and productive to a certain extent.

 

Connect with Dr. Robert Grant on the Healing Realms Center website.

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Episode 39: Trauma-Informed Therapy with Atira Tan

 

“In human beings, there is a will and desire to heal. Part of that process is finding and holding onto what is wanting to emerge on that journey. It takes perseverance. It takes courage. It takes time.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Atira Tan. Atira is a somatic trauma specialist in sexual abuse recovery, educator, and activist. She has worked with survivors of child sex slavery, natural disaster survivors, victims of domestic violence, etc. And she has a very compelling TED Talk about these experiences. She is also an Expressive Art Therapist (MA), a senior yoga and meditation teacher, feminine leadership coach, and public speaker.

Atira teaches practitioners in trauma-informed plant medicine facilitation. She also works as a psychedelics facilitator at Aya Healing Retreats.

She is the Founder and Director of The Art2Healing Project, a non-profit that provides therapeutic support to women and children impacted by child sex slavery. She also provides trauma and psychological support to international NGOs for sex trafficking, abuse, and exploitation.

 

In this interview Dr. Joe and Atira explored:

  • Her professional history working with trauma survivors
  • The definition of trauma
  • What is trauma-sensitive therapy
  • The different between the responses to trauma for collectivist cultures compared to individualist cultures
  • What is involved in teaching trauma-informed plant medicine facilitation
  • What is involved in the preparation, duration, and integration of a trauma-informed psychedelic session
  • How to create a safe container to hold a psychedelic experience for a participant
  • What is missing from the modern day psychedelic field
  • The importance of practitioners and their own personal healing
  • How to build resilience

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Atira from the interview:

“Trauma healed can be a beautiful gift. It can help people tap back into what I call the essential blueprint that we’re born with.”

 

“With trauma comes the innate capacity of cultivating many different qualities that make us human such as courage, empathy, compassion, and aliveness.”

 

“Essentially trauma disrupts our ability to be in here and now.”

 

“Trauma recovery doesn’t happen alone.”

 

“The goal of a trauma-informed plant medicine facilitator is to support participants to build their own resiliency, establish a greater sense of self-regulation, and to support the trauma resolution which is unfolding in the session.”

 

“​​We’re really creating that container to prevent re-traumatization from happening. It’s really more about what we can do as facilitators to create that container for the person to feel really met.”

 

“When that relationship has been made, as practitioners, we can understand their needs. If the trauma imprints did arise, we are more equipped to provide the antidote, rather than to amplify the rupture.”

 

“We can’t really understand what it means to find and hold a safe space for other people, if we haven’t felt that felt sense of safety in ourselves as therapists.”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

I wonder if you could give just some highlights or kind of reflections on how the trauma informed approach or this trauma sensitivity might show up in the different phases of the psychedelic healing. As I think you said that the trainings you’re doing are sort of structured around that. How might we think about trauma sensitivity in like prep, during the actual medicine sessions, and then in integration? 

How I kind of understand working in the psychedelic and plant medicine space is that the medicine actually starts to kind of work with us when we kind of said yes. So it doesn’t just start when we enter a session, it actually starts way before with the intention, when an individual says, ‘Yes, I’m going in for this experience.’ I believe that there is a kind of portal or connection with the medicine or with the intention of the participant.

And what I kind of understand is that people come into the space of plant medicines and psychedelics for many different reasons. But for me as a somatic trauma specialist, I work specifically with people that come in who are wanting to heal trauma imprints. Something is not happening in their lives. They feel disconnected. They feel stuck. They have been suffering from mental health issues for a while and they want to be free from some of these imprints.

So from the get go, my sense is that in order to create that safer space for people, there needs to be a dialog around the intention of people wanting to come in, what the categories of trauma are, what the symptoms they are experiencing in their lives, and also the intention for having the session. And if that can kind of be met with the same kind of attunement and care and empathy, which is kind of needed for this work, then as a result, a person will probably feel more regulated, more safe as they enter the session, and also kind of more prepared.

As you know, this field of plant medicine and psychedelics as we entered is an altered state of consciousness space. It is a mystery. And this can create high arousal and high activation in the nervous system. So as we create the container of safety and prepare–help to regulate and discuss resources, but also understand the individuals entering the session with us as practitioners, we can really understand their needs in this session in a bigger way. And when that relationship has been made, people can feel more comfortable with us as practitioners in order to, number one, have choice and agency around the session. As a practitioner, we can also understand their needs if the trauma imprints did arise and we are more equipped to, as I mentioned, provide an antidote and to repair rather than to amplify the rupture, so to speak. So I hope that I’ve answered your question.

 

So in talking about trauma, I also want to make sure that we talk a little bit about resilience because prevention is often the best medicine. And so I’m curious how you think about cultivating resilience, especially in the context of how ‘life is suffering.’ We’re always just one step away from being confronted with some really challenging experience. 

If I think about how I’ve been thinking about resilience over the years before really appreciating the trauma informed lens, I would think, for example, of this very classic Viktor Frankl quote that circulates a lot in the mindfulness world, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom to choose.”

I think the core message there is that there’s always choice. And it’s how we choose to respond to things. And that’s been a powerful principle for me personally and in working with my clients to help people develop a sense of self-efficacy and a sense of resilience against stress. And again, there may be this piece where it’s not trauma informed as a way of approaching it. I’m just curious how you think about resilience in this context. 

I think it’s very interesting what you’ve kind of brought up around the subject of choice and agency and trauma. So as I’ve kind of mentioned in the definition of trauma, there are certain times that happen in our lives where we didn’t have choice. Whether we were children or if something happened way too fast. For example, if we were perhaps in a high velocity motorcycle accident and we were unable to protect ourselves.

And I think that it’s important to acknowledge that for people that have felt that in certain circumstances in their lives, where they have felt that there has been a lack of agency. And I think that for these people, from a trauma perspective, part of the antidote is to renegotiate the trauma so that the body can experience what it’s like to have choice again. And what it’s like to have agency. And perhaps what it was like if we could replay or renegotiate that certain event, what it was like to have choice and the body to experience that.

So part of this work in trauma resolution and healing is around cultivating resilience. And we can cultivate resilience in many, many ways. And I agree with you that exploring choice and perhaps giving people who haven’t had choice in past experiences the chance and opportunity to renegotiate that can be something that can be very, very empowering for a person.

But there are also other things, other elements that can add to our cultivation of resilience. And two things that I will name, which I find very important. Number one is to understand and to track what’s happening in our inner worlds, in our nervous system all the time, and to understand how we can settle and self-regulate ourselves. Especially when we’re feeling perhaps more activated in the sympathetic nervous system, for instance.

And part of that is being able to self-regulate or co-regulate is really a conversation around our resources and how we use our resources. Because all of us have inner resources and outer resources, too. For most people, we are unaware of our resources and how to tap into that resource vortex in a way, a healing vortex in a way.

And part of this work around trauma is not all about focusing on the trauma and focusing on the suffering. More often than not with clients it is really about amplifying what is resourceful for them or what is life affirming or what’s life giving. And because they are living in such a place of neuroception where they feel danger constantly, they are unable to even drink in or receive the resources, the inner and outer resources which are available in the here and now at all times. So those are certain things that I think could be helpful for folks out there to cultivate resilience.

 

Connect with Atira on her websiteFacebook and Instagram.

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Episode 38: David Treleaven on COVID Trauma

 

"To move through trauma often means going back to what was too much. Often we need to be with someone who is with us saying ‘I’m here. You’re safe. It’s okay to feel it now.’”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with David Treleaven. David is a trauma professional, mindfulness teacher, and educator. He is also the author of Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe Healing. After struggling through symptoms of secondary trauma on a meditation retreat, he developed the Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) approach.TSM helps trauma survivors avoid the risks they face when practicing meditation. TSM has been taught to veterans, prisoners, healthcare professionals, first responders, and many others.

Through workshops and online courses, David teaches mindfulness providers the tools of TSM, so that they can meet the needs of people struggling with trauma. More information on his online training can be found here.

David has worked with organizations like Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (developed by Google) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School by bringing them the tools and techniques of TSM to their staff and programs. He is also a visiting scholar at Brown University.

He is the host of The Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Podcast. He has had guests on like Sharon SalzbergRick Hanson, and recently Dr. Joe Flanders!

 

In this interview Joe and David explore:

  • Challenges with the definition of the word trauma
  • Is there such a thing as COVID trauma?
  • Why some people are more resilient in the face of difficult experiences
  • Neurobiological models of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS)
  • Diagnosing PTS
  • Approaches to treating PTS
  • The implications of collective trauma from COVID-19

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from David from the interview:

“Post-traumatic stress can be the impact of two different impulses acting at the same time.”

 

“Sometimes I think of trauma as us living through impossibility, and then the costs of that.”

 

“The further away I get from academia, I find myself less interested if we count a hundred people and we talk about all of their stories, whether or not we’re going to qualify their experience for being traumatic or not. What I’m most interested in is what, in a very practical way, are going to be the interventions that are going to support this person to have less pain and suffering in their life.”

 

“To move through trauma often means going back to what was too much. Often we need to be with someone who is with us saying ‘I’m here. You’re safe. It’s okay to feel it now.’”

 

“In my experience with people when they’ve really moved through or integrated that trauma is that they’re on the other side of a pretty big emotion or discharge through the body, they say, ‘Oh, it’s finally over. It’s been trapped inside of me for a long time. And now I’m integrating it in a different way.'”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

COVID might refer to a specific viral entity, but it means so many other things. And I guess there’s a diversity of experiences that people have had. And I don’t know, you tell me, do we want to talk about–what was your distinction there, like traumatic experiences people have had in the pandemic era or or just like some kind of collective trauma that we’ve all experienced living through this? 

Well, there’s so much to say here. I’ll talk about how I’ll define trauma here which would be a response to actual or threatened death, serious injury or threat to physical integrity. And I think it’s important to at least start here and see if we’re on the same page because trauma as it’s become more of a popular mainstream term has become slightly diffuse.

And I’d say the definition has been watered down and there’s been some concept creep in the humanities more generally around trauma, which yes, again, there’s a double edged sword here. Where it’s great that people are talking about trauma and unhelpful in some ways to just generalize.

So I’d like to talk about trauma as an input or a situation that is a threat to life and limb where our survival and our fundamental safety is on the line. And COVID cuts both ways here, where definitely it has been a significant threat and it has been an actual material threat to family. I mean, people, families, communities or people are literally dying or their well-being has been threatened. And then there’s been a whole range of more generalized threat that people could say has been traumatic.

But I’d actually challenge that where I think it’s actually just been more a challenge in adversity and where it got murky and it was confusing about, ‘Is my life in danger here, even though I’ve been triple vaxxed,’ for example. So there’s a whole other place where trauma has happened. And then I think there’s been a massive period of adversity collectively that we’re trying to sort out and maybe we’ll be talking about it here in the conversation.

 

Let’s come back to that very evocative story about the child that gets pulled out of the way of an oncoming car. That seems like a pretty good example of a threat to the child’s life, their safety and that child’s nervous system probably goes into some kind of fight or flight reactivity. And then if I’m extrapolating a little bit, the mother is basically communicating through her reaction, ‘shut that emotion down.’ And the child is basically saying to themselves, if I want to stay connected to mom here, which feels really important right now because I’m kind of freaked out, I have to put that emotion away, inhibit it in some way.’ That sounds to me like an example or a mechanism around how things get stuck. 

I wonder if you can say more about why would that be in evolution that certain really intense experiences get trapped? And even what the hell does that mean for something to get trapped in our nervous system? Can I know exactly what that means experientially and sort of working with clients?

The metaphor that’s worked for me I learned from Babette Rothschild, who’s a trauma writer. She wrote a book called The Body Remembers. Yeah, all the best trauma books are like, ‘The Body Keeps Score of the Body.’ But she’s great. She’s awesome. When she’s training people around trauma and is trying to capture what you’re saying, what’s the essence of it? Why does that stuckness happen? Like, what’s the stuckness?

She’ll bring a bottle of soda up on stage and she’ll start shaking it up, and she’ll basically be talking about how the stuckness is the cap. And her metaphor is saying, ‘now what would happen if we just open this soda right now?’ And of course, it would fly. It’s too much for someone. So in Babette’s work, it’s been a lot about–and in a lot of trauma work, it’s about kind of cracking that soda top and allowing some of the pressurized gas.

But let’s back that up even further, because I think it answers your question. The reason I think that metaphor works is that when it comes to trauma, like with that child, there is some kind of activation. I said factory loaded some kind of deep survival response, often referred to as fight flight. So the sympathetic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system just hit the accelerator. We have the survival response. We don’t have to think about it. It just happens automatically. Flood of adrenaline pupils dilate to try to protect us. And then that’s the moment that I think you’re pointing to. That gets very interesting.

Why the cap? There’s lots of stories about different mammals who are able to shake and discharge that activation. You know, a classic example is the deer who shakes it off. It gets really frozen and then shakes it off, moves on like nothing happened. But what’s happening for humans?

You gave the example around attachment. I’d say, ‘yes, I’m faced with the choice of either being disconnected from my caregiver, which is fundamentally threatening. So let me basically cap that energy through locking my jaw so I can stay connected.; And then in other situations, there’s a legitimate freeze, the intense parasympathetic arousal sometimes known as tonic immobility. Which will come and cap or trap that activation of fight flight in the nervous system that can’t discharge over time.

So it has deep evolutionary roots about why we had that freeze, for example, playing dead like the possum. If you’re a gazelle, you’re dragged to a cave, you might freeze. The predator thinks that you’re dead and won’t actually attack you. There are many different inherited reasons that we have that–but it can create tremendous amounts of suffering in an ongoing way for people because we can’t uncap that freeze and it gets really frustrating.

PTSD or post-traumatic stress can be the impact of two different impulses happening at the same time. So for example, the impulse to run and the impulse to freeze, they’re both happening. They’re both legitimate survival strategies. And that combination of the two creates that charge. And you could say that stuckness.

And I wanted to link it here to what’s happened to a lot of health care workers or even family members. Where I heard stories of people saying I was on one impulse was to hold the line around safety in hospitals around who could come in and out of a ward, for example. And then there’s an equal impulse to, of course, let a family member come and be with someone, that loved one or a family member. And so it creates these impossible situations.

And so sometimes I think about trauma as us living through impossibility. And then the costs of that.

 

I think that I probably learned this vocabulary from you, but maybe I can just ask you, describe it, this notion of like pendulum motion. And there’s another term that I find really useful, like titration. 

Titration?

Exactly. I think these are great tools for people to know. Can you describe those? 

Yes, it doesn’t come from me, but Peter Levine. It comes from Somatic Experiencing, which is a really popular psychotherapeutic approach to trauma or healing. And I don’t receive any money for that. I just trained in it a long time ago and the core principle–this actually gets right back to the soda bottle or the pop bottle.

So imagine that bottle of carbonated water being shaken up, and you could think of that as a traumatized system that there’s a tremendous amount of sympathetic activation fight flight in the container. So the accelerator slammed the ground. But there’s also tonic immobility. So it’s capped and that if you imagine the feeling of the accelerator and the brakes slammed down, that’s often what trauma can feel like or post-traumatic stress. It’s really painful, uncomfortable, and dysregulating.

So the idea behind pendulation and titration in this work around trauma–the idea is you’re going to pendulate your attention, so basically go back and forth between areas of where you feel more trauma and areas where you feel more resourced. And in doing so, you’re doing what’s known as titrating. Which is actually an old concept in chemistry where you’re opening the soda bottle, but only to the degree that a little bit of the carbonation is released and then you’re turning it back.

If you opened it all at once, that’s not titration. It’ll cause an explosion. Someone gets flooded. It’s too much. And we all know this. I think intuitively that we can take only so much until we need to take a break because our systems can’t tolerate it all at once. So the essence of a lot of trauma work is to go back and forth in order to titrate and not have it over, not have trauma overwhelm.

 

I wonder if you’d agree with this statement that at least this might be just one among many qualities. But this is the quality or the expertise of a trauma therapist that might be sensitive to the pace and to not go at it full speed right away because one has to work very carefully with that limit. And if you went to a therapist that doesn’t have that training, they might not know how to work with that. Is that a fair statement? 

That is the essence to me of trauma training. That is why one would train to know how to work with a combustible process. It’s because more is not going to be better when it comes to working with trauma.

Let me give an example of that. So I was trained as a somatic therapist where the main question I had was, ‘Where do you feel that in your body? It’s all I had. I was like, ‘Well, where do you feel that?’ And if you just keep driving someone towards intensity to your point, that actually can be too much for them. Now that can be confusing because when you’re working in any kind of mental health work, I think when you see emotion, you think you’re doing a good job. Someone’s crying. I’m like, ‘I must be doing something right.’ And then I’m trying to amplify it because I think we’ll go deeper. ‘That’ll be great.’ And sometimes that’s true.

But when it comes to trauma, right to your point, it’s not. It’s that you need to have a more nuanced approach and you’re learning to track someone’s mind and body in a really nuanced moment to moment way.

 

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Episode 37: MDMA and Couples with Dr. Anne Wagner

 

“I envision a day where people would be able to choose to do MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in a safe context to be either able to heal from something together or to grow together, and to support the relationship.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Anne Wagner. Anne is a Toronto-based psychologist and couples therapist, a researcher studying MDMA-assisted therapy, and the founder of Remedy Centre. Remedy is a social venture that provides individual, couples, and group therapy and reinvests the profit from these services into the Remedy Institute, which is “a new charity focused on supporting mental health innovation & research, including with psychedelics, training for aspiring mental health professionals, as well as low to no-cost therapy services for marginalized communities.”

She is the principal investigator on a pilot trial studying the impact of MDMA-assisted Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) on PTSD and is planning a study that will examine the impact of MDMA-assisted Cognitive Behavioural Conjoint Therapy (CBCT) on PTSD.

If you’d like to donate to the Remedy Institute, please check out: canadahelps.org/en/charities/remedy-institute

Dr. Joe and Dr. Wagner spoke about:

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Dr. Anne Wagner from the interview:

“We’ve been doing the first trials that have been anything other than the inner-directed supported approach. So there’s a lot to ask, and a lot to investigate.”

 

“​​Not only does bringing someone along with you on your healing journey provide support, but it also provides the partner with their own support and healing.”

 

“It’s been really interesting seeing folks work with MDMA to help as a catalyst for that meaning-making process.”

 

“People take turns of who is struggling and who is okay. And that can be something that is really nice where they learn to ride the waves of that together.”

 

“I really try to help people frame their ideas around not expecting to have an expected outcome.”

 

Here are some highlights of their conversation:

Before we get to the trial that you’re planning, I want to ask you a quick one about the study going on right now. What’s interesting is that you described it as like a meaning making framework and so it’s very cognitive. And the trends and the buzz and all the excitement is around relational therapy, somatic therapy. Like these are the things that are bubbling up for me in terms of what approaches are being used in psychedelics. And this is a very cognitive approach. 

I’m just curious how you think about that in the sense that I don’t know how many times I’ve heard like, ‘well, you can’t just do like cognitive therapy with someone doing MDMA. It’s just not somehow adequate to touch the depths of the experiences people are having.’ So just really curious about your thoughts there.

I respectfully disagree with thoughts that are the impressions that are there around it. And I think it’s partly because of the–it is possible to do cognitive therapy in a way that feels stiff and disjointed and doesn’t go into the depths. But I think if you’re delivering it in a way and working with the participant in a way that’s bringing in all of their experiences, it’s an incredibly rich way of working with everything that comes up.

And so of course, like even though it’s cognitively focused in terms of meaning making, we’re working with emotions, we’re working with sensations, we’re working with behaviours. It’s not excluding any of those components.

And it’s helping folks not only work with what has happened and the interpretation of what’s there, but also what’s happening now and what’s going into the future. It allows for the sense of my everyday life. ‘Oh, this is how this is going to change and this is how I can implement it.’ And that we find really effective.

It’s been really interesting seeing folks work with the MDMA sessions to help as a catalyst for that meaning making process because there is so much meaning making that happens in the MDMA sessions. And you’re just providing a bit of a frame to help that continue afterwards. So I always think of that as the catalyst.

 

I came up with this analogy the other day that has stuck around for me. I’d be curious if you’re on board with it. If you get a bacterial infection like strep throat or something. Your body could probably heal it, right? No problem. You’re healthy, you have a functioning immune system. It might take a little bit longer and you may not feel so great, but you can probably handle it. Or you can go to the doctor and get a medicine to help your body heal some health problems. 

And I’ve started to think about maybe psychedelics in general or MDMA for couples where there may be something broken or something challenging happening in the couple that if they were to go for walks and go out for dinner and whatever, take the time to invest in themselves, they could probably heal through it. But MDMA is a medicine that might help speed up or deepen that process in some way. Which means that there may be situations in some future state where you can go to the clinic with your partner and get MDMA couples therapy to accelerate healing that might otherwise happen organically. Your thoughts on that? 

Yeah, I do think that that’s a possibility. I think the medicine analogy is an interesting one because I actually had this conversation earlier this week with someone who was raising the point that I think sometimes people think that the taking of the pill is the thing that will cure them and be helpful. And it’s actually nothing. Like as far as we know, there isn’t anything inherent yet in the taking of that pill with MDMA in particular, that would have that effect.

It’s the psychotherapy, the psychological process that happens after that would create that shift. So I do think, though, that the experience, the MDMA session as being something that can help speed it up. It can help you do a good piece of work, a good chunk of work in a quick period of time. That’s true. And so that’s where I think it could exactly be really helpful.

I envision a day where people would be able to do that and choose to do that as something to either–with support and in a safe context–be able either to heal from something together or to grow together in a different way and to support their relationship. That would be fantastic to have that capability and that possibility.

 

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Connect with Dr. Anne Wagner on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Episode 36: Dr. Rosalind Watts on Psilocybin and Depression

“The real medicine is the therapeutic relationship and psychedelics beautifully amplify that.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Rosalind Watts. Dr. Watts is the clinical lead of the Imperial College of London’s Psilocybin for Depression trials. Most recently, she designed the treatment protocol for and served as a guide for participants in a study comparing psilocybin to an antidepressant at the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And she is also a consultant psychologist for Small Pharma who are investigating DMT as a treatment for depression.

(Image: Imperial College London / Thomas Angus)

She is a clinical psychologist for more than 6 years, and now specializes in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. She is the clinical director for the Synthesis Institute, an organization dedicated to “training practitioners to safely, ethically and effectively support people on a journey for healing using truffles containing psilocybin.” She co-hosts a monthly Psychedelic Integration group, alongside Michelle Baker Jones for participants of psilocybin clinical trials. And she will be launching Twelve Trees Integration, a new 12 month psychedelic community integration program for anyone who has experience with psychedelics.

More information on this program will be posted on her site in the near future and you sign up for the waitlist there as well: drrosalindwatts.com

She also developed the psychedelic therapy model ‘Accept, Connect, Embody (ACE)’ and an iteration for group-based integration of psychedelic experiences ‘Accept, Connect, Embody, Restore’ (ACER). It is based on the Hexaflex model in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Dr. Watts and Dr. Joe spoke about:

 

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Connect with Dr. Rosalind Watts on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

                                                                                                                                                       ACE Model

                                                                                                                                                    The Hexaflex Model

More quotes from Dr. Watts from the interview:

“The psilocybin experience is kind of a spring or summer opening, and there will inevitably be autumn and winter. You can think of depression as deep rest, and ‘I will allow myself this time of darkness. But I don’t need to get stuck in this winter forever.’

That’s the thing where depression becomes incredibly debilitating when the hope is lost and people feel that they’re not going to be able to move through it. I think that’s where it becomes so painful.”

 

“A lot of people describe antidepressants as numbing them. They’re not going into the depths, and they’re not learning from those places. Psychedelics give us the opportunity for a deep adventure.”

 

“Psilocybin enables people to go to those dark places and go through the cycles. The thing about antidepressants is that people say that it numbs them. It’s cutting off the peaks and the troughs of experience. So they don’t go to the winter. They’re kind of in a limbo land. They’re not going into the depths, and they’re not learning from those places.”

 

Here are some highlights of their conversation:

 

It’s interesting listening to that story because when you said that when the depression comes back, part of me wants to say, ‘well, wait a second. These people did psilocybin and isn’t one session of psilocybin a life-changing mystical experience? Depression is cured. It’s like surgery. Let’s get on with it. Get it into the drinking water so people don’t feel depressed anymore.’ 

That’s not really what happens. Is it?

No. I actually just felt a tear coming to my eye when you said that. I had this real surge of emotion because I remember that narrative and really thinking that was going to be the way forward. The experience of working with people long term showed me that it is absolutely not. We wish it was, but the depression came back for everyone that I was still in touch with. There may be a few people for whom it really, really shifted something and have stayed, but it was just a very small number of people. I’m talking out of like 80 people, maybe three or four. And yeah, for most people, it comes back.

The metaphor that I really started working with and the one that has kind of been the foundation for the work I’ve done since is of the cycles of nature and the seasons in nature and the fact that, you know, starting to think about a psilocybin experience as a kind of spring, summer opening. And then there will inevitably be autumn and there will be winter. And it doesn’t really happen in that linear cycle, but that we all go through the cycles of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Trying to hold onto the idea of constant summer is so typical of our culture because we want the never ending sunshine and the kind of consumerist dream of like we can find a way to rig this show and be always happy. But if you think about like the cycle of nature and the course of a day, we go from day to night and the course of the year we go from, you know, well, in the parts of the world where you have seasons.

That cycle of dark and light is so fundamental to nature and to us that rather than lamenting on the fact the psilocybin experience benefits tend to fade, I thought, ‘Well, we can embrace this because there is a time of hibernation. There’s a time of sitting and waiting and resting.’ Thinking about depression as deep rest and allowing that process of ‘I don’t need to get stuck in this winter forever. I can move through this cycle, but I’m going to allow myself this time of darkness. I think it’s just about not getting stuck.

That’s the thing where depression becomes incredibly debilitating, when hope is lost and people feel that they’re not going to be able to move through it. And I think that’s where it becomes so painful.

 

I’m feeling a bit of a need to recalibrate here because if we are just cycling through the seasons in our emotional lives, what the hell is the point of all this? It’s like, maybe, SSRIs are good enough as the New England Journal of Medicine article seems to suggest. Maybe especially if it’s paired with some kind of therapy. There are lots of therapists out there that can provide this work. 

Why do we need the fireworks, the hallucinations, the mystical experiences? Like what’s all the hype about then? What is psilocybin in the context of a therapy actually bringing that’s unique and different and worthy of all the hope and promise?

Very, very good question. And I think it is that it enables people to go to those dark places and go through the cycles because the thing about antidepressants is that what people describe about them is that it’s numbing them. It is cutting off the peaks and troughs of experience, but they didn’t go to the winter. They’re kind of kept in a kind of limbo land and they’re not going into the depths of it and really learning from those places.

And I’d say often with good talking therapy, you can really get down into the shadow. Which is, you know, often the winter, the kind of the underworld, you can get down there. But it’s really hard. And what I’ve learned about depression through this work is that I used to think about depression as like deep grief and sadness, like deep winter. But actually, I think for a lot of people depression is just numbness and stuckness and feeling nothing.

So actually being able to go to grief, being able to go down into that deep, dark cavern of despair that we all have, some people to a much greater degree, and really swim around in those deep dark waters, but also connect. That’s the acceptance: going down into the water. And then there’s the connection to values. So in that cycle of going down and going up, going around, it’s like you can become–you can embrace a cycle of, ‘I will accept my darkest feelings. I’m willing to feel them. I can open up to them. And when I’ve done that, I’m going to connect to the values of what that teaches me. And every time I go through the cycle, I’m learning more. I’m getting more gifts. I’m getting more resilient.’

And as you go through the cycle, you kind of hopefully come out the other side, wise, experienced, able to hold pain, and connect to beauty rather than with other traditional, well, kind of antidepressants. Obviously, for some people, they just work brilliantly, but for a lot of people, antidepressants, you’re not going on these big journeys of acceptance and connection. You’re just kind of staying in numbness.

You’re not going on the adventure. Psychedelics give us the adventure, the opportunity for the deep adventure.

Episode 35: Psychedelics and Spirituality with Steve Rio

“All we’re really trying to do is help people practice being more sensitive to their inner and outer surroundings. We’re helping people build awareness and feel comfortable being fully awake in every moment of their life.”
In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Steve Rio, former social impact entrepreneur and now 5-MeO-DMT and breathwork guide. He founded and runs the Enfold Institute where he guides small groups through 5-MeO-DMT psychedelic experiences. Steve is also the co-founder of Nature of Work, an 8-week program and company designed help people “build new habits and master your time, energy, and attention.” He was also co-founder and CEO of Briteweb, a social impact agency that “works with nonprofits, foundations and purpose-driven companies and helps them with marketing.” His work centres around helping people build clarity, connection, sensitivity, helping each individual realize their full potential in their life.

His focus is currently on his work with guiding small groups through their experiences with 5-MeO-DMT. He and his wife help prepare participants before the experience, during, after with integration. 5-MeO-DMT is extracted from the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad. It can now be synthesized in a lab. It is a close relative to DMT.

Steve and Dr. Joe spoke about:

 

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Connect with Steve on InstagramTwitterLinkedIn, and Medium.

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

Discovery of 5-MeO-DMT: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert by Albert Most

Dr. Octavio Rettig, doctor who led retreats close to the discover of 5-MeO-DMT

The Toad Venom Pamphlet That Changed Psychedelia Forever by Hamilton Morris on the toad venom in which 5-MeO-DMT is extracted from

Synthetic Toad Venom Machine by Hamilton Morris

 

More quotes from Steve Rio from the interview:

“Psychedelics help you completely reframe your perspective on life in a way that I don’t believe anything else on the planet can.”

 

“I think the word God to me is just talking about the connectivity of all life, that sense of unity, that sense of connection.”

 

“To me, spirituality is feeling connected to your truest essence of who you are. It’s feeling peace with yourself and with your surroundings.”

 

“There’s a gap before me and after me through my 5-MeO-DMT experience. It was such an awakening moment. It was so profound. It was so intense that it just really shifted the trajectory of my life. I died and I was reborn.”

 

Here is a full transcript of their conversation:

Steve Rio, welcome to the Numinus podcast.

Thanks, Joe. Excited to be here.

How’s the day so far?

The day is good, mostly administrative stuff. All the exciting, exciting background of being a guide and doing work in the space. So yeah, just kind of getting things cleaned up. It’s been a really busy few months. I’m so excited that’s Friday.

I want you to know that I’m drinking tea here because I feel I need to be sharp and clear for this one. What do you think of that?

Well, you know, whatever you need to keep up with this conversation I’m in for.I’m just kidding. But I don’t drink caffeine. So everyone should know that Joe and I have a bit of a rapport around this kind of thing. But I don’t. I don’t. Personally, I try to stay away from caffeine for the most part because it gets me a little too accelerated. I’m sharp enough as it is. And then when sharpness becomes just like aggression, it’s not. That’s not cool, right?

I know that from experience, you do not want to get on Steve’s dark side, that’s for sure.

All right. Let’s be serious here, Steve. Tell us what you do and how you got onto this kind of healing thing that you’re doing these days.

Yeah. So I do a lot of different things, but I’d say it’s all centered around helping people access and increase their access to consciousness, kind of upgrading consciousness. It’s to also help people increase capacity and resilience and wellness. And then I think inside of that I am also really trying to help people with sense making and and with just enjoying the trip of this very complex life that we’re living.

Yeah, that’s cool. Can you give a maybe more sort of conventional answer, like, what do you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you have a job? What’s your background or I know you’ve done a bunch of stuff like, you’re a musician, you’re a sound engineer, you’re like your consultant, you’re a mindfulness teacher.

Yeah, all those things. So yeah, like my background I was a musician, kind of my first up until my mid 20s. I was a musician sort of full time and playing a whole bunch of different styles of music and trying to make a go of that.

I also got into technology and design in my early 20s, and that sort of became my second career and so spent a number of years–like I’ve got about 20 years of technology, experience of design experience and then a solid decade of that doing high level strategy with organizations primarily in the social sector and in social impact work.

So really, my whole working career has been focused on social impact and I guess the thread in my personal life that leads us to where we are today is really around my own personal wellness, my own personal development, exploring psychology and wellness and performance and consciousness and all of these things. And in the last, I’d say, five or so years, that’s become sort of the forefront of what I’m doing.

So a few years ago, we launched a product called Nature of Work. It’s an eight week wellness program for modern work that kind of takes people through all aspects of how to engage with technology, how to structure time, how to build attention through the attention muscle and how to, you know, basically manage the dopamine rushes we have all around us all the time and be a higher performing person that feels better throughout the day.

And then in the last few years, we’ve begun doing psychedelic work. So psychedelic retreats, coaching, integration, work, breath-work, all sorts of aspects around altered state.

And when you say we this is you and your partner.

Yeah, that’s right. My wife and I.

Cool. We could talk about many of the things that you’ve just listed there, but the purpose of today is to talk about 5-MeO-DMT and the work you’re doing with your wife at your institute there. So let’s start with 5-MeO-DMT. What is 5-MeO-DMT? Let’s start with what is it?

Yeah, yeah, it’s an interesting question these days because I think a lot of people are hearing about it through different cultural references, which is exciting and frightening. At the same time, you know, it’s really interesting hearing, you know, Joe Rogan, talk a lot about it. Mike Tyson, I feel like has has been probably the most prolific voice of 5-MeO-DMT recently. He’s constantly talking about smoking the toad and it’s and it’s been really engaging to see his journey.

But 5-MeO is basically, as far as we know, the strongest psychedelic on the planet. We work with a synthetic version of 5-MeO, but it’s originally found in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad, and that was discovered sometime, I think, in the sixties.

There’s no long lineage with five MeOH, like a lot of the other psychedelics where there’s, say, a thousand years of lineage. It was discovered fairly recently by an American guy and so it was originally found in the Sonoran Desert toad. So when people talk about smoking the toad, they’re talking about smoking the venom of this specific toad. Now this toad is effectively becoming extinct pretty quickly. So most people working with five 5-MeO today are now working with synthetic. So like a pure molecule, lab made molecule.

And yeah, in some ways I would categorize it in the same category as all the other psychedelics. In other ways I have to sort of put it in its own category just because the experience is so different, it’s so much stronger. But it’s also just, yeah, it just doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics that you generally think about or hear about when you think about psilocybin or ayahuasca, where there are a lot of visuals and a lot of story. Psychedelics like 5-MeO feel like they go straight right through all of that to a much more pronounced experience. So there’s I mean, there are lots of different areas we could go into.

Yeah, I think that 5-MeO-DMT has become like a household name in the psychedelic community. The first time I heard about 5-MeO-DMT I thought that it was really bizarre, right? So you’re telling me that there’s a toad, you know, hopping around out there in the Sonoran Desert. And this toad has a venom, which I understand is released when there is a predator or some irritant kind of nearby. And just like squirts out this white substance. And it like, you know, paralyzes and / or kills this other animal.

Or makes him very high.

Do we know what happens to the animals that are–

We actually don’t. It’s so new and it’s so interesting. Like basically what happened is these toads were discovered by Ken Nelson, aka Albert Most. But they’ve so quickly been eradicated by the popularity around them and just by people going for them.

So I don’t know how much research has actually been done on the toad and what’s happening there.

So my assumption was that the psychoactive properties for the human brain were sort of idiosyncratic. It’s like this weird side effect. But the effect, this is like a defense mechanism for an animal that can be a prey to like a snake or an insect or whatever. Right? And so anyway, that remains to be discovered. 

So this thing’s hopping around. It has this defense. And somehow Ken Nelson discovered–and if you know anything about how he discovered this, I’d love to hear it–that when you smoke this substance, presumably he figured out that you need to dry it out first. You smoke the substance and it’s like profoundly consciousness altering in a really, really interesting way.

Well, so Ken Nelson basically became fascinated with the idea of a psychedelic toad. He was an interesting guy. He was always researching things and doing all this kind of stuff. So he was very interested in this idea. Then I think he was in the army for a little while.

Anyway, he found the research from an Italian chemist who had been basically looking at venoms of all of these different venomous toads that they could find and indexing just all the molecular and chemical components of their venom. So he came across the information that there was 5-MeO-DMT in this toad somewhere. And it happened to be that this guy was living in Texas, so it wasn’t too far from him. These toads are really generally found in the Arizona Mexico border, kind of in that region through that desert. And so he became fascinated by and people hadn’t really been talking about 5-MeO-DMT, but obviously they were earlier with DMT. And so he sorted this out and basically was as far as we know, the first person to really find this toad, extract the venom and realize what he had found.

So what I just learned is that 5-MeO-DMT exists elsewhere. It just happens to be in the Sonoran Desert toad. Where else do you find 5-MeO-DMT?

As far as I know, it’s found endogenously, so it’s found in the human body. It’s produced in the human body, just like DMT is. I mean, I think that research is fairly novel and I don’t know that we’re super clear on what’s going on there. But there are some trace amounts of it in the body. It’s also found in a few other plants, but in very low, low amounts. So there’s no plant you could go pick and smoke and find you have enough 5-MeO-DMT in it. I believe what’s interesting is that one of the plants with 5-MeO is very prevalent in the areas around where the origins of the Judeo-Christian religions were formed. So who knows what that means? It’s just interesting.

So through this really interesting and as yet to be elucidated history, this compound finds its way into the hands of this guy, and he publishes this manual or something. Can you tell us the story of that thing?

Yeah. So I have a reprint of it. So in the end, I think it was 1980, early 1980s. So just after I was born, he published this manual in 1983. This is a reprint that was done by Hamilton Morris, basically to help support Ken Nelson. He had found Ken Nelson just before he died and wanted to raise some money for him and basically to put this information out in the world. So he published this pamphlet. It has all these drawings of how to melt the toad and how to find them and all this information and these illustrations that his friend had done about what the experience was like. And so anyway, he published this, but this was in the 80s, so that was the first information he was handing it out. He would print a bunch of these himself and then go hand them out at conferences or fairs and things like that. And that’s how this started to become on the radar. And that was really like, like you say, the early 80s.

And what’s interesting is that we had already gone through the prohibition of most psychedelics in the U.S. This was discovered post prohibition. And a lot of folks, a lot of the kind of old timers that were doing research down in California, they started to be aware of 5-MeO. But they agreed to keep it as underground as possible because of what had already happened with LSD and other substances. So they codenamed it Jaguar. They all agreed that they wouldn’t publish anything about it. So what’s interesting is 5-MeO-DMT remained off the radar of the DEA until 2007, when it was then regulated in the U.S. It’s still unregulated in Canada, again, largely because it’s just flown under the radar and been fairly elusive to everybody.

Again, to someone who’s discovering the story for the first time it’s such a bizarre thing. I sort of feel like one needs to know what it does to human consciousness to understand why it’s popular and why it sort of has this kind of cult following now. So what kinds of experiences have you had on it and have you seen some of your guests at your retreat center? 

To set this up a little bit, I’ve had very high dose experiences with psilocybin, with MDMA, with LSD. I’ve had experiences with ayahuasca. I’ve also actually smoked DMT directly. So just to set the stage in terms of my own experience, I’ve had a lot of experience with different psychedelics in fairly high doses.

A dear friend of mine who will remain unnamed, but just an incredible human in our lives, one of our soul brothers. He basically started telling me about 5-MeO saying, ‘You got to do it and you’ve got to come do it.’ And he was just constantly trying to get me to these sessions he was setting up with this guy. And at first, I was a little bit, you know, I don’t know. It sounds pretty intense.

And at that time, even three or four years ago, there was so little information about 5-MeO-DMT online. If you went online where you’d find there were a few videos of this Mexican doctor / shaman kind of guy who became very popular. But he was doing pretty scary stuff with 5-MeO, the way he was administering it. So you’d find videos of him like dosing people and holding them up and then dropping them in a river. And it was like, just super intense.

That actually sounds like the footage that Hamilton Morris showed on his episode that he looked into 5-MeO. Is that the same guy?

Same guy. Dr. Octavio Rettig, I think is his name. And he was sort of the first. He’s a very eloquent, kind of good looking Mexican Jesus kind of looking guy and has doctor credentials and is just really sort of shamanic. And so he was a great personality for TV and for, you know, for YouTube.

He has a really specific style that actually is carried forward in a lot of Mexican providers. But he had this very aggressive approach like he would have you standing when you took this medicine and this medicine is strong enough, we’ll get into this, that it effectively you’re unconscious. So he kind of holds you up and then drops you down. And oftentimes he was doing things like pouring water down people’s nose and throat to kind of create a choking response. And I don’t know what, why and what that was all about. But anyway, he had a really aggressive approach. And so those are kind of the first things we would see. So even before the Hamilton Morris episode, I don’t remember when that came out, but anyway, like we’d see these kinds of things.

So it took a while to get us to the mat. I guess this is the long story short. We finally had our first experience, and I really have to say my first 5-MeO experience is–there’s a gap before me and after me through that experience. It was such an awakening moment. It was so profound. It was so intense that it just really shifted the trajectory of my life. And I think all psychedelics have had like I know that my early mushroom experiences, which was a long time ago, also really influenced the view I have on how life works and what’s going on here. And it really helped shape my perspective. But this was just so profound and so intense. And it was like I died and I was reborn and it was so beautiful and it kind of just shook me up in a way that it sort of just helped to accelerate a lot of things that were already kind of momentous in my life. But the momentum just increased. I always talked to people about how I feel that 5-MeO and what often psychedelics in general would do. 5-MeO being a really strong catalyst for this is that where you are aligned, that alignment just is so much clearer and it clears the path and you just move more clearly and more directly towards that. Where if you have misalignment or where things are, are not, you know, you’re not feeling.

Integrated or separated.

Or whatever, those things just become more clear to you as well. So you just start to dismantle those. You start to work those out. So for me, I was thinking about selling my company and moving into the work we’ve been doing for a number of years. But it had always felt like there were all these external barriers to doing so that I can’t sell my company for this reason or this needs to happen. Or there are all these kinds of things. I loved the company, but I just was no longer passionate about it, and I knew it was time to hand the reins over to somebody else.

And within six months, the deal was done and I got exactly what I had hoped for in terms of selling it. It was a great transition. The buyer was the perfect person to take over the company. Like, it just was so smooth and obvious. As soon as I had this experience, all of these dominoes just began to fall. And so it’s just really such a powerful experience. It just led us to really want to get into this work.

I’d say the other side of that was that our first few experiences with 5-MeO really didn’t feel like they were properly held. There was no preparation. I never even met the guide or talked to the guide before we showed up. My buddy was kind of telling us what it was like just as a friend. So we had some instinct, but really, we didn’t know what we were getting into. And there is no follow up, and it was kind of this experience where we showed up to this place. We parked our car. We had this experience. And then about an hour and a half later, he says, ‘Hey, guys, I know like, you’re really kind of basking in this experience, but I need you to move your car because the next people are here right now.’ So my wife and I, we both have a pretty deep meditation practice where we’re fairly grounded in our interpersonal development. So for us, it wasn’t jarring, but we had other friends there that it was. It was fairly jarring. So we kind of scooped them up and brought them back to our place to our property, and we just hung out and made food and did kind of a natural peer integration process.

But those first few experiences really also showed me the power of this medicine and the potential of it and the responsibility that goes along with it. What’s required? And that’s true for all psychedelics. But in this case, I think a lot of people hear that, ‘Oh, it’s only 10 minutes and then you’re totally sober afterwards.’ The transactional part of your brain goes, ‘OK, that’s easy. I got ten minutes.’ But there’s such a profound, profound download that you really need the time to process. So that’s what led us to start developing our retreat format and thinking about really having people with us in our home, on our property for a few days at a time when they’re going to have this experience. And that’s really shaped all the work that we do at Enfold.

So Steve, again, for people that maybe don’t have a lot of psychedelic experience or thought they’d be listening to a podcast about well-being in some sense and we’re like way off the deep end here. I’d love you to just say a little bit more about that first experience or even whatever experiences you’ve had. You use words like intense, profound, reborn. Like, what the hell does that mean? You smoke this thing? And then what happens?

That’s a fair question. What happens? And I want to talk about two things, because I think a lot of people get caught up in the trippiness of what psychedelics are and I can describe what happens and it sounds remarkable and it’s a great story. I think what’s more important about psychedelics, especially to your wellness listeners that are wondering what the heck we’re talking about here. Why do this besides to have a trippy experience? What’s this about and what happens like what happens after psychedelics and what does psychedelics help us with?

So first off, when I talk about my experience with 5-MeO, I also just have to say that everybody has very different experiences with them. It really depends on the personal development work and where you’ve been, the levels of trauma and other things you may be dealing with or have in your past. Just your current mental, physical, spiritual state coming into the experience, the set and setting of it, there are lots of factors that impact this. So for instance, when we’re talking to potential people who will come to have the experience with us, I don’t talk at all about what’s what it’s going to be like. Because all I can really say about what it’s going to be like is kind of the mechanics of the experience and the intensity of the experience, but people experience this in lots of different ways.

My experience personally was exceptionally profound. Basically, you inhale this. We vaporize and you inhale it. We count down from ten. And by the time we’re at five, four three, it is basically at 100 percent strength. So it comes on very quickly. Most people experience that as some kind of wave of colors or fractals or white light, or it’s just something washes over you very, very quickly. And we’re talking about the biggest dose that we do. So we can talk about the staging of doses. It’s basically strong enough that it will render you unconscious for a few minutes.

So my first experience, I was just basically washed over with white light. And then I was gone, there was no me. And then, however long I was out, there’s no sense of time and space. So I was out for however long I was. In reality, it’s a few minutes. When you’re observing somebody doing this, it’s a few minutes.

And then you start to have the first first remembrance that there’s a you. You’re like, Oh, yeah… I’m the–I don’t know, you just start to be aware of time and space again. Your ego is just starting to come back online after being completely dissolved. And in that moment, you begin the processing of this download of what you’ve been shown and it’s what you’ve been shown really comes out differently for everybody.

For me, it was seeing the entire universe as a single instant, as a single expression, completely contained. And all of life, all of everything as one thing. It was like going to a movie that explains the entire universe, but it was one second long and it was just white light. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s incredible. All this will help kind of add context to that.

So I’m processing this. I’m trying to make sense of it, and then I just start start belly laughing. My wife said she’d never heard me laugh like that. We’d been together for, I don’t know, six, seven years at that point. She said she never heard me laugh like that, and I was laughing because it was so funny to me that I’d ever worried about anything in my life, just seeing how perfect the whole universe is, seeing this whole expression.

And the laughing could have been crying because there was also a lot of grief in that laugh in like, ‘Wow, I’ve been so hard on myself.’ I’ve thought that life was so like that I had to grind away so hard and I always had to push to get what I wanted. You’re going through all these different aspects. You realize it’s very much like a near-death experience where your whole, in some ways, life flashes before you and you experience different, different aspects.

So I was just processing that and then you’re just kind of slowly coming back into 3D, coming back into time and space. And within about twenty five, thirty minutes, you’re sort of back to baseline. You have this kind of wild glow about you because you’ve just been shown the keys to the universe.

But that was my experience, and I can also say for others that they don’t experience the white light. They don’t experience this unity. Sometimes it’s darker energy or other aspects, and they are working through things. And sometimes it’s a quite painful or challenging experience. And there’s a lot of wailing or screaming or like processing that’s happening. So people experience this really, really differently.

Generally, though, at the end you just feel incredibly calm and relieved. Not just that the experience is over, but you feel a sense of relief, a sense of weightlessness, like a sense that there’s a weight off your shoulders. And so it’s just really different for different people. So that’s the effect. That’s the experience.

That was really interesting and lots to unpack there, but let me start with this. And you’re not like an evolutionary biologist or a neuroscientist or anything, but like, let’s just play this game, OK? 

We’re like these bipedal mammals walking around with this very big brain doing all this weird stuff with technology or whatever. We’re very social. We’ve got this weird life. And then there are these plants, mushrooms or DMT or the cactus or whatever that we consume because, well, it has some interesting kind of spiritual healing effect on us. That alone could be unpacked at length. And then there’s this molecule that somehow somebody discovered is contained in the venom of a toad, right? And then somebody realized you can try it and smoke it. And now it’s so popular that the toad is extinct.

There were very few toads to begin with, but yeah.

Explain to me, explain to me like what the hell that is? Why is it that these bipedal mammals want that? What’s the deal? It’s a very bizarre chain of events, very unlikely series of things, and yet it’s very, very popular.

Yeah, it’s popular because–so again, like I said, we could talk about the fireworks of psychedelics all day, and that’s fine. And honestly, it’s once you get comfortable in the experience that it is interesting and it is fun to explore the fireworks. But the reason these are such powerful experiences and the reason people seek these out. And a lot of people coming to our retreats are scared. They’re scared shitless of coming to a retreat. They’re very nervous about it, but they know that it’s worth the challenge to go through.

And the reason is that psychedelics help you really completely reframe your perspective on life in a way that I don’t believe anything else on the planet can. And I think the way that we do that is by getting into our subconscious and our unconscious minds and really understanding how we’re wired. So that’s one thing. I think when you take mushrooms or you take ayahuasca, you’re really able to explore the deep programing that we have and a lot of that programing comes from in the womb or before the age of two or in our early childhood or its ancestral wiring that’s passed through cellular memory. So a lot of the stuff, we can’t really access it through talking. So talk therapy doesn’t get us there. We can sort of intellectualize it through talk therapy, but that doesn’t allow us to really go into this material and explore it and understand it better. And when we start to do that, we start to realize that ‘wow, like all of that programming is like this restriction on what I see in my life and what I believe my life to be.’

And when we’re able to start recognizing those restrictions and relaxing those, it just changes how life feels. So a lot of times people may have things going well in their life. Externally, they’re making good money or they’ve got a great partner. Nothing external really needs to change. But the internal experience is one of loneliness, of confusion, of anger, of pain, of sadness, of depression, right? And so the internal experience can just begin to change fairly dramatically through these experiences. So that’s why people are doing this.

So some ancestor of ours before civilization, put us in the prison that we’re all in right now. And discovers this through eating a mushroom by mistake or is part of some healing ceremony in an indigenous tribe. And the experience is insight into nature and how we’re programmed or the patterns we collectively interface in. And that kind of creative insight unlocks certain potential and we just feel more well. Is that the general story?

Yeah, there are lots of ways to frame that. But yeah, I think that’s the general story. One aspect of this, what you just spoke to, is like understanding the nature of life. One of the things that our senses do, our sensory experience and our egoic experience does is give us this impression that we’re this independent thing and that we’re independent from all other life, other humans, the natural world, animals. All of these aspects. And it creates this level of separation.

These experiences show us that that separation is an illusion. And there is a function of having an ego and being able to move through the world and do this kind of thing. But it also comes at a great cost to our wellbeing and our sense of connectedness. And when we look at all the symptoms of mental illness and all the symptoms of a lot of the activities that humans have undergone to kind of create global warming and all these kinds of issues that we face, it comes from that disconnectedness. It comes from that sense that we are not all in this part of the same life.

So I think these psychedelic experiences can help reconnect us in a way. And we see all the research coming out for all things like depression and anxiety and all these different symptoms. But to me, those are surface level. Everything kind of comes back to feeling connected to one’s self and connected to those around you and to the natural world feeling a sense of connection. And that’s what these experiences, I think offer.

OK, now 5-MeO is sometimes referred to as the God molecule. With what you just said, are we now approaching what people mean sometimes when they use that name for it?

I love talking about this subject and I’ll say that the word God was a huge trigger word for me, basically my entire life. I’ve always considered myself an atheist. I don’t anymore, exactly. But I’ll say that up until these experiences, I didn’t really understand what does God even mean? Like, is there some person in the sky who is making decisions and judging us based on whether we act within some certain moral code or any of that? We’re not talking about any of that, right?

I think when we talk about the God molecule–first of all, I think it’s a really accurate name. It’s in relation to the spirit molecule, which is DMT. So N, N-DMT, the active ingredient in ayahuasca is often referred to as the spirit molecule. And when you take DMT or when you drink ayahuasca, I think it’s a pretty accurate description to say that you enter into a spirit world. You enter into these layers of consciousness and awareness where there are beings and animals and creatures. A lot of people describe very similar visions when they’re doing ayahuasca. 5-MeO feels like it transcends or passes through all of that into this kind of white light unity space.

And so I think the word God to me is just talking about the connectivity of all life. When we talk about God or we talk about what this is all about, I think it’s talking about that sense of unity, that sense of connection. So that’s the way I describe it.

And what I say to people is, ‘you’re going to experience something. And if you get to that sort of space, that unity space, I don’t care what you call it.’ In scientific terms, we’d be talking about the quantum field or perhaps something that exists within dark matter that we’re still trying to figure out. There’s a lot that material science has no idea what’s going on. We could be talking about the quantum field, we could be talking about God, we could be talking about unity or consciousness or use any word you like. Just interchange it. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.

And I think also as soon as we start talking about that, there’s a lot of people that go, why does that matter? I think we have a real disconnection from what does spirituality even mean? I have a lot of my buddies who if I ask them, ‘how would you define or talk about spirituality?’ There wouldn’t be a word there. There wouldn’t be anything to say. They wouldn’t really know how to define that word.

But I think again, if you keep bringing it back to practical terms, to me, spirituality is feeling connected. It’s feeling connected to your truest essence who you are. It’s feeling peace with yourself and with your surroundings. It’s when you achieve that peace and you achieve that sense of calm and groundedness within you, when you’re in alignment with those around you and with your natural environment. When you feel connected to those around you and you’re acting in accordance with that connection. So to me, it’s all fairly practical, actually, but it’s really important that we find some sense of connection, that we find some sense of spirituality, so that we can just feel like our life has purpose and has meaning. And that we feel good when we wake up in the morning.

Before I get to my next question, I want to linger there for a second because I’m totally with you on this connection piece and I’m with you on that spirituality and God and whatever vocabulary we use is a signpost to that experience. 

You just mentioned purpose and meaning, the last bit that you said. So there’s more than connection.

I actually find that the word purpose–I do a lot of mentoring, and I used to do a lot of speaking to young entrepreneurs and I actually still mentor inside of high schools and stuff like that. One of the questions I get all the time from young people is, ‘how do you figure out what your purpose is?’ And there’s a lot of mystery around this idea of what purpose and meaning are.

But again, I actually think it’s usually fairly simple that we feel purpose when we are in service to others. We feel purposeful when what we are doing is generative to ourselves and those around us. I believe my guess is that you feel a lot of purpose in the work you do because you get to interact with people every day and you get to work on things that are making people’s lives better. You are supporting life. And that, to me, is what purpose is. It just comes in many forms. And humans are totally diverse in their interests. Purpose is totally diverse in that way. So I think it’s born out of connection with one’s–when you get connected to your self, purpose is right there, right there in front of you. It’s not some mystery thing that you need to discover as soon as you get connected and grounded, it’s right there.

You mentioned a few times both in this conversation and some of the other conversations you had that you think of your approach as practical. So let’s dive into that for a second. 

A few years ago, I went to a meeting with a pretty well-known psychedelic entrepreneur who has a lot of resources, who was building something pretty big, very ambitious, and he was getting curious about 5-MeO DMT. And I was with my friend Andrew. And this entrepreneur wanted to know more about 5-MeO EDT and what are the opportunities here. And so he asked us a bunch of questions, and at one point he said, ‘so what indication do you think it would be useful for?’ 

And Andrew, who incidentally, was a guest on the Numinus podcast as well, said, ‘That’s a tough one. I don’t know, being born.’

Point of the story is that it’s not an especially practical compound–or let me direct the question slightly differently. What’s happening in the psychedelic renaissance is that some of these compounds, MDMA or psilocybin, are going through traditional clinical trials like the pharmaceutical drug discovery process and interfacing with science and medicine and capitalism and consumerism. I don’t know, maybe MDMA as a treatment for PTSD is a pretty good fit, and it actually works pretty well. And then ketamine is already out there. We have a ketamine program and it’s a three hour journey and there’s a pretty good evidence base.

How do you fit these profound spiritual experiences into this box that the psychedelic renaissance is trying to put them into?

Well, I’ll just preface everything I’m going to say with, I don’t care at all about the box. Part of what I think is challenging for me about the psychedelic renaissance, as you’re framing it, is super interesting is that we’re talking about this new frontier or this new, this whole new approach to mental wellness. And then we are measuring it by all the old ways of measuring mental wellness. So instead of saying, ‘you know what, we actually need to talk about mental illness in a completely new way and a much more holistic or integral way,’ we’re still going back to the DSM and saying, ‘which box can I check with this drug and how does that work?’

As opposed to realizing the complexity of the human psyche and of all aspects of living a human life in our internal and our external world and all the pieces around it, where we’re saying, ‘Oh yeah, you can take this drug and it will solve this problem in 96 percent of people or something like that.’ And I think what it does is it misses the whole point. Again, all of these things are just symptoms of a greater sense of lack of connection. And that all of these medicines sort of do the same thing with just slightly different approaches.

So where I think we should be talking about is in which cases is MDMA the right approach because it has a certain feel. For PTSD, I think it’s a great approach because it’s fairly soft, right. And it’s gentle in a way, so that if somebody is still dealing with easily being triggered and into a trauma response, to me, it’s a great vehicle to provide an altered state experience. Whereas 5-MeO might not be because it’s so intense that it may be just retraumatizing or cause further trauma.

So I guess I think all of my psychedelic experiences have been doing the same thing, and they’re just helping me remember who and what I truly am. And they’re helping me remember that I’m connected to everything and that everything is important–every instant of my life is equally important because it’s the present moment. And that to me, when you start to–if we can get down to those essences, then all of these symptoms just start to dissipate.

I’ve dealt with–I’m not bipolar–but like this kind of bipolar depression my entire life. This up and down depression my entire life and at times in my life, it’s bad. It was bad enough that I just didn’t want to get out of bed for a week or two at a time. Or I would just kind of be completely unmotivated to really do anything. And I knew in those times I started to learn about myself that I wouldn’t make any decisions during those down periods because I knew the decision would be framed in a really negative context that wasn’t productive. All of that, like over the last few years through a lot of personal work, but also through the psychedelic work and meditation and other aspects, is gone in my life. And I wasn’t going in thinking, I’m trying to solve my depression. I went in saying, I want to understand my own psyche. I want to understand my consciousness in a much deeper way. And then these other aspects kind of resolve themselves. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. And I’m sympathetic to your answer, although I am going to play devil’s advocate here. Now, if you think about Western civilization and the pandemic or the epidemic of mental health problems, depression–I’m actually totally with you on the cause, by the way–we got to find a way to sort of help people at scale. Just take depression and we can pick any one of the indications, any one of the boxes from the DSM. There’s like millions and millions and millions and millions of people that need help. 

So it’s like there’s this interesting molecule. It turns out it has to be administered in a very safe and secure environment. So we got to build that out. You want to make sure that the molecule itself is the right one, that it’s developed or manufactured or grown in the right conditions. And so that’s not to say that the clinical trial process is perfect or manufacturing or capitalist solutions to manufacturing drugs at scale are perfect. None of these things are even close to perfect. But we need some, some infrastructure and some systems for being able to do this at scale. 

And if you’ll forgive the cynicism here, ‘it’s so easy for you, Steve. You know you’ve got a nice place and you can host like four people at a time and maybe you have a line on some good drugs or whatever.’ But it’s like, that’s not a sustainable way to do this. And these systems that we have in place are a way to make sure that the therapists are regulated. 

So I mean, I trust you and the people visiting your retreat space trust you, but you can’t trust everybody. And so let’s have some credentials and some regulations to make sure people are properly trained on how to keep people safe to make sure the molecules are produced and distributed in a way that’s accessible. That they’ll be safe. 

And so to some extent, processes and structures and infrastructure are important if we’re going to get to a point where we could help enough people to move the needle. What do you think?

What do I think? I think a lot of things. I guess I’ll start by saying, I get that Western civilization has a bunch of games we play and a bunch of things that we do, and so in order for these psychedelics that have been used safely for thousands of years to be considered safe by us, we need to spend billions of dollars and spend years going through academic and clinical and governmental regulations and doing all this thing. And so that’s the game that we’re playing. And I understand and I also commend the folks who are willing to play that game because it’s an important step in bringing psychedelics to the world because there are a lot of people that won’t take psychedelics unless someone’s wearing a white lab coat. And that’s because that’s how they measure safety. They measure safety by their belief in the institution. So I totally get that and I respect it. And honestly, like, I’m just happy that–and I know I’m on kind of a Numinus podcast, and I’m not saying this for that reason–But I’m happy that Payton and Numinus exist in trying to do this in a really meaningful way and has really personal experience to draw from when shaping this thing, right? So I get it. It’s all good.

I also think it’s a little bit hilarious that we, again, have been taking mushrooms and ayahuasca and some of these natural substances forever. As long as we can find history, we find examples of it. Yet we somehow don’t trust that it’s safe unless our institution tests it for the next few years and says it’s safe. I think that’s basically ridiculous.

And I hope that and I believe that Health Canada and our federal government will see that at least with psilocybin as soon as possible, because we just know it’s nontoxic. It’s a safe substance.

Yes, set and setting are important. And I’ll get to those pieces of what you said in a sec. But it’s arrogant and it’s like extraction is to believe that we need to figure this all out ourselves from scratch. When people use the word pioneering in this space, it’s really interesting to me. Right? So I guess there’s just a lot of complications and all of that. I just feel like if we actually just looked to other cultures and other examples, we’d see that these have been used for a very long time and make our conclusions from that.

Very sympathetic to your answer. What it would say, though, is if you take the Sonoran Desert toad as an example. The fact that these like communications technologies have made 5-MeO-DMT so popular and we live in a world where this information is circulating, in a consumerist context, that we’ve just obliterated this animal off the face of the Earth. 

So if I can say we’re operating in an environment where distortions or disruptions in natural processes that have kept things in balance over many, many millions of years, those distortions are creating a need for the institutions to then go and make things safe, right?

Well, that’s where I would kind of I actually think the institutions are also part of the problem and it’s not their fault and they don’t mean to be. But we are in a time where information is moving much faster than the institutions can. Thereby culture is moving much faster than the institutions can. And so what’s happening right now is psychedelics seem to be suddenly a palatable subject at most dinner tables, maybe not most, but a lot more dinner tables than they were even a year ago or two years ago, right? They’re suddenly not this druggie thing that hippies do or that. And what’s already happening is people are seeking out these experiences, and that’s just going to keep happening.

And so I agree with you. I think we’re very concerned about safety. We’re very concerned about efficacy as well. Like beyond just keeping someone safe and making sure that they don’t have a highly dysregulated experience. This dysregulated experience, but also is the experience useful? And is there meaning and an outcomes that can be gained from the experience? So all of those things are super important.

I thought a lot about scaling in this space because I mean, I’m an entrepreneur, I like to build things I like. I believe in the power of businesses to do these things. When I think about the scaling of psychedelics, I’m–how do I say this? I guess the simplest way to say it is when I think about scaling psychedelics, I think about solving this problem is what I’ve seen and what I believe is that when psychedelics are most effective, when the person taking the substance and the person holding that space for that have a layer, a level of trust and of rapport with each other. They know each other well enough and they’ve built enough trust and the person has the right information. There is a connection there. That combined with the substance. And this human connection is tremendously powerful.

And I would really love to see psychedelics scale instead of scaling from this top down institutional approach, which is really like we are moving out of the centralized world, like this centralized world that we live in today is being disintegrated in front of us. We see it in how COVID happened. We see it in politics, especially in US politics and these things are just falling apart. We look at how institutional trust is at an all time low. So we need to start looking at taking a more decentralized approach. You see this in the crypto space where there are trillions of dollars moving around in crypto and the governments are still arguing over whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they acknowledge it as a real thing or not. The Metaverse is about to be this whole, this whole new world that we move into and the governments will be 20 years behind that. They’re still trying to figure out how to regulate Facebook. And we’re now moving into Metaverse.

So I think with all of these things, our traditional sort of top down centralized approach to these things is not really serving us anymore. And when we look at the way health care is working, it’s in certain ways. It’s really amazing. And in a lot of ways, it’s not really serving us at all. It’s not. It still doesn’t connect mental health and physical health. It’s still very much a reactive system that costs so much money because we let people get so sick before we’ll treat them. There’s all these things to understand. So I’m not so polarized to say we should have no institutions. I think we need institutions. I think there’s some need for that. I think that we need to modernize and think about that.

And I also think we need to really look at how we can decentralize this process. Like we are moving into a time right now where you know this idea of trust because you mentioned that trust comes from institutions regulating people, right? And that’s true for sure, to a degree and for the next 50 years or whatever, we’re going to need that. And we have a new system being built where trust is being measured on the internet in a peer to peer fashion. And I know, for instance, if we were doing things that were unsafe here, that word would be out very fast and it would be all over the internet and we wouldn’t get away with it.

And so I just think there’s lots of nuance and there’s lots of complexity there. And to say that we need big, top down regulatory institutions to do psychedelics, I just think that’s a very simplified response. I don’t think that that’s actually true. And I guess my biggest concern is that psychedelics will get watered down a lot in the process. You’re kind of putting it through filter after filter, after filter. And each time you put it through a filter, some of that material is being left behind. To the point where it becomes a sort of a sterile experience that may or may not include the proper human interaction to make it effective.

And again, very sympathetic to your point of view. My devil’s advocate response would be like I said, I trust you. I think you’re legit. And I’ve tried 5-MeO-DMT. It’s pretty interesting. But what really separates you and your molecule of choice from whatever cult where we all end up? You know, killing ourselves or doing some really weird stuff. There’s plenty of documentaries that you could watch on HBO or whatever of exactly this reasoning? But just applied to something else that’s just much darker and much more dangerous. So what’s the difference? Why should we trust you?

Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know you’d go there. I understand the question. Yeah, I actually think that like part of the transition we’re in into this much more decentralized world where institutions just aren’t keeping up. Like I think humans have been offloading, we’ve been offloading our sense of personal responsibility for a long time to organized religion. Some people end up in cults. Some people end up in pyramid schemes. Some people and you know, like there are, there are never ending traps in this world for people who are naive to what they are entering into. And that’s a serious concern.

And I think one of the things that is absolutely crucial is that people start to wake up and say, ‘You know what, I have to take responsibility for myself. I have to evaluate a situation in earnest.’ My hope is that with psychedelics, as they come online, in particular, people seek out kind of like, what are the 10 questions you should ask of anybody that you sign up to go have an experience with. We’re starting to create that information. We’re building a learning platform. We’re building a preparation platform to help people gain their own sort of sense of capacity and awareness before they even do a psychedelic. And I think that’s super key. And I think the things that separate us is that we’re very clear that we don’t insist on any sort of dogma or or like belief about ourselves.

We don’t believe that what we’re doing is anything other than creating a safe container for a human to come and experience this, to have this experience and to heal themselves. We are there to basically shepherd and guide that experience. We actually refer to ourselves, my wife and I. We refer to ourselves as doulas because I think that’s the best definition that we have. We are helping you go through a process that only you can really do. And we’ve seen it a lot.

So we can help support that and we can provide some insight and advice and some guardrails, but that we’re not healers who are magically making you better. And we are not making any promises about any of those aspects. And anybody who is– somebody handed me a business card the other day and it said, ‘Harry the healer’ on it. And that was this guy, this shaman guy’s name, and it’s like right underneath it, says Shaman. And shout out to Harry the healer. You’re probably a lovely guy, and I don’t know you and I don’t know. Anyway, I just saw this business card, but it just made me think anybody who’s promising that they will heal you, there’s likely something to really explore inside of that kind of promise, you know? So I don’t know.

I think discernment is super important. I think that asking for recommendations and testimonials. We have a number of people who have been through our experience who are happy to get on a call with somebody who’s considering it for themselves so that they can understand. And I also just hope and I hope that this is true for everybody working with psychedelics right now in an unregulated environment, which I understand the risks of. I just hope that everybody who is doing, I guess who’s working in this environment really understands the responsibility that they carry.

I’ll say for us, every time a retreat happens, there is this tremendous sense of responsibility that begins a couple of weeks before the retreat as I’m having my conversations with each person who’s coming into it as I’m starting to really get a sense of who they are and what’s going on in their lives. We feel like we’re just we’re holding them and there’s a tremendous sense of responsibility as they move through the experience on our property. When everybody leaves at six o’clock on a Friday, there is this relief and this exhaustion that kicks in because we’ve been holding this space with such reverence and with such responsibility. It’s a really interesting dynamic. I’ve never done anything in my life that’s so exhausting, and it’s not because I’m physically exerting myself in some way. It’s because I’m energetically holding this responsibility for people. So I just hope that guides anybody who says, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve done mushrooms a few times. I want to guide my friends.’ And just takes that really seriously.

I think it’s really interesting to point to this issue of trust and the breakdown in institutions. It is the breakdown in our sense of connection and how we communicate and all this stuff, right? And even the breakdown of like our understanding of what is true. It’s like, how dangerous is COVID? Do I need to wear a mask? I’m vaccinated. Am I at risk? Who won the election? It’s like all this stuff. Our sense of connection to what’s really going on has been so degraded. We’re trying to find ways to figure out who we can trust. 

And what’s also interesting is that your comment about how when there is a connection based in trust that the psychedelics can be–you can have the most profound impact. So yeah, I’m with you. And I guess it remains to be seen how we’re going to create trust in this iteration of using psychedelics in our society. 

This is a nice opportunity actually again to get practical and talk to you about how you create that container at the retreat center. When I did 5-MeO-DMT, I had a guide with me and we weren’t at a clinic. We were out in nature and it was cool. But it was also like, ‘I hope it doesn’t rain and I don’t know what’s going to happen and how do I know this guy again?’ And it was all good. But there was a sense of like he had to create a container, so that I felt safe to let myself go into it. And he had his practices around that. He lit this special piece of wood that led off this interesting smoke, and he cleared away the spirits. I was like, ‘Okay, I didn’t really feel any spirits here, but that’s cool, you know?’ And then he had this interesting dagger, the ceremonial dagger that had some kind of symbolic pointing to like insight and clarity, which I thought was pretty cool. So there are these interesting symbolic attempts to create a meaning container. That sort of felt a bit a little arbitrary or a little like, why? Why is there smoke in my face here? I just sort of appealed to my own sense of spirituality or my whatever is meaningful to me from Buddhism or my meditation practice, whatever. 

And that was the container I was creating for myself, but it was not obvious and wouldn’t be obvious to people that don’t have a background with these kinds of experiences. It’s not regulated, right? It’s new. So there’s no history, there’s no lineage, there are no rules and legalities. So you’re starting from scratch, right? I’d love to know how you create the container. How do you prep, integration, making meaning out of the experience after? So yeah, big, big question there. Feel free to start wherever you like.

Yeah. First off, just touching on the little aspects of the experience you just described. There are a lot of people doing this in Western context who are drawing from indigenous contexts or from South American traditions. And in some way, there’s a real reversion in our society for a lot of people to this kind of this magical layer of consciousness where everything is a mystery and there’s meaning and everything and and we’re pulling that in with tarot and all these different aspects. So that’s kind of prevalent right now.

But I’d say with our ceremony in particular, we do use some sage, we burn sage and some other scents. Scent is a really powerful way to ground someone. So it’s actually a really a powerful way of setting the ceremony. But in many ways, our approach to the ceremony itself is to have a very clear container, very minimal, actually. So we create ceremony without a lot of the adornments or like religious idols or spiritual idols and artifacts in these kind of things because we want the person to define what the experience means. And they can bring their own artifacts that they want. And if they’re really into crystals in all sorts of things like that, they can bring those and put them on the altar. They can put them at the head of the ceremony space, you know, for themselves. But we really actually try to create a very clear container that doesn’t pull in a bunch of these sorts of foreign cultural references that don’t necessarily resonate with somebody who grew up in Vancouver, in Canada or something like that, you know?

So I think that’s really interesting to talk about, but in terms of preparing people by creating safety and trust–first off, we are virtually entirely referral based. So the first aspect of trust is that someone that they already trust says, ‘I’ve had this experience or I know someone who’s had this experience and it was great. And I think it would be really useful.’ One thing that’s really interesting about psychedelics is that once you’ve experienced it yourself, you have a sense of what you’re entering into and then you start to have a sense of the people in your lives that are ready for this. They’re seeking this in some way that they may not know that it’s found in psychedelics, but they’re seeking some spiritual connection or they’re feeling seeking some healing or they’re working in personal development. And so you have this instinct towards telling those people about these experiences. Through a referral I find it is a really powerful way to just as a first screening mechanism, as a first trust building step. So pretty much we’re all referral based.

Second, people reach out and we just have a short conversation about some of the logistics and the details of the experience. We’re very upfront about pricing and everything else to just make people feel like there’s no mysteries here like this is exactly how it works. This is who we are.

And then if they are interested in the experience, we have them complete an intake form and that intake form is thorough. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and it looks at kind of all aspects of the person’s psychological, spiritual and physical well-being, family history, sort of the state of their life. Where are they at, what’s going on? What are the major kind of areas that are kind of consuming them? And I actually find that people going through just completing that intake form, it starts to put the whole thing in context. Like, Oh, interesting, I’m like a lot of people who have never answered some of the questions we asked before. So not only does it help them start to prepare themselves, but it also indicates to them that, ‘Oh, we’re thinking about you. We want to know all we can about you.’ And that starts to build rapport even in itself. Anyway, we go through that intake form internally, and then we set up our first call with that person.

I’ll typically spend at least an hour in that first call talking to them, and we’re talking about two–We’re kind of doing two things. We are talking about the experience itself, and I’ll touch on that a sec. But the other aspect is talking about them and going through their intake form together. And usually there’s just an instinctual–the way they might answer a question tells me, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something a little more here that I want to unpack or the language that they use to answer this question about their parents, what’s going on there?’ And it just helps to build context and nuance and get to build some rapport between the two of us.

But the other aspect is talking about the experience and in terms of building trust. First off, I just try to be as clear as possible about the intensity of this experience and make sure that they understand like they’re not just doing this because their buddy told them it was going to be awesome. I really do my best to provide them as much detail as possible about the kind of intensity of the experience, what can happen afterwards, the sort of integration period which can last weeks and months.

Like we always say, you’re coming to our spot here for a couple of days. But this is really a multi-month process you’re entering into when you do a large psychedelic journey. You have to be prepared. We’re opening the box of your unconscious. You’re accessing parts of yourself that you previously have never accessed. You’re going to experience something you’ve never done before. That has ramifications. There are impacts to that.

You will go back into your life next week, the week after with a new sense of awareness with you, likely to be more sensitive than you were. You’re signing up for a process, right? And so we just talk a lot about that and really help people just make sure that that makes total sense to them. And that they’re on board for that and they’re signing up for that. So I feel like we’re really clear about what people are enrolling in when they’re coming to our experience. The way I’m describing it may make it sound like it’s this big, super hard thing. It’s not about that. It’s just about as soon as you start exploring your own, your own psychology, you’re kind of peeling back the layers and underneath the layers is stuff that you didn’t previously know. And if you are in a job you hate and you come to have this experience, there’s a good chance when you go back to that work–If you have a really bad relationship with your boss or these dynamics there, you’re going to be more sensitive to them. They are going to feel more. You’ll just see them with a new perspective and more clarity, and that clarity is something that people often are hiding from in their lives like we consume alcohol, we smoke a lot of cannabis, we watch tons of Netflix and we spend time on the internet. All of these things are distractions from having true clarity about everything that’s going on in our life. So anyway, we just talk all about that and we really try to make sure that people feel super clear about what they’re enrolling in.

So I don’t know if you’re done, but I want to jump in there on the clarity piece because part of what is implied by what you just said. It’s like the more psychedelics you do, the more clarity you get. And I love actually the way you described it earlier, like where and when there are things that are already aligned, it really just accelerates movement in that direction and where things are not aligned or stuck, you really get clarity on that. So that’s all good. 

But I don’t think it’s true that the more psychedelics you do, the more clear things get. There are times where it gets ultra unclear. Or maybe what becomes clear is like, there’s just no bottom to this thing. So would you say about getting clarity through these things?

Yeah, there’s a lot of people that do 200 ayahuasca ceremonies and still never find any answers. And they’re just chasing the dragon. With psychedelics versus any other substance or any other addiction. Right? So it’s important. There’s nuance to all of that. I think that when you–so psychedelics can be like, in certain cases, just disrupting and diregulating and can–like one of the things we’re screening for that’s not directly asked.

There’s no way to ask this question directly, but through the intake process through my first conversation with them is to make sure that people have somewhat of a solid footing in their life. Like they are functioning in their life. If they have issues going on or if they have trauma they’re working with, or if they’re dealing with any mental health issues that they have awareness, some awareness about them and they’re not like they’re not bypassing these aspects. And they’re in a place where a really strong psychedelic experience is not going to just completely dysregulate their life. They’re not going to go back in their life feeling like they’ve been blown into a whole bunch of pieces and functioning becomes even more difficult.

I think that is one of the challenges with psychedelics that you need to be aware of is that these are very powerful tools, right? So in those cases, it can feel like, man, there’s no clarity. Suddenly, I feel like, holy shit, there’s all these layers that I didn’t even know existed in my existence, into consciousness, right into the universe. And like, maybe dimensions are real. And the fun thing about the universe is like, science has never been able to find the smallest thing or the biggest thing in this universe. You can kind of go down rabbit holes on this. You have to be careful about this.

What I saw, at least in my own experience and virtually all the people we’ve worked with, is that when you’re doing this with the right intention, with the right preparation, with the right understanding of what you’re actually entering into, there is a level of clarity that comes from these experiences. Like all we’re really trying to do is help people practice being more sensitive to their surroundings, to their inner surroundings, into their outer surroundings. We’re helping people build awareness and trying to help them feel comfortable being fully awake in every moment of their life, which is kind of drawn from Buddhist ideologies and things like that, Buddhist philosophy. So it is really trying to help people feel comfortable being clear in each moment.

And what we find is a lot of people quit nicotine. The amount they drink drops quite a lot. Like a lot of habits start to shift. They start looking. They start spending more quality time with their partners or with their children like these are the natural outcomes of building a level of sensitivity and awareness of your surroundings and of yourself that are natural. For me, it’s really driven me, driven my drinking to almost zero, and I have drinks here and there, and it’s a fun substance once in a while to engage with. But for the most part, throughout my days and my weeks, I never want to have like a beer at the end of the day or a glass of wine at the end of day. Because I want to be present in my body, I want to feel really clear about where I’m at and what’s going on. I want my mind to feel clear and I want to feel all of my emotions. I want to feel it all. And I feel like psychedelics can help us build that capacity and understanding. So I think that’s available to you. It’s not always the outcome.

I would have a question that kind of riffs off of that unless you want it to speak more about how you do like prep and integration. I think we do need to spend some time on integration. I’ll come back to my question. You were on a nice kind of overview of the trajectory of the thing.

Yeah. So we have that first conversation. People then go away and decide whether they want to come or whether it makes sense. If they do, we get some dates locked in for them. We then typically have another sort of longer conversation as well as we lead up to it. We’ve created materials that we provide that help them think about how to prepare for the experience in terms of–Each psychedelic, I would say, is slightly different, but there are certain similarities with 5-MeO in particular.

You definitely want to have your nervous system in as good a shape as possible, so it’s a very intense experience. So you want to be as calm and as grounded and as well slept as possible. So we make those kind of recommendations and we help sort of set them up on a path for the couple of weeks leading up to the experience. We don’t have really strict dietary expectations. Mostly that you’re eating things that like as many whole foods as possible. If you are eating meats, that they’re wild and that they’re happy animals, and that they’re not full of chemicals and stuff like that. So we’re just helping them basically prepare their mental, physical and spiritual selves.

We also in the week ahead, we’re sending out various short readings or little like a poem with some prompts, basically just journaling activities and reflective activities that help them to continually refine and frame their intention with why they’re coming.

One of the things we also just really always tell people is intentions are great. Expectations are not. When you set expectations around an experience of this magnitude, it really sets you up for–It’s like it’s just a trap of the ego to say, ‘Oh, I really expected this conversation to be about.’ If I had big expectations about what I was going to talk to Joe about and we didn’t talk about that, then it was a failure, then it didn’t work. Then I didn’t. Then it wasn’t what I expected. So we talk about that.

And then I think the other piece we do in terms of building trust, though, is that we have people with us for over three days for this experience and everybody arrives at the same time. On the first evening, we have dinner together. We all sit together as a group in person and we actually just talk about a lot of the same things we’ve already covered. But we just go through it again and we get to know each other and we ask some questions, and everybody shares a bit about why they’re there, and we build some trust as a group and build some safety as a group. Our retreats are all technology free, caffeine free. So we basically lower all the stimulants as much as possible and create an environment where you’re not only psychologically feeling confident and safe and secure, but you’re just again, your nervous system is just dropping down a notch where in nature we’re away from all technology. The lights are nice and chill. So like, everything is just designed to help you sleep well and feel calm.

And then through the experience–I mean, there’s lots of ways that I think we could dig into some of the experience, like how the actual ceremony works if you want. I think coming out of the experience of the day after the actual 5-MeO ceremony, we do a group breathwork session and these are sessions that we’ve designed. Like I’ve built all the music. My wife and I have worked on that. So it’s custom produced for this experience and it’s really powerful for people to be able to use breath work to basically get back into this altered state. Very similar to their 5-MeO experience the day before, but without the substance. And so there’s no substances involved. So it’s a little bit less overwhelming. As you know, inhaling this 5-MeO and within 10 seconds, you’re like on a different dimension entirely. Breath work really eases you into it. So it allows people to process and really kind of articulate the meaning and extract more. It’s just really a useful to work through some of the context of the experience and to be fully in control of that experience through your breath.

After that, we sit in a group, we do a couple of different integration exercises that are just kind of conversational and then we sauna. We cold plunge. We have a beautiful brunch. My wife is a chef, so all of the meals at our retreat are incredible. They’re just beautiful and they’re healthy and everything’s gluten free and dairy free. And the food is a big part of the experience, actually. So we have a big brunch together.

And then in the afternoon before people take off, I basically do a one on one session with each person to just make sure that they’re feeling confident and comfortable about going home and that there is a plan in place. So sometimes it’s very practical. Some people know like, ‘Oh man, as soon as I get back to work, this is going to happen and I’m going to and how do I manage this situation or how do I think about this?’ Sometimes people know that there’s a bigger change that they’re going to want to make, and we start to strategize about how to do that in a responsible, safe, effective way. We always say like no huge, life changing decisions for seven days, just because you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a practical way that’s respectful to the people who are involved with that decision. But that’s less common anyway.

I think more so the conversations are just about what are you going to do to maintain your connection to what you felt here at this retreat? How are you going to do that on a daily basis? I find that integration is quite simple. It’s really focused around mindfulness and around presence and around small daily habits. Whether it’s a short meditation in the morning, a walk, sometimes throughout the day in nature without distractions, maybe a journaling practice, maybe a check in practice, maybe you start to structure your work slightly differently. It’s these small changes that then really impact how your life feels. And oftentimes we have couples show up together, so we’re doing an act where we’re talking, thinking about how can we create a step in your day where the two of you sit down together and look each other in the eye and share something meaningful or reflect with each other? Or how can you just sort of deepen the connection that you both have as you go back into your life? We recently had a couple here who, generally, things are going well, they both have good jobs, they have lovely kids, they live in North Van, they’re doing great. They’re also feeling a lot of pressure, financial pressure. They feel like having young kids and both working and it puts strain on their relationship. They weren’t feeling cohesive as a unit and this experience has really helped them reframe that and and and all these little changes that shifted for them going back into their regular life within two weeks, their kids were going to bed earlier, they were connecting better in the evening. They were fighting less. They cut out caffeine. Their technology habits have shifted. They were thinking about selling their house and buying a bigger house. They decided that was just going to put more stress on them. So they realized they love their house. All of these, these things like these very practical shifts happened and they feel better every day. And so oftentimes that’s what the conversations are about.

And once in a while, the conversations are more of like a mystical, spiritual, philosophical conversation because somebody is just really trying to process like, ‘what was that that I saw? What does it mean?’

And then and then afterwards everybody is in a group chat so we can stay connected. And we ask people to share updates daily and people are sort of interacting with one another. I have a scheduled call with them, usually within the first 10 days. Sometimes it’s sooner, sometimes a little later, depending on just where they’re at. And then we basically let our participants know that we are on call for them for the next two weeks. So beyond our scheduled call, if you need us, you just send us a message or pick up the phone. And I think just knowing that we’re there for that is really reassuring for people as they go back into their life.

In terms of ongoing integration. I know there’s a long answer, but I think in terms of ongoing integration, in many cases we begin a longer term engagement with people where we’re working with them over a number of months to think about their lives and how to and how to continue integrating.

Starting in the New Year, we will be launching a platform that creates basically like community circles in places where you can come and talk about what’s going on with others that have gone through the same experience that can kind of relate to you. Because I think one of the biggest challenges with integrating psychedelics in our society, at least at this point, is that often you’re the first of your friends or you don’t necessarily feel like you have many people around you that can really understand what you’re going through or what you’ve gone through. And so I find that having community is such a key piece of this, so we’re looking at ways to increase the level of community that our participants have.

That’s awesome. We are over an hour and a half here, and I just really appreciate all the time that you’ve made available for us. 

Maybe I’ll try to squeeze in one more question for you. And it’s actually the question I kind of parked earlier when you were talking about having an intention or a purpose or the sense that with the participants, what you’re hoping people achieve is a sensitivity and this clarity and a capacity to be at peace with what you’re seeing with that clarity. 

Now what is it about that that is so meaningful to you that you are now dedicating your life to bringing that about or helping people approach that outcome? And I asked you at the beginning, ‘What do you do?’ And you also talked about when you feel connected and integrated, that sense of purpose is right there. So I don’t know if we can kind of tile that together. Is there a sense of purpose for you in this work that you’re doing?

Yeah, I feel so lucky to be doing this work, and it feels like the culmination of all the things I’ve done in my life. It really does. It is a thread that has always been part of who I am. I’ve always been fascinated with my own understanding and perception of life and of my own psychology and wellbeing and self-development. So that’s always been for me and I’ve always been passionate my whole life since I can remember in high school. I was talking to an old high school friend recently and she said, ‘Oh yeah, you were always that guy in high school who was trying to share concepts and help people figure things out.’ And I didn’t even remember that about myself, but it was interesting. And then I started unpacking. Then I realized, ‘you’re right, like, this has always been something I’m passionate about.’

And then I’ll say that through being an entrepreneur and running companies and having employees and having larger like my last company, I had quite a few people that I was responsible for. But what I realized, part of the reason I sold the company, was I realized that what I was actually most passionate about every day was the individual and how I could help them find the greatest expression of themselves and how I could help them see life. See a fuller picture of life and enjoy themselves and just activate themselves.

And so that’s all I really did as a boss. I wasn’t–I was more of a mentor and a coach to people than I was a boss. And I just realized that in some cases, that worked really well. In other cases, that was the wrong, the wrong forum for that type of engagement with people, right? And it led to just some confusion. And sometimes I would also let people that were not doing their job be there a lot longer because I was trying to crack the egg and I was so passionate about trying to help this person get to the next, their next evolution. So it’s just something that I’ve always been passionate about.

And to me, to me, there’s sort of like a micro and a macro part of this. The micro is like there is nothing more rewarding for me to somehow just create the conditions or prompt someone with the right question or the right experience so that they have this aha moment about what their life, what’s possible in their life and how they can be a better human and have a better experience. And that’s just incredibly rewarding.

And on a macro level, I feel that when this happens, we see the ripple effect. We see the intergenerational effect of this. We see a guy who has this experience with us realizing the sort of pain in his relationship with his father and realizing that he is showing up that way to his two year old, and realizing that, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to do that again,’ and healing that part of himself and therefore having this impact on his on his children. And you just think about how that cascades out like we are in this, this amazing time where we can actually do this work and the the ripple effect in our society and how we show up as humans in how we support one another is just–I mean, there’s nothing more rewarding I can imagine doing. And interestingly, as somebody who’s worked in technology, a lot of my life, a lot of my time before this was spent thinking about how I can build roles for myself and companies and things that are a kind of autonomous and asynchronous so that I have total freedom to travel and all this kind of like Tim Ferriss lifestyle stuff. And I think that there’s something about that. That’s great.

But what’s so interesting is that I’ve intentionally and very meaningfully entered into this new phase of my life where my time is constantly spent with humans in physical time and space. It’s tremendous. It’s a total shift. I don’t have the freedoms I used to have, but the work is so meaningful that there’s freedom within that. There’s freedom within being able to do this work. And so I guess I’ve left a part of my old ‘Oh, I want the perfect lifestyle where I can travel all the time and my company makes money while I sleep’ sort of mentality. Which is the dream all tech entrepreneurs have. And to realize, ‘Oh, the more quality time that I can spend with humans and the more that I can do this thing. That’s where I get. That’s where I get energized.’ And so I just feel really lucky to be doing this.

That’s awesome. I feel pretty lucky that you’re doing this, too. I hope you keep going and scale it as best you can.

Well, yeah, I’ll say this about scaling. I really believe that the way psychedelics–I just hope that psychedelics find a way to scale in small peer to peer ways. I think that this can scale by us creating excellent protocols and excellent process and then passing it on to other couples and other small groups who are doing it in their community. And that instead of it being this sort of like one company who owns the whole landscape, like an Amazon or something like that, there’s there’s just thousands of small practitioners in their communities and they have the right ethical standards and they have the right learning and training, and they have the right tools and systems that they can implement.

Because again, back to like psychedelics are most powerful when they’re done in connection with deep trust. And that really, I think, happens on a kind of community level. And so that’s my dream for psychedelics. I hope that we continue to figure out how to do that while this whole economic machine kind of comes in and does its thing with psychedelics as well. It’s a funny dance that we’re all doing.

All right man again. Appreciate it. Good chunk of your day. Really worthwhile as far as I’m concerned. So thanks a lot. And I’ll talk to you again soon.

My pleasure. Thanks, Joe.

Episode 34: Dr. Devon Christie on Psychedelics as a New Paradigm for Medicine

“As therapists and guides, we’re holding that space for the location of healing to be intrinsic to that person.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Devon Christie. Dr. Christie is a family physician with a focused practice in Multidisciplinary Pain Management and the Senior Lead of Psychedelic Programs at Numinus. She is also a clinical instructor with the UBC Department of Medicine, Kundalini Yoga instructor, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, Relational Somatic Therapist and MDMA-assisted and ketamine-assisted psychotherapist.

She also has first hand experience recovering from chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, bulimia, anorexia, and depression. These experiences have served as the foundation for her work.

Dr. Christie and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Connect with Dr. Devon Christie on Facebook and Instagram.

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

I think you and I both believe that psychedelics have the potential to bring about very, very meaningful change in our health care systems, maybe even more broadly than that.

Why do you think there’s so much promise here in mental health or maybe even health more broadly?

There are a lot of ways I could go in answering that question. I mean, the first thing that comes up is just this notion of a paradigm shift where, in my view, what psychedelic assisted psychotherapy proposes, is that we can have the intention of helping individuals to heal, to deeply heal from mental health conditions, from chronic illness in that the location of that healing is inside them.

We talk about this concept of an inner healing, inner healer, or innate healing intelligence as part of preparation for people going into these experiences to trust that that’s there and to allow that to guide the process. And that is as therapists and guides, we’re holding space for that, the location of healing to be intrinsic to that person. Like you cut yourself and then you keep the conditions clean and dry and your cells know how to knit themselves back together. There is an intelligence there.

But I think what our broader system has sort of conditioned us into perceiving is that we need to be fixed somehow by external people or modalities or surgeries or drugs, people that know more than us. And there’s this almost like a victim–there’s just less empowerment. It’s much more passive. And I think the way our system is set up almost kind of encourages that.

So it’s this active–you’re the source of healing. We’re going to create the optimal conditions. Do our best to do that. And so that to me is really powerful, empowering, and I think will lead to a lot of support for motivation and health behavior change. And so that’s just one aspect of the paradigm shift.

Another is, as I mentioned, with respect to how much I respect Gabor and his work is just this breaking–quitting this view that comes from biological reductionism that the mind and the body are separate. And that it’s all like–Western medicine is very materialistic and there’s a lot of benefit from that. We’ve learned so much. It’s amazing how much we understand our cellular biology and yet it sort of parses things apart and creates silos of specialties.

For example, where this doctor treats this system and this doctor treats this system and it’s all very focused on the physical. So there’s all these kinds of discrete categorizations, and people get many different diagnoses and go to see many different specialists for each of those separate things.

Yet when you really zoom out and take this more systems approach–which I actually didn’t mention as well, I’m a certified functional medicine practitioner, which is a systems biology view. It’s like, actually, no, it’s all interconnected. We’re alive ecosystems, and mind and body are absolutely intricately simultaneously co-arising. They can’t be separated. I have a thought that is producing chemicals that are influencing my state.

So I really see that psychedelic assisted psychotherapy is going to really support this awareness–approaches that are targeting our emotional well-being and our nervous system regulation and our what we term mental wellbeing will translate into physical, like positive physical outcomes.

Because we know and this is again in Gabor’s work. The stress response is just this common underlying factor between a multiplicity of different expressions of illness, whether we call them mental or physical.

So I’m really excited for that and for the ways that as we continue to research different applications of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy that we’re going to see and learn how much more broadly, this type of intervention may be applicable.

And the final tag on that is to actually support more systemic funding for psychotherapy in general. You know, psychedelics aside, right? We already have evidence for that. We already know that if people have access to psychotherapy, they visit their family physician less.

Psychotherapy as opposed to pharmacotherapy for mental illnesses. The research shows that it likely has much longer term benefits, more impact on quality of life for people rather than just symptom management, and that people prefer it and there are less side effects. So even if psychedelic assisted psychotherapy can also just usher this change in our system to bring parity to approaches that support individuals mental well-being, that would be a win, in my perspective.

Episode 33: Jamie Wheal on Finding Meaning at the End of the World

“Life is tragic, and occasionally it’s magic.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Jamie Wheal, author of Recapture the Rapture: Rethinking God, Sex and Death In a World That’s Lost Its Mind and the Pulitzer-nominated bestseller Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. He is also the founder and executive director of the Flow Genome Project whose purpose is to build “world-class training programs on peak performance, optimal psychology and leadership.” His work has been covered in the New York Times, Financial Times, Wired, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and many other publications.

Jamie synthesizes history, psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology in order to create techniques and cultural practices centred around transforming human beings through non-ordinary states. Those practices include breathing techniques and psychedelics.

Jamie and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Jamie Wheal on Facebook and Instagram.

Connect with the Flow Genome Project on FacebookInstagramYouTube, and their website.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

 

Here are some highlights of their conversation:

Let’s start with sort of the premise for Recapture the Rapture and what I understand what you’re calling this sort of crisis of meaning that a lot of us are feeling a little kind of disoriented or suffering because the processes or the infrastructures that we use to sort of make meaning out of our complex lives have really been kind of shaken. And many of us are feeling a bit lost around that. So can you just tee that up for us? 

Yeah, for sure. I think what we’re continuing to see even more and more and more of it, like even in this latest round we’re supposed to have vaccines and everybody can be safe and back to summer and then like, ‘oh no we have breakthrough cases, but no, there are no breakthrough cases.’ Actually, there’s whole a lot of hell of a lot more than we thought there were not. What we do with kids? Do we send them back? I was even having this conversation with our kids over the weekend. Because our daughter goes to school in Palo Alto, super on the ball, like maximum lockdown health provisions, and our son is going to school in Colorado. We’re here in Austin, which is in Texas, which is like a wheels off situation. And he was talking about like at this point, you cannot even tell whose side someone is on as to whether they’re wearing a mask or not wearing a mask. Like at one point it was a relatively clear division. It was a tribal identification. Now you have no idea what even the signs and the signifiers of our public actions  or what ideological camps everyone is in. It is a complete epistemological train wreck, but also a socio-cultural, psychological one.

We didn’t end up in this particular mess solely or exclusively because of a particular coronavirus. We’ve been on this slide for the last couple of decades and radically intensified over the last five, which has been and maybe even more. I think you can for sure say two thousand eight was also like a massive disillusioning, but then throw it into the 2016 election onwards.

And what we have is that basically people are orienting their assumptions on life, the universe and everything from organized religion. That was one point that has been dwindling rapidly. And then for the last four hundred years plus we had this experience of modern liberalism, civil rights, nation states, private property, markets, democracy, that kind of bundled gig, including academic institutions, research, science, empiricism, all of that. And that, too, has been kind of crumbling.

And those are the two pillars of meaning. One point to point out is that the roof has been caving in as far as any shared reality we might have been experiencing. Rather than us all becoming grown up, rational, evidence based meritocrats or something that maybe like the Sam Harris and the Christopher Hitchens might have once forecast, we’re actually getting sucked to the extremes into fundamentalism, like doubling down on belief systems and not just traditional religious fundamentalism, anti-vax fundamentalism, populist fundamentalism, take your pick.

There’s all sorts of different narratives, sacred and secular, old and new, that are showing up where people are just doubling down on a rigid belief system versus some form, some form of more provisional sensemaking. So fundamentalism on one side or nihilism on the other. Just burn it all down, blow it up, what the fuck, who cares, let’s party or let’s riot. I mean, very fight club, right, in that sort of sense and diseases of despair, which is obviously a lot of the world. You look into the rise in addiction, anxiety, depression, suicides, all of the things that you would expect when people are unmoored from their surroundings. And of course, this isn’t happening in a vacuum.

This is happening at a time of accelerating exponential change, both better and worse, which is also really hard. And most people put all their belief systems onto one or the other. It’s either like Steven Pinker and Ted talks exponentially better, Matt Ridley. Or the doom and gloom naysayers, Extinction Rebellion and and any others pointing out the decline of civilization and or survivability. And you’re like, wait, which is it? It’s both. And they’re both exponential.

So which way this goes is going to be a crapshoot to the very last minute. And who do I look to to tell me where I should go? Oh, they’re all dead or gone or have abandoned their posts. So it’s every man for himself and do your own research. So that’s kind of the setup, which is we’re in a tight spot and someone broke our dashboard. So how do we find our own cosmic positioning system to reorient to what must be done? Because I think the most the worst thing we can be doing right now is fucking nothing, because we’re in that agitated, irritated, bored state. Like, we need to get off that dime and be moving in whatever direction we’ve chosen.

 

So you are orienting us or trying to inspire us into a new kind of operating system for making meaning. From meaning 1.0, you have identified three key processes or three key mind states: inspiration, healing, and connection. And I’ll let you talk about that and then continue down towards the Alchemist Cookbook. 

There’s an awful lot of utopian thinking in general. If you look at anybody from whether it’s true old school, Alpha and Omega, Judeo-Christian stuff, like there’s going to be the Armageddon and the Rapture or any of those kind of things, that old school stuff, all the way to techno utopianism like Ray Kurzweil. I’m going to upload our consciousness to computers. To blockchain and seasteads. ‘We’re going to disrupt the nation state and we’re going to create our own little communities or civilizations.’ And maybe they float. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re in–it is not Croatia. It’s Estonia. One of those Eastern European bloc countries. They have some unclaimed land that is potentially going to be a libertarian crypto paradise. Or the psychedelic renaissance or trance tech like neuro link and implants or immersive VR.

There’s always the, ‘Yes, this is ugly. Yes, this is hard, but there’s some hockey stick redemption at the other end of this.’ And this also shows up in info marketing and self-help and new age and pop psychology. ‘Let’s poke your pain points and you get irritated and agitated. And then we offer you something whether it’s a workshop or a pill or a meditation practice in just seven minutes and then you’ll be delivered.’ And that is such a deep trope, both of Western thought, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. But it shows up in communism. It shows up across two thousand years plus of Western thought. But then it was metastasized and weaponized by marketing in the 20th century.

And Tim Wu, the guy who wrote The Master Switch and tons of other stuff. He is a professor and thought leader. He also wrote a book called The Attention Merchants. And it’s basically outlining the genesis of 20th century marketing, like how do we get to Mad Men? How do we get to Don Draper? And the short answer is a bunch of down on their luck literal snake oil salesmen and washed up former preachers. ‘You have bad breath? You’ve got to try Listerine. You’ve got dandruff? Try head and shoulders.’

And then here’s your shot at redemption, in a product, a package, a pill. And that is so entrenched in everything, including the full hijack of the spiritual marketplace. We are almost hard wired to believe that there is an up and out play if only we can find it or buy it. Many of those end up being pathological because if the ends or heaven on earth or off it and the means are always, always justified, and there’s all kinds of spiritual bypassing, there’s all sorts of disassociation from the here and now and often our social and ethical responsibilities to others and ourselves and the whole thing.

That was a long windup to point out that the model of, hey, there’s this three legged stool or flywheel that is the human experience: inspiration, healing and connection. And we never get out of that. We never get out of the endless cycle of getting up to the high ground, remembering what we’ve forgotten, being informed and inspired, if we’re lucky–only to go down into the depths of our brokenness and either get crushed by life events and tragedies. Then we’re forever doing that.

And that sense that redemption lies not in getting to the mountaintop and camping out there because nothing lives up there, you can visit. You can put some prayer flags up there, but you need to get back down in the valleys, right. So there is no end to this. It’s forever. We’re forever being propelled forward from our life of highs and lows. And together, life is kind of  tragic. That’s inescapable. That’s Buddha’s first noble truth.

Life is tragic, and occasionally it’s magic. Which blows our minds and redeems our souls, our souls and gives us a reason for being. And then we’re back to toggling back and forth between those two things. There is nothing to do but laugh but shrug, but be on the inside of the cosmic joke and then it’s comic. And that’s that kind of sharing and buffering with each other. If we couldn’t look at this all and just go Zorba the Greek, like, fucking hell, the full catastrophe, you know. Like yesterday, at last night’s show, we were dancing and raising the roof and it was nothing but quicksilver magic. And today the kids just shit their diapers and the repairman is not coming and the dog just ran away.

So the tragic, the magic, and the comic. And it feels to me that if we center ourselves in the middle of those things without obsessing or fetishizing about one or the other one at the expense of the other, and we just say. ‘this is it, the full catastrophe, the human experience, my job isn’t to bypass it or transcend. It is to bear witness to the whole thing that feels to me more grounded. That feels to me more reality tested than some saccharin, sweet promise of up, up and away.

 

I think in your argument that Flywheel ultimately comes from meaning 1.0 and a more sort of religious framework. One of the reasons why it sort of crumbled, so to speak, is that access to these things was mediated by an elite group in a position of power. And most people had to find access to that through some watered down way and had no direct relationship to this kind of spiritual connection. 

And so you’re introducing some design criteria for how we ought to make meaning 3.0 work. This is pulled out of the classical liberalism model. Can you talk about open source, scalable, and antifragile?

I think particularly in indigenous religions, but also mystery schools. For thousands and thousands of years, for hundreds of thousands and millions of humans, there have been absolutely effective religious and psycho-spiritual practices of initiation and transcendence. They haven’t always been widely distributed. It’s not like every single person in a given society or civilization had access. Sometimes they were quite selective. But there have been massively effective, both indigenous and and sort of quote unquote, civilized techniques of ecstasy and initiatory mystery cults, mystery schools.

But I would say that somewhere post, at least in the West right somewhere, posts Konstantin Augustine like some sort of Orthodox Christianity coming online. Anything kind of more mainstream got pretty watered down, became pretty weak sauce initiations. So that’s the sense of like, ‘hey, no matter how much we might resent or resist the Spanish Inquisition, the priests, all the sort of the man keeping us from our own birthright as far as an initiation into the mysteries. There’s vital glue there, vital nutrients in what organized religion used to offer. And that’s healing, inspiration and connection.

So meaning 1.0 which is all men and women are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You could also say pursuit of happiness, subset, you know, initiation into the mysteries of what it means to be a human on this earth. And so for that to work, the notion of open source means, ‘hey, let’s try and get this out of the cloisters. How can we offer the tools that anybody, anywhere has access to because we subscribe to that sense that every human on this earth is a child of God and entitled to a fair shot at the good life. So if it’s expensive or rare or esoteric or exclusive, then what are we doing right? We’re just perpetuating more of those inequalities that people are becoming increasingly aware of and sick of. So that’s the open source piece.

The scaleable piece is kind of the other side of that, which is just we’re in a tight fix and there’s eight billion of us. So it’s not enough to have, you know, hundreds or a few thousands or even tens of thousands or even millions. We kind of need billions of people on something resembling the same page that this planet matters and that clean air, clean water, and clean soil are probably human birthright and really shouldn’t go along party lines. And that we’re in this to win this. We’re actually in this to perpetuate living on our home planet.

So those are the first two and then the antifragile is–Oh, we are in this goofy, paradoxical state, which I think is creating a lot of mental disease. We are sort of on the one hand in the early twenty first century, let’s say we are sort of blessed with the perspective of gods. You know, we’ve got the Large Hadron Collider and we can sort of look back to the moment of the Big Bang and we can map and model it using the Hubble telescope. We have live feeds from rovers on Mars and at the same time go, ‘oh, oh, shit. You know, more ice melted yesterday in Greenland.’

So we’re sort of coming alive at the very, very same time that we realized we might be in an existential crisis. And I don’t know whether to be happy and elated about this infinite possibility of consciousness and humanity or abjectly terrified as to the stakes. And wouldn’t you know it to make it even weirder, the very same super sophisticated techno economic civilization, including carbon economy and all the things that has provided this platform for us to be watching Alan Watts remix videos on my smartphone on YouTube filled with cobalt, lithium and random rare earth metals and beamed up to satellite. So I get this in real time with no lag.

Episode 32: Psychedelic Integration with Andrew Rose, Psychedelic Educator and Integration Coach

 

“Psychedelics open things up and create opportunity. And integration is the work you do after to make sure you derive benefit from that experience.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Andrew Rose, a very experienced practitioner in Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration (PHRI). He is a certified mindfulness teacher, formerly the director of programming and digital strategy at Numinus, and currently the director of programming and content at Numinus. He now leads the PHRI program at Numinus.

He is also an assisting trainer at Fluence, an organization that offers educational programs in psychedelic integration and psychedelic-assisted therapy.

He also co-runs a community organization called Plant Parenthood, a digital community of parents who are interested in the intersection of family and the intentional therapeutic use of psychedelics.

For more information on the PHRI programs at Numinus, check out  numinuswellness.com/services/psychedelic-harm-reduction-and-integration

Andrew and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Andrew on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

 

Note: At 23:30 of this episode, Dr. Joe mentions a study conducted by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and his colleagues. The below image is what Dr. Joe was speaking about in relation to the study. It shows the connections between various brain regions when subjects were given a placebo (figure a) and when subjects were given psilocybin (figure b). The whole study can be found here.
Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

It’s interesting because a lot of people are hearing about psychedelics because of the clinical trials. And the clinical trials sound like your typical drug discovery process. There’s a new medication for mental health issues, and you take this medication and then something happens in the middle there. Then a significant number of people feel better, like two thirds of people no longer meet the criteria for PTSD, for example. So what is it about? It’s not as simple as just tweaking some knobs in your brain chemistry and you feel better. 

When we talk about psychedelics as a catalyst for creating freedom, what does that mean?

Good question.

Well, I would say that it means that the mind and the body are not separate and that even the mind and body of one individual are not really separate from other individuals, in relationships that they’re in. And that those collections of relationships are not separate from communities. Which are not separate from larger kinds of ecosystems. Forgive the cliche, but we’re all connected.

Maybe that’s kind of an obtuse way to answer your question. But things are not these little discrete, isolated machines that you can go in and tweak a knob and then you leave it. Everything is connected to everything else somehow.

Yes, maybe this is a good way to sort of approach like what I see happening in the psychedelic experience. It can be useful to frame it in terms of thinking about why a lot of people do come to it who are looking for relief. The clinical trials are exploring how to heal or solve obvious issues or problems. That are, like I mentioned before, things like depression, anxiety, PTSD. So one of the ways to think about all of those issues and–I’m not the first to point this out–is to conceive of them as kind of forms of rigidity or sort of like a fixated way of viewing and relating to the world. So you’re kind of stuck in a pretty narrow box and feel a little bit trapped.

So with depression, you are kind of ruminating and stuck in a particular narrative, something that’s happened to you in the past or in a current situation. You don’t feel like there’s any way out. Addiction similarly. Like repeating the same behaviours, even though it’s sort of increasingly doing damage to your life or in a way that is problematic for you.

So all of these kinds of afflictions have that similar flavour. And I’m not a neuroscientist, but as far as I understand, the kind of neurological associations with these conditions kind of tend to reflect that.

 

I’ll just say we’ve had Judson Brewer on the podcast and he’s done an amazing job of articulating the neurobiological processes behind addictions to substances like cigarettes or cocaine or even food. And also that similar mechanisms are in place accounting for internalizing problems like anxiety and mood problems. It’s all this stickiness or this tendency to lock into patterns, some of which are unhealthy. And we just get stuck in these feedback loops. So there is a tendency in our brain to sort of fade into order and sometimes too much order of some kind. 

Correct. So too much order. Too much structure. Too narrow.

So what psychedelics do or can do–and it’s worth mentioning, it’s not just psychedelics, but other altered or non-ordinary states of consciousness that can be achieved by various other means. We can talk about some of that a little bit later. They really open the system up. So they create connections between parts of the brain that don’t typically converse or may not have conversed since early childhood or since a traumatic experience, for example.

So things get–when we’re stuck or things are narrow. Things have been really compartmentalized in our internal system. Psychedelics just open that system up. They don’t necessarily rewire and fix the system.

Because what does fix mean? Do we have an actual conventional sense of like this is healthy, this is well, this is fixed. This is in balance and this is unwell. It’s easier to say, ‘Okay, well, this is unwell because I’m suffering. This hurts.’ But even then, there are forms of suffering that may just be part of the human experience that can’t really be, quote unquote, fixed. So it’s another nuance there that maybe we can go into later.

So psychedelics really open the system up and create the opportunity for new connections to be made. To be able to see things in new ways and see solutions to problems that didn’t seem to be there before. And, yes, that’s really what we’re talking about. We’re sort of opening the system up. But that’s just kind of the start, right? Once the system is opened up, then what? Then what do you do?

 

I love the fact that now opening the system up is not just a metaphor. Making new connections is not just a metaphor. And I’ll refer people to the picture that is circulated a lot [See note above].

Placebo and psilocybin.

So I think it’s Robin Carhart-Harris’s work that shows the connections among various brain regions in a brain that is on placebo. And there is a small number of connections, some of which are quite thick, representing a sort of neural highway where a lot of information passes. And then a brain that’s under the influence of psilocybin, where there are very few of those neural highways and tons and tons and tons of thinner connections between brain regions that haven’t been communicating before. 

So it’s not just a metaphor. This is what is actually happening in your brain, changing the way regions in the brain connect to each other. So all this potential, all this freedom, all this flexibility.

You’re making me think of a city or a community whose outer reaches, which have been kind of destroyed because there’s a couple superhighways that have been just placed in there. And then there’s this concentrated downtown core that’s really frenzied and then this impoverished, kind of outer region. And then someone does some, I don’t know, progressive remodelling of the infrastructure of the community. And it’s like, ‘no, a lot less cars, more bike paths.’