Episode 27: The Chemistry of Connection with Dr. Julie Holland



“When a couple takes MDMA, they throw the ledger out the window, and they dig down to the core issues.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Julie Holland. Dr. Holland is a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology. She is the author of five books including Good ChemistryMoody Bitches, and Weekends at Belleview, and she is the editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. She has been featured on CNN, Fox, Good Morning America, and the Today Show as a mental health expert and has a private practice in New York.

She has a long history as an advocate for the safe and therapeutic use of psychedelics and cannabis and is a medical monitor of two studies organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Dr. Holland and Dr. Joe spoke about:

  • The role of the parasympathetic nervous system
  • The benefits of connecting to ourselves and how to do it
  • The role of mindfulness and psychedelics in accessing parasympathetic states and connecting to ourselves
  • Why connecting to other is essential for health and well-being
  • The power of MDMA to promote healing through connection with others
  • How psychedelics can contribute collective healing around ongoing traumas such as the pandemic, climate change, political polarization, etc.
  • How to navigate the more challenging aspect of internet relationships and the role that oxytocin plays in that
  • The future of psychedelic medicine

Connect with Dr. Julie Holland on TwitterFacebook, and her website.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

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Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Could you tell us about that study? I just think it’s a beautiful illustration of the power of co-regulation. If I understand correctly, one of the members of the couple has PTSD. Do they both take MDMA?

Yes, they both take it. And that’s what really makes it a completely different study. We have been doing–like right now MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is in the phase 3 of the trials, so that they can be FDA approved.

And right now, the phase 3 trial is a multi-centre trial. There are multiple places doing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with a single person. But this is the only study where both members of the dyad are taking MDMA during therapy.

Ann Shulgin had a great explanation for MDMA couples therapy because she was somebody who did underground work with couples quite a bit. I wrote about this in my first book actually, which is a book that I edited because it had multiple authors. It was called Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. And there’s an interview in there with Sasha and Ann Shulgin. The people who were too busy to write chapters, I just did interviews with them and got it typed up.

Ann talks about how there’s a certain sort of tit-for-tat that happens a lot with couples where it’s like, ‘Well, I just did this because you did that.’ And, ‘You did that, so then I did this.’ She calls it emotional ledgering, meaning that everything goes on a ledger. And everything is superficial and transactional and retributional.

She says that when a couple takes MDMA, they throw the ledger out the window. It doesn’t matter anymore. That’s like superficial shit that doesn’t matter. And they dig down to core issues and the core things that keep coming up.

Because anybody who has been in a dyad long enough, you have the same argument eight different ways. It’s the same stuff that keeps coming up that you can’t let go.

And it really comes down to, ‘Why aren’t you more like me?’ ‘Why do you have to be like you and do it your way?’ ‘Why aren’t you more like me and do it my way?’ That’s end up being a good chunk of what happens.

One of the things that happens with MDMA–and there’s a lot that happens pharmacologically–but one of the things is that MDMA increases oxytocin. The brain is really flooded with oxytocin. And so there is this impulse to trust and bond and connect and form a dyad. Having all that oxytocin makes you feel safe and it quiets down the amygdala. One of the things oxytocin does is that it quiets down the amygdala. The amygdala, you can think of it like the fear centre. When you’re going to react and retaliate, it’s going to come from the amygdala. When oxytocin quells down the amygdala, the fear goes way down.

You give the other person the benefit of the doubt more. This is really important. We’ve seen that MDMA has an impact on how you interpret social cues. You’re more likely to interpret social cues positively. And you’re more likely to ignore negative social cues. Mona Lisa–if you were taking MDMA–you would think that she’s totally smiling. That’s not a grimace. That’s not a smirk. That’s not a sneer. That is just a smile. There’s sort of an alteration of how we interpret social cues.

Because there is so much oxytocin, you are more trusting and more bonded and more committed to the team and the process.


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