FDA Acceptance and Priority Review: Lykos Therapeutics' MDMA-Assisted Therapy Breakthrough for PTSD

In a groundbreaking move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted priority review to Lykos Therapeutics' (formerly MAPS PBC) MDMA-assisted therapy for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This development not only marks a significant leap in mental health treatment but also holds profound implications for companies like Numinus in the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy. 

Understanding the FDA Priority Review

The FDA's priority review is a special designation reserved for drugs that promise substantial improvements in safety or effectiveness compared to standard treatments. In the case of MDMA-assisted therapy, this acknowledgment underscores the urgent need for innovative approaches to address the complexities of PTSD. MDMA-assisted therapy was only submitted as a new drug application to the FDA by non-profit Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in December 2023.

A Glimpse into MDMA-Assisted Therapy

MDMA-assisted therapy, an important and promising venture in mental health treatment, involves the use of midomafetamine capsules (MDMA) in combination with intentional therapy before, during, and after each medicine session. Based on the data from two published Phase 3 studies completed by MAPS and numerous other trials, MDMA-assisted therapy is a real breakthrough in the treatment of PTSD. 

What This Means for Numinus and the Psychedelic Therapy Landscape

Validation of Psychedelic Therapies

The FDA's early acknowledgment of the potential benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy provides a significant boost to the legitimacy of psychedelic therapies. This is good news that we anticipate will pave the way for broader acceptance and integration of these treatments into mainstream mental healthcare.

Expanding Treatment Options

If (and when) approved, this therapy would represent a monumental shift in the available treatment options for PTSD. Companies like Numinus, already at the forefront of psychedelic therapy, may see expanded opportunities to offer innovative solutions for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. 

PTSD, a grave mental health condition stemming from traumatic events, grips approximately 13 million Americans each year. Military personnel have a greater prevalence of PTSD than the general population, however, it may not be as widely known that that the largest cause of PTSD is non-combat-related trauma (e.g., sexual violence, unexpected death of a loved one, life-threatening traumatic event or interpersonal violence). Women and marginalized groups bear a disproportionate burden, underscoring the urgency for inclusive and targeted treatment. With this treatment available, Numinus will be able to provide this option for relief that these people need and deserve across our network of clinics.

Heightened Focus on Safety and Efficacy

The FDA's priority review signals a keen focus on ensuring the safety and efficacy of psychedelic treatments. This emphasis aligns with Numinus's commitment to providing evidence-based and responsible psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Training 

With increasing public awareness and acceptance of psychedelic medicine, our training program is pivotal in preparing professionals to meet the demand for responsible and safe MDMA-assisted therapy. As the therapeutic landscape expands, Numinus-trained and certified practitioners will be ready to integrate psychedelic assisted protocols into their practice. This transformative period presents opportunities for collaboration and cements the role of our training programs in moving this type of treatment forward. Learn more about our certification pathway here.

Looking Ahead

We are deeply invested in the transformative power of psychedelics and are thrilled to learn about the FDAs priority review of MDMA-assisted therapy. Our team wholeheartedly believes this development can and will change lives.

Meet Cory Cooperman: Clinic Director in Montreal

Technology, Tools, and Changing Lives For The Better

 

Meet Cory, Clinic Director for Numinus in Montreal! Cory's dedication as Clinic Director provides transformative psychedelic-assisted therapies to those seeking healing and growth.

We recently sat down with Cory and discuss his role at Numinus, his passion for psychedelics and mental health, and his invaluable advice for anyone considering a career in this groundbreaking field.

What brought you to Numinus?

I came to Numinus as part of the Mindspace acquisition in February 2021. I was eager to join a company so aligned with our mission and values, pushing forward at the cutting edge of mental health care services.


Could you describe your role in 1-2 sentences?

As Clinic Director for Numinus in Montreal, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the clinic spaces in Montreal by managing the Care Coordinators and Personal Health Navigator, recruiting new practitioners (e.g., therapists, nurses, doctors), and administering our electronic medical record, billing and client scheduling system. Ultimately, when it comes to turning new programs into reality, such as our new Group Ketamine-Assisted Therapy pilot project, I am the lead in making sure everything is taken care of.


How do you act in service to yourself to make your mental health a priority?

I am blessed with a partner who happens to be a psychologist, as well as extensive training myself as a therapist, and it all starts with a strong work/life balance. I love to use technology (like Focus Modes in iOS) to help me maintain good work/life balance.


What do you love about Numinus?

I love the feeling of making a difference that comes from being part of Numinus, which is strongly felt when you connect with your co-Numis during meetings and see brilliant, caring people coming together to solve problems.

 

What inspires you the most about the field of psychedelics and mental health? 

I have concretely seen the difference mental health care, provided in a timely and evidence-based fashion, can make. It changes lives for the better, and there’s nothing more rewarding than that.

 

What has been the most transformative experience in your career so far?

I have been lucky to enough to get to transition from being a student therapist to someone who gets to enable practitioners in the field to do their very best for their clients. It brought me full circle, back to my roots in technology and management, while still getting to use my knowledge gained during my clinical training.

 

What advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in your field?

Curiosity is your best tool, and if you approach challenges with a genuine openness to learning something new, even if you don’t solve a particular problem, you’ll come away with something that will help you the next time around.

 

Interested in joining the Numinus team? Check out all of our open roles HERE.

 

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Technologie, Outils et Changer des Vies

Rencontrez Cory, Directeur de clinique chez Numinus à Montréal ! L'engagement de Cory en tant que directeur de clinique permet de proposer des thérapies assistées par les psychédéliques à ceux qui recherchent la guérison et la croissance.

 

Nous nous sommes récemment entretenus avec Cory pour discuter de son rôle chez Numinus, de sa passion pour les psychédéliques et la santé mentale, ainsi que de ses précieux conseils pour toute personne envisageant une carrière dans ce domaine révolutionnaire.

 

Qu'est-ce qui vous a amené à Numinus ?

J'ai rejoint Numinus dans le cadre de l'acquisition de Mindspace en février 2021. J'étais impatient de rejoindre une entreprise si alignée avec notre mission et nos valeurs, poussant vers l'avant à la pointe des services de soins de santé mentale.

 

Pourriez-vous décrire votre rôle en une ou deux phrases ?

En tant que directeur de clinique pour Numinus à Montréal, je supervise les opérations quotidiennes des espaces cliniques à Montréal en gérant les coordonnatrices de soins et le navigateurs de soins, en recrutant de nouveaux praticiens (p. ex. thérapeutes, infirmières, médecins) et en administrant notre système de dossier médical électronique, de facturation et de prise de rendez-vous. Enfin, lorsqu'il s'agit de concrétiser de nouveaux programmes, comme notre nouveau projet pilote de thérapie de groupe assistée par la kétamine, c'est moi qui veille à ce que tout soit mis en œuvre.

 

Comment se mettre au service de soi-même pour faire de sa santé mentale une priorité ?

J'ai la chance d'avoir un partenaire qui est psychologue, ainsi qu'une formation approfondie en tant que thérapeute, et tout commence par un bon équilibre entre vie professionnelle et vie privée. J'aime utiliser la technologie (comme les modes de concentration dans iOS) pour m'aider à maintenir un bon équilibre entre vie professionnelle et vie privée.

 

Qu'aimez-vous chez Numinus ?

J'aime le sentiment de faire la différence qui découle de mon appartenance à Numinus, sentiment qui est fortement ressenti lorsque vous vous connectez avec vos co-Numis pendant les réunions et que vous voyez des personnes brillantes et bienveillantes se réunir pour résoudre des problèmes.

 

Qu'est-ce qui vous inspire le plus dans le domaine des psychédéliques et de la santé mentale ?

J'ai vu concrètement la différence que peuvent faire des soins de santé mentale fournis en temps opportun et fondés sur des preuves. Cela change des vies pour le mieux, et il n'y a rien de plus gratifiant que cela.

 

Quelle a été l'expérience la plus transformatrice de votre carrière jusqu'à présent ?

J'ai eu la chance de passer du statut d’étudiant au doctorat en psychologie à celui de personne qui permet aux praticiens sur le terrain de donner le meilleur d'eux-mêmes à leurs clients. Cela m'a permis de boucler la boucle, de revenir à mes racines en matière de technologie et de gestion, tout en continuant à utiliser les connaissances que j'ai acquises au cours de ma formation clinique.

 

Quels conseils donneriez-vous à quelqu'un qui souhaite entamer une carrière dans votre domaine ?

La curiosité est votre meilleur outil, et si vous abordez les défis avec une réelle ouverture d'esprit pour apprendre quelque chose de nouveau, même si vous ne résolvez pas un problème particulier, vous repartirez avec quelque chose qui vous aidera la prochaine fois.

Vous êtes intéressé(e) à rejoindre l'équipe de Numinus ? Consultez tous nos postes ouverts ICI.

Experience & Collaboration: A Practitioner's Approach To Teaching

Foundational Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Training, Taught By Experts. 

Dr. Steve Thayer is a licensed clinical psychologist and psychotherapist. He started his career in the U.S. Air Force, overseeing a mental health clinic and managing programs for preventing and treating alcohol and drug abuse. Currently, he focuses on helping his clients through psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, teaching counselling courses, and co-hosting a podcast on psychedelic therapy. Steve is facilitating the upcoming cohort of the Fundamentals of Psychedelic Assisted Therapy, and we asked him questions about the course and his teaching approach.

 

What experience do you bring to the Fundamentals of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy course?

As a clinical psychologist specializing in psychedelic-assisted therapy, I have helped thousands of clients navigate their own healing journeys. I have been trained by MAPS in MDMA-assisted therapy, provide ketamine-assisted therapy in my practice, and serve as lead therapist on several psychedelic clinical trials. I also supervise clinicians providing psychedelic-assisted therapy and facilitate psychedelic medicine retreats abroad.

 

What can students learn from you?

Students can expect to learn the essential skills, qualities, and principles necessary to provide effective, compassionate, and ethic psychedelic-assisted therapy. I like to emphasize the importance of clinician self-knowledge, self-development, and self-care as a key component to doing this work well.

 

How do you approach teaching this course?

I take a collaborative approach to teaching. There is so much we can learn from each other! I try to draw out the collective wisdom of each group I teach so that we can elevate and support one another .

 

Why should people take this course?

This course will equip professionals with the foundational knowledge and skills to practice psychedelic-assisted therapy. I have extensive experience teaching, supervising, and mentoring therapists and I am committed to helping the rising generation of practitioners wield psychedelic tools safely, powerfully, and responsibly.

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To learn more about the Fundamentals of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, click here. To listen to Steve on the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers Podcast, visit Spotify, here.

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.

 

Connect with Jon Hopkins on Facebook and Instagram.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Follow Numinus on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

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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 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.’

Episode 31: Dr. Gabor Maté on Trauma, Addiction, and Healing

 

“Addiction is not a disease. It’s an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Gabor Maté, retired physician, author, and world renowned educator. Dr. Maté has more than 20 years experience in family practice and palliative care. He has worked for more than a decade at the Portland Hotel in downtown East Side Vancouver with patients who suffer from mental illness and addiction.

He is a world renowned expert in trauma, addiction, child development, psychedelics, and the relationship between stress and illness. He is the best selling author of four books like When the Body Says No and The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, for which he won the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. And he is currently finishing his fifth book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture due out in April 2022. His works have been translated into more than 25 languages. And he also offers online video courses including Wholehearted’s Healing Trauma and Addictions.

His work now centres around educating the public on the impact of trauma and human development and training therapists in Compassionate Inquiry. Compassionate Inquiry is a therapeutic method developed by Dr. Maté whose focus is on helping the patient to “recognize the unconscious dynamics that run their lives and how to liberate themselves from them.” He also just released The Wisdom of Trauma on June 8th, 2021, a movie about his life’s work.

Dr. Maté and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Dr. Maté on his siteFacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

 

Here is a transcription of their conversation:

Dr. Gabor Maté, welcome to The Numinus podcast.

My pleasure. Thank you.

Thanks for making the time to do this. Really appreciate it.

I’ll start by just asking you, how do you describe your professional identity and your activities?

I’m a retired physician. 32 years in family practice, palliative care, and addiction medicine. I’ve written four books, traveled internationally. My books have been published in close to 30 languages.

Now, these days, I’m a teacher, a speaker, and a writer. I’m writing a new book, a couple of new books. All on the subjects that enthused me or excited me as a physician from trauma, addiction, child development, human potential, stress, health and the relationship of the individual to the communal, familial, and social environment.

So really what I’m looking for is the unity of things and how the unity of everything shows up in health and illness.

I’ve listened to you talk on a number of podcasts, and I think what struck me probably the first time I heard you was just how open and honest you are about your own personal history with trauma. And I’m a little self-conscious that you’ve told your story many times. But if you don’t mind, could you tell us about your background? From what happened to you when you were a child.

Yeah, well, I do get a bit, what can I say, jaded, repeating it.

And also, I have to say that my particular history is a bit misleading only because it’s so dramatic that people, when they think of trauma, they think such things have to happen for us to cause something trauma. Where I think trauma is much more subtle than that.

And Clyde Hertzman, who’s a seminal researcher, who died way too young here in Canada, internationally known researcher into child development, said that it’s not the big things, but the daily misfortunes that affect children that have overall impact.

So with that introduction, my trauma is particularly dramatic because it happened in the last two years of the Second World War. Being born a Jewish infant two months before the German occupation of Hungary. My family then goes through the genocide. My grandparents, aunt taken to Auschwitz. My father taken to forced labor.

My mother and I survived the conditions of the allied bombing of Budapest, the ghettoization of Jews, the deportation of Jews. And I experienced hunger and dysentery and separation from my mother. And all of that within the first 12 months of my life.

All of which is a huge impact on the formulation of my personality and my emotional states and determining many aspects of my behaviour and emotional life later on.

So that’s what I can say in a nutshell. But again, I have to emphasize that you don’t need that drama or that degree of historical tragedy for people to be hurt

I definitely want to get into that. I have a question about that in a bit. You started to talk about how those experiences shaped your development. And my understanding is that those experiences and your research has taught you a lot about how trauma affects children, their development.

I wonder if you can just speak to that. How do children adapt and get through these experiences? How does it affect them as they grow up into adults?

Well, let’s just begin by saying that life affects human development. So whatever happens in life will have an effect on human development and whether those things are good, whether those things are harmful. All that will have an effect because we’re creatures of the environment and we’re born with certain biological needs and psychological needs.

In fact, you can’t separate the two because the emotional needs not being met has direct and definable and defined physiological effect on the brain and on the body, and this begins in utero.

So already stresses on a pregnant woman will have an impact on the physiological stress reactivity of the infant. In fact, a study recently within the last two weeks showed that stress on the mother in pregnancy shows documentable effects on the infant’s stress responsivity up to age forty five. And there are some gender differences in how prenatal stress affects the females and males. So it begins in uterus.

So the more stressed women are, the more inflammation that might be in the child’s body, the more the stress regulation mechanisms of the brain might be disturbed. Metabolism is affected and so on. And then this thing goes on to childhood infancy. And so you have a combination of physical effects.

But also if you look at how the human brain develops, the most important determining influence on the actual development of the brain is the quality of emotional relationships between the child and the parenting environment.

I’ll quote you from an article from Harvard Center on the Developing Child published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2012 that says, “the architecture of the brain is constructed to an ongoing process that begins before birth, continues into adulthood, and establishes either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all the health, learning, and behaviour that follow.” Not some of the health, learning, and behaviour, all of the health, learning and behaviour that follow.

And a second sentence, “the interactions of genes and experiences literally shapes the circuitry of the developing brain and is critically influenced by the mutual responsiveness of adult-child relationships, particularly in the early childhood years.”

So under the circumstances of my own first year when my mother was concerned with sheer survival, grieving the death of a parent, agonized over the absence and unknown fate of her husband. She could not provide me with those playful, relaxed, stress free interactions that I required for my healthy development.

But you don’t need that degree of stress in modern society. A lot of parents are stressed in such a way that they can’t be responsive to their child’s needs. Not because they don’t love the child, but just because they’re too stressed, too depressed. Having looked at their own traumas, too distracted. So that, again, I’m just emphasizing that you don’t need the drama to create the trauma.

Right. I’ve heard you talk about how children adapt to these highly stressful environments. And that adaptability can sometimes be quite remarkable and actually produce some quite incredible skills or sensitivities later in life, obviously comes at a cost.

Can you articulate how that adaptation happens and how some people end up with these sort of exceptional skills in some ways?

Well, so let me quote you again from the same article that I just cited. This is again from Harvard Center on the Developing Child, 2012. “Growing scientific evidence demonstrates that social and physical environments that threaten human development because of scarcity, stress, or instability can lead to short term physiological and psychological adjustments that are necessary for immediate survival and adaptation. But which may come at a significant cost to long term outcomes in learning, behaviour, health, and longevity.”

So they’re saying that the adaptations are necessary in the first place and they help the child endure the immediate stress, but they become a source of problems later on. And that’s largely how I see it.

So it’s not the adaptations that result in these skills, but in working through them later on that result in certain skills. Let’s take an adaptation: tuning out absent-mindedness is an observation, dissociation is an adaptation. When the stress is too much and one can’t change the situation or escape from it, then one dissociates.

Well, that’s not a good thing, but it’s a good thing in the short term because otherwise a child’s brain just couldn’t endure the stress. That same dissociation then results later on in any set of mental health conditions from ADHD where tuning out is the hallmark of it. That’s what I’ve been diagnosed with. Or at the extreme end of the scale, psychosis or dissociative disorders. Now, working them through results in a lot of insight.

Or take an adaptation like–Given my first year of life, I get the message that I’m not wanted, which is certainly the message that the world gave me. Well, then I might work very hard later on to make myself wanted. So that makes me a really good physician. I work hard. I’m available to my clients, more than available day or night. I work hard to ensure that. They do well, all those are good things.

But driving it, to a certain degree, to a significant degree, is this desperation to be wanted and to be validated and to justify my existence. Which the world denied my right to when I was first in this universe.

So that may seem like a good thing. Now being a dedicated physician or whatever professional or pursuit that you have, that’s a good thing. But if it’s driven by an unconscious need, it’s not a good thing.

Now we can learn to work through those things. And I’ve gained a lot of insight and empathy and I daresay compassion through working through my own material. But it wasn’t that the adaptation itself made me compassionate.

It’s true from a very early age on, I was aware of pain in the world, and I was very aware that people have felt pain and were hurt. Who in no way deserved it. And the question, why are people hurting people has always agitated me like this. How could this have happened? What made human beings behave the way they did? And what makes them behave today the way they do? So those experiences certainly can excite those questions in someone’s mind.

As far as sensitivity is concerned, which you mentioned. By and large, I think that’s the one thing that’s genetic here. This is a big mistake that a lot of researchers make. They think people inherit mental diseases. No, they don’t. There’s no gene that codes for any mental illness. There’s no set of genes that code for any mental illness. There’s no set of genes without which you can’t have a mental illness. There are a set of genes which if you have them, you’re more likely to have any number of mental health illnesses, non-specifically.

But with the same genes given good circumstances lead to increased creativity, leadership, spontaneity, aliveness. So what are the genes for? The genes are for sensitivity. And the more sensitive people are, sincere, meaning the Latin word sincere to feel, the more they feel. That means when bad stuff happens, they feel that more and their adaptations become more rigid. At the same time when good things happen, it has a more positive effect on the sensitive person. So sensitivity itself is a neutral quality given the right environment, it’s highly beneficial. Given the negative environment, it leads to more pain and more suffering. But it always makes for a more possibility of insight and empathy.

So you’ve got this film coming out, I believe, at the time we’re recording this, next week. The title of it, The Wisdom of Trauma, speaks to what you just said. This thing about working through, getting insight.

Can you just explain the title? So what is the idea behind the wisdom here?

The wisdom is on two levels. One is the adaptation itself has a certain wisdom in it. So trauma is not what happens to you. Like we often think of trauma as a tsunami or as genocide or as child abuse. Those are traumatic, but they’re not trauma. The trauma comes from the Greek word for wound. So trauma is the wound. But it’s just saying that it’s not what happened to you, it’s what happened inside you.

There’s a wisdom in it. For example, let’s say you have a two year old child and they throw a temper tantrum. And you follow Jordan Peterson’s advice, which is to say that an angry child should be made to sit by themselves. So you give the message that your anger is not acceptable. Now, what will a two year old do if they continually get the message that their anger is not acceptable? What will they do with that anger?

They’ll stuff it down as far as it can go.

Exactly. They will depress it. That’s a wise adaptation. Because to express the anger is to threaten their relationship with the people that they rely on. So there’s a wisdom in that adaptation. So that’s the first wisdom or my tuning out. Believe me, there was a lot of wisdom in my tuning out in my first year of life. I could not have enjoyed life if I hadn’t tuned out a lot, I’m sure. So there’s a wisdom in that. There’s a wisdom in all these manifestations. So that’s the first wisdom of trauma

The second wisdom of trauma is the one we’ve touched upon, which is that when you work it through, you learn so much. I don’t recommend it as a way of learning.

It just so happens that I’m writing about it in a book I’m writing. I’m writing about disease as a teacher. A lot of people even with terminal disease have told me that they wouldn’t switch their disease for non disease because of what they’ve learned. And I don’t recommend that way of learning. I’m just telling you what people have told me. So there’s a lot of wisdom and learning from our traumas. There’s a lot of wisdom in multiple ways.

The wisdom in the adaptations is something that I’ve come to appreciate in some of the more recent trainings I’m getting as a psychotherapist. And it’s this sort of understanding of like sort of de-pathologizing of what clients or patients go through.

And I’ve heard you talk about how we should consider the intelligence or the wisdom in the addiction. That there’s something right about the addiction, even though we tend to focus on everything that’s wrong with it.

Can you talk about the link to addiction here and why this de-pathologizing framing is valuable and important?

Well, it’s a question of whether we want to hold on to a certain model or whether we want to really understand what’s going on. The medical model has addiction as a disease largely inherited, which is genetic nonsense. As I said earlier, there are no genes that code for addiction. Nor are there genes that if you don’t have them, you can’t get addicted.

So while there might be certain sensitivities, which had to do with certain genetic predispositions to do with sensitivities. As I mentioned before, a predisposition is not the same as a predetermination. So to really understand what’s going on in addiction, let’s look at let’s look at what an addiction is.

So I define addiction as–well obviously it’s a complex, psychophysiological process–but it’s manifested in any behaviour that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in and therefore craves. But suffers negative consequences as a result of and has trouble giving up despite the negative consequences. So short term. Relief, pleasure, craving. Long term. Harm, inability to give it up.

So by that definition then we clearly get that addictions could be to substances and they often are from alcohol to cigarettes, to the illicit substances like opiates and stimulants and so on. But they could also be to shopping, to eating, to work, to gambling, to sex, to pornography, to internet gaming, to the internet itself, to extreme sports, and so on, to any number of activities.

And the issue is not the activities so much as the internal relationship to it. If it’s characterized by craving, pleasure, short term relief of some kind. Negative consequences and difficulty giving up, you got an addiction. I don’t care what the activity is. So now, depending on how we’re going to play this game or not, I could ask you according to our definition and without asking you to be specific in any way, have you, yes or no, at any kind of an addictive pattern in your life?

Of course.

If the answer is yes, then without asking you what it was and what to do. Let me just ask you this. What did it do for you in the short term that you liked about?

It’s funny that you’re using the past tense, you’re assuming I’m well-adjusted and addiction free, which is not necessarily the case.

I’m very kind of sensitive to these things, like I watch my behaviour very closely for whatever reason. And I just see tons of things that I wish I wasn’t doing. Probably the easiest one is just like Twitter and how much I reach for my phone. And to answer your question, it’s because it provides a temporary vacation from the noise in my head.

Okay, so you’re looking for some rest, some mental rest.

Yeah, exactly.

So is that in itself a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s a good thing. The need for the rest is a very real and valid thing, as far as I could tell.

Absolutely. In other words, the addiction is not your primary problem. It’s not a disease. It’s an attempt to solve a problem. And in broad terms, addiction is always an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain, however, that emotional pain shows up, for example, mental noise.

So my mantra on addiction is not why the addiction, why the pain? Now, if I look at why the pain, I’d have to really look at your life and my life and everybody’s life. Something happened to create that mental noise. And we live in a culture, of course, that delivers and instigates a lot of mental noise. But again, it still has to do with child development. And that mental noise is not an automatic attribute of a human being.

Rather than seeing the addiction as the primary problem, we can look at the issue of the mental noise as a primary problem and and what maybe can be done to quiet it in ways that don’t have negative consequences.

So addiction all of a sudden goes from the disease model to a response to a human experience model. Which means that treating it needs to take into account human experience and the trauma, the traumatic imprint that human experience carries.

So you’ve got this book that you’ve been working on coming out next year, I believe, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. I have a feeling where we’re getting some little previews from the content of that book.

I just wanted to talk about, you know, that you’ve been quite critical, on record and even in our conversation about mainstream medicine’s approach to trauma and addiction. And then, the title of the book just going so far as to just name the craziness of our own–like the way we live, at least here in the West.

Maybe you can speak to what your main concerns are about the way we think and talk about trauma and addiction and what you’re advocating for and where we should be going with all of this.

So, first of all. Trauma goes way beyond addiction. Actually, what I’m actually saying based on voluminous scientific evidence, let alone human insight, is that most chronic illness, whether physical, so-called or mental so-called, is rooted in trauma.

The British psychologist, Richard Bentall, writes that the evidence relating psychosis, for example, to childhood adversity is stronger or is about as strong, at least as the evidence linking cigarettes and lung cancer or lung disease. So it’s not like we lack the evidence.

That only comes to say mental illness, but all mental illness is a response, in my view, an adaptive response is in some sense–at least to begin that way–to childhood adversity and trauma, as are most chronic illnesses as I show in my book When the Body Says No.

So a Canadian study, men who are sexually abused–I’m trying to remember the study– does they have a 50 percent more chance or double the risk of cancer as adults? Something like that, but certainly elevated risk of cancer. This is regardless of lifestyle factors, by the way, smoking or drinking.

A study out of Harvard, two years ago, women with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe post-traumatic stress disorder doubled the risk of ovarian cancer.

Now, if that was the only study ever done, and it isn’t, and it’s already been shown in animal models, that stress and trauma increased the risk of ovarian cancer. But if that was the only ever study ever done, that should send every physician running to figure out what’s the connection between emotions and malignancies.

This information has been coming in for decades and decades and decades. So whether you’re talking about autoimmune disease or you’re talking about malignancy, that is a huge traumatic imprint every time.

Now Western medicine separates the mind from the body–oh, by the way, the ovarian cancer study, the milder the symptoms of PTSD, the less the likelihood of cancer. Which means that if we help people deal with their traumas, we could potentially prevent malignancy. Now, there are all kinds of physiological reasons for that. The physiological pathways have actually been worked out and none of this is a mystery.

But for all that science, the average medical student never hears this stuff. At least until recently, it’s changing a little bit. The average student does not get a single lecture on trauma. You should get a whole year long course on trauma. They don’t get a single lecture. Except physical trauma, like, you know, broken bones and so on.

So Western medicine separates the mind from the body, the emotions from the physiology, which scientifically is non tenable. In real life, it doesn’t exist. Let me induce any emotion in you and see if he doesn’t have a physiological correlate in your body right away. Whether you’re happy, relaxed or terrified or angry. They all have physiological imprints. They all involve your nervous system, your cardiovascular system, your gut, your immune system, your hormonal apparatus, it’s all one system. Western medicine does not take that unity into account. Either in its understanding of the etiology of illness, the causation of illness and certainly when it comes to the treatment of it.

Number one, Western medicine separates the individual from the environment. So, for example, addiction is seen as an individual problem. It’s not. It’s a multigenerational family problem. It’s also a social problem if you look at today with the hollowing out of the industrial economy in the United States under neoliberalism. The fraying of the social net. You’ve got massive dislocation, massive despair, and you’ve got massive increases in addiction. You can’t separate the individual from the environment.

That ovarian cancer PTSD study. Nobody develops PTSD on their own. That happens in an environment. So that the cancer showing up in the individual female body is a manifestation of a social process. And so that’s not understood.

What’s also not understood by Western medicine is the body’s and the psyche’s own healing capacity. So we’re all about cure, if it’s possible, or symptom suppression in, for example, chronic mental health conditions and chronic autoimmune conditions. All we do is we suppress symptoms. But that the psyche or the Soma, the soul or the body is an innate healing capacity that can be encouraged and invited and supported, that’s not considered in Western medical training or the Western medical ideology.

So those are significant gaps which really limit the–I mean, as amazing as Western medicine can be. And I mean, one is gasps at the miracles that they can perform, but at the same time, it’s so much more limited than it could be. And the miracles are largely in the realm of acute conditions, which are really quite illiterate when it comes to the long term chronic conditions of mind in the body.

Let’s talk for a second about a new development in Western medicine that is getting a lot of attention and has a lot of potential, particularly in the area of trauma and addiction. Something that you’ve been involved with over the last few years. And that’s the psychedelic renaissance.

I understand that you are involved in holding space and doing integration work around ayahuasca ceremonies. Where do you think psychedelics fit into this whole story? And what are your thoughts on how to most skillfully reintegrate these compounds back into our society, given their checkered history?

So, yes, I’ve been involved with ayahuasca work for about 12 years now. Even to the point where at some point I got a warning from Health Canada to cease and desist. Thank you Health Canada. Which is interesting because by the time they sent me that notice, they had already acknowledged that ayahuasca was neither addictive nor harmful. And in fact, they had allowed it for religious purposes, just not for healing purposes. So we could talk about the illogicality of that.

The way you framed the question, Joe, is that this has happened in Western medicine. It hasn’t happened in Western medicine. It has happened largely outside Western medicine. So the renaissance of psychedelic research and interest has not been mainstream by any means.

Precisely because of the failures of Western medicine that I’ve been mentioning, and especially in the mental health field, there’s been real interest in what else is out there. Yeah, we have the resurgence of research, particularly the very detailed and extensive research now on the use of MDMA in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. I mean, if somebody told you five years ago, ‘you know, MDMA could prevent ovarian cancer’, you think they’d be nuts, right? But in fact, this makes perfect sense because if it can help heal PTSD, it can help you heal all kinds of diseases or prevent all kinds of diseases.

So the studies have been with MDMA. Studies with mushrooms now and end of life anxiety. But there’s nothing specific about end of life anxiety. They just allowed studies because those people were dying anyway. But mushrooms, I know, can help anxiety. They can potentially help stimulant addictions. They’ve been studying for that. I’ve seen ayahuasca people go through ayahuasca ceremonies and heal from addictions, from depressions, from anxiety, from compulsions even from severe autoimmune disease.

And none of that is miraculous if you actually get that, you can’t separate the mind from the body, the psyche from the soma, the unconscious emotional dynamics from our physiology. When you get the unity of it all, then you can understand that anything that can powerfully work with the mind, can have powerful impacts on people’s mental states and people’s physiological states. So that’s what’s happening now. Now it’s being documented more and more and again because of the desperation with the failures of the mainstream model.

Having said that, I’m not a psychedelic evangelist. I don’t think they are the answer for a whole lot of reasons. One of them being is that most people will never have access to it. I mean, under the best conditions, I can’t imagine how large numbers of people will be able to be trained enough to pursue these practices or many people who can afford them.

And at the same time, I also think that the sources of these problems are social and economic and political. So that any treatment process only deals with the outcomes, not with sources in a certain sense.

Having said that, given the limitations that we’ve been talking about, psychedelics are a potentially beautiful modality. Sigmund Freud said that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious. Which is true because the dreams really reveal the unconscious, if one knows how to interpret them and integrate one’s interpretation. The problem is dreams are really hard to interpret. Freud I think was terrible interpreting dreams. And some of his interpretations are hair-raisingly arbitrary, I think. But he was certainly looking in the right direction of the how do we get at the unconscious.

Well the psychedelics are a very immediate way of consciously getting at the unconscious, because in the psychedelic experience, people are both conscious and they’re having their unconscious run riot and reveal all its contents. What an amazing modality in the right hands.

You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a long time, it just comes up whenever I hear you speak or I read your stuff and it came up actually right away in our conversation. Your comment that you don’t need drama to have experienced trauma. Is everyone traumatized? Is being born traumatic?

Well birth can be traumatic. And in this society, we actually make sure that a lot of birth is traumatic because of the heavy, unnecessary medical interference with birth. Which would be lifesaving in some cases. But it’s way beyond that right now, and that actually interferes with the natural physiological hormonal processes of birth. So birth need not be traumatic. I mean, unless one says that life is traumatic because, you know, there’s no way to live without being born.

So in writing this new book I looked at, what are basic human needs? And there’s two ways you can hurt people. Now, I can hurt you by never touching you, by never hitting you, by never assaulting you in any way at all. I could hurt you by depriving you from your needs. Not giving enough oxygen to breathe. Not giving enough food or water. I could hurt you like that. I could wound you like that. I could make you sick like that.

Now, we were born with certain needs. And given that our biggest need is that mutually responsive relationship with a nurturing environment, deprived of that, who doesn’t get wounded? And in our society, very few people really get that optimal, nurturing, interactive, responsive environment because their parents are too stressed. Because the community is no longer there to support the parents, as it was throughout our evolution. Because parents are themselves traumatized. Because society creates a lot of strain and puts a lot of burden on people.

So there are very few who are not wounded in this culture. Very few. So if you understand the meaning of the word trauma as coming from wound, then yes, there are very few who are not traumatized to some degree or another. Now, there are, of course, ranges and a whole spectrum of trauma, but hardly anybody escapes it completely.

One thing I learned about you when we met the first time a few weeks ago. I’ll just actually tell the story briefly to kind of give some context. We met at a meeting for the Numinus clinical advisory board that you’re a member on and I work with Numinus.

And I was excited to meet the board. I hadn’t met before. I hadn’t met you. And I was sort of enthusiastic and excited to kind of present to the group that I had that I’m now joining the team. And the facilitator says, ‘so does anyone have any questions for Joe?’ And you sort of looked up and you said, ‘I have a question for Joe.’ I was like, ‘oh, cool. What’s Gabor Maté going to ask me?

You said. ‘Mindfulness, like, what the hell, there’s nothing about trauma in mindfulness. Do you know anything about trauma?’ You just head straight, straight into that. Which I understand very well, why you did. I’d be curious to unpack that a little bit.

But my question here is like you’re tough and you’re critical of, you know, a lot of the sort of systemic and structural things in our society and how medicine operates and all of this kind of stuff. What are you optimistic about? What are you excited about?

Critical is already a formulation. What is a critique? Used properly. What does that word mean?

Like when I say you’re critical, I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. Just that you’re calling out certain flaws or gaps in our understanding of human experience and health and wellness.

I know what you meant, and I need neither find it offensive, nor am I finding anything to defend. But I’m just going to put the word critical into a larger context. A critique is an evaluation.

Yes.

So when I talk about Western medicine, I acknowledge its brilliant achievements. And I say here are its limitations. So I’m not critical. I’m just making a critique. I’m saying, here’s how it is. Here’s what it can do and here’s what can I do and here’s why it cannot do it.

So what am I optimistic about? Life. The possibility of people seeing the truth. I mean, I would not be doing a lot of speaking and writing and advocating if I didn’t think that there was a huge need for people to know the truth, but also a huge capacity which is driving people to know the truth. Not that I have some kind of a special line on the truth, but I do seek and speak the truth to the degree that I’m capable of.

I’m completely optimistic about the human capacity to receive and to grow with reality. And this despite all kinds of social forces against it. In a society that largely denies human reality and not only denies it, it assaults it.

So my optimism has to do with what I believe about human beings. In the diary of Anne Frank, a few months before she was taken Bergen-Belsen to die. She wrote basically that no matter what she says, I believe that people are good at heart. She was one of these really sensitive souls. So in the middle of the greatest crime, arguably, that human beings have ever committed against one another. She said, ‘I believe that people are basically good at heart.

And you believe that?

Oh yeah, I totally believe that. I believe that when the goodness doesn’t show up is because it’s being squelched. Whether you’re talking about Donald Trump or a Hitler of Stalin or to a lesser degree, any number of political leaders from George Bush to Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau. I don’t care. You’re dealing with degrees of suppression of pain, which results in lack of empathy, in the extreme cases, tremendous cruelty, like monstrous creatures like Stalin or Göring or Hitler.

In the chapter, I just finished writing, I report the conversation I had with the grand niece of Hermann Göring, Betina, who herself is a healer. And she’s one of these empaths. Göring was an opiate addict, you know? The Reichsmarschall was an opiate addict and a food addict.

And Bettina talks about a healing experience where being an empath, she entered into the psyche of her great uncle. She said it was monstrous and black. Well, of course it was, he was a highly traumatized man. And I think if he hadn’t been traumatized, he could have been a good man. That’s what I believe about any of them.

So, Gábor, it’s very important to me that you continue doing this work and that you sustain your energies, and I know that this afternoon that involves you getting into the pool for a swim.

So we’re at a time here, and I want to make sure that you have that space for self care. And just, again, super grateful that you’ve taken the time to do this. I really enjoyed our conversation. And please keep doing all the good work and we’ll make sure to promote all this cool stuff coming up, your book and the film and all these online courses that you’re doing.

So thanks again.