Psychedelic-assisted therapy might just be the evolution of medicine. Here are some highlights from this year’s Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Global Summit.
The Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Global Summit, held virtually from October 11-17, 2022, featured a range of experts, from internationally known doctors to grassroots practitioners working in the field of psychedelics. Over this seven-day period, they offered their expertise about the promise of psychedelics in treating chronic illness, trauma, and other long-term afflictions, and discussed the potential of using psychedelics to expand one's consciousness.
Psychedelics: The Key to Unlocking Trauma
In her talk "Waking Up to the Wisdom Within: The Benefits of Including Somatic Practices in Psychedelic Medicine," Chen Lizra spoke of how trauma gets locked in the body because a life-changing event could not integrate back into the nervous system. "We shut down that area to protect ourselves, as we can’t integrate the emotions. We notice this when something isn’t working well in our lives.”
Bessel van der Kolk, MD, author of the now-classic book The Body Keeps the Score, has been at the forefront in exploring and researching somatic responses to trauma for those for whom traditional talk therapy is not effective. He spoke to the value of psychedelics as a tool in this process, speaking with a particular focus on how psychedelics can assist those suffering from PTSD.
With psychedelics, ego defenses can drop and thus allow access to the subconscious mind. In Lizra's work, she finds that developing a robust emotional somatic foundation allows people to drop into the body and deal with discomfort; she believes that this process is key to helping folks have a positive psychedelic experience. The somatic practices that people find helpful in healing from trauma and preparing for a psychedelic experience include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, emotional isometrics, and brainspotting.
Psychedelics as Medicine
As an integrative medicine expert, Andrew Weil, MD pointed to how integrative medicine does not rely on a magic bullet, but instead addresses all aspects of a patient's lifestyle that contribute to their wellbeing. He adds that the psychedelic experience is a product not just of the drug but of the participant's physical setting, as well. The creation of a setting that can maximize positive expectations of the substance requires well-trained guides, care, and thought.
During his talk, Weil spoke to the potential of psychedelics as a promising treatment for addiction, as well as the potential of psychedelics to help with aspects of chronic illness. As he noted, "in particular, psilocybin appears to have capabilities to shift a person's relationship to suffering and sorrow. It can induce profound states of serenity, acceptance, and equanimity in the face of uncertainty, change, and death."
Psychedelics for Spiritual Exploration and Personal Growth
Deepak Chopra, MD remarked on how psychedelic-assisted therapy aims to bring us back to a state of homeostasis and self-regulation that goes beyond the ego identity we have created. He describes ego identity as "a very constructed identity that depends on many things, such as culture, economics, and religion." We often mistake ego identity for who we truly are.
But behind the conditioned mind is a field of infinite possibilities referred to as pure consciousness that is considered divine in many wisdom traditions. In his estimation, "psychedelic-assisted therapy can lead to freedom from suffering and social constructs, thus allowing access to infinite possibility and creativity."
Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, explored how psilocybin may help bring together science and the sacred through experiments like the 1962 Good Friday Experiment. In this test, theology students from all faiths were given two high doses of psilocybin at Boston University's Marsh Chapel. They were then asked to describe their experience to see how psilocybin enhances their religious experiences.
In a similar vein, in the documentary Descending the Mountain, psychiatrist Franz Vollenweider and Zen master Vanja Palmers guided experienced meditators—who have never used psychedelics before—through a ground-breaking scientific experiment on Switzerland’s majestic Mount Rigi.
Ethical Guidelines for Psychedelics
Author, psychedelic facilitator, and podcaster Alexander Beiner discussed the need for a set of ethical guidelines to be established for those who wish to administer psychedelics. He pointed to the North Star Pledge as an example of a group working to create ethical guidelines for those who wish to enter the psychedelics space as facilitators.
Also, he notes the danger of psychedelics becoming overly medicalized. "This can shut out other parts of access, and we lose the culturally transformative potential of psychedelics."
This concern was also expressed by the majority of other speakers, who expressed the need to honor and uphold the Indigenous cultures who have used these medicines ceremonially for centuries.
For example, Diana Quinn, ND, Training Director at The Alma Institute psilocybin facilitator training and mentorship program in Portland, Oregon, stated how studies to date have involved predominantly white male subjects. "We need to pay attention to who is not represented and not part of the conversation." In her estimation, a healing community-based approach brings people of all different creeds together.
Moving Forward with Psychedelics
At present, only Oregon and Colorado have legalized psilocybin for use in specific therapeutic settings. Select others states and cities are making progress towards decriminalizing psilocybin. A key challenge moving forward is the need to get these drugs out of the designation given by the DEA for any substance deemed to be harmful with no medicinal value. (The exception is ketamine, which is Schedule III and can be administered legally in select settings.)
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