High Country: The Aspen Brain Institute examines the promising future of psychedelic-assisted therapy | AspenTimes.com

High Country: The Aspen Brain Institute examines the promising future of psychedelic-assisted therapy

Plus, how monumental progress for drug decriminalization was made on Election Day.

Katie Shapiro
High Country


Aspen Brain Institute’s digital programming continues with a five-part cooking series hosted by Annie Fenn M.D. Each session will feature a guest chef demo and commentary from brain health scientists with recipes provided prior to each session for registrants to cook along.

Nov. 10: Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety: Mood-Boosting Holiday Cooking

Nov. 17: Brain Food: The Science of Eating for Cognitive Power

Dec. 1: Prevention is on the Menu: Recipes to Reduce Dementia Risk

Dec. 8: Food as Medicine: A Plant- Based Approach to Preventing Chronic Illness

Dec. 15: This is Your Brain on Food: Surprising Ingredients to Optimize Mental Health

Behind Donald Trump, the second biggest loser in the 2020 general election was the war on drugs. While cannabis celebrated a clean sweep in all five states where marijuana reform was on the ballot (Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota), psychedelics made monumental progress.

In Washington, D.C., voters approved the decriminalization of “entheogenic plants and fungi” through Initiative 81 and in Oregon, Measure 109 became the first-of- its-kind ballot initiative to pass that will legalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. Additionally, Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 110 — which decriminalizes personal possession of all drugs (i.e. heroin, methamphetamine, LSD and MDMA) and calls for the establishment of a drug addiction treatment program funded by its marijuana tax revenue.

“Republicans and Democrats across the country voted with unity and clarity to remove criminal penalties for drug use and expand legal systems for safe access,” Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) director of policy and advocacy Natalie Ginsberg said in a statement. “Inspired by science, Oregonians also voted to create the first legal access to supervised psilocybin experiences independent of the FDA drug approval process. Washington, D.C.’s landslide vote to decriminalize psychedelic plants sends a powerful message to the rest of the nation, including to our elected officials on Capitol Hill, that connecting to ancestral traditions and facilitating healing, joy or spirituality through psychedelics should never end in incarceration.”

However, the FDA is exactly what continues to hold the movement forward for psychedelic research and legalization in limbo. The Aspen Brain Institute’s Expert Series culminated Oct. 27 with the session “A Survey of the Healing Potential of Psychedelics,” featuring Dr. Rachel Yehuda. and moderated by Aspen Brain Institute board member Emily Gold Mears.

During the discussion (which is available to watch in full on the Aspen Brain Institute’s website), Yehuda dove into her pivot over the past year, when she joined a growing group of researchers around the world who are examining the potential therapeutic effects of psychedelics in mental health for conditions like PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“I’m excited about the potential for psychedelics not only because so many of our patients stand to benefit from them, but because the very adoption stands to revolutionize how mental health is conceptualized and delivered,” Yehuda shared. “And I think we need a revolution in mental health care.”

Yehuda — the director of the Center for the Study of Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma, vice chair of Veterans Affairs for the Psychiatry Department and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the director of mental health at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center — referenced a renowned Czech psychiatrist’s common comparison and explained: “When used responsibly, (psychedelics) can be to the field of psychiatry what the microscope is for biology or the telescope is for astronomy. And I think that’s a really good description because in the altered state produced by psychedelics, people can see things that perhaps they would not otherwise see. And once those things are seen, it isn’t necessary to keep taking the psychedelic.”

Although psilocybin is advancing on a city and state level (Ann Arbor, Denver, Oakland and Santa Cruz have similarly decriminalized possession of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics), the greatest research achievements so far are clinical trials specific to the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy
for PTSD, a condition that has been notoriously difficult to treat.

MAPS announced in August that it raised $30 million in donations — including several notable business leaders outside the drug policy realm like Dr. Bronner’s, Toms Shoes and GoDaddy — which will enable the nonprofit research organization to complete a study on using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I think that it is very important to do clinical trials and try to reach people who have given up hope in terms of therapy,” Yehuda concluded. “For me right now, it’s about science. We have to keep going (and) we’re just at the beginning of this. Getting the green light from the FDA to approve these medicines so that we can really be able to understand how to use them is a very, very, very important first milestone.”

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.

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