December 7, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In this issue, we feature a MindSite News interview with two experts who are closely following the progress of research on psychedelic therapies for mental health. Although research is still in the early stages for most conditions, the two experts suggest that medicines derived from psychoactive plants may eventually offer safer, more effective alternatives to medicines currently used to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and even Parkinson’s or dementia. 

In a related story, mental health professionals in Oregon have begun training to lead people safely through psychedelic experiences, Plus: How improv builds confidence, the end to Covid-somnia, and more.

Psychoactive plant research has the potential to produce “safer, more effective medications”

MindSite News

Some people in the psychedelics industry became involved in it after a personal experience with the transformative power of hallucinogens. In the case of Dick Simon, that transformational experience belonged to someone else.

“I knew nothing about the psychedelic space, but I got interested when a close friend’s son’s life was essentially saved by psychedelics,” Simon told MindSite News editor Rob Waters. The young man was suicidal and suffering from a host of mental health conditions, with a prognosis “somewhere between totally grim and horrible,” Simon said. After working with a therapist who did work with psychedelics, “he went from someone who had that horrible prognosis to a vibrant human being leading a totally normal life with relationships and work and everything else. I became more curious and started looking at some of the early trials.” 

Simon’s exploration of the research revealed for him the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and he got directly involved, serving as advisory board chair for the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and the CEO of Sensorium Therapeutics, an early-stage company developing psychoactive therapies.

Josh Hardman, who founded Psychedelic Alpha, an independent consulting and analytic firm focused on psychedelic therapies, also has an intriguing back story: At the ago of 20, he came from a rural part of England to UC Berkeley on his year abroad and found himself immersed in the counterculture as he pursued an assignment on the sixties and interviewed people about their experiences. Find out more from Hardman and Simon on the boom in psychedelic medicine and research in this interview.

In Oregon, companies begin training guides to support people on psychedelic trips 

via Twitter

Safety, ethics, and responsibility are at the forefront of new training in Oregon that seeks to lead people safely through a psychedelic trip. Starting In January, it will be legal in Oregon to provide psilocybin to people under the supervision of trained mental health guides. To meet the expected flood of clients, a company called Inner Trek has begun training mental health professionals, healthcare workers and alternative healers in a six-month course on how to guide people through a psychedelic experience with psilocybin, the Seattle Times reported

Fluence, based in Woodstock, New York, has also been approved by Oregon to train psychedelic guides, and a dozen more companies are awaiting certification. The courses cost about $8,000 to $10,000.

Psilocybin, aka magic mushrooms, is not considered addictive and there is little risk of overdose. And while many people have reported positive experiences with psilocybin, others have found the experience disconcerting. To protect people’s safety, the Oregon legislation requires that it be administered at an approved service center by a licensed guide who has received 120 hours of training in facilitation skills, ethics and responsibilities, as well as a 40-hour practicum with hands-on experience. 

After completion of the coursework, participants have to pass a state licensing exam, and can then apply for certification from the Oregon Health Authority. “We are going over…how to do a really thorough screening, how to help a client refine their intention for the journey that they’re going into,”  Jason Foster, an Inner Trek therapist and psychedelic educator, told the Seattle Times. “And giving [clients] the tools and knowledge about what to expect as they go into the journey.”

Looking to boost your confidence? Maybe try improv

via Twitter

Did anyone else see the Call My Agent scene in which the famous actress who decided she wanted to be an improv artist bombed so horribly she ran off the stage in tears? If so, you might be tempted to skip over this story, which finds improv training can boost your confidence. Notice the word “training,” however: Clay Drinko, author of Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling and Embrace Uncertainty, insists that improv exercises not only teach acting partners how to work together, but promote a practice of self-love that is good for your mental health and self-actualization, according to a story on NPR’s Life Kit.

While that’s a big claim, recent research does suggest that improv can offer mental health benefits. A 2020 study in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity says that as little as 20 minutes of improvisational theater exercises a day can increase “divergent thinking” and creativity, reduce social anxiety and improve one’s ability to navigate uncertainty. “Mistakes can really overwhelm us with a sense of shame and embarrassment,” Drinko told NPR. “Was this mistake really the end of the world? Just like in improv and in everyday life, it’s usually not.”

In other news…

More news of the healing power of theater: Licensed creative arts therapist Blair Glaser penned this write up for Yes magazine, describing the ways people engage a technique called psychodrama to work through conflict and psychological pain. “Drama therapy not only heals participants; it can also help the community members who are invited to see the performances,” she wrote.

It’s taken a couple of years, but Americans may finally be getting some sleep since the start of the pandemic. That’s according to a new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says a HealthDay story carried by US News and World Report. This year, only 31 percent of the 2,010 adults surveyed reported COVID-somnia – a 25 percent decrease from last year’s results.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.