After a year away thanks to you-know-what, Ar Events came back with a bang last week! And it looks like they have been missed, as more than 1000 people registered for this deep-dive into the role of psychedelics as a treatment for several mental disorders.
For the first time, this Ar Event was available solely online, but that didn’t stop viewers from interacting on all of the available platforms - Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube - with more than 200 questions shared with our panel of experts. According to Dr. Bill Richards (who you’ll get to know later!), we are “Moving into new terrain… and we welcome you to join us!”
The Event kicked-off with one of our hosts, Tatiana Silva (PhD student at the Champalimaud Research Carey Lab) asking a question of the audience: ‘If you were diagnosed with a mental health disorder, would you consider being treated with psychedelics?’ With a surprise up her sleeve, she asked exactly the same question towards the end of the Event, to gauge whether people’s answer to this question had changed during the Event - you’ll have to watch to find out the results!
Co-host Tiago Quendera (PhD student at the Champalimaud Research Mainen Lab) then gave a potted history of psychedelics, particularly with regard to their use in Western medicine, which basically began in the 1930s, but really gathered speed until the 1960s. One of the reasons that research into psychedelics fell out of favour during this period was due to the use of experimental techniques that could be described at best as dubious, but recent interest is trying to change this, in a safe and regulated manner.
At around the 30 minute mark, Carolina Seybert (Clinical Psychologist and Researcher at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) Neuropsychiatry Unit) presented plans underway for clinical trials that will look at the use of psilocybin as a possible treatment for depression, right here at the CCU. This trial will involve patients with depression receiving carefully measured doses of the psychedelic in a comfortable, safe setting, at the same time receiving psychological support from a therapist.
Speaking from the Center for Psychedelics and Consciousness Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the evening’s special guest, Dr. Bill Richards, joined us 45 minutes in. An engaging speaker, Bill began by recalling his own use of psychedelics as a student involved in a clinical trial back in the ‘60s: an experience he feels that he has spent the rest of his life trying to understand. Over the next half an hour, the audience was taken on a journey that evoked Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Jungian collective unconsciousness, mysticism, spirituality and much more. But there’s also hard evidence behind the use of psychedelics to treat a range of mental conditions. According to Dr. Richards, patients have reported that just one session can: ‘Leave behind a sense of awe and gratitude, change your view of who you are; Your self-worth improves and you feel connected to the world - reborn and empowered, with a greater appreciation for beauty and nature.’
The final session of the evening saw Zach Mainen (Principal Investigator of the Champalimaud Research Systems Neuroscience Lab) and Albino Oliveira-Maia (Psychiatrist and Group Leader at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown Neuropsychiatry Unit) join the hosts and speakers for a Q&A.
The questions from the viewers covered a wide range of topics:
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of using psychedelics, compared to more conventional methods?
- What are the next big questions to be answered in the field of psychedelic research?
- In the clinic, how can we deal with negative ‘trips’, could even these be made into something positive?
- How can we learn from the past so that we make sure that this type of research can continue safely and legally?
- How far away are psychedelics from clinical use?
And, as a slight indulgence from our very own Albino Oliveira-Maia (although similar questions were sent from the audience!), he asked Bill Richards a question that had been causing some doubts: How to reassure those who are afraid that, by using psychedelics, they may come out the other side a different person? Bill’s answer was pragmatic and enigmatic in equal measure: “If the psychedelic is taken in a legal situation, with the correct setting, dosage, guidance etc., you’ll come out the other end a more complete version of yourself. Something very meaningful occurs.”
We are looking forward to the next Ar Event that is already gaining shape as we speak! In the meantime, the video of this event is available on the Champalimaud Research YouTube page here.
And if you’d like to read more about the clinical use of psychedelics, you may be interested in the following material:
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan (2018)
- Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards (2015)
- The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk (2014)
- LSD My Problem Child: Reflections on Sacred Drugs, Mysticism and Science, by Albert Hofmann (2009)