Psychedelic Medicine: Will it lead to reform in Australia

By Sam Douglas

Psychedelic Medicine: Will it lead to reform in Australia

 

It seems every day there’s another news story about researchers being given permission to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. Venture capitalists and investors are increasingly aware of the financial potential too as they seek to maximise returns through first mover advantage. Awesome! We’ll have legalised or at least decriminalised psychedelics in no time, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but, no. The medical-psychedelic movement, or I should say, the medical-psychedelic-business movement in Australia may not deliver non-medical legalisation or even decriminalisation.

In the US, medical cannabis undoubtedly helped smooth the way for recreational legalisation in the states where it has occurred. Depending on the state, the list of conditions that would allow a cannabis prescription was quite long, and the process of getting & filling that prescription was achievable for large numbers of people. Medical access has led to recreational access. It should be no surprise that psychedelic decriminalisation has the greatest support in places that have followed this path, such as Colorado (especially Denver) and California.

But medical cannabis in Australia is a very different beast. Here, despite estimates that up to 100,000 people are self-medicating with illicitly sourced product, and that up to 500,000 could benefit, the number of prescriptions written has been quite small (though growing rapidly). The barriers to patient access are so problematic that our Senate is undertaking an inquiry into this very issue.

Nor has it, thus far, led to many changes in the criminalised status of cannabis. The structure of medical cannabis access schemes in Australia seem to be as restrictive as possible. Cynically, I suspect this is so politicians can pose with the families of children suffering from otherwise untreatable epilepsy, but not have to entertain any serious change to the status quo. If, as some people think, cannabis law reform is a precondition for psychedelic law reform, then Australia is a very long way behind other jurisdictions.

Yes, there are some NGOs associated with psychedelic medicine doing great work supporting research and advocating for medical access. But it’s worth noting that some of the highest profile NGOs in this area publicly state that they do not support changing the law, except for medical use. Yes, some proponents may talk openly about medicalisation leading to legalisation. But if you pay attention, this happens a lot less than it used to. And yes, some of these people privately support law reform efforts. But talk is cheap, private conversations doubly so.

When anyone talks up the future of psychedelic medicine, we need to ask them what this future will actually look like, specific to where we are. Will it be like our medical cannabis situation, where the vast bulk of people who could make use of it can’t, where the product is often overpriced and inferior, and that non-medical possession and all cultivation (except in the ACT) is still a criminal offence?

Except it could be more restrictive than that. Even if you could get through all the hoops to access your standardised dose of synthetic medical psychedelic, restricting its use to supervised clinical settings might mean that you never even take the substance outside the building, let alone in an environment of your choosing.

Sure, if scientists are successful in removing the ‘trip’ from the beneficial effects of psychedelics, then it might be less restrictive. You’ll get your prescription and take the expensive patented drug that ‘fixes’ you – gets you back to being a good little worker/consumer who doesn’t make a fuss about why society is such a dumpster-fire of sadness, anger and dysfunction.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I find such scenarios underwhelming.

None of this is to say that these advances are inherently bad, and that the companies, NGOs and researchers pursuing them are not doing something worthwhile. In my experience talking to people interested in psychedelics, it’s clear that there are many people in the community who have a deep need for new approaches to mental health and want to access these therapies legally. As awareness grows, this will only increase. I have enough experience of anxiety and depression in myself and those close to me, that I am fully aware of the limitations of existing treatments and why sufferers are demanding something better.

But businesses will generally only seek to reform laws to the extent that they will profit from such changes. Companies responsible for the manufacture of codeine and fentanyl don’t, as far as I’m aware, lobby to decriminalise the cultivation of opium poppies. Nor is it clear that corporations seeking to profit from medical cannabis are particularly interested in governments letting people grow their own, even for medicinal purposes. If our government gives psychedelic businesses a choice between a highly restrictive regulatory regime or no access at all, we can reliably predict how they will react.

Here is the future we could be heading for in Australia, if we don’t step up:

Those who are sick enough, and can navigate the bureaucratic hurdles, might eventually be able to get into a clinic for psychedelic therapy. The companies who make and supply medical psychedelics to these facilities will make billions of dollars. Researchers who don’t say anything too radical in public will still get their grants. And well-connected NGOs and their political allies will pat each on the back, signalling their virtue by doing photo-ops with carefully selected patients.

You, however, will still face legal consequences and risk your career for growing or picking psilocybin mushrooms. You’ll be treated as a criminal for having some squares of paper that are vastly less likely to kill you than a bottle of spirits or a packet of paracetamol. If you buy a pill, you’ll never be 100% sure of the ingredients or potency. You’ll still run the gauntlet of unreliable sniffer dogs at festivals and train stations and be forced to endure the violation of being unlawfully strip-searched by police if one indicates on you. Every day will be a reminder that your autonomy, religious freedom and cognitive liberty matter less than corporate profit and social conformity.

I don’t know about you, but I want something more than that, for all of us.

If you want to openly use ayahuasca or huachuma because they’re integral to your spirituality or religion. If you want to be able to trip responsibly in a safe place with good friends & family. If you want to dance the night away with a pill that has a precise and appropriate amount of MDMA in it. If you want to see the world differently, and don’t want to beg a doctor for permission to do so. If you’d like our laws about what’s illegal to possess and grow to be informed by actual research on risk and harm, rather than historical prejudice and the moral cowardice of politicians. If you think the war on drugs has failed and want it to end.

If you want any of these things, then you need to understand that the businesses, organisations and researchers around psychedelic medicine are not automatically going to give them to you.

If any changes to how psychedelics are treated under the law are going to happen – or even have a chance of happening – it will be through political and social actions. Break stereotypes. Change the minds of those around you. Write to politicians and respond to parliamentary inquiries. Educate yourself about which political parties will really support change and vote accordingly. Find like-minded people and get organised to do all this and more.

This will be hard. Look at the effort it’s taken to get cannabis law reform this far in Australia. And I’d be lying if I said that this will definitely work – the reality is that sometimes truth and fairness don’t always win.
But we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to try.

In Review: Dr Bruce Damer- A Visionary Approach for Hope and Action in the Era of Climate Shock

Author: Marc Devitt
A Visionary Approach for Hope and Action in the Era of Climate Shock.

A sweltering Saturday afternoon in fire ravaged New South Wales; a modest cloud of witnesses
gently precipitates around the cool inner sanctuary of Rigpa’s ‘Temple on the Park’ in Sydney’s inner
west. Cups of cold water refresh us inside as we take our seats in front of the dais, for the proposed
‘audacious two-part romp’ through the liminal borderlands between materialist reductionism and visionary mysticism.

True To His Word: The heart of the human experience. 

Bruce Damer guided us through his unique technique of endogenous-tripping; a type of non-substance induced visionary journey, replete with colours, creatures and
worlds, embracing cosmic, biological and psychological origin narratives, a theory of almost
everything, and an optimistic prescience for the future of humanity (and all species of Gaia-kind) as
we prepare to launch into the cosmos toward the stars from which we’ve emerged.
Astoundingly,
Bruce managed to weave all of this upon the frame of the psychedelic experience, sharing intimate
recollections gleaned from his close friendship with Terence McKenna, and most impressively kept it
all bolted down onto an empirical, ‘dialled in’ foundation free of any woo-woo. Yet, the edifice
constructed upon that sure scientific foundation on that Saturday afternoon was a complex of
magical and alchemical wonder which evoked and drew out the very heart’s blood of the human
experience. The act left us deeply touched by the dimensionality and sincerity of Damer’s tender
compassion, in active application, to the task of healing human wounded-ness and evoking the
fulfilment of human potential in the face of climate crisis. I’ll try and sum it up in a brief sketch.

Part One: The Geeky Stuff

Part one involved the ‘geeky’ stuff as Bruce unassumingly displayed the rigour of his commitment to
the scientific method and moreover his drive, along with several other esteemed colleagues, to
combine laboratory experiments with experiments in the ‘raw field’ of nature. As such he explained
his work in recent years with UNSW (here in Australia) in the Pilbara and in Port Hedland where the
discovery of geyserite containing fossilised microbial substance and gas bubbles provided evidence
of hot springs on land, 3.48 billion years ago, now being theorised as providing the ‘warm little
ponds’ intuited by Darwin as the possible engines originating all life on Earth. Damer and his
colleague Deamer constructed series of artificial rock pools in the lab that replicated the wet-dry
cycles underpinning their theory and successfully produced the formation of DNA, RNA and other
proteins, without any mechanical interference beyond this natural wet-dry cycling. To the
astonishment of sceptics, they were able to produce the very same on location in the hot springs of
Yellowstone national park (the sceptics had not considered the function of ionic components in the
hot springs which allowed for stable protein formation).
Following our APS event in Sydney, Bruce flew to New Zealand to continue working with scientists there, at the renowned hot springs of Rotorua, where he continues to firm up the evidence backing this remarkable biogenesis theory. Bruce drew a delightful analogy between the dynamics of these hot spring rock pools and feeding
punch card programmes (polymers) into an Altair 8800 microcomputer (warm little cycling pools) to
convey how protocells (programs) would either pop their cell walls (crash) or else remain stable
(run) in order to be selected to be run again through the next cycle of growth. Bruce showed how
this understanding of the role of hot springs in biogenesis can be used to direct the search for
evidence of life on Mars and how he is currently working with the Japanese space agency to do just
that.
We then considered the origin story of the human species in particular: Bruce’s description of an
endo-trip in which he gained greater insight into the development of the visual cortex in prosimians.
This, he proposed, was a result of altered states of consciousness, gained by the more daring of the
species, who went out on a (tree) limb to get ‘lifted’ on tree sap, thus gaining visual acuity enabling
them to see through the mesmerising patterns of tree snakes which would have otherwise left them
transfixed and helpless prey. We’ve now evolved the ability to both recognise and create complex
hypnotising patterns; thus we can use this ability to create technological ‘snakes’ that can in turn be
used to wound or to heal, to either manipulate human weaknesses, transfix and exploit, or to
enhance human vision, break beguilement and help us to heal. Bruce contrasted the role of
manipulative media transfixing us to disempowering states of consciousness, that leave us open to
exploitation, with the very different liberating and empowering work of ‘trans-tech’ at Esalen
Institute, using techno-bio-logical interfacing to help us return to a state of communal synchronicity.
From the latter state of consciousness we can recognise dis-functional patterning and clear it out in
a group setting, to free up enormous amounts of energy for new creative and healthy endeavours.
Bruce called this ‘healing the inner kindergarden’ and pointed out that what so much of these
findings highlight is that the origin of life is in common community and not in separative
competition. He linked in Ram Dass’ philosophical point of contention with what he’d called the
myth of separateness and suggested that this scientific investigation could be for biologists in the
2020s what relativity was for physicists in the 1920s.

Part Two: Cosmological Exploration

Part two launched us into ontological and cosmological exploration, all the while grounded within
the appreciation of the rock pool dynamics as comparable computers processing randomly
generated polymer programmes and testing them to see if they boom or bust. Bruce proposed a
new Copernican cosmic centre – once again inspired by an endo-trip in which he was spurred to
consider the dynamics of these rock pools. It’s a triangular cycle which he calls ‘the progenote’
(pictured below):
In brief it shows how there is a kind of ‘Engine of Emergence’ at the heart of cosmos, which is conscious, recollective, interactive and actively shaping probability. Bruce proposes that it is this ‘field’ of consciousness which our limited primate brain samples and that this explains many of the other-worldly ecstatic and epiphanic perceptions of the psychedelic experience. ‘Life opens pathways to impossible events’ he asserted, relating several instances in which he had successfully interacted with this kind of triune engine of responsiveness and suggesting ways in which we might learn to do so with greater dexterity – including but not limited to the use of psychedelic substances.

In the end: “The trip is always made within” – Bruce Damer

Bruce concluded the talk by applying all of these findings to the current climate crisis and noted the urgency for climate change mitigation strategies, noting that whilst emissions reduction is surely a must, we are already inevitably going to experience some possibly cataclysmic shifts, even if the harm reduction is effective and we spare ourselves the worst case scenario. If we are able to preserve biological diversity here on Earth first, we can look toward navigating the stars and preserving Gaia’s greatest experiment beyond the inevitable ‘Venus terminator’ event 100 millennia from now, in which Earth will follow a similar fate to her sister planet on the inner orbital ring. Designs for spacecraft capable of harvesting asteroids were floated as a possible way for us to obtain the resources needed to launch into space and explore life on other planets. Such confidence was refreshing in what is so often a prevalent climate of almost apocalyptic gloom and frustration, nevertheless stressed along with the optimistic confidence was the urgency of a call to action.

Bruce encouraged optimistic and holistic effort (to which the efficient use of psychedelic tools of various sorts are undoubtedly a helpful supplement, if not an essential contingent!) in the war on stupefied inertia and stunned apathy which inevitably results from a vision too dull to recognise the predator behind the patented patterns of profit driven predators in the digital marketplace. Damer has certainly evoked from within us a confidence that, in such a struggle, the marriage of endo and exo tripping, of psychedelics and science, offers a greater probability of victory and an earnest reminder that, whatever cosmic journeys we may yet embark upon: ‘the trip is always made within’. 

To find out more about The Australian Psychcedelic Society and the events we hold, visit us at our website, facebook and sign up to our newsletter to be made aware of events near you. 

APS @ The Rainbow Serpent Festival

The Australian Psychedelic Society attended the
Rainbow Serpent Festival

This January the APS crew have been having a good ole time at the Rainbow Serpent Festival.

This year we hosted a panel discussion alongside PRISM: Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine and Mind Medicine Australia.
We also hosted a stall where we collected thousands of signatures for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia campaign for pill testing #BeHeardNotHarmed.
We can’t wait for the next one!