By Simon Gerard
Thanks to a few friends, I found out about a dinner fundraiser in Vancouver to support mental health research. Around 50 people came together to hear medical doctors, addiction specialists, and advocates speak, and connect with like-minded people from Vancouver, the United States, and abroad.
Unlike most mental health fundraisers, this one centred around psychedelics for therapeutic and medical use.
While LSD showed strong initial results in the 1950s and 60s in treating mental health conditions such as alcoholism, the “war on drugs” of the 1970’s eventually killed all psychedelic research.
The last decade saw a growing wave of interest in psychedelics, with the topic becoming much more public in the last few years. Still, doctors, researchers, patients, and supporters face the stigma and illegality of psychedelics. At the event, $10,000 was raised in support of their work. For me or anyone else who’s benefited from psychedelics, we’re extremely grateful for the speakers who shared their work publicly despite the social and professional pressure against it.
Vancouver has seen increasing support for psychedelics, with the opiate crisis as a major factor. Trevor Millar, the owner of Liberty Root Therapy, spoke about how the plant medicine ibogaine was used to treat opiate addiction with remarkable results. He was joined by Adrianne Robson, who spoke of her journey recovering from addiction to opiates and being suicidal. Thanks to the help of psilocybin mushrooms and ibogaine (iboga root) from Liberty Root Therapy, she now leads an addiction-free life and advocates for psychedelic medicine. I highly recommend the documentary Dosed, which documents Adrianne’s journey and how Liberty Root Therapy helped.
“This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vancouver decides to decriminalize psilocybin, following in the footsteps of Oakland and Denver,” said event organizer and psychedelic advocate Mia Cosco.
“Several brilliant and passionate researchers who have been putting their reputations on the line to advocate for these medicines are ushering in a new dawn.”
Speakers Dr. Pamela Kryskow and Dr. Devon Alexandra Christie are Vancouver-based medical doctors, researchers, and collaborators. Dr. Kryskow shared her start in criminology and social justice, and how she was a city and forestry firefighter for many years. She moved onto medicine, and helped First Nations communities, which led her to work in chronic pain. There, she met Dr. Christie, whose latest project is a microdose study through an app you can find at microdose.me. If you microdose or know someone who does, they would appreciate your input.
Dr. Kryskow said, “You can do the physical therapies and we can do the coaching and…the counselling and we can cheer them on, and you know we get great successes. There’s always a group that just [doesn’t] quite get there…If only I could get this person ketamine. If only somebody could sit with this person with psilocybin or MDMA. I know that they would at least take one step up.”
Dr. Christie is a chronic pain doctor, therapist, and is trained to deliver MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in a research setting. She talked about the need for more psychedelic research, citing that only 7.2% of Canada’s national health budget goes to mental health, which is the lowest of all G7 countries. Over half of Canadians consider anxiety and depression as an epidemic and 6.7 million Canadians suffer from mental illness.
She also spoke on the connection between physical pain and psychological trauma. “We’re on the cusp of a real paradigm shift as more and more research is being published,” said Dr. Christie. “Ivy League institutions… [are] falling behind if you’re not opening a department that is studying psychedelics.”
The health of our environment is also critical. Speaker Zack Embree is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. He’s best known for covering humanitarian and environmental issues, most notably through his documentary Directly Affected, which looked at the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and Canada’s relationship with the oil industry.
Now also an advocate for psychedelics, he spoke about the connection between our collective mental health and the health of the environment, and how they can benefit or hinder each other.
Speaker Mark Haden is the Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Canada and an adjunct professor at the UBC School of Public and Population Health. He has worked in drug education, drug policy, and addiction services for over 30 years. After seeing the potential of psychedelics, he took the risk to focus on it exclusively. After what started as a huge uphill battle with plenty of expected push back, his hard work has led to clinical trials on psychedelics moving forward, and a growing positive perception with the public and governmental organizations.
Speaking of his journey leading teams of addiction counsellors for most of his career to shifting to psychedelics, he said, “Vancouver Coastal Health told me to stop talking about psychedelics and this was quite a few years ago… so I quit and I started MAPS Canada and to be fair to them, they subsequently invited me back to talk to them about psychedelics which I am very pleased to do.”
He said that the legalization of MDMA for the treatment of PTSD is on track to be legalized in Canada by 2022. He also shared an amazing story of how, after giving a speech, he was approached by an audience member. This extremely generous man had family suffering from eating disorders and wanted to see if psychedelics could help. The man went on to fund the trials to investigate this, which costs millions. Thanks to his donation, MAPS has sites in Vancouver, Toronto, and Denver currently conducting trials. In the years to come, we may see new and effective treatments for eating disorders.
With most of the public seeing psychedelics as an illegal drug and not as a beneficial tool for mental health, government support is limited and most funding comes from donations. The research being done is credited to the people I mentioned above, and others who have contributed financially.