14 Oct 2018

In conversation with Mark Haden: Altering the ego

by Psillow

In the second installment of this three-part series, the trailblazing B.C. professor discusses how psilocybin can help conquer addictions

With substance abuse reportedly costing the U.S. and Canadian economies more than $800 billion a year and inflicting untold misery upon millions of people, it’s hardly surprising that so much recent research surrounds the treatment of addictions with psychedelic drugs.

It certainly doesn’t surprise Mark Haden. “Addiction is a problem of the ego,” the executive director of MAPS Canada says over the phone from his office at the University of British Columbia. “People who are drinking themselves to death, for instance, have no recognition that there’s anything wrong. You can’t treat addiction without realization. The rationalizing and justifying behaviour becomes more complex as the addiction develops.”

By taking psychedelics, he continues, “your fundamental sense of self starts to change and becomes disentangled from the ego. Psychedelics shake up the part of the ego that surrounds sense-of-self and belief systems about how the world works.”

The use of psychedelics to treat depression is being bolstered by a host of recent research. A 2015 pilot study at the University of New Mexico, for instance, found that psilocybin was effective enough in treating alcohol dependence to warrant a much larger Phase II trial, which is now underway at New York University.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, used psilocybin to curb nicotine addiction in longtime smokers who had failed to quit many times. The results were striking: After six months, the abstinence rate among study participants was 80 percent, which researchers said is much higher than typical success rates in smoking cessation trials.

Then, this past February, a team of researchers affiliated with institutions such as Boston University and Harvard Medical School reported that illicit opioid users who had experience with psychedelic drugs were at considerably less prone to become dependant on opioids.

Haden, who has worked to treat addictions for more than 30 years, says psychedelics have the potential to transform psychology, psychiatry and social work. “These types of treatment are all somewhat effective, but not very effective. They help people get a little bit better, but no one ever walks into a facility, undergoes treatment, and walks out saying, ‘Thank you, I’m fixed.’ It just never happens.

“Some medications are a little bit helpful, but they’re not dramatic and they tend to be incredibly long-term. The possibility of psychedelics is that they offer some kind of transformative experience that doesn’t require ongoing maintenance — or, at least, requires relatively limited ongoing maintenance.”


Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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