14 Oct 2018

In conversation with Mark Haden: A Series

by Psillow

Trailblazing B.C. professor offers a fascinating introduction to the burgeoning field of psychedelic psychotherapy

It’s an exciting time for MAPS Canada executive director Mark Haden. The Canadian arm of the organization he leads — the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — is in the midst of conducting clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, while its U.S. branch is doing the same with LSD.

Through these trials, Haden says, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder will become legal in both Canada and the United States in about four years’ time. The same goes for psilocybin, the adjunct professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health adds, which will become legal to treat end-of-life anxiety.

“There are so many costs associated with continuing prohibition,” he says. “State budgets are being drained by the prison industry; they can’t build schools or roads. There are cultural forces moving us away from the war on drugs. The experience of legalizing cannabis in the States has been largely positive.

“As the clinical trials run their course, we are actually healing veterans. Many of these heroes of our society are actually quite unwell when they come back, and when something helps them it gains a huge amount of public support. Many factors are coming together, and in time will lead to the legalization of psychedelics.”

“There’s also a “wild card” that could speed the process of legalization,” Haden adds, “and that’s fentanyl. Cannabis is being legalized due to popular support and the fact that it is seen as medicine. Psychedelics are being legalized through Stage I, II and III clinical trials. But I believe heroin and fentanyl, the opiates, will be legalized because too many people are dying. The psychedelics could get swept into that and then everything will become legal.”

If the growing medical acceptance of psychedelics comes as a surprise, therein lies the first lesson Haden offers to anyone starting to explore these burgeoning psychotherapies: that the international resurgence of interest in psychedelic science, medicine, spirituality, and other related experiences is the furthest thing from some kind of therapeutic Wild West. “I want to be precise about what I’m saying here. I’m not talking about taking a psychedelic and eight hours later you’re healed. I’m talking about being set up for the experience skillfully by a therapist, having the experience, debriefing it intensely over a period of time, and then having more experiences. I’m not talking about one day, I’m talking about an intense three-month experience dealing with issues like depression and addiction. With this approach, there is the possibility of lasting change.”

Indeed, as he cautions in his 2016 paper, A Public-Health-Based Vision for the Management and Regulation of Psychedelics, minimizing the potential harms and maximizing the benefits of substances that include LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, ayahuasca, peyote and mescaline “necessitates a thoughtful public health approach guided by both experiential and research evidence and anthropological insights.”

Those benefits, he adds, are simply too compelling to delay or repress. “My girlfriend is a psychiatrist who had no professional experience with psychedelics before we met. Now, she believes they will transform her profession.”

How? By unlocking the unconscious mind more effectively than anything else in the field of medicine. “The unconscious mind becomes problematic when something is causing repetitive negative emotional or behavioural patterns,” Haden explains. “Psychedelics can be helpful in accessing unconscious material. They decrease variability between the conscious and unconscious mind, and within the context of psychotherapy this allows us to make changes.”

Once the seriousness and rigour of the topic are firmly established over the phone from his Vancouver office, Haden goes on to provide a fascinating introduction to the principal benefits of psychedelic psychotherapy, all of which are explored in a three-part series, coming up over the next three weeks.

Check back each week to read the next part in the series and let us know what you think!


Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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