On Tuesday, March 8th, 2022, I had the pleasure of attending the “Women in Psychedelics Panel” hosted by the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Psychedelics Society. This society is a student-led, non-profit organization that aims at reducing the stigmatization of psychedelic use by providing education and resources to the general psychedelically-inclined population.
While the state of our current society has largely condemned psychedelics (likely due to the overwhelming history of stigmatization surrounding these psychoactive drugs), this society breaks barriers by providing events and resources that are research-driven and harm reduction-centred. For instance, their social media platforms contain education on research-based information and practices of set and setting for psychedelic use and how to be a good trip sitter. There is also promotion of various events such as seminars with professionals and experts in the psychedelic field and events that provide a safe space for individuals who want to use psychedelics, such as their popular micro-dosing paint night*.
In honour of International Women’s Day, the UBC Psychedelics Society hosted a panel spot-lighting four women in science to discuss psychedelics, mental health, and psychedelic-assisted therapy. The first panellist was Dr. Elena Argento, a Postdoctoral Fellow at UBC and a Researcher at Numinus, a psychedelic medicine clinic. Dr. Argento had the chance to introduce some of her recent work involving psychedelics in marginalized populations, primarily sex workers, which identify the use of psychedelics as a protective measure of suicidality and future willingness to undergo treatment. The second panellist was Dr. Devon Christie, the Medical Director at Numinus and a psychedelic-assisted Therapist. Dr. Christie provides a unique perspective, describing her experiences with mental health treatments and her journey toward psychedelic-assisted therapies, including an ayahuasca retreat with Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Christie’s focus is primarily on mindfulness, trauma-informed practices, and education with the goal of reducing stigmatization through considerable and effective knowledge translation. The third panellist, Ph.D. Candidate Michelle St. Pierre of the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use Lab describes her developed research career identifying psychedelics reducing partner violence and arrests in a forensic population which has now since been expanded to the general population. Lastly, Rachel Dunn, a Research Coordinator for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Eating Disorders (MED1) project, discussed how she, an undergraduate student at UBC, acquired this role. While Rachel could not provide extensive details of the project due to the confidentiality agreement with the study, she did offer an excellent foundation for other undergraduates who are similarly interested in psychedelic research.
While the panellists had an opportunity to discuss their ideologies around psychedelics within research and therapy, a few significant themes came up across conversations. Most notably, the need for knowledge translation, harm reduction strategies, and accessibility. It is important to note that many of the viewers and panellists reside in Vancouver, which provided an ongoing conversation regarding the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES). The DTES is one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods known for its complex social settings of high levels of homelessness, drug use, and sex work. One memorable conversation around psychedelic use in the DTES was that psychedelic-assisted therapy could be highly beneficial within this context, for it to be successful, we need to look beyond the treatment itself. This includes addressing systemic issues surrounding accessibility to these services, legalization, and community support systems following treatment. A key message throughout the panel discussion was the need to implement harm reduction models and increase knowledge translation to address these significant roadblocks to effective and efficient psychedelic use.
Throughout the panel discussions, it was clear the energy of the audience and panellists together was one driven by the prospective hopefulness for the future of psychedelics. While it seems we are moving in the right direction for this future, Dr. Christie addressed that while we would all love to hit the ground running with psychedelics, it is essential to take the necessary time with the research and therapeutics. This rigorous yet meticulous approach will be the ultimate gamechanger for the field. In conclusion, this event was an excellent introduction to some of the psychedelic research and therapeutics experts while providing information about the current state and the hopeful future of psychedelics.
Blog by Tanisse Teale