The Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave
Could Psychedelics Become A Crucial Part Of Our Education?
Kenneth Tupper, drug education expert and co-director of the BC Centre on Substance Use, talks to us about his interest in ayahuasca and the potential of psychedelics to expand our cognitive capabilities. Kenneth discusses society’s resistance to psychedelic knowledge, and what we can do to revolutionize concepts of evidence-based medicine and objectivity.
- Kenneth is a researcher and education expert interested in the use of psychedelics as cognitive and educational tools
- Ayahuasca is Kenneth’s major interest, and is studying its use in the treatment of eating disorders
- Kenneth sees psychedelics prompting a revolution in modern science – as the telescope revolutionized our understanding of the world in the middle ages
It was Aldous Huxley’s final novel, Island, that first inspired Kenneth to enter the world of psychedelics. While studying for a degree in education at the Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, Kenneth wrote a thesis on the topic of entheogens as cognitive tools. His interest led to a fellowship to visit Brazil – allowing him to drink ayahuasca for the first time with the Santo Daime church.
His experience with ayahuasca convinced him to study for a PhD on the use of entheogens in education. Despite being cautioned against following this path by colleagues, he was able to publish his work in education journals (despite intense controversy among his reviewers).
Kenneth believes that psychedelics are able to catalyze mystical experiences that many people could benefit from. It’s a kind of experiential education, says Kenneth – allowing people to connect to their spirituality, and helping us see the world from a new perspective. Just like how experiential education programs like Outward Bound have helped young people grow and develop, he believes that psychedelic experiences can produce openness and a connection to nature.
Of course, giving psychedelics to young people is a controversial concept. Kenneth also suggests the benefit of allowing teachers to undertake psychedelic experiences – opening them up to different forms of learning and teaching.
After fourteen years of working for the British Columbia Ministry of Health, Kenneth is now a co-director for the BC Centre on Substance Use. There, Kenneth oversees the planning for research on MDMA and psilocybin for various conditions. Research into ayahuasca is more difficult at the moment, as Health Canada views it with some suspicion.
Currently, Kenneth is a co-investigator on a qualitative research study on the use of ayahuasca in people with eating disorders. His team’s initial findings suggest that ayahuasca can offer an insight into the condition – he describes one woman who “had a vision of two female figures – one skeletal, wraith-like, decaying; and one a full-figured goddess. She knew which one she wanted to be.” Kenneth hopes that his research into ayahuasca will be able to expand in future.
Finally, Kenneth talks about the revolution in thinking that psychedelics could introduce to society. He believes that the notion of objectivity in science (which is a fairly recent trend) will be challenged by the experiences that psychedelics provide. The authorities of today, just like the church fathers reacting to initiatives of early modern science, think they know everything and don’t want to accept new tools. Psychedelics can be the new telescope – changing everything we think we know about how the world works.
0:00:29 Paul Austin: Hello, listeners. And to the first-time listeners, my name is Paul and I’m the host of this Third Wave Podcast. For all of you who have been with us even for just one previous episode or all these episodes, of course, I welcome you back as well to The Third Wave Podcast where we talk about how we can change the cultural conversation around psychedelic substances. So things will be business as usual for the podcast. We’re going to start with This Week In Psychedelics and then I’ll get into the guest that we have on the show. It’s a dear friend of mine, someone who I met a few months ago and who I just see eye-to-eye on with so many different things, some of which we spoke about in this podcast.
0:01:06 PA: So first of all, for This Week in Psychedelics, a few announcements. Number one, Oregon decriminalizes… I shouldn’t say that, they defelonize. Oregon defelonizes cocaine, meth, heroin and more. A new law reduces possession of illegal drugs to misdemeanors rather than felonies as long as the person in possession does not have prior drug convictions. Although this isn’t directly related to psychedelic use, obviously, psychedelics like LSD and MDMA are included in this bill. This is an important step forward in the continued divide between state rights and federal rights that we’re seeing in the federal government as dinosaur era belief systems and principles continue to rise up with the Trump administration. I think the federal government will only continue to lose legitimacy in the eyes of its citizen and populace, and that will only lead to the strengthening of states’ rights, which is only a good thing for what is going on with psychedelics and psychedelic research.
0:01:58 PA: After all, I’m a firm believer in the strength of decentralization, the strength of localities and communities. And I think probably the quickest path to legitimizing psychedelic substances is combining rigorous research with community-oriented policies that help people remain and become engaged in helping to spread the message about the responsible use of psychedelic substances. So I’m glad to see this bill being passed. However, I think it’s just one small step in the eventual necessity of not only decriminalizing all drugs, but actually creating a legal and regulated market so that we can fully understand the effects that these substances have on us as individuals and communities and we can actually make informed decisions about their use.
0:02:41 PA: Next little thing, New Hampshire decriminalized marijuana. This is also a great… A nice little step. Obviously, we’ve already had eight states in the United States legalize full marijuana. So this kind of seems like, “Oh, it’s pretty cool and it’s pretty nice.” And it’s definitely great in terms of, for example, most people who are arrested for cannabis possession are minorities, so that’s great from a criminal justice perspective. At the same time, we will be exciting to see once Massachusetts and Maine get their marijuana legalization bills up and going how the rest of New England also follow suit because it will be hard to avoid. So hoping for that on the horizon. In the meantime, New Hampshire decriminalized cannabis.
0:03:21 PA: Third little announcement, Jeff Sessions wants to revive DARE. Sessions’ nostalgia for the Just Say No campaign glosses over the fact that it just didn’t work. And again, this speaks to the fact that we have politicians in office who are elected by people who still live in the 1950s, who still hold some of these beliefs, some of these very dangerous beliefs that are clearly not effective and do not have any basis in rational thought and dialogue. These are old, white, patriarchal man who have no business in leading a country and then who in fact are just accelerating the demise of a federal government that was already broken in the first place.
0:03:55 PA: So I don’t see this as being funny necessarily because I think it’s dangerous, the amount of influence that some of these figures still have. At the same time, I think there’s been enough progress in the drug policy world that the chances of ever reviving DARE are just about zero. And even beyond that, the fact that more and more families are sending their children to schools like Montessori and other kind of non-traditional schools, our educational system is changing fast anyway. And the industrialized public school education that many of us were raised in is becoming increasingly not relevant. So a little piece of announcement from the Hit&Run blog on reason.com, Jeff Sessions wants to revive DARE.
0:04:34 PA: Moving into the podcast guest for this week is my buddy Dr. Ken Tupper, who is a drug education expert and co-director of the BC, that is British Columbia Center on Substance Use. And Ken talks to us about his interest in ayahuasca and the potential of psychedelics to expand our cognitive capabilities. Ken discussed society’s resistance to psychedelic knowledge and what we can do to revolutionize concepts of evidence-based medicine and objectivity. A couple of notes on this podcast, we recorded it at Breaking Convention in London a couple weeks ago. It was hard to find a recording room, mostly because I didn’t plan well ahead, and so we ended up recording this podcast in a hallway. So there are a couple of cuts and a couple of times, when people kind of walked in on us and we had to stop.
0:05:17 PA: Also, Ken is a brilliant dude. But there were times in our conversations where we got caught up in a bit academic and theoretical talk which was a little too abstract. So we tried to work back our way into storytelling and more concrete things, but there are parts of this podcast that kind of… They get fairly abstract and fairly into academic terminology. So if that’s something that you think is gonna be kind of a sleeper for you or might be boring, I just recommend that you fast forward through a couple of those parts because there are still some really pristine golden nuggets in this conversation that I think all of you will want to listen to.
0:05:47 PA: Last little thing, as always, please leave us a review on iTunes. I’d just like to add in that little reminder. The more reviews that you can leave us, the better. And also, if you feel called to support our podcast, we have a Patreon page in which we’re trying to elicit community support from all of you who are podcast listeners for the page. And if nothing else, understand that media and podcasts, there are a lot of them. And if so, just making a small contribution makes you listen to this podcast more often so that you can become educated about what’s going on with psychedelics so that you can become more involved with what that’s going on in the psychedelic movement. If contributing or donating a little bit per month provides that initiative and then incentive for you to do so, then that’s another reason why it might be a good donation to make.
0:06:28 PA: Nonetheless, it will help us with covering costs, especially as we’re still basically bootstrapping until we get some other things up and going, like our microdosing online course, which I will talk about in future podcasts. Also, as another announcement, I’m submitting an application to speak at South by Southwest about microdosing, LSD for leadership, creativity and general well-being, that is on the panel picker thing for South by Southwest. So South by Southwest is a tech festival, really the largest tech festival that happens in Austin, Texas every year for about a week in March and I’m really looking to continue to amplify the message of the importance of psychedelics in rebuilding community and connection and transitioning our world from a zero-sum competitive model into a collaborative social entrepreneurial model.
0:07:13 PA: And I think continuing do talks at very public events like this. I did one in Berlin last week at the tech conference, I did one in Amsterdam a couple of months ago. I would really love to do it at South by Southwest as well. So we’ll provide more details about that on the podcast in the near future. It would be great if you could support us in voting for Third Wave and for myself and talking about microdosing. We will also send out a couple of emails to the email list about it. So that’s it. Enjoy the show with Ken Tupper.
0:07:53 PA: Okay, so I’m here with my good friend Kenneth Tupper and I’m really excited to do this interview. Ken, we’ve been getting to know each other, maybe, for the past nine months or so. We met at Horizons in New York and then we spent a lot of time together in New Bronco. So thank you for doing this. Especially, with this really awkward podcast setup that we have in the hallway at Breaking convention.
0:08:13 Kenneth Tupper: That’s okay, Paul. I’m happy to be here and I’m glad to have the opportunity to chat with you.
0:08:17 PA: And now, I really… For me it was a bit of synchronicity when I ran into you at Horizons. I remember I had met Teri Krebs at Beyond Psychedelics and she was at the after-party or the before-party speaking to you and introduced me and I’d read a number of your academic papers before meeting you and I was really inspired and influenced by what you had written, and that was particularly because I think we had been drawing on a lot the same knowledge sources. Can you just talk a little bit about who has influenced you, and what has influenced your thoughts in terms of where you stand today?
0:08:49 KT: Sure, I guess… I mean, my original interest in the idea of psychedelics or entheogens as cognitive tools for education or learning or creative enhancement, cognitive enhancement probably came first from Aldous Huxley’s book Island, which I read as a teenager, where he described fictional mushroom and moksha medicine that was used both for palliative purposes, but also for educational purposes in this fictional land of Pala. And I think somehow that resonated with me and in the… I think it was in the mid-90s, I read two books that talked about the idea of plant teachers in a way that I hadn’t heard before. One was Terence McKenna’s book, Food of the Gods, and the other was Wade Davis book, One River, which talked about his mentor Richard Evans Schultes and the adventures in the Amazon and so in both of those books I came across the concept of ayahuasca, which I hadn’t heard of before, and the metaphor of plant teachers, the indigenous peoples talking about learning from the spirits of the plants.
0:09:47 KT: So from that early understanding of psychedelics in the way that Aldous Huxley had described and fictionally and also knowing from the 1960s there was some research and obviously some popular understanding that there could be potential mind expansion or cognitive enhancement from the use of drugs like LSD, and then hearing this idea of plant teachers made me think there might be something here. I knew a little bit about the early research on the medical or therapeutic uses of psychedelics and there was a bit of a renaissance starting up again, but I was very much more interested in the idea of what Bob Jesse’s described as being better than well and the idea that we could potentially learn from our experiences with these kinds of things if they’re used respectfully, judiciously as cognitive tools. And so I proposed to do a thesis in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia and I was accepted in the program and proceeded to follow that topic for my master’s thesis.
0:10:45 KT: And not only, I was… This is in 1999. I was not sure that I would even get accepted into the program but I managed to find a few professors who were sympathetic to what I was suggesting I wanted to pursue and also managed to get a fellowship to go down to Brazil to drink ayahuasca with the Santo Daime, which would, I told them this is what I wanted to do as sort of an ethnographic part of my research. And got the funding, $5000, to do that trip. And that obviously changed my life and subsequently led me to do my PhD on the topic of ayahuasca entheogenic education and public policy, which was the title of my dissertation.
0:11:23 PA: So just for our listeners, what is the Santo Daime or who are the Santo Daime?
0:11:28 KT: The Santo Daime church is one of the major Brazilian ayahuasca churches. It’s a blend of folk Catholicism, traditional indigenous culture and afro-Brazilian spiritualism that’s incorporated ayahuasca, or daime, they call it daime tea, into their rituals that started in Acre, Brazil founded by Mestre Irineu, who was a afro-Brazilian rubber tapper in the 1930s. In the 1970s, other younger people from urban parts of Brazil visited and started learning about these kinds of religious practices, brought them from the Brazilian Amazon to more urban centers and also then and by the 1990s, international people began to participate in these rituals and take the Santo Daime practices outside South America and incorporate them into communities that were burgeoning in United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and now I believe like over 30 countries and maybe 40 countries.
0:12:25 KT: I’ve lost count of points or chapters of the Santo Daime in their respective jurisdictions, and interestingly creating headaches for liberal democratic states, who are challenged by this intersection between upholding principles of criminal justice, public health and human rights or religious freedom where these kinds of practices are pulling in different directions with varying degrees of the ability to be balanced by the governments who are dealing with these issues.
0:12:57 PA: And this is a topic that I wanna get back to ’cause this is… A lot of our conversations revolve around this in terms of nation states and things that go along with nation states, like the banking system, like even the educational system we have pointed towards industrialization and I do wanna get more into that, but I’d first like to hear more a little bit about your initial professional experience with psychedelics. So we had been speaking last night, for example, about how for you there was a bit of a damned if I do, damned if I don’t approach with getting into this profession. Can you talk a little bit more about that process for you in terms of making that commitment and decision even 17-18 years ago, to really make this your professional track, the study of ayahuasca?
0:13:42 KT: Sure, so, I was cautioned against following this topic for my master’s thesis and also for my PhD, but it was something I was curious about. I was told I was committing career suicide by other professors and colleagues who were less than enthusiastic about what I was proposing but I felt… I hear, isn’t graduate school supposed to be about exploring questions about something one has a passion for. So, I fortunately, I think now I didn’t listen to those naysayers and really wanted to do this… Further this intellectual curiosity that I had about these topics, and specifically what I wanted to do was ground the ideas of what I was talking about in terms of plant teachers and psychedelics educational tools with some contemporary educational psychological theory to validate at least the discursive space or the discursive possibility for it.
0:14:30 KT: I was… And one of my professors at the time said, you have to imagine that you’re working for your grandchildren here. This is not necessarily change that you’re gonna see in your lifetime, this is gonna be a very long slow trajectory if at all, that it happens. I think, actually, I’ve seen a lot of change happen in the last, as you say, 17 or 18 years, but I wanted to draw on the ideas of people like Howard Gardner, who developed multiple intelligence theory, which I found useful for a sort of heuristic frame for describing… He talked about essential intelligence when people… He described multiple… A number of different types of intelligence other than just logical linguistic mathematical types of intelligence that are sort of validated in our IQ testing in school systems.
0:15:12 KT: He talked about musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal Intelligence, and after he originally came up with his ideas, people asked him about a spiritual intelligence, he was sort of un-committal, looked into it, but said he wasn’t, it didn’t quite fit, but entertained the idea of an existential intelligence and published a little bit about why he thought it was not quite maybe gonna fit his schema. I subsequently took his criteria for what constituted an intelligence by his theoretical framing and argued that we think of entheogens or psychedelics as cognitive tools to help facilitate that kind of intelligence, just as an abacus can facilitate mathematical intelligence, or a musical instrument can facilitate musical intelligence, psychedelics or entheogens used circumspectly, particularly in a kind of context, like a ritual or a ceremony where in traditional cultures they’ve been incorporated, they can facilitate this kind of existential intelligence and actually enhance our cognition and learning and open up a sort of dimension of understanding that traditionally our culture hasn’t valued that much.
0:16:13 KT: Other cultures have very much valued. And so I thought that was a helpful way to think about, as I say, validating this in a discursive space and explore it. And then I subsequently published a paper on that, that was a succession of a master’s thesis and proposed it to the Canadian Journal of education for publication and managed to get it published and then I met the editor of that journal a couple of years later at a conference and he told me it was the most controversial manuscript that they’d ever received. They had a big argument in the editorial board about whether it should be published or not. One of the reviewers called it morally abhorrent, the idea that drugs could be used for it.
0:16:47 KT: They thought drug education is about telling kids not to do drugs. And this was not about telling kids that should do drugs, it really just to, again, open up the idea that maybe there’s something of value with this particular class of substances used in this particular kind of context, a sort of rite of passage, very much an inter-generational educational process, where elders would be modeling responsible use and not a kind of free-for-all, take LSD to rock concert necessarily, although I don’t wanna say that necessarily a bad thing to do, but much more risky and that the sort of ceremonial context as a form of proto-harm reduction in which there’s very great care taken in understanding these are very powerful tools, ot toys to be just played with, but to be respected and treated accordingly as tools.
0:17:30 PA: So let’s talk a little about psychedelics as cognitive tools. My particular interest is in microdosing, and for me, the approach I take to that is positive psychology approach, which is like flow states and inducing this ability to be really in the zone. Can you talk a little bit more about your understanding or approach in terms of what do you see as being the beneficial outcomes of using psychedelics as cognitive tools?
0:17:53 KT: Sure, and also I’ll talk about cognitive tools. I draw explicitly on a Soviet psychologist named Lev Vygotsky who coined the term “cognitive tools” in some of his early work in the 1920s and ’30s, which actually wasn’t translated from Russian until, from Russian into English, at least, until the 1960s and ’70s, and he became sort of big in educational circles as part of the cultural historical school of psychology, and he talks about how our mind is mediated at the [unclear speech] by the cultural cognitive tools that we grow up with around us.
0:18:26 KT: And he used as a primordial example of a cognitive tool is literacy, reading and writing, which is a very recent human invention, humans speak languages and we have an instinct to learn spoken language, but the reading and writing interface cognition is a very new and very difficult process, a very new technology and a very difficult process to learn in terms of you have to sit there and do rote memorization of the alphabet and learn to group letters, and, or at least in the alphabetic languages, learn phonetic spellings and that sort of thing.
0:18:56 KT: So he gave that as one example of cognitive tools; others are mnemonic devices or maps or schemas, globes. Abacus is probably another good example, almost a physical tool that can… Again that what we’ve learned now is that these things actually can shape neural architecture, that we think of neural development as a sort of natural process through some of the developmental psychologists, like Piaget, but I think Vygotsky would have said that your neural architecture is in part also shaped by the kind of cognitive tools that you’re inculcated as a young child in your particular cultural context. And there’s been interesting work on oral cultures versus literate cultures, so cultures where people have no history of reading and writing and never learn it until colonial sort of impositions. And that the way minds are shaped because of that sort of absence of that particular kind of cognitive tool, the ways of thinking are quite different from the sort of natural, I put it in quotation marks, ways of thinking that we find in cultures where literacy is part of their cultural context.
0:19:54 PA: How are they different?
0:19:55 KT: And so I’ll refer you to a book by Walter Ong called Literacy and Orality or Orality and Literacy, which is just forms of logical thinking and syllogism, syllogistic thinking, where you’ve got propositions derived through… That was the basics of almost a Greek logical philosophy that we associate with ancient Greeks, at least, don’t really exist in the same kind of way that the pure abstractions, that are very easy for us in literate societies, don’t kind of fit into the oral cultural mapping. And the idea of history itself is predicated on written language, that history is a product of literacy, and that the idea of what came before us in an oral culture, it comes through the written or, sorry, the spoken word and that the narrative traditions that came through poetry, so that their uses of metaphor which, again, we have in our language, but it’s a sort of different kind of richness and resonance.
0:20:50 KT: And you see that in, for example, Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey, which was understood to be an oral poem eventually got encoded into written language by the ancient Greeks, but reflect some of those early oral cultural traditions in the pre-literate Hellenistic era. So we’re getting a little of the…
0:21:08 PA: We are getting a little abstract. And so, I think this is something that I wanna tailor in a bit more in terms of like… I think something that struck me about your work is that I really derived a lot of understanding of my own experience with psychedelics in terms of when I did LSD when I was 19 and 20, it was really profound personal development experience, really, because I got this level of objectivity from that that helped me to understand my place in the world and the utility of mystery and reverence and awe, which, if we could get it more concrete in terms of what’s your understanding of the way that psychedelics can be used to engender these states of mystery and what does that mean in terms of how our educational system and process will probably change in a post-industrial world?
0:21:56 KT: Sure, so one of the things that’s coming out of the most recent, both healthy human subject and therapeutic research on psychedelics, is that they’re, in the right context, able to catalyze experiences of mystical or spiritual-type experiences that are often characterized by phenomena of wonder and awe, which I would argue in modern educational system, which is public schooling, as you know, it’s only been around for 150 years or so. It was part of the nation state building enterprise of the Prussian government in the early 19th century, 18th and early 19th centuries, and then subsequently expanded into… You know, most democratic states have public schooling as part of their nation state building institution.
0:22:32 KT: But if you look at the school as a sort of structural force in society, it’s almost systematically designed to suppress experiences of wonder and awe, the fact that kids come out of their schooling with any kind of sense of curiosity in the way that they had when they started. Kids start off maybe aged five or six coming to school full of wonder and curiosity about the world, and by age 17 or 18, let’s say, if they come up with any of that retained, it’s often despite their schooling rather than because of it. So, it’s interesting for us to reflect on whether there are mechanisms or tools that could be used as part of the, I would say, later in the educational process, because I think there is probably a developmental stage at which we these are most appropriately introduced, I mean, a discussion about exactly what age cut-off would be appropriate, but it probably it depends partly on individuals.
0:23:21 KT: But something like an experiential education in late teens, early 20s, experiential education programs like Outward Bound could potentially incorporate, for example, an entheogenic or psychedelic experience, perhaps an ayahuasca ceremony or a peyote ceremony or something that’s equivalently gonna allow for a catalyzation with these very powerful and ancient cognitive tools that would build upon the kinds of learnings that have already taken place in, say, for example, a week out in the wilderness, sometimes spent in a bit of like on a spirit quest or when in nature alone for a night or two, but then perhaps structured ceremonial context for an entheogenic experience would be a mechanism or vehicle. I wouldn’t necessarily say it would be something to be integrated fully into the modern public schools as we know it, but perhaps an optional additional-type program, just as Outward Bound is, for example.
0:24:15 PA: And do you think… So, to kinda follow-up on that question, we were talking about this last night and I kinda mentioned this in my talk earlier. It’s about psychedelics, and it has been for both of us in terms of your work with at ayahuasca and in terms of my work with microdosing. At the same time, it’s part of a larger narrative, which is this changing world that we find ourselves. We refer to this as being between stories in a way, right? So the old story was this idea of infinite growth, and everything that came along with that. And now we seem to be understanding that that’s failing, particularly because we are starting to understand that this earth can’t grow forever. We can’t continue to extract resources from it and expect that it will survive much longer. So, we know we need to transition into a new story. What role do you think psychedelics can play, especially in the educational process in helping us to transition into that new story?
0:25:07 KT: That’s remains to be seen, but I think there’s definitely promise for the kinds of individual transformations in people’s psychology about exactly those kinds of limits to growth, and a sense of eco-awareness that is sometimes catalyzed by a psychedelic or entheogenic experience. Certainly, it’s been reported in the academic literature that people have, first of all, a greater openness after the use of a psychedelic and sometimes a sort of sense of connectedness to nature or interest in nature in a way that they hadn’t previously. I think that actually was seen in the 1960s when these substances were being used much more uncontrolled or the non-clinical uses that escaped onto the street were very much part of some of the human rights and civil rights movements, including gay rights, women’s rights, African-American rights or black consciousness, black power movements and also the ecological or environmental movements.
0:26:07 KT: Many of the leaders, not all by any sense, but many leaders of those were young people were also part of the psychedelic scene, whether they personally experienced them or not, but there was a bit of a kind of zeitgeist at the time of people changing their ways of thinking, and that was very much repressed by the prohibition that was put onto psychedelics in a way that very effectively kept them out of the hands of scientists and doctors. A little less effectively in keeping them off the street but, really did stop all of the scientific research on human subjects for about 30 to 40 years in any kind of major way, which we’re now finally coming out of in terms of a renaissance in psychedelic research.
0:26:41 KT: I think many people now who are paying attention to the new scientific research are realizing that we threw the baby out with the bath water in terms of abandoning a really promising area of both clinical or therapeutic exploration, as well as, I would argue, also non-clinical or non-therapeutic potential that is equally [unclear speech], and this is where the microdosing work that you’re pursuing is a fascinating angle that wasn’t much done or talked about back in the ’60s, but is certainly part of the new renaissance in a way that’s getting attention from the tech crowd in Silicon Valley as well as other people who are looking for alternatives to mainstream pharmaceutical approaches to treating things like depression or anxiety.
0:27:21 PA: Well, it’s this concept that you mentioned earlier that Bob Jesse has talked about which is the betterment of well people and this aspect of having this peak mystical experience, which was talked about in the ’60s by a few people. There’s this concept of self-actualization, in fact, Abraham Maslow, who came up with the paradigm for self-actualization had done psychedelics himself, and I talked about it in the context of that, so I think this aspect of the betterment of well people is one of those things that will become more understood and accepted once we transcend the disease model system that we have in Western society.
0:27:55 PA: What I mean by that is people who are, for example, they have depression, they can be prescribed psilocybin but if you’re just a normal functioning human, you can’t get psilocybin because it’s not quote unquote legal. This for me is a big part of the work that I’m interested in doing is I’m definitely interested in these peak states and just enjoying life to its full extent, and I think getting back into your work, psychedelics, with this sense of mystery, reverence and awe, that inspires certain insights that catalyze changes on a global basis. So far we’ve talked about education. I’m going to try to get you to be very practical in a sec, but right now, from your perspective, when we look at education maybe in 10 or 15 years, what would you see as appropriate models in terms of integrating psychedelics into a society that uses them for the betterment of well people?
0:28:49 KT: That’s a good question, that’s why I already talked a little bit about this sort of Outward Bound idea or experiential education model. It might also be for teacher education, that the… And there was a great book called The Psychedelic Teacher by an author whose name is escaping me at the moment, but he published this in the early ’70s, ’71 or ’72, talked about a psychedelic experience being something very valuable for teachers in training to sort of create a better openness or expanded openness themselves in their approach to learning and to [unclear speech] experiences of wonder and awe in the teacher who can then, of course, pass along without necessarily giving the drugs themselves to younger people, but have that sort of cognitive influence rippling out from the teacher’s experience into the classroom. That’s one possibility.
0:29:33 KT: I think there’s, again, through the scientific research and now using the new kinds of tools of fMRI, MEG, like that real sort of advanced neuroscience tools, we have a much better possibility of learning exactly what’s going on with respect to the psychedelic experience and how it’s shifting neuroplasticity and neural architecture in a way that could be both therapeutic for individuals who are suffering from things, from a host of illnesses that modern contemporary psychopharmacology is not doing a very good job of addressing, so anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, addictions, all of these seem to be avenues for exploration for psychedelic treatments as therapeutic tools.
0:30:16 KT: But in addition to that, there may be, as you say, this idea of there can be cognitive enhancement and for not just the people who are ill but, those who are… And the phrase “better than well,” I think, I know Bob Jesse’s used it a number of times. I think I first encountered it from a book by a philosopher named Carl Elliott, who wrote a book called Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream, which is a fascinating sort of exploration of self-identity and how medical tools can sometimes shape our own senses of identity.
0:30:44 KT: So yeah, I think that’s a fascinating element, but I think there’s also an important… Especially with respect to ayahuasca and peyote and iboga, a recognition of traditional plant uses and the social justice issues that go along with the post-colonial realities that we face, especially where I live, Canada, where there’s deep injustices, both economic and social injustices that are still rippling, and I can see them in the United States and many other countries where colonialism still has deep impacts on individuals and populations that have, in part, been resisted by keeping alive these traditions and practices of medicine, whether they incorporate psychedelic plants or entheogenic plants or not, certainly the vitality that’s been kept alive in languages and cultural practices, spiritual practices, has been really important.
0:31:35 KT: And it was certainly something that I was encouraged to do while I was pursuing both my masters and my PhD work, because in both my committees I had professors of indigenous studies, Dr. Caroline Kenny, who was the professor of indigenous studies at Simon Fraser University when I was there, she was on my committee. She was very much saying white boy goes and studies the Indians has been done before. You’re not going to be doing that and had me reading up on post-colonial literature and being aware of what was going on with respect to idealizing the noble savage and that sort of thing and trying to resist the somewhat obvious temptation to go down that path.
0:32:12 KT: And then on my PhD committee, I had Dr. Tirso Gonzalez, who is an Aymara man from Peru who is a professor at UBC, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, working on indigenous studies there and he also had the same kind of sort of cautionary notes and had me read up on the literature on sort of biopiracy and some of the issues around cultural appropriation that were playing out in this globalization of ayahuasca as I was seeing it happen. So that somewhat sort of tempered my perspective on the enthusiasm, I guess, to some degree that I think people who have had these kinds of experiences and wanna share them with others, but to be aware that there are still political circumstances that we have to be cognizant of and try to redress at the same time as advance the causes that we think may be helpful for both individuals and society.
0:33:02 PA: So buy being aware of the rules of the society in which we live in a way in terms of the illegality of psychedelics, is that what you mean or?
0:33:08 KT: No, no. I’m thinking more about, as I say, the social injustices that still play out on Indian reservations. And I use the word Indian quotation in marks because that’s the official terminology in Canadian legislation, First Nations is the term we use, in that they’re not in museums. People and cultures are still very much alive, but suffering in many cases, worse than third world conditions in terms of access to healthcare, education, drinking water, that sort of stuff. So to talk about traditional indigenous medicines and the value that they have needs to be balanced by a recognition that we’re, and this is something I’ve explored in some of my questioning around commodification of ayahuasca and its emergence out of the Amazon partly as a material commodity for monetary exchange, which is a fascinating aspect of its globalization, but also troubling to the degree that there’s questions raised about economic justice and who’s benefiting when literally hundreds of dollars or sometimes thousands of dollars are being charged for essentially traditional indigenous knowledge that in some ways could be characterized as intellectual property, an idea that I explored in one of my papers.
0:34:12 KT: So just actually pulling back from that as a construct in terms of maybe its usefulness, but certainly hyper aware of the issues around money itself and the sort of global financial system and the history of fractional reserve banking and how it plays out in the change systems of value and reciprocity that we’re all enmeshed in by virtue of being part of the modern world, which is quite different from the cultural places from which these plants originally came, where those kinds of systems of reciprocity and obligation weren’t about monetary exchange. They are more about gift economies, and how can we again learn from those other kinds of traditions and be questioning or skeptical of the taken-for-granted attitudes that we have about things like the pieces of paper and coins that we carry around in our pocket and just take for granted.
0:35:01 PA: Cool. So what I wanna get, just because I do wannna talk a lot about you or more about you particularly. Let’s talk a little bit about your recent position that you stepped away from in terms of… We were talking about this at the World Ayahuasca Conference a little bit about how you had done specific work within the provincial government in British Columbia to start changing the way that people viewed psychedelic substances. Can you just talk a little bit about that? You know, the work that you did for the provincial government and like what some of your aims and objectives were in filling that role?
0:35:30 KT: So when I was, finished my master’s thesis, and I had applied for my PhD program, and sort of in that period I got involved with a group called Dance Safe, which was based on the United States. Probably some of your listeners have heard of it doing harm reduction at the time called rave parties, you know, big electronic dance festivals, and we were giving out information cards about different drugs and doing very low threshold drug education, neither condemning nor condoning drug use, but allowing people to make healthier choices in the context of active drug use, giving out condoms and ear plugs and basic public health stuff and doing pill testing when we could, doing simple marquis reagent testing to see whether or not we could find MDMA or not in pills that people were concerned about.
0:36:10 KT: And so through that involvement I ended up running the Vancouver chapter for about a year and a half in the early 2000s and got, I had applied for my PhD at UBC, hadn’t yet been accepted, but was doing this work and got invited to a group that was based out of a downtown Vancouver office, local NGOs, nongovernmental organization leaders who were basically promoting harm reduction in the context of Vancouver’s open drug scene in the injection drug use connection to HIV and wanting to open a supervised injection site, which eventually did open in 2003 but this was just a little bit before that.
0:36:42 KT: We were basically putting on public education events to educate local political leaders, community leaders about the benefits of this type of harm reduction intervention as it was done in Europe, and had shown very clearly to be an evidence-based way to reduce risk of HIV transmission and prevent overdoses. So I got invited to this volunteer group that was doing this and participated for a while and from somebody I met on that, I was offered a job to go and join the Ministry of Health in British Columbia to work in the Public Health division doing harm reduction and prevention policy, which I took on in 2003 at the same time or just after which I got accepted in the PhD program.
0:37:20 KT: So I ended up doing my PhD and working full-time in the Ministry of Health, well, for the next eight years until I finished my PhD and then continued working with the Ministry until I left in February of 2017 when I was offered a position at the new British Columbia Center on Substance Use, which is a new health system partner. It’s got a mandate to provide clinical care guidance, health professional education and scientific research in the area of substance use and addictions in British Columbia and Canada.
0:37:45 PA: So let’s get back into your time at the, you were in the Health Ministry, right, for the province of British Columbia.
0:37:51 KT: For 14 years.
0:37:52 PA: For 14 years. What were some of the most important things that you worked on in the context of your professional work with ayahuasca or psychedelics?
0:38:01 KT: Basically, there was a very strict firewall between what I was doing academically and what I was doing professionally and that was very clear. My boss knew what I was doing in terms of my academic pursuits. He’d known what I did my master’s on, so there was no hidden agendas. But when we worked out an agreement where I actually as a public servant wasn’t able to do media interviews. It was the purview of the minister to speak to the media about stuff related to… You know, if I wanted to speak about climate change or transit policy, that would be fine, because it wasn’t my area of responsibility, but if I wanted to speak about drug policy, which was my area, I wasn’t able to speak openly so that’s why I ended up… Doing podcast interviews wasn’t much of an option for me until quite recently.
0:38:38 KT: So I basically was pursuing my academic research and actually, my original topic for my PhD wasn’t to look at entheogenic education and ayahuasca originally. I did that for my master’s thesis and left that behind, published a couple of papers, sort of left that behind, and for the first couple of years of my PhD, I was focused on drug education, school-based drug education, from a harm reduction perspective. I’m still fascinated by that question of what do we teach kids about drugs in schools. We know that “Just Say No” doesn’t work. We know that the evidence is very clear that things like the DARE program are ineffective. What do we do instead?
0:39:10 KT: I think this is a very interesting question that has yet to really be fully answered, especially in the North American context, I think there are some European models of drug education that are informed by sex education, and sort of more progressive attitudes towards that. And I’ve actually written a paper on the history of sex education and drug education as they developed and evolved over the past 120 years or so in North American schools, which have some very fascinating parallels. I call them moral purity issues, two topics that just don’t fit very well in the school curriculum, although there’s a sort of political mandate, an expectation often by parents and community members that school should be the place to inculcate an ethic of abstinence in many cases where there’s many other cultural forces that are sort of impinging on that sort of directive.
0:39:53 KT: And then just feel for the teacher who has to be in the classroom talking about these topics that may make them personally uncomfortable based on their own personal experiences with both sex or drugs and/or just not feeling educated enough, you know, they did their teacher training program on English or Social Sciences or History or Mathematics and maybe talking about sex and drugs in the classroom isn’t quite sort of their purview.
0:40:11 KT: Yeah, so for the first couple years I was in drug education, but then actually because of some connections I made with some of the emerging ayahuasca drinking practices that were happening in Canada, I basically went back to the topic of ayahuasca and entheogenic education. Particularly I was interested in how ayahuasca was emerging from the Amazon and as I described causing these conundrums. So for my dissertation, I ended up doing a policy analysis of Health Canada’s decision on a case of the Santo Daime chapter in Montreal called Céu do Montréal, which had opened in the late 1990s, I think they founded the church there.
0:40:48 KT: And by 2001, had been advised because of an interception of one of the shipments of their sacrament that they needed, they weren’t arrested, they were basically told, visited by the police, said this shipment has been intercepted, you’re advised to go to visit Health Canada to get what’s called a section 56 exemption, which is a special exemption that would allow for the authorization of importation and use of a controlled substance, which if you wanna use it for research or scientific purposes you’d have to get. But in this case, it was for religious purposes. So the church leader, Jessica Rochester, a friend of mine, wanting to follow the rules, engaged with Health Canada and explained to them who she was and what she wanted to do, and that started a process that I started getting interested in around 2005-2006 and she had already been working on it for number of years.
0:41:34 KT: So what I did for my dissertation research, at least one part of it, was an access to information request, through our Freedom of Information laws in Canada, and got 380 pages of internal documents on the file, emails, the records reports, etcetera, that were mostly unredacted. There was a bit of blacked out stuff, but enough for me to sort of unpack a narrative of some of the policy decision-making that went on from the initial, what the hell is ayahuasca, which was one of their first responses, to in 2006 sending a letter to the applicant, to Jessica Rochester, from the Director General of the Office of Controlled Substances, saying that they approved in principle giving this exemption, that they needed to work out import/export arrangements with the government of Brazil.
0:42:14 KT: And I actually also had the internal report that was sort of the risk analysis where they clearly outlined the potential risks versus potential benefits and found that the benefits outweighed the risks, and thus they should make the recommendation, and the recommendation would be from the bureaucracy to the Minister who is able to… The Minister is the one who authorizes the sign-off, this is our Canadian/Westminster parliamentary system.
0:42:36 KT: So that was in 2006, just when we had an election that elected Stephen Harper, our prim… Former prime minister, now, but for the next 10 years he was prime minister leading the Conservative Party of Canada, which is somewhat in the political camp of a Donald Trump-type thinking or the Republican party in the United States, and essentially reignited a war on drugs in Canada, implementing things like mandatory minimum penalties and much more strict drug control laws. And so, as that recommendation was put forward by the bureaucracy, the political winds shifted, such that the Santo Daime was essentially left in limbo without the exemption that they were seeking for many years.
0:43:12 KT: And finally, in 2012, there was a letter that came from the Minister at the time, Leona Aglukkaq, Health Minister, saying we deny this request. In fact, they didn’t even use the term ayahuasca or daime tea, they just talked about a preparation of dimethyltryptamine in the letter back. And so essentially that closed the door for the legal access to ayahuasca for religious purposes by the Santo Daime.
0:43:33 KT: But then in, was it last year, in late 2015, sorry, a year-and-a-half ago, we had another election that elected our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a liberal government, which allowed the church to re-open the application, this time in partnership with the União do Vegetal, which is another Brazilian-based church that had won in the United States Supreme Court a preliminary injunction to uphold their right to use their sacrament, the vegetal tea. And so the UDV and Santo Daime worked together in Canada to open up a file to allow for both of them to get… And I’m happy to report just as of a couple of weeks ago, they received their exemptions. So the final chapter of my PhD dissertation can now be written, even though I had to finish it and defend it in 2011, when it was still kind of in this limbo state, but there was a happy outcome in the end.
0:44:19 PA: And I would imagine that’s good news for you now, considering your current role, in terms of the transition that you recently made where you’re working now, for, remind me of the name?
0:44:28 KT: The BC Center on Substance Use.
0:44:30 PA: And we know that, like for example, ayahuasca is effective at treating addiction, and we’re obviously also going through somewhat of an opioid crisis. Now, how do you see that transition playing out in terms of your current role, in terms of the potential of ayahuasca now to be used more in a clinical setting, potentially, also with cannabis, what are your hopes in terms of as the co-director of that institute and in your ability to use some of these plant substances to help treat major addiction or substance use problems?
0:45:00 KT: Sure. So the BC Centre on Substance Use has made clear that we have an ambition to do a psychedelic research program. Right now, we’re looking at sort of more low-hanging fruit in terms of access to medications that have sort of most likelihood of getting ethics approval and importation approval from the federal government, from Health Canada, which is looking at MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder. We’re in discussion with MAPS about being one of the three clinical trial sites. And as well, looking at psilocybin for the use of treating addictions for alcohol use disorder or stimulant use disorder, perhaps opioid use disorder.
0:45:32 KT: We have not yet looked at ayahuasca, just because I had some sort of behind the scenes conversations with Health Canada, and the challenge for them is that it doesn’t fit into their sort of pharmacological paradigm that they’re used to. It’s not a nice white powder that’s measurable and replicable, whereas MDMA and psilocybin are, kind of get it a little bit, you know, and it does fit within that.
0:45:52 PA: The molecules rather than… Yeah, yeah.
0:45:53 KT: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, so it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t be able to potentially request and access ayahuasca for scientific research purposes. As I say, the Brazilian churches now have access to their sacraments and there’s a possibility we may be able to work with them to figure out how to do some research. We haven’t gone there yet and we’re only a few months. We launched officially in April of 2017. And as you pointed out, we’re actually, our primary focus right now is dealing with the provincial and national opioid overdose crisis where we’ve got a toxic drug supply with contamination of things like fentanyl or carfentanil, other fentanyl analogues being cut into the heroin supply, being pressed into fake pharma pills so that they look like oxycodone pills, but are in fact cut with fentanyl or carfentanil.
0:46:38 KT: So our biggest issue right now is actually getting the [unclear speech] kits, that would be opening more supervised injection sites, getting opioid diagnosis treatment more accessible. But at the same time realizing that there are other modalities that we need to be exploring and psychedelic research is one of them. Ayahuasca is not one of the first ones on our sort of to-do list, but certainly something I personally have an interest in seeing go forward. I was able to be part of us a couple of studies with ayahuasca that were based in Canada. One was done… Led by a colleague of mine, Dr. Gerald Thomas, where we had an invitation through Dr. Gabor Mate to work with a First Nations community on the west Coast of Canada who were inviting indigenous shaman practitioner, ayahuasqueros, to do ceremonies for treating addictions and stress.
0:47:19 KT: And we did a small observational study that we published the results in the Journal of Current Drug Abuse Reviews and have presented at a few psychedelic conferences. And people can probably find that easily enough. And then more recently, I just had a paper accepted on a treatment, or exploring ayahuasca as a treatment for eating disorders. So this wasn’t a clinical study where we were administering ayahuasca, it was qualitative research led by a colleague of mine, Adele Lafrance, and Anja Loizaga-Velder, who’s based in Mexico, and Adele’s based in Laurentian University in Eastern Canada.
0:47:53 KT: We put together a small research project to interview mostly women, there were a few men, who had a diagnosis of an eating disorder of some type and had experiences drinking ayahuasca and sort of collected the narratives of the trajectory of their illness, their experiences with mainstream treatments for eating disorders and then their experiences with ayahuasca. Very fascinating results that we presented at the Psychedelic Science 2017 Conference and are about to be published in a journal. And this is the first study that I know of that looks specifically at eating disorders with psychedelics and hope that there may be a promising avenue for new treatment modalities for that very pernicious illness.
0:48:30 KT: I didn’t know much about eating disorders other than sort of psychology 101 level but reading these transcripts of the commonalities with some of the issues around addiction and trauma and some stealth self-stigmatization and denial and deception that go along. It’s really frightening and then the levels of morbidity and mortality that are associated with eating disorders is one of the most harmful physiologically of all mental illnesses in terms of early death and sort of not much in the way of really good effective treatments at the moment, you know, there’s some things like CBT and CBD and family-oriented therapies that have some… Can help some people and some people do naturally remit or have permission from from these kinds of things, but what we found with our research on ayahuasca is that it can really help catalyze or help with that kind of introspection, in the same way that we’ve seen in the literature own psilocybin studies that have been going on at like NYU and Johns Hopkins.
0:49:25 PA: So what were the… I mean, from an eating disorder perspective, what were some of those results, like what were some of the stories that you found to be really touching or meaningful?
0:49:33 KT: Just insight about where the roots of their eating disorder had come from, often reflecting… So this is where, we were talking to people who’ve drunk between 1 and 30 times and not necessarily right after they were drinking. So this… We recruited through the internet and word of mouth and had people contact us and did interviews. Sometimes, long after they drunk ayahuasca or had drunk it a few times and it’s really about the insights that they had about the trajectory of their own illness, about why they had this disorder pattern of starvation in some cases or overeating, there’s different types of it, so we were looking both had anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating.
0:50:08 KT: I’ll just give you an example of from one of the quotations was a woman reporting that she had a vision of two sort of female figures, one on the left a kind of skeletal wraith-like figure that was sort of starving and decaying, and then the other on the right, a full-figured beautiful goddess figure and she said she knew which one she wanted to be. She chose that the full-figured goddess and just to hear that, just for me was reading like that sort of insight, it’s so resonant of other reports that people have from their experiences with psychedelics or ayahuasca in particular where they have these kind of sense of insight about themselves and about, tied-in with with their own ability to chose.
0:50:51 KT: They’re not locked into a particular pattern of thinking or behavior that they may have been unconscious of in the past, and sort of getting out of ruts, as you described in your own talk today.
0:51:01 PA: Yeah, and I think that also ties into its benefits in the areas of addiction, for example, is making then somewhat of a choice when people go through these experiences with ayahuasca or ibogaine or LSD that they understand the self-harming effects and they want something better for themselves. And there’s a lot that’s at play there. But I saw you present that research in Rio Branco at the Ayahuasca Conference and I’ve had, not myself, but people I know have struggled with that quite a bit.
0:51:31 PA: So it was very touching for me to see that and hear that and I think that’s something that for me is really interesting about psychedelics and why I’m so interested and passionate about it, I think also yourself is, that we do have these stories of people, whether that’s ourselves or friends or family that we know are either struggling with certain things and psychedelics have helped to address those things, or are struggling with things that we know that if we had the education and awareness and the ability to contextualize it in an appropriate way that that could help to act as a catalyst for their transformation into just living a better life.
0:52:05 PA: I think for me that’s a lot of what psychedelics come down to is improving the lives of individuals which helps to improve the lives of communities which ideally helps to improve our global society and the values and principles that kind of underline it.
0:52:19 KT: Yeah, and that this is in some ways a new area of research, but not really. It was… A lot of research was done in the 1950s and early 1960s and really positive results had been reported, although not with the sort of scientific rigor that we might expect today, and there were challenges going on methodologically in the scientific community at the time about the randomized control trial, double blind being imposed to some degree as a sort of gold standard for determining efficacy of a treatment in a way that was sort of predicated on studies on antibiotics and that drug N resulted in output X, which is not the way that psychedelics work, right.
0:52:55 KT: And there were researchers on psychedelics, people like Humphry Osmond and Duncan Blewitt and Abram Hoffer, who were in Saskatchewan, Canada, who were very much resistant to… They were arguing that psychedelics are a tool to enhance psychotherapy and we can’t expect that what they saw some of their colleagues try to do was just give the drug without any of the setting taken care of and reported not very good clinical results. It’s like they were sort of annoyed that this wasn’t being respected in the way that they developed very carefully protocols that were able to maximize the mystical or spiritual type experience that we now know from the latest research is often correlated with the positive health outcomes, right.
0:53:34 PA: So fortunately, the new research that’s taking place now is very much cognizant of drawing on that understanding of these are psychedelic assisted psychotherapy techniques that can be also studied with their RCT design, and that we can use rigorous scientific methodologies, but also incorporate those understandings of how these need to be carefully used and contextualized.
0:53:57 KT: And there’s… I think of Bill Wilson from the 12-step movement, one of the founders of AA who talked about the value of LSD for himself in the 1950s and how it would be a very good complement to the 12-step community and having a spiritual-type experience. One of the steps in the 12-step movement could be potentially catalyzed through psychedelics, and there’s no necessary antagonism between a recovery-oriented model of treatment and the use of a psychedelic as part of that.
0:54:28 KT: So, hopefully we’ll see more of that. And I know there’s some work going on. There’s a guy Todd Young who’s working on ayahuasca in the AA movement in Washington State. He’s doing some really interesting research on that and others who are sort of opening their minds to the possibility of integrating much more traditional conservative approaches to addictions and psychedelics.
0:54:48 PA: I think that’s why it was so important with the research that came out of Johns Hopkins in 2006 that Roland Griffiths did, which was basically laying the groundwork and the framework for explaining why psychedelics are so effective at treating so many different issues. And the research was how psychedelics can basically engender a peak mystical experience. And it seems to be at the core of a lot of this healing, it seems to be this mystical experience that people have. I put up that slide in my last microdosing talk where I gave that quote from George Greer, who’s the medical director at Heffter Research Institute, which was basically like, “Look, we need to step outside… ” Well, he didn’t say this, but I’m kinda paraphrasing, really, now what you mentioned yesterday, which is the limits of quantitative data.
0:55:29 PA: It might not just be biological facts. There might be something going on psycho-spiritually where it’s having this really impactful transformative effect, which I think then gets into what we’re talking about in terms of the transition in between stories. The story in the past has been disconnection, it’s been individualism, it’s been isolation, especially in the 20th century, it’s been insecurity for consumerism, materialism, and now we seem to be entering this new story where we’re looking at things more from a holistic perspective. We’re looking at the community, we’re looking at the connection, we’re looking at ways to facilitate that. This kinda ties into what you were talking about when we move away from white powders.
0:56:06 PA: Right now, we’re still stuck in that paradigm of measurable quantities, even though we know that when ayahuasca is used within a specific context that it has the outcome or effect that we want. However, because it can’t be quantified to the same degree as like MDMA, it hasn’t been as widely accepted within scientific institutions.
0:56:25 KT: Yeah, it’s emblematic of a classical paradigm shift, to use Thomas Kuhn’s phrase in… What we saw in early modern science, this is some ideas that I explored in a paper with Bia Labate on sort of history and philosophy of science, but in early modern science, the 15th, 16th century, the epistemic authorities of the day were church fathers who understood knowledge to come from texts such as the Bible or Aristotle, and the university system at the time was bound up with that way of thinking in medieval scholasticism.
0:56:57 KT: And the beginnings of early modern science, and the word science, or the word scientist didn’t exist yet. People who were doing this were called natural philosophers, they were very much for the most part outside of that epistemic authoritative structure, they weren’t within the universities, they weren’t medieval scholastics. They were amateur intellectuals in many cases, drawing on new ideas that were being disseminated by virtue of the printing press through outside of the mainstream sort of epistemic structures and deploying new kinds of tools that extended the limits of human perception. So at the time those were things like telescopes, microscopes, clocks, theodolites.
0:57:34 KT: And those tools were very much revolutionary, to the degree that they were threatening for those epistemic authorities. There’s great quotes of church fathers who refused to look through the telescope and persecuted Galileo for suggesting that there was moons going around Jupiter. So there was a resistance to deploying these new-fangled kinds of tools. If you fast-forward 300 or 400 years to today, we have a similar kind of epistemic authoritative structure, but today it’s actually scientists themselves… Where over the past 300 years, especially in the 19th century, science became professionalized and integrated into the university system and very much embedded within the nation state and corporate structures, that has now in some ways replicated that conservativism that was reflected 400 years ago. And we’ve lost touch with the revolutionary origins of curiosity and experimentation that started off early modern science. So along come these new… Actually, not new, very ancient kinds of cognitive tools that extend the limits of human perception. Things like…
0:58:32 PA: Psychedelics.
0:58:34 KT: Ayahuasca, peyote, LSD, psilocybin, that are very much challenging some of the mainstream epistemic authorities of today who say, just like church fathers, “I don’t need to look through this new-fangled thing. I know what I need to know from my rigorous methodology that’s gotten me all my grants and tenures and things.” But what we’re seeing perhaps is that these are revolutionary kinds of cognitive tools that can actually engender a new way of thinking for those who are willing to look through the telescope, and it led us to question the idea of self-experimentation and to what degree first-hand experience is necessary.
0:59:06 KT: And one of the examples I like to use is, if you’re a research lab well funded to administer, for example, ayahuasca or a psychedelic day after day after day, do it for 20 years and you’ll have research subjects come in, fMRI scans, all kinds of great measurements, cranking out publications regularly. But you as the team leader in the lab never drink ayahuasca. At the end of 20 years, what do you know about ayahuasca? It’s for me a fascinating epistemological question that very much illustrates that we’re in this bit of a paradigm shift, where it’s hard for us to make authoritative statements without being able to participate in this interdiscursivity, this discursive community that’s emerging from those who have had these kinds of experiences.
0:59:52 KT: And generally when they do… Not universally, but generally people who do are reporting being fascinated by it and seeing potential benefits that we want to try to advance, both through Western science, but also by taking seriously the traditional indigenous knowledge claims of things like plant teachers, which is, with the ayahuasca experience, often very much part of feeling like you’re in touch with a sentient being that it’s… That there’s something greater than what you thought was the total sum of reality.
1:00:21 PA: Picking up on that last thought, then what do you see as the key to unlocking the ability to have this discourse more openly? So a big issue that we see or that some people perceive in the psychedelic space right now is something that you touched on in your talk which… Well, I guess you didn’t really talk in it, but this is a discourse. It’s like psychedelic scientists, the leaders, Roland Griffiths, Robin Carhart-Harris, Stephen Ross, Michael…
1:00:45 KT: Bogenschutz.
1:00:45 PA: Yep, at NYU. A lot of them can’t openly talk about possibly their own psychedelic experiences because of fear of the stigma and cultural backlash. In essence, they fear that if they do talk about it openly, it makes them less objective in nature which then doesn’t fit as well into the paradigm that we currently operate in. How do you perceive that paradigm shift occurring? Do you think that happens with the introduction of the medicalization of psychedelics? Do you think it’s the ending of the drug war and the removal of the fact that these are schedule 1 substances? And those aren’t necessarily related, though they certainly can be. One of my big things is, I look at not only obviously the medicalization of psychedelics, but the full legalization and reintegration. And one of my hypotheses is that we probably won’t get there until we’ve accepted that all drugs, including some that are more harmful, coke, heroin, whatever else, PHB, that we regulate and control all of them. So what do you see as being the key to unlocking the ability to have more of that discourse?
1:01:44 KT: So I think one of the key ones you mentioned is stigma; that there’s generally a stigma within society itself but particularly within the academic circles where the sense of… Have objectivity is seen to be compromised by either having or revealing one’s own personal experience. And that idea of objectivity is actually a relatively recent idea in scientific communities. It’s not part of the… Again, the early modern science approach didn’t always… In fact, for many scientists, self-experimentation was considered a crucial part of what they were doing. It’s only in the late 19th Century that this idea of objectivity got more imposed in a way that still resonates for most scientists today, who have this fear of being called out as un-objective or subjective in their reporting of scientific data. So I think that’s one piece of it.
1:02:33 KT: I think the power of the internet and the sharing of stories by people who’ve had personal experience is very quickly shifting that, in a way that’s making it difficult to deny the potential benefits that are reported by… Again, not universally, not everybody, but many, many people have these experiences, talk about personal and social transformations that they’ve witnessed from it and the potential that they see for it.
1:03:00 KT: And then with regards to drug policy, absolutely. The failures of prohibition are becoming so clearly apparent. Again, in British Columbia, particularly with the opioid overdose crisis, where there’s a lot of discussion right now even among political leaders about the need to move to systems of control of currently illegal drugs that involve the entire supply chain from production through distribution in a way that doesn’t resort to the full intention of criminal law, which is what we’ve been doing for 100 years, and on pretty much every measure failed. Drugs are cheaper, more easily available, are more harmful than ever before, and this is after 100 years of a war on drugs, in particular the last 40 years and most egregiously fought in the United States with probably the least effective results other than a burgeoning prison population and undermining social institutions and that sort of thing.
1:03:44 KT: So colleagues and I have written a paper on a post-probation model for the regulation of psychedelics based on public health principles. So that was my colleague Mark Hayden and Dr. Brian Emerson who was with me in the Ministry of Health, and we discuss in that paper ways to envision regulatory models for psychedelics, both for medical and non-medical purposes. So I urge you and your listeners to go and check that out. I’ve got on my website.
1:04:07 PA: Well, we’ll give some details about that, what would be kind of the key points?
1:04:10 KT: Well, recognizing first that to affront to the libertarians in the audience, that perhaps some system of control is gonna be helpful here, that a complete, the model of selling at 7-Eleven to any 10-year-old who walks in with 5 bucks to get a hit of acid. Probably not where we want it. It is one possible model, the full Coca-Cola model of free market capitalism. It’s a possible way to deal with it. We argue that that’s probably not the best way, but what we argue for is let’s take a look at some of the regulatory tools that have been very effective in dealing with some harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco and now in Canada, cannabis, because we’re moving towards legalization of cannabis by next year.
1:04:45 KT: And realizing that, okay, let’s look carefully at the potential benefits and harms, what we know from the scientific literature on psychedelics about both medical and non-medical uses and access and how do we create… One of the things we talked about is for example, a college of psychedelic supervisors. So a sort of self-regulatory structure similar to we have colleges of physicians or colleges of nurses where people who want to be certified and have oversight over ethical behaviors among colleagues, so we separate out people who might wanna do this professionally and charge fees for their services versus people who might wanna do it more as a public benefit for small groups of friends, but not get the sort of full credentials.
1:05:24 KT: So I won’t go through the long boring details of… But I think it’s an interesting one, and we were the first to say, no, this is not the model that we wanna impose this necessarily on the world, but we need to have the discussion. It’s all well and good to say prohibition’s a failure. Now, we need to start talking about, okay, what is the architecture of a post-prohibition world gonna look like. And other people have been engaging in this discussion, Steve Rolles with Transform here in the UK has done that kind of work, Ethan Nadelmann’s been talking about it with the Drug Policy Alliance, of course, and others. So we’re just contributing to that conversation, but with particular focus on psychedelics.
1:05:56 PA: And Rick from MAPS has also spoken at length about that. In fact, he’s been pretty open about the fact that he wants to kind of walk MDMA through in a professional suit to become medicalized with the hope of unlocking that door similar to what we saw with medical cannabis.
1:06:11 KT: So, I mean, the pathway to medicalization is very clear. In our paper we actually talk about medical and non-medical, like we wanna be not restricting it to just medical access, because the other is the sort of fairly, I think, short term by continuing with the scientific research moving to phase 3 clinical trials and then expanded access after that, but what about all the rest of us who are perhaps want to be better than well aren’t necessarily diagnosed with an indication that would allow you to have access for medical purposes.
1:06:38 PA: Cool. Well, I think let’s wrap it up there. Thanks again for doing this and we’ll have plenty more great conversations. If our listeners wanna find you, what would be a good, your URL or the substance use website and anything like that?
1:06:51 KT: So, yeah, the institution I work for if people are interested, the British Columbia Center on Substance Use, which is www.bccsu.ca and then I have a personal home page, which is www.kentupper K-E-N-T-U-P-P-E-R.com.
1:07:01 PA: Perfect. Thanks again.
1:07:01 KT: Alright. It’s a pleasure.
This Week in Psychedelics
Oregon partially decriminalizes drug possession – possession of small amounts is now only a misdemeanour. The new law also attempts to reduce the amount of racial profiling by law enforcement.
New Hampshire has decriminalized small amounts of cannabis possession. People will now only face small fines rather than potential jail time.
On the other side of the US, Jeff Sessions has announced that he wants a return of the “just say no” DARE campaign in US schools, despite the fact that it was completely ineffective.
The South by Southwest (SXSW) conference – we’ll be applying to speak!