Inspired by the testimony of a psychedelic fungi grower, we went to the Czech National Mental Health Institute in the Czech Republic to meet the scientists making psychedelics legal. A movie produced by Polish members of our global video advocacy network.
Largely unnoticed, a major paradigm shift is happening in the field of mental health. With data showing that every 6th person on the planet already has either experienced some sort of psychological issue, is experiencing one now, or will be in the future, mental health is clearly one of the most burning challenges of today. There has been a long overstated dogma: that all antidepressant drugs need weeks, if not months, to work. This is about to change forever with psychedelic (hallucinogenic) compounds making their way into mainstream medicine.
LSD (“acid”), DMT (“ayahuasca”) or psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) are all currently scheduled by law in a category “with no medical use and high addiction potential”. Despite their illegal status, millions of people continue to use these (and dozens more) psychedelics for various reasons all around the world. Some enjoy them in recreational settings, some in a spiritual context, while others call hallucinogens their “private medicine”. We met in Warsaw with one of the latter, a clandestine psychedelic mushroom grower, and learned how he perceives the Psilocybe Cubensis fungi helped him grow personally.
Inspired by this testimony, we set out to learn more about the much-hyped medical potential of psychedelics. We went to the Czech Republic to meet with the Czech Psychedelic Society (CZEPS) and a group of scientists from the Czech National Mental Health Institute (NUDZ) in Klecany near Prague. Together they work on psychedelic research and recently set up another body, the PsyRes Foundation. The Psychedelic Research (PsyRes) Foundation was set up to help facilitate funding for innovative projects, such as a trip to the Amazon to study ayahuasca in traditional settings, or an app for people who use psychedelics.
Why focus on psychedelics research? For psychiatrists in the Klecany institute, it is simple. They work with patients with treatment resilient depression who have tried every classic antidepressant on the market but are still horribly, chronically depressed. That is why the scientists try many experimental treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, even electrical current stimulation and, last but not least, hallucinogenic drugs, said team leader Dr. Martin Brunovský Ph.D.
“Psychedelics work biologically,” elaborated his colleague Dr. Veronika Andrashko, who works with ketamine assisted treatment. Both ketamine, as the most established treatment, and classic psychedelics, show signs of synaptogenesis in the brain – the making of new synapses, new connections. “The changes that we see in the brains of ketamine patients are similar to what we see after 2 weeks of successful antidepressant therapy”, Dr. Andrashko explained.
But it’s not all in the drugs. Czech researchers prefer to focus on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Dr. Filip Tylš Ph.D., who works mainly with psilocybin, reminds us of the words of legendary Czech scientist, Prof. Stanislav Grof, who oversaw over 4,500 LSD sessions: “psychedelics are nonspecific amplifiers”. Whatever a patient experiences it will be amplified under influence, therefore it’s especially effective to pair hallucinogenic drugs with psychotherapy.
The experiments are nothing like those from the hippy 1960s. For now, researchers try to learn how to predict if someone might benefit from psychedelics – or if it could end up being a traumatic experience. The research is tightly regulated, from licensing, through meticulous monitoring, to the extreme costs that come with all this bureaucracy. PsyRes Foundation scientists want to bring psychedelic-assisted treatment to a psychiatrist near you, but need help to make progress. By going to the website http://psyresfoundation.eu anyone can donate and also choose what research they would like their funding to go to. Which psychedelic-assisted treatment would you like to see first: ketamine, psilocybin, LSD, or DMT?
Jerzy Afanajew and Sebastian Walczak