Colloquium on Psychedelic Psychiatry Conference - 13-14th October 2018, Sweden

Stockholm picture

This was a two day conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, aimed at discussing psychedelic drugs, their mechanisms of action, and their potential clinical applications in Psychiatric practice. The main substances discussed were Psilocybin (psychoactive substance found in some species of mushrooms, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’), Ayahuasca (Amazonian tea containing the psychoactive substance Dimethyltryptamine and Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors), MDMA (a substance known for inducing empathy, feelings of well-being, and social connection, and is commonly associated with music festivals and electronic music clubs), and Ibogaine (a substance most known for it’s potential in treating opiate addiction).

Despite the phenomenological differences between some of these substances, the treatment concept can be generalised as utilising the altered states they induce to resolve trauma, introduce new perspectives, and initiate change. Among all others, psilocybin and MDMA seem to be receiving the most attention at the moment, with supported psilocybin sessions being investigated for management of treatment resistant depression, and MDMA with psychological support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some clinical trials in the United States and Europe are already under way, while others are expected to start over the next few years. Newcastle is one of the first sites in Europe to start recruitment for the Psilocybin Trial, expecting to start end of November 2018.

Besides clinical applications, presenters also discussed healthy volunteer studies aimed at understanding the mechanisms of action of these substances by measuring changes in brain activity and correlating these to changes in blood levels. The scientists doing this work believe that we can learn more about the nature of consciousness by understanding how these substances affect it.

In all, the conference was an interesting window into this renewed interest in psychedelic drugs. Both speakers and participants shared an excitement that was difficult to ignore, certain that these substances have much to offer to the world of science, and the future of mental health services.

Written by Mourad Wahba