Mind, Body, Health & Politics

Thursday, June 27, 2024
Facebook Live Video from 2024/06/27-Dr. Ben Sessa on the Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

Facebook Live Video from 2024/06/27-Dr. Ben Sessa on the Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health


2024/06/27-Dr. Ben Sessa on the Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

[NEW EPISODE] Dr. Ben Sessa on the Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

“The mission of Mind Body Health & Politics is to expand consciousness, stimulate thought, enhance mental and physical health, and encourage community.” — Dr. Richard L. Miller

I'm thrilled to share my recent interview with Dr. Ben Sessa, a leading figure in the field of psychedelic research and the author of The Psychedelic Renaissance.

Dr. Ben Sessa is a qualified medical professional who obtained his medical degree from University College London in 1997. He has been a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists since 2002. With a specialization in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from Oxford in 2005, Dr. Sessa has worked in various mental health services, including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and Adult Addictions and the Veterans Trauma Service. Dr. Sessa has held significant positions in the field of psychedelic medicine, including being a former co-founder, Chief Medical Officer, and Head of Psychedelic Medicine at Awakn Life Sciences from 2020 to 2023. He is trained in MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine therapy.

In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Sessa is actively involved in drug policy reform and provides advice to the UK government. He has made regular media appearances, sharing his expertise in the fields of cannabis and psychedelic medicines. Dr. Sessa has presented at national and international conferences and has published extensively in both academic and popular press. For more information on his publications, books, and media inputs, please visit his website.

Dr. Sessa provides valuable insights into the history and current state of psychedelic research. We discuss the development of the field, from the early days of pioneering studies to the present psychedelic renaissance. He highlights the importance of patient demand and the need for alternative treatments in driving this resurgence.

Join me in this enlightening discussion as we dive into the realm of psychedelic research and its potential to revolutionize mental healthcare.

Show Notes

Segment 1

In this episode of Mind, Body, Health, & Politics, Dr. Richard Miller is joined by Dr. Ben Sessa as they discuss psychedelic research and other similar topics. To start the episode, they discuss Dr. Sessa’s books and the research behind them. From there, Dr. Miller receives Dr. Sessa’s opinion about the lack of research on LSD and whether or not the research is resurfacing within our society today. 

Segment 2

Moving forward in the interview, Dr. Miller asks hypothetical questions regarding the many kinds of psychedelics and mixing them and what can potentially happen depending on what’s being used. Dr. Sessa also briefly highlights that there is also a lack of writing fiction novels that use psychedelics in a fictional use. From there, Dr. Miller asked questions about different images of brains under the influence, the different forms they can take, and Dr. Sessa’s interpretation of them. As the segment finishes, Dr. Miller asks about dosage and Dr. Sessa’s opinions on micro-dosing and other dosage names. 

Segment 3

After a quick ad break, we return to Dr. Miller and Dr. Sessa picking up where they left off discussing threshold dosing. They also discuss more data about people self-experimenting with psychedelics along with numerous statistics from the United States. 

Segment 4

As the episode comes to an end, Dr. Miller and Dr. Sessa finish their discussion by talking about the safety of psychedelics. Particularly, Dr. Sessa debunks which psychedelics are safe and won’t lead to addiction and defines what is safe and dangerous when it comes to this topic. They also discuss more concepts from Dr. Sessa’s book and other similar topics as the e[isode ends. 


Welcome to Mind Body Health and Politics. I'm your host, Dr Richard Lewis Miller. The mission of Mind Body Health and Politics is to enhance your physical and emotional well-being and encourage community.

I say encourage community because I believe that we humans are basically tribal animals that like hanging around with each other and we like doing things together in groups. We like sewing circles, ball games, raves, watching television. We love eating together in circles. We are collaborative, cooperative as a species.

But then you may ask, if that's true, why is all of history written about the terrible wars and all the kills and how many tens and hundreds of millions of people we kill? And the answer is, because a very small percentage of us, perhaps less than five percent, are predators.

We see examples of this throughout all of history, whether it's in ancient Egypt, whether it was when Caesar threw over the republic, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, wannabe, this Trump wants to be a dictator, It's a different mentality.

So those of us who are in the 95 plus percent who are collaborative and cooperative, we need to stay awake and aware. I leave you on this topic with the words of Thomas Jefferson, one of my heroes. He said, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Today on Mind Body Health and Politics, I have the privilege

as having us our guest Dr Ben Sessa. I'm holding up his book that just came out in a second edition and right before the program We were talking about a third edition, which is due because his first edition came out in 2012. He was part of the start of the wave of the psychedelic renaissance.

His second edition, the one that I just showed to you, came out in 2017. And he was mentioning to me right before the program started that he's going to be doing a third edition. Welcome to Mind Body Health and Politics, Ben.

Thank you very much Richard, great pleasure to be here, thank you for having me.

One of the things that stood out for me in your book of the Many Very Important Themes. I love your book, Ben. Let me just say that right out. I love the book. I think it's a great book. I think it's a must read for anybody interested in psychedelics and even those who are not interested in psychedelics.

But I'm a psychologist, so this is what caught my attention in addition to what we're going to be talking about. And I'm going to read it out loud. This is how Ben Sessa ends the book. He thanks his wife because of the amount of time that it took to write the book.

And he ends with, look, it's finished. I'm back again. I think that was his way of acknowledging. Tell us about that, Ben. I mean, how much, it's a lot of work, isn't it?

Yeah it's an immense amount of work and it's a lot of work staring at a laptop and it does take one away from one's other activities particularly family so I think really important to acknowledge the kindness and patience of those who love one to be patient and

persevering and with support when academia takes us away so much from those important things. So yeah, I love writing, but it is arguably an excuse to disengage from social activities, isn't it?

Yes, well it's mostly a solo experience although I'm about to launch a book for the first time with two other people and you mentioned before the program that you're going to be doing your third edition with a partner or a colleague so it'll be an interesting new experience for both of us. Ben, you talk in the book

about how you and Robin Carhart-Harris, who I interviewed about a week ago, as an aside, it's sort of a British invasion. Robin started it, today you, and then David Nutz coming on pretty soon as well, which I'm very pleased about.

You mention in the book how you and Robin made this proposal for research, I think it was in about 2007,

and you were turned down flat it was like there was tell the story of that which uh which one are you talking about here this is Robin's study in with psilocybin no this was earlier than that when you had met Robin and and uh you put together some I can find it in the book you put together oh yeah this was originally this was originally for alcohol use disorder wasn't it yes

Yeah, I mean back then the, you know, Robin's study with psilocybin, which later became

the all the imaging stuff that came out of Bristol and Imperial was the first psychedelic research in the UK and so there was there was no precedent for it since the 60s and it did take a while to get ethics committees and boards on board with that sort of research of course there's loads of it now and it's very easy and

People are familiar with accepting psychedelic protocols but back then, in the UK at least, we were very much trailblazing. There was nobody else that was proposing anything like this and it was quite some years later that I managed to get my MDMA study off the ground. But Robin's work with psilocybin was absolutely paving the way.

It was a very exciting time when it was myself and Robin and David and Amanda at Bristol and then Imperial in those early days.

And what do you think happened over there that led to an opening up? Did the political situation change? Did the culture change? Was there a change in morality? I mean basically the two things that were sort of opposed to psychedelics

Some combination of morality, you know, you're doing something bad, the same people who were sort of anti-alcohol in this country with the Women's Christian Temperance Union, only now it's something either further out called psychedelics, right? Either that or a fear that people are going to think too much and then they'll lose political power. Isn't that a great...

I think there are multiple reasons why we're in this psychedelic renaissance and why this is now happening this second time around. One is simply time. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the 1960s. Most people today don't even know who Timothy Leary was.

I think the modern psychedelic researchers are steering away from the Leary type narrative that psychedelics are going to save humanity and change the world. They're not going to save humanity and change the world, nothing is. The world's way too complex for any single agent to do that.

So the modern narrative which is a much more sober and conservative, these medicines could be useful in certain parts of psychiatry, actually carries a lot more weight than this, you know, we'll all live in utopian dream if everyone just drops acid.

So we don't have that kind of messianic narrative and I think that's helped with this current renaissance. Another major reason for the renaissance is changes in science. Using imaging techniques we can produce beautiful colourful pictures of the brain. We know a lot more about the receptor profiles and the neurobiology behind psychedelics.

That gives them a much more sciency edge which has popular appeal.

um the internet connectivity you know there's far more happening today people talk about the psychedelic 60s today is way more psychedelic than the 60s ever were there's a fraction of the people were using psychedelics in the 60s there is far more widespread recreational use of all psychedelics today than there ever was in the 60s but also much greater connectivity far more clubs groups societies gatherings festivals conferences

um than ever before way way eclipsing anything in the 60s so and the final reason and i think the main reason why psychedelic research has picked up clinically is that it's driven by patient power Richard patients themselves are demanding alternatives to the current status quo in terms of clinical clinical um treatments and that they're searching for alternative types of medicine and

They're sick of substandard treatments for the last 50 years in medicine and so they're naturally reaching out to other more esoteric subjects and psychedelics fits in really well with that.

You were at the psychedelic science conference in Denver last spring. I'm sorry we didn't meet in person. I think we were in the same room at the same time at Amanda's party. Outside the conference hall

I noticed a group of policemen and all around on the grass were a lot of hippie looking young people sitting around in gay clothing. So I walked over to the police officers and I introduced myself and I asked them if I could ask a few questions and they said fine.

and I asked them point blank how did they feel about and I pointed at the people in the grass and the building and so on I said how do you feel about this conference on from what your perspective is drugs that we're calling psychedelic science how do you feel about it and the chief of the five of them looked at me and said every one of us has had a family member fucked up by big pharma

If these people have something new to offer, we're going to be very interested. And I thought that was quite an interesting statement from the head of the police group. It's basically what you're saying, demand from the public.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, like I said, there's a lack of safety and efficacy of traditional psychiatric treatments. And I think people also do feel as though they've been missold the effectiveness of traditional psychiatric drugs, which are not effective in many cases and are certainly overused.

So that does all contribute to this groundswell of movement and enthusiasm for something alternative and psychedelics fit so well into that.

Here in the states it looks to be like most of the research is going on with psilocybin and the decriminalization that's occurred in Oregon and in Colorado is a decriminalization of vegetables that come from the ground and fungi. LSD is clearly being left out of the picture.

I don't see anywhere near as much research at least that I'm aware of. Are you aware of LSD research that there's a resurgence in that as well either in England or maybe in the United States that I'm not aware of? Or do you see also that the preponderance of it is psilocybin?

You're absolutely correct Richard, there's been very little in the way of LSD research since this psychedelic renaissance of the last 20 years, very little indeed. People are choosing psilocybin, there's a number of reasons for that. I think the main reason is psilocybin carries less of a stigma.

If you're trying to get a protocol past ethics and you have those little letters LSD, the ethics committee jump out of their seats immediately.

whereas if you write the word psilocybin most of them haven't even heard what that is and so it gets past ethics committees more easily it doesn't have the social stigma that LSD has it's also arguable that psilocybin is shorter acting it's like six to eight hours as opposed to eight to twelve hours so that makes it a bit more clinically manageable in the clinical protocols that people are writing

um i think also the fact that it comes from a natural substance appeals to certain users as well over lsd so you're absolutely correct there has been i think maybe two studies that came out of switzerland with lsd um we did some brief lsd research in this country as well that's not found the light of day in terms of publication but

Generally, it's few and far between. Probably under half a dozen LSD studies in the last 20 years. That's off the top of my head, I'm guessing. Whereas hundreds of psilocybin. So you're absolutely right in that observation.

So you're working at the hospital as a psychiatrist, which you are, and you're told that you're going to get 50 patients to treat over a period of time. And you have to use one of two psychedelic medicines for this particular time. But you can't use both and you can't mix them. You have to pick one.

Of all the psychedelics, which one would you pick?

I'd need to clarify what you mean by psychedelic. Are you referring only to classic psychedelics or are you expanding that? Because I would expand it to a whole host of things that are not traditionally classic psychedelics.

I would certainly expand it to MDMA and ketamine. What else are you thinking?

Well, I mean, there's so many. There's Ibogaine, there's Salvia. I would argue THC with no balancing CBD is psychedelic. Fair enough. Enlarged dose. Many, many. That's right. So if we're allowed to expand beyond the classic psychedelics with your thought experiment, MDMA all the way. MDMA all the way.

Okay. And if you could choose two, what would be your second? And you could either do them separately or you could mix them.

Salicybin, yeah. Salicybin.

And would you do it separately from the MDMA or would you do it concurrently during the same session?

So there's been very few um proposed or published mixed mixed protocols in in recent years um the next step will be mixed protocols that involve taking psilocybin one week and MDMA another week it's another step forward to propose a mixed protocol or combination protocol in which you take both drugs in the same sitting um

I think that's a valuable thing to explore. I think we can learn a lot about recreational use and how people use these recreationally. People combine MDMA with ketamine recreationally. They combine MDMA with psilocybin recreationally and they report positive results.

So I do think that we will move to the day where we do see these combination protocols but to date there haven't been any. I think it would be very interesting and with no doubt such things will be submitted in coming years.

Just to give you an update, mixing psilocybin with MDMA is getting more and more popular in the San Francisco Bay Area amongst guides. I've gotten that feedback that that's going on.

Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance In terms of recreational use, there are very few monocompound users. Very few. Almost everybody that goes to raves and parties is a polydrug user.

So, they're all polydrug users, which means we'll be looking forward to research on polydrugs and what their effects are. We've been talking briefly about recreational use and we've talked briefly about use as a medicine in treating people particularly with trauma but with all sorts of emotional upsets. Can you talk to us about the place of these psychedelics

in Creativity. And do we need books, more books on that? Could we have a book like yours that instead of focusing on the medicinal use, which you as a medical doctor of course do, focuses on all the uses by people who have used it to create something?

Yeah I mean I think obviously my area of research and expertise is in clinical uses with clinical populations with mental health problems but we mustn't restrict our knowledge or research to only clinical populations. We know that psychedelics used responsibly Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

um at the same time both clinics for um patients with mental health problems staffed by doctors and nurses and psychologists but also wellness retreat centers for non-clinical populations to go for personal growth and development um creativity is certainly one of those factors that's not not you wouldn't be taking psychedelics for creative for clinical purposes but for creativity in the last 15-20 years of psychedelic renaissance

there's been so many textbooks there's hundreds of new textbooks on the field which is fascinating and it's great fun and i've written a fair few myself but what there is a real lack of is fiction in psychedelic writing very few novels about psychedelics and psychedelic research i have written a novel it's called patient chemistry

and it fictionalizes the use of psychedelic research for these two fictional characters. It's fantastic and I'm looking for an agent and a publisher to bring this book into the public.

So I wanted to put that to your esteemed listeners if there's any agents or publishers out there who might be interested in perhaps one of the first books of fiction on psychedelics in modern times Drop me a line. And there's been a lot of interesting work done over the years on that.

Jim Fadiman did a very famous study back in the 60s with mescaline, I think it was, and creativity. And there has been a study with LSD in recent years in which I worked on, again, which hasn't been published yet, which was looking at LSD in fairly small doses for improving creativity.

I think one of the things about psychedelic drug use and creativity is I think it's a good primer to help a person be creative. I don't think that many people produce particularly good material when high on drugs.

So even bands like The Grateful Dead or other rock bands, they will talk about their use of psychedelics in the writing process and in the creative process, but when it comes to performing on stage, although probably not The Grateful Dead, but plenty of other bands, Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

Personally, I can't bear psychedelic visionary art. I think most of it is, it's not my aesthetic. Pictures of airbrushed dolphins diving through rainbows with jaguars and condors in the background. It's cheesy as hell if you ask me, but a lot of people in the psychedelic community like that stuff.

Well, talking about the word cheesy, on page 90 of your book, You have a picture of a couple and they're sitting there with a couple of brains and the caption says something like, they remove the brains and then they put them back in. I didn't know what to make of that.

I mean, what kind of brains and how do you put a brain back in or were you kidding? Two Norwegians.

Okay, so this is Terry and Kreb. Terry Kreb is from Paraguay, Johansson. Yeah, that was obviously a ridiculous joke. They didn't remove any brain.

Well, you sure got my attention because you said here, it's so funny, I was laughing my head off. It says, which involved temporarily removing the brain of their subjects, examining them on the lab surface before reinstalling them into their subjects. And almost as if they're human subjects.

Now they wrote a fantastic paper, it was a very large population study with thousands of patients

which looked at the relative physical and mental health of psychedelic users yes and found that they are it's superior to the general population suggesting that far from psychedelics being dangerous it's in fact the opposite people who regularly use psychedelics cautiously have better mental and physical health than non-users so that was an interesting study okay well that leads me to another question Ben we've all seen or at least within our subculture we've all seen

The pictures that Amanda published of the brain on LSD and a brain not on LSD, the MRI photos, the famous photos.

Now, in those... Oh, psilocybin, I think it was. Was it psilocybin? Is that the one with the circle and the connectivity between them?

It's the one where the brain that's on psychedelic is all lit up orange and the brain that is not on psychedelics has some orange spots on it, but not a lot of them.

okay and i well my question if you don't remember it then maybe it isn't relevant because i was going to ask you as a neuroscientist what is this telling us what is your interpretation of seeing the brain ignited like this under the influence of this of this substance

Well, what we see with psychedelics, classic psychedelics, what they appear to do is temporarily increase network connectivity and activity in such a way as there are connections between regions of the brain that normally wouldn't be connected. Now, this is often termed like neuroplasticity or neuroflexibility and this massive, highly chaotic connection

um it's not a state you can live in the whole time we need to have um boundaries and rules and categories for our everyday life or we wouldn't be able to function but for a few brief hours the drug acts as a primer in which all these things are possible and everything's connected now that's very beneficial

if you during that therapeutic window of opportunity hit the patient with bespoke focused psychotherapy so in a way the drug just acts as a primer to put the brain into this neuroplastic state but it's the psychotherapy that you do in and around that state that has the clinical value Ben some people have found it helpful

to differentiate the therapy that goes on with lower doses than higher doses, referring to the lower dose as psycholytic therapy and the higher dose as psychedelic therapy. Do you find that a handy differentiation?

Yeah and I think it's a dose dependent issue Richard so if you take a low dose of psilocybin like 5, 10, 15 milligrams or a low dose of LSD say 25, 50 up to 75 micrograms you could potentially do talk therapy in that state. Psycholytic means mind loosening

So, the mind is looser, it frees you up, it reduces inhibitions and you can do psychotherapy in that low-dose state. But if you take a high dose of psilocybin, 25, 30 mg or LSD, 150, 200, whatever,

you you have a mind-blowing mystical type experience which is very psychedelic and full of material but most people can't really engage in psychotherapy in that state so the difference between say psycholytic and psychedelic in this context is around dose really and the extent to which you can do talk therapy or not on that dose and both appear to be helpful

And both appear to be helpful.

Yeah, and if you look at the history and the work that Ronald Sanderson was doing in the 50s in the UK, he was using psycholytic doses on a more frequent basis.

So he would give doses of 25, 50, maximum 75 micrograms to his patients undergoing weekly psychoanalysis to sort of boost the psychoanalysis and do talk therapy in that drug state.

whereas the psycholytic psychotherapy school that was more popular in the states would give a single high dose 200, 300, 400 microgram dose have this mind-blowing mystical experience with very little psychotherapy at the time and then you spend the weeks afterwards unpackaging and integrating that that single high dose experience so they're just two different forms of psychotherapy

Now there's a third form if you will. Jim Fadiman as you know has been collecting hundreds if not thousands of stories from people who are microdosing and my question for you is given the positive effects that you're talking about from the psychedelics and this research indicating that people function even better who have taken the psychedelics regularly.

Could an argument be made for microdosing on a schedule very regularly, almost in the same way that the pharmaceutical companies have people taking a pill once a day or once every second day? Mostly once a day they like to sell them.

Yeah. I have three opinions about microdosing and the last thing I want to do is to be seen at loggerheads with the likes of Jim or Paul who are both good friends and firm beliefs in microdosing.

The first reason I'm not a big fan of microdosing is there isn't a huge amount of randomised control data around whether or not it's working and indeed the two studies that have been shown

suggests that it's a placebo or expectancy effect more than a drug effect in other words if you believe you're on a microdose you're going to do well from it and you're going to report positively if you don't think you are on a microdose and you're not having any drug even if you are given one you'll report that you didn't get anything from that so it does appear to be a strong expectancy effect the second reason that i'm not a big fan of microdosing is clinically i've come across too many people who are not microdosing they're threshold dosing

People come up to me at conferences and say, hey Ben, I'm on a wicked microdose buzz today. Well, if you're on a buzz, you're not on a microdose, you're threshold dosing. And if you threshold dose psychedelics every day for weeks and months on end, you tend to go a bit loopy.

So a lot of people are not microdosing, they're taking a threshold dose on a regular basis, which isn't great for you. The third reason that I'm not a big fan of microdosing is a little bit like you alluded to in the question, Um, I like psychedelics because they get us off daily maintenance drugs.

I like the fact that you just have to take this psychedelic, whether it's MDMA, ketamine, LSD, psilocybin, once, twice, three times as part of a course of psychotherapy and then you're off maintenance daily drugs. If you're going to take psychedelics every day for weeks, months, years, decades, you may as well be on Prozac.

Now that's not entirely true, and they're arguably safer than SSRIs, but do you see the point? I like psychedelics because they're not maintenance drugs. But the caveat there about microdosing is if you do it, and you do it properly, you will report positive benefits. because if you believe in it, it'll work for you.

And that's very strongly demonstrated. But then so does crystal healing, Jesus and the Bible, if you believe in that. So, you know, it's a positive thing. If it gives you a personal sense of meaning and you believe it's enhancing your connectivity and your creativity, great, carry on doing it.

Let's talk about threshold dosing. Now Jim has put forth that if a person takes two days off in between doses, the neurotransmitters have a chance to recharge and they're ready.

So a person could take a threshold dose on a Monday, take Tuesday and Wednesday off, and then take another threshold dose on Thursday or Friday, in other words, twice a week.

Would that be enough to get them into the category of those that you cited in that study that had a more effective functioning baseline than people who were not taking the psychedelics?

I mean I think if you're threshold dosing psychedelics twice a week Good luck to you. I don't see how that behaviour will make you more connected with others. My sense is that will move you away from connection with others and towards an insular sense of self. But you know, whatever you think floats your boat.

I think psychedelics are the sort of thing that are best done infrequently. You know, a heavy user of LSD might be twice a year. A lot of people take these once or twice a year, special occasions, when mushrooms are in season, New Year's, a birthday, an anniversary, a particular festival.

I think if you're taking psychedelics at a threshold dose very regularly, well this is just my anecdotal experience of people I've seen, I think they drift away from being agents that create connection and they move towards an insular sense of self that is not connected.

These are not the sorts of drugs you need to take twice a week. Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance

unless everyone everywhere is doing it otherwise you just start to become the odd one out as opposed to more being more connected and what are your thoughts in the same regard then about frequency of MDMA which in distinction from the psychedelics which tend to be more intellectual or cognitive MDMA is more if you will emotional or heartful and brings you closer to people not further away

Yeah, so, I mean, you were right in that original statement, what Jim said that, you know, if you use psychedelics every day, you do, the receptors do down regulate and they stop being effective. You need to have a break of at least a week in between or four days, maybe. And MDMA is similar.

You can't just use MDMA every day. After about two or three days, it just stops working.

I think again I think if you're using MDMA every twice a week or even every week you start becoming not dependent upon it in a physical dependence way but it becomes habitual and you start moving towards not being able to have fun or enjoy yourself without it and I don't think that's I don't think that's healthy um you know I don't want to put any kind of moralistic judgment on this people can do what the hell they want I don't care but like um

I think, again, these things just seem to be more effective and beneficial when they are used sparingly, special occasions, not every week. I think it's not even about the drugs. It's just boring activity. You know, broaden your life. Do something else this weekend.

Well, you're echoing what Rick Doblin and Michael Midhoff say about MDMA. I think they think like maybe once every three or four months is plenty. Um, at the same time, I'm collecting data on couples who use it every single week and have been for five and 10 years, maybe averaging at least

close to three times a month for five to ten years and so far I mean I don't have a large N but the results are remarkable I'm seeing things like connecting with people who are estranged in the family people who never talk to each other getting back and talking to each other people who didn't talk about emotions

getting comfortable talking about and this is without a therapist by the way these are people self-experimenting uh that sounds like fascinating data that does sound really interesting i would love to see more doesn't it actually i've i'm not sure if you may know you know Alan Ajaya don't you No. Okay.

Alan Ajaya is a psychologist in Wisconsin and he's in my book, Psychedelic Wisdom, which I want to mention to you because it fits in with something that you're proposing for us or what you think is necessary having to do with public relations. Alan Ajaya is a Buddhist priest and a doctor of clinical psychology.

He's written quite a few books. He's taken LSD over 900 times. And I said to him, Alan, he's now close to 80 or 80. I said, Alan, are you, have you had enough? He said, oh no. I said, tell me about it. He said, there's always more to learn. It was quite interesting. Over 900.

Yeah exactly and how many people have had over 900 drinks of alcohol? Probably most of us. That's very good. It seems like an unusual thing to do with LSD but it's a lot less toxic than alcohol isn't it?

Well that's what's leading me into my next area for us to talk about. In this country We scare people, politicians and the media, scare people by citing data in a certain way that focuses on the terrifying aspects of it. So for example, we have 32,000 homicides in the United States every year with firearms.

And that's the number that's thrown out, which is a frightening number to the public. The number that's not thrown, what's not told to the public is that half of those are suicides. Almost 40% of the other half are in the family. And when you run the numbers for 330 million people,

Your chances of getting shot in the United States are 1 in 25,000. Well, if it was put forth to the public that, you know, your chances of getting shot in the United States Less than one in 25,000. In other words, you have 24,999 chances out of 25,000 that you'll never get shot.

It creates a different feeling because when I cite these statistics to people and I say, would you do a surgery that would save your life if there was a 1 in 25,000 chance that the surgery would fail? Everybody says yes.

Yeah, well, it's an interesting way of looking at it, Richard.

So what I'm about to ask you, let me finish, I'm about to ask you Ben is, can you cite the adverse effects of some of these psychedelics in the reverse? Your chances of not dying with these psychedelics rather than your chances of dying or do both. In other words, give us both sides. That's even better.

Give us both sides of the picture because that's one of the things that's used to scare the public. Am I going to die from these things? Can I smoke enough marijuana until it kills me? If I take psilocybin and I accidentally take too much, am I going to end up dead?

No, okay. Well, I can talk to you about the prevalence of morbidity and mortality of psychedelics. Absolutely. Or the safety of psychedelics is another way of stating the same thing. Yes. Can I make a comment about American gun culture first? Absolutely.

I don't think America needs any further encouragement about the hideous medieval situation in which high-grade military machinery is in the hands of the general public. No other country on earth is as bad. It's absurd. Anyway. Thank you. In terms of safety of psychedelics, you know, the rest of the world thinks America's crazy for this.

There's no respect whatsoever for American gun laws, but I suppose within most straight thinking American people, it's probably the same, isn't it?

Ben, Ben, I'm here to say out loud, what other country does not have universal health care like the United States?

Do you know I read yesterday that Malawi has a better public health care system than America and Malawi is in one of the top five poorest countries in the world. You're better off getting sick in Malawi than you are in America.

Our country, Ben, since we're on that topic, our country is in a slide. When you look at where we are in education, we used to be the number one in the world. I think we're down at number 18.

We have 60% of our country right now, if they lose their job, they'll be out on the street in three weeks. 60%. 72% of our country, Ben, are obese or overweight. Johns Hopkins reports that between 30 and 40 percent of the United States are depressed or anxious, suffering from anxiety or depression.

And that's in addition... I hope there's a reawakening of all these things. You know, people are well aware of this data now, aren't they? I don't know if we are or not, Ben. I hope America picks itself up again.

I hope we do too. But you know history as well as I. When the public is downtrodden, 60% on the edge financially, obese, overweight,

anxious and depressed they're ripe for a dictator and we've got a dictator and we have a dictator wannabe that is frothing at the mouth to take the controls yeah yeah that's what's happening good luck there get to the high ground and party if i was you but um in terms of shall i go back to the safety of psychedelics i i would love love to hear it that way the safety of psychedelics and then yeah yeah

and the morbidity if you want and the morbidity okay morbidity is really simple classic psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD are virtually inert physiologically they do virtually nothing to the body slight rise in in their blood pressure and heart rate which is probably anxiety related not pharmacologically related so LSD and psilocybin zero toxicity risk indeed to overdose on psilocybin mushrooms you would need to eat 17 kilograms

Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance

um now MDMA has a slightly higher toll on the body it does raise blood pressure temperature and heart rate um briefly for about four to six hours then it comes back down again um so it does have a slightly higher toll on the body and there are more recorded fatalities from MDMA poisoning than there are classic psychedelics but it's still very very low so in the UK maybe five to ten per year um people can die from hyperthermia

Hipponotremia but all of those things are easily managed in the clinical setting in terms of fluid balance and exercise and temperature so there's certainly no risk in a clinical setting and also when people use MDMA recreationally in the form of ecstasy god knows what they're taking it's usually not MDMA when you do the toxicology tests so

Physiologically, the psychedelics are very, very safe drugs and that's not a biased statement. That's an evidence-based statement. They are not on the radar for drug services, MDMA and psilocybin. They're not on the radar for addiction. They don't have typical drug-seeking behavior harms. I worked in a community setting for addictions for 12 years.

Not a single case of MDMA or psilocybin addiction came through the door in that time. Nobody breaks into your house to steal your TV to get their next magic mushroom fix.

The one drug that stands alone in psychedelics that is considerably more harmful is Ketamine Ketamine does indeed have a strong addiction potential if used very frequently in a recreational setting

and it also has a physical harm potential it causes inflammation throughout the whole urinary tract from the kidneys down the ureters to the bladder down the urethra all of which heals by scarring and is irreversible now this doesn't happen in clinical protocols with ketamine where we're using moderate doses spaced several weeks apart but when we're if you take

regular recreational ketamine for a long period of time you certainly have both addiction and physiological risks associated with it but the MDMA and psilocybin just are not they're just not highly dangerous drugs now we talk about harms that occur when on drugs like falling down the stairs or jumping out of a window or driving but those are not drug harms those are behavioral harms because you're on the drug so we have to separate those out

and of course the most important thing about all of this discussion around safety is in a clinical setting with screened patients having monitored guided sessions you can reduce all of these harms down to virtually zero so they are very very safe drugs to use and i do you know incidentally considerably safer than the drugs i can quite happily give to psychiatric patients on a day-to-day basis so um

When we talk about harms or safety in medicine, we don't use words like safe or dangerous because they're meaningless concepts. You know, are cars safe? Are knives dangerous? Depends. I mean, depends what you do with them, doesn't it? You know, try cutting a loaf of bread without a knife because it's dangerous. You know, it's absurd. So,

We don't use words like safe and dangerous, they're too blunt. We say does this treatment in this patient at this point satisfy the risk-benefit analysis in the favor of benefit over risk? That's what we do with every medical intervention from sticking plasters to cancer chemotherapy.

All medical interventions have both risks and benefits and we weigh up that analysis of risks versus benefits. Now when you do that with psychedelics, whether MDMA, psilocybin or indeed ketamine, they come out very strongly in the favor of benefit over risk. So, yeah, extremely safe.

Extremely safe. In your book, you have a picture of two scientists sitting with a subject who's in a chair and he's being injected with DMT. Now that subject looks very suspiciously like Dr Ben Sessa.

That is Dr Ben Sessa.

Oh okay, so was Dr Ben Sessa getting injected with DMT?

Yeah so I am in a very fortunate position Richard in that unlike I don't know anyone else who can say this I can as a medical doctor I can say on the record that I've had MDMA psilocybin DMT ketamine and LSD all of those have been delivered in legal

clinical or legal research settings so I've participated in studies with all five of those drugs and I can on the record say I've had all those drugs I don't know anyone else that has done all of those studies I mean there's some people who've done one or two of them or three of them but to have participated in studies for all five of those means I can on the record state that I have indeed had intravenous psilocybin, intravenous LSD, intravenous ketamine

in Terenas DMT and all MDMA, all of them legally.

And how would you rank those five in terms of personal benefit on the big picture? Personal benefit defined as enhancing your life in some way that you notice.

That's a very good question. I mean personal idiosyncratic preference, which is just aesthetic, I'm not a huge fan of ketamine. I find it rather dark and spooky and eerie. Psilocybin and LSD are fascinating compounds to do sparingly for some incredible peak experience but not too often.

DMT similarly is the sort of thing that you probably don't need to do lots. It's about glimpsing those aspects of self because they're all internal experiences, they're not external experiences. But MDMA is certainly my preference because as a clinical tool It doesn't have that mind-blowing, peak experience, mystical experience that classic psychedelics has.

But trust me, as a trauma therapist, it is no less powerful. It is much more tolerable, much easier to take. You don't really have a bad trip with MDMA. It either works or it doesn't.

it's very tolerable and easy to manage yet no less powerful when it comes to its tool to it to it becoming a tool as an adjunct to psychotherapy it's immensely powerful in that role but also very easy to to tolerate as a patient so um i think that makes it superior if it was a competition as i said before it would be mdma all the way in terms of choice as a clinical tool

I've also had the experience of each of these five substances, though not in the way that you have, which is much more fortunate, and I agree with you, you're a rare person, but I've had all five going back 50-60 years at this point, and I agree with you 100%

On four of the five, I agree with you on the benefits of the LSD and the psilocybin. Ketamine seems dark to me also. Of course, it's an anesthetic, and I'm interested in expansion, not contraction, and I don't want to go to sleep. And I think MDMA, for the first time, oh, we're getting a signal from our producer.

We're not getting a signal. Okay, he came on.

We got a five signal. We got a five.

Maybe it's five minutes to the end of the hour. I was fortunate enough to be given MDMA in my doctor's, my therapist's office while it was still legal. So he was able to get it legally, it was clean, he used it on me, it was life-changing and remarkable. The only one we sort of disagree on is DMT.

I see DMT from what my experience with it is sort of like Okay you get the transcendence, but where's the meat and the potatoes? I mean what do I take home other than the fact that I had a transcendent experience?

So if you're looking for a fast transcendent experience that lasts 15-20 minutes, sure go for it, but as a therapist I wouldn't know how to use it. Terrific. There has been talk in this country, which I know you're aware of, of putting LSD in the water supply.

And you mention in your book that it wouldn't work because public water supplies are chlorinated and the chlorine would neutralize the LSD. If that's the case, then why when we take LSD orally doesn't the stomach acid, which is hydrochloric acid, neutralize the LSD?

That's a really interesting point, Richard. I don't think this, yeah, it's an interesting point. I think the point about the water supply adulteration with LSD is a classic psychedelic urban myth.

LSD is quite volatile and you would need to have truckloads pouring into a reservoir to create enough of a dose to be felt by drinking out of a tap. Also, only 10% of the water that comes out of a tap is drunk. Most of it's used for other purposes.

um so the idea of uh poisoning an entire town with LSD is just not going to happen the one place where it might work is in closed systems like say a ship um which has a closed system smaller water reservoir that that sort of a ship or but anything on the national mains for water supply is just not going to happen with LSD um uh adulteration the question about why do we not neutralize it in the stomach i don't know that's a good one i mean i think

The answer is you do lose a lot of the potency of LSD when you take it orally. That's why when we use it in research we use intravenous because you get full delivery of the drug to the brain without any of that loss in the stomach or the gut.

You make an important point in your book about the future

of these psychedelics in medicine I would add in creativity as well and the point is that what it's going to take is money The money to do the research and how this whole area has been a stepchild of science and medicine.

And you're right, just as chemical dependence has been a stepchild of psychotherapy, there are these areas that are sort of looked down upon. Here in the United States, Ben, there are three areas which if you study as an academician, which is how I started,

uh teaching at the University of Michigan um there are three areas which are career killers hypnosis sexuality and psychedelics but now psychedelics is no longer a career killer but the other two are still hypnosis and sexuality are career killers.

So you mention in your book it's going to take money and the way to get the money is good through public relations which I totally agree with. In fact I did a whole book called Psychedelic Wisdom which contains 1,500 years of prominent people outing themselves just in the way you're asking us to do.

They're telling the story of 30 to 40 years of self-experimentation. Now how do we do that Ben? Are there organizations in England that are taking you seriously enough that they're considering public relations Manifestos? Public relations?

I think there are and I think that the real challenge for psychedelics going forward in some ways we don't need any more psychedelic research we know they work we know they're safe we know they're efficacious we know they work on multiple patient indications we don't really need any more research what we need is good PR good advertising politicians and dissemination of this idea

we need psychedelics in free public health care we have failed the psychedelic renaissance if all we've got after all these years of millions of dollars pouring into the industry in the last five years if all we've got is a bunch of high-end glamorous Exotic retreats in Costa Rica and Jamaica and Holland for very rich tech hippies.

We have failed if that's all we've achieved. These drugs need to be free public access for everybody then we can make a serious dent in the massive

International Psychiatric Epidemic of Mental Illness that is upon the world they can make a dent on that prevalence they can revolutionize public health services in terms of mental health care but they need to be accessible to all they should not be charged now it doesn't make sense because they also make

Dr Ben Sessa on The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Future of Mental Health

um they go on to they don't work they want disability benefits they need new legs they need new livers they offend they go to prison their children are taken away by the family courts all of the millions of dollars of costs that go with substandard psychiatric treatment whereas if you get them up front in their 20s at the when their trauma is relatively fresh in their minds and you treat them effectively with psychedelic medicine

Yes, it's expensive. Yes, it's intensive, upfront piece of work. But that's like surgery. You know, you don't not do mending a broken leg because it's expensive. You don't say, I'm not going to pay 15 grand to have that femur, fractured femur mended.

I'm going to hobble around on a broken leg and take painkillers the rest of my life. You don't say that. You find the money to mend a broken leg because that's what you have to do. That's how we should be approaching mental illness.

We should not be looking at it as a palliative care subject that just keeps people managed in their symptoms for the next 60, 70 years of their life because we don't want to spend the money up front in an effective treatment that will cure them and get them better.

So psychedelic therapy is turning on its head this maintenance model of psychiatric care that we've had for the last 50 years, which the pharma industry are quite happy with because it provides regular daily use of maintenance drugs Psychedelics are a marketing nightmare for the pharma industry.

Why would they want to put a hundred million dollars worth of R&D research into a drug that you only take three times that's off patent? You know, it's a marketing nightmare.

We need to find a way to make this available to patients for free and it would pull the rug out from under traditional pharmaceutical services to a large extent. Not entirely. I'm not an anti-psychiatrist. There is a place for SSRIs and mood stabilizers and all the other drugs.

but they're certainly overused and they're certainly ineffective in many many people so i think psychedelics that is the challenge for the future we don't need any more research we know they all work we just need to get these into public health care so they're accessible to all then we can really make a meaningful dent on on the on public health i think it's a perfect way to end our interview that was so beautifully said thank you dr ben sessa for being with us today thank you richard it's a great pleasure to be here

And thank you all, gentle listeners, for being with us today on this broadcast of Mind Body Health and Politics with our very distinguished guest, Dr Ben Sessa from England. I remind you that all of our programs are open source. That means no charge, no hidden costs, no costs. Go to

You can listen to this interview with Dr. Ben Sessa. I hope you'll buy his book, The Psychedelic Renaissance. It's worth reading and I look forward to seeing you again. Remember, every Tuesday at nine o'clock is a new program.

Until next time, this is Dr. Richard Lewis Miller reminding you that good health is worth fighting for and it's essential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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