[To register, visit the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/136151866895263]
This symposium, hosted by the Psychedelic and Enthegeon Academic Council (PEAC) at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), will be focused on advancing the discussions around doing clinical trials in the United States to assess the safety and efficacy of ayahuasca in healthy participants and PTSD patients. The meeting aims to leverage the expertise of Brazilian researchers who have successfully conducted clinical trials on ayahuasca, and other related topics in the field of psychedelic science. Some of the questions addressed include: What methodological and epistemological challenges arise when conducting clinical research into psychedelic substances?; How are participants and researchers benefiting from the interventions, and how might trials be designed to best document this?; How is the placebo effect framed and shaped by clinical trial methodologies, and how could it be framed differently?; What kind of a ‘problem’ is placebo?; What role do the psychedelics themselves play in the learning processes of participants and researchers, and how should we understand the roles that other factors play?; Can the knowledge we are gaining about psychedelics be translated across different substances, sets, settings and disciplinary registers?
Date: April 25, 2017
Time: 7- 9 pm
Location: Toland Hall, first floor of UC Hall, Room U-142, Parnassus Avenue, University of California San Francisco (UCSF), San Francisco, California, 94143
Hosted by: PEAC at UCSF and MAPS
Moderated by Bia Labate, Ph.D, CIESAS/NEIP
Challenges and Questions Behind a Clinical Trial with Ayahuasca for Depression
Draulio Araujo, Ph.D, UFRN
Research with serotonergic psychedelics has gained momentum. A few centres around the world are currently exploring how these substances interact with the brain, and probing their potential use in treating different psychiatric conditions, including mood disorders. Recent open label trials show that psychedelics, such as ayahuasca and psilocybin, hold promise as fast-onset antidepressants in treatment-resistant patients. This presentation will discuss our recently conducted randomised placebo-controlled trial designed to further investigate the antidepressant potential of ayahuasca in patients with treatment-resistant depression. We wish to discuss the challenges and questions behind this research field, including the route and forms of administration, and the placebo effect.
Cannabis In Natura Versus Isolated Cannabinoids: The Billion-Dollar Question of Medical Marijuana
Sidarta Ribeiro, Ph.D, UFRN/NEIP
The discovery that Cannabis contains dozens of bioactive cannabinoids, such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D-9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), motivated in recent years a strong corporative push for the adoption of these purified compounds as the golden standard for medical practice involving cannabis. According to this point of view, only the use of purified cannabinoids can allow for safe and effective medical treatment. On the other hand, people around the world already benefit from medical marijuana as a whole plant (more specifically, the flower). This presentation will address this debate by 1) a review of the often opposite physiological effects of cannabinoids (e.g. delta-9-THC and CBD); 2) a presentation of the physiological notion of “entourage effect”, through which the combination of multiple cannabinoids may potentiate clinical efficacy while attenuating side effects; 3) a discussion of the potential advantages and disadvantages of therapeutics based on cannabis in natura versus purified compounds; 4) a discussion of the major economic and social implications of this debate; and 5) a general reflection on the philosophical implications and divides between the concepts of “plants” and “compounds”, both for users and science.
The Placebo Paradox
Katherine Hendy, Ph.D, OSU
The re-vitalization of clinical trials with psychedelics has produced an exciting new array of studies investigating different combinations of therapeutic substances and diagnoses. Beyond the important bureaucratic negotiations that have taken place to gain approval for these studies, this new wave of studies is also negotiating a new methodological landscape of clinical research. When researchers Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer were studying the use of hallucinogens in Saskatchewan in the 1950’s, their research was published as case studies. However, today, placebo controlled randomized controlled studies are now the standard for research with psychopharmaceuticals. Because psychedelic therapy seeks to induce a radical change in consciousness—to make a subject feel different from her everyday self—blinding theses studies has emerged as a methodological sticking point. However, this paper argues, that it is also a rich site for interrogating the paradoxes of placebo effects more generally. Anthropology has generally engaged with the placebo as inert: either as an example of the power of symbolic healing within Western medicine, or as ethically fraught territory of non-treatment. In contrast, this paper frames placebos as anything but inert; they are heavily charged with efficacy within the logic of the clinical trial. Drawing upon ethnographic research with clinical researchers from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and the history of the use of placebos in medicine and in research, this paper will explore how contemporary studies are negotiating the placebo paradox.
From “Teacher” to “Tool” and Back Again: Understanding Psychedelics Using a Critical Pedagogies Approach
Tehseen Noorani, Ph.D, NYU
Traditionally understood as “plant teachers,” psychedelics have been characterized as “cognitive tools” for a secular, Western milieu. In this presentation, I consider what gets lost in the translation from plant teacher to cognitive tool. What might it mean to take seriously the idea of psychedelics as plant teachers within contexts such as underground experimentation and clinical trial research? The term “plant teachers” evokes many interesting questions that run parallel to issues concerning the medicalization of psychedelic substances: Do different psychedelics have varying teaching styles? Does one psychedelic teach differently under varying sets and settings? Can educators themselves learn to emulate how psychedelics teach? Drawing on a comparative ethnography of university-based clinical research and underground experimentation with psychedelic substances, this presentation offers one formulation of psychedelic teaching, in terms of a “trickster pedagogy,” constructed out of key concepts from the field of critical pedagogy. I propose three themes for understanding how psychedelics teach: a) through an agency which inculcates mystery, b) with an authority that demands attention, and c) by forcing the rearticulation, rather than solving, of problems. Claiming that psychedelics are cognitive tools inspires a techno-utopian pursuit of individual optimization. Moreover, cognitive psychology studies that seek to categorize aspects of the psychedelic experience tend to imply that there is an automaticity to how psychedelics affect us. By contrast, considering them as plant teachers offering trickster pedagogies shifts the focus from ends to means, enabling us to harness a more radical set of capacities oriented towards egalitarian forms of participatory living.
About the speakers:
Beatriz Caiuby Labate has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil. Her main areas of interest are the study of psychoactive substances, drug policy, shamanism, ritual, and religion. She is Visiting Professor at the Center for Research and Post Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS), in Guadalajara, Mexico. She is also co-founder of the Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies (NEIP), and editor of NEIP’s website (http://www.neip.info). She is author, co-author, and co-editor of seventeen books, one special-edition journal, and several peer-reviewed articles. For more information, see: http://bialabate.net/
Draulio Barros de Araujo is a professor of neuroimaging at the Brain Institute (UFRN), Natal, Brazil. In recent years, his research has focused on using functional neuroimaging methods (EEG and fMRI) to investigate the acute and lasting effects of ayahuasca. His research group has also been studying the antidepressant potential of ayahuasca.
Sidarta Ribeiro is Full Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain Institute at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN). He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de Brasília (1993), a Master’s degree in Biophysics from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (1994) and a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the Rockefeller University (2000), with post-doctoral studies in Neurophysiology at Duke University (2005). Has experience in neuroethology, molecular neurobiology, and systems neurophysiology, with an interest on the following subjects: memory, sleep, and dreams; neuronal plasticity; vocal communication; symbolic competence in non-human animals; drug policy and neuroeducation. From 2009-2011, served as Secretary of the Brazilian Society for Neuroscience and Behavior. From 2011-2015 he served as Chair of the Brazilian Regional Committee of the Pew Latin American Fellows Program in the Biomedical Sciences, and member of the Steering Committee of the Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences (LA School). Senior research associate of the FAPESP Research Centre for Innovation and Diffusion in Neuromathematics. Member of the Advisory Board of the Brazilian Platform for Drug Policy. Sidarta Ribeiro is greatly interested in the study of the neural bases of consciousness and its alteration, including investigation of the ayahuasca experience. He is also involved in the public debate on the medicinal uses and the legalization of cannabis in Brazil.
Katherine Hendy is a cultural anthropologist specializing in studies of medicine and science and technology. Her doctoral fieldwork and dissertation studied a small tribe of clinical researchers based out of Santa Cruz, California and their efforts to develop the drug MDMA as a prescription pharmaceutical. Her dissertation draws primarily from participant observation fieldwork with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and explores the politics of clinical research. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University in the Department of Comparative Studies where she teaches several courses on Science Technology and Society.
Tehseen Noorani is a research scientist and adjunct professor in science and technology studies at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. He lectures on the sociology and anthropology of psychedelic and psychotropic drugs. His research investigates knowledge and authority gained through experiences at the limits of intelligibility. Since 2014, he has been conducting a comparative ethnography of psychedelic use across authorized clinical research, the underground research of psychonauts in the US, and the Western encounter with non-Western traditional healing practices. From 2013–2015, Tehseen was a National Institute for Drug Abuse-funded postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins University, where he led a qualitative research project into psilocybin-assisted tobacco smoking cessation. From 2007 to 2011, his doctoral research documented the cultivation of expertise-by-experience in the field of mental health, using Spinoza’s Ethics to rethink processes of well-being and political capacitation in self-help and peer support groups.
The Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC) at UCSF is composed of UCSF researchers, clinicians and trainees who are actively engaged, or interested, in the scientific study of psychedelics and entheogens. We bring together UCSF affiliates from across different departments to promote collaboration among researchers investigating these substances. We also undertake educational projects aimed at enhancing the caliber of debate and knowledge of these substances’ medical risks and benefits, and their potential as tools for the study of the mind, brain and spirit.
MAPS’ mission is to create medical, legal and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.
MAPS furthers its mission by:
MAPS envisions a world where psychedelics and marijuana are available by prescription for a variety of uses and where research is governed by rigorous scientific evaluation of risks and benefits.
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NEIP – Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies – was founded in 2001 in Brazil. It is a group that unites scholars from various institutions in Brazil and abroad to promote reflection on the topic of psychoactive substances. Member researchers investigate diverse aspects of psychoactives, such as their religious use (ayahuasca, iboga, San Pedro and coca leaves), and secular or non-religious uses of both legal substances (alcohol, tobacco, coffee, etc.) and illegal substances (marijuana, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, etc.), as well as their therapeutic use. Its members also investigate harm reduction policies, narco-trafficking, and medical and media discourses on psychoactives. NEIP seeks to participate in public debate about drug policy, which is normally dominated by ill-informed and prejudiced perspectives, and insists that the Human Sciences have an important role to play in broadening and deepening this debate. In as far as NEIP understands contemporary international prohibitionist policy to stifle debate and reflection, it adopts an anti-prohibitionist political and ethical stance. It thus promotes simultaneously research activity, intellectual exchange, and political intervention. NEIP has built thought-out the year a huge on-line library, which offers free access to a wide variety of materials on drugs, with emphasis in psychedelics, especially ayahuasca.