Our conference, entitled “From Research to Reality: Global Summit on Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Medicine,” was held in Toronto, Canada, May 27-29, 2022. The conference was co-hosted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) with planning and support from an Advisory Committee of international leaders in the field.
The goal of the conference was to bring policymakers, researchers, and clinicians together, in the interest of moving psychedelics research forward into both policy and practice. It focused on rigorous scientific studies reflecting high-quality scholarship and research, and included panels on pathways to the regulation of psychedelic substances and on the intersection of science and spirituality, among other topics.
The conference also had a dedicated track to examine the use of psychedelics in the treatment and management of substance use disorders, including nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, and opioids.
The key aims of the conference were to:
- Encourage collaboration among researchers;
- Enable knowledge exchange with policymakers to help increase the scale and visibility of research on psychedelics; and
- Overcome hurdles and stimulate progress for different communities by emphasizing equity, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion.
This conference was unique from other conferences devoted to psychedelic-assisted therapy because of its:
- Attention to academic research;
- Focus on substance use and addiction;
- Engagement of leaders in public policy and regulation;
- Interdisciplinary scope; and
- Prioritization of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at all levels.
The conference was co-hosted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) with planning and support from international leaders in the field.
- CAMH is Canada’s largest mental health and substance use/addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centers in these health domains. CAMH is affiliated with the University of Toronto, a major research university and academic medical center. CAMH researchers are currently collaborating on a number of clinical trials and observational studies in the area of psychedelic science.
- CCSA and MHCC are NGOs that provide Canadian leadership on substance use and mental health.
In addition, the University of Connecticut (UConn) played a key role in the planning, publication and dissemination of the planned substance abuse part of the conference program (via a special issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs or JSAD).
Planning and Advisory Committees
Conference planning and program development were supported by a core Planning Committee of addiction and mental health researchers, research operations specialists, and communications specialists. In addition, a 24-member international Advisory Committee – developed with close attention to diversity and representation – advised on content and equity issues.
Conference Planning Committee
- Dr. Brian Rush, Emeritus Scientist, CAMH; Professor, University of Toronto
- Dr. Dominique Morisano, CPsych, Adjunct Professor, University of Toronto and University of Ottawa; Collaborator Scientist, CAMH
- Dr. Monnica Williams, CPsych, Canada Research Chair for Mental Health Disparities, University of Ottawa
- Dr. Doris Payer, Knowledge Broker, CCSA
- Dr. Mary Bartram, Director, Policy, MHCC
- Dr. Sukhpreet Klaire, BC Centre on Substance Use
- Dr. Thomas Babor, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, and Professor, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
- Operations Advisor: Cynthia Trayling, Director, IMHPR Administration, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, CAMH
- Communications Advisor: Lauren Clegg, Manager, Research & Centres Of Innovation Communications, CAMH
- Ismail L. Ali, JD (MAPS, USA)
- Dr Draulio de Araujo, PhD (Brain Institute, UFRN; Brazil)
- Dr Elena Argento, PhD (University of British Columbia; Canada)
- Terence Ching, PhD (Yale OCD Research Clinic; USA)
- Dr Elias Dakwar, MD (Columbia University; USA)
- Dr Alan Davis PhD (The Ohio State University; Johns Hopkins University)
- Dawn Davis, MA, PhD (cand.) (University of Idaho; USA)
- Simon Green (Ayahuasca Treatment Outcome Project; Australia)
- Ifetayo Harvey, BA (POC Psychedelics Collective; USA)
- Dr Ishrat Husain, MBBS, MD(Res.), MRCPsych (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Canada)
- Dr Matthew Johnson, PhD (Johns Hopkins University; USA)
- Mae Johnson, MA (Health Canada; Canada)
- Rita Kočárová MSc, PhD (cand.) (National Institute of Mental Health Czech Republic; CZ)
- Dr Bia Labate, PhD (Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines; MAPS; California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS); USA)
- Dr Anja Loizaga-Velder, PhD (Nierika Institute for Intercultural Medicine; National Autonomous University of Mexico; Mexico)
- Dr Javier Muniz, MD (US Food and Drug Administration; USA)
- Dr David Nutt, PhD (Imperial College London; UK)
- Mikin Patel, MSc (Health Canada; Canada)
- Dr Katrin Preller, PhD (Yale School of Medicine; University of Zürich; Switzerland)
- Dr Diana Quinn, ND (Psychedelic Liberation Collective; USA)
- Dr Margaret Robinson, PhD (Dalhousie University; Canada)
- Rev. Dr Jessica Rochester, DDiv (Céu do Montréal; Canada)
- Skylar Sage, MA, PhD (cand.) (Simon Fraser University; Canada)
- Dr Joseph Tafur, MD (Ocotillo Center for Integrative Medicine; USA)
- Dr Kenneth Tupper, PhD (University of British Columbia, University of Victoria; Canada)
- Dr Franz Vollenweider, MD (University of Zürich; Switzerland)
The term psychedelics refers to a class of drugs that produce “non-ordinary states of consciousness” and can change our sense of self and the world. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy aims to harness these effects to address the traumas, beliefs, and neurobiological and behavioural patterns underlying mental health and substance use disorders.
Psychedelics showed great promise as psychotherapeutic catalysts in the 1950s and 60s, but historical and political variables led to these drugs being declared illegal in most countries, despite a lack of evidence for toxicity or addictive potential. This severely limited the continuation of research.
Over the last 20 years, researchers have started to receive new exemptions and funding to obtain and study these drugs, leading to a rise in research outputs, investment in research centres, and research application around scheduling and best practices for therapeutic application.
Results emerging from recent years of psychedelic science have clear therapeutic implications for addiction and mental health. Research is leading the way in examining the effectiveness of different psychedelics in treating conditions such as depression, anxiety (including post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life anxiety), and substance use disorders. Given that there are limited reliable treatment options for many people experiencing substance-related and mental health disorders, more investment and research into psychedelic-assisted therapies and medicine could help address current treatment gaps.
Promising clinical advances
Through this increased research investment and activity, promising clinical avenues have started to emerge for mental health and substance use disorders. Examples include:
- MDMA, which received FDA “breakthrough therapy” status for treatment of PTSD in 2017. It is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for PTSD treatment at sites in the U.S., Canada, and Israel, and is expected to become available for prescription by 2021. A Phase 1 trial in the UK is also investigating MDMA for treatment of alcohol use disorder. MDMA was used by psychotherapists as an adjunct to counseling in the 1980s but became illegal in 1985 due to the spread of recreational use.
- Psilocybin received FDA “breakthrough therapy” status for treatment of depression in 2018, and is currently in Phase 2/3 clinical trials at sites in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It has also shown strong effects in smoking cessation studies, with 80% of participants abstinent at 6-month follow-up (compared to 35% for standard treatments), and in decreasing end-of-life anxiety. Studies of psilocybin (including at BCCSU) are now investigating its potential for treatment of alcohol, opioid, and stimulant use disorders and concurrent or related mental health issues.
- LSD was used by psychotherapists from the 1950s on, but became illegal in the 1970s due to its cultural associations. A 2012 meta-analysis showed clinical efficacy of LSD in treating alcohol use disorder, supporting claims by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous who created the program after an LSD-assisted therapy session. LSD is also being investigated in Europe for treatment of anxiety associated with life-threatening illness.
- Ketamine was approved by the FDA and came to market in the U.S. for treatment of depression in 2019, and is currently under review by Health Canada. Although the clinical effects are thought to relate to neurobiological mechanisms rather than patients’ psychedelic experiences, regulatory models for ketamine use and the establishment of ketamine clinics could serve as a model for other psychedelics.
- Ayahuasca and peyote, typically associated with religious ceremonies, are also beginning to be investigated for treatment of depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders in the context of their spiritual teachings.
Despite the therapeutic promise and growing investment in the field, there are significant barriers to scientific and clinical progress.
- Chief among these is that psychedelics are illegal in most jurisdictions, making it extremely difficult for clinical studies to be approved and funded, and to source and administer the psychedelic compounds.
- Another barrier is public opinion and lack of understanding of the differences in risk and clinical value between therapeutic protocols and non-therapeutic use.
Results emerging from psychedelic science have clear therapeutic implications for addiction and mental health. Given there are so few reliable treatment options for many SUDs and mental health conditions, more investment and research in this domain could help address current treatment gaps.
- Nutt D. (2019). Psychedelic drugs-a new era in psychiatry? Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 21(2), 139–147. LINK
- Sessa B., Higbed L., & Nutt D. (2019). A Review of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. LINK
- Bozymski, K. M., Crouse, E. L., Titus-Lay, E. N., Ott, C. A., Nofziger, J. L., & Kirkwood, C. K. (2019). Esketamine: A Novel Option for Treatment-Resistant Depression. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. LINK
- Sessa B. (2018). Why MDMA therapy for alcohol use disorder? And why now? Neuropharmacology, 142, 83-88. LINK
- Schenberg E. E. (2018). Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 733. LINK
- Haden, M., Emerson, B., & Tupper, K. W. (2016). A public-health-based vision for the management and regulation of psychedelics. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 48(4), 243-252. LINK
- Tupper, K.W., Wood, E., Yensen, R. & Johnson, M.W. (2015). Psychedelic medicine: A re-emerging therapeutic paradigm. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 187(14), 1054-1059. LINK
- Krebs T.S., Johansen P.O. (2012). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for alcoholism: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 26(7), 994-1002. LINK