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The Drug Science Program

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Andy Meijer, M.Sc.

MIND Research & Knowledge Exchange Associate

Andy Meijer holds an M.Sc. in clinical neuropsychology from Leiden University.

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Cansin Peksen

Master's Student

Cansin Peksen is an M.Sc. student in cognitive neuroscience.

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Edited by Lucca Jaeckel & Henrik Jungaberle

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  • News
  • 10 minutes
  • mars 28, 2020
  • Biological Sciences
  • Drug Science
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The control of drugs under national and international conventions has become one of the most destructive and impeding aspects of biomedical research. Many so-called „ illegal“ drugs were once medicines or at least investigational medicinal drugs before they became banned in an attempt to reduce recreational use. It is very doubtful if the bans have had any beneficial impact on recreational use, but they have seriously limited research because of the enormous regulatory burdens that the illegal drug schedules put on researchers. 

Prof. Dr. David Nutt, Preface of “Handbuch Psychoaktive Substanzen1

Modern societies have developed fast-paced lifestyles in which we interact with large amounts of information, both digitally and socially. Many people, particularly in  industrialized countries, have an increasingly rapid connection to the internet and databases of all sorts, which brings faster access to information around the globe. This, however, is also true for inaccurate information, prejudice, and speculations around delicate and sometimes controversial topics. The huge amount of information pollution suggests that reforming public discourse and education could greatly increase societal well-being.

A particular field of concern (and controversy) is knowledge and research about psychoactive substances. These fields have been strongly influenced by international treaties, sensationalist journalism, and a public discourse that is often misinformed. Moreover, prejudice and misconceptions about psychoactive substances are common in the academic world and drug-related services, too: in counseling, emergency care, among paramedics and medical doctors, psychotherapists and lawyers.

Progress can sometimes come from linguistic changes. For example, it makes a difference to use the term “psychoactive substances” instead of “drugs”. Psychoactive substances, when taken, influence mental processes such as cognition and emotion. This term and its equivalent, “psychotropic drug”, are currently the most neutral and descriptive terms for a whole class of substances, licit and illicit. Education and keeping up with new knowledge, particularly in the field of mental health, is crucial for high-quality care and practices. Within current health services a number of indications, such as PTSD, depression, or addiction, cannot always be treated adequately, or treatment is too time-consuming and expensive. Sadly, the number of individuals suffering from depression is increasing, whilst innovation in the pharmacological industry seems to be lacking2. It is therefore the responsibility of scientists and practitioners to keep an open mind for alternative treatment options to reduce the personal and societal burden of mental health conditions3.

DRUG SCIENCE IS PART OF A BEWUSSTSEINSKULTUR THAT ADDRESSES PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

The MIND Foundation addresses the aforementioned challenges in the mental health field by conducting and supporting high-quality psychedelic research and education. The educational sector of the organization is the MIND Academy. It hosts various educational programs for medical doctors, psychotherapists, researchers, and the public – including workshops, public talks, and professional trainings. With INSIGHT, the MIND Academy organizes a transdisciplinary conference every second year. Speakers, facilitators, and audiences from all over the world are engaged in the MIND Academy’s programs for providing and participating in an evidence-based, scientific discourse about the mind and brain, the psychedelic experience, and associated topics.

The MIND Academy’s Drug Science Program kicked off in February 2020. This online course integrates multiple disciplines and the latest research on psychoactive substances. Its aim is to bring together professionals, researchers, and the public to encourage better psychotherapy, emergency care, medical treatment, counseling, and legal work in this field. With the expertise of medical doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists, psychotherapists, health professionals, drug researchers, and other healthcare professionals, the Drug Science Program follows a transdisciplinary approach.

An important element of a Drug Science approach is to integrate the third person perspective of objective data with the first person perspective of subjective experience – call it the phenomenology of altered states of consciousness. This means to explore and evaluate the character of different altered states of consciousness that people search for. Generally the MIND Academy discusses phenomenology and norms associated with altered states of consciousness in the framework of Bewusstseinskultur.

Bewusstseinskultur, or culture of consciousness, entails a scientific and public discourse on which states of consciousness are valuable. Such discourse should build on scientific knowledge. Having the opportunity and perspectives to evaluate altered states of consciousness and their value for individual and collective life has the potential to improve the life of individuals and society.

Thomas Metzinger4, professor of philosophy at the University of Mainz, coined and developed the concept of Bewusstseinskultur starting in the 1990s. Furthermore, he is a member of the MIND Scientific Advisory Board. The original 2002 publication giving a comprehensive definition of what he means by Bewusstseinskultur was published in German, however, an introductory explanation in English is available here5. The concept is open for further development and specification.

WHAT IS THE DRUG SCIENCE PROGRAM AND FOR WHOM IS IT?

The Drug Science Program (DSP) currently contains five different modules. Each module consists of a full-day workshop, in which distinct aspects of drug science are covered. Unlike in the psychedelic integration workshop BEYOND EXPERIENCE, these modules are based on information, critical discourse, or learning to apply life-saving procedures (see module 2).

The first module is mandatory for all attendees, after which the modules 2-4 can be visited freely by choice. Module 5 can be visited without having attended the first.

The modules are: (1) Psychoactive Substances: Basic Knowledge, in which we lay the foundation for approaching the topic of drug science. Coming from an informational perspective as well as an attitude-building and reflexive perspective, participants will learn to engage the topic with a rational stance. After the introductory module, the advanced modules are (2) Psychoactive Substances: Drug Emergencies, (3) Psychoactive Substances: Neurobiology and Neuropharmacology, (4) Psychoactive Substances: Psychedelics, and (5) Psychoactive Substances: Drug Law, History, And Culture.

Through completion of the program, participants acquire theoretical and practical knowledge from different disciplines and professions. The Drug Science Program is a certifiable program, meaning it is possible to apply for certification after completion of all modules through a final test. It will also be possible to obtain CME/CE credits. Furthermore, MIND members benefit from a special discount.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF THE DRUG SCIENCE PROGRAM?

The goal of the Drug Science Program online course is to equip medical doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists and psychotherapists, healthcare professionals, journalists, and many others who work in the field with grounded knowledge, and to inform them of current research. This should facilitate a knowledge-oriented and evidence-based approach to the topic. Of course the Drug Science Program is not an ideology, but a platform for critical discourse. The main classes of psychoactives that will be explored are stimulants, depressants and sedatives, alcohol and cannabinoids, and psychedelics.

Furthermore, participants should develop the ability to recognize and act responsibly in risky situations. By having a solid information base, participants are able to explore their social biases and misinformation. Thereby, medical doctors or psychotherapists can avoid potential harm to their patients, and decision makers may minimize the danger of damaging public campaigns.

THE DRUG SCIENCE PROGRAM: FIVE MODULES EXPLAINED

The first module, “Psychoactive Substances – Basic Knowledge”, provides a broad knowledge base and creates common ground from which a deeper understanding can grow in the specialization modules. Perhaps most importantly, attitude-building and terminology in regard to substance-related information is one of the cornerstones of the first module, to ensure that everyone speaks the same language. Participants learn how to address and understand the scientific terminology surrounding psychoactive substances and altered states of consciousness. They get an overview of effects, potentials and harms, and the different cultural and scientific traditions that formed around them. The module touches briefly on models of substance regulation. The main substance classes and a basic understanding of neurobiology, neurochemistry and neuroanatomy are covered. At the end of this module, participants will have gained basic knowledge about the mechanism of action, risks, subjective effects, and epidemiology for each substance group, and they should be able to adapt substance-related knowledge to different social situations.

The second module, “Psychoactive Substances – Drug-related Emergencies” focuses on how to react to drug-related emergencies. This covers professional knowledge, critical care protocols, and algorithms used by first responders like paramedics, anaesthesiologists, and emergency doctors. The course includes hands-on practical exercises modeling emergency situations. At the end of this module, participants know how to react to typical complications, how to talk somebody down from a challenging psychedelic experience, and how to recognize different toxicodromes. They will also know about the application of different antidotes for the most important substances, and understand the legal consequences of intervening and not intervening in an emergency.

In the third module, “Psychoactive Substances – Pharmacology and Neurobiology”, the Drug Science Program offers deeper insights into how drugs interact with the human physiology on a molecular level. Moreover, the course differentiates the distinct pharmacological effects of different substance classes and showcases recent scientific findings about their modulatory effects on large-scale brain activity. The main goal of this module is to provide the participants with well-structured, state-of-the-art information on a biochemical and neurobiological level. Module 3 requires a basic interest and understanding of pharmacology and neurobiology, and it is particularly worthwhile for students, post-docs, researchers, and medical professionals.

The fourth module, “Psychoactive Substances – Psychedelics”, focuses on this specific class of substances. It expands the knowledge of classical psychedelics such as mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT, and also substances like 5-MEO-DMT and rather novel compounds like the NBOMe group. The content of this module will cover scientific and professional perspectives on set and setting and trip-sitting, as well as the clinical application of psychedelics by health professionals for treating depression, anxiety, and other indications. Other topics, such as recreational use and harm reduction, the history of psychedelics, and philosophical views on the psychedelic experience will also be covered. This is an ideal knowledge-based completion of the BEYOND EXPERIENCE workshop.

The fifth and last module, “Psychoactive Substances – Drug Law, History, And Culture”, covers the societal elements concerning psychoactive substance use. It covers the history of the relationship between humans and psychoactive substances, how psychoactive substances have been perceived throughout history, how humans have used them in and outside of rituals, how and why some of these substances were banned, and why and how  the public discourse around cannabis, alcohol and psychedelics is currently changing. In other words, this last module of the Drug Science Program will take an in-depth look at how psychoactive substances have influenced human societies and how policies are created around them.

For more information please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]. If you want to be notified of our upcoming events, talks, workshops, or conferences, you can subscribe to the MIND Foundation’s mailing list.

We look forward to seeing you in the Drug Science Program, as well as other MIND Academy programs and events. Please take a moment to consider that your contribution or donation helps us to achieve our objective of creating a healthier, more connected world.

Our work at MIND relies on donations from people like you.

If you share our vision and want to support psychedelic research and education, we are grateful for any amount you can give.

References

1. Von Heyden, M., Jungaberle, H., & Majić, T. (Eds.). (2018). Handbuch Psychoaktive Substanzen. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

2. Heifets, B. D., & Malenka, R. C. (2019). Disruptive psychopharmacology. JAMA psychiatry, 76(8), 775-776.

3. Wolff, M., Evens, R., Mertens, L. J., Koslowski, M., Betzler, F., Gründer, G., & Jungaberle, H. (2020). Learning to Let Go: A Cognitive-Behavioral Model of How Psychedelic Therapy Promotes Acceptance. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11.

4. Metzinger, T. (2002). Der Begriff einer Bewusstseinskultur. Kaiser, G.(Hg.): Jahrbuch, 2003, 150-171.

5. Fink, S. B. (2018). Commentary: The Concept of a Bewusstseinskultur. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 732.

6. World Health Organization. (2013). Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013-2020. World Health Organization.