David Harder | Founder & Co-CEO, Atma Journey Centers

January 28, 2021
Spotlight

David Harder is the founder and Co-CEO of Atma Journey Centers, the first company to treat a palliative care patient in Canada, focused on creating clinical centers that deliver effective and innovative healing treatments through the use of psychedelic medicines and guided therapy. He is also the executive director at the SYNTAC Institute, a non-profit organization focused on psychedelic medicine advocacy and one of the first organizations to get a health Canada approval for palliative psilocybin treatment. David has been instrumental in securing the first Health Canada exemption for the use of Psilocybin for palliative care. Mind Cure Health recently signed a LOI to acquire an ownership position in Atma Journey Centers.

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You have a history of altruistic and compassionate work, non-profit fundraising especially, What made you want to get involved in psychedelic research?

The work of the medicine is in total alignment with how both my wife and I were raised. Our fathers were pastors of small rural churches, and all our lives we saw how human connection and spirituality was core to living a good life. The humanitarian work led us to be able to see the world behind the “tourist veil” in front of where most travellers stay, and we were able to see the purpose driven lives that were unconnected to money and things. People we saw as poor and lived very simple lives did not understand the word “depression” or “anxiety”… When encountering the work of the medicine, we have seen how people can reconnect to those things that are truly important, including community and nature, and find a new way to approach life with joy and purpose.

What inspired you to found the Atma Journeys Center?

It has been a pursuit for over 5 years, and after much study and research into how these medicines can heal, our work led us to connect with Vu Tran about 3 years ago, who was then working on a Cannabis company, and that began the steps towards founding Syntac, and then later bringing on Greg Habstritt as well as other key supporters. We sawthat  the time was right to launch ATMA and the structures that would enable the work of the medicine to find avenues of delivery to many people.

Atma Journeys has gotten a lot of attention recently for being a pioneer in psychedelic therapies. Can you share what Atma Journeys does for patients?

Our work is about bringing the accessibility for the therapy to as many people who are needing it and are wanting to access it as possible. We believe in the work of the medicine being a deep dive, immersive approach to healing, and thus we are developing centres that will provide that immersive, integrative experience, as opposed to a more brief clinical approach. The recent section 56 exemption that Health Canada has opened up is allowing for a small number of people to access this work, but we see a day (hopefully soon) when people can work with their medical professional to be referred to the therapy in a setting that is conducive to the best possible outcome.

You are the first privately owned clinic ever in Canada to facilitate psilocybin therapy for a patient. How were you able to secure an approval for palliative psychedelic treatment and what role did Syntac Institute play in that approval process?

Syntac is the non profit organization that we developed a number of years ago, prior to launching ATMA Journey Centers, and the role  it is has played is both in advocating for the legal use of the medicines through the section 56 that we were able to achieve for the first client, Anthony White, as well as continuing to provide an annual psychedelic conference and ongoing discussion groups for psychedelic research and legal use.

How does the Syntac Institute advocate for treatment opportunities like this one?

We are currently working through over 200 applications for section 56 exemptions for the therapy through Syntac, as well as putting together both the online and in-person Catalyst Conference event that will run in May and October respectfully.

Can you share what steps duly take to facilitate a psilocybin treatment for patients, both before and after the therapy?

We believe that the therapy with psilocybin or other psychedelics for that matter, are best done within a protocol that includes both pre-screening and talk therapy with a qualified professional, as well as immersive integration that includes other modalities, including helping the client reconnect with self, community, and nature. The actual treatment is also, in our approach done with a combination of those who are trained in psychology or psychiatry as well as those who deeply understand and respect the medicine.  

What are your thoughts on the precedence set by Health Canada in granting these approvals? Do you believe that it will continue to open the doors to more treatments and more medicines for patients?

We are optimistic that the door has been cracked open and those in seats of decision-making will continue to see how effective this treatment has been; historically, and in the recent studies that have been done. So, yes, we do believe this is only the beginning of seeing these medicines realize more studies, clinical trials, and more importantly actual therapy.

What do you believe is the most important thing for people to understand about the future of psychedelics as medicine?

We believe that the medicine is a catalyst for change, but the work is not done for you by a pill. Being wiling to engage with these medicines is a commitment to “doing the work”, and that can include making lifestyle changes, changing your connection with nature, and being willing to look at your own issues that need addressing. In short, you need to be willing to do what the medicines show you. It is not a magic pill.

What is the most common misconception you hear about psychedelics?

From both sides: that they are street drugs to be avoided, and, the opposite that they can cure anything that you take them for. Neither are correct. They are powerful teachers, but not a panacea for all illness.

Which current studies are you most excited about and why?

A study just came out just recently about microdosing that looks very promising out of the the UK. In addition, the ongoing work with MDMA, LSD, and many other psychedelics are continuing to stack up in favour of their effectiveness. It’s hard to pin down one study, as it is the cumulative work from around the world that is showing how important this work is to the future of humanity.

How do you feel about all of the recent cultural excitement in psychedelics as medicines and therapies?

I have some reticence when I hear of large public companies moving into the space hoping to see another stock market bubble similar to the cannabis industry, and I don’t see any similarity between the two. The nature of psychedelic work is, in my opinion,  never going to be a product that should be easily accessible by anyone without proper understanding and respect for the power that they hold. So I want to be a part of making sure there is lots of education and understanding of how to use them in a good way.
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