Prof. Dr. Eric Vermetten | Scientific Advisory Board Member, Mydecine Innovations

February 4, 2021
Spotlight
Prof. Dr. Vermetten is currently a scientific advisory board member for Mydecine Innovation Group. He is also professor of Medical-Biological and Psychiatric Aspects of Psychotrauma, at Leiden University Medical Center.  The chair was established by ARQ Psychotrauma Research and the Dutch Ministry of Defense. Eric Vermetten is a clinical psychiatrist at the Military Mental Health Care (MMH) in Utrecht. From 1991 he has been linked to several universities as a researcher, including Stanford, Yale, and Emory University. He studied at the University of Maastricht and completed a PhD on PTSD at Utrecht University. He is an adjunct professor of psychiatry at New York University.

Prof. Dr. Vermetten has published over 300 papers and book chapters on topics ranging from longitudinal cohort studies following soldiers’ deployments to innovative approaches to treatment for PTSD. He continues to be a leader in the international community on stress, trauma and mental health. He embraces compassionate evidence-based clinical research on innovations to alleviate impact of chronic suffering of psychotrauma-related disorders in veterans and other uniformed professionals.

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What made you personally want to get involved in psychedelic research?

25 year of psychiatry specializing in PTSD has led me to realize we need to think out of the box and explore novel treatments. We have many evidence-based treatments but sadly they do not work for a significant proportion of veterans.

My university has a particular and very important historic involvement with psychedelics. Jan Bastiaans was a professor of Psychiatry at Leiden University and he used psychedelics to successfully treat survivors of Concentrations Camps of their nightmares and chronic suffering. This historic fact inspires me and my team to carry on this landmark work. I like to honor his memory but more importantly learn and improve the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD.  

What are you working on at the moment in the realm of psychedelics and what potential impact do you think it could have?

With my university and ARQ National Psychotrauma Center for PTSD, we are leading in the field of psychedelics with MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD.

Our collaborative team is looking beyond mental health and into other fields such as pain and we are primed to explore MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, as well as medical cannabis. We are committed to finding safe and effective ways to use these substances to treat a variety of conditions. 

I also have the privilege of being
principal investigator of the Mydecine Innovations Group sponsored PTSD/Veteran/Psilocybin study.  

Which achievements are you most proud of in your career?

I have successfully transitioned from academia to the military and back. In my military career I feel I now understand the sacrifice and commitment soldiers make in order to keep our society safe. 

How has your work with soldiers suffering from PTSD influenced your work with Psychedelic Medicines?

Soldiers tend to be committed and somewhat resistant to focus on themselves. The tend to put their country, military, family ahead of themselves which makes accessing their emotions particularly difficult. We feel psychedelic medicines may break down some of these barriers allowing the patient and therapist to do the much-needed work required for healing. 

What impact do you think Psychedelics will have on PTSD therapy and how we treat Trauma and PTSD?

I am a scientist so I will never presume results until we conduct the research. My hope is that we will demonstrate the safety and efficacy of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in conditions such as PTSD. Ultimately, I believe we need to strive towards a personalized medicine approach so this treatment approach may be suitable for some. 

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

I would like people to understand that this is quite different than traditional pharmacotherapy. We are not trying to develop a drug that somebody needs to take for the rest of their lives. On the contrary we are attempting to use the medication two or three times to quiet the noise and allow the psychotherapy to take place and be effective. 

What is the most common misconception you hear about psychedelics?

There is an overemphasis on the recreational use of these substances which cannot be denied. However, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. The fact is that a substance used by some for recreational purposes does not disqualify it from being an effective pharmacotherapy. 

How do you feel about all of the recent hype and investment interest in the psychedelic space?

I am simply a clinical scientist and will take advantage of the hype and investment to advance my scientific endeavors. It is somewhat amusing being on the outside watching the excitement for something that truly is not new at all. 

Which current studies are you most excited about and why?

As someone that has committed his professional career within the Netherlands but in fact the entire NATO alliance to the well-being of veterans, I am most excited about the potential for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD. But as a physician I am obviously paying attention to all the other incredible work including depression, chronic pain, addiction, end of life anxiety, etc...

What obstacle do psychedelic-focused companies need to overcome in the near future to be medically accessible and be able to help patients?

I do not see significant obstacles. If the psychedelic companies partner with legitimate academic centers and create centers of excellence that conduct high-quality research that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of these treatments any obstacles will be overcome. Medicine has always been driven by data and good evidence. I believe the companies should not risk-taking shortcuts and do the necessary work which will lead to acceptance of these substances. Along with this should be an understanding that the scientists collaborate with each other and share positive and negative findings to advance the field.  
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