Prof. Haden is a trailblazer in the field pf psychedelic medicine, currently serving as Director of Clinical Research at Psygen and Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health, and was a co-founder and spent 10 years as Executive Director of the renown Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada (MAPS). Haden has dedicated the last 30 years to public education and training on drugs and drug policy, including advising the Health Officers Council of British Columbia on the issues of a regulated market for all currently illegal drugs as well as working with Addiction Services in counseling and supervisory roles. He is a frequent keynote speaker and distinguished author on the issues of drug control policy and psychedelics and was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work on drug policy reform in 2013.
You’ve been an early advocate for psychedelics. What did you first find so exciting about psychedelics and their medical potential?
When I first started speaking publicly about psychedelics, I was working in the Addiction Services, a program run by Vancouver Coastal Health. Despite the fact I had very talented, dedicated, compassionate staff, we were often not very successful in our treatment outcomes. I had a client who had been under my care for many years and was slowly deteriorating. He tried ibogaine once, and the outcome was transformative and I then became vocal about the need to take psychedelic healing seriously. Also, there is an accumulation of research that shows psychedelics are a very promising treatment modality and therefore should not be ignored by any program that says it is “evidence-based”.
What is the most common misconception about psychedelics?
Years of drug war propaganda has resulted in many misconceptions about all substances, and psychedelics are a dramatic example. Stories about “holes in the brain” or “people going crazy” are not accurate or helpful in understanding the risks and benefits of psychedelics. Certain Psychedelics are unique in that they are not addictive and have extremely low toxicity. Current research into certain psychedelics has shown a level of successful treatment outcomes that has not been demonstrated in conventional therapies. Those who seek to demonize these medicines never mention the fact that, when these medicines are offered skillfully, they have the potential ability to transform many professions including psychiatry, psychology, clinical social work and nursing.
How would you describe Clearmind’s approach to the psychedelic space?
Clearmind is set up to bring new molecules into a variety of healing modalities. MEAI is the first molecule they intend to turn into a legal medicine. The experience of MEAI is unique and unrelated to any other psychedelic experience. The closest analogy that I can think of is; imagine you just finished eating two pieces of chocolate sauce-covered cheesecake and somebody puts a third piece of cheesecake in front of you and hands you a fork. You can’t imagine consuming more cheesecake because you are satiated - done -finished, you just don’t want any more. MEAI offers the satiation experience, and this can be added to other experiences. In the future, this discovery could result in another treatment option for those dealing with alcoholism who still want to drink. The significant negative consequences of overdrinking could be avoided by adding MEAI to every drink – the experience is positive, but you stop drinking.
How has your experience in addiction services influenced your research with psychedelics? Do you see psychedelics being therapeutic for binge drinking?
It is interesting to examine what is available for those who have alcohol use disorder. There are counselling programs, AA groups and some medicines like Antabuse, but there isn’t anything for those who want to consume alcohol but then completely lose control after their first drink. Many addiction programs are run on the “harm reduction” model but this philosophy doesn’t work very well with alcoholism. MEAI has the potential to become a powerful tool as its use is expected to result in a positive experience (as opposed Antabuse, which makes you very sick)such that you would not want to drink anymore.
How does Clearmind’s MEAI differ from more conventional psychedelics like psilocybin?
Conventional psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD can be offered in therapy and are intended to provide brief transformational experiences that allow people to resolve underlying issues like trauma and offer a new perspective on life. Traditional psychedelics are never offered within the context of actually consuming alcohol (or other drugs), whereas MEAI is planned to be taken with alcohol, and to provide a positive experience and as a binge interrupter.
What obstacles do psychedelic-focused companies need to overcome in the near future to be medically accessible and be able to help patients?
Many psychedelics are going through the normal drug discovery process. For a molecule to be turned into medicine, it has to be proven to be safe in animals and then safe in humans and subsequently effective at treating an indication or diagnosis. These are the regulatory hurdles, but there is also the cultural stigma regarding these substances. Fortunately, there has been a lot of positive media reporting on the outcomes of research over the last decade. The understanding that psychedelics can be used as medicine is starting to change public opinion.
What do you see the future of psychedelic medicines being and what will their impact be on healthcare as a whole?
I believe that the use of psychedelics could be transformative for many healing professions. Currently, what is often offered for many mental health diagnoses is often symptom management and medications that have unpleasant side effects. I think psychedelics generally have the potential to actually cure some people when used skillfully by trained professionals in therapeutic settings. Also, alcoholism is a common cause of health problems (e.g. injuries from falling, cirrhosis) and MEAI may be helpful from a harm reduction perspective.
What excites you the most about Clearmind’s future?
Clearmind aims to turn a number of new molecules into legal medicines, the first of which is MEAI, which offers a completely new approach to the treatment of alcoholism. In the future, alcoholics may be given another treatment option where they are not told to stop drinking. They could simply be advised to add MEAI to their alcohol, which has the potential to improve the experience, where they feel satiated and stop drinking.