Sunday October 09, 2016

Looking for a new career? How about 'psychedelic supervisor'?

Ecstacy, known clinically as MDMA.

Ecstacy, known clinically as MDMA.

Listen 10:32

How would you like a job that involved guiding people on psychedelic trips? 

Mark Haden hopes such a career will soon exist, along with the legalization of psychedelic drugs in Canada. 

Haden, an addictions counsellor and researcher based in Vancouver, is part of a team that's studying the effects of MDMA (also known as ecstacy) in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. If Health Canada approves his research, psychedelic drugs could be legalized in the next five years. 

And that's where the new career comes in.

In a paper published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Haden and his co-authors call for regulation of legalized psychedelics: including the creation of a licensed profession called "psychedelic supervisors."

Mark Haden

Mark Haden teaches at the UBC School of Population and Public Health and chairs the board of MAPS Canada (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies). (Provided by Mark Haden)

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

What exactly is a psychedelic supervisor? 

A psychedelic supervisor is somebody that oversees a psychedelic session, and provides a context for an experience that somebody has with psychedelics. It's somebody who manages both set and setting, set being the expectation and setting being the environment, to maximize the benefit and minimize the harm of a psychedelic. 

"A psychedelic supervisor is somebody that oversees a psychedelic session, and provides a context for an experience that somebody has with psychedelics."
- Mark Haden

Is that because there could be risks if you ingest psychedelics unsupervised? 

If you look at psychedelics generally, and it's probably true for all drugs, there are three possible risks: there are toxicity risks, there are dependency risks, and there are behavioural risks. 

There's very, very, little chance of anybody becoming dependent on psychedelics. I worked in the addiction services as a counsellor and as a supervisor for close to 30 years, and nobody ever walked into my office saying "I can't stop taking LSD." The toxicity is also really low — when they're done in pure dosages, known dosages and pure concentrations. So all of the risks come in one thing, which is basically lack of supervision. People who do really foolish things when they're on a psychedelics can create problems for themselves and the people around them. 

So if we want to regulate psychedelics in a legal world, doing it with a supervisor would make absolute and complete sense. 

What kind of training would a supervisor have to go through? 

Well, what we are proposing is the establishment of a profession. So, it would be similar to doctors, and lawyers, and accountants, and veterinarians, in that they would have a similar level of training. Now, within the context of psychedelic supervision, there are different streams that we're proposing. Specifically, psychedelic psychotherapy, the process that I'm involved with, has a very specific focus: how do you heal people for PTSD, but there might be other types of training as well. Ayahuasca ceremonies require a very different type of training, so we're actually proposing that there be a variety of specialties within the context of psychedelic psychotherapy, or psychedelic supervision. 

ayahuasca

A pot of of the medicinal plant ayahuasca at Phoenix Ayohausca retreat in Peru. (Facebook)

Now, we're talking about psychedelic drugs being used for clinic purposes, but you're arguing that they will also be legal shortly for recreational use, correct? 

Yes, I mean I would put it as spiritual and therapeutic, but it doesn't have to be specific. You don't need to necessarily have a prescription for an illness to participate in the process, yes.