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Psychedelic Science Conference Examines MDMA Treatment for PTSD [FEATURE]

At the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland this weekend there were mind-boggling displays of psychedelic art; tables full of books on LSD, MDMA, peyote, ayahuasca, and other, stranger hallucinogens; weird musical interludes; holotropic breathwork workshops, and indigenous shamans.

Psychedelic art, MAPS 2013
There was also some heavy duty science. Stretching over five days of workshops and conference presentations, the MAPS conference is perhaps the premier confab of psychedelic researchers worldwide. A look at just some of the topics covered in the remarkably broad-ranging affair makes that case.

Researchers from around the country and the world presented findings on three "tracks": clinical ("LSD-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Anxiety Secondary to Life Threatening Illness," "The Neurobiology of Psychedelics: Implications for Mood Disorders"), interdisciplinary ("Psilocybin in the Treatment of Smoking Addiction: Psychological Mechanisms and Participant Account," "Ethical Considerations in the Medicinal Use of Psychedelics"), and a special track on the South American hallucinogenic tea, ayahuasca ("Ayahuasca Admixture Plants: An Uninvestigated Folk Pharmacopeia," "Ayahuasca, the Scientific Paradigm, and Shamanic Healing").

One series of research reports of urgent and immediate relevance centered on the use of MDMA ("ecstasy") in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD can be caused by any number of traumas, veterans mustering out after more than a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD in record numbers. A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 18% of returning Iraq combat veterans had PTSD. And a 2008 RAND Corporation report estimated that up to 225,000 veterans will return from the wars with PTSD.

Dr. Michael Mithoefer describes his MDMA PTSD research protocol
The trauma of war is reflected not only in the number of vets suffering from PTSD, but even more ominously, in sky-high suicide rates. US military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up 20% from just five years ago.

The military and public health workers are keenly aware of the problem, and are attempting to address it through means both conventional and unconventional. The military and the Veterans Administration have been opened to therapeutic interventions including yoga, meditation, and the use of companion dogs; they have also armed themselves with the arsenal of psychotherapeutic drugs -- anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers -- available in the standard pharmacopeia. But those drugs can have some nasty side effects, and their utility in treating PTSD is questionable, and, noting reports of negative consequences, the Army has warned against over reliance on them.

In a Saturday clinical track devoted to MDMA and PTSD, researchers reported on success in Phase II clinical trials (after Phase I studies had proven safety), as well as efforts to get more studies up and running, and the hoops they have to jump through to do so. Canadian researcher Andrew Feldmar perhaps best summed up professional exasperation with the complexities of doing research on drugs governments view with skepticism and suspicion.

"Give me a break!" snorted Feldmar after relating how it took 2 ½ years and three visits from bureaucrats in Ottawa to inspect his pharmacy safe before it was approved before the safe and the study were approved. "This is not science, its politics. Those people from Ottawa were doing what power does -- cover its ass and make people doing what it doesn't want squirm. We are not discovering anything with these studies; we are just proving something we already know. This is all politics."

Indigenous Huichol shaman from Mexico
While Feldmar was at least able to report that his study had been approved, researchers in Australia and England could report no such luck.

 Australian researcher Martin Williams reported that a randomized, double-blind Phase II study there had been stopped in its tracks by a Human Research Ethics Committee.

"The proposal was rejected by the committee with no correspondence," Williams sighed. "We submitted a comprehensive letter of appeal, and it was quickly rejected. Like MAPS in 2000, we're a bit ahead of our time for Australia, where we face war on drugs rhetoric, the psychotherapy community has more a psychopharmacology focus, and we're facing funding and regulatory hurdles."

"For the past eight years, I've been slowly trying to persuade the medical establishment this is worth doing," said British researcher Ben Sessa, who is trying to get a Phase II study off the ground there. "We have lots of war casualties because like the USA, we have a peculiar obsession with imposing democracy around the world."

Peyote-infuenced Huichol art
But his government grant was denied, with regulators saying there was insufficient proof of concept, the trial would be underpowered (because it was small), and the inclusion of patients with recreational drug histories was problematic.

"Those reasons are all rubbish," snorted Sessa, who said he was revising his protocol in hopes of it being accepted. "We went for the Rolls Royce and didn't get it; maybe we'll get the Skoda," he said.

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder have gotten approval for a Phase II study of MDMA with people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, but it wasn't easy. Sometimes the regulatory niggling borders on the absurd, they said.

"We started two years and were waiting on approval from the DEA," said researcher Marcela Ot'alora, who is doing the study with Jim Grigsby. "We thought they read the protocol and would let us know if we were doing something inappropriate, but that wasn't the case. We had to get a 500-pound safe and we put it in the therapists' office, but no, it had to be in the treatment room. Then, we get a second inspection by the DEA, and they said we had to install alarms. We did so, and thought we were good to go. The next day, the DEA and the city zoning department came together. The zoning department said we had to have a half bath instead of a full bath, and no kitchen."

Psychedelic Homer Simpson, MAPS 2013
Ot'alora showed slides of workers obediently demolishing the bath tub, but their travails weren't finished just yet.

"The zoning department said we had to find a place zoned for addiction and recovery, and my office met that criteria, so we moved the safe and alarms for a third time, then had a third DEA inspection," she related. "The local DEA said yes, but it also needed approval from headquarters. We had a congressman write a letter to the DEA to speed up the process, and now we have final approval and are screening our first participants. We hope to enroll the first one by the beginning of May."

That would appear to be a good thing, because other researchers reported that when they actually got studies up and completed, they were seeing good results. Israeli researcher Keren Tzarfatyl and Swiss researcher Peter Oohen both reported promising preliminary results from their studies.

But it was US researchers Michael and Annie Mithoefer who reported the most impressive results. They reported on a 2004 Phase II clinical trial with veterans, firefighters, and police officers. The research subjects were given MDMA (or a placebo) and psychotherapy sessions. MDMA-assisted therapy resulted in "statistically significant" declines in PTSD as measured by standard scales, the Mithoefers reported.

"We're doing Phase II studies, giving the substance to people who are diagnosed with PTSD and measuring the treatment effects. The results continue to be extremely impressive," said Michael Mithoefer. "These tools have so much promise for healing and growth. There are lots of reasons to think these will be useful and promising tools."

Existing treatments for PTSD -- cognitive-behavioral therapies, psychodynamic psychotherapies, pharmacological interventions -- too often just don't work for large numbers of sufferers, Mithoefer said. He cited estimates of 25% to 50% who don't respond favorably to existing treatments.

"We have looming problems with veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of them are not getting the treatment they need," said Mihoefer. "The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed, but also many vets just don't show up for treatment or stay in it. People with PTSD have a lot of trouble with trust, making it hard to form a therapeutic alliance. They can also either be overwhelmed by emotion and then drop out, or they are in avoidance, emotionally numb, and then the therapy doesn't work. If MDMA can increase trust and decrease fear and defensiveness, maybe it can help overcome these obstacles to successful treatment."

But even so, the research effort is starved for funds.

"This would not be happening if not for these remarkable non-profits supporting research," said Mithoefer, referring to groups like MAPS and the Beckley Foundation, which co-hosted the conference. "The government is not funding this, Big Pharma isn't funding this; the community is funding it. We are trying to build bridges, not be a counterculture, and we hope the government will get involved."

What they've found so far is definitely worth pursuing, Mithoefer said.

"We've established that for this kind of controlled use with well-screened people, there is a favorable risk-benefit ratio and no indication of neurotoxicity," he explained, although a small numbers of participants reported unhappy side effects, such as anxiety (21%), fatigue (16%), nausea (8%), and low mood (2%).

With a follow-up three years later, the Mithoefers found that the benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy remained largely intact.

"For most people, the benefits in terms of PTSD symptoms were maintained," Mithoefer reported. "With people who completed the assessment, 88% showed a sustained benefit, and assuming that those who didn't relapsed, that's still a 74% sustained benefit."

The Midhoefers are now in the midst of another Phase II study and are finding similar results.  They are finding reductions in PTSD symptoms as measured by standard measures. They are also finding lots of interest among PTSD sufferers.

"More than 400 vets have called us from around the country," said Mithoefer. "The need is so great. It's heartbreaking that we can't accommodate them all."

Anna Mithoefer read to the audience some of the responses from their research subjects.

"It's like PTSD changed my brain, and MDMA turned it back," reported a 26-year-old Iraq veteran.

"Being in Iraq was bad, but what was worse was having my body back here and part of my mind still in Iraq," said a 27-year-old who had served as a turret gunner in Iraq. "This helped me come home."

"MDMA helped me in so many ways, it feels like it is gradually rewiring my brain," said a female military sex trauma survivor. "The MDMA sessions were the crack in the ice because the trauma was so solid before that. It was incredibly intense around the MDMA sessions -- a lot like popping a big bubble from the unconscious."

The Phase II studies underway or completed strongly suggest that MDMA is useful in the treatment of PTSD. The Phase II studies trying to win approval around the world could strengthen that case -- if they can overcome the political and regulatory obstacles before them. In the meantime, another 22 veterans are killing themselves each day.

Oakland, CA
United States

The Promise of Psychedelic Healing: Entheogens, Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development

An evening with Neal Goldsmith and special guests John Perry Barlow, Julie Holland, Daniel Pinchbeck, Rick Doblin, and Ethan Nadelmann. And a dance party.

Join and Mangusta Productions for a mind expanding night of psychedelic exploration. Banned after promising research in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, the use of psychedelics as therapeutic catalysts is now being rediscovered -- a topic covered by Neal Goldsmith's new book, Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development (Inner Traditions, 2011). Come celebrate its publication with a kaleidoscopic conversation featuring five of the leading figures in this field, speaking on the latest theories, research, and legal developments.

How can psychedelic experiences shape personality and healing? Can psychedelic psychotherapy truly can be transformative, either individually or collectively? Can humanity change course from an impending human dieback and blossom to create a truly integral planet?

Come for a reading and discussion with:

Neal Goldsmith, Ph.D, Psychotherapist specializing in psychospiritual development. A frequent speaker on spiritual on spiritual emergence, drug policy reform, and post-modern society. Author of Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development

Rick Doblin, Ph.D., President and Founder of Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Science (MAPS). His dissertation was on “The Regulation of the Medical Use of Psychedelics and Marijuana and his master’s thesis (Harvard) focused on the attitudes and experiences of oncologists concerning the medical use of marijuana.

John Perry Barlow, Visionary, former Grateful Dead lyricist, and a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization which promotes freedom of expression in digital media.

Julie Holland, M.D., Psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology. Author of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide and bestselling Weekends at Bellevue and editor of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis and Ecstacy: The Complete Guide.

Daniel Pinchbeck, Bestselling author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, Notes from the Edge of Time, and Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shaminism; Co-editor of Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age. Daniel is the editorial director of, and co-founder of

Ethan Nadelmann, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Author of Cops Across Borders, the first scholarly study of the internationalization of U.S. criminal law enforcement, and co-author of Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations.

Dance Celebration follows discussion with live music performance by JahFurry & Kochie Banton with the I & I Drum Link. DJ sets by Krister Linder and Winslow Porter.

Cash bar – organic beer, wine and drinks.
Astoria's own Beyond Kombucha presents a special blend for the event.
Snacks by Xango.

Doors at 7:30, panel at 8:00, dance celebration 11pm – 2am

Price - $25, $20 for Evolver Social Network Members (e-mail [email protected] for info); $15 after midnight.

To purchase tickets please go to Tickets will sell out so to guarantee your entrance, get yours ahead of time.

Fri, 02/04/2011 - 7:30pm - Sat, 02/05/2011 - 2:00am
446 Broadway 3rd floor Safe Harbor
New York, NY 10013
United States

Colombian Shaman Arrested for Ayahuasca on Arriving in US

A widely known and well-respected indigenous Colombian shaman is in US custody on drug trafficking charges for possessing the psychedelic concoction ayahuasca when he arrived in Houston October 19 on a flight from Colombia. Taita Juan Agreda Chindoy faces up to 20 years in federal prison after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Taita Juan
Taita Juan is a traditional healer of the Cametsa people who live in the Sibundoy Valley in Colombia's Alto Putomayo region. He is recognized by the Colombian Ministry of Health as a traditional healer and is widely known in his community as an established healer and leader. He was traveling to Oregon to give a presentation when he was arrested.

Although used as a religious sacrament in the Amazon, ayahuasca is banned under the US Controlled Substances Act because it contains DMT, a fast-acting hallucinogenic chemical. But in a unanimous 2006 decision, the US Supreme Court held that a US branch of a Brazilian church may use ayahuasca as a sacrament during religious rituals.

Taita Juan's supporters are organizing a campaign for his release and have created a web site, Free Taita Juan, to help mobilize support. His attorney was scheduled to meet with prosecutors Tuesday in a bid to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, the shaman remains behind bars in a US detention center.

Houston, TX
United States

12 Day Ayahuasca Intensive Healing and Spiritual Development Workshop

We are pleased to present the next Bená Caia Ainbobo (A New Feminine Spirit) workshop at the Temple of the Way of Light. This 12 day retreat workshop will take place from the 15th to the 26th of May 2009. We offer you the chance to join us on this unique voyage into the world of the plant spirits, guided by at least four onanya ainbobo – the shaman-women of the Shipibo people, many of whom have only previously worked within their communities. All our Onanya are experienced, gentle, caring, and deeply dedicated to healing. We are very privileged to be working with them. We offer a high ratio of healers to participants and a unique chance to develop a close personal bond between you and one of these incredible healers. The workshop will offer an exciting opportunity to learn about the Shipibo people’s ancient knowledge of both the master plants of the jungle, and the deeper dimensions of the ayahuasca experience. We are located around two hours by boat and track from the jungle city of Iquitos in a beautiful jungle setting surrounded by the Amazon rainforest far away from the noise and bustle of the city and even the boats on the river. Retreats at the Temple are open to both male and female participants, and there is an emphasis is on holding genuinely compassionate ceremonies – which can be a refreshing change from the often "macho" world of curanderismo in Peru! We offer a pioneering but ancient path to Mother Ayahuasca by working with the Divine Feminine, and the healers we work with embody the wisdom and sincerity of their people. We firmly believe in the profound benefits of the medicine Ayahuasca and focus our work around three main aspects: 1) A unique focus on work with onanya ainbobo – indigenous women healers working within the rich and complex medical/magical tradition of the Shipibo people. 2) We operate on a not-for-profit basis and are committed to making the healing magic of Ayahuasca and the wisdom of the Shipibo people as accessible to as many people as possible. 3) Holding safe, harmonious and compassionate ceremonies with Ayahuasca, which are in accordance with the traditional use of the plant by the Shipibo people. Ayahuasca ceremonies We provide potent and visionary ayahuasca sourced from deep in the rainforest in the Shipibo territories. The ceremonies led by our curanderas provide the greatest possible comfort, protection and support to participants. We work with various levels of participants and provide personal attention and guidance providing regular consultations with the shamans and group talks about our experiences and the ceremonies. The way we work is very much according to Shipibo tradition, and their encyclopaedic knowledge of medicinal plants and other substances (rao) allows them to heal a huge range of conditions. In the Shipibo tradition, the healing process is very much focussed on cleansing and purifying the energy field which surrounds us, niwe in their language. They do this through an ancient healing process involving incredibly beautiful ikaros, intense perfumes and powerful energetic work. Our workshops provide the conditions and orientation to enable participants to work with Ayahuasca in a comfortable, secure and positive setting – creating a protected, sacred space for everyone heal and grow. Our curanderas are experts in holding ceremonies according to the traditional practices of the Shipibo tribe, and we adhere to these ancient procedures to ensure safe ceremonies. By working closely with you providing a genuinely caring and compassionate approach, we are able to effect positive change in your lives. Ayahuasca is an incredible medicine and our curanderos truly want to make a difference to our participants’ lives. We work to heal all aspects of our participants’ bodies – physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. We are able to help people move away from fear, despair, insecurity, anger, worry and doubt about whatever aspects of their lives that are troubling them to return filled with more hope, belief, passion, love and joy. Workshop Programme Our workshops are developed in close co-operation with the Shipibo healers themselves, as far as possible in accordance with their traditional use of the plant, and will include a number of presentations (in English, or with English translation) on various aspects of their culture, including the five “worlds” (nete), their fascinating mythology, and much more. Some of the highlights of the programme include: • 7 ayahuasca ceremonies over the 12 day workshop • 9 Jain Póiti (Banos de florecimento) - cleansing and strengthening floral baths, a truly invigorating experience! • All food prepared under the strict supervision of the healers, using only the finest locally-produced ingredients. - a very pure yet deliciously simple diet suitable for working with medicinal plants / ayahuasca . • Learn to make your own natural ininti (agua florida) with plants gathered from the jungle. • Explore the jungle and see medicinal plants in their natural environment, with an expert Shipibo guide. • Numerous quimosti (traditional massage therapists) will be available to ease any physical tensions. • Individual consultations with the curanderas to discuss your experiences and healing process. • The chance to meet with the rest of the group and discuss your experiences each day, for those who wish to do so. Projects in the Shipibo communities We are also working closely with a grassroots organisation in Pucallpa which works to protect the Shipibo people and culture and are we concerned by the accelerating loss of traditional knowledge and growing threats to the Shipibos’ ancestral lands along the Rio Ucayali. Dedicated to raising awareness of the social, political and environmental issues which face their people, we are becoming involved in a range of projects aimed at preserving Shipibo traditions – including their unique ethnomedical tradition – and promoting culturally and environmentally sustainable development through education and community work. Cost The cost of this workshop is $900. This cost is all inclusive and includes transport by boat from Iquitos; travel to Peru (and from Lima to Iquitos) is not included. Please contact Matthew Watherston for all enquiries / bookings: or [email protected].
Fri, 05/15/2009 - 11:00am - Tue, 05/26/2009 - 2:00pm

12 Day Ayahuasca Healing Workshop

The Temple of the Way of Light is a shamanic healing centre offering intensive Ayahuasca retreats with female shamans (curanderas). We are located in a beautiful jungle setting surrounded by the Amazon rainforest, and work with some of the most respected and powerful female healers (Onanya) from the Shipibo tribe, many of whom have only previously worked within their communities. All our Onanya are experienced, gentle, caring, and deeply dedicated to healing. We are very privileged to be working with them. The Temple offers retreats for both with male and female participants, where the emphasis is on holding genuinely compassionate ceremonies – which can be a refreshing change from the often "macho" world of curanderismo in Peru! We offer a pioneering but ancient path to Mother Ayahuasca by working with the Divine Feminine, and the healers we work with embody the wisdom and sincerity of their people. We firmly believe in the profound benefits of the medicine Ayahuasca and focus our work around three main aspects: 1) Working only with traditional female healers (onanya) from Shipibo communities spread up and down the Rio Ucalayi. 2) We operate on a not-for-profit basis, which both allows us to offer more reasonable prices than many retreats, but also supports a number of vital projects to help the Shipibo people and to preserve and share their culture. Setting the cost of our workshops as low as possible also ensures as many people as possible are able to work with the medicine without being financially restricted. 3) Holding authentic Ayahuasca ceremonies in a safe, harmonious and compassionate environment. The work carried out at the Temple of the Way of light is focused on holistic healing using spiritual energy and plant medicine. The Temple is open to anyone who is seriously committed to the healing of their body, mind, emotions and spirit and who is looking for a deeper understanding of themselves and the spirit world which surrounds us all. Ayahuasca ceremonies We provide potent and visionary ayahuasca not sourced locally but from deep in the rainforest in the Shipibo territories. The ceremonies led by our curanderas provide the greatest possible comfort, protection and support to participants. It is our priority to ensure that everyone we work with leaves the workshop fulfilled, happy and with their hearts opened to their true selves. We can hold Ayahuasca ceremonies each night although it is often necessary to take a break after running 2 ceremonies in a row to allow the medicine / process to integrate, to recuperate physical energy and catch up on sleep. We therefore run 7 to 8 ceremonies per 12 day workshop. Our ceremonies generally start around 8pm finish from 12am to 2am. The healing carried out by the curanderas is focused on your emotional, mental, physical (where time allows / subject to the illness) and spiritual bodies. We aim to work very closely with each participant throughout the 12 days working with the group together and individually. The intention of our workshops is to provide the conditions and orientation to enable participants to work with Ayahuasca in a comfortable, secure and positive setting – creating a safe, sacred space for everyone heal and grow. The curanderas are experts in holding ceremonies according to the traditional practices of the Shipibo tribe, and we adhere to these ancient procedures to ensure safe ceremonies. Single accommodation One of the unique characteristics of our workshops is we offer each participant individual accommodation in comfortable, yet traditional tambos (sleeping huts). This ensures that each participant can obtain the maximum benefit from the workshop and has the necessary space / isolation which is an important factor whilst working with Ayahuasca. Our tambos are spread out across our land (we have 40 hectares in total) with sufficient space between them for peace and isolation. Each tambo is made from local wood, some with private bathrooms, covered by mosquito netting with a mosquito over the bed, comfortable mattress, table, chair and hammock. Daytime activities During the daytime, we work in a very friendly atmosphere and encourage you to relax. Although time alone in solitude in your tambo to reflect, connect and integrate the work is critical, when we are together as a group, we like to keep the atmosphere light and happy, and never too solemn. The spirits prefer this; although, of course, they also require focus and seriousness at certain points. We then generally begin individual consultations with each participant discussing their experience during the ceremony, their intentions, necessary healing, etc, etc. Breakfast is held between 8 and 10am. Lunch is held between 12 and 2pm. The afternoons are generally used to reflect and process your experiences of the previous ceremonies, relax, read, paint / draw, write in your journal, catch up on sleep, meditate and take in the sounds & beauty of the surrounding rainforest. Floral baths We hold a total of 9 floral baths initially working on cleaning, purifying and then attracting whatever you wish into your life. They are carried out throughout the workshop as an integral part of the work. What’s included: • Comfortable single-occupancy lodging (in our individual tambos) • Collection from Iquitos airport / hotel in Iquitos • All transportation to / from the Temple. • All meals and drinks at the retreat • Ayahuasca cleansing and healing ceremonies • Purifying, cleansing and revitalising floral baths (banos de florecimientos) • Medicinal and purgative plants carefully-selected for highest quality used for body, mind, emotions and spiritual cleansing • Tuition and healing • Personal diagnoses and consultations with the Curanderas. • Participation in the preparation and cooking of the Ayahuasca medicine • Guided Jungle walks What’s not included: • Airfares (International and National) • Transportation to and from Lima aiport • Local airport taxes (apprx $5 per flight) • International departure tax (currently $30 from Lima) • Travel Insurance • Accomodation in Iquitos (we can book this for you) • Peruvian Visa costs for non EEC or USA nationals. • Personal expenses (meals and drinks in Iquitos, etc) The Cost The Temple of the Way of Light is run on a not for profit basis and our prices reflect this. The cost of a 12 day retreat is $600 which covers everything (food and drink, transportation to and from the Temple, consultations with the curanderas, 7 / 8 ceremonies)
Wed, 04/15/2009 - 11:00am - Sun, 04/26/2009 - 2:00pm

Seminar: Ayahuasca Healing Beyond the Amazon

This workshop will focus on ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew (prepared from two plants indigenous to the Amazon) that is used in both traditional indigenous healing practices and modern syncretistic religious rituals. A panel of researchers and practitioners will discuss ayahuasca’s rapid globalization in the past decade and its various contemporary therapeutic and spiritual uses. Specific themes include an overview of the psychological and physiological effects of ayahuasca, the role of culture in mediating the ayahuasca experience (and issues of cross-cultural transferability), ethical issues pertaining to ayahuasca’s uptake in modern Western contexts, and policy challenges arising from the tea’s legal ambiguity in some countries. Ample time will be given for audience participation and discussion. Panelists include: - Kenneth Tupper, ­Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia - Ronin Niwe , Vegetalista (plant healer) - Ayasmina Flores, ­Researcher, Interpreter and Documentary Producer - Cary Wright , M.A. Candidate, California Institute of Integral Studies This seminar is a pre-symposium workshop, part of the Global Integrative Traditional Medicine Symposium, which is being hosted by the Canadian Research Institute of Spirituality and Healing (CRISH), a not-for-profit professional organization devoted to promoting multidisciplinary research and education in spirituality, culture, healing, and health care. CRISH is dedicated to creating a new vision of integrative compassionate health care. Cost: $50 before August 24th (early bird rate); $75 after August 24th For more information see:
Sat, 09/27/2008 - 2:30pm - 5:30pm
4480 Oak Street
Vancouver, BC

It Was the Best of Times: Drug Reform Victories and Advances in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. Both here at home and abroad, the year saw significant progress on various fronts, from marijuana law reform to harm reduction advances to the rollback of repressive drug laws in Europe and Latin America. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant victories and advances for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a top ten most significant defeats for drug law reform in 2006 below.)

Marijuana possession stays legal in Alaska. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case gave Alaskans the right to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in the privacy of their homes, but in 1991, voters recriminalized possession. A series of court cases this decade reestablished the right to possess marijuana, provoking Gov. Frank Murkowski to spend two years in an ultimately successful battle to get the legislature to re-recriminalize it. But in July, an Alaska Superior Court threw out the new law's provision banning pot possession at home. The court did reduce the amount to one ounce, and the state Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, but given its past rulings, there is little reason to think it will reverse itself.

Local initiatives making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority win across the board. In the November elections, lowest priority initiatives swept to victory in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, as well as Missoula County, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Earlier this year, West Hollywood adopted a similar ordinance, and last month, San Francisco did the same thing. Look for more initiatives like these next year and in 2008.

Rhode Island becomes the 11th state to approve medical marijuana and the third to do so via the legislative process. In January, legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to make the bill law. The bill had passed both houses in 2005, only to be vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override in June of 2005, but the House did not act until January.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision is partially rolled back. In the face of rising opposition to the provision, which bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how trivial -- from receiving federal financial assistance for specified periods, its author, leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, staged a tactical retreat. To blunt the movement for full repeal, led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder amended his own provision so that it now applies only to students who are enrolled and receiving federal financial aid at the time they commit their offenses. Passage of the amended drug provision in February marks one of the only major rollbacks of drug war legislation in years.

New Jersey passes a needle exchange bill. After a 13-year struggle and a rising toll from injection-related HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections, the New Jersey legislature last week passed legislation that would establish pilot needle exchange programs in up to six municipalities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed it into law this week. With Delaware and Massachusetts also passing needle access bills this year, every state in the union now either has at least some needle exchange programs operating or allows injection drug users to obtain clean needles without a prescription.

The US Supreme Court upholds the right of American adherents of the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable (UDV) to use a psychedelic tea (ayahuasca) containing a controlled substance in religious ceremonies. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a unanimous court held that the government must show a "compelling government interest" in restricting religious freedom and use "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. The February ruling may pave the way for marijuana spiritualists to seek similar redress.

The Vancouver safe injection site, Insite wins a new, if limited, lease on life. The pilot project site, the only one of its kind in North America, was up for renewal after its initial three-year run, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper was ideologically opposed to continuing it, but thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign to show community and global support, the Harper government granted a one-year extension of the program. Some observers have suggested the limited extension should make the "worst of" list instead of the "best of," but keeping the site long enough to survive the demise of the Conservative government (probably this year) has to rank as a victory. So does the publication of research results demonstrating that the site saves lives, reduces overdoses and illness, and gets people into treatment without leading to increased crime or drug use.

The election of Evo Morales brings coca peace to Bolivia. When coca-growers union leader Morales was elected president in the fall of 2004, the country's coca farmers finally had a friend in high office. While previous years had seen tension and violence between cocaleros and the government's repressive apparatus, Morales has worked with the growers to seek voluntary limits on production and, with financial assistance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, begun a program of research on the uses of coca and the construction of factories to turn it into tea or flour. All is not quiet -- there have been deadly clashes with growers in Las Yungas in recent months -- but the situation is greatly improved from previous years.

Brazil stops imprisoning drug users. Under a new drug law signed by President Luis Inacio "Lula" Da Silva in August, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. While the new "treatment not jail" law keeps drug users under the therapeutic thumb of the state, it also keeps them out of prison.

Italy reverses tough marijuana laws. Before its defeat this spring, the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toughened up Italy's previously relatively sensible drug laws, making people possessing more than five grams of marijuana subject to punishment as drug dealers. The new, left-leaning government of Premier Romano Prodi took and last month raised the limit for marijuana possession without penalty from five grams to an ounce. The Prodi government has also approved the use of marijuana derivatives for pain relief.

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