This article was originally published on Psychedelic Spotlight and appears here with permission.
"Something that people used to speak about only in whispers is now standard policy," says the psychedelics researcher, with 20 years of experience, in a wide-ranging Q&A.
Psychedelics have gone from being the government’s “public enemy number one” in the 1970s to highly lauded next-generation drugs capable of combating the global mental health crisis. Given the controversial history of psychoactive substances in Western culture, one can’t help but wonder: Is all this progress too good to be true?
Perhaps the overwhelmingly positive response to Michael Pollan’s psychedelics book, How to Change Your Mind, and all the positive media coverage of promising research in recent years, complete with a major resurgence in pop culture, is merely an inflation of a bubble ready to burst at any moment. In fact, many psychedelic enthusiasts were very concerned that Hulu drama Nine Perfect Strangers would spark such a backlash, because of some very inappropriate psychedelic therapy practices portrayed in the series. Or maybe it’s just paranoia.
So, when I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Alex Belser, the chief clinical officer at Cybin (NYSE: CYBN), a Canadian biotechnology company hard at work developing psychedelic-inspired medicines to revolutionize mental healthcare, I had to ask. Does a licensed psychologist and clinical supervisor with 20 years of experience in the psychedelic research community think that this boom could go bust?
“We see less and less evidence of that. I think that there’s potentially a strong and robust future in the practice of psychedelic medicine,” said Belser, whose research into psilocybin and MDMA has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and even in Pollan’s book.
“My inbox and phone are blowing up with young graduate students, undergraduates, [and] faculty members who want to teach about psychedelics [and] include that in their coursework. Something that people used to speak about only in whispers is now standard policy,” he continued. “The next generation of researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and chemists, they’re on board with psychedelic medicine. And there’s no reason to believe that interest is going to wane.”
Read on for the rest of our conversation, including his inspiration to devote his life to exploring psychedelics, the novel Cybin drug he’s most excited about, the future of mental healthcare treatment, and misconceptions the public still has about psychoactive substances.
What are some of your biggest motivations to research and develop psychedelic medicine?
As a psychologist, I’m passionate about psychotherapy, and working with people as they try to change their lives. I have been frustrated with some traditional approaches—traditional psychopharmacology, traditional psychiatry, good old fashioned psychotherapy.
When I started getting involved and going to psychedelic conferences, first in 2001, I was just blown away by some of the stories that people were telling. And then, when the first studies started coming out, and we first started treating people at New York University, for example, talking with patients and seeing what it was like, I just felt like this is this is the future of psychology and psychiatry.
Psychedelic medicine is really a revolutionary approach to mental health and well being, and I sensed this could be the the work that I could do for the rest of my life, and find it meaningful and intrinsically valuable. And it helps me come alive as a practitioner, and it feels so good to talk to people that are helped by it. So, I’ve been dedicating my life to trying to do that full time. And it’s hard, and there’s challenges with psychedelic medicine that we need to address, but it’s well worth it.
What sparked your interest to study psychedelics?
A friend in college gave me a copy of Stan Grof’s classic book LSD …