Nigel Denning: Psychedelic Therapy & More

This week on the podcast, I spoke with Integrative Psychologist, Nigel Denning. We covered many different areas that made me reflect on some wars we are facing then and now.

Tune in as I go through some key points from my talk with Nigel Denning, what Nigel thought is the biggest challenge of this health journey we’re in, Mind Medicine Institute, and so much more.

Have wars (on drugs, hunger, poverty or terror) worked?

Psychedelic Therapy

Now, this week we spoke to integrative psychologist Nigel Denning. Nigel is the director of the Mind Medicine Institute, which is dedicated to training people in psychedelic therapy. Now, it’s such an interesting story – Psychedelic Therapy – because the research was done in the 50s and the 60s, and it was incredibly promising because so many challenging mental health issues were dealt with very successfully using this therapy. 

Mental health issues, which are generally considered intractable in our day and age, post-traumatic stress, chronic intractable depression, these things are managed at the best. But are they cured? I know that’s a big word to say when it comes to mental health. The interesting thing about psychedelic therapies we discuss in great detail in this, I mean, it’s just a fantastic episode with Nigel and his co-director, Dr Triall Dowie, who is going to be a guest in another podcast.

It was so wonderful to talk to him. We covered so many different areas, but he made the point that people who had experienced this would reflect on the therapy to deal with mental health issues as one of the five most meaningful experiences in their lives. That research even is that that statement is even true many, many years after the therapy. 

Now, there aren’t many treatments in health care, be they physical or mental, the way one would ever say that they are one of the five top experiences in a person’s life. Of course, what happened was that in the early 70s, Richard Nixon banned psychedelic therapy because it was finding its way into recreational use and was creating all sorts of issues that he felt were potentially threatening to his ability as a Republican in wartime when the Vietnam War was on to be re-elected.

A war on drugs

That began a war. A war on drugs, like any warlike, it’s like so many wars, similar wars being the war on poverty, the war on hunger, the war on drugs, the war on terror. Well, let’s explore each of those the war on drugs. How did that go? Well, the war on drugs has created a multi-billion, if not a trillion-dollar industry in illicit drugs and has created jails and communities scarred by crime because drugs have become illegal. 

Now, you know, when one looks at drugs, they are probably the most serious drugs that cause the most harm in our community without a doubt. I mean deaths, social disruption, violence. These are serious, serious drugs, which we really need to approach very cautiously. Of course, we don’t. They are alcohol and tobacco. I mean, tobacco certainly had its day, I think.

I think now only about 14% of the population smoke, whereas at one point it was 30 or 40% or more. These drugs are legal and yet drugs like LSD, ecstasy, MDMA, and cannabis, which actually very rarely result in violence or death, and yet are the subject of draconian laws which have found many people who have recreational use of these drugs in prison and begin a lifelong challenge not just to them, their families and the community. 

It’s actually interesting while we’re talking about the war on drugs I have had in my own practise, people who are senior police officers, undercover drug agents, barristers, judges, you read in the paper about former DPPs (Department of Public Prosecution) or Ombudsman’s or heads of police departments and almost to a tee when you ask them “Has the war on drugs work?” They would just roll their eyes and say, “No, definitely hasn’t. It keeps us in employment for nothing more than that.”.

I remember talking to an undercover drug policeman who came into my practise with torn jeans and torn T-shirt and from the back of his pants, pulled out a gun and put it on the bench and I said to him, “Hey Bill, tell me. Are we winning the war on drugs?” And he just laughed, and he said, Look, we would probably get 5% of the illicit drugs, but it keeps us employed.” So almost uniformly universally, be thy law enforcement or health, people say the war on drugs has been an abject failure. 

The defenders of law and order will always seem to speak the loudest. I often think that politicians or bureaucrats that are supporting the war on drugs are either one of two things either they are completely ignorant of the evidence, just completely ignorant, or they are complicit in the undercover industry. 

I think they are really the only two alternatives that I can think of why any rational person who objectively explores the statistics both legal from legal, social, financial, from a health perspective, could conclude that the war on drugs has been a success, and it has deprived us of one of the really greatest potential tools for dealing with intractable mental health issues. 

I’ve often said that the current health management system that we have, which is managing chronic disease, is a great economic model. It’s just not a very good health model, and we explore what a great health tool is psychedelic therapies are, as well as discuss a whole range of things around psychotherapy.

A war on hunger

Actually, while we’re on the war on things, what about the war on hunger? How about that? Well, I was also very privileged about a year or two ago to speak to Professor Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, who wrote a book called The Population Bomb in the late 60s and predicted that there would not be enough food to eat for the population as it expanded. 

When I spoke to him a year and a half ago, I asked him, “How do you reflect on the war on hunger and your prediction that we wouldn’t have enough food to eat?” Of course, the Green Revolution of the 70s resulted in an epidemic in obesity, which Paul Ehrlich agreed he didn’t see coming.

While there are still six or 700 million people who do not have enough food to eat, what he didn’t predict was that they would be 1.6 billion people who are either overweight or obese and the food revolution which developed as a result of the use of chemicals, fertilisers, industrial animal agriculture, which is a topic we’ve covered many times on this podcast, as opposed to regenerative animal agricultural practises. 

They all delivered seemingly cheap food to us, which has resulted in, and I say, seemingly cheap because when you factor in the health and environmental costs of this war on hunger, then we have paid a very high price.

Heart disease is still the number one killer killing 18 million people a year. Cancer number two, killing about 10 million people a year. Diabetes is rising, a growing problem. It wasn’t a problem so much in the 1960s when Paul Ehrlich wrote his book is now claiming at least four and a half million people a year. 

I say at least because if you have type 2 diabetes, it predisposes you to a whole range of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and the complications of the pandemic as well mentioned autoimmune conditions have skyrocketed in the 1950s. They were considered to be about 20 or 30 autoimmune conditions. That’s the body attacking itself. After the war on hunger, there are now 100 autoimmune conditions.

So you know, in answer, when I asked Paul Ehrlich what he thought, his prediction, he said, too early to call. Too early to call. Yes, we have solved, people may not know this. Many people may be going hungry as were, but there are many other problems. We had the war on drugs, the war on hunger. What about the war on poverty?

A war on poverty

Yes, certainly hundreds of millions of people have been dragged out of poverty. Abject poverty, which is described as having a dirt floor, not having access to electricity or clean water or sewerage, and earning less than a dollar a day. Literally by those criteria, hundreds of millions of people have moved out of poverty and extreme poverty into poverty and a sort of a middle class and that’s true. Certainly, the middle class has had access to many things we did not have access to when the war on poverty was declared.

Many of you may remember a time when we all owned banks as a community, we all own services as a community, and we all owned telecommunications as a community. Then following on from the 1970s, leading into the 1980s and the beginning of neoliberalism, the market-driven economy allowed us and all these things were privatised. 

We were then given credit to go and buy what we used to own and get shares in companies that we used to own. We could even have credit cards that will allow us to go out and buy whatever we wanted and loans to get whatever we wanted. I remember when I came back from England in 1980 and I wanted to buy a dental practise of a retiring dentist and the practise cost at that stage, something like $30000. 

Now, bear in mind an apartment that I was looking at buying as well cost $30000 at the same time. So that was quite a lot of money there, but the bank was not going to lend me, a dentist, $30000 unless my parents put their house up as collateral for that loan because I, as a dentist, was considered too great a risk to loan that amount of money.

Now, translate that into today’s world where we have access to loans. As you know, a lot of people have access to a lot of money through credit cards, AfterPay, going off and spending and a whole environment. Our whole economy is built on consumption, an extractive economy of extractive resources, and we can buy whatever we like and we buy stuff that we don’t even need, and we throw out a lot of stuff.

Back to the food, it’s worth mentioning that in the war on hunger, 30% of the world’s food is food waste. That’s another factor that we need to bear in mind as a result of the war on hunger. The war on poverty. Yes, it dragged people out of extreme poverty and took them into poverty or the middle class. 

It took the middle class into a consumer dream world, which is a dream world on one level. But it puts people under huge financial stress on another level. But it has done is it has resulted in the greatest inequality of wealth in all of human history. 

I think when we talk about the top 1%, we really probably should talk about the top 0.1% because the wealth of probably the top two or 300 or 500 or even 1000 individuals is eye-watering, mind-bogglingly staggering. So the war on poverty has certainly had some benefits, but it has also created inequality that is almost unimaginable.

A war on terror

The war on terror. Well, where do we go on that one? The war on terror hasn’t exactly been a great success ever since the war on terror was imposed, you know, was declared after 911 in 2001. We’ve had 20 years of an intractable war and now we’re in a situation again. Wars don’t seem to work terribly well.

Back to this week’s podcast, and I always like to ask people what they feel their greatest challenge is. It’s an opportunity to catch them a little bit off guard and ask a very personal question. I’m going to share with you this because I think it’s worth listening to as often as we can say it. 

When I asked Nigel what he thought the greatest challenge was, it was to know yourself. What a statement that is when you think about it. Particularly when we live in this digital age where arguably your devices, your algorithms that track every movement you make, every purchase you make, every site you visit, every comment you make, every scene you search, the algorithms that surround you, know you better than, you know yourself.

One of the things, for example, is when you have an iPad or iPhone in the morning, you wake up and iPhotos have curated memories going back as long as your photo album will allow it to go back. And you look at that, you start to think, “Wow, I was there. I don’t even remember I was there.” 

I would have made many purchases in my life that I can’t even remember or films that I saw or holidays that I’ve been on. My digital algorithm stamp certainly remembers that. Arguably there has never been a more important time in all of human history. 

Knowing yourself has always been an important part of the human journey, and it’s been a great spiritual journey for many. But it is a part of our human journey. We all go through life trying to understand ourselves. But arguably there has never been a more important time to know yourself to take control of your own life. 

That is physical and mental health, and that really is the brief of this podcast Unstress and the book that I’ve written A Life Less Stressed and the work of the Holistic Health Institute, which I know you are hearing a lot more about because that is what our mission is: to support people on a personal journey to take control of their health, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, to create a supportive community that is free from commercial interest.

Okay, we need money to survive. I’m not going to hide that. There will be a reasonable fee associated with it, but I never want that fee to stand in the way of anybody joining that community, and there are no explanations for that. But that’s what our brief is: to know ourselves and to be the best we can be. I hope this podcast goes some way to helping you do just that. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.