Tania de Jong – Mind Medicine Australia & Psychedelic Therapies

Tania de Jong from Mind Medicine Australia discusses mental health, antidepressants and the option of psychedelic therapies in Australia. Even before the COVID crisis and the bushfires. One in five of us had a mental illness. One in eight of us were on anti-depressants. An average of eight people were taking their lives each day in Australia and an estimated one in two of us are predicted to suffer a serious mental illness in our lifetime. These figures are set to increase by 20 to 30 per now, according to experts on the back of this pandemic. And our wonderful medical professionals cannot treat patients adequately. There are not the time or resources.. but how about if there was another way? And there is. Tune in to find out more about mind medicine and psychedelic therapies.

Mind Medicine Australia

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:13] Hello and welcome to Unstress. I’m Dr Ron Ehrlich. Now, the issue today, we are going to be dealing with is psychedelic therapies and this is not a new thing. It was showing incredible promise in the 50s and 60s. But things changed. And if we ever needed reminding of the impact a US president can have on our lives, seemingly a long way away. Well, you’ll learn in this episode today that decisions that were made for political reasons in the 1960s, late 60s at a very tumultuous time in history, and around 1968 when President Nixon came on board and there were lots of protests, Vietnam, anti-Vietnam War, and he was wanting to and they were coming out of universities. And so the war on drugs was mounted and things like Cannabis and things like psychedelic therapy were outlawed. And it created a huge social problem making people criminals when in fact there was benefits to some of those. Sure. Like many drugs, abuse is a problem. But, hey, we are not locking people up for having too much wine. Anyway, I digress. Our guest today is Tania De Jong. And Tanya is has got a long history in not for profit organisations. And I had the privilege of catching up with her last year and learnt all about her organisation, Mind Medicine Australia. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Tania De Jong.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:01:54] Welcome to the show, Tania.


Tania De Jong [00:01:56] Thank you, Ron. Lovely to be involved and supporting your programme.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:02] Great. Well, listen, Mind Medicine Australia. I know I’ve come upon the organisation in the middle of last year when I attended one of your events, and I was so blown away by it. I really was looking forward to getting you on the programme. Can you tell us a little bit about Mind Medicine Australia, how it started? Who’s involved? What’s it all about?


Tania De Jong [00:02:25] Sure. So Mind Medicine Australia is a charity that was set up by my husband, Peter Hunt and I. We launched in early 2019. And our goal is to make sure that psychedelic-assisted therapies become an available treatment and part of the mental health treatment system for patients and their doctors in Australia. So it came about because I’ve always been a very curious person and I’ve never been into drugs though and I also don’t drink alcohol. Well, that’s a drug that’s the most dangerous drug of all harm to self and harm to others. But, I also, don’t drink coffee. I am a very boring person, really.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:19] Now, listen, our exposure to drugs does not define us. I don’t think I’ve got to say that to you Tania.


Tania De Jong [00:03:24] I’m just joking. I get high on singing, you know? That’s my background.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:30] We may finish off the programme with that. We won’t. But let’s go on tell us.


Tania De Jong [00:03:35] Well, I’m happy to give you a beautiful track to play on the programme, of course. And anyway, I was reading Tim Ferris’s blog that comes out every Friday. And he on one of these blogs said that he was investing significant amounts of money in a study at Imperial College using psilocybin. I’d never heard of what psilocybin was before that time. And he had a link to an article by Michael Pollan, the well-known New York journalist. And it was called “The Troop Treatment” in The New Yorker magazine. And I clicked on the link. I read this article. It was about a Jewish man who had a terminal diagnosis and a whole lot of healing happened for him through psilocybin assisted therapy treatment. He was able to deal with a whole lot of intergenerational trauma and other direct trauma that he’d experienced in his life. And Holocaust trauma and all sorts of things. And in fact, he he was still alive. He may still be alive now. I’m not sure that he was part of a trial, I think, at New York University that did a trial for patients with a terminal diagnosis. I think with cancer and they went through psilocybin assisted therapy and some 80 per cent of them ended up going into complete remission of their anxiety and depression symptoms after these two sessions and were able to then see the rest of their lives with great hope and positivity and also became far more reconciled to the dying process. In fact, researchers have gone back on that study now and five years later done a recap of it.


Tania De Jong [00:05:37] And not only are pretty much all the patients still in remission from their anxiety and depression but of course, many of them are still alive, which is saying something. So anyway. Cut a long story short. I read this article, I said to my husband. This sounds incredible. I think we should try this. And it just really resonated with me. We set about trying to get into the trials that were taking place, particularly in the U.K. and we were going to be in Europe that year. And so we tried to get into a trial for healthy participants. But there weren’t really a lot of those sorts of trials going on there, mainly trials for either depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. And so we ended up being referred to a private guide in the Netherlands. And of course, these medicines are legal in them in the Netherlands. And so we went overseas and we had a very high dose of psilocybin in a supervised environment. And it was so powerful, meaningful. Beautiful. Awe-inspiring that we had this incredible sense of connexion to ourselves, to one another. We came out of it with, you know, much greater connections to our families, to nature. You know, this feeling of boundless expanse of being, part of everything and everything being part of us. And an incredible sense of connection. And so. We said to ourselves, wow.


Tania De Jong [00:07:29] Well, if this has had this much effect on us. Imagine how these treatments might heal people who are seriously mentally ill and my husband and I have set up four previous charities between us, I’ve set up the “Song Room for Music and Arts for Disadvantaged Children” and “With One Voice Programmes of Creativity Australia” which bring together advantaged and disadvantaged people in choirs as social inclusion, and my husband’s the founder of the “Women’s Community Shelters” in New South Wales, and we’ve been involved in the not for profit sector for a long time. And really, what defines. Pretty much anyone who’s disadvantaged is that they feel disconnected. You know, they don’t feel part of normal society. And the community and they’re often lonely and isolated and of course. Most of them have a mental illness. And we thought, well, you know, it’s all very well delivering choir programmes and homeless shelters and all these things, and they do help. Of course, they help. And people need housing and they need networks and they need skills and they need food and, you know, all sorts of other types of support. But at the end of the day, if you can’t heal a person’s trauma and their mental illness, they’re actually never going to be able to lead a functional life. Know, no matter how many services you give them.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:01] And the word, the word, the word healing is not often associated with many, many, many, many of these mental health issues. It’s more about management, containment.


Tania De Jong [00:09:13] That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. And so we found the experience so healing ourselves that we really took a good week. We took 12 months to really integrate this experience into our lives, into our insights and our work and, you know, to really gain the most out of this incredible what we would have to define in the top couple of experiences in our lives. And in fact, most people who have these experiences do rank them in the top five most meaningful experiences in their lives. And so,


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:52] That’s an extraordinary that’s an extraordinary statement to make about a treatment.


Tania De Jong [00:09:58] It’s amazing, isn’t it? And so a year later, we decided to have another session. We went back to the same guide and we worked with him again and had an even higher dose of psilocybin and we had an even more powerful experience, and at that point in time, we thought, well, this is not a coincidence, like this has happened twice now and we started doing more and more research on it, on the space. So we were reading articles and watching videos, many of which you can find on our Mind Medicine Australia website now reading journal articles in medical journals and starting to get really familiar with the research that was going on around the world. You know, leading academic institutions like Harvard and Oxford and Yale and Imperial College and Johns Hopkins University and so on. And we started to connect with a lot of the leading researchers and psychiatrists doing this research around the world and started attending some of the conferences. And I even start to speak a little bit and even sing actually at some of the conferences. And then what happened was it suddenly came to us that we should start a charity now, I have to say at that point in time, we were sort of trying to divest ourselves of, you know, an enormous portfolio of commitments that we both had. So for us to actually start another charity was very significant. And the only thing that would have made us do that was something that would so shift the paradigm for the community, for people who were suffering with some kind of disadvantage and mental illness. We thought if these medicines became available and accessible to the millions of people just in Australia alone, let alone globally, hundreds of billions of people who are suffering with intractable mental illnesses and cannot get better in the mind through current existing treatments, anti-depressants and psychotherapy only really kill a maximum of 35 per cent of patients. The rest of the patients might have some improvement but they don’t have complete healing, as you put it, before they may have, you know, a slight uplift in their mood. But if they stop the antidepressants, they might relapse. Often anti-depressants stop working for people, of course, have a lot of side effects. They’re hard to withdraw from. And so we decided that the best thing that we could do would be to start a charity that would make sure that Australia could catch up with the rest of the world in this space to make these medicines available to doctors and their patients in Australia and to heal the immense suffering that people are experiencing and to really help to manage a mental health crisis, which is just I mean, even before the COVID crisis and the bushfires. One in five of us had a mental illness. One in eight of us were on anti-depressants. With one in four older adults, an incredible one in two older women on anti-depressants. An average of eight people were taking their lives each day in Australia and an estimated one in two of us are predicted to suffer a serious mental illness in our lifetime. These figures are set to increase by 20 to 30 per now, according to experts on the back of this pandemic.


Tania De Jong [00:13:46] So we have a serious issue and we’re not able as a community and and and our wonderful medical professionals cannot treat patients adequately. So we hear from a lot of psychiatrists who naturally get a lot of the hard to treat cases. And they might say to us, you know, 20 people might come into their rooms and at the end of two years, only one of those might be healed. A number of others will have either dropped out or they just got stuck in the system and not getting better. So. At the moment. The medical system doesn’t have the innovation and treatments required. To heal people of a range of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and you know, addictions, and interestingly enough, these medicines which have been receiving 60 to 80 per cent remission rates across 120 current and recent trials are now also being trialled for Alzheimer’s dementia. Eating disorders like anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder. And of course, people always think that the stigma is, you know, that these medicines are dangerous, that they’re addictive, that they’re not safe. But in fact, these medicines are now being used to treat people with alcohol and drug addictions. And they’re actually having enormous success in healing people with those sorts of addictions as well.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:15:23] Well, I mean, the whole psychedelic area is not a new area, is it? I mean, when we’re talking about psychedelic therapies, you’ve mentioned psilocybin, though people may have heard of LSD. And there’s also there are other medicinal and medicinal MDMA is another. Is that the range of of of modalities we’re talking about, of medications of this sort?


Tania De Jong [00:15:49] Well, look, there’s a number of psychedelics, classic psychedelics. The most well-known of those is is psilocybin, which is the psychoactive component of magic mushrooms. But there are a number of other psychedelics like San Pedro, cacti, ibogaine, ayahuasca and so on. And then these MDMA, which is psychoactive. So it doesn’t actually take you into a completely altered state but helps to bring about a great sense of warmth and love and connection through which a patient can start to talk about and heal their trauma, which is why MDMA is in final stage trials supervised by the FDA in the US. So MDMA therapy and psilocybin therapy, and they’re the two we’re focussed on at the moment. We’re focussed on those because they’ve been given breakthrough therapy status by the Food and Drug Administration in the USA because they’re seen as so prospective and so much more superior than current existing treatments that the FDA is helping to fast track their approval as prescribable medicines.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:03] Yes, interesting, isn’t it and it’s not as though we need to be reminded of the influence of presidents on our world, but things were going quite well in the 60s up to a certain point, and then something happened. Do you want to share with our listeners what they want?


Tania De Jong [00:17:20] Yes. So so basically, look, I mean, a few important things to say. Firstly, these medicines, particularly psilocybin and the psychedelic class of medicines, have been used in tribes really since the beginning of humanity. I mean, if you go back to archaeological ruins, you can see mushrooms, for example, and some of the archaeological ruins. They’ve been used for traditional healing in places not only in Europe, but certainly in South America and Mexico and Peru for thousands of years. And in the 1950s and 60s, psychedelics were considered the next big thing in psychiatry. And they were used successfully to treat over 50000 patients from a range of conditions. And they were, you know, extraordinary healing took place at that time. And there was an enormous amount of research going on. An enormous amount of healing was taking place. And then in 1970 Nixon had his war on drugs and decided to make all drugs illegal except for alcohol, which, of course, has been proven time and time again to be the most dangerous drug for harm to self and harm to others. And so what happened at that time was that all funding ceased for psychedelic research. And David Nutt, Professor David Nutt, who’s the head of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, describes that as the worst example of censorship of science and medical treatment in the history of humanity. Because for the next literally, we’re at 20-20 now, right so exactly 50 years ago. So pretty much since that time, there’s been this enormous gap. I mean, there’s been SSRI’s, which are the typical anti-depressants, which we all understand, that they work for some people, but not enough people and have a lot of side effects.


Tania De Jong [00:19:29] But there’s been no other innovation. And in that time the mental health globally has got worse and worse. So we’ve seen a huge spike in social isolation and loneliness and depression and anxiety not only caused by lack of treatments but caused by a whole range of different factors, ranging from climate anxiety to the acceleration of new technologies to social media and a whole range of other things. But the fact is that in that time, instead of having this wonderful you know, access to these medicines, people have really had access to nothing apart from either anti-depressants or psychotherapy. And this is really limited, the treatment options for doctors. And, of course, it’s meant that a lot of people have got very sick and been unable to heal. And many people, of course, very sadly, have taken their lives. And which is why we’ve seen the suicide rate increasing as well. So it’s terrible. And one of the really sad things about that is that people feel such a crisis of meaning as well.


Tania De Jong [00:20:36] And one of the wonderful things about psychedelic medicines is that they actually give you an incredible sense of meaning and purpose. It really helped to explain why, why, why you exist and you know, and and and connect you to everything in the world that gives you a great sense of meaning, of being part of something that is wonderful and beautiful, a sense of gratitude. And this crisis of meaning that people are experiencing is really exacerbating the mental illness crisis that we have now. And many people, in fact, are saying that mental illness, let’s say pandemic, epidemic, tsunami, I’ve seen all those words mentioned lately coming off the back of COVID. It is going to be far, far worse than the actual deaths and illnesses from COVID. I mean, the impacts are going to be long-lasting and are going to be affecting a lot of people potentially for their whole lives. And certainly, if there are not treatment options for them, that is a huge risk.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:42] Well, you’ve touched on the word connection there several times and as being a real source of mental health issues. But it’s actually in this psychedelic experience that it’s the actual connection of the person with themselves that’s often clearly the clear breakthrough. And what I found interesting when you when we talked about this recently was and we’ve done quite a few programmes on meditation and the power of meditation. And actually, from a neurological perspective, there is this thing called the Default Mode Network. Tell us a bit about that and how the psilocybin, because that’s often how meditation on a neurological level, that’s the process by which meditation has its powerful effect, the default mode network. Tell us the effect that psilocybin have on that.


Tania De Jong [00:22:36] Yeah. So psilocybin is said to bypass the default mode network of the brain, which is the default mode network is what really keeps us stuck in our rigid patterns of thinking, you know, repetitive thoughts and the ruminating thoughts that we often have when we’re not feeling good about ourselves, so people have depression, anxiety, you know, commonly say things like, I’m not good enough. No one loves me. The future looks bleak. Things aren’t going to work out for me, et cetera, et cetera. We’ve probably all said those things at certain times. And certainly, we would know people who will be caught in those sort of loops. And those loops mean that the person’s neural networks are really operating quite limited and limited loops and not really connecting different hemispheres. You know, not making the most of the immense amount of neural pathways that we have in our brains. What happens with the intervention of psilocybin and this has been proved through multiple MRI studies, is that the intervention of the psilocybin and creates what’s called a massive neurogenesis reconnection of old neural pathways and sometimes damaged neural pathways, and also the formulation of new neural pathways, of course, known as neuroplasticity. And so you get these massive reconnections of all these brain cells and neural pathways that not only help you to feel a greater sense of connection to yourself and others and the planet, nature and so on, but also, in fact, to increase your creativity and your productivity, which is also part of the healing, and really help people to feel a sense of empowerment and a sense of agency for their own healing.


Tania De Jong [00:24:25] So instead of having to take a pill every day, people are actually taking responsibility for healing themselves because actually, the brain is functioning better. And the wonderful thing is that these effects appear to persist so that in a number of the studies, you can actually see that the remissions increase over time. Even at the 12-month mark, the remissions in both psilocybin and MDMA trials have been shown to increase as people integrate these incredibly meaningful healing experiences into their lives. And as they peel back the onion more and learn more about themselves and how their mind works, they’re able to heal over time, which is particularly powerful, I should say, by the way, to Ron, that I didn’t finish properly explaining Nixon before. I should have read that, you know, Nixon, actually. The travesty was that Nixon made the medicines or the drugs, as you may, well, whatever we want to call them, I call them medicines because they’re absolutely medicines and medically controlled environments. We’re not at all proposing recreational use unsupervised, I should say that. But Nixon wanted to constrict conscript people into the Vietnam War movement at the time, and he was experiencing a lot of pushback. So he decided to go and rest, you know, all the people who were protesting anti-war protest protesters. And this is really how he did it. He used the drugs as a scapegoat to get people onto his anti-war movement. But there was no scientific basis to that prohibition at all. It was not based on any science. It was a completely political, politically motivated decision. And, of course, it created an enormous amount of damage.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:26:24] Isn’t it great now that things have got so much better and, you know, politics in America is just looking so, you know, 50 years on. We won’t even get started on that. But what it is, is it is actually a sobering reminder to us of the impact that political decisions have, not just at the time of the incumbent, but for 10, 20, 30, 50 or maybe even more years. So it’s kind of even makes it even more frightening.


Tania De Jong [00:26:53] That’s why it’s very important, you know, in this current crisis for all of us, as you know, aware and awake citizens, to be very clear about what we’re agreeing to and what we’re not. Yes, that’s pretty important.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:27:10] Well, you well, you know what I love about this story. You know, what you’ve been telling us today is that here you and your husband have have had experience in this not for profit space, but have made a choice about getting involved. And it’s not just the two of you. Because when we look at the faculty, I would encourage we’ll have links, of course, to the Mind Medicine. The faculty that supports you is so impressive. And I know you’ve got a conference coming up in November in Melbourne, which I mean, I’m looking forward to attending myself. So, you know, and I know the College that I’m associated with, the Australasian College of Nutritional Environmental Medicine you’ve done a wonderful presentation there. So thank you so much for joining me.


Tania De Jong [00:27:59] Ron. What would be really helpful just for just two more minutes, if I might. Yeah. Just to let everyone know, you know. Yes. We have an incredible board advisory panel. Many, many psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, all sorts of different medical and allied medical practitioners, religious leaders, lawmakers and others on our advisory boards and so on. And we’re really focussed on educating people about these medicines and the science behind them through a range of education, events, screenings, webinar. So please join them. And this summit in November with some of the leading researchers in the world, we also are starting a certificate in psychedelic-assisted therapies in early 2021, and that is places for that will be open from June the 1st. And it’s very, very exciting. We have a huge wait list of interested people and that we’re looking at starting a centre of excellence at rescheduling of the medicines, looking at how medicines can be grown and made available in Australia and roll out clinics to support this whole movement. It’s a it’s a very, very exciting time, a renaissance long overdue. It should never have had to have been a renaissance. But anyway, there is a renaissance now. And I really encourage people to connect with us, support us, donate to us everything that they can to get involved. And you know, these medicines, by the way, Ron, are available at the moment through what’s known as the S.A.S. scheme, the special access scheme, which was is also available for medicinal cannabis. So if people are treatment-resistant and their psychiatrist has tried everything with them, their psychiatrist can apply to the special access scheme to provide these therapies to them on a case by case basis, and we also welcome that. And yes, and just thank you very much for your support and interest in what we’re doing. It means a lot to us.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:30:04] Well, I think with mental health, it’s so rare that we hear the word remission and building resilience and for people to describe one of the top five experiences of their lives as a form of treatment for mental health. Well, it is an eye-opener itself. So we’re going to have links to your site and all of those events and resources. And Tania Thank you so much for all the work you’re doing. And thank you so much for joining us today.


Tania De Jong [00:30:33] Thank you. Thank you, Ron. And we’re looking forward to talking further.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:30:38] So there it is, a therapy with huge potential and considering how intractable some of these mental health conditions are, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and there are many, many avenues one could explore that through. But this is just such a promising and powerful therapy that is long overdue to re-emerge. And I’m very proud of the fact that the Australasian College of Nutritional Environmental Medicine, which I’ve mentioned before, has been running courses on medicinal cannabis. And I’m very keen for us to collaborate more closely as a College with Mind Medicine Australia and of course, the conference that Tania was referring to in Melbourne in November. Well, keep in there how things are going. It’s obviously unlikely to be a face to face conference, but as we have learnt, online is a great way to access information. We’ll have links to Mind Medicine Australia and some of the, you can see the faculty that is involved there and the events and programmes they’ve got and that special access scheme. I’m sure you’ll be able to find that through the site as well. Don’t forget to download the app, The Unstress with Dr Ron Ehrlich app. And we have got some very exciting things coming up, as I keep reminding you. And I also remind you to go on leave a review on iTunes, because apparently the way these things work, the more reviews the positive ones there are. The higher you go up in ratings. And if you’re listening to this, you probably think what we’re talking about on this is important, as I do. Anyway, that’s the commercial. That’s the plug. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health-related subjects. Content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by qualified medical practitioners. 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.