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The representation of women in psychedelic research and industry



The representation of women in psychedelic research and industry
Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu:

Dr Devon Christie, Medical and Therapeutic Services Director with Numinus, speaks to Psychedelic Health about the representation of women in the field of psychedelics – from clinical research to high-level industry roles. 

Research into psychedelics is showing the compound could hold promise as potential treatments for a number of conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction.

For example, one study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found only 29% of participants in studies of psilocybin and 24% of participants in studies of MDMA were women in research and clinical trials. 

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Dr Devon Christie, Medical and Therapeutic Services Director with Numinus highlights that this is reflected across the industry with little diversity amongst clinical trial participants, the under-representation of women in leadership roles, and the lack of recognition for women’s contributions to the field, noting that embracing equity for women within psychedelics is essential.

Dr Christie tells us more about the inclusion of women in psychedelic research and their representation in the industry.

Inclusion of women in psychedelic research

“Historically in the West, there have been two major waves of psychedelic research, the first from around 1950 to 1985, and the second from around 2000 to the present, the latter often referred to as the ‘psychedelic renaissance’. 

“Despite the psychedelic renaissance seeing significant advances in research methodology and safety, inequalities yet abound for women (and other marginalised groups) in research participation. 

“Historically and in general, evidence shows that clinical research has systematically excluded women, leading to underrepresentation. Even when included, researchers often do not analyse whether the gender of the research subject affects the results of the study. 

“In addition, health concerns specific to women have received little research attention. Unfortunately, these issues continue today, and within Western psychedelic research paradigm. Systematic inclusion of women, analysis of gender-specific outcomes and risks, and attention to women-specific research priorities remains an important priority that we must work towards.”

Representation of women in the field 

“There is currently a need to address the lack of recognition of women’s contributions to advancing the field of psychedelic science. 

“The most widely recognised leaders from the first wave of psychedelic research are white men – the likes of Abram Hoffer, Stanislov Grof, Albert Hoffman, and Aldous Huxley. 

“Psychedelic historian Erika Dyck found that during 1950s psychedelic experiments, women would often serve as psychedelic guides for their scientist husbands, who went on to be recognised as influential in psychedelic history, but the women who guided the sessions were not credited anywhere.

“The 2018 New York Times bestselling nonfiction “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan (now also a popular Netflix series), virtually omits historical and present contributions of women in it’s account of the 1st and 2nd waves of Western psychedelic research. 

“An article by Lucid News in 2020 reported that over seven psychedelic conferences and 400 speakers, 68% of speakers were men, and 98% were white. 

“In Western biomedicine, men who have dominated positions within academic institutions have received the funding, accolades and credit for bringing about the psychedelic renaissance. Yet historically, in Indigenous communities, it was often the women shamans who heavily influenced the healing practices that have influenced modern psychedelic research.

“For example, the Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina shared her sacred practices with Western ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson, whose writings later gave rise to Western psychedelic interest; spores Wasson collected from his time with Sabina were cultivated in Europe and psilocybin was isolated in the laboratory by Albert Hoffman in 1958.  

“Organisations like Chacruna and Sisters in Psychedelics are leading the way to advocate for balance and equity in gender representation in psychedelic science and history.” 

Importance of inclusion of women in trials, leading industry roles, and research

“We’ve already seen what harms impact women disproportionately from a historical overarching exclusion of women from clinical trials and poor attention to women’s health in research agendas: a compromise in the health information available to women, and in the healthcare women receive. 

“We must not perpetuate this problem within psychedelic research. Yet, beyond the important need to redress these inequities to ensure data from psychedelic research is relevant to women’s health from a justice and rights perspective, the situation brings light to how gender inequity stands in the way of good science. Diverse and gender inclusive experimental design enhances generalisability and reduces perpetuation of outdated assumptions. 

“Diverse perspectives, including those of women, are necessary for generating innovative insights, and ensuring future accessibility for historically disadvantaged people. These are such important considerations in the rapidly expanding field of psychedelic science, all the more so since psychedelic-assisted therapy is highly dependent on contextual factors (also referred to as “set” and “setting”). 

“The contextually-mediated assumptions and behaviours promoted by a particular therapeutic protocol may significantly impact a person’s psychedelic experience, thus prioritising cultural humility, equity and diversity. 

“Elevating the voices and influence of women and other marginalised groups in research protocol development must be front and centre, with due respect for the plural Indigenous knowledge systems that have developed and refined and contextual elements in ritual and ceremony with plant medicines since time immemorial. 

“Finally, in leading the psychedelic industry, I believe women have the capacity to transform how the industry operates: to lead by example by truly embodying the values of embracing diversity of expression and experience, and empowering one another by lifting each other up to find our greatest strength and healing together.” 

What can the industry do to ensure fair representation of women?

“It is important that the industry avoids tokenisation, meaning inviting women only to satisfy a mandate for gender equity, and instead recognises the importance of fair representation to progressing the field, as discussed above. 

“I believe the industry can learn a lot by turning to communities, by creating and listening to focus groups for ideas on what to prioritise, and how to ensure fair representation of women and other marginalised groups. The industry can also look to the organisations I mentioned earlier, like Chacruna and Sisters in Psychedelics – to support their initiatives and learn how to create and implement Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI)-informed best practices.” 

Dr Devon Christie, Medical and Therapeutic Services Director with Numinus.

Dr Devon Christie, Medical and Therapeutic Services Director with Numinus.

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Integrating metaphysics into psychedelic therapy



Integrating metaphysics into psychedelic therapy

Dr Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, Lecturer at Exeter University, has proposed incorporating metaphysical philosophy into psychedelic therapy to help improve therapeutic outcomes.

Sjöstedt-Hughes suggests that psychedelic therapy may gain more advantage by extending its scope into metaphysics, helping patients better integrate and understand psychedelic-induced metaphysical experiences.

Such improved outcomes may be seen if patients undergoing this therapy “are provided with an optional, additional, and intelligible schema and discussion of metaphysical options at the integrative phase of the therapy.” 

See also  Study explores relationship between psychedelics and consciousness

In the paper, Sjöstedt-Hughes puts forward this schema as the “Metaphysics Matrix” and an accompanying “Metaphysics Matrix Questionnaire (MMQ)” which can be utilised by therapists and researchers as a tool for the quantitative measurement of a psychedelic experience.

The paper ‘On the need for metaphysics in psychedelic therapy and research’ has been published in Frontiers in Psychology.

What is metaphysics?

While mysticism deals with understanding the universe through direct experience, such as revelation, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with understanding the fundamental nature of reality through logic/argument.

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Sjöstedt-Hughes writes that “metaphysics is not mysticism” but there is overlap: “[…] metaphysics is broader and its positions can be logically deliberated — as such metaphysics can encompass mystical experiences induced by psychedelic intake yet metaphysics can also ground those experiences in a manner that can be more intelligible, comprehensive, viable, and acceptable to participants than that which the framework of mysticism alone can offer.”  

The Metaphysics Matrix

A number of clinical trials investigating psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, report that participants who undergo a “mystical experience” during a psychedelic session often have higher levels of sustained therapeutic outcomes.

In clinical trials, mystical experiences are measured by different scales including the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ), the Hood Mysticism Scale (HMS), the Hallucinogen Rating Scale (HRS), the Five Dimensions Altered State of Consciousness Questionnaires (5D-ASC) and Eleven Dimensions Altered State of Consciousness Questionnaires (11D-ASC).

Sjöstedt-Hughes writes: “Data derived in this manner is obviously limited and abstract not only because psychedelic experience need not be “mystical,” but also because the definition of “mystical” could be expanded to include other criteria [

“With regard to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy […] speaking about mystical experience per se will not be sufficient to provide a meaningful explanation of the significance of such experience to a person, for the simple reason that mystical experience is the phenomenon to be explained — mystical experience is the explanandum rather than the explanation. 

“It is metaphysics that is the means of explanation, the explanans of the mystical explanandum.”

The Metaphysics Matrix has been designed to provide a “menu” of metaphysical options that may help people to “frame, make sense of, and give significance to, their experiences”, and would be another tool in the belt of therapists to better understand these experiences.

Image provided by Dr Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes.

Such experiences could be understood through metaphysical systems such as Neutral Monism, Pantheism, Panpsychism, Animism, Substance Dualism, and Idealism, says Sjöstedt-Hughes. 

Some examples provided include the common experience of the Universe being God – which can be understood in the context of Pantheism – or of all matter having a basic form of sentience – such as plants having a basic drive or process – which can be understood in the context of Panpsychism. 

Image provided by Dr Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes.

Additionally, enabling people who have had these experiences to understand them within these frameworks may make them less likely to dismiss the experiences as delusional, says Sjöstedt-Hughes.

“ […] Relatedly, that the worldview hitherto adopted by the participant is but one metaphysical position amongst others,” he writes. 

Sjöstedt-Hughes commented: “This is a conjecture that hasn’t been tested but can be tested – offering a patient an additional and optional discussion in the integrative phase of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. 

“Giving them this Metaphysics Menu for integration may extend the long-term benefits of psychedelic therapy and beyond because there’s a number of studies that seem to show that certain peak psychedelic experiences have the longest and most beneficial health outputs results.

“If in the integrative phase [of therapy] one looks at that experience and starts to frame it intelligibly, then the conjecture is that the participant will not in a few weeks after that, think it must have been a delusion – they will say that we don’t know what reality is. 

“Therefore, we can’t dismiss something as a delusion necessarily. By doing that it might extend the significance of that experience for the person.

“When we use Mysticism Scales, by definition, mystery can’t explain itself. Metaphysics, however, incorporates those experiences and offers an explanation to what they mean. For example, the relation between oneself and the universe.”

Sjöstedt-Hughes points out that in practice, one of the immediate issues is the practical issue of implementation of Metaphysics Integration, suggesting this could be supported through resources such as a handbook or practitioner training.

He further concludes the integration would need to be “further bridged by the therapist to the participant’s life, concerns, values, aims, and outlook.”

The Metaphysics Schema is already being utilised in studies taking place at Ohio State University, US, and Exeter University, UK.

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Ketamine nasal spray for anxiety and PTSD advances



Cybin to acquire Small Pharma, creating largest DMT programme

Silo Pharma has announced it has advanced the formulation development for its therapeutic drug, SPC-15, which utilises ketamine.

The liquid nasal formulation will be used in SPC-15’s novel protocol that aims to treat and prevent anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other stress-related disorders. 

Chief Executive Officer of Silo Pharma, Eric Weisblum, stated: “The progress of our feasibility study investigating dose strengths of SPC-15 is a significant advancement in our development work with this pipeline candidate.

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“Results of the feasibility study will determine our selection of the manufacturing processes, and we are currently in discussions with potential delivery partners.

“We may also use the feasibility data for upcoming studies related to our SPC-14 therapeutic targeting Alzheimer’s disease.”

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The company has stated that the formulation development was in accordance with its sponsored research agreement and option with Columbia University, and that linearity, accuracy, and repeatability were achieved in the feasibility study.

In May 2023, Silo Pharma was awarded a U.S. Patent titled “Biomarkers for Efficacy of Prophylactic Treatments Against Stress-Induced Affective Disorders,” with claims protecting the key technology behind SPC-15 and further drug discovery.

The company is also carrying out a Sponsored Research Agreement with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – Effect of Psilocybin on Inflammation in the Blood – which is investigating psilocybin’s effect on inflammatory activity in humans, with plans to accelerate its implementation as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s, chronic pain and bipolar disorder.

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How psychedelics could help those living with alcohol use disorders



Psychedelic retreats are mushrooming

Alcohol use disorders (AUD) are estimated to affect around 237 million people across the globe, with 3 million deaths each year attributed to the harmful use of alcohol.

Despite this prevalence, there is a lack of effective treatment options and relapse rates remain high, but hope is on the horizon in the form of clinical research that is starting to show the therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds for problematic drinking.

AUD affects millions of people around the world. In fact, approximately one in every 20 deaths globally are in some way related to alcohol, be it through disease, injury, or accident. There are over 600,000 dependent drinkers in England alone, and, in the US, roughly a third of people meet the criteria for AUD on a lifetime basis. Sadly though, only 21.9% of patients across the globe receive treatment for AUD and many struggle with relapse. 

Why is this? Well, put simply, the treatment landscape for AUD is incredibly complex and there are many barriers throughout the treatment pipeline. Whether it’s the mental barrier of actually wanting to stop drinking, physical dependence, fear of withdrawal symptoms, the lack of awareness of what support is actually available, or the cost of treatment, it can be difficult for people living with AUD to know what to do.  

And even if they are screened by a healthcare professional, the treatments available may not be effective for them. There may be undesired side effects and up to 70% of people taking pharmacological treatments for AUD find no positive outcomes. This means there is a huge unmet need for better, more effective and more accessible treatments – and this is where psychedelics come in. 

How psychedelics are offering hope to those that struggle most

Thanks to a growing body of research, psychedelics have become a new medicine of interest for those looking to ease the burden substance use disorders have on individuals, families and healthcare systems. Psychedelics are believed to work by inducing a ‘window of neuroplasticity’ in the brain, which opens up the possibility for new behaviours or patterns of thinking to be developed. It is this ability that makes psychedelics so interesting in the case of treating conditions like AUD where addiction-related habits and emotions play a huge part.

The science is promising. In the U.S, a recent study led by the New York University Grossman School of Medicine showed that psilocybin treatment improved drinking outcomes in patients with AUD relative to outcomes observed with a placebo medication. Specifically, the study found that two doses of psilocybin, when combined with psychotherapy, reduced heavy drinking by 83%. Another study found that ibogaine, a psychedelic derived from the roots of a West African shrub, when used in conjunction with psychotherapy, could increase periods of abstinence in those with alcohol and other substance addictions. 

At Beckley Psytech, we’re exploring the potential of our synthetic formulation of 5-MeO-DMT, BPL-003, for AUD in a Phase IIa study. Phase I healthy volunteer data has already shown that BPL-003 is well-tolerated and can reliably induce profound subjective experiences (a correlate of positive clinical outcomes) with a rapid onset and timely offset of perceptual effects. The Phase IIa study will explore the safety, efficacy and pharmacokinetics of BPL-003 alongside an abstinence-oriented cognitive behavioural programme in patients diagnosed with AUD. Topline results are expected later this year.

Collaboration is critical

It is, of course, still early days but the science seems to be indicating that psychedelics, when administered in the right context and with the right support, can help those who are suffering from a range of mental health conditions. With clinical studies progressing, and approval for other psychedelic treatments expected in the next few years, now is the time to develop the infrastructure that will allow us to actually deliver these interventions to people living with AUD. This involves us all: patients, regulators, investors, healthcare professionals and drug developers.

At Beckley Psytech, we are always looking to hear from others in the space so please head over to to learn more about our work in AUD and how to get in touch.

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