Episode 1: Aleksi attends the Breaking Convention 2019 in London
RoadTRIPPING with Aleksi is a new, recurring segment, where we tag along with PhD Candidate in Sociology Aleksi Hupli, as he dives into the deep end of the world of drugs, psychedelics, cannabis and everything in between. And when we say ‘deep end’, we mean deep! Aleksi lives and thrives on the cutting edge of drug science, where he’s always looking for the latest developments or new discoveries the scientific community has to offer.
By: Aleksi Hupli
The fifth, and largest “Breaking Convention” conference to date was held at the University of Greenwich in London. This year's conference was sold out a week in advance of it taking place on 16-18 August, demonstrating that the psychedelic science community is well on its way to go mainstream. Around 1400 participants from all over the world congregated to hear about the latest developments in psychedelic medicine and science.
Personally, this was my third time attending this biannual psychedelic science conference. In addition to volunteering for the first time this year, I finished filming interviews for the Rock Stars of the Psychedelic Renaissance documentary which we started at Breaking Convention 2017. From an insider’s perspective attending the conference, psychedelics do seem to be breaking through to public consciousness. But, if one steps out of the psychedelic bubble, the picture is a bit bleaker. Governments are still not funding research into the potential of psychedelic medicines. Instead, they keep them in tight regulation which makes scientific research difficult and expensive. As I argue at the end of this writing, people need to reclaim their right to use plant medicines of various sorts and reconnect to the knowledge they can provide.
One of the more prominent subjects of this convention was MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A form of drug-assisted psychotherapy pioneered by the non-profit pharmaceutical company MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been a common theme in previous Breaking Conventions. However, never before has MDMA been so close to being a prescription medication as it is now. Several European countries are taking part in the phase 3 trial organised by MAPS, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and even Finland, my country of origin.
Picture: Founder and executive director of MAPS Rick Doblin giving a presentation at Breaking Convention 2019
Ben Sessa and the Psychedelic Renaissance
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is also showing potential as a treatment for alcoholism, as presented by Ben Sessa, a UK-based psychiatrist and researcher. When I interviewed Dr. Sessa after my first Breaking Convention in 2015, he was optimistic about the future, although recognising there is still work to be done:
“Psychedelic research requires a major Public Relations drive. Most researchers believe that psychedelic drugs are useful, safe and efficacious tools for medicine, growth and development. But sadly, for the majority of the general public, high levels of stigma and misinformation remain attached to these fascinating substances.”
In addition to providing the latest in psychedelic drug development for treating various illnesses, the 2019 conference facilitated several workshops and documentary viewings. One of which was a preview of the Psychedelic Renaissance documentary featuring the previously mentioned psychedelic psychiatrist Ben Sessa, the author of the original book Psychedelic Renaissance, which inspired the documentary. While there indeed is a Psychedelic Renaissance brewing in the halls of academia and medicine, the accelerating ecological crisis might not wait for the public to catch up with the science.
The fast-growing world of Plant Medicines
Rigorous research takes time. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD for instance, if proven to be effective on a larger scale in the phase 3 trial, will be an accepted therapy form in 2021 at the earliest. So, what can people do who are suffering now? One option is to turn to plant medicines, which, if one looks closely enough, are all around us.
One of the talks that I participated in during the conference was on Plant Medicines, moderated by one of the conference organisers Dr. David Luke. The presentations in this series focused on the mushroom Amanita Muscaria, or Fly Agaria, cannabis and ayahuasca.
Not all Ayahuasca is the same
Of course, plant medicines have been used for millennia, but knowledge about their use has been either suppressed or forgotten in many places. In the modern era of single-molecule medicines, plant medicines create challenges due to their complex chemistry, which require their users to learn about their possible effects, interactions and ingredients.
According to Helle Kaasik, an Estonian Ayahuasca researcher who gave a talk titled Chemical composition of “Ayahuasca”:
“Ayahuasca is a complex natural remedy, its chemical composition varies a lot. Chemical analyses of 102 samples of concoctions - ceremonially used in different locations and traditions - showed that some psychedelic brews offered to participants at ceremonies as ayahuasca do not deserve this name, as they contain no significant amounts of bioactive principles of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant defining ayahuasca.”
Not all CBD products are equal
Similar concerns surround CBD-products sold in the UK, which were raised by cannabis researcher Zachary Bellman. His research showed that 25% of CBD products he analysed contained less CBD than claimed on the product label. The average CBD content was around 225 mg per 10 ml, while the average claim was around 304.6 mg per 10 ml, definitely a significant difference. An option to prevent yourself from being scammed by the emerging strain of cannabis cowboys? Grow your own.
Seed SistAs and the Sensory Herbal Handbook
The Plant Medicine talks were opened by the Seed SistAs, a dynamic female duo who dispelled several myths and provided fascinating facts around the often misunderstood mushroom, Amanita Muscaria. The Seed SistAs, Fiona and Karen, also recently published The Sensory Herbal Handbook to help people connect with the medicinal power of local plants and herbs.
I asked what motivated the Seed SistAs to write the Handbook:
“We were motivated to write this book to promote the use of local European plant medicines - our aim to demystify herbalism and help make practical art more accessible to people.”
Picture: Seed SistAs Fiona and Karen at Breaking Convention 2019
The foreword of the book is written by Bruce Parry, a documentary filmmaker who spent a significant amount of time with indigenous people around the world, including taking part in an Iboga ceremony. In the foreword, Parry writes:
“Relationship is key. Plants exist within us and outside of us. Plants nourish and cure us, they propel us and sustain us. An important element of the Seed SistAs’ approach is the understanding that plants also have a character and are imbued with an essence or spirit, just as we are.”
Using plant medicines as a form of political activism
The Seed SistAs also write in their book that:
“Working with plants is an act of political activism, a statement of self-empowerment and belief in protecting nature. The more we understand about herbs, the more we want to create environments where they can grow and flourish.”
According to the Breaking Convention organization:
“As organisms with psychedelic properties may constitute part of the medicine cabinet of our future, Breaking Convention as a cultural and educational organisation is declaring a state of ecological emergency and it supports efforts to educate the public on this situation.”
Maybe we, the people, should indeed reclaim our right to use plant medicines that have been banned in most parts of the world, perhaps even through civil disobedience. The Breaking Convention 2021 will hopefully tell us whether we have managed to respond to this state of emergency and which role plant medicines have had in that response.
In the next blog, we will dive into the world of Psychedelic Herbs from Africa to widen our European perspective.
If you don’t want to wait for the medical, single-molecule community to catch up with what we have known for thousands of years and want to experience ayahuasca for yourself, go have a look at our special category. Just make sure you read up on all you need to know at our Ayahuasca info page before diving in!