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Psych Congress to Bring Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies Into Focus

September 03, 2020

By Andrew Penn, RN, MS, NP, CNS, APRN-BC
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

“I recently saw Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes talking about a study at Johns Hopkins where they were giving magic mushrooms to people who were trying to quit smoking. What’s that all about?”

“One of my patients recently went to Peru for an ayahuasca ceremony. It seemed to really help with his depression. What is this treatment, and how can I work with what he’s now bringing into our therapy?”

“I read a review or Michael Pollan’s recent book, “How to Change Your Mind,” that said that psychedelic therapies help to reset the brain, and that they were going to be clinically available in the next few years. That sounds like a big change to the way I practice. How do I prepare?”

If you’ve been hearing comments like this in your professional circles, you’re not alone. Psychedelic-assisted therapies, once consigned to the fringes of psychiatric practice, are exploding into the mainstream of psychiatry.

With two agents (MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD and psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression) in late-stage clinical trials, there has been a frenzy of preparatory activity, from the founding of psychedelic research centers at leading universities around the world, the formation of psychedelic-based companies, and the proliferation of psychedelic educational opportunities.

Why choose Psych Congress to learn about the future of psychedelic therapy? When I first started talking about these therapies at Psych Congress a decade ago, I felt a little on the fringe, but I was in good company. My colleagues on the steering committee were also pioneers in psychiatry. Charles Raison has been researching the interface between inflammation and depression, describing an unlikely interface between immunology and psychiatry. Rakesh and Saundra Jain moved wellness from an afterthought, studying, articulating, and centralizing the significance of prescriptible wellness interventions WILD5 program.

“Those who dance are thought mad by those who hear the music not,” the proverb goes. While there was a time that treating intractable psychiatric conditions with the help of psychedelic medicines might have been seen as mad, it is clear the time is here.

Psych Congress presenters work diligently to be translators of clinical research into practical, prescriptible interventions. We know that clinicians rely on our presenters to shape a cutting-edge practice, and this preconference promises nothing less. We have assembled some of the leading voices in psychedelic therapy:

  • Dr. Rick Doblin from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies to discuss their Phase 3 MDMA-assisted therapy trial for PTSD
  • Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College, London, to discuss cutting-edge psychedelic neuroscience
  • Dr. Charles Raison of Usona Institute and myself in conversation about the significance of nursing in psychedelic therapy
  • Dr. Malyn Utzinger, also from Usona, to discuss the institute’s psilocybin therapy for depression development program
  • Drs. Rakesh and Saundra Jain to discuss their pioneering psychedelics and wellness study
  • Dr. Alan Davis to discuss his groundbreaking work with psilocybin for depression
  • A presentation from Dr. Scott Shannon
  • And Robert Jesse, a pivotal force in reigniting the psychedelic reemergence will present a history of how we got here.

Repeatedly, we will keep the focus on what is coming next and how we will all need to begin moving toward integrating these new modalities into our existing models of treatment and care. I do hope you will join me in what will undoubtedly be one of the most important and exciting educational events of the year.

Psych Congress 2020 is being held virtually Sept. 10 to 13, 2020, with a preconference Sept. 9, 2020.


Andrew Penn, RN, MS, NP, CNS, APRN-BC was trained as an adult nurse practitioner and psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. He is board certified as an adult nurse practitioner and psychiatric nurse practitioner by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. He has completed extensive training in Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy at the California Institute for Integral Studies and recently published a book chapter on this modality in The Casebook of Positive Psychiatry, published by American Psychiatric Association Press. Currently, he serves as an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California-San Francisco School of Nursing, where he teaches psychopharmacology, and is an Attending Nurse Practitioner at the San Francisco Veterans Administration. He has expertise in psychopharmacological treatment for adult patients and specializes in the treatment of affective disorders and PTSD. As a steering committee member for Psych Congress, he has been invited to present internationally on improving medication adherence, cannabis pharmacology, psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, grief psychotherapy, treatment-resistant depression, diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder, and the art and science of psychopharmacologic practice.

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