These Short Online Psychedelic Courses Will Bend Your Mind

Motherboard announces the upcoming online course “Psychedelic Science: How to Apply What We’re Learning to Your Life,” MAPS’ new 5-session webinar hosted by Evolver Learning Lab. Brad Burge of MAPS is interviewed about the formation and trajectory of the course, his previous history with psychedelic education, and details a variety of ways that psychedelics can be used in a therapeutic context. “Our goal for this course is to show how applying insights from psychedelic research can help us lead more conscious, responsible, sustainable, healthy, and fun lives,” explains Burge.

Originally appearing here.

Evolver Learning Lab and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) are launcing a series of short online psychedelic science courses hosted by MAPS’s Brad Burge. It’s all part of an effort to enhance understanding of psychedelics’ various uses, and to teach both the curious and experienced how to undertake safe and beneficial uses of the drugs.

The five-session program, titled “Psychedelic Science: How to Apply What We’re Learning to Your Life,” starts May 7, and includes lessons on MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and ibogaine, among other psychedelic drugs. But, those looking for a singularly trippy affair aren’t likely to find it a Timothy Leary-esque experience. The courses offer a tech-based approach to psychedelic education. Burge aims to teach how the drugs, or “medicines” as they are often referred to in the psychedelic community, can help people recover from trauma, heal illness, enhance creativity, awaken spirituality, and transform consciousness.

“You will be part of the discussion, able to ask your questions on camera, just like a Skype call,” reads the course website. “If you happen to miss a live session, you can view a video recording at any time. These sessions will be filled with provocative information, honest testimonials, and practical advice from some of the thinkers, writers, and doers at the leading edge of the 21st century psychedelic renaissance.”

Burge recently took some time to answer questions about the psychedelic science courses, including how best to tell friends and families about your psychedelic experiences, and how artists Peter Westermann and Brian Scott Hampton will draw parallels between art and psychedelics.

MOTHERBOARD: What’s your background in psychedelic research?

Brad Burge: When I was in graduate school studying the history and anthropology of science, I became fascinated by the progress that psychedelics and marijuana were making towards becoming legitimate, culturally accepted tools in science and medicine. I started working with MAPS as an intern in 2009, and joined the staff in January 2011. Since then, I’ve had a lot of practice talking about psychedelics with all kinds of people, from those who have had powerful transformative experiences with them to those who have been taught to fear them, and from expert scientists to high school students.

What I’ve found is that there are as many ways of understanding psychedelics and talking about them as there are people, so the key to having open and honest conversations is knowing where people are coming from. I’m honored and grateful to have the chance to serve as communications director for such a fascinating and boundary-pushing organization, and to be able to learn from the many scientists, doctors, artists, and explorers who have dedicated their own lives and careers to discovering what psychedelics are and what they can do for us.

How did these courses even come about? MAPS obviously teamed up with Evolver Learning Lab, but who made the first move?

Evolver Learning Lab reached out to MAPS to ask if we’d be interested in hosting an online course. We’ve been wanting to explore online education for some time, and the Evolver platform is a convenient and accessible platform for doing so. The Evolver community, which focuses a lot on psychedelic experiences and psychedelic science, is also the perfect place to open up conversations about legitimate uses of psychedelics since it includes a lot of young minds hungry for open and honest conversations about drugs.

What will the courses’ main focus be?

The main focus of the course will be on making psychedelic science accessible to people in a way that’s meaningful for their everyday lives. There has been an explosion of research into psychedelics as therapeutic tools, scientific tools, and spiritual tools, and this course is intended to give an overview that is both broad and deep. We’re still about a decade away from the first psychedelic treatments being legally available for doctors to provide to patients, but there is a lot we’re learning that can be applied right now, from insights about how the mind and body work together to how we heal and achieve spiritual growth.

The course also builds on the success of Psychedelic Science 2013, our groundbreaking international conference in April 2013 that really showed how the psychedelic research community has grown and come together.

Using psychedelics to recover from trauma is one of the most fascinating areas of psychedelic research. Do you think it’s starting to get the respect it long deserved?

Yes! Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) happens when a terrifying event becomes solidified, in a sense, and buried deep in the mind. Traumatic memories are buried away because they are difficult, and the deeper they go, the more dangerous they become, often leading to depression and suicide. The effects of PTSD also play out on the body, making chronic pain worse and causing insomnia and other psychosomatic (mind-body) conditions.

Psychedelic treatments for PTSD, such as MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, help open up access to those locked memories and transform people’s relationships with fear and pain. Our research results have been very impressive so far, and we expect that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be a legal treatment for PTSD by 2022.

How will you address the psychedelic treatment of trauma in the online course?

We won’t be talking about MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD specifically in the course, though it’s likely it will come up in the conversations since it’s such a fascinating and wide-ranging topic. Two of our experts, Canadian addiction researcher and author Dr. Gabor Maté and psychiatric nurse Julie Megler, both have experience working directly with trauma as well as doing research into psychedelic-assisted treatments, particularly ayahuasca-assisted therapy. Ayahuasca is another psychedelic that is being explored for its potential to treat trauma, and it probably works in different ways.

How do you plan to approach educating people about the taking of psychedelics within the context of being creative?

In the final session, on June 11, I’ll be talking with visionary artists Peter Westermann and Brian Scott Hampton about the connection between psychedelic experiences and the visionary art genre’s growth in recent years. Peter and Brian are both up-and-coming artists, and they each have a unique flair for creating visual masterpieces that challenge us to be more aware of how our perception works.

There is a certain flow and synesthesia inherent in their work, and it’s that mind-manifesting quality that, I think, connects visionary art and psychedelic experiences. Psychedelics, used carefully and in safe contexts, can help encourage collaboration and community, so we’ll also talk about how Brian and Peter work together on creative projects. I’ll also share some insights into how visionary art, and psychedelic-inspired creative work in general, can help improve cul
ture and consciousness.

Psychedelic drugs’ effect on human spirituality isn’t quantifiable like the treatment of trauma. So is spirituality dealt with differently in the courses?

The researchers joining us for the course aren’t just quantitative researchers—many are social scientists or physicians also working on building qualitative knowledge about how psychedelics can affect healing, consciousness, and spirituality. Rak Razam is an experiential journalist who has traveled extensively among ayahuasca-using communities in North and South America, and has lots of stories to tell about how different groups use ayahuasca in ceremonial contexts.

In our modern world of technological disconnection and political division, more and more people are seeking out spiritual and community connection through psychedelics, and in our conversation we’ll address both the immense promise and real risks of this expanding international movement. The course is focused on helping people develop practical knowledge about how to live their lives. Knowing how to shape our relationships with each other, ourselves, and our bodies requires a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches—both hard numbers and moving stories.

Talking openly about psychedelic use is always a risk. What’s one thing people can do to ease a friend or family member’s fears about psychedelic drugs?

I would like to answer this question with a quote from an article written for the upcoming Spring 2014 MAPS Bulletin special edition on Psychedelics and Education by my dear friend and colleague Daniel Jabbour of the Psychedelic Society of San Francisco, who passed away this last weekend:

The drug policy community builds upon and stands on the shoulders of the gay rights and other social justice movements that have seen tremendous strides in recent decades. And the gay rights movement has seen such success in large part due to “coming out.” This same phrase is often used by people who are afraid to tell their family or employer just how important psychedelics have been in their lives.

Social justice movements don’t succeed until they have a face, and psychonauts won’t have a face until we stand up and tell our family, neighbors, and friends about our own experiences. Of course, as MAPS and others work to develop psychedelics into legal medicines, we’ll see even more “coming out” of subjects who were treated in the initial studies. But the vast majority of psychedelic users aren’t diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s much harder to dismiss an uncle, brother, or childhood friend who has been benefited medically, psychologically, or spiritually from psychedelics.

If you decide to come out of the psychedelic closet: be yourself, be educated, and talk about your own experience as much as you can. It doesn’t hurt to point out that FDA-approved clinical research is taking place with multiple psychedelics.

Ultimately, what do you hope people to take away from the courses?

Our goal for this course is to show how applying insights from psychedelic research can help us lead more conscious, responsible, sustainable, healthy, and fun lives. We also want to show how it is possible to have open and honest conversations about psychedelics without falling into the traps of stigma and fear. I also hope it inspires people to find ways to be a part of the fast-growing field of psychedelic science and medicine by learning to ask the right questions about the risks and benefits of psychedelic drugs.

What area of psychedelic use and research most interests you?

Used carefully, with the right intention, and in the right settings, I believe that psychedelics can help open up access to alternative ways of seeing the world. They can help open up possibilities for better healing, and help us come to see ourselves—our entire species—as competent, creative, and possessing all the resources we need to create a safe and sustainable world for ourselves and for future generations. What psychedelic science teaches us is that all we need to do is direct those resources most effectively.