About Our Guests- Dan Engle, Sabina Pillai, Benjamin Smith, and Dr. Michael Verbora – Bonus Episode – Healing with Psychedelics
In this bonus episode, we present some highlights from past interviews, centered on the topic of psychedelic healing therapies. This is a hot topic, as the Psychedelic Renaissance continues to unfold. Psychedelics also played a role in Dr. Nagula’s own healing.
We thought it would be good to review basic information that includes safety, the various types of psychedelic therapies, and their profound healing potential.
Here are the featured guests, along with links to their full episodes:
Full Podcast Transcription
Diva Nagula 00:07
Hi, everyone. For this week’s podcast show, I thought I’d do something a little different. We’ve created a compilation of the topics in psychedelics that have been aired over the last year and a half. Psychedelics are a really hot topic and one that is dear to my heart. I thought it would be really good to review some basic information that includes safety, various types of psychedelic therapies, and its profound healing potential. You’ll be hearing from our past guests that include Dr. Dan Engle, Dr. Michael Verbora, and Sabina Pillai with Field Trip, and Benjamin Smith with Disco. I hope you enjoyed this week’s show.
Dan Engle 00:52
Allopathic care has its place in the ER in the OR and triage medicine and acute care management – we’re really good at that. But we’re pretty lousy in allopathic care with preventative care and with chronic care. And so every discipline has its sacred place at the table. And so what does it look like as we evolve from allopathic care through functional medicine now into transformational medicine, where we actually have tools to support people’s conscious awakening experience into a more embodied presence of true self, full authenticity, growing in psychic empowerment, resiliency, and switched on to what our Dharma is or what we’re here to do like the sacred work. And ideally, we do that in a way that teaches people how to fish and not just gives them fish. And that’s essentially what these medicines do. They help heal the core issues that are stimulating the primary five psychiatric epidemics right now – depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction and pain. And with these medicines, when they’re used therapeutically, in a really excellent container with supreme facilitation, the healing is transformational. And it’s extraordinarily effective and exponentially better than the standard of care.
Sabina Pillai 02:21
The psychedelic assisted psychotherapy uses psychedelic medicines to facilitate the psychotherapeutic process. So in general, I would say that what’s different about this paradigm is that we start with the belief that the individual is not broken, that they already have within them the wisdom that can help them thrive in this world. In this therapy, we help them access those parts of themselves, those parts of themselves that might be quiet, that might be hidden and amplify them through these medicines, right? Help them encounter parts of themselves they may feel like they lost or they weren’t developed. So things like connection, things like acceptance, compassion, are acknowledged and normalized, even when the surrounding culture may have given the individual a very different message about what is important, and what will make them happy. So I see that as the the difference in psychedelic psychotherapy in particular.
Dr. Michael Verbora 03:28
Now, as someone who definitely had a little bit higher anxiety than probably the average person ever since I started using psychedelics that’s definitely dissipated. One, not just because of the exhaustion of substance that I’m taking, but more because of the awareness that those substances bring to me. So, yes, in my personal experience psychedelics can be very, very powerful, and really help you look inwards, and just addressing problems that you know are there on a daily basis, whether that’s you react angrily to people too often, or you let one small minute thing bother you consistently, but you don’t do anything about it. And for me, personally, psychedelics have brought a lot of awareness to that, and in my opinion, have helped make me a much better person. And as you put it, raising vibrational energy. I think what that means sort of, in layman’s terms, from my understanding is you’re just a better person, you’re happier, you have a lot more awareness about your faults, and for me personally, it’s helped me diminish my ego and use it more strategically. And thus the people around me, both in my inner circle and sort of the outer circle that I touch are sort of all benefactors of that.
Dan Engle 04:42
If my usual operating system is one of disempowerment, victimization, blame, judgment, criticism, internally and outwardly. If that’s all I know, then it’s hard to fathom what it’s going to be like to be content, peaceful, and happy. And in relationship if I don’t know what it’s like to have a safe, secure experience in a relationship and I’m working around these different fear programs around abandonment and rejection and inconsistency and potentially intimacy not being a reliable situation, because I wasn’t modeled that way, give any of those examples and then you put people through fairly efficient, and the time of course is different for everybody… but a fairly efficient process, say, a three month or so process to work through those deep layers to work through those programs and belief structures, get a sense of what the operating system used to be like. And now in reflection of a process that I can actually engage from a witness perspective, look at my thinking, and then choose how I want to move forward, choose the thoughts and the programs and the now clear internal narrative that I’m wanting to anchor my life around. Now, I might be able to more readily experience safety and security in relationship, more self love and self worth, and therefore peace and contentment internally, and therefore also more self love and self worth that I can see in others and recognize that we’re all connected here. And everybody’s wants to their own kind of thing together.
Sabina Pillai 06:44
Accessing an experience that is so outside of your day to day life, and knowing that happiness is possible, knowing that connection is possible, knowing that there’s beauty in this world, when all you’ve experienced in your life is suffering and pain can be healing in and of itself.
Benjamin Smith 07:06
So I think psychedelics, generally speaking, are a very powerful tool, when used respectfully and appropriately to further your mind, and then also really look deeply inwards, as you said, for folks that haven’t had the opportunity to, for whatever reason use various psychedelics, you know, there’s definitely a stigma attached to it still, on a national and potentially global level. But, fortunately now, there’s a massive movement happening with a variety of different psychedelics from LSD, psilocybin and MDMA, and a few others, including ketamine, as well, that has real clinical benefits, medical benefits with studies and very happy people who have used these substances, or medicines, if you will, to benefit them in massive ways, specifically for PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.
Dan Engle 08:02
When I think of the psychedelics that are commonly discussed, researched, reported today, they’re the big 10. And if we put those into a stratified hierarchy, then it’s kind of like going into the gym. And some of my friends are just beasts in the gym. And to be honest, I haven’t been in gym in a long time, my workouts are varied, and they’re usually in nature, but they’re not in the gym. So I’m not going to just get into the squat rack and try and crush 300 pounds on my first day. And if I do that, I’m probably going to get injured. So similarly, if people don’t have any experience in working with transcendent states in psychedelic states, then I wouldn’t start with a level three protocol straightaway. So if we look at hierarchy, then hierarchy just means sacred order. And if we think about the the medicines that are the easiest to usually navigate from the experience side, as well as the facilitation side, they’re all pretty safe. The likelihood of success is pretty high. And the likelihood of something really squirrelly happening or a bad trip is fairly low. Then the level one medicines, the first entry of the hierarchy, low dose LSD, because high dose LSD is a completely different beast, low dose LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, Ketamine, Cannabis. Level two, and these are medicines that have been held in hundreds, if not 1000s of years of tradition and require a degree of training to be able to expertly facilitate. So as opposed to being a sitter, level two really requires excellence in the facilitation. And these are medicines like Ayhuasca, San Pedro Cactus and Peyote. And then level three medicines have more risk, both physiologically and psychologically. And this is Ibogaine or Iboga. Iboga being the whole plant, Ibogaine being the primary extract. And DMT, DMT is not so much dangerous, physically, but it can be, psychologically, if people aren’t ready to have that size of an experience. It’s fairly short, but it’s really big. And nothing is going to encourage the ego to die as much as DMT compared to all the other medicines, or in comparison to something like a near death experience. Right? It’s a huge experience of the ego being trans ported or catapulted out of the body. And some people if they go straight to DMT, because it’s getting so much press, now, they can have a really big freakout, have a bad trip, and that can leave a psychological scar, or even a tear in the psychic field if we want to describe it that way. That needs a fair bit of time to repair. So if we just look at each of those medicines, there’s five in level one, three, and level two and two and level three. There’s escalating requirement really to know what people are getting into and to have some training.
Diva Nagula 11:27
Why ketamine what is the useful properties of ketamine that allows this specific therapy to
Dr. Michael Verbora 11:36
Yeah, well, first and foremost, ketamine is really the only legal psychedelic that physicians can prescribe, at least here in Canada and in the US as well. So, one, we’re kind of trapped in that box. But there’s research for the last 10 to 20 years that demonstrate ketamine that typically sub anesthetic doses oriented depressive, or anti anxiety, have neuro anti inflammatory properties. And there’s a whole host of evidence now with IV ketamine as well as observational studies with ketamine assisted psychotherapy in lozenges that demonstrate that this drug when combined with psychotherapy has positive effects for some of the most treatment resistant conditions, particularly treatment resistant depression. So we’re kind of trapped in that box. And we’re developing the paradigm around ketamine because it’s the most legally accessible drug. But I think with time through through MAPS and other organizations who are doing a lot of this research, we’re going to see a whole host of different combinations of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy from psilocybin to MDMA to ayhuasca or DMT. And then we’re going to develop specific therapies that go with these drugs to ultimately heal the individual from a biochemical, psychosocial spiritual perspective, which is what a lot of Western medicine is missing is it’s encompassing that whole individual, and these drugs allow for that.
Dan Engle 13:04
The synthetics, K, LSD, MDMA, all relatively new in the last eight years, these are all found and developed in between the 30s in the 50s, and then found to be really beneficial for their little niche. So prior to 1900s all the other medicines have been used culturally, for hundreds, if not 1000s, of years. And psilocybin goes back up to a million years in the fossil record and was probably something if you looked at the stoned ape theory or hypothesis by Denis & Terence McKenna, maybe psilocybin was even part of what helped us evolve about 200,000 years ago from Homoerectus into Homosapiens, is we had this like, massive increase in brain volume. What have you experienced? If you just read that you’re like, Oh, yeah, maybe so but if you experienced psilocybin, you’re like, Oh, wow. Yeah, that kind of makes sense. What it’s doing to me in the felt experience feels like it’s expanding my consciousness. And oh, by the way, yes, it also stimulates synaptogenesis and BDNF, and may even support new neuronal growth, not just improved synaptic connection, but actually the growth of new neurons.
Sabina Pillai 14:34
Yes, it’s legal. And yes, ketamine is is considered a dissociative, and yet it can produce incredibly, classically psychedelic experiences much in the way that you might normally think of a psychedelic experience. And that’s because psychedelic medicines. Research has shown that certain parts of the brain called the default mode network or quieted during these experiences, as well as in meditative experiences and other states where people experience flow. So this brain network is responsible for a sense of self. And ego, really. So this is the part of you that’s thinking, judging, categorizing, analyzing, it’s disconnecting you from the world, but it’s trying to keep you safe. Right? So in ketamine assisted psychotherapy, those defenses are softened, that ego is soften, and allows the individual to open up, be more vulnerable, access forgotten memories, repressed emotions, and really engage in the psychotherapeutic process. So it allows them to see their past experiences with a gentler perspective. A lot of people say that with ketamine, in particular, and I’ve worked with a few others, but ketamine in particular can give them some space from their thoughts, where they’re watching their thoughts. And I actually find that in particular, compared to all the other psychedelics, it allows them to access a meditative state. And through my experience, facilitating meditation and long term meditation I see that my clients are accessing similar places, through ketamine.
Diva Nagula 16:21
Personally, for me, before I started my spiritual encounter with psychedelics, I was suffering from a lot of isolation, a lot of anxiety. And this is all stemming from my history of cancer and a divorce that resulted from me going through cancer treatment and cancer. And I didn’t understand how bad I was until I started to delve into psychedelics as it gave me an opportunity to understand what it’s like to be more in the moment instead of ruminating about the future and having regrets about the past. And that was really for me, front and center when I did my first psychedelic experience. And it continues to be that way, when I do more of it, I continue to have more improvements with my daily life, I’m more focused on doing things that helped me heal from within, I don’t really care about things like materialism anymore. It’s not something that I’m really focused on, that I used to have businesses or run businesses, my whole way of thought was, let’s see how much money we make. Or let’s see how much power it’s going to bring me I don’t have that anymore. And I really feel that’s a significant result of my realization of psychedelics and spiritual enlightenment. And there’s been numerous studies to purport all this, if you use Google you can see all the research that’s been in there, and I quote, a lot of research in my book when I discuss psychedelics.
Dan Engle 17:43
You and I were raised with the whole war on drugs. And many of the medicines that I speak about in regards to the psychedelics were classified as drugs, because of the popular media at the time, and the fact that in the early 70s, the Nixon administration was freaked out about everything that was going on in the Vietnam era, and the revolution that was happening and was growing at a cultural level. And LSD was the poster child of the wrongness, and the dangers of transcendental states, and truth be known to many people were using psychedelics recklessly, and without reverence and without deep therapeutic intent. And that’s not to say that recreational usage doesn’t also have its place. But if we’re talking about shifting the healing paradigm, and expanding the trajectory of where medicine is going, we’re speaking about medicines in a therapeutic context, not just the recreational. And so as all of this starts to expand, what we’re going to see and what you and I are a part of, and our field is growing into is establishing these protocols and right practices and new standards of care for efficacy and excellence with psychedelics in transformational process, and putting those protocols into a clinical format, where people actually have the opportunity to go to established clinics, with trained providers and have a transformational process be worked through the arc of experience from soup to nuts, so to speak. So the onboarding preparation is excellent, the experience is excellent, and the integration on the other side is excellent. And when we have those protocols and as clinics established, we’re going to see a complete revolution in mental health care.
Sabina Pillai 19:45
While some of the research has suggested that mystical experiences lead to better outcomes, what I’ve been seeing in the clinic actually is that the psycho therapeutically focus sessions really are the ones that lead to life changing experiences, because clients get to process a lot of the things that they’re coming in with. And it leads to more durable change, right? Because the mystical experience can fade, right? We want them to be able to really work through some things while they’re here.
Diva Nagula 20:18
You were telling me I think it was you or do some research, affirming that usage of MDMA with
PTSD. There’s like an astonishing like 80%, like cure rate is that correct?
Dan Engle 20:31
Yeah, 83% cure rate in phase one trials, and the phase two trials with using different therapeutics stacked on MDMA, like how you’re using it psychotherapeuticly whether using internal family systems, or somatic experiencing or a variety of others, maybe down to like 68%. So if you just split the difference, you’re in the mid 70s, which is five or six times better than the standard of care. And because that’s for cure rate, that’s not improvement rate, right? That’s people after two to three sessions with MDMA supportive psychotherapy no longer meeting criteria for PTSD at all, much less the standard of care, which is like 20, to 30% improvement rate.
Diva Nagula 20:34 What’s the standard of care?
Dan Engle 21:17
It’s usually two things CBT and psychopharmacology. And that’s usually polypharmacy. So two to three different psychiatric medications stacked on with cognitive behavioral therapy, is maybe 20 to 35% improvement rate, kind of depending on the studies you’re looking at, and where they’re doing it, and how the CBT is being rolled out, etc. So it’s orders of magnitude better. And so it’s just gonna make sense that this gets rolled out slowly so that the feds feel comfortable, and that we build the standards of care and the excellence in onboarding process for the clients and the clinicians. Like how do you train clinicians to do this work really well so all of this is slowly getting implemented.
Dr. Michael Verbora 22:14
It’s absolutely remarkable to be able to have patients who are extremely sick and you know, oftentimes suicidal, and then just a day later, after coming to the clinic, completely have a light shined on their life and totally feel differently. So the work we do is just so rewarding. And we’re working with extremely complex patients. And they think with time, we’re also going to see that ketamine safe and probably helpful for people who aren’t just treatment resistant and extremely sick, but probably a lot of folks who just have a lot of chronic anxiety, stress and depression.
Benjamin Smith 22:53
I’ve used psychedelics as a very powerful tool, when used appropriately and respectfully, again, you got to get that asterix in there, in the right set and setting, and making sure that whatever you are using is pure and clean. Candidly speaking, they can be extremely helpful. And all the research and studies that are being done now that have helped some of the guys that have come back from Iraq, and Afghanistan and the other various parts of the Middle East with the PTSD is quite overwhelming. And honestly, I think we’re going to see a monumental shift in the drug industry, the pharmaceutical industry as these medicines become legalized and taking off, taken off the schedule especially to help people so gone are the reliance on antidepressants, hopefully, and lengthy and costly PTSD treatments when in a matter of one to two sessions a couple 100 bucks you can really provide significant relief to folks who’ve suffered through beyond traumatic events, whether that’s that war, or in a car crash or some sort of other traumatic experience that, to me is reason enough to really start to pay more attention to this. And I think the the older generations that really have a negative stigma attached to psychedelics, because of the 70s in the Vietnam War and whatnot, they’ll start to even start to have a more open mind as they see the research and the benefits here they may never be fully convinced by it and willing to try it maybe like you and I, but we just need everybody to get on board with this because this is an inevitability it’s gonna happen regardless. It’s better to be on the right side of this than the wrong side of this.
Dan Engle 24:37
So we saw happen last year. Here in Denver’s we decriminalize psilocybin. And then like two weeks later, or maybe a month later, Oakland went and decriminalized all natural medicines, which is great. So they’re kind of platform is decriminalized nature. And then Chicago, a handful of months. went with the same d-crim nature piece in Chicago’s a huge municipality. Right? Right. So that was that was about as big as, as Denver going for psilocybin. Is Oakland, was it a populace vote, it was a vote at the City Council. So you only had like 12 people sitting around a table saying, oh, yeah, this would be good. Let’s go for that. Which is great. And I always get curious, like, what are the people want? And so when Chicago went d-crim nature, Oh, geez, that’s huge. And now there are something like 120 municipalities that have votes coming on the ballot in the next year or so, it might just be for psilocybin or it could be all the way up to d- crim nature could be small little places like Port Townsend went and Townsend is pretty progressive and fairly small, and like, oh, yeah, I could see that Berkeley when you’re like, oh, yeah, I could see that. But no, there are other really big municipalities and cities going for it as well. I think we’re gonna see amazing things happen in this arena, in the next handful years, particularly in the next decade. And it’s such an exciting time to be in the field.
Dr. Michael Verbora 26:16
it’s going to be interesting to see, not just with MDMA, or ketamine, but like psilocybin fits somewhere in there lsds, that somewhere in there. And these are what we’re calling macro dosing, psychedelic transformation experiences. And then in a whole other category, you got even these micro doses, which are sub perceptual doses, and those might have some mild therapeutic processes. So there’s this whole spectrum that we’re just filling in these gaps of knowledge, we have a whole bunch of experience, that’s anecdotal, but now we’re doing the research to kind of understand what’s the right protocol, the right dose, the right client, to maximize it. And I’m so excited for this future. And it’s so nice to have a renaissance. And it couldn’t be coming at a better time for the world.
Sabina Pillai 26:56
Across the board clients are accessing parts of themselves that they’ve never experienced, and it is beautiful to witness. It is incredibly rewarding work to see change happen in six sessions, which is really unheard of in psychotherapy,
Dan Engle 27:15
Consistently for myself, and I’ve seen this with countless friends, family and clients, that there’s life before medicine and life after medicine. And now, we also know that not only can I experience life in a different way, and potentially in a way that’s more beautiful and gorgeous and abundant, and inspired and connected than I thought possible. I also now know that I have a tool to be able to continue to utilize throughout the rest of my life. That can continue to help me orient towards truth. The medicines won’t save us but what they do is help us orient towards truth. And if I can continue to do that, then now I’m re-referencing my experience internally. And I know I’ve got an ally that can continue to support my evolution.