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  • Author or Editor: Sara Reed x
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Recent research suggests that psychedelic drugs can be powerful agents of change when utilized in conjunction with psychotherapy. Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy has been studied as a means of helping people overcome posttraumatic stress disorder, believed to work by reducing fear of traumatic memories and increasing feelings of trust and compassion toward others, without inhibiting access to difficult emotions. However, research studies for psychedelic psychotherapies have largely excluded people of color, leaving important questions unaddressed for these populations. At the University of Connecticut, we participated as a study site in a MAPS-sponsored, FDA-reviewed Phase 2 open-label multisite study, with a focus on providing culturally informed care to people of color. We discuss the development of a study site focused on the ethnic minority trauma experience, including assessment of racial trauma, design of informed consent documents to improve understanding and acceptability to people of color, diversification of the treatment team, ongoing training for team members, validation of participant experiences of racial oppression at a cultural and individual level, examination of the setting and music used during sessions for cultural congruence, training for the independent rater pool, community outreach, and institutional resistance. We also discuss next steps in ensuring that access to culturally informed care is prioritized as MDMA and other psychedelics move into late phase trials, including the importance of diverse sites and training focused on therapy providers of color.

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Abstract

Psychedelic medicine is an emerging field of research and practice that examines the psychotherapeutic effects of substances classified as hallucinogens on the human mind, body, and spirit. Current research explores the safety and efficacy of these substances for mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although current studies explore psychotherapeutic effects from a biomedical perspective, gaps in awareness around cultural issues in the therapeutic process are prominent. African Americans have been absent from psychedelic research as both participants and researchers, and little attention has been paid to the potential of psychedelics to address traumas caused by racialization. This paper examines cultural themes and clinical applications from the one-time use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as part of an US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved clinical trial and training exercise for three African American female therapists. The primary themes that emerged across the varied experiences centered on strength, safety, connection, and managing oppression/racialization. The participants' experiences were found to be personally meaningful and instructive for how Western models of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy could be more effective and accessible to the Black community. Included is a discussion of the importance of facilitator training to make best use of emerging material when it includes cultural, racial, and spiritual themes. A lack of knowledge and epistemic humility can create barriers to treatment for underserved populations. Implications for future research and practice for marginalized cultural groups are also discussed, including consideration of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP) as an adjunct to the psychedelic-therapy approaches currently advanced. As women of color are among the most stigmatized groups of people, it is essential to incorporate their perspectives into the literature to expand conversations about health equity.

Open access