Psychedelics as a Scientific Tool for Mental Health

An Interview with Marvin Däumichen, MA, co-founder of the MIND Foundation

Psychedelic drugs might become the next big therapeutic tool to fight depression and other psychiatric disorders as “changes in self-experience, emotional processing and social cognition may contribute to the potential therapeutic effects” (Vollenweider & Preller, 2020). Classical psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin (magic mushrooms) that are administered with appropriate guidance and in a controlled therapeutic setting that includes preparation and reflexion upon the experience were shown to enhance mental health (Walton & Liknaitzky, 2020). 

We talked to Marvin Däumichen who is a co-founder of the MIND Foundation about the history and potential of psychedelics as a treatment for mental health and why high-quality research and promoting knowledge is inevitable to boost this field. The MIND Foundation is a European non-profit science and education organization that aims to build a healthier, more connected world through psychedelic research and education. 

Marvin Däumichen: The foundation was started by a group of individuals from all different kinds of professions – researchers, therapists, medical professionals, students and friends. Different backgrounds and interests of the members represent the fragmented and diverse field of psychedelic cultures. My personal motivation to join the research field had been long standing, it was a theme throughout my life. and I started immersing myself in the socio-cultural history of psychedelics and slowly became more vocal about the relevance and implications of psychedelic experience in society, arts, politics and medical contexts.

Anna Köstler: You mentioned an obvious difference in the field of psychedelics between personal experiences among users on the one hand and a scientific, intersubjective approach on the other. Would you say it is a rather new research field?

Marvin Däumichen: Psychedelic traditions have been around for a long time, but psychedelic research only started in the late 19th century. Albert Hoffmann for instance discovered the psychoactive properties of LSD in 1943 and by the 1940ies and 50ies psychedelics had been embraced by parts of the psychiatric community and used for treatment of substance misuse. By the 1960s there had been a body of scientific literature published, confirming findings that these substances can be very useful for the treatment of many psychiatric disorders. 

Anna Köstler: Why do you think, in comparison to antidepressants like SSRIs, is there an ongoing stigma about psychedelics? 

Marvin Däumichen: The interaction of set, setting, and dose are critical for the overall effect of psychedelics. People can take the same substance but set different intentions and may have a dramatically different experience because the setting is not the same (on the interactions of  Drug, Set, and Setting, see Zinberg 1984). The experience with psychedelics can be risky, especially regarding specific genetic predispositions and uncontrolled use. Further, SSRIs are not fun, they do not have an experiential, phenomenological aspect to them and they are linear in action. That is why recreational use and misuse happened involving psychedelics while SSRIs are not abused much. Research on psychedelics was always happening, it just got derailed when people started using psychedelics as an act of political dissidence in the 1960s. When LSD got out of the lab and onto the streets, it got out of hand and overall, it became a political movement. 

Anna Köstler: Your foundation focuses on education on the potentials of psychedelics as a tool for mental health through scientific methods. What is important for you in terms of research, what must information about psychedelics imply to be in accordance with your philosophy? 

Marvin Däumichen: The values of the MIND Foundation are based in the philosophical tradition of enlightenment, reason and critical thinking. Within these foundations of mental autonomy and democracy, people should be able to educate themselves and think independently to make informed decisions grounded in evidence-based information that people can then incorporate as factual knowledge. No magical thinking or pseudo-shamanism is involved in what we are doing, we rather focus on studies that have shown long lasting positive effects on mental health with just very few interventions with psychedelic substances. We offer education to professional adults and students, work together with established researchers, collaborate with universities and institutes to conduct research and share information about treatment options for people that seek help.

Anna Köstler: How would a typical therapeutic setting with psychedelic treatment unfold? 

Marvin Däumichen: There is a lot of good research that took place in recent years and since the late 2000s, interest in psychedelics has resurfaced. These studies are in line with clinical standards and found out that a certain type of therapy seems particularly promising with psychedelic treatment. A therapeutic approach that has been used a lot in clinical studies is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is part of the so-called third wave of cognitive-behavioral therapies. The patient will receive only a couple of dosing sessions and additional talking therapy interventions for preparation and integration.

Anna Köstler: The ultimate goal of your foundation would be to make people understand psychedelics as a normal and standard treatment for mental health, right? 

Marvin Däumichen: Absolutely! There should be no doubt about the potentials as it is striking how effective this treatment can be. The responses among patients are very positive. This is not for the sake of progress of our foundation or monetary interest but to alleviate suffering in the world. Mental health plays a big role, especially nowadays and we are constantly looking for better treatments and better methods as mental health makes no exception. 

Anna Köstler: How can one get involved in the MIND Foundation?

Marvin Däumichen: Our organization is growing rapidly. We are hosting public events on a regular basis, like get-to-know meetups that are entirely free. We do public talks, symposiums, workshops, experiential programs on the MIND Academy, and a large conference that happens every other year where hard science and implementation come together. People can volunteer, there is the opportunity to do an internship and we already have a lot of psychology and neuroscience students supporting us in various activities in educational and research projects. Moreover, we are cooperation partner in a large, psilocybin depression study, lead by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gründer at the CIMH Mannheim and the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, starting in early 2021. The project is making history in Germany. Lastly, especially for students, we started the uniMIND project, which is a lively, international journal club network that will host a Symposium at the University of Zurich in June 2021. Many of their meetings are happening online these days, entirely free, fun, and educational.


Anna Köstler

Anna just finished her master's studies in psychology at the University of Vienna. For her thesis she studied neural correlates of empathy in the brain and is aiming to follow her interest in neuroscience, clinical psychology, sleep and science communication. Traveling, friends, making music and writing keep her busy during leisure time.

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