Milan Scheidegger, PhD
University of Zurich
Developing pharmahuasca applications for mental health
Clinical evidence shows that psychedelic substances have the potential to accelerate psychotherapeutic change processes in supportive settings and resolve mental health problems related to anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress and addictive behaviors. While ketamine and psilocybin have been researched extensively in the past decades, the indigenous plant medicine ayahuasca currently stimulates a tremendous public and scientific interest. Beyond its traditional indigenous use in the Amazon, ayahuasca is currently spreading all over the world as an alternative plant medicine in various ritualistic contexts. This rapid dissemination coincides with the observational evidence that ayahuasca facilitates transformative processes with beneficial health outcomes.
In this talk, the polyvalent beneficial effects of ayahuasca on physical and mental health will be reviewed from the perspective of contemporary neuroscience. Conceptually, the multi-target action of ayahuasca parallels the adaptogenic activity of other herbal medicines that act as stress response modifiers and promote adaptation to the environment. Next, I will discuss the potential of psychedelics to shift the paradigm from substitution to transformation-based psychotherapy. This novel treatment framework is less focused on specific symptoms and their substitution by means of psychotropic drugs, but rather aims at directly resolving underlying maladaptive processes. Finally, the challenges of intercultural knowledge transfer and future research directions of developing pharmahuasca applications for mental healthcare will be discussed based on recent findings from studies at the University of Zurich.
Milan Scheidegger has an academic background in medicine, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychiatry. After completion of his MD-PhD training in functional and molecular neuroimaging at the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (ETH Zurich) he continues to research the neurobiology and pharmacology of altered states of consciousness and the potential of psychedelics such as ketamine, psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT to facilitate therapeutic transformation. As a junior group leader of Psychedelic Research & Therapy Development at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics (University of Zurich), he aims at developing Transformational Psychotherapy as a paradigm-changing treatment approach that advocates a shift from pharmacological substitution towards transformation-based psychiatry. To that, he co-founded RECONNECT, a non-profit organisation based in Switzerland, with the mission to establish a novel approach to mental health care.
Beyond empirical research, he earned an M.A. degree in History and Philosophy of Knowledge (ETH Zurich) with focus on biosemiotics, philosophy of mind, epistemology and phenomenology of consciousness, mindfulness and deep ecology. On his ethnobotanical expeditions to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, he explored the traditional use of psychoactive plants in indigenous rituals. He is member of the Swiss Society for Psycholytic Therapy (SÄPT) and the MIND European Foundation for Psychedelic Science. He is former scholar of the Swiss Study Foundation and received the Young Investigators Award from the Swiss Society of Biological Psychiatry (2013).