Tomas Palenicek, PhD, MD
National Institute of Mental Health, Klecany, Czech Republic
Expedition Neuron: a journey towards the neurobiology of ayahuasca in a naturalistic setting
The “set and setting” are notoriously declined in association with psychedelic experience, studies and therapeutic potential. In most of the recent neuroimaging studies and therapeutic sessions subjects are typically alone accompanied by sitters or therapists. The guidelines for psychedelic assisted therapy recommend a living-room like setting with two therapists aside and the therapists are not under the influence of the drug. However, in a traditional ritual context, people use psychedelics in a group sessions, where everyone including the shamans is using the “medicine”. Despite the recent boom of ayahuasca tourism and neo-shamanic sessions, the traditional ayahuasca rituals kept by indigenous people of the Amazon represent probably the longest continuum of traditional use. However indigenous people are rightfully scared that any cooperation with “white vampires” will lead to steeling of their knowledge without any benefit for themselves. After several years of building trust with indigenous people, our team have for the first time succeeded to obtain an approval of the whole indigenous tribe to perform a joint research using behavioural and neuroimaging methods during their rituals in their territory. Despite the fact that still remains a substantial part of our journey to complete the study, we have already participated at several naturalistic ceremonies in the Amazon of Brazil and Peru and tested on ourselves professional mobile EEG devices, collected some preliminary EEG and behavioural data.
Dr. Palenicek has been employed at National Institute of Mental Health, Czech Republic (NIHM CR, formerly Prague Psychiatric Centre) since 2001. He started his career as a PhD student in preclinical research, studying the neurobiology of schizophrenia in animal models. Shortly after, he received his first grant funding and extended his research interests towards the neurobiology of psychedelic drugs (e.g., LSD, psilocin, mescaline, 2C-B), entactogens (ecstasy / MDMA) and new synthetic drugs. Simultaneous to working on his PhD he passed his training as a clinical psychiatrist and also in clinical electroencephalography (EEG). He defended his thesis in early 2009 and in 2012 he became a licensed psychiatrist. Over the last few years he contributes significantly to human clinical research. He is involved as a co-investigator of ketamine projects in NIHM CR, where ketamine is used to model psychosis and to treat depression in humans. For the last four years he is a principle investigator of the first project in the Czech Republic that is intended to study the acute effects of cannabis in healthy volunteers. Finally, he is also a principle investigator of the first human clinical trial in the Czech Republic studying the effects of psilocybin in human volunteers. Currently his research interests are oriented to the area of EEG functional connectivity. He continues his clinical practice as a psychiatrist in local outpatient clinic. Recently is one of the founders of the “Foundation for Psychedelic Research” based in the Czech Republic.