Psychedelic Renaissance in the Czech Republic
Beyond Psychedelics, the first global psychedelic forum in the history of Czech lands, is coming to Prague this Autumn. Czechoslovakia once bred some of the most influential pioneers of psychedelic research, and the Czech Republic will provide shelter to those who are intrigued by psychedelic topics and who wish to take an active part in the current renaissance.
Psychedelics have found their utility in most areas of ever-evolving societies: be it creativity, mental health workers’ self-experience, spirituality and religion, ecology, self-improvement, potential societal development or the controversial but no less substantial area of recreational use. Psychedelics may serve as a tool, and an inconceivably potent one at that, to reach a whole array of diverse purposes. The function of psychedelics as a tool represents the first and foremost reason to talk about them. There are hardly any other substances or practices out there in the world that could boast such a comparably broad range of potential benefits (and risks!), that could foster a similarly powerful change in the very essence of one’s personality, their feelings, their thoughts. With such a wide breadth of potential, psychedelics could contribute to positive societal changes and to the re-assessment of those values that appear especially distorted at today’s age.
Despite the diligence of repressive drug policies, the abundant output of recent research reveals that the 21st century is becoming a turning point in the approach to psychedelic substances. Many organisations worldwide urge that the benefits of psychedelics be acknowledged, be those therapeutic or else. Indeed, ever since psychedelics were classified and said to have no medical use, the amount of studies declaring the opposite has been growing – just ‘like mushrooms after the rain’ (MAPS, the Beckley Foundation, Heffter Research Institute). Scientists including Ben Sessa, Amanda Fielding, Rick Doblin, Robin Carhart-Harris, or Tomáš Páleníček evidence their therapeutic potential, while anthropologists and shamans illuminate their use across time and space, and users call for the right to control their own mind states… Is it really happening? Are we going through a psychedelic renaissance?
The Czech Psychedelic Republic
Czech Republic’s former as well as present-day psychedelic ventures are surprisingly plentiful. The country belongs to the few that sport relatively liberal drug control laws (partial decriminalisation) – ones that many others could learn from (including the UK). Interest and support for the issue of psychedelics has been steadily growing in general public as well as in philanthropist circles.
The capital of the Czech lands, Prague, is a city with a name aptly derived from the Czech equivalent of ‘threshold’ and Prague has long served as a doorstep into the unknowns of the human mind and a serendipitous guardian on the threshold of perception. Historical, academic, and political advantages of the Czech lands are well rounded off by its native flora. Mushrooms of the psilocybe genus, known as ‘lysohlávky’ in Czech or the Latin name Psilocybe bohemica, which contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin, are abundant. Indeed, once a closer look is taken, it is no longer surprising that the Czech Republic is about to host one of the greatest multinational gatherings of specialists on psychedelics.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back in time and take a look at some Czech psychedelic history. One of the pioneers of Czech psychedelic research was Jan Evangelista Purkyně (1787 – 1869), a scientist best known for his discovery of Purkinje cells, less for his experimentation with nutmeg and opium. Almost a hundred years later, Svetozar Nevole laid the groundwork for Czech studies of psychedelic substances through his self-experimentation with mescaline.
As elsewhere, the 1960s and 70s were the golden age of psychedelic research in Czechoslovakia, when the country used to be one of the most prolific countries in the field of psychedelic therapy. LSD served as the foremost experimental object, then manufactured under the name Lysergamid. Psilocybin was another profusely studied substance under the name Indocybin. Some even took an interest in compounds like atropine or scopolamine which, in contrast to traditional psychedelics, can induce genuine hallucinations.
In 1974 Czechoslovakia became the last of all European and North American countries to ban research of LSD. Up until then, LSD had been used in therapy as well as research, at times with an unrivalled bountifulness. During the last few years Dr. Petr Winkler from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has lead the systematic research to review the psychedelic research that was done in those years of legal research of LSD.The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic hosted no less than five centres for psychedelic research. A clinic in Sadska, near Prague, was once amongst those most experienced in the clinical uses of psychedelics. The Psychiatric Research Institute, co-founded by the indisputably principal figure of this time was Stanislav Grof, a famous psychiatrist, researcher, and founder of transpersonal psychology. The Institute was later renamed to the Prague Psychiatric Centre, from which the current, far more extensive National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) originated.
Less known yet equally experienced was Milan Hausner, who supervised over 3000 psychedelic sessions with intoxicated individuals and groups. Hausner most liked to apply LSD in the context of community care, but also explored its possibilities as part of ambulatory treatment for neurosis.
Recently psychedelic research came to be revived in the Czech Republic by Professor Jiří Horáček and Dr. Tomáš Páleníček from NIMH, both scheduled to speak at the upcoming Beyond Psychedelics conference. Prior to legally intoxicating their first healthy human with psilocybin two years ago, they facilitated altered states to many rats. A fair share of clinical studies was dedicated to ketamine too, more commonly classified as a dissociative anaesthetic rather than a psychedelic substance. It is thanks to ketamine that many treatment-resistant patients may finally experience relief from major depression. Presently, intense study is being dedicated to cannabis.
Once again, psychedelics are having a good time in the Czech Republic, as evidenced by the influx of interest following the recent establishment of the Czech Psychedelic Society. Connecting professionals from the interdisciplinary psychedelic fields, the Czech Psychedelic Society aims to establish a platform for an open discussion on psychedelic substances, to provide information on the risks and benefits of their use, to support research, and to destigmatise psychedelics in the public eye.
The current state of affairs surrounding psychedelics bears witness to human rights issues and signifies a possible societal crisis. It is time to move forward and seek a solution to this situation in a world where alternative treatments are denied even to those cases not helped by standard care. It is time to join forces at a global scale, to evaluate all risks and benefits, and to decide upon the most suitable means of utilising psychedelics. Only when united can we encourage today’s psychedelic movement and safeguard that the history does not repeat itself, that a boom does not quickly turn into an all-encompassing repression.
There are numerous reasons to organise a global psychedelic forum in the Czech Republic and Beyond Psychedelics hopes to discuss how to improve the volatile role of psychedelics in society. One of the pressing goals of Beyond Psychedelics and a topic in which will be devoted a room to drug policies and their interconnectedness with research. The country is at the international forefront of drug liberalisation. In practice, this translates to the decriminalisation of illegal substances for personal use and availability of medical cannabis in pharmacies. The complexity of the matter will be discussed in further detail by Jindřich Vobořil, the National Anti-Drug Coordinator. Thanks to him and his team, the Czech Republic is internationally active and able to vocally advocate that the fact be acknowledged that the war against drugs has failed and brought with it more harm than good. Since drug prohibition is, apparently, not sustainable, a move toward a more enlightened strategy of risk reduction is warranted. This is why Beyond Psychedelics is here.
To find out more about Beyond Psychedelics and to purchase a ticket, please head over to their website here: http://beyondpsychedelics.cz/
– Words by Rita Kočárová & Eva Césarová