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Paradigm Lost: Symposium on Psychedelics in Science & Therapy

2/6/18, SPUI25


5 min

Symposium on Psychedelics in Science & Therapy


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After nearly 50 years of academic prohibition, a renewed interest for psychedelics in the scientific and medical communities is driven by state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques and striking clinical applications. What more can psychedelics tell us about brain function? How can altered states of consciousness yield therapeutic benefits? Join the symposium to find out!

On June 2nd, the Amsterdam Psychedelic Research Association (APRA) invites you to our first multidisciplinary symposium on contemporary psychedelic research. Five international speakers from universities in Oxford, London, Paris, Berlin and the Netherlands, will share their most recent findings and perspectives for the future of this field. 

Themes and Speakers

Theoretical and Computational Aspects

  •   Dr. Selen Atasoy, (University of Oxford), researches brain dynamics in consciousness, sleep, meditation, psychedelic states as well as in psychiatric disorders. She will discuss findings from fMRI analysis of LSD and placebo conditions within the mathematical framework of “connectome harmonics”. (
Neuroimaging and Subjective Effects

  •   Christopher Timmermann, (Imperial College London) currently leading a study on the neurophysiological and subjective effects of DMT, in the pioneering Psychedelic Research Group of Prof. David Nutt and Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris.
  •   Dr. Timo Torsten-Schmidt, (Freie Universitat Berlin) focuses on the mental representation of consciousness content, and mechanisms underlying altered states of consciousness. Developer of the 'Altered States Database', an open-science platform with data from hundreds of psychophysiological reports of altered states of consciousness. ( (
Clinical Applications

  •  Natasha Mason (Maastricht University), researches drug (e.g.psychedelic) induced neuroadaptations and their relationship with cognitive and subjective alterations, with particular focus on the potential therapeutic mechanisms of psychedelic drugs. She will discuss an ongoing study assessing psilocybin’s effect on cognitive flexibility.
  • Dr. Tijmen Bostoen, (Leiden University Medical Center) Dutch psychiatrist conducting the first clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in the Netherlands. He will discuss psychedelics’ mechanisms of action in relation to clinical applications.
Broad Perspectives

  •   Martin Fortier, (Institut Jean-Nicod, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) will conclude the symposium with a talk on the anthropological, cognitive, and philosophical implications of psychedelic research. (
Target Audience

University students and researchers from health and life sciences; students and researchers from other science and humanities faculties; external attendees interested in the academic aspects of psychedelics.

Practical Information

The symposium will take place at the beautiful venue of the Academisch-cultureel centrum SPUI25 (Spui 25, 1012 WX Amsterdam) and last approximately from 09:30 to 18:00, with breaks between lectures and for lunch. Note that lunch is not included in the price, but the very central location allows for a wide range of choices.
If you choose a student ticket option, you will be asked for a valid student card at the door. If you would like to request any other special arrangements or have any questions, please contact us directly.

The symposium, like all APRA activities, is not for profit, and is made entirely possible thanks to the work of our volunteer organizers, the support of the ticket holders, and a generous sponsorship from Stichting Toekenningen of the UvA, for which we are very grateful.

Goals and Description

The main goal of this symposium is to provide the audience with a selection of different perspectives and approaches to the contemporary research on psychedelics across neurosciences and psychiatry, ranging from theoretical and fundamental aspects to clinical applications. We use the generic designation “psychedelic” here loosely, as an umbrella term to indicate substances and practices that show intriguing promise for therapy and scientific value, but have suffered an impaired research development because of their legal status or psychoactive effects. Most notably, this definition includes classical serotonergic psychedelics (e.g. psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, DMT), cannabis, MDMA; but also non-pharmacological means to induce altered states of consciousness (e.g. Ganzfeld experiments).

Why psychedelics?

It is easy to forget that before the discovery of the molecular similarity between LSD and serotonin in 1954, the neurochemical relation between brain and behavior was virtually unknown to mainstream psychiatry. Prior to this paradigm-shifting insight, brain activity was believed to be "essentially electrical in nature" (See [1] and [2]). This is only one of the major contributions of psychedelics to our contemporary understanding of the neurochemical underpinnings of brain and behavior, which are often taken for granted. 

In the years prior to the discovery of the serotonin-LSD relation, hundreds of papers had been published on psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin, considered incredibly useful substances by neuroscientists and psychiatrists alike. It is important to remark that not all findings from this era can be considered reliable, because of the outdated methodologies compared to modern standard: but they undeniably show the potential of psychedelic research for brain sciences and beyond. When the controlled substance act of 1970 marked the beginning of the “war on drugs”, it became nearly impossible for scientists to conduct any research exploring potential benefits or risks of psychedelics. This in turn allowed anecdotal accounts to flourish, and for the most part, replace scientific knowledge both in the mainstream public and academia [3].

It is only in recent years that pioneering psychedelic research groups, in universities and medical centers across the world, successfully completed state-of-the-art neuroimaging experiments and innovative clinical trials. The remarkable results obtained [4-7], often thanks to crowdfunded campaigns, demonstrate beyond doubt that psychedelics still have a lot to teach us about the brain-mind, both in health and pathology. Notwithstanding the revitalized interest of scientific and medical communities, stigmatized and non-scientfic views of psychedelics persist within most of academia; and obtaining funding and ethical approval is still nearly impossible, despite the wealth of potential benefits and discoveries. The activity of APRA is aimed at reintegrating the psychedelic research paradigm within the academic community of Amsterdam, by providing accurate scientific information, and promoting the start of a concerted, interdisciplinary effort in this field within the Amsterdam institutions.

[1] Nichols DE. Serotonin, and the past and future of LSD. MAPS Bull. 2013;23(1):20-3. 
[2] Cozzi NV. Psychedelic breakthroughs in neuroscience: How psychedelic drugs influenced the growth and development of psychopharmacology. MAPS Bulletin. 2013;23(1):16-9.
[3] Johansen PØ, Krebs TS. Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2015 Mar;29(3):270-9.
[4] Nichols DE, Johnson MW, Nichols CD. Psychedelics as medicines: an emerging new paradigm. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2017 Feb 1;101(2):209-19.
[5] Kyzar EJ, Nichols CD, Gainetdinov RR, Nichols DE, Kalueff AV. Psychedelic Drugs in Biomedicine. Trends in pharmacological sciences. 2017 Sep 22.
[6] Garcia-Romeu A, Kersgaard B, Addy PH. Clinical applications of hallucinogens: A review. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology. 2016 Aug;24(4):229.
[7] Halberstadt AL. Recent advances in the neuropsychopharmacology of serotonergic hallucinogens. Behavioural brain research. 2015 Jan 15;277:99-120.