E talking: MDMA Therapy & the “Psychedelic Renaissance”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.

Popular perceptions of MDMA (3,4 Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) are of its identity as “molly” or ecstasy—a good-time party-drug for young people around the world. So, flicking through the Guardian newspaper a few weekends ago, I was intrigued to read a feature on a recently opened clinic in Bristol, UK, that intends to use MDMA for psychotherapeutic purposes. The bio-tech company, Awakn Life Sciences, led by consultant psychiatrist Ben Sessa and clinical psychologist Laurie Higbed, is not currently able to offer MDMA therapy, and the newspaper reports that the company is “hamstrung by the current global legislation, which says the drug can be used only in an experimental setting.”

Awakn Life Science's Laurie Higbed and Ben Sessa
Awakn Life Science’s Laurie Higbed and Ben Sessa. Image from Ben Sessa on Twitter.

Consequently, the clinic offers ketamine-assisted therapy, initially focusing on alcoholism with ambitions to eventually provide treatment for “depression, anxiety, eating disorders and most addictions.” As the article makes clear, Awakn’s clinic is part of a much wider interest in what, it calls, “psychedelic-assisted therapy,” leading to a veritable “psychedelics gold rush” as investors sense a growing market.

By coincidence, I also happened to be reading Lucas Richert’s latest book Break on Through: Radical Psychiatry and the American Counterculture. As its title indicates, Break on Through is situated in the 1970s and features, among other episodes, the early years of MDMA-assisted therapy. MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 as a hemostatic agent (i.e. to aid blood-clotting and prevent bleeding) in the laboratories of Merck, the Darmstadt, Germany, based pharmaceutical corporation. Patented that same year, the company only occasionally mentioned MDMA in internal company documents up until the 1950s. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, the patent also contained a clue to one of its further usages, alluding to its potential use “as an intermediate in the production of therapeutic compounds.”

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A Century of Drug Use – AHA2021 Panel Presentation on 4/20

The annual meeting of the American Historical Association, to be held in Seattle, was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s replacement online virtual AHA2021 conference, four drug historians, including Points Contributing Editor Bob Beach, will be presenting their research about drug users in modern history on Tuesday, April 20, at 1:00PM EST. The panel is titled, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor.”

Virtual AHA Panel

The online panel is free to attend, but advanced registration is required. Please click this link to register and you’ll receive instant confirmation.

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The Marijuana Experiment

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

It is difficult—and perhaps impossible—to judge whether or not marijuana use is good or bad. Much research is yet needed before we can draw any definitive conclusions. Ask the daily or the occasional consumer, and you will get one set of answers. Ask a person who has had a bad experience, and you might get a negative take. And ask the anti-marijuana moral champion, and you will possibly hear “the gateway to other drugs” story. In fact, there is no concrete answer;  the judgment is personal and deep inside the brain and soul of each individual.

Yet, the law continues to punish and ruin the lives of thousands of American citizens who do not have the luxury to live in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal or partially legal. One thing is clear, though, the marijuana map is changing with each election cycle, and, like every federal policy, the weight of the majority will force the minority of states to change when the right time comes. That time might be now—under the Biden administration—but it is not yet clear. Especially so, after the recent firing of five White House staffers for “past marijuana use.”

Marijuana Legalization Map
Map of marijuana legalization status by state (from disa.com).
Read here for more information about the state-by-state status of marijuana.

The United States, like many other countries around the world including Canada and Uruguay, seems to be transitioning towards a federally legal world of marijuana. But the American process is slow, because individual states still have leverage and power over the federal government. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho— where marijuana is fully illegal—may be holding the nation back, but they are now clearly in the minority. Perhaps the millions of dollars of tax revenue each of these states leaves on the table will eventually force their leaders and their communities to the negotiating table. Perhaps the first big victory will be the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

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The Instruments of Darkness Tell Us Truths: A History of Heather Edney & The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Women’s History Month comes from Greg Ellis. Ellis and Heather Edney are currently writing an insider’s account about Edney’s early pioneering needle exchange work in Santa Cruz during the AIDS epidemic prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. Edney’s innovative ideas about harm reduction flourished in a male-dominated field and changed the face of modern healthcare and recovery. The memoir will be an imprint of Anthology Press.

junkphood - How to Spot a Coke OD
How to Spot a Coke OD, from the “Coked-Up Puffs” edition of junkphood, artwork by Brooke Lober, 1995. Image courtesy of Heather Edney

But ‘tis strange and oftentimes, to
win us to our harm, the instruments
of darkness tell us truths, win us with
honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.

—Macbeth act 1, sc. 3, l. 124-8

There is a simple principle in the field of harm reduction that drug users are the experts on using drugs. But what exactly does that mean? Strong governmental and institutional pressures to uphold systemic standards and anti-drug laws frequently foster mistrust between drug users and social service providers.

In her soon-to-be-published memoir and harm reduction manifesto, titled Sucking Dick for Syringes, long-time harm reduction activist Heather Edney recounts the history that led her to bridge the divide from the shooting gallery to the boardroom. Edney, who was instrumental in building the pioneering Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP) in the 1990s, writes about the intersection of drugs, sex, and running an illegal syringe exchange. Her innovative risk reduction modalities ultimately created some of the most revolutionary and lasting changes during the infancy of the field. Her ideas and techniques have saved countless limbs from infection and loss, prevented unknown numbers of seroconversions, and introduced the concept of holistic healthcare to marginalized and criminalized populations.

Heather Edney operated in the world of drugs for much of her young life before landing in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 19—where she learned about the fledgling needle exchange program run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Edney employed the skill set developed from a childhood of sexual trauma and familial dysfunction, quickly rising to a leadership position and ultimately creating an internationally renowned needle exchange model.

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Apply for the AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize for the Best Unpublished Manuscript about the History of Pharmacy or Pharmaceuticals!

Editor’s Note: An exciting publishing and prize opportunity for graduate students and Early Career Researchers!

AIHP Logo

AIHP is pleased to post this reminder about the 2021 AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize competition. Each year, the Sonnedecker Prize recognizes the author(s) of the best unpublished manuscript, on a topic within the field of the history of pharmacy or pharmaceuticals, broadly defined.

The recipient of the AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize will also be awarded a $1,000 cash prize, and her/his manuscript will be published in AIHP’s journal History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (University of Wisconsin Press), upon, and subject to, successful completion of peer- and editorial-review processes.

The Prize is aimed at graduate students and Early Career Scholars (ECRs). AIHP defines ECRs as holders of tenure-track positions who received the PhD within the previous three years or members of the academic precariat in limited term positions who received the PhD within the previous six years.

Co-authored papers are eligible for the Sonnedecker Prize competition—provided that all listed authors meet the necessary Early Career Researcher criteria.

Instructions for Submissions

The deadline for submission of manuscripts for the 2021 competition is June 1, 2021. To be considered for the 2021 Sonnedecker Prize, please submit a copy of the unpublished manuscript in Microsoft Word format. Email the manuscript to aihp@aihp.org using the subject heading “Sonnedecker Prize Submission” for the message. Articles should be 8,000-10,000 words, and authors should consult the HoPP Author Guidelines when preparing submissions. Papers in languages other than English should be accompanied by a translation.

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The Way Back Machine—Marsha Rosenbaum: Women on Heroin at 40

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this is the first installment in “The Way Back Machine,” a series of interviews with key theorists and practitioners of alcohol and drugs research, treatment, and recovery among women and communities of color during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Through these interviews, Points co-founder and Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis works out some of the theoretical issues she articulated almost ten years ago in “Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards A Research Agenda.”

Women on Heroin Cover
Cover of Women on Heroin by Marsha Rosenbaum.

When Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” in 1971, the assumed abuser was male—probably a man of color, possibly a poor white man, but almost certainly a man. Women were known to use and abuse narcotics, but their numbers were small. As a result, theories of narcotics use, and the policy prescriptions that sprang from them, rarely paid attention to the woman user. Medical sociologist Marsha Rosenbaum set out to correct that problem with Women on Heroin (WOH), a field-defining study published forty years ago by Rutgers University Press.

Now retired, Rosenbaum went on to a long career as a researcher with the Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, where much of her work continued to focus on gender and narcotic use, especially the possibilities of methadone. She served as the Director for the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance from 1995-2008, where she took early and courageous stands in favor of harm reduction, marijuana legalization, and honest, science-based drug education for teens.

I caught up with Rosenbaum recently to celebrate the anniversary of WOH and discuss what lessons it might offer to feminist drug historians—including historians of the current opioid crisis.

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Job of Interest to ADHS and AIHP Members! UF Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research is Hiring

Editor’s Note: A job opportunity message today from Points co-founder Trysh Travis.

University of Florida Logo

The Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research at the University of Florida is hiring a full-time permanent lecturer to teach Health Disparities in Society, starting August 2021. Join Points co-founders Trysh Travis and Joe Spillane in a wacky workplace comedy focused on raising the critical thinking skills of “Florida Man,” broadly defined.

Seriously, this is a terrific position for someone whose goal is to work in both the community and the classroom. Health Disparities in Society is the largest minor in UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and engages students across the entire university. The Women’s Studies program is in the process of creating a Gender, Sex, and Health track within its thriving major, and the person in this position will participate in shaping that program as well. For full details and application, go to https://facultyjobs.hr.ufl.edu/posting/85040

The position closes on March 29th, so time is of the essence!

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Zada, Gloria, and the Sisters: Excerpts from A Conversation with Dr. Metta Lou Henderson

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Board Member Melissa Murer Corrigan, BPharm, FAPhA, FASHP. Murer Corrigan is the founding Executive Director/CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Passionate about leadership and encouraging more women leaders, she also is host of the MelisRxScripts podcast. 

Sister Pharmacist Mercy Hospital Chicago 1898
Sister Mary Ignatius Feeney in the Drug Room at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital in 1898. Sister Pharmacists helped to pioneer the specialty of hospital pharmacy. Image Courtesy of Metta Lou Henderson.

During March 2021, we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the significant contributions of women in history and society. I think it’s also a great time to learn more about the outstanding women who’ve played key leadership roles in pharmacy and health care. On my podcast MelisRxScripts, I strive to interview women leaders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I recently talked with Metta Lou Henderson, PhD, a research pioneer in the history of women in pharmacy. Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to share some highlights from our chat. In 2009, Metta Lou donated the Metta Lou Henderson Women in Pharmacy Collection to the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, and in 2015 she was elected the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) honorary president for her lifelong commitment as a scholar and advocate for the profession of pharmacy. Metta Lou also is the author of American Women Pharmacists: Contributions to the Profession.

Metta Lou is retired from Ohio Northern University and has had a long, accomplished and significant career in pharmacy. Here are some thoughts from Metta Lou on other women pioneers in pharmacy such as pharmacy educator Zada Cooper, pharmacy organization leader Gloria Francke, and Catholic nuns who helped pioneer hospital pharmacy.

This interview has been edited slightly for readability and space limitations. If you enjoy what you read please check out the full interview in Episode 17: “Take Risks and Make it Work” With Metta Lou Henderson at MelisRxScripts.

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