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Could hallucinogenics help cure our mental health woes?

Durango Psychedelic Club creates a community space to break stigmas and discuss mind-altering drugs
Dr. Mark Braunstein in his Reconscious Medical office administers ketamine to his patient, John, who did not want to give his last name. The room is lit with a calming blue light. After the ketamine therapy, John and Braunstein will discuss what he saw while on the substance. “You want the proper holding environment so that the patient feels as little anxiety as possible,” Braunstein said. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Can hallucinogenics like LSD, ketamine and psychedelic mushrooms help treat mental health issues such as addiction, anxiety, depression and PTSD?

A growing number of Durango-area residents believe the answer is yes.

The Durango Psychedelic Club, made up of doctors, scientists and psychonauts, meets about once a week to create an open dialogue about the therapeutic uses of psychedelic substances.

One of those members is Dr. Mark Braunstein, who has been administering ketamine-assisted therapy through his office Reconscious Medical.

“I’ve been a psychonaut for 30 years, and I’ve been a psychiatrist for over 25 years now,” he said.

Dr. Mark Braunstein stays with his patient, John, who did not want to give his last name, after administering ketamine. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Braunstein said a major difference with ketamine therapy is that it strays away from daily medication to help solve someone’s issues.

“The main difference between this and other psychiatric treatments is instead of telling you to take a pill everyday for the rest of your life, the goal with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is to have roughly a half dozen sessions to have a transformational experience and move beyond,” he said.

Braunstein said that like any other form of therapy, people must put in the work to better themselves.

“It’s not just putting a needle in your arm or putting a pill in your face and getting better,” he said. “It’s very much about being thoughtful and intentional about what you want to work on.”

Braunstein said that since ketamine has been approved as a therapeutic treatment for depression for over 20 years now, it plays an integral role in how future legislation for using substances such as psilocybin for therapy will be discussed.

“Ketamine is a legal medication that allows people to have a psychedelic experience, and all the protocols and technology that are being put into ketamine are creating the pathways for things like MDMA and psilocybin,” Braunstein said. “Ketamine right now is setting the standard for how all other psychedelic medications will be delivered.”

Creating the right set and setting for a patient is one of the most important parts of ketamine-assisted therapy, he said.

“You want the proper holding environment so that the patient feels as little anxiety as possible,” he said. “You have to try and alleviate anxiety as much as possible so that they can drop into the experience as much as possible.”

Dr. Mark Braunstein says ketamine therapy can steer people away from daily medication to help solve mental health issues. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Most ketamine therapy treatments last around 45 minutes, but Braunstein likes to give extended sessions that last between one and three hours.

“During that time, eye shades are on, they’re laid back, they have headphones with music on, and are totally directed inward,” he said. “While they can’t see, their ‘third eye’ can see a lot. And while their body isn’t moving in the 3D world, in the 5D world they are soaring through the cosmos.”

After the ketamine therapy is when the real work begins, he said. The integration work after a ketamine experience includes discussing what visions a patient saw while on the substance.

“We talk about how they felt and what they learned,” Braunstein said. “Then we create a meditation for them that allows them to go back to those thoughts they had during their journey.”

Dr. Mark Braunstein talks with his patient, John, who declined to give his last name, before he administers ketamine on Jan. 26 in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Perhaps a little less formal, the Durango Psychedelic Club also looks to create a space where members can discuss psychedelics and their therapeutic uses.

“I just want to see people mentally healthy,” said Rayne Grant, president and founder of the Durango Psychedelic Club. “Our focus is bringing conversation about psychedelics to the public. This is how we learn from each other as a community.”

The Durango Psychedelic Club is the local chapter of a national organization known as the Psychedelic Club, which is based in Denver.

Grant has spent the past 10 years studying mycology. Her mushroom research was originally based around certain fungi that can break down plastics. Many people assumed that because Grant was a mycologist, she was studying psilocybin.

“So many people came to me for information on psilocybin that I thought maybe I should get some books on this,” she said.

Fascinated by what she learned about psychedelic mushrooms and how they can be used for therapy, she began giving talks at music festivals and other events. Beyond psilocybin, Grant took an interest in the legal psychedelic mushroom amanita muscaria.

“Amanita muscaria is kind of my spirit mushroom,” she said. “Anything related to the nervous system, it’s an amazing mushroom for helping with that.”

Durango Psychedelics Club board member Badí Reddy said part of his fascination with psychedelics is the history behind them.

“Every culture throughout history has had its own means of creating a situation where people center themselves and have an experience that is beyond the physical,” he said.

Reddy said one of the benefits of psychedelics he enjoys is the ability to have a centering, individual experience, that at the same time connects him with others.

“A psychedelic experience is really about you, and how you want to interpret yourself in relation to your world,” he said.

The board members of the Durango Psychedelic Club each have different psychedelic interests that allow them to learn from each other. For example, Reddy knows more about synthetic psychedelics such as LSD, whereas Grant’s background in mycology gives her perspective on natural psychedelics.

“A very integral part of what the psychedelic club stands for is that if you’re using psychedelics that you have reverence,” said local reggae DJ Rasta Stevie, who also called himself a spokesman for the Durango Psychedelic Club.

Stevie said interpreting and integrating what’s learned through psychedelic therapy is a lot like going to the gym.

“The first day you’re going to be damn sore, but the third day you start to get in your groove, and a few days after that you can flex that muscle,” he said. “You’ve got to go to the physical trainer for a couple weeks, and they show you what to do, but you can’t pay a physical trainer to babysit you the rest of your life and make you work out.”

Grant said the Psychedelic Club is not about taking substances, but rather informing those who have an interest in psychedelic substances.

“The Psychedelic Club does not offer any ceremonies. We don’t offer any substances, and we don’t sell any substances,” she said. “This is all about offering information and freedom of choice. We want to allow someone to make their own informed decision.”

Aside from its monthly meeting at Mountain Monk Coffee on Main Avenue, the Psychedelic Club also has a monthly podcast where it digitally hosts various speakers from the psychedelic community. In the future, Grant said the group hopes to do fundraising to bring guest speakers to the club’s meetings.

Reddy said that with the way things are changing legislatively regarding psychedelics, the club is preparing community members who might be interested in trying substances as they become more available.

“We’re kind of rolling out the carpet for the introduction of these psychedelics,” Reddy said.

A prime example of how perceptions of psychedelics are changing would be the Denver ordinance that was passed by voters in 2019 to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in the city.

“People are hungry for the information,” Grant said. “As a researcher, I can give them sources or connect with a person who does know about what they’re looking for.”


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