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Psychedelics and the Chemistry of Connection with Dr. Julie Holland

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This episode of the Plant Medicine Podcast is the first installment of a three-part conversation with Dr. Julie Holland. Dr. Holland is a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology, and she is also the author of many books, including her most recent work Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics which discusses the neurochemistry behind human connection. She is also a medical monitor for several MAPS PTSD studies using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and has worked for decades on US drug policy reform based on harm reduction principles. In addition to this work, Dr. Holland has nine years experience running a psychiatric emergency room as an attending physician on the faculty of NYU school of medicine and she continues her psychiatric work in her private practice in New York City. In this first installment with Dr. Holland, the conversation focuses on the idea of connection she explored in Good Chemistry. Dr. Holland begins by discussing the importance of feeling a connection with oneself and details how many things in modern life can get in the way of this connection. Self-connection is important, she stresses, because if we are not grounded in ourselves, it can be difficult to establish healthy connections with others. Dr. Holland explains how various neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and dopamine are involved in connecting with self and others and how pharmaceuticals such as opiates act on some of these same systems to simulate comfort. In addition to discussing human connection from a pharmacological perspective, Dr. Holland also explores the topic through a psychological lens, looking at the role trauma can play in muddying opportunities for connection. This is an area where psychedelics can be particularly impactful, as these substances can disrupt the constant ruminations and patterns of behavior which keep people from pursuing or deepening connections. Dr. Holland then brings some insights from the science of connection to bear on the practice of psychedelic therapy, discussing how group facilitation of psilocybin therapy could be more impactful by allowing the experiences and integration work to happen in community. The conversation closes with a discussion of how psychedelics can impact the connections one feels, especially to the natural world, and some speculations regarding how the feelings of interconnection elicited by psychedelic experiences could impact political convictions. In this episode: How distractions and addictions get in the way of our ability to connect with ourselves How the epidemic of loneliness and the epidemic of overdoses intersect The pharmacological pathways of oxytocin and the function of the dopaminergic system How psychedelic experiences “shake up” one’s sense of self and the therapeutic effect of this process The double-edged sword of the feelings of group cohesion produced by oxytocin The impact of psychedelics on one’s worldview Quotes: “If you’re not in your body, and embodied, and feeling your feelings, you’re not gonna be much use to anybody else in a relationship.” [5:59] “One of the reasons why opiates are so soothing is they really quell that unease, that anxiety, and they really mimic the chemistry and physiology of what we feel when we are taken care of, held, attended to.” [10:40] “We are not healthy when we are disconnected. It is a proinflammatory state when we are disconnected, and it is anti-inflammatory when we feel cared for.” [13:35] “There’s always trauma and everybody carries it around in their bodies to some extent and it really needs to be unearthed and investigated for us to be healthier and happier. So everyone can avail themselves of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy or psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.” [24:30] “Oxytocin facilitates neuroplasticity, it facilitates learning. And we learn better in group than we do individually. When we are isolated we do not learn as well.” [29:13] “There is actual research to show that people who take psilocybin mushrooms and have psychedelic mystical experiences do feel more connected to the planet and do feel more of a sense of obligation to take care of the planet.” [37:23] Links: Dr. Holland’s website Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics Psychedelic Medicine Association Porangui