Microdosing Psychedelics: What Does It Mean & Is It Safe? What Science Says - An Interview With Paul Austin

Microdosing Psychedelics: What Does It Mean & Is It Safe? What Science Says - An Interview With Paul Austin

What follows is a transcript for the podcast Microdosing - Paul Austin - Psychedelics.

Topics within the interview include:

  • Defining a microdose vs. a “journey dose”
  • What it means to be intentional when microdosing psychedelics and why it matters
  • The latest science about microdosing psilocybin
  • What the research says about frequency and dosing, and
  • Microdosing for performance enhancement—to improve creative expression, productivity, and flow

Dr. Dan Stickler: Welcome to the Collective Insights podcast for this week. I'm Dr. Dan Stickler, and I'll be your host. And today is an interview that I'm very excited about. We're going to be interviewing Paul Austin. As the founder of Third Wave, Paul has educated millions on the importance of safe and effective psychedelic experiences, a pioneer at the intersection of micro-dosing, personal transformation and professional success. He has been featured in Forbes, Rolling Stone, and the BBC's Work Life. Paul's also the author of Mastering Microdosing. Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul Austin: Thank you Dan. It's an honor to be here.

Paul Austin’s Journey to Third Wave

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, I'm excited about this because psychedelics is an area that I've done a lot of deep dives into, and in preparation for all of this medical wave of it, I think, that's on the verge. But tell me a little bit about, I mean, most people they get into this area because of a personal experience. Now you started Third Wave, what? Back in 2015, I believe?

Paul Austin: Seven years ago now, mm-hmm.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. I mean, it's the go-to spot for people, not only just beginning to explore psychedelics, but those that are also experienced. So, can you give us a little bit of background about how you came about this and decided to go this route?

Paul Austin: So I grew up in West Michigan, in a suburb of a city called Grand Rapids. In a fairly traditional family, not conservative, but definitely religious, kind of morality was very much determined by religion, what was good and what was bad, in somewhat of a sheltered home. And as part of that, there was a pretty heavy stigma around cannabis, illegal drugs, and also psychedelics.

And so, at the age of 16, my parents ended up, found out that I was smoking weed. And I remember sitting down, it was a Sunday after church, and my dad basically said that it was the most disappointed that he had been since his brother had died. And so, I was really raised in, and I love my dad, and we have a great relationship, but that was just sort of the intensity of the moment and what it was bringing up for the family dynamic.

And so, there was always a sense of growing up in West Michigan of these medicines, these plants that in many ways are God-given. They have a really deep stigma to them. And so, there was a felt sense of... There was a felt sense of I couldn't be who I wanted to be. There was a felt sense of the things that I was doing were wrong, and therefore I was wrong. And so, I really basically became more of a turtle, and I was more edgy, and I was more difficult and more angry and more rebellious as a result of that.

And then at the age of 19, it was the end of my sophomore year of college, and I was with a few friends. And at the time I was still utilizing cannabis here and there. Utilizing cannabis here and there. And I found out about LSD, and had this beautiful experience with about 250 micrograms of LSD with a few close friends out on Lake Michigan, which has these beautiful sand dunes and woods.

And it was just an epic, epic day. And I remember the core shift when I worked with acid was this recognition of my interconnectedness, kind of the sense of inter-being that I have with trees, that I have with animals, that I have with people, that I have with energy. And when I sort of came to that recognition and that understanding, I realized that everything that I do is impacted by the environment around me.

And because of this sort experience of this mystical experience, let's call it, for lack of a better term, this mystical experience of connection to something greater and unknown, I was really driven or pulled into, well, this is the one life that I have to live, and why not make the most of it? Why not really go out there and live a more unconventional way of being?

And so at the age of 21, I moved to Turkey where I taught English. And then at 24, I was living in Chiang Mai in Thailand. And this was a few years after I first worked with LSD. And I was thinking back to those early LSD experiences, because I ended up doing acid maybe 10 to 15 times over a two to three-year span. And I remembered that for the week or two after those high dose LSD experiences, I was more present, I was more connected, I made better decisions about the food that I ate. I meditated more often. I was more kind to people around me.

And then inevitably after two or three weeks, that would sort of dissipate, and I would sort be back in my normal Paul way of being. And so, when I heard about micro-dosing in 2015 when I was living in Chiang Mai, I thought, this is interesting because micro-dosing could be a tool to elongate that window of neuroplasticity that happens after a high-dose psychedelic experience. And if we could integrate it, and I could work with it, then I might be able to integrate behavioral change on a more consistent basis. Rather than just going through these spurts and it dying down, it could be a much more elongated process.

And so, I ended up micro-dosing twice a week for seven months. It really helped with dealing with social anxiety. At the time I totally cut off all alcohol that I was drinking, and it also helped with more sort of flow and creativity. And I was reflecting, and it was like, "I really think this is a powerful tool and a powerful modality." As an entrepreneur I sort of saw that psychedelics would be this next thing after cannabis, that there was more research coming out, more influencers speaking about it, that cannabis as a previously illicit drug was now legitimized.

And so, I thought if there was one mission that I could dedicate my energy to, my sort of life, my vitality to, it would be to normalize psychedelic substances and help people recognize that these have been stigmatized, that the education that's out there about them is largely incorrect. And that if we could just educate people and help them start at a micro-dose level, rather than jumping in the deep end, then this could help millions of people potentially not only with mental health, depression, addiction, PTSD, suicide, but also with leadership, with performance, with growth, with evolution.

From that early LSD experience, I was really, my curiosity was piqued about the nature of consciousness. And so, from that very point, I was always then interested in what is consciousness, how do we expand consciousness, and what does the expansion of consciousness mean for new paradigms? What does it mean for new systems? What does it mean for the future of society and culture?

What it Means to Be Intentional When Microdosing Psychedelics and Why It Matters

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, that's beautiful. And I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and high-performing people, and so I am exposed to their experiences quite frequently with psychedelics. And it was really surprising to me how many of them were using it. But the big difference that I noticed with this group, and even I think you've used this term intentionality. So, when they're using these psychedelics, they generally are not using them to party, or I mean, some of them will occasionally do that, but the bulk of them during this time, they've got some intention as to what they're trying to achieve with them. Have you noticed that?

Paul Austin: Well, so Stan Grof, who did a lot of research with LSD in the '50s and '60s in the Czech Republic when it was legal, he then invented holotropic breathwork. He always calls psychedelics non-specific amplifiers. Right? And so they amplify often what's going on in the subconscious and the unconscious, which is why they're so powerful.

And so, when there isn't a level of intentionality that is utilized with psychedelics, there's a risk that there could be a very challenging or even traumatic experience, that even if they're only being used, let's say at a festival where you take some mushrooms with friends, there are plenty of people that I know who have done that, and then all of a sudden it goes sideways, and forever they are scarred by that experience, unfortunately.

The way that these have been used for thousands of years indigenously has always been in ceremony, has always been with of a sacred purpose, has always been, even in ancient Greece, it was the mysteries. You did not talk about it. You did not go on about it, because what was brought up was so, it was often this spark of divinity.

And so, that intentionality, whether it's a micro-dose or whether it's a moderate dose or whether it's a high dose, is so important because the mind in everyday life can be very chaotic. It can be all over the place. And when we work with a psychedelic, there's a level of, we narrow our focus with that intention. It's like a mantra when we're meditating. It allows us to narrow the focus, to excavate potentially what might be lying there in the subconscious or the unconscious. And that allows for a very, let's say, fruitful or productive experience.

Now, one thing you mentioned, which I want to kind of double-back on is there is healing in the raves, and there's healing in dancing, and there's healing in that sense of connectedness that can come from doing it in more, let's say, social settings. But I also believe there's a level of intentionality with that. I've had experiences with 10 or 12 friends where we may do, let's say psilocybin and MDMA together at a home. We have music. It's intentional, but we're still there to connect and play and have fun.

And so, I don't think it always has to be this deep shadow work, right? There is a place and a time for healing trauma and going there, but psychedelics are also these incredibly beautiful medicines that allow us to have these experiences of connection with loved ones that is hard to replicate with other means.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I'm glad you brought that up, because really intentionality and social I differentiate from partying, because I mean, it's a very common thing in the community to gather close friends. The interesting thing is we actually almost create this because with the MDMA gatherings where you hear the classic cuddle puddles and all of that, that oxytocin and dopamine release you get with the MDMA, it really improves social bonding, love for your fellow human, although you have to be cautious with it because it increases affinity to people within your tribe, but the outsiders can get pushed away a little bit.

Oxytocin is kind of double-edged in that regard. But I love the fact that you brought that up, because a lot of people will make the comment that, "Oh, they're just using it to party," when they really are using it for social connections. So, that's beautiful.

One area that I wanted to talk about that your expertise really lands is in the micro-dosing realm. And here's my dilemma with this. I'm reading most of the literature that comes out on a regular basis on micro-dosing. And when it comes to psilocybin, it seems like recently we're seeing that micro-dosing isn't really doing much. We find, when I'm looking at the studies, it's interesting how many people... What'd they call it? When they blind out on the study because they know what they're taking versus the placebo, because there is this little changes in the physiology, even though it's a sub-perceptual dose, there's still changes that they'll notice that they go, "Oh, okay."

And people's expectations guide outcomes pretty substantially. Now, I know the studies on LSD are different. I mean, I've seen the EEG studies, brain wave patterns of people with micro-dosing LSD, and they're pretty profound and impactful. And tell me, talk to me a little bit about micro-dosing with psilocybin.

Microdosing Psilocybin: What The Latest Research Says

Paul Austin: Yeah, it's a hot topic right now in terms of the clinical research that's starting to come out. A little bit of background, just for listeners before we get super-deep into it. There's really I would say two main forms of clinical research related to psychedelics. One is psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, which is usually a very high dose. There's therapeutic support before and after. This is what MAPS is using to bring MDMA through clinical trials. This is what psilocybin is being brought through to do treatment resistant depression. It's really that ego dissolving experience, and then bringing things back.

Now, there's another methodology called psycholytic psychotherapy, or psycholytic psychedelic therapy. And this is using smaller doses. It could be micro-doses, it could be mini-doses where it's done consistently throughout, let's say, a therapeutic container. So, you might take it twice a week for six months, and see what the changes and impacts are.

And so, a lot of the way that we're looking at, let's say, micro-dosing research is more so the latter rather than the former. We're looking at those incremental changes that are happening over 30 days or 60 days or 90 days rather than, "Oh, I took this, and I need to see some immediate impact or effect." Right? So I think that's number one that's helpful context.

Number two is micro-dosing generally is a very new concept as a result of that. Although there was research on psycholytic therapy in the '50s and '60s, very little of that has been replicated in current clinical studies because of some of the difficulties with getting it through FDA clinical trials. So, the focus has been largely on, I would say 95% on psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. So, we're just starting to see some of that research that's coming out about low dosing, micro-dosing in conjunction with coaching or therapeutic support.

So, just to lay that framework. Now, when it comes to current clinical research on micro-dosing, there are some trials that are coming out that show basically null effect, right? That there's no really effect of micro-dosing on mood, on cognition, on energy. There's also clinical trials that are coming out that are showing a statistically significant effect on mood, on energy, on cognition.

What I'm picking up on in terms of the pattern of why this is happening is the clinical research that is happening or the research generally that is happening in naturalistic settings is showing a statistically significant effect. The clinical research that's happening more so in laboratories is not showing a statistically significant effect, which speaks to the importance of environment and set and setting, even at these lower dose levels.

And I'll give you sort two examples of that, just to help bring this home. So, I recently did an interview with a researcher out of New Zealand. His name is Suresh, and his last name's about 40 letters, and I can't really pronounce it, but Suresh is doing, he's done phase-one clinical trial research on micro-doses of LSD, 10 micrograms in New Zealand.

And they have a very, because it's in New Zealand, they can set up a very unique methodology, which is people can take the LSD home with them as part of the clinical research. And what they found in that clinical research is they did the research over, I believe it was three to six months, something like that. And they found that because they were able to bring it home with them and use the LSD in a naturalistic setting, when they're drinking tea, when they're going for a hike, when they're with loved ones, that there was a statistically significant effect on energy, mood and cognition.

What they found is, they did another smaller trial, and they found that when people just did it in a laboratory in New Zealand, 10 micrograms of LSD, same methodology, but in a laboratory, there was no statistical difference. And so, this speaks to the importance of even at lower doses, the set and setting. And it also speaks to, I think, some of the differences between LSD and psilocybin.

And I want to get into psilocybin, because I know that was your question in particular. So, when it comes to micro-dosing psilocybin, there's been some clinical research that's been done out of Imperial College in the UK. Like I said, that research has been more laboratory-focused. They found no statistically significant results with the micro-doses of psilocybin, I think up to 200 milligrams. So, the standard micro-dose of psilocybin is somewhere around 100 milligrams but could go up to 200 milligrams.

Paul Stamets, who most of your listeners may be familiar with, world renowned mycologist, he has been doing research with the University of British Columbia utilizing an app called Quantified Citizen, where essentially they're taking massive amount of data, so this isn't classic clinical research. It's more observational research. And they're basically telling people to download an app on the days that they micro-dose psilocybin, to then track and measure what's happening with that app.

And they found statistically significant results on micro-dosing psilocybin, again when people were utilizing it at home, utilizing it in a naturalistic setting. And then self-reporting, kind of using a more cutting edge, personalized medicine or personalized data approach.

So, I think my observations on all of this are we are finding statistically significant results with micro-doses of both LSD and psilocybin. Further experimental research needs to be mindful of utilizing micro-doses in a naturalistic setting. And most importantly, which I haven't even mentioned yet, is combining it with coaching or therapeutic support. All of the microdosing research that's been done so far doesn't have that. There's not an individual on the other end who is helping to coach someone or provide therapeutic support before and after, and yet what we know from psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, MDMA assisted psychotherapy, psilocybin assisted psychotherapy, is there's always therapeutic support. And that's actually responsible for some if not much of the healing that comes from the actual psychedelic.

And so, I think going forward, utilizing naturalistic settings, making sure there's a coach to support before and after, or a therapist or a practitioner who knows this landscape, I think will help to show more statistically significant results. So those, there's a lot there, but I think that just helps to provide some context in terms of, because I've also, I've been microdosing for seven years, I've been teaching about micro-dosing for seven years. I've been called a charlatan in some cases in some respects, because some people are like, "There's nothing going on with micro-dosing."

The Difference Between a Microdose and Journey Dose

And so, I've also been actively watching this in terms of how these are being set up? Is it reflective of how people are actually utilizing it? What amount are people even taking? I think there's a lot of confusion about what even constitutes a micro-dose. Some people will say, "Oh, yeah, I took a half gram of mushrooms last night for a sound ceremony. It was a microdose."

And I'm like, "Maybe." If someone's been an SRIs for a long time, if there's a high level of neuroticism, then a half gram of mushrooms could be a microdose. But for most people it's 100 to 200 milligrams. And so, I also think that definition of what a microdose is is important. Paul Stamets said it best when I was interviewing him for the podcast a few weeks ago, and he said, "It's a dose level that is sub-intoxicating."

So in other words, people can still drive a car on it. Not recommending that by any stretch of the imagination, but that's possible. There's no visual changes. You can generally navigate everyday life. And so, I think that frame around sub-intoxicating is really helpful because once we get into that realm of psychedelics where you're starting to see visuals, and you have to lay down, then we're far beyond a micro-dose into kind of much more journey dose level.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, I've had a lot of clients that experimented with micro-dosing, and many of them had difficulty noticing any effect when they were in that 100 to 200, although some did. Others though needed that sub-threshold dose around 400 to 500, and they experienced the effects of greater wellbeing, a little bit more creativity, a little bit more thinking outside the box, that kind of stuff, which is what these entrepreneurs are seeking with the micro-dosing in most of these cases.

Paul Austin: Well, and just-

Dr. Dan Stickler: Go ahead.

Paul Austin: Well, just to add to that, Dan, is a lot of people are also finding that doing a high dose first creates, let's say, some sensitivity. It helps to break or decondition the sort of armor that we carry around with us every day. And then after that sensitivity is open, people then find, "Oh, normally I was micro-dosing before, and it took me 400 milligrams or 500 milligrams, but now it's only 100 to 200."

So, I think there's also a process, a journey there where sometimes these high doses are necessary to fully get the most out of micro-dosing. Not always, but sometimes.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, I've also seen that with LSD though. I mean, everybody's tolerance is different, and I think really testing out, starting very low and kind of working up, because some people, they'll take 25 micrograms of LSD, and they're altered. And yet I've seen others that have taken 100 to 200 micrograms, and that's a micro-dose for them. I mean, it's crazy.

Paul Austin: Well, and Stan Grof used to, in a book he wrote about the psychotherapy he did with LSD, he had some patients that would come in, they would take 1,000 micrograms of LSD, and it would have no effect. Right? And so, I think this gets into a couple points, which is not everyone is responsive to psychedelics. I think there's about 10% of the population that are just not responsive. There are others, those who have schizophrenia or are predisposed of that, it's contraindicated obviously with utilizing psychedelics.

But the deeper point that we're speaking to is the necessity of calibration and that no two people are alike, and that it really does require then, and this is why I love micro-dosing as a starting point, it requires a willingness to engage and to actually work with the medicine, to work with the substance to some degree. Even if that's just five micrograms and then 10 micrograms and 15, there has to be a willingness to step in and see how it feels, and then calibrate from there with the recognition that it's not going to be perfect the first time around.

The Frequency of Microdosing: What Science Says

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. And can you talk a little bit about frequency on the dosing, because this is something a lot of people ask about, because they hear all the different 5-HT2A receptor changes that occur when you take a dose, so the next day you're down regulated, and you have to wait 24 or 48. I mean, I've seen people talk about 24 hours, 48 hours, even up to four days. Is there anything in the literature on the frequency on the dosing?

Paul Austin: In terms of scientific literature, I would say there's some but not a lot at this point in time. In terms of frameworks that are being utilized, I often talk about three, because they each provide a slightly different approach. One is James Fadiman, who was the guy who first popularized micro-dosing, what I call the godfather of micro-dosing. His initial protocol that he came out with in 2011 was one day on, two days off. One day on, two days off. Because there is a 48-hour window of tolerance when it comes to the classic psychedelic, psilocybin LSD, mescalin, the ones that are really active at the 5-HT2A receptor.

And so, you do it the first day. You feel some of that afterglow on the second day, and then you use the third day to of reset and get back to baseline before you do it again, right? And what Fadiman recommends is you do that for 10 cycles, so 10 micro-doses, five weeks or so. Take a break, kind of reevaluate where you're at, what's shifted, what's changed, what's improved, what maybe has not improved, and then reengage after that point with a bit more of an intuition around how it goes.

Paul Stamets talks about doing it four days on, three days off. And his approach is much more, I would say, about supplementation. So he has the Stamets Stack, Lion's Mane, niacin and psilocybin, which he claims the synergy of those is greater than the sort of individual benefit of each one. And that doing that four days on, three days off, allows for this sort of buildup of BDNF, which is the precursor to neuroplasticity. And then the three days off then allows for a reset back to baseline before you do four days on again.

Usually, especially with those who are new to micro-dosing, I almost always prefer the Fadiman protocol. I think there is... Especially with LSD, there's there's a higher degree of risk for mania if doing it too often, because it's quite dopaminergic, whereas with psilocybin it's more serotonergic. So, I still think four days on straight is a lot, right? I do think it's best to start slow two days on and see how that feels.

And then the third and final one is, I think of frameworks like scaffolding, right? And so these frameworks help us to get an initial orientation inside the realm of micro-dosing or psychedelics, especially for those who are new. But once that scaffolding is built, then there's a capacity to really ask, okay, do I want a micro-dose today? Right? Intuitively. I have this hike coming up with a friend. We're going to go for a five-mile hike.

And so, for that hike I might take 10 micrograms of LSD, because I know it gives me more energy, more vitality, I'm more extroverted. So since I'm going with a friend, we're going to ping ideas back and forth off one another.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Better pain tolerance.

Paul Austin: Higher pain, exactly. Higher pain tolerance. No, this is, and clinical research has shown that. I'm actually glad that you mentioned that, that micro-doses of LSD allow for a greater pain tolerance than opioids, which is fascinating. Or if I'm doing some coaching, I might decide, hey, 200 milligrams of psilocybin or 300 milligrams of psilocybin, I need to do some deeper inner work. Some reflection is going to be really good for that as well. So, I think once the scaffolding has been built, once kind of people who are new to micro-dosing have tried those frameworks, then it's largely driven by intuition, is my sense. And sort of asking the question is it an appropriate day to do this today? And if yes, well then, take part and see what happens from there.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I like that. On the Stamets protocol, I have to see what your opinion is on this, because this is what a lot of us have kind of determined about it. So, the niacin with the micro-dose, I feel like that is added in there to induce the person to sense that something is happening in the system. I mean, this was used for years in the supplement industry with pre-workout formulas. They would add the niacin to give that tingling and that flush, and people would say, "Oh yeah, it's working." I suspect the same thing is going on with Stamets's protocol. And I know there's vasodilation that occurs with that, so you can theorize that there's greater delivery, but I'd love to hear your opinion on that.

Paul Austin: I think you're spot-on. I also sense there is kind of a... It acts as a natural defense against taking too much, so Stamets is now, he started a public benefit corporation called MycoMedica. They've raised $60 million. They're bringing the Stamets Stack through clinical trials. And a huge question that regulators are going to ask is, well, what if people take 10 of these instead of one?

And so, I think the niacin is also in there to mitigate, doing a lot, doing a macro-dose instead of a mini-dose or a micro-dose. Because anyone who's taken niacin knows that just a micro-dose is enough. And if you take 10 X of that, you're going to be in a really uncomfortable place.

Dr. Dan Stickler: You're going to be red as...

Paul Austin: Red as hell.

What's Next For Paul Austin

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah. Now, you're doing some work in addition to Third Wave, you've got synergy and some coaching as well that you guys do, right?

Paul Austin: Yeah. So, there's a little there to unpack. So Third Wave, I started in 2015. And the focus was, it was a hobby for the first couple years, and I was running another business in the teaching English landscape. So, I love education, I love to teach, I love all of that. So I really, in Third Wave, I just was like, "This has to exist, and we're going to build it, and we're going to help educate people."

And in 2016, I started a podcast. In 2017 we rolled out a micro-dosing course. And then in 2017, 2018, I was giving a number of talks at conferences, tech conferences, South by Southwest, the Next Web, a handful of others. And a lot of these talks were in Europe and the Netherlands. And I had a Dutch friend who was like, "I really think we should start a legal psilocybin retreat center."

And so in 2018, we started doing legal psilocybin retreats, and psilocybin truffles are legal in the Netherlands. Synthesis is the name of that. And I was involved with that for a year in 2018. And then I was still working on Third Wave, and I was kind of split. And we made the decision as co-founders that I would just be an advisor and help support, but that a lot of my support would be through building Third Wave and utilizing that.

So, the team at Synthesis is phenomenal. They will be the first legal psilocybin retreat center in Oregon, because Oregon has now legalized psilocybin. We purchased a retreat center that can host about 70 people outside of Ashland for that. And so, they're doing phenomenal work and really pioneering, more so in the therapeutic realms, psilocybin for therapeutic support. And what we've done lately at Third Wave is, my focus from the get-go since 2015 has been on performance leadership, growth, evolution. I think it is so powerful what psychedelics can do for mental health, what psychedelics can do for PTSD, depression, addiction. No doubt, they are incredible tools and so necessary, and psychedelics for indications is a microcosm of what their potentially potential utility is.

And so, I'm really interested in what Michael Pollan would call the betterment of well people. And so, through Third Wave, we've pioneered an approach which I call the skill of psychedelics, and looking at psychedelics as a meta skill that can help to drive and develop neuroplasticity, that can help us to better deal with uncertainty and adapt to novel situations, that can allow us to be more sort of cognitively potent and focused and on-point, that can allow us to be better communicators, to be more compassionate, to be more empathetic.

And so, that skill of psychedelics, I really look at of a matrix of high doses, low doses, and then lifestyle practices. And then looking at frequency. How often are we doing this? What type of medicine are we using? And what amount of medicine are we using?

And so, we roll out a training program for practitioners. It's focused on coaching, so how do you help clients prepare and integrate? We have a lot of executive coaches, peak performance coaches, wellness coaches, life coaches. We have some clinicians, therapists, MDs, psychologists, counselors. And that, I like to take the of broadest perspective possible, right?

And so, if psychedelics are a skill, how can we as practitioners first master that skill? What's the utility of ayahuasca? What is that really good for? Well, it's great for shadow work. It's great for connection to lineage. It's great for sometimes this sort of opening of God consciousness. Interesting. Okay, what about LSD? Well, LSD is really great for cognition and creativity and innovation.

Well, what about MDMA? MDMA is great for trauma, and it's great for an easy way in. And so, I just of threw this training program lay out the entire landscape of, okay, how are psychedelics a skill? And then how first can we as practitioners master that skill ourselves, right? And lead by example? Because as a practitioner, as a coach, an MD, a therapist, someone who's supporting others, the more inner depth we can create, the deeper that we can dig ourselves, the more capacity we will have to hold space for others as they move through what could be a very uncomfortable and also transformative process.

And so, the focus of that program, it's a six-month program. We have three months of theory, which is again, the skill of psychedelics. We do a six-day retreat in Costa Rica, an intensive, because the in-person component builds community. A lot of people who are in the psychedelic space, what I often hear again and again and again is, "I feel isolated, and I feel sort of alone in navigating this, because it's still illegal, because there's a lot of uncertainty, because it's still stigmatized."

And so, I think another thing is we like to bring world class practitioners together who can then team up, create coherence, and go pioneer from there. And then we also have a practicum aspect as well, where we actually hold people as they move into the coaching process. Because this is so new and novel, especially in an executive coaching landscape, there's a lot of challenges to navigate with psychedelics, especially outside of a sort of clinical model.

And so, that program I would say it's what I love most about this work is the retreats, the in-person, the connection, the teaching, the education. I do believe education is central to what it is that we're seeing with the sort of third wave of psychedelics and ensuring it's successful. And it's really going to be about the quality of providers that are out there, because as you and I both know, there's a lot of great providers. Most providers are ethical. They have integrity, they do great work, but there are some not so great ones.

There are some people who say they'll do X and actually do Y. There are people who are inappropriate or unethical who don't come from a place of integrity. And when I look at the larger landscape of how psychedelics are developing, I think that's the biggest risk factor to full mainstream integration, is it's not that it's going to be 10% of providers are unsavory, but if even 1% of providers are unethical or unsavory, that tail risk is significant. And so, I'm really asking the hard question of how do we manage and mitigate that so we don't have a backlash like we did in the '60s.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, that's beautiful. Maybe you could start a site on Third Wave where people can talk about their experiences with different practitioners, because that's-

Paul Austin: That's exactly what we're doing. You hit the nail on the head, almost like a contributing editor model where when people go to a retreat or they go to a clinic or they work with a coach or a therapist, they can then do 1,000-word write up about it where, "This is my experience, this is how it changed me." And then what we're also going to do, roll out next year is, I don't know if I would consider it a committee necessarily, but just have ethical agreements that we abide by. And if there are issues or challenges to hopefully help arbitrate or to help mediate or to help ensure that we keep a really coherent and educated and pioneering group of providers who can both hold space for healing, but also inspire new paradigms and cultural shifts.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, and I know you see the same thing, but there's a lot of these practitioners out there that they have an experience, and they'll heal something great. So, they have really good intentions, but then they'll go online and take a three-hour course on how to facilitate ayahuasca, and suddenly they're an ayahuasca shaman promoting all of this stuff. But they tend to take people on their journeys, and not allow the people to take their own journeys with it.

We see this a lot where that context that people go into retreats or medicine sessions where the practitioner will preframe them with, "Oh, you're going to have trauma come up. This is what you're going to experience, this is how you navigate it." But the ones we've seen, the people that go through that, they experience the trauma. Yet if you have somebody who says, "This is going to be a beautiful experience. You'll be able to access this. Some of it may not be pleasant, but some of it can be really blissful." Those people tend to have a really nice experience, and they come out very changed. I mean, you talked about how after your LSD experience you came out changed, and it's nearly always for the good. I mean, you talked about stopping alcohol. I mean, the people in the psychedelic community that I know of, none of them drink alcohol. I mean, nobody even wants alcohol. And you look at the damage to the system, and the psychedelics are pretty minimal impact.

Paul Austin: And I'm glad you brought up alcohol too, because part of the context here culturally is we've been cut off from this for 2,000 years. We had a nice little stint in the '60s, '50s and '60s when LSD came back on the scene. But as a western populace, we haven't worked with psychedelics significantly since the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were cut off at the end of the 4th century. And so this is 50, 60, 70 generations, the wisdom has just been totally lost.

And so Andrew Weil brought this up in a conversation that we had a few months ago. He's like, "When alcohol first really came on the scene in the United States, everyone was getting rip-roaring drunk all the time because they had no idea how to utilize it. And then it was only when there was a more responsible sort of approach taken, it could be utilized without getting rip-roaring drunk all the time."

And I think psychedelics are similar in that. I mean, obviously biologically, psychedelics are way healthier, and there's a lot there. But I think in terms of the context in which they're being used, we're only just getting a sense for, oh, here's how these work. And here's the container they need, and here's the amount.

And so, you have a lot of people, I think, who are doing way too much or who are jumping way too deep or who don't have the proper support. And that, I think, it's why I've talked publicly so much about micro-dosing. A lot of people see the book or they see the work that we've done through Third Wave, and they think, "Oh, Paul's the micro-dosing guy. Clearly he's only micro-dosed."

And no, there's been a lot of deep ego dissolving, whatever. And from a communication perspective, micro-dosing is such a great way to start to engage with this, because the threshold of risk is very low, and it allows for a felt direct experience before potentially... I mean, you and I both know these are not medicines to mess with, so to say, that they require some level of reverence and intentionality, and that you just go in and you smoke 5-MeO-DMT, you could potentially, I've seen people who haven't been able to sleep for six months, because it's been so intense for them. So, I think that cultural understanding of it is really relevant and important here.

Dr. Dan Stickler: And that brings up another point, I mean, well, back on alcohol. I mean, as a medical doctor, if I looked at it, alcohol would be a Schedule 1, and MDMA, psilocybin, LSD would not. But this brings up the point of medicalization versus legalization. One of the concerns that a lot of people have in the medical community that have been following the research and paying attention to it is medicalization will change the outcomes that people are seeking. I'm not talking about treating the disease states, like the depression and anxiety. I mean, those are pretty clear.

But when it comes to MDMA to treat PTSD, the medicalization of it, I think, is going to reduce the impact of it. I mean, you read the rules on the practitioners, and it's like, okay, you have to sit away from the person. You can't touch them. You can't communicate with them other than just asking questions. I mean, that is not conducive to a good MDMA experience. Even the studies have shown that if you're in a small group, the social connections that occur have a much greater impact than if you're doing it alone or with a therapist in that sense.

Gul Dolen has done a lot of research on that up at Hopkins, and I've had some conversations with her about what they've been doing with it. And there is concern about medicalization. I think the same thing with psilocybin. If they take it off the Schedule 1, but still make it a medical prescriptive thing, what are we going to end up with? I mean, are we going to really lose those benefits that can occur in a set and setting that is designed around the way the medicines actually impact the psyche?

Paul Austin: So, there's so much here, and we could probably do a full podcast alone on this, just because there's so many different things. But I'll tell you how I think about it in a few different ways. One is, even in a strictly medical model, I do believe that MDMA assisted psychotherapy and psilocybin assisted psychotherapy will be more effective than current treatments. So, I think first and foremost, I think that's important to establish, that it is an improvement.

With that being said, a lot of, let's say, there's a lot within why people are depressed or why people are alcoholics or why people have high levels of anxiety or PTSD. A significant part of it is adverse childhood experiences and early trauma, issues with attachment, no doubt. But another significant part of it is this sort of epidemic of loneliness and a sense of disconnection from self, a sense of disconnection from Earth, a sense of disconnection from these other things.

And so, the medicalization, more so because it is within the sort of pharmaceuticalized model, it's very reductionist. It's very focused on the biological aspects and elements, very much focused on the individual. And so, that approach, while, like I said, more affected than Prozac and Zoloft and some of these other medications, it loses the element of, like you said, the communal bonding and the connection.

And so, what's happening now in Oregon, so Oregon legalized adult-use psilocybin in 2020. It will go into effect in 2023. Colorado, just a few weeks ago, legalized adult-use psilocybin. That will go into effect in 2024. I do believe that the future of psychedelics, so to say, the future of mental health, the future even of spirituality is communal. Almost think churches but with psychedelics, where there's a community model around it. There are rituals. There's a coherence that comes from it, that these are done in groups.

I think the group element is so, so important, not only because of the healing, but also because of accessibility, right? When we look at the medicalized model, it's two therapists for one person, which it looks like will cost upwards of 15 to $20,000 to do that treatment, which if covered by health insurance is great, but that may be tricky to start with.

So, I think there are just a lot of challenges with attempting to stuff these sacred and beautiful medicines into a pharmaceuticalized model. So, one of my favorite thinkers and visionaries is Buckminster Fuller. And Buckminster Fuller always said, "To build a new model, don't try to fix the old model. Instead create a new model that makes the old one obsolete."

And so, just like what's happen, the example that I sometimes give is Elon Musk, right? When he was building Tesla and the vision of what Tesla is, he wasn't attempting to figure out how Tesla could fit into this sort of extractive fossil fuel container. He just said, "No, we're going to go for full regenerative energy, solar, car, batteries, the whole thing and try to build this entirely new paradigm and system."

And I think psychedelics are asking for something similar. We cannot attempt to pharmaceuticalized them because in that attempt, like you said, they will lose so much of their efficacy. We really need a totally new paradigm about how we think about mental health, about how we think about healthcare, about how we think about community, about how we think about all these aspects. And psychedelics, I think, are that they're sort of a multifaceted tool that can unlock this new paradigm that's rooted in interconnectedness and rooted in intervene.

Because the current pharmaceutical model assumes that we as humans are separate from our communities, our families, the environment. It assumes we are purely an individual. And that is just fundamentally not true. And so, psychedelics are opening up this recognition of, oh, I am, my wellbeing is deeply interrelated to everything around me, and therefore the systems that we create have to recognize that truth of interconnectedness.

Dr. Dan Stickler: That is perfect, because that's what we did with our medical center is we took it, and we looked at why are we not looking at the human being as a complex adaptive model? And how can we teach the medical system how to use this? And when we were like, "It can't be done." The thinking that is used in that doesn't work, so we had to create a whole new model of medicine around this complexity aspect. So, I'm very familiar with what you're talking about and very onboard with that kind of an approach, for sure.

Paul Austin: And I can't wait to, we're going to get to turn around the mic to you on Third Waves podcast in the coming months, and I can't wait to hear all about that, because with the combination of Oura Rings and the Apollo Neuro and Inside Tracker and the capacity to do, there's so much now where we can really go, how can we actually look at you not as a cog in the machine? Because I think that's how modern healthcare often treats folks, but really as this unique and beautiful human being that requires your own approach for what it is that you need.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah, and what's interconnected with everything.

Paul Austin: Exactly.

Dr. Dan Stickler: This is the next phase of consciousness is getting into this interconnectedness that Eastern philosophy has embraced that for a long time. And now finally, the West is starting to understand that.

Paul Austin: Absolutely.

Dr. Dan Stickler: So, this has been great having you today. I am going to honor your time, and despite my desire to chat longer, I'm going to bow out and say thank you so much for the information that you've supplied. Thank you for what you're doing. It was great to have this conversation.

Paul Austin: Thank you, Dan. It's been an honor to be here. If, just as folks are kind of wondering where to go from here, or we mentioned a couple things, we talked about new book out on micro-dosing called Mastering Microdosing, which can be found on Amazon. Our training program, we start our next cohort in February, and we have them every few months. That's just on Third Wave's website, our coaching certification program. And the Third Wave's website is thethirdwave.co. So folks are listening to this, we have a newsletter, we have a podcast. If they really want to go deeper into this landscape, then check out the website, get on the email list, check out our newsletter, and then also reach out to me personally. I'm on Instagram, I'm on Twitter, paulaustin3w, and if you have thoughts, perspectives, questions or on anything that we talked about today, I would absolutely love to hear from any of the listeners.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, I think you might get inundated with some requests after this.

Paul Austin: I hope so.

Dr. Dan Stickler: All right, thank you so much, Paul. It was great talking to you.

Paul Austin: Thank you Daniel.

*Psychedelics are classified as Schedule 1 Controlled Substances by the DEA, and not approved by the FDA for any accepted medical use or prescription.

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