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Psychedelics: A Role In Neurodegenerative Healing?

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Summary
  • Understand the unseen tether between cellular memory and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases
  • Recognize the profound influence of early-life traumas on future neurological health
  • Become informed about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in neurodegeneration treatments
  • This video is part of The Parkinson’s Solutions Summit
Transcript
Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

Welcome back to the Parkinson’s Solutions Summit. I am your co-host, Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum, and we have a great interview coming up for you. I am so pleased to introduce Dr. Maya Shetreat. Not only is she a neurologist, but she is also an herbalist and an urban farmer. She wrote The Dirt Cure and the Master Plant Experience: The Science, Safety, and Sacred Ceremony of Psychedelics, which you’re going to be talking about today. welcome, Maya.

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Thank you so much for having me.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

Thank you for being here. Let’s dig right in. What is this thing called? Cellular memory?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Well, so something like this: in our society and certainly in our medical system, we have this idea that all of the parts of the body are very disconnected. They’re just these things that we have to mechanically interact with. It’s like receptors and neurotransmitters and all these different things. But what we’re actually learning is that we are actually this community, and we’re a community of cells, each of which is intelligent and has its own memory. That’s a very different idea—that all of these individual intelligent cells come together to make a community that’s Sandy, Dr. Maya, or anybody. But what happens is that any instigator that may happen could be physical; it could be like a stressor, like being in an accident or something like that. It can also be a mental emotion or a spiritual stressor. Like the loss of somebody or even a pet. Like something that could happen, let’s say, in childhood. Because often, that’s where we get these seminal events that our cells hold in memory. The cells remember it and go into something called danger mode, which is a different function. I can explain a little more about what it looks like because it is very relevant to Parkinson’s and a lot of other chronic neurological illnesses. In that cell danger mode, the cell expresses danger no matter what the instigator is, and then the cell holds this memory until something changes it. Now, what happens when the cell is in danger mode is that it’s going to be more inflammatory. It’s going to be communicating to the other cells around it that it’s in danger. Those cells are then going to operate differently. It’s going to communicate with cells all throughout the body, through neurotransmitters, through cytokines, and through other forms of communication that cells use with one another to say, “Hey, we’re not in a good place. You should be in a state of protection rather than a state of growth and evolution.” Practically speaking, this is what happens to cause chronic conditions: chronic neurological conditions, chronic autoimmune conditions, cancer or depression, and even OCD or PTSD. All of these kinds of conditions are a result of this cellular memory and cell danger.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

There’s a whole variety of conditions, whether they’re physical or emotional, that can be the end result of this process involved with cellular memory, which is typically trauma. Would that be fair to say?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

The trauma of some kind? Yeah.  Cells remember joyful events as much as they remember difficult events. But a lot of the reason that difficult events are embedded in our cellular memory is because they cause us to be in this place of what we call plasticity, where these window periods open, and this is particularly true in childhood, where it is during this window period that then imprints on us. It’s not impossible to shift those cellular memories. That’s what we’re going to be talking about, and that’s what my book is about as well. But the key is learning how to reopen these periods of plasticity. They’re called critical periods of plasticity, or CPP, and how to then, when these window periods are open, have the best possible shift, an outcome into what we call cell eugenicists, which is the opposite of the danger state. It’s a state of high function and optimal function growth.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

The connection then exists between the cellular memory process and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s. Can you explain that? This can be a potential trigger. Would that be fair to say?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

What happens in a cell that is in danger mode? I call it spaghetti and meatballs. This was coined by mitochondrial researchers. When you look, most of us may have learned about mitochondria, like in high school biology or something. We think of it as the energy maker of the cell. That is what they do. They do much, much more than that. Mitochondria are sentinels that are sampling the environment of the cell and around the cell all the time to determine whether we are in a state of safety or danger. Part of what they do is determine whether the cell should even live or die. Based on the environment, part of what happens when mitochondria feel that the cell is in danger is that they change shape. Nobody thinks of mitochondria. Shapeshifters. It sounds very magical, but in fact, healthy, happy, optimally functioning mitochondria are in what’s called a branched spaghetti structure. What that means is that they’re elongated, and they are touching one another in this very beautiful, branched structure where they can exchange nutrients, exchange information, release waste easily, and so on. When mitochondria are in a state of danger, they’re sampling the environment, and there’s something infectious—stress hormones—something that leads them to feel this is a dangerous environment. They ball up into what are called meatball structures, and they literally don’t touch one another. They don’t communicate with each other. Think of the height of quarantine they are in. They’re not exchanging nutrients. They’re not exchanging information. They’re not communal. They are not able to even release waste as effectively. Meatball mitochondria lead to a greater buildup of inflammatory cytokines and other kinds of issues that make the entire cell more vulnerable to toxins, infections, and a lot of other instigators. This even happens in mitochondria. It also happens in the microbiome—the three to five pounds of microscopic organisms that live in and on our bodies that we need. They shift. They change in a state of danger. When the cells feel the mitochondria are in danger mode, they’re in meatball mode. The microbiome also shifts in its makeup. This is what I talk about in the entire first chapter of my book: what happens in that state of danger and why it puts us at risk for neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

That is so fascinating. Since we’ve talked about the underlying mechanism and how it may have all started, let’s turn to pseudogenesis. Start with something that I’m curious about, and that is your work with psychedelics. So my thinking of psychedelics being a baby boomer is that, if you’re going to Timothy Leary, you’re going to have a bad trip, and you’ll become schizophrenic. This is to be avoided. This is like hard drugs. Can you talk about those thoughts, or are they misperceived actions? Were we wrong?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

As with everything that is powerful and important in our society, it’s nuanced. So it’s not wrong. It’s not exactly right, either. What a lot of people don’t know is that in the 1950s and 1960s, before the height of the hippie movement and all of the, I would say, wild and maybe untamed and unsupported ways that people were engaging with psychedelics, there was a lot of research going on—very promising research in depression and in OCD. It was actually being used in therapy. Even some famous people, like Cary Grant, were actually known to have gone on many trips with LSD. and on the other end, said, I’ve become a happy person. I’ve lost all of these egoistic ways that I was operating and things that made me unhappy. It’s interesting. So I wrote about the master plant experience because I wanted to go back to this very ancient way that indigenous people for millennia have engaged with what we call psychedelics, what they call master plants. Master plants are flora, fauna, and fungi. It’s not strictly botanical plants, but what I discovered in writing my book is that we have been engaging with master plant-engaging psychedelics since the beginning of time. If you look at cave art from tens and tens of thousands of years ago, there are drawings of shamanic practices with cacti and mushrooms. In some cases, in these caves, we found the DNA of psychedelic master plants. This has been a practice not public, not maybe for everybody, but a healing practice, a ceremonial practice that has been used throughout the history of humankind. This concept of master plants is about the idea that they’re not good or bad. They are powerful. So we have to come with reverence, respect, and humility. What happened in the 1960s was not right. It was like, I don’t want to say it like this, but it was like a little kid getting their hands on something and being like, whew, getting out of control with something that is powerful. In this iteration, psychedelics have come back to the forefront. Every major academic institution in the world right now has either research or an entire research center dedicated to psychedelics. That’s how promising the research is. Weekly, we see research coming out on psilocybin mushrooms, magic mushrooms, MDMA, ayahuasca, and a lot of other well-known and maybe not as well-known master plants for all kinds of conditions, from major depression to addiction to neurodegeneration and on.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

For our listeners, and particularly for those baby boomers like me out there, it is important to distinguish that this is not a counterculture. This is legitimate with good science behind it, and it’s used for treating conditions. Can you, first of all, clarify so that everyone knows what a master plant is versus a psychedelic? Are they the same, or can you say more about that?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Psychedelics is a newer term, and master plants are this indigenous term. A master plant is considered a powerful plant. Flora, fauna, and fungi can have an impact on human consciousness and behavior. That does not mean it has to be psychedelic. An example of a master plant that’s not psychedelic is coffee. The coffee plant, or cacao. Most of us will go quite a bit out of our way to get our coffee or our chocolate. Tobacco is another master plant, so it’s again about this powerful plant that changes human behavior and alters the way we think and feel. Psychedelic master plants are a category of master plants. So any psychedelic would be considered a master plant, but not every master plant is psychedelic.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

How do psychedelics specifically work in our bodies and in our brains, particularly in plants?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

There are a lot of ways we can tackle this because we can look at it literally all the way down on the receptor and mitochondrial level, on the neuronal level, and then on the nervous system and brain structure level. On a mitochondrial level, what happens is that in the right circumstances, and this is an important distinction, every study that’s being done right now with psychedelics has support before, during, and after. In other words, this is not like, “Go out to the woods.” I’m not saying that couldn’t be helpful, but every study that is being done has professional support before, during, and after. I do think it’s important for everybody to know if they’re thinking about having the very impressive and beneficial outcomes that we are seeing now with neurodegeneration, addiction, OCD, depression, and so on. But that said, in these studies, what we’re seeing is that the mitochondria are shifting out of danger mode. We’re seeing it on a neuronal level. It is important that, in cell danger, neurons become less connected to other neurons. They literally become lonely neurons. When people consume psychedelics in the right setting, with this support, the neurons actually start to have more connectivity. They become more social, more friendly, and more connected, and on a brain structure level, we see that parts of the brain that don’t normally speak to one another begin to communicate. This opens up the way people think and feel. It’s important because we’re becoming a lot more fluent in the concept of childhood trauma and how that impacts lifelong health, mental health, neurodegeneration, and so on. One of the issues with the cellular memory concept is that people can become stuck in the beliefs that come from these traumatic events. Like, I’m not a good person, or I’m flawed, or I don’t deserve love, or these things that we think of as very gooey things. But in fact, it turns out that this is part of it, along with things like toxins, nutrition, sleep, and a lot of the other things I know you’re addressing in this event. These beliefs drive a lot of behavior and a lot of dangerous response. What happens is that when we have these experiences with psychedelics, it shifts us into different ways of thinking and allows us to see what we don’t normally see and think about things in a way we don’t normally think about them.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

That is just fascinating. If somebody is interested, would they have to go on a so-called trip to benefit from the psychedelic master plan, or just how would they go about it? What does it look like in terms of using these plants as the master plant? We’ve heard words like microdosing, for example. Can you explain all that?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Yeah, of course. Our society tends to like to go big or go home, like everything has to be like a sledgehammer, whether it’s pharmaceuticals or, in this case, psychedelics. I liked the big experience. But in fact, what we’re learning is, yes, microdosing. This idea of tripping does have benefits. We’re seeing just one experience. with support before, during, and after can shift people out of chronic, lifelong conditions and perhaps even things like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so on. What we’re now seeing is microdosing, and I want to explain the difference. Microdosing is this tripping experience classically known as where you could be out of commission for five hours or seven hours. It’s a whole surrender experience. This ego death and things that are, it turns out, very beneficial to our bodies and brains. Microdosing is some psychedelic microdosing; it is something you take in a sub-psychedelic dose, meaning you are not altered in or out of commission. Let’s say you don’t have any visuals, but you may feel more uplifted. You may feel a little euphoric. It’s something that you can do at work. You can parent your kids or your grandkids. You can do life; you can do regular life. You’re still experiencing the neuroplasticity that these, let’s say, mushrooms could offer, which is commonly what people will use for microdosing. Over time, and in tiny amounts over weeks or months, you can have these benefits without ever feeling altered or being in that state of loss of control. Now we’re even learning about quantum dosing, which is a vibrational dose. It’s totally legal. It’s safe for anybody on medications who’s sober, for example, who is sensitive. Or who just doesn’t want to engage with microdosing? Even quantum dosing. These vibrational doses seem to have very beneficial effects on plasticity and physical and mental health. We’re going to learn that the smaller doses are going to be the most impactful and beneficial.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

I would assume that this is something one would not strive for the first time by themselves, or even ever by themselves. Are you recommending that they work with a practitioner or somebody who can guide them through the experience? Would that be safe to say?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Yes, it’s best for people. For people who have never engaged in any of this, it’s best to have someone with you, especially someone trained and prepared for the kinds of eventualities, certainly for big doses. For the bigger doses. I work with people. I guide them through microdosing experiences. I coach them, I answer their questions, I help them set a schedule, and so on. That’s very beneficial because it’s just good to have support as you’re going through this process.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

That makes a lot of sense. I train health coaches, and this is an area that health coaches can learn about, educate people about, and help to clarify any myths that are out there, such as what we talked about earlier in terms of remembering the sixties and the hallucinations that people experienced, which we would see in movies, and how scary that would look, for example, if you were involved in that culture yourself. Are there contraindications, though? Are there people who should avoid microdosing or even microdosing?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

First, I will start by saying that I do not think that big doses of psychedelics are for everyone at all. Not at this time. People need to be tuned in. I don’t think it’s a must. I should do that. It’s about feeling that in yourself and being able to call that interest and then looking into it, picking up my book, or I have a lot of free resources on my website, just educating yourself a little bit. But for big doses in particular, people who have a history of psychosis, even a family history of psychosis, right now, it’s considered a contraindication to taking a big dose of a psychedelic. Another issue could be certain medications. For people who are on various kinds of medications, especially SSRI or any serotonin, boosting medication, or even supplements, you would want to get advice about that. That’s where having a psychedelic, informed practitioner or even a coach would be an important step. It’s why microdosing and quantum dosing are such great options because they offer something to people who may have contraindications. Medical medication and sobriety for some people as well would be considered contraindications.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

That makes a lot of sense. What outcomes can we expect if somebody is using a psychedelic master plant? What would be the positive outcomes?

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Yeah, if we’re talking about health, mental health, for some people, it just allows them to have these miraculous reversals of lifelong conditions, addiction. There are people who go, let’s say, for iboga therapy. Iboga is a particular African psychedelic. It is hazardous to one’s health. It’s important, again, particularly with some, to have the health screening and to know you’re going somewhere reputable, etc. But people who have very significant hand addictions, like opioids, for example, just never touch them again, like profound saving of lives, depression, or neurodegeneration. I’ve seen people who have had conditions like dementia, where you see just a big spike in more lucidity, better memory, better function, and better balance. It’s neuroplasticity. It’s creating new connections. This is something I was taught when I was in my neurology training: that it wasn’t possible in adults and that it ended with children. Maybe if you’re lucky when you’re 18, you’ll still have that. Now we know it is lifelong, and there are certain things, like psychedelics and other things, that enhance plasticity. I do think, even just in terms of mood, people who have depression, anxiety, and a lot of other things that can come along with neurodegeneration can be transformative in terms of just feeling more uplifted, more euphoric, etc. To me, this is such an important ally in our healing, and when engaged in a respectful, supported, and appropriate way, it’s going to be incredibly important. even a little of what we would call miraculous for people who are suffering from neurodegeneration.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

Speaking of neurodegeneration, I was just speaking with a friend who was finding out that I’m co-hosting the summit. She said her dad suffered from Parkinson’s, and she described the decline when he was in the late stages and wheelchair-bound. I would assume that using a psychedelic master plant, even at an end stage, might still have a profound impact. Even if it was just on mood alone, it might be worthwhile to pursue this route.

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

One thing that I didn’t mention is that psychedelics have been looked at in terminal kinds of conditions. I say this because fear of losing function—fear of death—is something that is universal. It is the one thing we all have in common that we will, at some point, pass on to whatever comes after this. A lot of people have a lot of fear and anxiety about that. That is something that, again, in a supported environment has been studied with psychedelics and gives people a sense of peace and freedom around whatever it is that may come. To me, it’s like a gift we can offer ourselves when we’re living with a lot—the potential of our own demise or the loss of people that we love—to give us a sense of peace around, that is, we can live our lives as we have them, however long that may be, and we can live them more fully and more joyfully.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

That is so beautifully said. This has been just such an eye-opening interview. Thank you, Dr. Maya. Where can people find you? I know they’re going to want more information.

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

Well, the best place to find me is at my Web site, drmaya.com. They can find my book, the master plant experience, their quantum drops, and a lot of other free resources. They can even actually get the first three chapters of my book for free.

 

Sandra Scheinbaum, PhD

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for participating in the Parkinson’s Solutions Summit.

 

Maya Shetreat, MD

It was my absolute pleasure.

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