Psychedelic research flourished in the 1950s and 1960s before a harsh legal crackdown shoved them into the same categorisation as some of the most harmful drugs like meth, crack and heroin.
But fast-forward to the present-day and psychedelics have made their way back into the laboratory as the academic world starts to rediscover the potential that these drugs may have.
New Zealand looks set to be leading the way with ketamine and ibogaine therapy already underway and a historic LSD microdosing trial due to take place this year.
Newshub spoke to Amadeus Diamond, chairperson of the newly-created Entheos Foundation, about his efforts to keep the psychedelic momentum going.
What is the Entheos Foundation?
The Entheos Foundation involves a team of top professors, researchers and scientists operating across fields including psychiatry, neuroscience, criminology and pharmacology.
Diamond says the non-profit charity will work as a "funding hub", raising money for clinical trials to evaluate how psychedelics and empathogens could help treat mental health issues, carrying out research and educating the public and professionals to their potential.
"We're the first organisation to be a funding and education base for psychedelics and psychotherapy and anthropology in New Zealand," he tells Newshub.
"We'll have people actually submitting clinical protocols. Their proposals will then be reviewed by our advisory board and we will then decide where to allocate money to get the best value."
The main issues the foundation wants to look at are PTSD, treatment-resistant depression and addiction syndrome.
"Those are three things which are highly representative in mental health statistics in New Zealand - and you know some people calling it an epidemic at this stage," Diamond says.
"We feel that those three… are really probably the three most important things at the top of my list to really get money into."
The academic space hasn't been hugely open to psychedelic substance research so far - something the Entheos Foundation is hoping to change by funding and supporting scientists.
"For the most part people have been shied away from this sort of research because of all the red-tape around import licences, getting a class A handling licence, and designing a protocol that will get through ethics boards," he says.
"In academic circles… a little bit of courage is needed to work with class A substances and give them to patients where you're having to fight with ethics boards to get that research done."
'I have a real passion to share that potential'
The Entheos Foundation's mission is a very personal one for Diamond, as he has felt first-hand the transformative effects that these drugs can have.
"My personal experience is in my teenage years and up into my early 20s I was diagnosed with chronic depression, possible bipolar disorder, possible borderline personality disorder," he tells Newshub.
"I also had a two-and-a-half-year heroin addiction and I was a problem drinker for a number of years after that and the use of psychedelics in my early 20s helped me ameliorate most of the issues that were behind a lot of those conditions.
"Since then, my use of psychedelics has immeasurable and completely and ineffability improved my quality of life so I have a real passion to share that potential with other people who find themselves in situations I was once in."
The foundation will also work as an educational centre, providing accurate information around psychedelics, their history, their medical application and harm-reduction information.
Diamond says there hasn't been a mainstream push to look at how these substances can be utilised to provide effective treatment.
"You look at the data when it comes to psychedelics and psychotherapy and the potential is amazing," he says.
"MDMA has proven to be essentially a miracle drug used to treat PTSD so [we need to] educate the public so people actually know about these things."
What drugs will be used?
"The drugs that are most important to the studies are MDMA and psilocybin - which is the principal active chemical in magic mushrooms - and LSD," Diamond says.
One proposed trial will look at using MDMA to help alleviate end-of-life anxiety; he adds there are several people looking at putting together a psilocybin project out of Otago University.
Later this year, an Auckland University team will run a historic LSD microdosing experiment.
"Users report improvements in mood, wellbeing, improved attention and cognition, so those are the things we will be measuring," study leader Suresh Muthukumaraswamy of the University of Auckland's School of Pharmacy told Newshub in 2019.
And Diamond says work has already been done with ketamine and ibogaine for addiction syndromes and depression.
"Over the next few years, the data that we get should help us move towards a situation where these substances are used and regulated in psychotherapeutic settings. Once that's the case we would ultimately like to have a clinical practice where we can both train therapists and also carry out therapy for people who need it most."
'There's definitely some resistance'
Diamond acknowledges this can be controversial and there's "definitely going to be some resistance".
"I mean we're talking about class A drugs here, where you've still got the hangover from the '60s and '70s of 'dirty hippies taking acid and thinking that they're an orange or jumping out of a window' or something and obviously we do have to combat some of that," he tells Newshub.
"Luckily one of the things that psychedelics do have on their side is that they don't really cause problems at the end of the day. They don't represent themselves very highly in emergency department statistics or Corrections Department statistics or in mental health statistics."
He points to statistics where these substances do stand out, such as a US study where PTSD patients went through MDMA-assisted sessions. After their treatment, 67 percent of participants reported that they no longer suffered from PTSD-related symptoms.
"I would just ask them how they see those statistics and how their resistance matches up to that and that seems to be a fairly effective way of having a conversation with people."
'Eyes are on New Zealand'
Diamond says New Zealand has the perfect conditions to run these studies - a small population to help extrapolate from small sample sizes, easier access to government departments like the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice, and now a legal precedent for carrying out research with class A psychedelics.
"I think especially with this LSD trial that's coming up, eyes are on New Zealand as an incubation space, as a Petri dish to try new ways of approaching mental health and seeing if the results work," he says.
"If we can keep moving forward… we could actually have results which have much more meaningful and impactful socio-political implications in terms of the potential change in legislation or the change of regulation."
Ultimately, Diamond envisions New Zealand both as a guide to the world and a place where people can be guided through their problems.
"We could be looking at a situation where within five years we are a country where people are actually seeking psychedelic therapy within our borders," he says.
"So people are actually coming here to seek private medical retreats, where they can use something like psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, ibogaine as a therapy to treat something that they can't get overseas."