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“Kentuckenheimer” – Kentucky’s Psychedelic Manhattan Project

Written by: Ben "Doc" Askins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Ben "Doc" Askins

On May 15, 2020, in response to a global viral pandemic, Operation Warp Speed was announced as a federal effort that supported multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates to speed up development through the FDA approval process and accelerate vaccine production.

woman in protective suit researching for vaccine

In a partnership between the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DOD), the US federal government analyzed vaccine candidates and found that their development followed traditional practices – with some adaptations. For example, some clinical trial phases overlapped with each other and with animal studies to accelerate development. Approximately $18 billion were spent on Operation Warp Speed. Two vaccines were authorized for emergency use, in mere months completing clinical research and medicine development processes which can take decades under normal circumstances. On May 31, 2023, in response to the national opioid epidemic, the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission announced it will be allocating $42 million to speed up development through the FDA approval process for the psychedelic medicine ibogaine-assisted therapy in the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Kentucky – ground zero for the atomic bomb of the opioid epidemic – could now become ground zero for research and development into a psychedelic therapy for healing the opioid epidemic. (Go watch the release of the Oppenheimer movie tonight if you don’t get the analogy…and the title of the article. Ah, go watch it either way…)

But what might it take to use the lessons learned from Operation Warp Speed to acquire similar funding and develop similar processes for psychedelic-assisted therapies? What would it take for our government to develop Operation Ludicrous Speed in response to the global pandemic of trauma? Since Kentucky’s announcement of the ibogaine research funding initiative, there have been objections of two kinds. One objection reflects a scarcity mindset: the money “could have funded projects like naloxone and suboxone access initiatives; drug testing services; safe injection sites; expanded access to recovery options like methadone in rural areas; or subsidized food, housing or mental health care for opioid-dependent people.” Kentucky received $842 million in settlements from opioid companies, over 95% of which is already allocated for all of the important projects and infrastructure listed above. So that objection is a red herring. The $42 million allocated for ibogaine research is merely a seed Kentucky’s leadership is planting in the hopes that other donors and funds (*cough, cough* the National Institutes of Health *cough cough* the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies *cough cough*) will also allocate dollars and resources toward ibogaine clinical research. The second objection is that ibogaine has known cardiac toxicity. This objection is tantamount to saying, “We don’t know how safe or risky this medicine is, so we should not fund any research in order to learn how safe or risky it is.” The error is obvious once the objection is clearly phrased. Fund the research in order to make evidence-based public policies and clinical decisions. Dozens of other medications have known cardiac toxicity, including commonly prescribed first-line antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Welcome to Planet Earth, where too much of absolutely anything could kill you… and where opioid withdrawals leading to suicides and overdoses already are. Standard-of-care treatments are not bad, but ibogaine research holds out the possibility that we can do much better.

As a two-deployment veteran with the Kentucky Army National Guard and a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, I thank God that Kentucky’s leadership has had the foresight to place scientific research and mental health ahead of partisan politics and business-as-usual healthcare by allocating funding to psychedelic science research. As a Psychiatric Physician Assistant, I will be interested to see the outcomes of the clinical trials. I hope you’ll join me in supporting these initiatives and keep an eye out for the results of the research. Whatever the outcomes, at least it won’t be boring…

If you found this article interesting, you might enjoy some of my other psychedelic science war stories here.

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Ben "Doc" Askins  Brainz Magazine

Ben "Doc" Askins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ben "Doc" Askins has degrees in Outdoor Education, Intercultural Studies, Physician Assistant Studies, and Divinity. He has two decades of experience practicing and teaching wilderness, tactical, and expeditionary medicine in the military. In civilian life, he is a Psychiatric Physician Assistant with an integrative approach to mental health and extensive experience providing psychedelic-assisted therapy and precision medicine. He is certified with the Multidisciplinary Association on Psychedelic Studies in MDMA-assisted therapy. Doc is a National Outdoor Leadership school alum, a veteran of the Global War on Terrorism, and has postgraduate training in Neuropsychiatry and Genomics.



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