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.
I am one of the only clinicians in Kentucky certified by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to provide psychedelic-assisted therapy, but I was not invited to speak to the KY OpioidAbatement Advisory Commission at the public hearing held last Friday in Frankfort, KY. The Commission was looking for testimony regarding the allocation of $42 million towards research into the use of novel psychedelic therapeutics, such as Ibogaine, for opioid use disorder. Despite being a KY Army veteran, a certified psychedelic-assisted therapist, and one of the only actual full-time Kentuckians in attendance, I was not asked to speak to the commission. Read below (while you still can) to find out why.
Who the heck is this guy?
I'm Ben Askins, but all my favorite people call me "Doc." Which is confusing because I'm not a doctor. I'm a Physician Assistant. I earned the nickname“Doc” during a decade that I spent as a combat medic in the Army (National Guard), including a deployment to Iraq as a platoon sergeant with the 617th Military Police Company (headquartered in Richmond, KY). I got home from Iraq and used the GI Bill to earn a Master of Divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. To be completely transparent, though, I was always a much better soldier than a preacher. I like to cuss and fight too much to be a decent pastor. We've all got our strengths and weaknesses. So I was overjoyed when I was selected to attend the military’s rigorous Interservice Physician Assistant Program in order to earn a license to practice medicine. I graduated at the top of my class in January 2020 from Ireland Army Community Hospital on Fort Campbell, KY, then got my license in February and... well... you all remember what happened in March of 2020. A pandemic closed down the world. I worked in psychiatry in Louisville then, providing ketamine-assisted therapy to severely depressed, traumatized, and acutely suicidal people. At a time when a hospitalization could have been a death sentence, I had the privilege of learning how to give struggling people some hope. We all made it through together and I would have continued to do that work, but I got called up for another deployment last year. I spent most of 2022 deployed to Kosovo as the Battalion Surgeon for the 1/149th Infantry (headquartered in Barbourville, KY). Three months after returning home from that deployment, I earned a certificate in MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Since then I’ve been working as a consultant, collaborating with several physicians to open ketamine-assisted therapy clinics in multiple states, including Expedition MentalHealth (headquartered in Lexington, KY). I also have my day job as the Chief Wildness Officer at Wild Health. And I published a book and started a podcast because everyone needs hobbies. I’m never bored. So why didn’t I get invited to address the Commission at the public hearing regarding psychedelic medicine right here in my home state of KY?
Because I have absolutely zero personal or professional experience with Ibogaine – which is the “psychedelic” medicine that was being discussed at the hearing. Not. All. Psychedelics. Are. The. Same.
I have a lot of knowledge and experience regarding ketamine-assisted therapy and I have a certificate of training in MDMA-assisted therapy (which is way more training than most clinicians and still way less than the highly experienced folks involved in performing the MDMA Phase 3 clinical trials). Professional expertise regarding ketamine and basic familiarity with MDMA in no way qualifies me to speak authoritatively about any other psychedelic medicines. So there’s no reason the Commission should have invited me to speak about Ibogaine last week. Now, as a clinician, I’ve read every journal article about Ibogaine that I could find from reputable, peer-reviewed sources and I still have a ton of questions. The point of the Commission on this matter, as I understand it, is to provide funding for research so that regulators and clinicians can get answers to the questions that remain regarding the safety and efficacy of Ibogaine for opioid-use disorder (among other potential uses).
Funding clinical research on Ibogaine
Not that anyone asked for my opinion, but regarding the $42 million proposed for research funding, I think it’s a terrible idea because $42 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed to thoroughly investigate a new pharmaceutical. That amount is less than 5% of the funds KY received in the $842 million settlement from opioid companies. Personally, it seems more appropriate to me to make an 80/20 split between supporting existing standard-of-care approaches and investigating novel therapeutics. The federal government spent $18 billion on Operation Warp Speed for the COVID vaccine. How much are they willing to allocate for the opioid epidemic?
But all of that stuff is way above my pay grade, so that’s just my two cents from the cheap seats, if it’s even worth that much.
If you found this article interesting, you might enjoy some of my other psychedelic science war stories here. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Threads to join the conversation about the psychedelic science research renaissance. Also visit my website for more info!
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.