A New Psychedelic Organization is Merging Shamanism and Science
Dr. José “Mia” Fábregas has spent the last few decades of his life running an addiction clinic and detox center hidden away in the forested hills north of Barcelona. Before that, in the tropical rainforests of Brazil, this charismatic Spanish psychiatrist was engaged in another mission – collaborating with shamans and the Santo Daime church to study the longtime mental health benefits of the regular, ritualized use of ayahuasca among young people.
This month, as president of a new Spanish non-profit organization called BMed, Fábregas embarks on an endeavor that seeks to bring together the shamanic and the scientific aspects of his life’s work. He is joined on this journey by an impressive team of Spanish and South American therapists, alternative medicine entrepreneurs, journalists, and a free-wheeling band of psychonauts.
Fábregas has been around long enough to know that psychedelics are not going to save the world, or even radically alter the practice of psychiatry.
“For me, this is a mix of the shamanic and the scientific,” said Fábregas. “I have worked in the rainforest with different shamans in communities that have used ayahuasca for centuries. But my vision is also a scientific vision. I try to be a bit skeptical. These (psychedelic) experiences are very subjective.”
“Psychedelics are not the solution to all the problems of mental health. They are not for everybody. But in some cases, when other tools of psychiatry do not work, they can be very helpful.”
BMed is the latest organization to emerge in the worldwide psychedelic renaissance. Its vision is to educate the public about the beneficial uses of psychedelics through publishing, education, research, therapist training and community building. BMed is also offering ketamine-assisted therapy sessions to treat depression at Fábregas’ clinic, the Centro de Investigatión y Tratamiento de Adicciones, or CITA.
According to Fábregas and others on his team, BMed programs are inspired, in part, by the work of two world-renowned transpersonal psychologists, Stanislav Grof and the late Claudio Naranjo, with an assist from Amanda Feilding, a British psychedelic pioneer and founder of the Oxford-based Beckley Foundation.
Another key player in BMed is Christian Af Jochnick, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and venture capitalist with a keen interest in psychedelic medicine start-ups.
Jochnick is also involved in a separate for-profit firm, Beckley Psytech, which recently raised $80 million through a public stock offering to develop psychedelic-based pharmaceutical products and medical treatments. At its founding, BMed was initially called Beckley Med.
Lina Williamson, the newly hired executive director of BMed, said Beckley Psytech and BMed are separate organizations, although they are backed by some of the same investors and donors.
“Beckley Psytech is a special purpose, for-profit vehicle,” said Williamson who notes that many companies in the psychedelic space are following established economic models. “It’s all about intellectual property and commercialization. But I see us generating evidence for some things that they and others may develop.”
Born in Colombia, Williamson earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine at the University Bern in Switzerland before switching career paths and working in big pharma with Novartis. In more recent years she has worked at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, helping scientists turn research breakthroughs into start-up biomedical companies.
Williamson explained that Catalonia’s relatively liberal drugs laws — especially regarding plant-based medicines like ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms — create unique opportunities for education, research and the training of psychedelic therapists.
“With the synthetic drugs in Spain it is more complicated,” Williamson said. “But with plant-based medicines, there is not the same taboo here in this part of Spain. They have these consumption clubs that give you a legal umbrella to do studies.”
“We can work with religious groups that have a license to give ayahuasca. They can give the medicine and we can observe the patient and follow-up and do remote patient monitoring with technology. Our vision for the foundation is to really understand what is going on in the transformation, what is going on in the brain.”
Expansion of BMed Projects
Fábregas said he plans to sell the CITA clinic, which does not use psychedelics in its addiction treatment.
BMed leaders are now working with nonprofit donors to purchase a new facility that will serve as their Barcelona-area headquarters. The organization also intends to have a presence on the Spanish island of Ibiza, where there is an active psychedelic community and potentially a source of major donors.
One of the first research projects at BMed will be using ayahuasca-assisted therapy to help some two hundred patients suffering from prolonged grief following the loss of a loved one. Some patients will receive therapy with an ayahuasca brew, while others will receive therapy without a psychedelic assist.
The Expansion of Psychedelic Research
BMed is just the latest example of how millions of dollars are pouring into both nonprofit organizations and for-profit psychedelic research start-ups around the world. Williamson said this nonprofit plans to keep their focus on serving patients.
“I’m new to this, but to me it looks like what happened with cannabis,” she said. “A lot of money went into it, but a lot of those companies are failing because they had no idea what to do.
“Doctors are going to demand evidence to believe that these medicines are actually going to be helpful for their patients. That’s what we are going to do — generate that evidence and that trust.”
According to Williamson, BMed will work with organizations like the Northern California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) to train psychedelic guides and therapists in Spain. The program, in association with Grof Legacy Training, will be led by Karina Bertolotto, an Uruguay-born transpersonal therapist who now lives in Ibiza.
Fábregas notes that BMed will not just focus on training licensed therapists, but will work to educate the general public about the safe and beneficial use of psychedelics.
“People can take mushrooms many times in their lives and never change,” Fábregas said. “But the same substance with the right intention and right environment can be transformative in one trip. The substance and the dose might be the same. But it’s the intention that’s important.”
BMed will have four levels for educating the public and training psychedelic facilitators, including programs for assistants, guides and certified therapists. `Catalonia’s relatively liberal drug laws will allow the experiential training of guides and therapists who cannot legally take ayahuasca or magic mushrooms in their native countries.
Williamson said the legal and regulatory rules in Spain give them an advantage compared to other European nations like France or Germany.
“We can generate medical evidence into scientific efficacy of different treatments, especially with ayahuasca and plant-derived psychedelics. so practitioners can do this in safer and more efficacious ways,” said Williamson.
“We don’t need to create pills. We have an entire protocol that can be developed to give psychology another tool that can help decrease the cost of healthcare by reducing relapses into depression or psychotic crisis.”
Compared to some of the other for-profit psychedelic start-ups, BMed is stressing the need for community building in the burgeoning psychedelic revival, noting that “the most direct and effective way to restore psychological and social health is to cultivate meaningful and conscious connections in natural environments.”
Barcelona publisher David Barba is leading the community building part of the BMed program. Those plans include cultural events, group therapy sessions, scientific congresses, ceremonies and “all kinds of experiences that foster a better understanding of psychotherapy, psychedelics, spiritual traditions and indigenous cultures.”
Barba’s publishing house, Ediciones La Llave, puts out (among other titles) Spanish-language editions of books by Claudio Naranjo, who died in 2019. His pioneering book, The Healing Journey — Pioneering Approaches to Psychedelic Therapy, came out nearly a half century ago. Naranjo — who was born in Chile but spent most of his life in California — saw the mystical and therapeutic sides of the psychedelic experience as “different stages in a single journey of the soul, different levels in a continuous process of consciousness expansion, integration and self-realization.”
Barba sees Naranjo as the “godfather” of BMed, with Amanda Feilding as “our godmother.”
“We are not a subsidiary of Beckley Foundation. Amanda’s name opens many doors, but we are a completely independent organization with our own principles,” said Barba.
“Our society has many problems, but above all it has problems related to poor mental health,” Barba added. “We find solace in the mutual support and the restoration of community ties. Our community activities will be at prices appropriate to the economic level of each participant. We want to foster the responsible use of psychedelics in communities at risk of exclusion.”
Ediciones La Llave just published an updated Spanish-language edition of Don Lattin’s 2017 book, Changing Our Mind — Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy. That volume, published in partnership with BMed, is titled “La nueva medicina psicodélica — Terapia, ciencia y espiritualidad.” Last month, Ediciones La Llave paid some of the author’s expenses for a trip to Barcelona to promote the book.