Tania de Jong is an inspiring woman on the path of helping others to heal. Leaving a trail of positive change and innovation wherever she sets her philanthropic vision, her most recent contribution; Alleviating the mental health crisis in Australia (and eventually worldwide), is a breath of hope and fresh air. Two years ago, Tania and her husband founded the organisation Mind Medicine Australia; A charity focused on reducing the ongoing suffering caused by mental illness through effective psychedelic-assisted treatments such as medicinal psilocybin within safe clinical environments. The long-term goal: Making Psychedelic Assisted Therapies an intrinsic part of Australia's Mental Health System, significant improvement in mental health statistics, and accessibility for everyone. With the mounting pressures of life compounded by global lockdowns and their ripple effects, the current mental health crisis continues to grow, with treatments (predominantly pharmaceutical) nowhere near as effective as they could be. Before entering into a sound understanding of this topic, it's essential to know that the history of research and clinical trials for psychedelic medicines is shrouded in propaganda and censorship. Fueled by Nixon's War On Drugs campaign in the '50s and '60s, clinical trials and the progression in this area of medical science were brought to an abrupt halt. But as the nature of truth goes, it finds a way, somehow. Enter Mind Medicine Australia; A charity organisation that funds clinical psychedelic research conducted by independent associations and affiliates, set to change the face of Mental Illness. Tune in for this epic conversation as Mase and Tania discuss the future of healing and Psychedelic Assisted Therapies.
"Current existing treatments aren't working for the majority of patients, and they're not working for doctors either because doctors are not getting their patients well, which in turn affects everyone. It affects people's families, workplaces, the community, and it really becomes a problem where lots of people aren't functioning at their optimal potential".
-Tania de Jong
Mase and Tania discuss:
Who is Tania De Jong?
Tania de Jong AM is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs, performers, and innovators, having developed 6 businesses and 3 charities over 3 decades. Tania works across the public, private, creative, and social sectors. She founded Creativity Australia, Creative Universe, MTA Entertainment & Events, The Song Room, and works with disadvantaged communities nationally through Creativity Australia’s ‘With One Voice’ choir social inclusion programs. She has recently co-founded Mind Medicine Australia with her husband Peter Hunt AM. Mind Medicine Australia exists to help alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness in Australia through expanding the treatment options available to medical practitioners and their patients. MMA is establishing safe and effective psychedelic-assisted treatments to treat a range of mental illnesses. Tania presents keynote speeches and leadership programs and performs internationally as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri. She has released twelve albums, including new solo releases The Breezes at Dawn Have Secrets to Tell and Solitary Harmony. Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has been viewed over 110,000 times and sparked international interest. She is the Founder and Executive Producer of Creative Innovation Global, winning national and international awards. Creative Universe and Creative Innovation Global were ranked among the top 20 event organizers and agencies globally as part of the newly released Eventex All-Stars Index. Tania has founded a co-working space called Dimension5 in Melbourne to drive social innovation and collaboration. Tania’s awards include Ernst and Young Australian Social Entrepreneur of the Year. She was inducted into the AGSE Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame at Swinburne University and named Brainlink Woman of Achievement. Tania was recently named in the 100 Women of Influence, and the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs in Australia and recently was honoured with the Award for Meritorious Service to the Community in the Victorian Multicultural Awards for Excellence. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008 for service to the Arts as a performer and entrepreneur, and for the establishment and development of music and arts enrichment programmes for schools and communities. Tania has a Bachelor of Law (Honours) from the University of Melbourne and is a graduate of Victorian College Of The Arts, in opera, music theatre, and voice. Tania’s grandmother invented the foldable umbrella in Vienna in 1929, so it’s not surprising innovation is in her blood. Her mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!
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Check Out The Transcript Here:
TanIa, thanks so much for coming on with me.
Tania de Jong: (00:06)
It's a pleasure, Mason.
Absolutely love your work. Have been hearing about Mine Medicine Australia for a long time and then all of a sudden, my friend around here who's a doctor is going down and doing your practitioner courses to learn more about offering... Well at the moment, I'd like to learn about your offerings because psychedelics are in this weird, gooey time where they're really been accepted and they're still not allowed to be used in therapy yet but you guys are training people up and I believe using some holotropic breathwork in some workshops. My therapist actually just got back from two weeks of doing training with you guys.
Tania de Jong: (00:46)
Oh, who was that?
Tania de Jong: (00:47)
Patrick Bennett, yeah that's it.
Tania de Jong: (00:51)
Did he enjoy it?
Absolutely loved it.
Tania de Jong: (00:54)
But that was a funny one, I was like, he's benching and I'm like, "Oh, with Tania? And he's like, "Yeah, Tania. How do you know?" I was like, "Well, our lines are coming together right now." So it's really, the synchronicities that are coming about, the synapsis are happening. It's all coming to fruition at a time when the mental health crisis has just been screaming everyone in the face all over the world with all the lockdowns and everything.
Tania de Jong: (01:24)
So how are you guys feeling at the moment? Are you just like, you've been doing it for so long, but do you feel that pickup of energy around this style of therapy and medicine?
Tania de Jong: (01:37)
There's just so much interest in the space and it's almost like when we started the charity just over two years ago there was... There's never been an enormous amount of pushback, I've got to say. I think that people recognise that the mental health crisis that we're having and it's getting worse is something that we've not found a solution for yet. And that the current existing treatments are not working for the majority of patients and therefore they're not working for doctors either because doctors are not getting their patients well and then that affects everyone. That affects people's families, their workplaces, the community and it really becomes a problem that a lot of people are not functioning at their optimal potential.
Tania de Jong: (02:31)
So I think that what we're seeing is the fact that this is personal for everyone. So whether you're a politician, you're a psychiatrist, a business leader, a mom or dad, whoever you are, you're going to know people. If it's not you, then it's going to be someone close to you who's suffering with a mental illness. So now when we speak about these medicines, there's been so much positive and supportive media about them now for at least a couple of years in Australia, certainly and it's getting more so. And we're starting to see quite a lot of conservative programmes and media really providing support for opinion pieces, for articles and these treatments are becoming much more part of a mainstream conversation than they were before. It's no longer on the fringe. It's not just some experimental hippies up in Byron Bay who are doing these medicines. This is about everyone and this is about giving everyone a chance to lead a meaningful, fulfilling and happy life.
Tania de Jong: (03:49)
And if we want that for our children and our moms and our dads and for everyone in our communities and workplaces, then we need to accept that the current treatments don't work for the majority and that there are actually treatments, these psychedelic assisted therapies, that actually do heal an enormous amount of people. And if you look at that statistically, what you're seeing is a maximum of 30 to 35% of patients getting well through current existing treatments for depression and about 5% for PTSD. So it's incredible when you think of how many people are not getting well, who are either the staying stuck in the system, taking daily medications that have multiple side effects that often just numb them out and never get to the root cause of their distress or they drop out of the system altogether and take their chances and for many people that can be a slippery slope and can lead to suicide and other issues as well.
Tania de Jong: (04:57)
So as Ramdas said, "We're all walking each other home." I love that phrase. We all need to reach out ahead and we need to help educate the community about these medicines so that we focus on the science and data and not the prejudice and stigma that has been attached to them for 50 years and far too long. It's a lost 50 years where we've seen this major increase in loneliness, social isolation, disconnection, depression and other mental illnesses.
Tania de Jong: (05:32)
Many of which would have been avoidable if these medicines had continued to be used in clinical environments, which they were being used for over 50000 patients in the '50s and '60s and if the research had continued. So when Nixon had his war on drugs in 1970, effectively did stop all research for a long time, for a good 30, 35 years really. And as David Nubb says, Professor David Nubb who's the head of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, he says that's worst example of censorship of medicine and science in the history of humanity. And it really is a crime against humanity to not enable people who are suffering dreadfully to have access to treatments that could help them to get better.
And as you said, Nixon came along, we had the propaganda model helping to create a beautiful stigma around something that's very effective. You can't stop something that's going to work, especially when you've got the hive mind or getting suffering so much from depression, from PTSD and it's just day-to-day sadness, as you were saying, not getting that effectiveness from pharmaceuticals. And you guys are coming forward now with such legitimacy. It's an interesting one around something where you're talking about MDMA or psilocybin or mushrooms and to see, as you said, to see people in these big organisations not even blink at the usage of MDMA in therapy is huge. You must be really proud to see that shift happening.
Tania de Jong: (07:18)
It is wonderful. I remember when we first started presenting, we present a lot of webinars and events to educate and build awareness in a lot of different communities ranging from psychiatric hospitals for 90 psychiatrists through to hundreds of GPs at GP events through to a range of clinics and political parties and businesses and stuff like that. And I remember the first webinar that we did at one of the clinics actually and it wasn't a psychiatric clinic, but there was some psychiatrists there and I remember that the Chief Psychiatrist of that particular clinic came up to us and he said, "Oh, you got to be joking. You're not seriously talking about healing people from depression with magic mushrooms are you? What a joke, ha ha ha," and 20 minutes later after the presentation or 30 minutes within a very short time.
Tania de Jong: (08:13)
It was really remarkable because he came up to us and he said, "Wow, that was extraordinary. I now understand so much more about the science and data. When could I have access to these treatments for my patients." And that's invariably what happens. We'll often walk in with a member of Parliament, state or federal, and they're generally not sceptical, actually they're quite open-minded, but it's really interesting when you start actually having MPs texting you saying, "I need to help my constituents. How can we make sure that they get access to these medicines?" And this is why we've done a lot of work with the TGA in terms of the special access scheme pathways because that is one way that doctors and psychiatrists can get approvals to treat patients with PTSD or depression, PTSD with MTMA or depression with psilocybin assisted therapy.
Have you found much more willingness with the TGA? And then in general, I don't know where you're at with being able to talk about this, but in general entering into that place where you start being on par with pharmaceutical companies and start entering into that arena, have you found that, has that process been interesting or what's going on there?
Tania de Jong: (09:31)
It's very interesting. It has been interesting, particularly when... We are not a pharmaceutical company. Obviously we're a charity, but it's funny how some people try and put us into the box of a pharmaceutical company because we've put in rescheduling applications, but just because we've put in rescheduling applications doesn't make us a pharmaceutical company. And our conversations with the TGA in relation to... So that there's a few conversations with the TGA. One of them is we've obviously got the rescheduling applications in. The interim submissions were negative, but then we challenged every one of the TGA's points in our opposing submissions. And now the TGA have announced an independent review, which is taking place and starting to take place over these next couple of months and that's a good sign because it shows that they want to know more.
Tania de Jong: (10:30)
They've asked to meet with some of the international experts, which is also really important because we've been trying to encourage them to do that for a while. But in addition to that process, the TGA has been granting special access scheme B approvals for doctors and psychiatrists and their patients who are treatment resistant. So more than 35 doctors with seriously ill patients have been granted approvals within 24 to 48 hours.
Tania de Jong: (10:59)
... to treat most patients, and that's great news from a federal level, but because we are an [inaudible 00:11:04] in Australia, unfortunately most states of Australia there are recreational use laws that prevent the medicines from being brought into the states to treat those patients who are seriously ill, except in Victoria which has a permit system, which we're currently testing at the moment. So what that effectively means is that there is no actual medical exemption in place to enable, like say if you were seriously ill and you were in New South Wales and your doctor got you an approval, he or she couldn't treat you because of these recreational use laws and there's no permit or medical exemption in place.
Tania de Jong: (11:45)
So what actually needs to occur is that Australia needs to have a national standardisation occur so that if TGA grants it federal approval and then that is also legitimate, three state laws and state and federal laws need to be integrated and more aligned to one another. It's a crazy situation when every different state of Australia has different laws. It's the same with euthanasia or there's any number of things that we can talk about that have different laws attached to them depending on which state you're in, but the fact of it is for all state governments out there, there's a lot of really sick people who need these treatments and it's actually unethical to withhold these treatments from people who are suffering and it's also contrary to human rights treaties and other treaties.
Tania de Jong: (12:37)
So I really encourage everyone who's going to watch this podcast to talk to their state members of Parliament and their federal members as well and make sure that they really help to get politicians up the curve as we do it. We do all the time and we speak to lots of politicians all the time. I always say the only way that we can really make these movements really achieve our mission of making these medicines accessible and available to all who need them regardless of financial circumstances or geography is to talk to doctor by doctor, politician by politician, member of the public by member, it's just a process of gradually educating more and more people so that psychedelics become something or psychedelic medicine and psychedelic assisted therapies are not associated with counter-culture, hippie movements and stuff like that. That they're not associated with people going crazy because that's as far from the truth as one could imagine. And they're associated with healing and wellness and they're associated with transformation in our consciousness and they're associated with a healthier planet and a healthier humanity.
It's always interesting, it starts with the counterculture and then everyone on the fringes, the early adopters and of course that's been going on for so long. Interestingly the masses weren't able to pick up as it gets to the point where what's been done in order to make it accessible to the masses, the research being put on hold because there's a war on drugs that pause happening. And now, because I'm more, I have been in that community that is more the hippie running around Byron and not very decentralised usage of psychedelics. And even with the type of herbs we do, it's a Daoist tradition that's decentralised.
Then working tightly with those that are within a structured therapeutic arena where something gets beyond someone, you can't overcome certain bouts of depression and just go beyond you doing exercise and eating right and having a good chat with a mate. It can get to the point it needs to be clinical and it's really great just to just to see that now in the psychedelic arena. Of course that's needed, of course we need the whole of society under this.
Tania de Jong: (15:19)
We do. And that's why Pedro and I are working so hard to develop the clinical protocols so that certain settings can be really appropriate in clinical settings. So it can still be a friendly and safe and warm room without feeling too clinical like hostile environments. So that in terms of set so that the therapists through us, certificates in psychedelic assisted therapies are really beautifully trained by some of the leading teachers in the world. And we do have some of the leading teachers in the world on the faculty for the certificate.
Tania de Jong: (15:54)
As you would have seen we've got David Nann and we've got [Guble Matee 00:15:56], so many incredible, Ben [Cesse 00:16:02]. We have really all the ladies in the field, Bill Richards and all of those people who are teaching the C-PAP students as well as the wonderful people in Australia who are leading the course.
Tania de Jong: (16:12)
And so what that means is that by us building a pipeline of trained therapists in Australia, including rural and regional practitioners, well that will mean that gradually as more and more of these therapists get trained and the clinical protocols are set up, that more and more people will be able to actually undertake these treatments closer to home so that they don't have to travel as far, so that becomes more accessible. And we just set up an ecosystem for Australia so that anyone who needs these medicines can access them. Now obviously, these things will take time and you just have to do things one step at a time, but in two years we're pretty proud of what we've achieved. It's been hard. I would say we've pretty much worked nearly 24/7 all the time. Not just Pedro and I, but we have a team and our Board and we have our amazing advisory panel and ambassadors and then we have all of our volunteers in our chapters.
Tania de Jong: (17:24)
We have nearly, we have about 30 chapters, about 27 or so in Australia and about four in New Zealand and the chapters are really great. Like the one you and Byron called The Rivers. They're great because they help to educate and build awareness in local communities run events, help raise funds and that's one of the really critical things too, is the raising of funds because whilst we're philanthropists and we have some other philanthropists as well who are supporting this, all of us can contribute to this. You don't have to give a lot of money to be a philanthropist. You could donate $10 a week and two coffees and you'll be helping make sure that psychedelic medicines become available to all those who need them quicker. So we can all contribute to this mission.
Absolutely, absolutely. Seen it. Two questions, what's the qualification process like to come and become certified?
Tania de Jong: (18:25)
So in terms of the qualifications, that's all on our C-PAP website, but essentially people need to have a bachelor's qualification in a mental health related area and then they have to have some kind of therapeutic experience. It could be counselling, it could be GPs that are just sitting with their patients on a daily basis. And as you probably know now, the majority of GPs work is actually dealing with mental illness. But of course, the course itself teaches a lot of therapeutic skills. The course currently uses holotropic breathwork to help the students to understand what non-ordinary states feel like because not everyone on the courses use the medicine. Some have, some haven't. So they actually do get to experience non-ordinary states and a big part of the courses, helping the students, that is the medical practitioners and allied health professionals, understand how to work with patients in normal ordinary space state. Sorry, and to hold a space for them in a safe way to hold that container of space.
Tania de Jong: (19:38)
And then there's also obviously the screening. So how do you screen patients to make sure they're suitable? The medicinal sessions and then of course the integration is a huge part of it as well. And then of course in the course they're taught all about the molecular structures of the medicines, a lot about the history, a number of ethical issues as well, the legal frameworks and so on. So now that this first cohort has just graduated now, 46 doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists like a therapist, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and so on. And the next intake starting in late June and it's nearly full. So we're seeing an enormous demand for this training because a lot of doctors and psychiatrists and other allied health professionals are like, "This is the future." This is the future and we're not getting our patients well.
Tania de Jong: (20:37)
We want to get our patients well because most people who are in the caring profession, they want to get their patients well. So we're getting an enormous amount of positivity from the students in the course who just, and the feedback from the first intake has been incredible. So many people describe the course as life-changing. For many it is a rite of passage in its own way because it's the practitioners are moving from one form of practise to being able to do other forms of practise. And they may have many, many tools in their toolbox already, but this is a pretty exciting tool to have in your toolbox.
There's a different sense when you come to this work that at this point, they'd all have the inkling of just how transformational it's going to be.
Tania de Jong: (21:35)
And one of those things, as you said, as a clinician to know that you want to do the best for the person sitting in front of you and to watch them suffering and to know that you're in this very thin bandwidth of what you can offer them and to then that feeling? I always talk about this feeling. It's like when Harry Potter found out he was a wizard. You're like, "This can't all be it. Is this it? This is so crap and grey and boring," and then it's like, "No, actually you're a wizard and you're going to live in a castle," and you're like, "Oh my gosh, look at this other world there is. This is incredible."
Tania de Jong: (22:11)
That's a wonderful way of putting it. It was like peeling the onion just to keep finding more and more nuance and depth, I suppose. The multi-verse that we actually live in that many of us don't see. And one of the other really important things about the therapist's training apart from the calibre of the faculty and the teachers and the actual curriculum itself is the fact that pretty much universally everyone in this course have just got on so well and it's such a revelation for them to be working in multidisciplinary teams together.
Tania de Jong: (22:50)
So normally speaking, all of these professions are very siloed. Psychologists never talk to the psychiatrists, and so they're all quite separate. But to be actually in a course together and also knowing that the way that they're going to treat the patients is going to be with multidisciplinary teams. So though the doctor psychiatrist might do the initial prescribing, it might be the psychologist or the social worker for example, who sits with the patient. And so there's ways of bringing together practitioners where the patient is truly at the centre of a really caring cohort of medical professionals and health related professionals who are like, "What's the best way to look after these patients so they get the best outcome?"
[inaudible 00:23:39], "As above, so below." With the neural connections being made, the mushrooms bringing it all together. And so is an integrated system of healing, which is, it's so blatantly obvious that those silos are going to... And of course what's going to get lost? The invisible, the mental health, just like, "Oh yeah, there's nothing we can do about that." This is bringing those, filling those spaces. Before we run, I'm curious as to what's set up for the production of mushrooms? I'm assuming there's going to be, that's going to be quite you're either going to understand what dose is going to be in a capful, however it goes.
Tania de Jong: (24:21)
Look I suppose, what I might mention is just the four pillars of our strategy because that covers that. So we have four key strategies to build the ecosystem for Australia and the Asia Pacific. The first of them is education and awareness and we do that through screenings, events, information and education sessions for a range of different sectors. We do it through a global summit, which is taking place in November 17th to 20th in Melbourne with some of the leading researchers and doctors and scientists in the world. We do it through our chapters. So please join a chapter or start a chapter. We do it in-
How do we find our chapters? I know you've set me up, but.
Tania de Jong: (25:06)
So we have a wonderful website, mindmedicineaustralia.org, and there's a chapter to have on there. So it shows how to join a chapter and where you can just write to the admin hello box and we'll reply and connect you up and join the dog, so to speak. And we also do find novel research from time to time as well. And then the second pillar of our strategy is the certificate in psychedelic assisted therapy. So we've talked a lot about that and that's really creating that training, that educating, that pipeline of practitioners around Australia to make sure that as these medicines become more and more available and accessible, there's plenty of people who can work with the patients. The third strategy is our Asia Pacific centre of excellence in emerging mental health therapies. So that's really looking at applied research and development in partnership with some universities.
Tania de Jong: (26:00)
So looking at some of the novel areas that Australia could actually lead in and do some research in, whether it's dementia or stroke or veterans mental health or whatever it happens to be and then also looking at the manufacturing and growth of medicines, not just mushrooms, but MDMA and others. So making sure that we can create local supply sources of GMP grade medicine.
Tania de Jong: (26:26)
Economic modelling, so actually really mapping out what some of the cost savings could be through making these treatments available worth versus for many patients, what is a lifetime of not only taking certain medications, but also psychotherapy. So doing some cost comparisons and there has been a little bit of work like that done in the US and it was quoted recently that, I think Scientific American is quoting a study where they found that cost-savings for patients with PTSD would be in excess of a 100000 US dollars per patient, which is really significant.
Tania de Jong: (27:07)
So though there's an initial upfront investment because of the time and therapists involved for the therapist to sit with a patient for that length of time, for a session of, it might be between five and eight hours. Because of the amount of remission that occurs through these treatments, you're getting 60 to 80% remission rates across 160 current and recent trials. So what that means is a lot of those patients are not going to go back hopefully onto medications or need ongoing psychotherapy all the time and they're going to be able to lead meaningful lives as well. So they're going to be able to contribute back to society and the economy and so on. So yeah, so economic modelling is another thing that we're looking at doing and then of course, rolling out clinics around Australia and of course we're focused on the legal and ethical frameworks.
Tania de Jong: (28:01)
Hence why the TGA, the SASB pathways and we also have a psychological support service that provides support to people who are using the medicines and need some integration support for example or are thinking of using the medicines. And it's not illegal for us to have that. The bizarre thing is it's illegal to go and pick them a psilocybin mushroom, even though you can pick a poisonous one and die. So it's illegal to actually use the medicines, but if you're planning to where you have, then you can actually have, you can see a psychotherapist and we have a whole national group of psychotherapists and psychologists who support people who want some therapeutic support. We also have peer supervision groups and a whole lot of other training that helps get practitioners and also others get up the curve in understanding the medicines more.
That's huge. Your website is amazing and definitely everyone jumped on their mindmedicineaustralia.org, especially if you are in that position and it's you need some support and you've run off from on your own and gone too far down the mushroom rabbit hole. You've got some resources there, which is amazing. The summit looks incredible, we are looking forward to being there.
Tania de Jong: (29:23)
Looking forward to having you there, Mason.
Absolutely can't wait. Love your work and hopefully I'll see you at the end of June for those film screenings.