Davos Finale - Enlightened Leadership: The Role of Psychedelics and Mindfulness

The climax of Davos was a powerful discussion about breakthroughs in psychedelic science to treat severe depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD.

5 minutes

Building on the need for “enlightened leadership” for a volatile time, the final Free Thinkers session at Davos featured three extraordinary leaders of the movement to conjure mindfulness and treat serious mental health afflictions through psychedelic-assisted therapies.

Rick Doblin, Founder & President of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Scientific Studies) spoke about his belief that mindfulness and psychedelic-assisted therapies are necessary to cultivate the kinds of fully conscious leaders we need for the volatile times that lie ahead. Those leaders should resonate with an understanding of universal consciousness that puts respect for human life and the natural world ahead of consumerism, nationalism and greed. Doblin described MAPS’ long, strange journey to resurrect the study of psychedelic-assisted therapies. Richard Nixon criminalized psychedelic compounds in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, part of his effort to fracture the peace movement by putting “hippies,” university students, and people of color behind bars. That move put research into the therapeutic value of psychedelics on ice for 50 years.

This moment is pregnant with possibility: Thanks to Rick and his team at MAPS as well as scores of other researchers around the world, we stand today on the cusp of FDA approval for MDMA-assisted therapies to address debilitating PTSD in our courageous veterans and first responders. And for the first time in at least half a century the US government is now putting its own credibility and money into psychedelic research: Just days after returning from Davos the Secretary Denis McDonough announced that the Veterans Administration will start funding scientific studies to test the efficacy of MDMA (“Molly”) in helping people suffering from treatment-resistant depression and severe PTSD.

Leor Roseman of the University of Exeter reported on his pathbreaking work bringing together Israelis and Palestinians for shared mindfulness experiences using psychedelics. His program sought to create enduring cross-cultural communities. Unlike most other Israel-Palestinian cross-cultural alliance programs, Roseman’s research groups developed a such strong sense of shared consciousness that they have stayed connected even in the wake of the October 7 massacres and their terrible aftermath in Gaza – even in spite of the extraordinary practical obstacles they face.

Dr. David Erritzoe from Imperial College London reported on his ongoing research into brain function and how specific afflictions can be addressed through psychedelic experiences.  Erritzoe is zeroed in on the specific mechanisms through which psychedelic compounds alter brain chemistry. He noted that afflictions of anxiety often produce thinking patterns that are hard to change – like the ruts caused by sledding on a snow-covered hill. Once the ruts are made, it’s hard to get a sled to go anywhere else. The psychedelic experience is like a fresh snowfall that liberates the patient from those hard-to-change patterns and allows for new thought patterns. That sort of “neuroplasticity” is a key aspect of how psychedelic compounds can assist in therapies to address treatment resistant depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and PTSD.

Much of the discussion found its roots in Michael Pollan’s landmark best-selling book How to Change Your Mind, which chronicles Pollan’s own therapeutic journeys using four different psychedelic compounds. Pollan himself (pictured with Don above at a 2019 seminar in Cartegena, Columbia) believes strongly that psychedelics have powerful medical applications and should be legalized only for strict medically-supervised purposes. A four-part Netflix documentary by the same title aired in 2022 to national acclaim. The main takeaway from Pollan’s research is that psychedelic experiences immerse people in the truth of a universal shared consciousness that diminishes the ego and radically shifts perspective to alleviate anxiety. He describes an OCD sufferer in his 20’s who reclaims his entire life and vitality through psychedelic-assisted therapy using psilocybin (a/k/a magic mushrooms). And he interviews pioneering research Roland Griffiths on his work with terminally ill patients who overcame paralyzing anxiety about their impending death through psilocybin treatments — 85% of the subjects reported that they could approach death with equanimity after their treatments. 

In classic Free Thinkers style participants joined in to share their perspectives. We explored the idea of a shared pre-Davos psychedelic-assisted experience in 2025 that might infuse leaders with levels of awareness that could have meaningful impact on the world. David Erritzoe speculated on how the ego diminishing effects of mindfulness could elevate Davos’ transactional networking into something far richer and more purpose-driven.

Many participants shared their belief that the Free Thinker sessions on leadership, mindfulness, and shared consciousness were the most memorable and authentic conversations of their time at Davos. They told us that we filled a void at Davos and brought deeper connection and openness to their experience. We are heartened by those responses and encouraged to build on this successful launch in the months and years ahead. I was privileged to be a part of the team that created these conversations and am already looking forward to an expanded Free Thinkers program for Davos 2025.

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