Albert Hofmann, psychedelic therapy and Amsterdam; an interview to Giorgio Samorini

‘Psychedelic’, coming from the Greek words “Psykhè” and “dêlos”, means “relating to the revelation of the mind“. Given this grand promise, it’s not surprising that so many people are fascinated by the world of so-called “hallucinatory substances”.

 The Netherlands especially, is the perfect destination for those who want to try psychedelics, because magic truffles (amongst other substances) are “legal” (technically it is a grey area). But the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, is not only the main destination for stoner tourists looking for memorable experiences, it’s also a destination for those that seek to solve their issues with anxiety, depression, and addiction with the help of psychedelics. But how does this process work exactly?

Giorgio Samorini with the Buiti “tribe” in Gabon

To answer these questions, we interviewed Giorgio Samorini, one of the main Italian experts in the field of psychedelics. Samorini, 63 years old, has spent most of his adult life studying psychoactive substances. He traveled across five continents and lived with different “tribes” to learn the way different cultures and traditions use hundreds of psychedelic plants.

His latest book, “Psychedelic therapies”, written together with his wife Adriana D’Arienzo, an expert in pharmacology, tells the ancient and modern history of psychedelic therapy.

The last time I came to Amsterdam was many years ago, I was together with Albert Hofmann,” tells Samorini. For those of you who don’t know, Hoffmann was the first person to synthesize and ingest LSD.

Psychotherapy with “Magic truffles”? It’s possible in the Netherlands

Today, you can have psychedelic experiences accompanied by therapists. Those who request this service might be driven by simple curiosity or an overwhelming need to cure and analyze deep personal problems such as addictions, depression, or disorders like OCD.

But how does this therapy exactly work, and is it effective?

“In this case, the trip is always accompanied by a therapist. Especially in cases of depression or addictions, you can’t simply give someone the psychedelic and that’s it, they are cured. You need to go through a therapeutic process before, during, and after the session with the substance. Even though, at the neuropharmacological level, the substance already has a positive effect. The experience has to be contextualised with therapy sessions, to absorb and integrate the results, it’s not a unicum,” says Samorini. “Doing truffles with your friends for fun, it’s a different thing, that still has a positive effect on your psyche. It’s not bad to do, but the effects will be very different compared to the ones with a psychedelic therapist.”

Samorini with Albert Hofmann in Switzerland

For those of you wondering, yes, there are proper centres in Amsterdam, specialized in psychedelic therapy. There you can have “sober” sessions to begin, where you discuss problems, questions and craft an “action plan”. Only after this groundwork is laid will there be a session with magic truffles. But it doesn’t end here. After the trip you have more sober sessions, to integrate the experience in the best way.

Psychedelics have always been used in a clinical environment. In countries such as the US and Switzerland, they can be given to terminally ill patients, to soothe anxiety and depression. This way of giving psychedelics to terminally ill patients is called, tanatodelic approach, meaning revelatory of death, a term created by me and my wife,” says Giorgio, adding that truffles are especially useful on those who suffer from deep and profound depression, conditions which could lead to extreme acts such as suicide. It has been proven that taking psychoactive substances, especially psilocybin, can drastically reduce the risk of suicide in patients affected by depression. Moreover, they are also used to treat addictions and disorders such as OCD.

Psychedelic drugs, between legalization and criminalization.

A few days ago, Oregon officially decriminalized all drugs and legalized magic mushrooms. It is interesting to see how in the world there are places such as Oregon, where the approach to drugs is completely different compared to that taken in Italy or even The Netherlands.

“I have seen the phases of Italian prohibitions, and the legalization of magic mushrooms in Oregon only makes me happy. In The Netherlands, people often think that truffles are legal, but it is not true. There is a mechanism of tolerance. In Italy, the concept of tolerance at the legal level does not exist. It is the area between the prosecution and the crime, on which the phenomenon of magic truffles and coffee shop has been created.” This is how Giorgio explains the status of psychoactive substances in the Netherlands. It is incredible how Italy is not even open to discuss this kind of legal framework.

Samorini at a convention in Amsterdam in 1994, with him there are also Albert Hofmann and Alexander Shulgin

“Italy is always in late, the main reason for this is to be found in the strong presence on the church,” Giorgio says. “During my research for my last book, I had to dig through a lot of documents from former psychiatric hospitals, and I found out that in the 1950s and 1960s, Italy was surprisingly advanced in psychedelic researches. Italy had the lead regarding research with psilocybin. It was also the first country to give 500 micrograms of LSD to a patient, something that was unthinkable at the time, but it looks like everyone forgot about it.”

Samorini newest book focuses a lot on this topic, as he travels through the basements of old psychiatric hospitals from the north to the south of Italy looking for answers.

Is it right to call them drugs?

For those who grew up in Italy, there is the habit to label all illegal substances as ‘drugs’. Even more particular is the use of the term “drug addict”, used frequently by politicians and in the media, to talk about anyone, from someone that smokes the occasional joint to people that inject heroin every day. But is it right to call psychedelics drugs?

 According to Giorgio, “[t]he concept of  ‘drug’ is dependent on the culture. In the Amazon,  shamans don’t consider Ayahuasca a drug. For them, drugs are others: alcohol, nicotine, things that Western people brought. Ayahuasca (a powerful psychedelic found in Latin America), belongs to the category of ‘food for the soul’. It is considered like a proper food, but it does not feed the stomach, it feeds the spirit.”

Samorini in Iceland holding psychedelic mushrooms (Psilocybe semilanceata)

This is is a very different perspective from the Western one, where all psychoactive substances are seen as “drugs” and therefore dangerous.

From the point of view of modern medicine, truffles are a drug. But so are sugar and antidepressants. Psychedelics have substantial differences compared to all other drugs, Samorini explains. You could define them as “non-drugs”. “For this reason, they are used to stop addictions from other drugs. In my psychoactive plant’s archive, I have around 1,200 plants and less than 1% of them create addictions. Some substances do make you dependent on them, like alcohol and nicotine, but this is the main difference with psychedelics. They act on the principle of tolerance, the first day you do them, they are strong. If you do them for many days in a row, they won’t work anymore; it is simply impossible to be addicted to them.” 



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