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The Psychonauts

South African science writer Leonie Joubert trips into the strange new world of psychedelic psychiatry, ahead of hallucinogenic mushrooms going on trial in South Africa in 2018.

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Psychonauts Episode 1 - Tripping the Blues

Some neuroscientists are confirming what their colleagues were discovering in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s: that a few deep psychedelic ‘trips’, supported by conventional psychotherapy methods, may be able to unlock some crippling mood disorders and addictions. But because psychedelics are illegal everywhere, the growing movement of people in South Africa who are using them therapeutically must rely on an underground movement of traditional healers and ‘journey guides’.


11 Aug 2017

Rank #1

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Psychonauts Episode 6 - 'Bad' Trips & Bogeymen

One of the oldest myths about psychedelics is that playing with them is like a game of Russian roulette: for every few fun trips, there’s a bad one loaded in the chamber and waiting to flip you into a kind of madness. The truth is far less ghoulish, although there’s still a lot of mystique surrounding these substances in popular culture: because psychedelics have been forced underground for nearly five decades, there’s too little research to get a true reading of just how often people have ‘bad’ trips on psychedelics. But researchers from a few medical labs that are licensed to work with the substances for therapeutic reasons think there’s a more nuanced story to tell. These aren’t so much ‘bad’ trips, they say, as much as they are difficult ones. And even the difficult ones often turn out to be meaningful, constructive experiences. Their thinking, together with the experience of those in the underground psychedelic community, is giving us a more complete picture of how often things might go wrong with psychedelics use, why they go wrong, and how to manage them if they do.


22 Dec 2017

Rank #2

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Psychonauts Episode 3 - Shellshocked

A traumatic event can be like an emotional sledgehammer to the brain, rewiring your nervous system, so it’s always revving in the red. It could leave you permanently edgy, your startle response on a tripwire. You’ll be quick to rage. You might struggle to concentrate or sleep. You’ll become listless and depressed. You might have flashbacks, or suppress those fossil-like memories. You might sink into the bottle, cut yourself off from others, or worse. But early efforts to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with psychedelics suggests that hallucinogenic mushrooms and MDMA - Ecstasy, on the street - might be able to rewire the brain back into a healthier, calmer state.


22 Aug 2017

Rank #3

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Psychonauts Voice Diary 4 - Ibogaine

The South African government has already opened the door for psychedelic-assisted therapy: in 2016, it allowed the potent psychedelic, ibogaine, to be prescribed as a medicine. If one psychedelic is legal for medical use, why not all of them? This short voice diary considers what this means for the legal challenge to decriminalise psilocybin mushrooms here in South Africa this year.


6 Mar 2018

Rank #4

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Psychonaut Voice Diary 2 - a model for bringing psilocybin assisted therapy to South Africa

A voice diary insert that lays out how the South African public health care system could roll out this form of therapy to the communities most in need of mental health support.


20 Oct 2017

Rank #5

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Psychonauts Voice Diary 1

A voice diary insert to keep everyone up to speed with behind-the-scenes podcast developments.


12 Oct 2017

Rank #6

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Psychonauts Episode 5 - Hacking Consciousness

Physical movement, like running, is to the body what meditation is to the brain, it makes us fit, agile, healthy, and strong. When used together with psychedelics, these can create a trilogy of practices that bring on the flow state, pull us back to the present, and soften of self. In conversation with Adrian Baker, host of the podcast Hacking Consciousness. Adrian shares his own years of meditation and exploring consciousness through psychedelics, with a good dose of science and reason.

1hr 4mins

12 Oct 2017

Rank #7

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Psychonauts Episode 4 - Bottom of the Bottle

As recently as the 1960s, the hallucinogen LSD showed promise in treating alcoholism and heroin addiction. But then the moral panic at the Flower Power generation got psychedelics frogmarched into the shadowy company of a suite of illicit drugs. For four decades, research stopped. But now scientists are back at the drawing board, testing to see if psychedelics can put the brakes on certain addictive spirals. In this episode, a man in his mid-50s goes down the rabbit hole, in search of the ghosts of his military past, his long-dead father, and the roots of his troubled relationship with the bottle.


13 Sep 2017

Rank #8

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Psychonauts Voice Diary 5 - Accessing psychedelic medicine in South Africa

Many South Africans are seeking out psychedelic medicine and retreats, even though it's illegal. In the interests of harm reduction, this Voice Diary looks at how to put medical support in place for those who decide to try this therapy process through the underground community. And it considers how the medical community can prepare itself for when this form of medicine becomes legal and mainstream.


28 May 2018

Rank #9

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Psychonauts Voice Diary 6 - Legislation

A quick update on the status of the podcast after a long silence, and a look at the different legal routes that could see hallucinogenic mushrooms decriminalised or legalised in South Africa. And if, as some argue, we have a constitutional right to access a substance that our laws withhold from us, where is there scope for civil disobedience?


22 Aug 2018

Rank #10