Expert: It’s Critical That ‘We Pay Attention to the Tension Between the Urgency of Need, the Quality of Care’

Ismail Lourido Ali, JD, director and counsel of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), discusses the problems with approaching public health issues, such as mental health and substance use disorders, with an industrialized approach to problem solving.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Ismail Lourido Ali, JD, director and counsel of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), on psychedelic medicine policy and current advancements in the field.

Alana Hippensteele: Any closing thoughts for an audience of pharmacists and pharmacy professionals regarding psychedelic medicine policy, or anything in that area?

Ismail Lourido Ali: Absolutely. I have one really important thing that I like to say, which is it's really critical that we pay attention to the tension between the urgency of need and the quality of care. There's a lot of urgency—I don't know a single family that has not been affected by the overdose crisis or by addiction or by severe mental health disorders—that's just the world we're living in right now.

I think that induces and really inspires people to get moving to start thinking how to solve the thing, but I think that this kind of industrialized approach to problem solving is actually part of the underlying factors that are leading people to so much despair and depression and burnout. So, I do think that the way that we engage this, how do we bring high quality care to people, whether it's in a clinical setting, whether in a spiritual setting, whether it's like a peer-to-peer support setting, or any of these things, we just want to make sure that we're finding that balance in recognizing that there is immense need and immense suffering, but we want to make sure that people are really well cared for.

The other thing I will say is, especially to an audience like yours—I think it's really important that people remember that over medicalizing is not going to be the answer. These are substances that have long defied boundaries, and I don't mean that in a heady way, I mean that like cannabis and ketamine, it's really hard to say what does it do, what it is for, etc.

I think psychedelics and bringing psychology to health care actually gives us an opportunity not just to have this cool new mental health intervention, but also have a different approach toward drug policy. Approaching drug policy in a prohibitionistic, violent, aggressive way, where if people are doing things that we don't want them to be doing socially, we incarcerate them, we shame them, we put stigma on them—that has not worked, and drug use has only gone up, overdoses have gone up, detrimental use is going up, so I really want people, even if they're working strictly within medicine, which is a critical place to be working in, to also be looking at these other parts of society that really need reform.

I think that we just have to make sure that we're bringing people along with us as we make these changes. People who are severely addicted to drugs also need this support, as they're also highly traumatized, so I just want to make sure that we don't forget about people as we get really excited about these new modalities. I think they are really exciting, and I think that if anything, it can help us bring us closer to what are the things we really need, and part of that is really good interventions, but part of that is these other things like housing, job security, and health care, and these other things are not going to be solved by a trip.