Is there a future for psychedelic treatment in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist Haya Al-Hejailan. (Supplied)
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Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist Haya Al-Hejailan. (Supplied)
Is there a future for psychedelic treatment in Saudi Arabia?
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Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist Haya Al-Hejailan. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 July 2022

Is there a future for psychedelic treatment in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist Haya Al-Hejailan. (Supplied)
  • Haya Al-Hejailan wants to open a clinic and to see Saudi pioneer in psychedelic research

RIYADH: Psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof once wrote that “psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.”

To many, this may sound like an outlandish claim, but now more than ever, it is proving to be true and may very well become a frontier in practicing medicine.

Saudi Arabia was enduring a mental health epidemic and the psychological strains of the pandemic exacerbated that. People are finding themselves desperate for ways to cope. One of the most recent psychotherapy methods in the region, albeit stigmatized, is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. A recent study published by Neuropsychopharmacology showed that the substances were proven to achieve positive long-term mental health effects and their efficiency, safety and tolerability in treating major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and certain addictions.

I get more people contacting me asking me how they can receive this treatment, and it’s really heartbreaking to tell them, I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to wait. It’s not available yet.

Haya Al-Hejailan, Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist

It is also associated with enhancing creativity and problem-solving, according to an article published by the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2019.

While the stigma around mind-altering substances, both in the region and globally, is unavoidable, researchers and scientists argue that if these drugs are regulated and used purely for medicinal reasons, what is the harm?

The term “psychedelics,” a class of hallucinogens, comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning the mind, and “delia,” meaning manifesting. The psychoactive substances are meant to alter the mind and create an alternative cognitive perception.

 

Psychedelics are classified into classical, which includes lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (commonly known as magic mushrooms), mescaline and others, and non-classical, such as methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy) and ketamine.

“(They’re) really great tools for us being able to understand the brain and the study of consciousness better,” Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist Haya Al-Hejailan told Arab News. Her work centers on psychedelic research and the treatment of borderline personality disorder.

This point may seem counterintuitive: How can addiction be treated with a substance that may cause another addiction? But psychedelics are, in fact, anti-addictive in nature.

“They have anti-addictive properties, meaning they don’t constitute physiological addiction, but one can become psychologically addicted to anything,” said Al-Hejailan, refererring to non-substance addictions such as coffee or mobile devices.

 

However, the use of psychedelics can pose certain dangers, making it crucial to undergo treatment strictly under professional medical supervision, which can only be accessible through clinics. Psychedelic therapists are trained to create a controlled environment for patients undergoing psychedelic therapy, with sessions prior to administering the treatment dose to identify any red flags or possible risks that would otherwise create a larger margin of error. Patients who self-dose could potentially be subject to health risks, retraumatization, depersonalization and dissociation.

“I get more people contacting me asking me how they can receive this treatment, and it’s really heartbreaking to tell them, ‘I'm sorry, but you’re gonna have to wait. It’s not available yet,’” Al-Hejailan said. “But I’m optimistic with highlighting the word ‘yet.’”

An article published by The Lancet showed that most antidepressants are ineffective and can be harmful to adolescents and children.

In an attempt to fulfill that medical need, several research efforts and trials have been unertaken to evaluate alternative routes, such as psychedelic-assisted therapy.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine found that small IV doses of ketamine can have positive, long-lasting antidepressant effects in patients. Although the scientific research regarding psychotherapeutic psychedelic use in the region is insufficient, Saudi Arabia has been easing its way into their use use for other purposes. Last year, the Saudi Journal of Emergency Medicine published a paper describing a successful case of refractory status epilepsy, a life-threatening condition, in a child treated with a single dose of ketamine.

Despite its growing popularity in mainstream media, psychedelic science is one of the cutting-edge neurosciences, yielding insufficient research compared to other sciences. The 1950s saw the first English-language report published on LSD, and research continued into Richard Nixon’s US presidential term, ending in the 70s. However, research efforts were quickly banned under the justification of the war on drugs as a public enemy declared by the US president. However, it was supported by other factors, such as the lack of funding for psychedelic research and failed medical trials, according to an article published by the Cambridge University Press.

That area of medicine was considered niche until recently. In 2017, MDMA was given “breakthrough therapy” designation by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning it was granted an expedited review process. In 2018, the FDA granted a group of psychiatrists researching psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression the same status.

In the same year, Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your Mind” created a public space for people to think differently about psychedelics and the consciousness expansion of the mind. Ketamine was granted the same status a year later. Arguably, that is when psychedelics hit the mainstream, although its resurgence into clinical research and trials resumed in the 1990s.

“(Before that) I was met with a lot of skepticism. People literally thought I was talking about something that’s crazy,” Al-Hejailan said in reference to discussing psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy before 2018.

“There’s a lot of interest, enthusiasm and curiosity that I’m met with now when I talk about my work.”

With a master’s in applied positive psychology and coaching psychology from the University of East London, Al-Hejailan’s work also includes positive psychology integration and psychedelic education, providing training in psychedelic therapy and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. She also co-directed and co-produced a documentary titled “Psychedelic Renaissance,” centered on the reemergence of the psychedelic movement globally and its cultural significance.

Al-Hejailan said that raising awareness about psychedelic studies was the first step in creating a regional environment that allows for alternative psychotherapy methods.

“I think we need to, in general, focus more of our energy and attention on psychoeducation, educating the public about mental health and well-being. The more we do that, the more people are likely to continue becoming accepting and interested,” she said.

Future steps to normalize the use of psychoactive drugs include active training for clinicians and therapists on their uses and benefits and eventually establishing specialized clinics and research centers.

“My goal is to have presentations specifically on psychotherapy and to meet with therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other physicians, and policymakers at some point. To show them what’s happening abroad, what the science shows and to discuss how we can replicate this here in a safe way that respects our culture and that respects our specific or unique needs,” Al-Hejailan said.

“I really want to open a clinic and research center here. Me and my colleagues would very much love to see Saudi pioneer in psychedelic research in the region, and maybe globally.”


Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu

RIYADH: The Royal Saudi Armed Forces and US Marine Corps on Saturday launched a joint training exercise along the Red Sea coast in the western city of Yanbu, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said.

The “Outrageous Anger 22” exercise was inaugurated in the presence of Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Dibais, commander of the western sector, and Maj. Gen. Paul Rock, commander of the Marine Corps at the US Central Command, as well as senior officers from the Saudi armed forces and US Army.

An inspection tour included sites where the two forces will conduct the joint operations.

Col. Saud Al-Aqili, commander of the exercise, said that it aims to rehearse implementation of bilateral operational and logistical plans, exchange expertise between the two sides, and develop complementary work with civil authorities.

Col. Matthew Hakula, commander of the US forces, said that the joint maneuvers will raise combat readiness, as well as strengthen compatibility between Saudi and US troops.

The month-long drill includes logistical exercises and operations with live ammunition.


Saudi authorities convict African expat of trying to launder nearly $300,000 outside Kingdom

Saudi authorities convict African expat of trying to launder nearly $300,000 outside Kingdom
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi authorities convict African expat of trying to launder nearly $300,000 outside Kingdom

Saudi authorities convict African expat of trying to launder nearly $300,000 outside Kingdom
  • The investigation revealed that the accused attempted to transfer the money by hiding it inside date cartons, which were found in his bag

RIYADH: An African expatriate who attempted to money launder more than $250,000 has been sentenced to two years in prison, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

A source at the Public Prosecution said that the Economic Crimes Prosecution’s investigations found that the man had tried to transfer $297,000, in addition to SR5,000 ($1,331), via King Abdulaziz International Airport outside the Kingdom.

The investigation revealed that the accused attempted to transfer the money by hiding it inside date cartons, which were found in his bag.

It revealed that the seized amounts were derived from practices that violated a number of regulations.

A general criminal case was filed against the offender on charges of money laundering by attempting to smuggle cash outside the Kingdom, and a preliminary ruling was issued against him that included his conviction.

The money was seized, and he will be deported from the country after serving his sentence. The Public Prosecution Office also submitted an appeal for a stiffer penalty for the offender.

The Public Prosecution said it would take anyone seeking to harm the financial system and the national economy to court, and demand severe penalties.

The office frequently highlights, through its social media accounts, the need to disclose financial values and cash amounts that exceed SR60,000 if leaving the Kingdom or passing through any of its ports.


Saudi KSrelief chief tours refugee centers in Poland

Saudi KSrelief chief tours refugee centers in Poland
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi KSrelief chief tours refugee centers in Poland

Saudi KSrelief chief tours refugee centers in Poland

RIYADH: The general-supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, visited a center run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the Polish city of Jyszow on Friday, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Al-Rabeeah was accompanied by the Kingdom’s ambassador to Poland, Saad bin Saleh Al-Saleh, and UNHCR representatives on a tour of the facilities, which are closely linked to aid provided as part of Saudi Arabia’s $10 million grant to support refugees from Ukraine, of which $5 million was allocated through KSrelief to the UNHCR.

Al-Rabeeah toured the UNHCR shelter distribution center to see how the aid is delivered to beneficiaries and what plans are in place to respond to refugees’ urgent needs.

Al-Rabeeah said that the housing aid provided by the Kingdom targets nearly 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, and stressed that Saudi Arabia is always keen to support refugees anywhere in the world.

He also commended the high level of professionalism demonstrated by the UNHCR.

Al-Rabeeah also visited a medical transport station in the city of Przemysl, which currently hosts a large number of refugees from Ukraine.

During the visit, the station’s director, Rafał Kijanka, clarified the station’s efforts to provide necessary medical aid to refugees from Ukraine in Poland with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia.


No permit for children below 5 years in Grand Mosque of Makkah

No permit for children below 5 years in Grand Mosque of Makkah
Updated 13 August 2022

No permit for children below 5 years in Grand Mosque of Makkah

No permit for children below 5 years in Grand Mosque of Makkah

RIYADH: Children below five years old can enter the Grand Mosque of Makkah without a permit, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Saturday.

“Parents can take their children who are below five years old without the need to get them a permit,” the ministry said in a Twitter post.

However, children over five years old must obtain a permit through the “Eatmarna” app to enter the holy site.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia announced that holders of all types of visas will be able to perform Umrah during their stay in the Kingdom.


Arab states express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over suicide bomb blast

Arab states express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over suicide bomb blast
Updated 13 August 2022

Arab states express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over suicide bomb blast

Arab states express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over suicide bomb blast
  • Abdullah Al-Shehri detonated a suicide vest when authorities attempted to arrest him in Jeddah, injuring four
  • Arab world praised the Kingdom's effort to maintain security and safeguard lives

DUBAI: Arab nations have expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia on Saturday in the wake of the death of a suicide bomber in Jeddah.

Abdullah Al-Shehri detonated a suicide vest when authorities attempted to arrest him in Jeddah, injuring a Pakistani resident and three security men.

In a statement, the UAE condemned the blast, reiterating its stance against “all threats to the Kingdom’s security and stability.”

The country’s ministry of foreign affairs commended the efficiency of the Saudi security forces during the operation and measures taken to maintain public safety, conveying wishes for a speedy recovery of those injured in the blast.

Bahrain was another Gulf country that reaffirmed “unwavering solidarity” with Saudi Arabia and commended relentless efforts to preserve national security. It also praised the vigilance of security forces in dealing with the wanted man.

Kuwait reiterated its backing to the Kingdom’s effort against security threats. “Kuwait stands by Saudi Arabia and supports all measures it may take to safeguard its security and the safety of its people,” Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement published by state news agency (KUNA).

The ministry lauded the efficient security operation and the authorities’ targeted efforts to block any bid that poses a threat to the Kingdom’s stability.

In a statement published by the state news agency (PETRA), Jordan conveyed support to the Kingdom “in every step taken to protect its security.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul praised efforts of Saudi security forces in addressing threats to the Kingdom’s stability and safety.

 

 

Egypt also voiced support to Saudi Arabia’s fight against “all forms of terrorism” and any violation that threatens national security.  

In an official statement, the Egyptian foreign ministry hailed the Kingdom’s proactive measures and capabilities to track down terrorists and safeguard lives.  

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the bombing and praised the Kingdom’s firm action against any threat that undermines its safety and security.

Meanwhile, Arab Parliament Speaker Adel Al-Asoumi stressed on his confidence in the Kingdom’s vigilance to protect its vital facilities, combat terrorism, and ensure the safety of its citizens and expats.

On Friday, the Saudi security state announced the operation of tracking down and arresting Al-Shehri, who was among nine wanted individuals involved in a 2015 terrorist operation that targeted a mosque in Saudi Arabia. He has been listed as a wanted person by authorities in the Kingdom for the past seven years, according to the statement.