Psychedelic research is well underway in Norway. In spite of the majority of psychedelics remaining tightly regulated, the off-label use of ketamine is permitted and is available through the public healthcare system and in private clinics. Clinical trials with MDMA and psilocybin are underway at institutions such as the University of Oslo. Researchers in Norway are continuing to collaborate with MAPS after serving as a study site for the MAPS Phase II study with MDMA.
Psychedelic Research in Norway: A Brief History
In Norway, research with psychedelics dates back to the first era of psychedelic research in the 1950s and 1960s. During this era, research was largely taking place with LSD at locations like Lier Hospital, the State Clinic for Drug Addicts, and Modum Bads Nervesanatorium, a private hospital for the treatment of nervous disorders. At Modum, the founder of the hospital, Gordon Johnsen, became the leading LSD psychotherapist in Norway and became a central figure in public debates surrounding psychedelics as they became increasingly entangled in the world of politics. In 1960, Sandoz had applied for Delysid (LSD) to be licensed in Norway, but the Norwegian Drugs Agency refused and it could only be available upon request of a medical professional.
Similar to others working with LSD at the time, Johnsen was seeing positive results when treating patients at Modum, particularly alcoholics. However, like much of the research of this era, it was marred with methodological flaws and lacked reproducibility. As psychedelics found their way out of the laboratories and into youth subcultures, public dissent against these substances grew. In 1966, the Ministry of Social Affairs, mandated with allowing the regulations to apply to substances that could easily be abused, decided that the legal framework pertaining to narcotics should also apply to the psychedelic substances LSD, mescaline and psilocybin. Research with psychedelics quickly ceased until recently.
Psychedelics in Norway Today
Psychedelics, for the most part, remain highly regulated substances in Norway. The exception to this, like in many other countries, is ketamine. In Norway, the off-label use of ketamine is permitted and is available at private clinics such as Awakn Life Sciences, Axon Clinic, and Emma Sofia-klinikken. At Sykehuset Østfold, ketamine treatment is publicly available following a referral from a doctor.
Sykehuset Østfold is an outpatient located near Oslo. In addition to ketamine therapy, Sykehuset Østfold served as a study site for the MAPS Phase II trial exploring the effectiveness of using MDMA-assisted therapy in the treatment of PTSD. Sykehuset Østfold was also chosen as a study site for the COMPASS Pathways Phase II trial using psilocybin to treat depression, however, after a lengthy battle with regulators, the trial did not go ahead.
Now, the world’s first trial exploring the effectiveness of using MDMA-assisted therapy in the treatment of depression is due to take place at Sykehuset Østfold. The trial is largely based on the success of the research team’s previous collaboration with MAPS.
At the University of Oslo, cell and animal studies have taken place with psychedelics. Research here has largely focused on the physiological effects psychedelics have as opposed to the extensively studied psychological effects.
Psynapse is a non-profit working toward reforming drug laws in the country and increasing the accessibility of psychedelic-assisted therapies to those in need. The non-profit was founded in 2015 by researchers Pål-Ørjan Johansen and Teri Krebs. These researchers are accredited with carrying out one of the most comprehensive meta-analyses of clinical trials in which LSD was used to treat alcohol use disorder.
Psynapse was originally known as EmmaSofia but recently changed its name after some changes in the organisation. The name change also helps to differentiate the non-profit from EmmaSofia Clinics, private ketamine clinics located in the cities of Oslo and Bergen.
The Norwegian Association for Psychedelic Science (NPS) is another non-profit run by academics and researchers within the field of psychedelic science in Norway. Its mission is to build a network of scientists, academics and students, and organize activities that enhance the development of scientific research on psychedelics.
The team at NPS, in collaboration with the research team PsykForsk at Sykehuset Østfold, have organized the first psychedelic science conference in Norway. The first Nordic Psychedelic Science Conference took place in May 2022 and is scheduled to take place again in 2024.
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