UAE, Home of Dubai, Exploring Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy with Pair of Conferences


Two recent conferences in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, celebrated advancing discussions about psychedelic-assisted therapy in the country, with notable speakers ranging from Rick Doblin, PhD of The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to Jesse Gould of Heroic Hearts Project, according to a March 6 press release. Discussions ranged on topics from MDMA-assisted therapy to ketamine, psilocybin, and more. The country’s strict intolerance of drugs is transforming, with recently reduced penalties and a growing number of efforts to introduce psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Major changes are taking place in the country as drug laws are being reformed and medical professionals are reevaluating the value of psychedelics in the field of medicine.

The Energia Foundation and Tabula Rasa Ventures, which introduced psychedelic education at Davos in 2022, have been some of the players at the forefront of bringing understanding of psychedelic-assisted therapy to the UAE. Over the past 14 months, they’ve been focused on educating policymakers, sovereign wealth funds, and clinicians in the UAE about the benefits of psychedelic therapies.

Last January, the 4th Abu Dhabi Integrated Mental Health conference was co-hosted by the Energia Foundation in January 2024, which included discussions led by Rick Doblin, Sherry Rais, and Maria Velkova alongside Dr. Rasheed Al Hammadi, the Director of the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi. The conference highlighted the ongoing research and potential regulatory changes for these therapies in the UAE.

“Our work here has shown us that the UAE is one of the most forward-thinking, scientifically rigorous, and ambitious countries on the planet. We’re grateful to the Department of Health, SEHA, and many of the other incredible institutions that are supportive of the psychedelic education we’re bringing to the region,” said Marik Hazan, Executive Director of the Energia Foundation.

Organizers explained that MDMA-assisted therapy is anticipated to receive FDA approval in the United States by September. The UAE, known for its progressive health policies, could be the second country to embrace this innovative treatment, thanks to the collaborative efforts of US-based psychedelic groups and the forward-looking stance of the UAE’s health policy.

The UAE and Drug Policy: From Corporal and Capital Punishment to Reform

The country’s rapidly-evolving drug policies foreshadow change. Up until January 2022, the UAE had a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug-related offenses with penalties escalating to a death sentence for drug traffickers, arrest and deportation for citizens of other countries living in the UAE caught using or possessing drugs, and three years to life for selling drugs.Tripsitter reported that before then, first-time offenders entering the country caught with cannabis, even CBD oil, could receive up to four years in prison.

Things have changed: Federal Decree Law no. 30 of 2021 on Combating Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, which took effect on January 2, 2022, brings fundamental changes to drug laws in the UAE, reducing penalties and making drug abuse a health issue. Still, psychedelics are extremely rare in the country according to anecdotal reports.

Organizations are gearing up for the new territory of psychedelic-assisted therapy emerging in the region. Although penalties for travelers bringing THC products into the country have been reduced, and first-time offenders who live in the country are now offered treatment options instead of prison time, all drugs are still illegal in the UAE. High Times has documented several incidents where people foolishly brought drugs into the country.  Sill, medical professionals prepare for imminent changes in psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Pioneering Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

The Dialogues in Mental Health conference, held June 10, 2023 at the upscale Conrad Hotel in Dubai, marked a historic moment for the Arabian Gulf, being the first in the region to include psychedelic programming. It was supported by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), the UAE’s largest healthcare network, in collaboration with government officials from the Department of Health (DoH).

This initiative underscores the UAE’s commitment to pioneering health treatments and technological innovation. Notably, the Abu Dhabi Integrated Mental Health conference co-hosted by the Energia Foundation in January 2024, which included discussions led by experts such as Rick Doblin, Sherry Rais, and Maria Velkova alongside Dr. Rasheed Al Hammadi, the Director of the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi, further highlighted the ongoing research and potential regulatory changes for these therapies in the UAE.

Nahida Nayaz Ahmed, Chief Medical Officer at SEHA Mental Health and Well-Being Services, expressed optimism about the future of these treatments: “We were excited to host so many experts from the emerging field of psychedelic-assisted therapy. There’s still a lot of important research that needs to be done, but I’m hopeful that these medicines can expand the arsenal of tools we have to treat our most pressing mental health challenges.”

Keep an eye on the UAE, as conferences are helping to spread awareness about the need for psychedelic-assisted therapies.



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