Michelle St. Pierre, UBCO’s 2021 graduate student researcher of the year, is hoping to change the discussion surrounding the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs. (UBCO photo)

Michelle St. Pierre, UBCO’s 2021 graduate student researcher of the year, is hoping to change the discussion surrounding the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs. (UBCO photo)

UBCO researcher examining therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs

Michelle St. Pierre has been researching the use of psychedelics since 2015

A UBC Okanagan student is hoping to change the discussion surrounding the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs.

Psychology student Michelle St. Pierre has been researching the use of psychedelics since 2015, and her research has found that psychedelic use was associated with a lower prevalence of domestic violence.

“This finding went against the war on drugs propaganda, which vilifies psychedelics and classifies them as harmful substances with little to no medical benefit,” said St. Pierre, who’s also the founder of UBCO’s chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. She was also recently named UBCO’s graduate student researcher of the year.

Her master’s thesis examined pain tolerance in people who frequently use cannabis compared to those who don’t. Unlike opioid medications, her study did not observe an increase in pain sensitivity among those regularly using cannabis.

“These findings ended up generating more questions for me around the mechanism of the pain-relieving effects of cannabis. I designed a study to build on these results, but it was put on hold due to COVID-19,” she said. “I’m looking forward to exploring the relationship between cannabis and pain in the coming years.”

She said that her lab has been conducting one of the largest “micro-dosing” studies to date, which uses a sub-perceptual dose of psychedelics. She noted that despite near-daily dosing, physical dependence on psychedelics has not been observed.

“Psychedelics have an extremely low risk of toxicity and a sort-of built-in anti-addiction mechanism due to the rapid tolerance that humans develop from repeated dosing of what we call ‘classic psychedelics,’ including magic mushrooms, acid and ayahuasca,” she said.

After completing her honours thesis and her master’s at UBCO, she said that it’s an exciting time to begin her doctoral and research career within a landscape that has become more accepting of psychedelics.

“I plan on continuing to challenge the assumptions we have by conducting rigorous research on the legitimate effects of psychedelic use in humans,” she said.

A critical issue moving forward, she said, is ensuring that psychedelic-assisted therapy is accessible for all people.

“The use of psychedelics for healing has its origins in Indigenous knowledge,” she said. “As psychedelic-assisted therapies proliferate, we can’t lose sight of where these remedies come from.”

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