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Ep #23 Transcript | Jon Kostakopoulos: Psilocybin, Alcohol Addiction & Being in a Clinical Study

Full episode transcript (beware of typos!) below:

Nick Jikomes

Jon Kostakopoulos, thank you for joining me.

Jon Kostakopoulos 2:14

Sure. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Nick Jikomes 2:16

Um, why don't you start off by telling everyone a little bit about yourself. So who are you? Where do you live? What do you do for a living? And why are we where are we talking today?

Jon Kostakopoulos 2:27

Sure, um, I

am a 31 year old guy living in New York City, born and raised in New York, and I was the first study participant at an NYU Langone clinical trial using psilocybin to treat alcohol use disorder. And after that successful experience,

I launched a nonprofit to help advance the same research that I was lucky enough to be a part of.

Nick Jikomes 3:00

So you've been there your whole life? What were you doing, leading up to the study before you started the nonprofit? What do you do for a living?

Jon Kostakopoulos 3:07

Sure, I was a news anchor for a financial news company. And I loved it. It was my dream job. And I had tried to stop drinking for a while even during my work and and all that and to no avail. And that's how difficult it is right? You really want to do something but you can't stop. So I was a news anchor at the time and I heard about this clinical trial, the doctors at NYU Langone, we're getting ready to launch and I was lucky enough to get introduced to those doctors.

Nick Jikomes 3:49

Before we dig into the study itself, and what that was like and what happened after that. What, you know, How long had you been drinking excessively? Can you Can you unpack for everyone a little bit about your history there and what may be caused you to drink?

Jon Kostakopoulos 4:07

Sure, yeah. Well, you know, I, I had a great childhood, no trauma. Nothing really, I just I started drinking my friends and I experimented with alcohol at an early age at around. I don't know maybe around 13. And a lot of us like that feeling that we got from from drinking alcohol and I never knew how to drink responsibly or drink like an adult. Right? Yeah, I mean, not really like an adult because there are plenty of adults that I know here that that don't drink responsibly, but I never learned how to drink. Justin. Joy it with dinner just to enjoy a beer at a ball game. I always drank to get drunk to feel better. Then, and or to numb something, which was strange because there wasn't any trauma to numb, I just liked that feeling the start. And alcohol ism is a progressive disease. So you need more and more to you build up a tolerance. And I was up to drinking, I could drink a handle of liquor in a sitting. I mean, like a whole day I'd be drinking when I woke up, and I'd finished that. So 2030 drinks, no problem. And, and it became a problem for me that I wasn't happy when I wasn't drinking, and I wasn't happy when I was drinking. And those were the only two worlds that I knew. So, you know, if there was any trauma, it was just me being miserable. Of I knew I needed to stop drinking. But it was just so difficult that I could not stop.

Nick Jikomes 6:01

So was this, like a progressive ramp? Since you were a teenager? Or was there anything that changed as you got older at some point?

Jon Kostakopoulos 6:13

You know, it started progressing, probably, end of high school. And obviously, right, beginning in college, and, and I blend right in, in the college scene, because everyone was was, you know, you'd think everyone was an alcoholic, at least the people that I was hanging out with. And so that's where it really picked up. And then I mean, my first day meeting was at 16. So I knew for a long time that I didn't have a normal relationship. Without all what Glee I never got into any legal troubles, any, you know, any physical injuries, any, you know, I never, I didn't burn any bridges or anything. So my rock bottom was pretty good. I came out on Steam. I was very lucky to do that. And, but I just knew, you know, I couldn't, this wasn't sustainable. I could not keep drinking the way I was drinking, and have a life that I want to have have a career I wanted to have a family I wanted to have. So I had to choose one or the other.

Nick Jikomes 7:28

So you, you actually went through a at least once what is what is that experience like? Like what actually happens when you go through an AA program?

Jon Kostakopoulos 7:39

You know, a is great. A lot of a lot of support there. And it's free, right? So anyone can show up any, you know, you don't have to qualify for anything. They do have men's meetings and women's meetings sometimes. which I think's good, too. And it's a great support system. And it's worked for some of my friends. But unfortunately, like myself, it hasn't worked for the vast majority of people I know that that have gone in and out of those rooms. And a you know, I mean, I've been in and out of there for almost a decade, I was 25 when I did the clinical trial. So from 16, basically to 25. I was in and out of a and and it worked when I was going to the meetings, but then you know, I'd have a bad day, right? I wouldn't get that instant gratification and say, Hey, I haven't been drinking for a few weeks, or I haven't been drinking for a month, which is an eternity for an alcoholic. I mean, these guys are counting days, right? You're literally counting days, like an Escape from Alcatraz or something. And that's it. That's how I mean it's, it's really you got to be mentally tough for it. And so it's a great support system for that. But a lot of people like myself, you know, I got sick of it. I had a bad day. I said, You know what, nothing good is really happening. My life is you know, I'm not having fun with my friends. I didn't get a promotion I wanted and you just give up and you go back to drinking and then that's not fun. That's that's even worse, it exacerbates everything. And then you go back, you know, to AA or whatever kind of treatment you're looking to do.

Nick Jikomes 9:46

And when you know when you are in the throes of this, let's say that you know you've you've quit drinking for a number of days. One day goes by two days go by what what's the psychology of it? They're so When you wake up in the morning, you know, one or two or three days into being sober, what is going through your head? Is it? Are you feeling a lot of anxiety? Are you thinking about drinking all the time?

Jon Kostakopoulos 10:14

So I have anxiety when I was drinking, when I wasn't drinking, I wouldn't have too much anxiety. Because I had contrived full control. Or at least I thought I had control over my actions, but you know that it is not really your emotion, if that makes sense. So I'm always thinking, right? Mentally, I'm, I'm always thinking either, as you know, while I'm drinking, okay, where's my next drink coming from? But while I'm sober? What am I going to do to keep myself distracted? So you're constantly thinking about it, and it is a grind? It is, you know, it, it's fatiguing, and, and you really need a lot of mental endurance to go through that.

Nick Jikomes 11:09

And were there any things that were giving you that endurance, were you doing exercise or anything that was helping?

Jon Kostakopoulos 11:16

Yeah, I would, um, I started a softball team that I played with and managed, and that was a bunch of fun, too, and that would keep me busy. So I would find things to keep me busy and things that other people would have to rely on for. So, you know, organized sports was great for me, because I would have to, you know, I'd have to organize everyone every week and say, Hey, we're playing these guys movements come and do it. And that was great, I had to pick up a lot of extra curricular activities, because from nine to five, after you're done, I mean, you're just sitting around, thinking about drinking, everyone's going out for a drink after work. You know, you want to go to the bar. And, and even when, when I would go to the bar, and I wasn't drinking, or even if I was drinking at that time, I would rarely rarely drink in front of my coworkers and colleagues. So after they would go out, and it would be 10 o'clock or something, I leave the bar and go to a bar next door, go to a bar by me for go to the liquor store and pick something up. And I would drink because I just wanted to drink. And, you know, I, I got to the point where I love drinking alone, because I didn't have to worry about, you know, any record questions from any social repercussions, that that may or may not have happened.

Nick Jikomes 12:50

Gotcha. So it sort of sounds like you were able to manage your drinking fairly well. But when you did actually have a drink, it was not just one drink, you had to keep going. And and you were doing that by yourself because you didn't want your colleagues or anyone else seeing that. Correct? Yeah. And so was it typically, when were you drinking? Was this the type of type of thing where you would drink at night after other people were at the bar, like you just described? Or would you would you drink during the workweek during the day?

Jon Kostakopoulos 13:24

Yes, sometimes I would drink in the morning if my hangovers were so bad. But I rarely drank during the week, because I drink so much in a setting or in a night that I needed a day or two to recover and dry out. I would have, you know, I'd have the physical hangover. And sometimes I'd have what I call the moral hangover. And that's that anxiety of what did I do last night? Because chances are I blacked out and, you know, did anything bad happen? And 99% of the time, nothing bad happened, but I would I would leave the worst stuff to my imagination and hear for the worst and hope for the best.

Nick Jikomes 14:13

I see. So so this wasn't a daily thing. You were going in spurts but they were they were really big spurts.

Jon Kostakopoulos 14:18

Yeah, it was it was binge drinking. I would I would pick my battles. So I looked for those three day weekends coming up. Right like Memorial Day. That's a good one. I'd go out that Friday and go through maybe Saturday and then we Sunday and Monday to recover.

Nick Jikomes 14:38

So how old were you when you heard about the NYU study?

Jon Kostakopoulos 14:44

25. I heard about it. And it was total luck. I got I mean, extraordinary. Walk on on my end my mom had she had a long Time Doctor that she had just switched. And this brand new doctor of hers. I guess, you know, my mom confided in her about my issues. And God bless her that Dr. Lisa Durso. She, you know, thought about it and kept kept your ear to the ground and saw a study that they were getting ready to screen patients for. And I think in a medical journal, and so she called my mom with, you know, the next week, or whenever she saw it, and, and told her about this, and then I looked into it, and I, I was very skeptical, and I had never, I was always afraid of psychedelics. So I never touched psychedelics. And I, but I was so desperate at the time, and I tried everything else, I really exhausted all those other options. And so I knew that those were dead ends for me. So I have nothing to lose.

Nick Jikomes 16:04

So you mentioned being scared of psychedelic, so I assume that means you had not tried any? And why are you scared of them? What was your mental mental image of psychedelics prior to learning about that study?

Jon Kostakopoulos 16:17

Yeah, um, what I learned a lot of it to be what I now know, is propaganda. So I thought, I thought I would go crazy, I thought there was a chance that I go crazy, I thought there was a chance, my personality would permanently change, or I would turn into a vegetable. And, you know, I actually knew a kid that in high school, he had, he had unfortunately passed away. And rumor had it was that he walked out of his window after eating magic mushrooms, so that I mean, and I heard that if I'm 1718, and I hear that I'm terrified. And even though I saw a lot of my friends, doing it recreationally, specifically, mushrooms, or, you know, any other site, maybe LSD, and they loved it, they had a great time, but there was a tiny, you know, chance of having a bad experience, and now is enough for me to never touch the stuff.

Nick Jikomes 17:32

So you really, you had an aversion to psychedelics, you probably didn't know that much about them in terms of their chemistry or their biology. And then you hear about the psilocybin study. So what was your initial reaction was to like the the initial reaction, and then how you actually went about applying to participate?

Jon Kostakopoulos 17:53

Yeah, um, initial reaction, I was a little nervous, but also excited, because I knew that the doctors were facing an uphill battle, right, it's a schedule one drug, the stigmas there, you know, those are the main two ones. And I, but at the same time, I thought it was pretty cool. I'm like, this is, you know, I can be one of the first people to do this, and get sober from it. And I, you know, I said, why not? This is, this is pretty exciting to me. Um, and so, I had, I had talked to the doctors erred by concerns about what I've mentioned earlier about going crazy personality changing any negative side effects. They said, No, no negative side effect that from any of our studies, or any studies that we've seen, also, and I asked, Okay, where am I going to, because I had a lot of friends that stopped drinking, but they smoke pot every day. And they're, they're, you know, high 24/7 Or whenever they're awake, and I didn't want to live that way. So I asked, am I going to start doing mushrooms? And they said, well, it's not addictive. And I said, Can you overdose? They said, No, no, no, no, no overdoses from from psilocybin. So no, those are, you know, real concerns. overdosing and if it's an addictive substance, and no to both of them.

Nick Jikomes 19:32

So what was so did they have to do how did they like actually screen you and decide that you qualified for the study?

Jon Kostakopoulos 19:43

So they shed for the two main ones, I believe were definitely schizophrenia, and I think bipolar disorder as well. Which is ironic. because I've had people come up to me saying that they they have their bipolar. And after doing mushrooms or LSD, they haven't had a manic episode, or their manic episodes are now more manageable, or they're depressions more manageable. So that's ironic. But I think with the these FDA clinical trials, especially with the schedule one drug, you know, these, these researchers are under the microscope of the federal government. So they don't want to take any chances are have any negative outcomes for any of the patients. So they want you as healthy as you can be. And so once they saw that physically and mentally, they said, I, you know, I had to fill out some questionnaires. They had asked me a bunch of questions, I mean, hours and hours of questions. It was extensive. And, but but once I got in, we started right away and off to the races.

Nick Jikomes 21:07

So you had no family history of schizophrenia, or major mental illness, I forgot to ask you, do you have a family history of alcoholism? Or was this specific to you? Okay,

Jon Kostakopoulos 21:17

no, it is specific to me. And the doctors thought that it was because I had started at such a young age. So when you start at that young of an age, your chances of becoming an alcohol or developing an addiction go up exponentially.

Nick Jikomes 21:35

And so you get into the study, and you start right away. How many doses do you end up taking? And is this in the context of therapy sessions? Or is it just the psilocybin dose?

Jon Kostakopoulos 21:49

Great question. So I took three doses all together throughout the whole study, separate occasions. And there's no there, unlike MDMA, therapy, or MDMA assisted therapy. You don't there's no psychotherapy during your psilocybin session. So the Psychotherapy is before and after the session, and but during the session, they give you a pill. Synthetic psilocybin and and it's none of the micro dosing stuff isn't they call this a heroic dose? They want you to have a real, you know, transformation. Yeah, a real transformation. Yeah.

Nick Jikomes 22:39

Do you remember the dose? Do you know what the first dose was like in milligrams?

Jon Kostakopoulos 22:42

25? I, they might have started me out with 20 milligrams. And then I think the second and third were 25 milligrams.

Nick Jikomes 22:54

Okay, yeah. So that is a large dose. So before we actually get to that, so when you're doing the therapy, just describe for people as, like normal talk therapy, how many sessions were you having prior to the first dose of psilocybin?

Jon Kostakopoulos 23:11

You know, it was probably there, they're mainly weekly. So I show up once a week, like your standard psychiatrist. He and I probably had, maybe around five sessions, before going into the psilocybin session itself. And it was normal, you know, talk therapy, it wasn't anything different. It wasn't. It was. And that's why they refer to this as psilocybin assisted therapy. So it's, it's the therapy that's doing it right here. But the psilocybin helps get you to that point. And what a lot of patients say is, after their psilocybin experience, they feel like it's been decades of therapy, condensed in one afternoon, and I agree with that.

Nick Jikomes 24:10

So let's, let's walk people through the first psilocybin dose. So can you describe the setting that they have you in? They've obviously, they've obviously prepped you for this, you've had multiple therapy sessions, they presumably, you know, given you a lot of information about what you might expect, and how to deal with it. But what is what is going through your mind and what are you expecting when you get into the room on that first day?

Jon Kostakopoulos 24:36

You know, I was hopeful that first day I was I was very nervous. I was nervous with it. The fact that I thought I'd be watching a 3d movie that I could not differentiate reality from the hallucination. And that was frightening to me and that that did not happen at all. By the way, so I thought, you know, I'd see scary stuff pop up and try to eat me or, you know, crazy stuff. But none of that happened. I was I was nervous, but also excited thinking that and I, so the doctors told me they said, You can't drink or do drugs 11 days up to the, for the psilocybin session, we need to, you know, no drugs in your system, and we need you mentally prepared for us. So, I, even though I didn't really want to drink that night, I counted backwards in the calendar, and plotted you know, when, when that exact day was for my last drink, and I didn't, I drank alone, I didn't spend it with anyone I want to, you know, go out with the bang. And it was great. I mean, it was a great night, um, I had a lot of fun with myself, just drinking. And, and I was hopeful. Going into that session, I was like, Alright, I left everything out on the field. I drank for, you know, 10 lifetimes, I can hang it up and be fine. And so I went into the session, and they, you know, screened me they drug test, you make sure everything's fine. They asked you, if you and you can, you can back out anytime. The doctor say you, you do not need to take the psilocybin if you don't, don't want to, if you don't feel comfortable, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. And now that was nice that you always have that option. And so you walk in, I walked in, there was a little blue pill. And you have to state your intention, what you want to fix and even though I was there for drinking, I didn't focus on the drinking. I said, I just want to find an inner peace. Because once I have an inner peace, I think I don't need a drink. Which ended up being correct. So I said that I took the pill, and then the the room itself, they wanted to make it comfortable. So they made it look like a living room and not like a hospital. Even though we're in a hospital. We're in Bellevue Hospital. And it's, um, you know, you walk into the room itself, and they have a couch, kind of like my setup here, like a living room, a couch, they have a couple of chairs for the doctors, they have a few, you know, tables and nightstands with lamps. And so they gave me the pill, they gave me some eyeshades and some headphones. And I put the eyeshades on I put the headphones on and the music was mainly classical and some, you know, indigenous tribal music as well with some windpipe and mainly mainly music without words as to not you know, I think that would have because the music, at least for me, it influenced my psychedelic sessions. But I think if it were to have words that would have really directed the session in a way that might not have been beneficial. So they use you know, music without words. And, and you're just there for basically the whole day.

Nick Jikomes 28:36

What time do you start?

Jon Kostakopoulos 28:39

I think we started around 8am Maybe. So you go in there you have to do the drug test. And I think the answer you fill out like a pamphlet a questionnaire. And and then you take the psilocybin and you know it takes about 3045 minutes to kick in. And then a couple hours into it. It's really at its peak and it's pretty strong. And that's probably for another couple of hours. And then you kind of plateau down.

Nick Jikomes 29:18

Did you have an empty stomach? Or or did you eat before going to the hospital?

Jon Kostakopoulos 29:23

You know, I had an empty stomach I think because I every time I wake up I'm not you know, I usually don't eat breakfast so I don't have an appetite. And so I had an empty stomach. I remember getting a little nauseous too. So I was like okay, and by the way, this is a double blind. So meaning half of the study participants get the psilocybin the other half get the placebo, which is Benadryl for this clinical trial, I think. So I'm obviously there to get the psilocybin I don't want to show up just to get a placebo. So once I felt a little nauseous, the doctors, you know, I didn't throw up or anything, but they said that, you know, well, that's a that's a side effect of of the psilocybin. And the day after I had a headache, so I'm like, Okay, I think and, and this is the thing, I thought it would be very obvious if I got it or not. And I was pretty sure that I did get it the first time. But but the dose was, you know, pretty low for me, I guess. And and so I although I did feel like I did get it, it wasn't it didn't hit me like a bag of bread. So it wasn't that obvious.

Nick Jikomes 30:43

So what was it like when it when it came on that first dose?

Jon Kostakopoulos 30:49

So funny enough, I had stopped drinking after that very first dose, even though I wasn't, you know, I saw. And that's the thing. That's the thing, right? So, at first, I saw kind of one, about 40 minutes and I've guy mask on, and I see geometric shapes. And it almost looks like a one of those old screensavers on on your, I think it was on Mac that would or you could play it as a slideshow if you had your your music on. And with, you know, the music, it kind of changed your shapes and stuff. So that I'm listening to music, and that's what I'm seeing. So I'm like, oh, okay, I, you know, I think I got it. But I was so desperate at the time. And I was so set on getting it, which was total luck, right? I have no control over that the doctors don't even know that I didn't want to jump to conclusion. And I didn't want to say okay, I definitely got it. And, but that first session I did, you know, because and also the doctors said, even if you get the psilocybin, it might not be a large enough dose for you to feel anything because they they estimated on your weight. And I was probably like 165 pounds at the time. So not too heavy. But I mean, my tolerance for alcohol was was so high. I mean, you're drinking up to 30 drinks a night, it's it'll get you. So I had a pretty high tolerance. And the doctor said, or it could be if it's the Benadryl the placebo. And if it's a high enough amount of Benadryl, it could get you loopy. And you might feel like you're on some sort of, you know, if you've never done psychedelics before, you might feel strange. So that's why I wasn't completely set, they asked me in the questionnaire how, how confident are you that you got the psilocybin? And I said, like 95%? I think so I was fairly confident, but I didn't want to touch the 100% and jinx myself.

Nick Jikomes 33:18

And so in addition, you know, in addition to the mild to moderate visuals you got did did anything change psychologically for you during that session? Were you thinking about why you were there? Did you feel like you were having a psychological experience that was different from a typical day?

Jon Kostakopoulos 33:40

Yeah, so I mean, I felt different. And it was, and it did feel like this monumental thing was happening. And I remember one of the things I saw the visuals, it was a glass liquor bottle in the middle of the desert, just sitting sitting there alone on the sand, and then all of a sudden, the glass disintegrates into the sand. And I thought that was pretty obvious and profound symbolism for my alcoholism leaving me but after that, I mean I felt it was a very reassuring experience for me, but I mean the whole session and and even though there were some tough parts that would come up, and you know, it would, it would just be emotions that would come up and feelings of embarrassment and guilt that I put my family and friends through that a great you know, I never want to feel that again. I never want to put them through Again, and have them worry about me. And it was, it was definitely something I've never felt, and a lot of the folks that have participated in these clinical trials say that they rank their psilocybin sessions, you know, right after one of them as one of the most important experiences of their lives. And it's usually right around, you know, right after the birth of their first child or a death of a parent, that you know, will always stick with that that feeling. And, and I agree with that, that it was up there, like, this is something that I did back in 2015. And I still have that sense of, you know, inner peace, I'm never going to not not to say I don't lose my temper, or any I'm not a Zen guy by any means. I'm still a New Yorker, I'm still, you know, yelling at drivers cutting me off and bikes going the wrong way. But it, you know, I know that I'm just never going to drink ever again. Or even if I do, and that's the thing, even if I do train, I could I feel confident I could just have one drink, because I It doesn't appeal to me. Like it used to appeal to me. So the point is moot. Because, you know, I can have a drink without going overboard, or without having more than one, because it doesn't have that appeal to me. But why even have that, because it doesn't have an appeal to me, if that makes any

Nick Jikomes 36:41

sense. So you have you have not had, you know, 10 drinks and said,

Jon Kostakopoulos 36:46

I have not had a drink. And not only that I have not craved a drink. So the thing is, you know, a lot of people come up to me after I did the 60 Minutes interview, They've tracked me down. And I'm pretty easy to find online. And so I talk to strangers every week, whether it's for addiction, whether it's for depression, anxiety, PTSD, they, they they've heard that this treatment has worked for folks like them, and they are desperate to get into trial. So I help folks get into different trials, I connect them different researchers and doctors. And it, it's difficult for me to empathize sometimes, because this treatment works so well for me, and I don't, you know, I'm not walking around back in when I was doing VA days, it's you need to revolve your whole schedule around avoiding alcohol or avoiding triggers that will lead you to drank or avoiding people and places. That's what they say people pay places and things that you have to change. So you have to change who you hang out with, where you hang out with and things you do. With me, I still go out to bars and see my friends who you know, some of them should stop drinking. So they're, they're drinking a lot, they're having a good time. And in the past, I want out and you know, I'd be craving to go out and drink with them. But I see that I hang out with them. It's not appealing to me. And then I mean, I'm back by nine or 10 o'clock, and they're still out. So this treatment works so well for me that, you know, I really don't think of drinking ever. And I mean, my girlfriend went away for a week or two. And she left a bottle of wine because she'll have a drink once in a while. And she left a bottle of wine in my fridge. And I didn't realize it until I mean, I knew it was there. But I didn't come to the conclusion of if you know, before this clinical trial, I would have known that wine was there I would have as soon as she got into a cab to go to the airport, I would have started out you know drinking that thing. And then I would have gotten a lot more alcohol after that. So I mean for this to not even be appealing to me. And this is from a guy that's tried everything to stop. And I could not stop drinking. You know, I've temptation all around here what wouldn't be temptation? But, but it's not anymore. I mean, it's it's fascinating how well this works.

Nick Jikomes 39:36

So you stopped drinking after the first session, but you do two more psilocybin sessions with the therapy in between crack after that first psilocybin session. What were you discussing with the therapist?

Jon Kostakopoulos 39:50

So this is what they call integration. So preparation are the sessions, the psychotherapy sessions, leading up to the session itself. Then you the session with psilocybin. And then I met with them, I think the very next day. And you know, and I just walked through what, what I saw, or what I experienced because it wasn't all visuals, I thought I thought it would be a lot more visuals. But it was it's a strange thing. And the doctors said from their past clinical participants, many of the participants, if not all, found it very difficult to put in into words what they experienced. And my job at the time was to do that I was a journalist, right. So I thought that was the dumbest thing I heard until I did it. And it is explaining the ineffable where, you know, it? It. One is, we haven't experienced this before. So we don't know, we don't have any reference points, how do you describe something that you never experienced, and you might never experience again? And to there are just simply no words in the English language that can describe such thing. So I would, I told the doctors I was like, you know, I thought I read told them about the glass bottle, I told them about, you know, I had a friend that he died tragically. And but we weren't on good terms. When he died, and even after he died, I still had some animosity towards him. And it was a complicated relationship. And I kind of, you know, I he popped up out of nowhere. I mean, it's all your, in your subconscious here, that's the thing, right? Things come up, you know, mainly for a reason, sometimes they just come up and knock, you know, lessly, and just random things pop up, that don't really mean anything. But everything that comes up is in your mind. It's in your thoughts. And and you're creating, you know, thoughts. So I told them about that. I told them, you know, what else just, and I was still kind of shell shocked from it, because I I'd never done this before. And I've never experienced anything like it. And I was still trying to piece together what had happened. So they helped me do that. And I would explain, you know, what happened or what I saw or what I felt. And they said, Okay, what do you think that means? You think it means this and you think it means that are? How do you think you're going to, you know, be incorporate this into your, your life going forward? Or do you think any changes are going to come of this? Or what changes? Would you like to see the stuff like that, and, and that's obviously, the most important part is this isn't a magic pill where you just take it, and then you're cured. I consider myself cured, I and the doctors are very cautious. And that's why I respect them, because they're not self promoters. They're not, you know, snake oil salesman. They're very concerned with the research, they're, they're, you know, concerned with the data. That's all that they want to revert to, and look into. So they don't want to tell you that you're cured. They don't want to tell you that, you know, or this is going to cure you or this is, you know, but for me, in my instance, this cured my alcoholism. I mean, I did this, and it took away all my cravings, and this is years later. Now, this was 2015. Totally done.

Nick Jikomes 44:14

So it sounds like the first experience was it had a visual component, but it wasn't as visually centered around seeing things as you may have thought it would be going in, is it fair to say that it was more, it was more of a cognitive hallucination, like your mental thought patterns were just behaving differently than they do normally, rather than overtly seeing things?

Jon Kostakopoulos 44:41

Yeah, I'd agree with that. And also what this let me do, because alcoholism and addiction mainly is a subjective disease where the addict or the alcoholic Halling makes excuses and justifies their drinking or doing drugs. So what this let me do was it let me look at my drinking objectively. And let me see that I'm actually hurting the people around me because they care so much about me. And they're, they're watching me drink myself to death, basically. And it's like a bad accident in slow motion. And before that, I always thought that I was just hurting myself, because I'm the one drinking, I'm not. And I'm not physically hurting anyone. So I'm just drinking. And it's doing damage to my body. But that wasn't the case, I was probably doing more damage to the people around me because they had to watch this with silver eyes.

Nick Jikomes 45:55

So it changed your perspective on what was going on in that? Yeah. Oh, yeah. And how much time it goes between the first dose and the second dose?

Jon Kostakopoulos 46:09

Probably a few weeks, maybe a little longer, anywhere from a month or two.

Nick Jikomes 46:14

And that dose was higher.

Jon Kostakopoulos 46:17

So that they bumped me up higher, because I didn't. I didn't really I felt it. I was like, I'm pretty sure I got it. But you know, you got to send me to the moon on the next one, though. So they bumped it up, I think 25 milligram? And, and that would I mean, I had known pretty soon that that I got the psilocybin I was like, okay,

Nick Jikomes 46:45

meaning that that dose was more obvious, like you felt it more strongly. Oh, yeah, absolutely. How was it? Can you describe it for us, and especially anyways, it was different or stronger in the subjective effects.

Jon Kostakopoulos 46:57

Sure, it was just more intense. So it was almost like I was on a fast roller coaster or something. And, or freefalling.

Nick Jikomes 47:12


Jon Kostakopoulos 47:14

I, it was, everything was just more intense. And even, you know, the uncomfortable, so what they call bad trips, quote, unquote, bad trips. First of all, a lot of these bad trips are the most rewarding. So you need to end the Doctor, thank God, the doctors told me this. They said, If you come, you know, face any uncomfortable situations, and you're scared or uncomfortable, and you know, you know, from our experience, the folks who see that through, and they don't try to run away from these feelings and emotions. And if you stick through it and see it out till the end, that's much more rewarding. And I agree with that. 100%. So even though the this session was more intense, there were more high points. And I felt great on a lot of it, but also a lot more challenging moments where I didn't want to, you know, go through it. I remember I had to take a bathroom break, they had a striking a lot of water before the drug test. So that caught up with me, I want I want to go take a bathroom break. And I thought and I was going through a difficult situation. And I, I thought about okay, maybe I could just cop out here and take the easy way out and just say I need to go to the bathroom. And then maybe when I come back, it'll be better. And then I remember what they said, saying, you know, this is more rewarding if you go through it. So I stuck it out. And, and I'm happy I did because after, you know when when the psilocybin wears off, you just feel at least I felt going through this challenging thing that I accomplished something I was like, that was tough. And I didn't think I could do it. But I did and I won. So after that. I felt confident I felt reassured. And it was also very, a very humbling experience. So you feel confident, but at the same time, it's a humbling experience. Meaning that you know, I realized how insignificant not only, you know, my actions are but I am as well. You know, as big an ego someone could have the reality is, you know, we're in the scheme of things We're with all the problems going on in the world, we're pretty insignificant and your problems, you know, as bad as they can be. Hopefully, they're temporary. And in the scheme of things, they're not as bad. As, as, you know, we're going through and we think they are at the time.

Nick Jikomes 50:21

And was the second experience? Was it also not as overtly visual as you would have thought prior to your psilocybin experiences?

Jon Kostakopoulos 50:34

Yeah, these weren't i. So I don't know if it's the way I interact with with psilocybin, but it's not as visual as I saw in the movies, or my friends would explain it to me or think that I would read it. You know, I thought it would be like an augmented reality where I'm walking around. And the thing is, that's it. It could be, but I didn't walk around, right. I'm not outside walking around with, I have an eye mask on the whole time. Okay, so So I think that's also why it wasn't as visual as I thought it would be. But it was mainly it was mainly emote it very strange, it was mainly just emotions that were really different feelings and different. You know, happy, sad. Yeah. Anger and relief. And so a lot of it was like a roller coaster of emotion, if that makes any sense.

Nick Jikomes 51:37

And so you kept your blindfold on the entire time. The music was playing the entire time. And then can you talk about the music a little bit more? And whether or not did you actually interact or speak to the people in the room who are watching you? Or was it mostly was it mostly just a solo trip?

Jon Kostakopoulos 51:58

It was so I went in here. way, because this is a research study. So I looked at myself as a, you know, human research subject. So I, you know, during one of these sessions, probably all of them. I felt like I was almost like an astronaut reporting back to NASA on like, what I was seeing, and what I was experiencing, because I knew that they were curious for now. But and respect to them, they held that curiosity. And so they didn't, they didn't want to ask me any questions. They didn't want to interfere with me at all. They just wanted, you know, me to interact with the soul Simon and the music and the surrounding. So they didn't want to they were there if I needed any assistance, which what he you know, luckily enough, I didn't throughout any of it. And, and I remember, I was telling him, I was like, Okay, this feels weird this and I kept saying this is wacky. I'm like, Okay, this is just wacky guys. And I always knew where I was, I always knew I was at Bellevue Hospital with NYU Langone doctors, that was trying to report back to them. What I was seeing and feeling and they were like, Okay, John, just, you know, tell us tomorrow, try to remember it, try to focus on what you're doing. And you can tell us about golf tomorrow. And so I did. But yeah, no, is a very strange thing. And the music mainly, you know, classical music and, and some tribal stuff with some, you know, like, the wind pipes, and one of those like, it. It's one of those instruments that has the beads in it. I think that it sounds it mimics rainfall. Oh, yeah. Right. So stuff like that. And, and, you know, I remember one from classical to one of those instruments, and I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle all of a sudden, and, you know, I saw Tiger walking by but, you know, I wasn't scared of it. And I kind of, you know, face death. And then I remember having an actual death experience to which ironically, was the most peaceful part of the psilocybin session. And I remember thinking, because the clinical trial a few years prior to the one I participated in the patients, it was for anxiety and the patients were terminally ill cancer patients. And so they must have had, you know, a bunch of anxiety like anyone would have after that. diagnosis. And I just remember, after that having that death experience, I just remember thinking, I hope all of those patients felt the same way that I did and got to experience that too. Because I felt much, you know, much more at ease with death. And it was a very strange experience. And and yeah, I just remember, you know, that. I think that was my second session.

Nick Jikomes 55:34

When you say you had a death experience, what kind of imagery was there? Did you did you actually think it was a death experience? Or did you recognize it as symbolism of some kind?

Jon Kostakopoulos 55:48

You know, no, I thought it was a death experience. And I saw myself from a bird's eye view, almost like an out of body experience. So I saw myself in real time, it felt like that I was watching myself lie down on the couch at Bellevue Hospital. And, and it was like a ceremonial debt, it was very strange, it was, like, almost a sacrifice of some sort, where I just I got stabbed in the neck with a sword, which seems like a painful way to go. But at a slow death, but I, you know, I was

Nick Jikomes 56:37

sorry, it wasn't scary at all, though. It was, it sounds like it was actually a reassuring,

Jon Kostakopoulos 56:42

it was peaceful. And I thought that was another, you know, piece of symbolism that my addiction was leaving me or my, you know, my old self was was leaving me that I can leave this stuff that that's dead. Right, that part of me died. And I could move on to the next thing now. And that's, that's what I related that to I said, Okay, this is, this is obvious to me, this is a part of me, my path leaving me and dying off. And then the part I don't want to carry on to the future with me, which is a good thing.

Nick Jikomes 57:19

So you gave up drinking after the first dose, a few weeks go by, you're still not drinking that whole time you have the second dose? Is anything else in your life feeling different? In between these two sessions? Are you sleeping differently? Are you having different kinds of dreams, what's what's maybe different in your life, besides the fact that you're simply not drinking alcohol?

Jon Kostakopoulos 57:45

You know, I wasn't as focused on things that I had no control over anymore. And that's something that they actually teach you in a Don't, don't worry about the things you don't have control over worrying about the things you do have control over and make sure you know, you do them as well as you can. And which is interesting, because there there are a lot of you know, similarities between AI and the psychedelic assisted therapy. And one of the cofounders of a bill Wu actually did LSD, and wanted to incorporate LSD in their program. But the other folks in Aden want anything to do with that. But, you know, so that, that was a big thing that I was focused on myself, I wasn't worried about what anyone else was thinking, what anyone else was doing. I was just focused at work, I was focused on myself, how can I be better? You know, how can I improve myself? And how can I be better tomorrow than I was yesterday, and today than I was yesterday, and having that calmness in me, it let me you know, slow things down and just and walk in two different things that I was trying to accomplish. So a lot of folks I hear they have an afterglow after they experience a psychedelic session. And I think I felt that for a week or two maybe and I would listen to, you know, music walking to the subway going to work and I was like, Who would have known Willie Nelson inspectia You know, great boys. And I've been listening to them my whole life, but it was like, I started appreciating, you know, these things that I never really consciously knew existed, which was weird, too. And and with my relationships and Well, so that that's another thing. I, what this helped me do was it, I, you know, helped me set my priorities. And I wasn't wasting time on insignificant tasks and things that weren't going anywhere. And I got to focus more of my time efforts and resources, to the things that didn't matter to me. So it helped me realign my priorities, which was, you know, really important.

Nick Jikomes 1:00:29

So in between the second and the third dose, did you know this whole time that you were potentially gonna do three doses.

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:00:38

So the, the first two are the double blind. So if you got the psilocybin the first time, you're going to get the soul side, and the second time you got placebo, the first time you're getting the placebo the second time, the third time. They it's, it's 100% psilocybin, so they want to give the chance to the folks in the placebo group a chance to at least try this once. And because, you know, the most part people don't into the study of a life threatening disease of addiction. So they want to give someone you know, at least a chance of hope to, to get this, this experience at least one time, so yeah, they said, you could get, you know, 123 times, and I got all three,

Nick Jikomes 1:01:27

in between the second, the third dose, you've done these two experiences going to the third one, are you looking forward to it now, the third time Are you still feeling anxious going into it is the third experience different as you're going into it?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:01:45

It's different just because I knew what to expect. And I knew how to handle it now. So I, I was eager to do this. Which is strange, because I don't, after I left the study, I don't want to do this, again, I'm happy and I'm forever grateful to save my life. I'm forever grateful that I got to do it. But I'm not thinking about doing another psilocybin session. I don't, I don't want to go to you know, the Netherlands or South America and do this again, I'm totally fine. I got, you know, out of it exactly, if not more what I want to get out of this. So going into the third session, I was excited. And, and by then I already knew that I was going to drink for the rest of my life. But by that time, that's how fast it worked for me, that I was completely confident that I'm never going to have the urge to drink. And, you know, at that time, I had some stress at work that I wanted to help manage. So I was like, let me try to do this for that, then, you know, let me try to I, what I called was housekeeping just, you know, tidy things up and focus on things, tweak things that that I want to work at and handle my stress better. And so it was I mean, that that's really how well, the psilocybin work. And also, that's how I was terrified going into this. But by the third session, I knew what to expect. And it wasn't easy by any means. But I wasn't afraid of it as I was going into the first session.

Nick Jikomes 1:03:34

And was the dose on the third one higher than the second one or the same as the second

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:03:37

one? You know, I think they gave me the same a 25 milligram one.

Nick Jikomes 1:03:43

And can you speak a little bit more about the interaction between the psilocybin experiences and the therapy sessions happening in between? Do you feel like that's a key piece of this? Oh, sure.

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:03:56

Yeah. The doctors were, were some of the best that I've had access to, and I credit them with, with my success. You know, that's the difference between folks doing this and going to a Grateful Dead cover band, right and hallucinating or doing this and doing it through a therapeutic way. You know, the doctors, the therapists there the psychiatrist, they they need to be good and good enough to get shit through to the other side and help you incorporate what, what emotions and what things are coming up because they're there for a reason. So if they help you, you know, play detective and kind of unwrap everything and help you figure it out. It's It's a huge help to get a successful experience here as I credit the therapy, the psychotherapy. With with that to you, I couldn't just take this, and then sit in a room alone. I needed to do, you know, talk to the doctors before and talk to the doctors after and figure out, okay, what are we going to work on? How am I going to do this? And what am I going to take out of this?

Nick Jikomes 1:05:33

And so it sounds like you don't feel like it's worn off at all, you haven't had a drink in what approximately six years now? Yeah,

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:05:41

about. And now it hasn't. And if anything, which is strange, and I've heard this with other study participants, that if anything, this gets stronger and better over time, or more, you know, most medic medications were off over time with me. This, you know, was reinforced more and more over time, where, I mean, I was talking to a guy who's got about 3536 years, so right thing, and but he's doing a and he's been doing a for decades. And he said, It sound when I explained where I am with this. He said, It took me about 25 years to get to where you are now. And I was shocked. And he's a big believer in this too. And, you know, I just, I felt this was such a shortcut. And I almost it was like a cheat code that I plugged into a video game. Because this is it works. So well. You know, I thought it would be made up if you told me this. Before I entered the study at you know, I thought it would be a fantasyland.

Nick Jikomes 1:06:59

Have you interacted at all with other participants in the same study?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:07:05

Yeah, I have. And I think most of them who got the psilocybin stopped drinking completely or had significantly reduced their drinking. So when I mentioned that, I feel like I could have a drink and just stop. A lot of these people do. So I guess they feel the same ways as I do. I just don't do it. And they say, you know, at Thanksgiving, I saw my family and I had a glass of wine for the first time. And I just I didn't even finish it. And I'm like, and everyone was shocked. And I was like, you know, if I knew that going in, maybe I would have done that. Because I love drinking so much that it was so hard to give it up completely. And I knew I needed to. But going into the study, if I knew that, I could have that as an option that I could drink normally, and I could have one or two drinks and I and not get out of control. I you know, I probably would have picked that route. But I just I was like, you know, I gotta stop completely. And now is the mindset and intention I went

Nick Jikomes 1:08:23

in. Did anyone in the study that you talked to? Have it not really work for them?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:08:32

Yes, but I'm not anything that no one left the study in more shape that they entered it with. So and and only, you know, people that net that got the placebo, frankly, not the ones that got the psilocybin. So does that even count?

Nick Jikomes 1:08:56

So with these people, they got the placebo in the first two, but they still got psilocybin in the last one. Yeah, I see.

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:09:02

And, and so even though I stopped drinking after my very first session, I I am very grateful that I got two more sessions after that, because that really the first session kind of laid the foundation for me. And then the second and third ones I got to build on on top of that. And you know, the progress came from the second and third ones as well to really reinforce that change.

Nick Jikomes 1:09:32

And have you continued therapy or a since the NYU study?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:09:38

No, I haven't. So I explained this to people. Like this worked for me like an antibiotic. I went in to the clinical trial. I did the psilocybin session psychotherapy and I left and I was totally cured. I never I didn't have to go to you know see a doctor I never have to go see a therapist after incense. I never went to a meeting. Because I just I didn't need any of that. I mean, I could go and live my life now I'm not thinking about drinking anymore. I mean, it's it's really miraculous what what, how this works and how well this work?

Nick Jikomes 1:10:23

What, you know, given everything that you've gone through with this, what's your it's pretty clear what your perspective on on this is in terms of the therapeutic applications? What's your therapeutic about psilocybin recreationally? Do you think that it is something that should be legalized and sold in a recreational setting? Or Should this be reserved for therapeutic uses?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:10:48

You know, I think if you look at the data, alcohol and cigarettes kill more people than psychedelics. That being said, I don't think psychedelics are for any everyone. I think you need to do these in safe places. And, you know, with with such a stigma about them, unfortunately, I mean, I have friends that I grew up with that, that, you know, do this recreationally and they're fine. They're, you know, they're great. And they they do this in a safe way. I mean, they don't I don't think they're drug addicts, I don't think they have a problem. They do it, I don't know, maybe once or twice a year. But I think, with the stigma with the scrutiny, and the fact that this actually this isn't like cannabis and medical marijuana, this is, I mean, with with that, you know, that's helped some quality of life improvements, right. Psilocybin can save lives, it saved my life. It I know, a ton of people that it saved their lives. And I think the way to get to help this, save more lives and make this accessible to everyone that needs it. I think the way to do that is, is through the research, because a lot of people are just, you know, the risk of this being politicized again, like it was in the 1970s. Because if you remember, they've been doing this research since in the 1950s, and 1960s. And it had just as good results. And it was saving lives. It was curing alcoholic. But then it got politicized with the counterculture in the 70s. And it you know, all of that promising life saving research have to come to a sudden halt. So I think, you know, to answer your question, I think the route to get this approved, and the fastest way to get this, except make this accessible to people. Is is through the research itself.

Nick Jikomes 1:13:04

What have you been working on? Since completing the study? I know that you're running a nonprofit that you mentioned. So can you tell people about that and what you're doing?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:13:13

Yeah, um, so I, you know, I went in to the study, so desperate. And I made a deal with God, and I'm not really religious person. But I was just so desperate at the time, I said, if you get me out of this, if this works for me, I'm going to do everything I can to help make this accessible to other people. Because personally, I had a lot of friends die from drugs and alcohol. And, you know, I had to talk to their parents, I still talk to their parents. And it's got to be one of the worst, if not the worst feeling in the world having to bury your child. And so I was probably gonna end up that way too. And luckily enough, I did. So it ended up working for me. And I was helping the doctors behind the scene, because so there's no government grants here. Right? This is a schedule one drug. The vast majority of this research comes from private funding. So philanthropist foundations, right? So I was helping the doctors raise some money. And then they asked me to do a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper and I really did not want to do that and go public with this. I was, you know, Michael Pollan interviewed me for his book. And he said, What made you want me to use your real name or you want me to use an alias? Alias? I didn't go public with this. And then, you know, I ended up doing the interview and after I went public with this, a lot of people reached out to me, how do I get into these clinical trials? How do I get my kid and how do I get my wife and you know, And I was almost heartbroken. So I said, Okay, I might as well just own this now and do as much as I can. So we launched the nonprofit, a 501, C three, to advance this research. So we're educating stakeholders, and showing people that this is legitimate medical treatment. And not only that, it's safe. And it's been yielding the best results compared to anything else that's available to us now. And I know that firsthand. So that's what we're doing. We're fundraising to fund more of these clinical trials, and ultimately, get this FDA approved. So people can do this without doing it underground, and with the risk of getting arrested or the risk of doing it unsafely. And that that's, you know, our ultimate goal.

Nick Jikomes 1:15:55

And what's the name of your nonprofit? Where can people find more information?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:16:00

It's, you know, back to my deal with god Apollo pact, Apollo's the God of light, and the pact is our promise to do what we can to make this accessible to people. So Apollo Pac Pac t.org. And if you want to reach out to me and learn more, my email is John J. Irwin at Apollo pac.org.

Nick Jikomes 1:16:27

And so how closely are you following the ongoing research in this area? Is there anything that's particularly exciting to you with psilocybin?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:16:37

You know, I'm eager to see, the doctors at NYU, Langone published the study that I was lucky enough to be a part of. So there, hopefully, you know, coming to an end with that, and I would love to see the overall results of that. I hear they're, you know, they're really good. And they're going to be getting a lot of attention, and a good way with their results. So that's, you know, the main thing I'm looking at, I like how, you know, Mass General and Harvard, they've launched their psychedelic center, Berkeley, I think, with the help of Michael Pollan. There's a researcher Robin cart Carhartt. Harris, from the UK, I think he went over to San Francisco. So there are a lot of moving parts with this research, which is pretty exciting. And I think we're at the tipping point, where, you know, the evidence and the science and the data is just undeniable. And and, you know, you see the New York Times writing stories, the Wall Street Journal, right, the 60 minute segment. This is getting into mainstream media, so that just the overall research is is exciting to me.

Nick Jikomes 1:17:58

Any final thoughts about your experience or about this general area that you want to leave people with or point people to?

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:18:07

You know, with, we were in the middle of a mental health crisis, before the pandemic and an opioid epidemic, right. The opioid epidemic got way worse, with 85,000 deaths over the past 12 months, it's probably going to be north of 100,000. And the mental health crisis was was awful, but going into this pandemic, and all the pandemic did was exacerbated. The silver lining here, I think, you know, we should be optimistic because the silver lining here is that we do have an answer for the majority of people suffering out there. And the way to do that is to get this approved yet make this you know, accessible to people continue to fund research and and get these doctors the resources they need to advance the research but also save lives. That's the bottom line. This will save millions of lives. That has the potential to

Nick Jikomes 1:19:15

Well, John, thanks for your time. This is a very fascinating area and your story is very powerful. So I appreciate you sharing it in you know the level of detail that you have.

Jon Kostakopoulos 1:19:26

Sure thank Well, thanks again for having me and it was great speaking with you on that.

Nick Jikomes 1:19:30

Alright, have a good day, John. Thanks, you too. Take care

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