Jack Wilson

A splendour time to learn about medicines

16 August 2023
A researcher’s experience with Splendour in the Grass
A key skill of a researcher is to know how to get their information directly to their audience. For Dr Jack Wilson, that includes music festival Splendour in the Grass’s Science Tent. We sat down with him to learn more.

Music festivals are notorious for the use of substances. From the days of Woodstock in the 1960’s through to the festivals that tour across the country to this day, many festival goers have had some interaction with substances. These can be from primary or secondary use, such as secondary inhalation of smoked substances.

At the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, our researchers are proud to conduct evidence-based, community-first research that is focused on the effects of substances on ourselves and our communities.

For Matilda Centre cannabis researcher Dr Jack Wilson, getting to share research directly with the community connects information with those who will benefit most from it. Joining fellow Matilda Centre researcher Dr Emily Stockings, Jack took his research to Byron Bay, NSW to the annual music festival Splendour in the Grass in the illustrious Science Tent.

Held annually alongside music acts, the Science Tent takes leading science research straight to the community. As part of his session, Jack shared what lessons Australia can take from legalising medicinal cannabis into a new wave of medicines such as MDMA and psilocybin (found in “magic mushrooms”).

We sat down with Jack to see what he learned from attending Splendour in the Grass, the lessons from medicinal cannabis, and what the community is looking for.

What is it like to present at the Science Tent at Splendour in the Grass?

It was a wonderful experience! The organisers had tremendous respect for what we do, which can sometimes be lost on us. We so often forget about the big picture importance of our research, particularly when we get caught up in the details of academia.

It can be a little daunting presenting in front of members of the public, but at the end of the day, they just want to learn something new, or better understand something that they already know. I think by engaging in community events like this, we have a great opportunity to reach the people that our research aims to benefit. 

Jack Wilson

Photo: Dr Jack Wilson presenting at the Science Tent at the 2023 Splendour in the Grass in July. Source: Carlotta Schäfer & Luisa Steinkolger

You presented on how we can take the lessons from medicinal cannabis into MDMA and psilocybin as mental health treatments. What is it about this area of research that interests you?

Australia is the first country to federally recognise MDMA and psilocybin as medicines, and the world will be watching.

For a lot of people, it can be an exciting time witnessing traditionally illicit drugs be recognised for their therapeutic use. Criminalisation often pushes consumers to the fringes of society, and there continues to be a strong focus on the harms associated with using these substances. However, the experiences of many do not necessarily reflect the way that these drugs have been characterised in the past. In addition to restructuring our attitudes towards drug use, I also see the importance of developing novel treatments that are safe and effective.  We are still unsure as to whether this is the case for MDMA and psilocybin.

We witnessed a similar trajectory with medicinal cannabis over seven years ago in Australia. The parallels between the cannabis experience and what we are going through with MDMA and psilocybin are striking. We can therefore anticipate some of the challenges (e.g., limited initial access) and possible consequences (e.g., lack of evidence-based prescribing) that may arise as a result of these new medicines. 

What are the community wanting to know more about? Are there specific topics coming up frequently, and if so, what topics?

I was lucky enough to present alongside my mentor and colleague, Dr Emily Stockings, who spoke about vaping. The audience was very interested in behavioural techniques to avoid vaping, and the short and long-term effects of use.

As for the MDMA and psylocibin space, questions were asked around the safety of these medicines, methods of access, and the distinction between medicinal use and use of illicit products (e.g. medicinal use is administered alongside psychotherapy). 

Jack Wilson

Photo source: Carlotta Schäfer & Luisa Steinkolger

What do you hope people who attended got out of the event?

There are two things that I hope people got out of the event.

Firstly, while the introduction of these new medicines may be an exciting time, the evidence for their efficacy and safety is still not clear. Similar to what has occurred with cannabis, we need to refrain from viewing MDMA and psilocybin as the cure-all.  Through further research, we will vastly improve our understanding of these medicines, ensuring that Australians are prescribed treatments that work for them.

Secondly, alcohol and other drug use is common within music festivals. Our heads would be in the sand to think otherwise. Hence, this was a rare opportunity to provide people with harm reduction strategies that they may have used shortly after. For those that choose to consume substances, we encourage them to be surrounded by friends, and to initially use small amounts.

These are just a couple of examples of messaging that may have a lasting impact on people’s safety.

Dr Jack Wilson

Dr Jack Wilson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Matilda Centre, The University of Sydney. His research focuses on patterns of cannabis and other drug use, associated health outcomes, and implications for Australian drug policy. Jack has served as an expert consultant for the Western Australian Mental Health Commission’s drug prevention and information program, Drug Aware.