David Nutt – The Psychedelic Crusader

 

David Nutt
The Psychedelic Crusader

In a society where almost all drugs have negative associations, it’s hard to have an open and rational discussion about their potential miraculous effects.

So you used to work as a government adviser. What did that life teach you about how the government approaches drugs, as opposed to what you’re doing now? There must be a huge gap.

Yes, there is an enormous gap. That was the great dissolution and that’s why I got sacked. I spent nine years chairing a committee that did the most systematic analysis of drug harms that has ever been done. It developed new methodologies, published papers, and that was enormously fruitful. I believe that’s what governments should do if they want to make good laws. But it gradually became clear to me during that decade that I was working there that they weren’t interested in the facts. They were very happy with the facts that justified their preconceptions, but the facts that conflicted with their preconceptions they tried to dismiss, or hide, or ignore. In the end it became too oppressive. I suddenly discovered one day, during an interview with one of the BBC home affairs correspondents that I was actually speaking like them. I suddenly thought – who is saying these things? This is not me.  I had to stop the interview and say, no we can’t go on. Then I started telling the truth and within six months I was sacked.

You are very enthusiastic about green-lighting trials in this area and understandably so. We’re talking about people suffering from anxiety and depression. The Default Mode Network is generally overactive in people with those disorders and Psilocybin has been shown to turn off the DMN and allow the brain to behave in ways never seen before. But we still know very little for certain. Isn’t that terrifying?

The point is we don’t know about it because no one has done it before. It’s quite fascinating. Getting some of this stuff published has been quite difficult. A lot of scientists would prefer if this whole thing went away. It raises challenges to philosophies and theories of science. It is like Einstein. We had a nice theory of physics and then suddenly relativity comes along and we have a different theory. Similarly we had a nice theory of consciousness but then our work comes along and says actually there’s another kind of psychedelic consciousness and that’s associated with very different brain activity. All the scientists working in the area of consciousness are saying, “Hey, get out of here. You’re a fucking psychiatrist.” But the truth is we’ve challenged things and shaken things up.

 

“I’m sure that within ten years psilocybin will be an accepted alternative treatment for depression.”

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Source: David Nutt – The Psychedelic Crusader

2016’s best bits: breakthroughs in science

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “2016’s best bits: breakthroughs in science” was written by Ian Sample, for The Guardian on Saturday 24th December 2016 09.00 UTC

It came from beyond the Large Magellanic Cloud. The signal, a mere 20 milliseconds long, captured the moment when two black holes slammed together – a cataclysm that sent ripples through spacetime and onwards to Earth, where they made instruments chirp and scientists cheer. “We have detected gravitational waves,” said David Reitze of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo). “We did it.”

The announcement ranked as the physics discovery of the year, confirming Einstein’s century-old theory of gravity and putting the Ligo team on course for a Nobel. But the real excitement is yet to come. For the first quarter of a million years, the cosmos was hidden from astronomers. Now scientists can build gravitational wave observatories and, with them, look back to the birth of the universe. We can study the moment of creation.

It wasn’t the only time astronomers celebrated in 2016. In August, the European Southern Observatory in the Chilean desert saw changes in the light coming from Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to the sun. An Earth-sized planet was pulling the red dwarf around. What thrilled astronomers was that the newly discovered world lay in the star’s habitable zone, that Goldilocks region of space where the temperature is right for liquid water, and along with water, perhaps life. The discovery brought the question, “Are we alone?” to our cosmic doorstep – and with it the realisation that such planets are not rare.

Stephen Hawking is convinced that aliens are out there, but he’s wary of inviting them over. In his 2016 film, Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places, he warned that meeting up with a technologically advanced bunch of cosmic hooligans might do for humanity what Christopher Columbus did for the Native Americans.

Hawking is equally suspicious of artificial intelligence. Yes, superintelligent machines might solve our greatest challenges, but not if they wipe us out instead. Fortunately, that threat remains a distant one.

Magic mushrooms
Magic mushrooms, or medicine? Photograph: Martin Bond/Science Photo Library

For some people, merging with robots makes sense. Nathan Copeland, a 28-year-old who broke his neck in a car crash, had a robot arm wired directly into his brain. He could move it by thinking, and through signals passed back to his brain, experience a sense of touch. By providing sensory feedback, researchers are edging towards their ultimate goal: robotic limbs that move and feel like real ones.

More than 25 US states have now legalised marijuana for medical uses, but could magic mushrooms be next? A handful of small studies found that psilocybin (the ingredient that made for happy hippies in the 1970s) could lift severe depression in one group of volunteers, and reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients. For Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, the latter results were unprecedented. “We don’t have anything like it,” he said.

Goodnews list

“More work needed” was the take home from another trial in 2016; this time for a male contraceptive. At last it seemed that men could shoulder the responsibility for birth control, and all it required was, well, a little prick. The bimonthly hormone jab was nearly as effective as the female pill, but the trial was halted after 20 men dropped out. Some suffered from depression and acne; others had to contend with soaring libidos.

Of the 130 million or so babies born this year, one that arrived in April marked a scientific first. A Jordanian boy was created with DNA from three people (his parents, plus a healthy donor) to prevent him from inheriting a serious genetic disease. The US team who performed the treatment in Mexico say the boy is healthy, but such diseases can take hold later in life. In December, the fertility regulator in the UK gave clinics the green light to apply for a licence to offer the procedure, known as mitochondrial replacement therapy, paving the way for similar births in Britain.

Every year has its own advances, but all tell the story of science. Great ideas work or fail. Achievements are lauded, but make us think twice. With each, we understand that little bit more about ourselves and the universe. And if none of it makes much sense yet? Well, we can always ask the aliens.

• Where did it all go right? For a more positive view of the world in 2017, follow the Guardian’s Half Full online series, with reports on innovative ideas and solutions to the challenges of the day. Wishing you all a happier new year.

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Power of psychedelic drugs to lift mental distress shown in trials

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Power of psychedelic drugs to lift mental distress shown in trials” was written by Sarah Boseley Health editor, for The Guardian on Friday 2nd December 2016 17.37 UTC

When Aldous Huxley was dying in 1963, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD, and he passed away, she wrote afterwards, without any of the pain and distress that cancer can cause in the final hours.

“All five people in the room said that this was the most serene, the most beautiful death,” Laura Huxley, a psychotherapist, wrote to other members of his family.

Huxley, who wrote his 1954 essay The Doors of Perception about his experience of taking the psychedelic drug mescaline, anticipated just such a death in his last novel, Island. At the time, many in the psychiatric field thought psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, and LSD held huge promise to alleviate all kinds of severe mental distress. There were experiments, funded by the United States government, into the use of LSD at the end of life.

But the doors clanged shut in 1970, when the US government classified the drugs in schedule 1, which meant they had no medical use.

Nearly half a century later, two trials in the US may have proven that wrong. One, conducted at Johns Hopkins University and the other, at New York University, gave a single high dose of psilocybin, along with psychotherapy, to 80 people with advanced cancer who were experiencing depression and anxiety.

The results published this week were remarkable, prompting 10 eminent figures in the psychiatric world in the US and Europe to contribute commentaries to the Journal of Psychopharmacology, where the trial outcomes were published, calling for more research. In 80% of cases, patients’ distress was lifted and remained so for six to eight months.

In the same week, the Food and Drug Administration in the US gave the green light to a phase 3 trial of MDMA, or ecstasy, for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This will be a large-scale trial, following several small and successful trials, capable of producing the evidence needed for the FDA to approve MDMA as a licensed medication.

It’s a watershed. Years of hard work by those convinced that mind-altering drugs have a place in medicine have led up to it, overcoming legal and financial obstacles to trials as well as social and political hostility. The multidisciplinary association for psychedelic studies (Maps), which has fought for this and other trials since 1986, believes ecstasy will be a licensed medicine within four years.

“We’re not counter-cultural in any sense,” says Brad Burge of California-based Maps, which will raise $20m to fund the final trials. “We are trying to develop a legitimate treatment option for people with PTSD and other illnesses.”

What has shifted over the decades is gradual recognition of the vast amount of untreated need. “There is a great deal more awareness than there used to be of PTSD as an epidemic worldwide,” says Burge.

The conventional treatments for PTSD such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills do not work for most people, any more than they do for the sort of distress around life-threatening cancer that makes some sufferers have suicidal thoughts. Psychotherapy can help, but the psychiatric community is astounded by the lasting effect of a dose of MDMA on a war veteran who cannot leave his home for fear of reliving the horrors he has seen.

Prof David Nutt from Imperial College in London, editor of the journal that ran the psilocybin trials this week and involved in a smaller study that reported in May on the use of psilocybin in other sorts of depression, says MDMA works in a very different way from magic mushrooms.

“MDMA in PTSD is not a psychedelic,” he says. “I’m not sure psychedelics would work in PTSD. They might make it worse.

“What MDMA does is dampen down the brain circuit which is overactive in PTSD and that allows people to engage in the psychotherapy in a more efficient way. I’ve treated patients with PTSD and as soon as you say, look I want you to start thinking about the trauma, they faint. You can’t engage with them. The traumatic memories are so overwhelming.”

Psilocybin is different. Like LSD, it can produce a mystical experience. Scientists do not yet know if that is why it has a profound effect on depression. “That’s one of the key research questions,” says Nutt. “Do you need a mystical experience? Do you need to meet some greater being?”

Back before the US blanket ban in 1970, scientists trialled LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, credited mystical experiences on the drug for his own recovery. “His belief was that you had to find a higher power so that you could look down on this rather petty affection people have for alcohol,” said Nutt.

In his own depression study, he said, some people did have mystical experiences. Others had powerful emotional experiences. When it comes to using psychedelics at the end of life, which was very much of interest to scientists in the 1940s and 1950s, a mystical experience may be key.

“When you see that you are more than your current self and you have experiences as our patients do, feeling you are taken outside of your body and floating off into space and into other worlds, then you see the bigger picture. You realise you don’t ever die. No one ever dies. You stop breathing. You stop thinking. But the atoms are still there,” said Nutt.

“There used to be this wonderful little quiz question they set for scientists doing the Cambridge entrance exam. How many O2 molecules of Socrates’ last breath do you inhale every time you breathe? The answer is about 26 because those atoms, those molecules, are still around. We are just a rather complicated form of life but our matter doesn’t disappear – it’s just the way it’s organised that does.”

Whether such a mind-expanding experience can ever become part of mainstream psychotherapy is no longer just a rhetorical question.

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Magic Mushrooms Could Be the Future of Antidepressants

We spoke to Dr. Mark Bolstridge, a clinical psychiatrist searching for alternative and unusual treatments for depression.

Bolstridge, alongside David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and former government drugs advisor, initially applied to run a psilocybin trial in 2013. Nutt had previously conducted small experiments before more stringent regulations around psychoactive substances were put into place. He felt that psilocybin had the potential to alleviate symptoms of depression and wanted to carry out further experiments.

Bolstridge is already in the process of searching for alternative and unusual treatments. In particular, he’s been looking into the hallucinogenic compound found within magic mushrooms: psilocybin.

“There are a distinct proportion of patients who don’t get better despite taking lots of different antidepressants,” says Dr. Mark Bolstridge, an honorary research associate at UCL and a clinical psychiatrist. “That’s frustrating as a clinician, that even though we do have a lot of drugs at our disposal, for some people, none of them work.”

found that some drug companies were selectively publishing studies on antidepressants that showed the drugs had a benefit and shelving others that showed there was no overall effect.

, doctors treat the causes in a crude way, with drugs “aimed at the wrong target,” often focusing on reducing stress rather than depression itself. Others have suggested that

The science of antidepressants, is not, as it goes, an exact science. Two patients can react differently to the same drug. For some people, many of the existing drugs won’t have any effect at all.

 

 

List of news articles featuring Lancet Paper Publication

Just a list of news outlets that have featured articles about our paper being published today:

‘Magic mushrooms’ drug could help with depression, trial suggests

How Magic Mushrooms Could Treat Depression

Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Could Treat Severe Depression

Magic mushroom ingredient may ease severe depression, study suggests

‘Magic’ Mushrooms Show Promise Against Depression In First-Ever Trial

Can magic mushrooms dampen depression?

Magic Mushroom Compound Investigated in Treatment-Resistant Depression

Could magic mushrooms help relieve depression?

How ‘Magic Mushroom’ Drugs Could Help Fight Treatment-Resistant Depression

“Magic” Mushroom Compound Eases Depression

They Had Been Depressed for 18 Years. Then They Took Mushrooms

Magic mushroom ingredient offers hope for treating depression

We saw magic mushrooms lift long-term depression. It’s time for a change of perception

We’re finding out more about how a seemingly unlikely drug might one day be used to tackle depression

Magic Mushroom Drug Lifts Depression in Human Trial

The hallucinogenic chemical in magic mushrooms could help treat depression

Magic mushroom drug psilocybin can treat severe depression: study

Magic mushrooms could help treat severe depression

Can magic mushrooms, a hallucinogenic Class A drug, help people with DEPRESSION?

Magic mushroom compound psilocybin could provide new avenue for antidepressant research

Magic mushrooms could cure severe depression – scientists

Clinical trial finds two doses of magic mushrooms can lift severe depression for three weeks

Magic mushrooms lifts severe depression in trial

The Morning Brew: Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial

Magic mushrooms could be ‘serious breakthrough’ for depression treatment, claims drugs expert

Magic mushrooms might be able to help people with severe depression

Magic Mushrooms Could Help Fight Depression

Magic mushrooms drug could help treat depression

Magic mushrooms helped drug trial volunteer ‘stay connected’ with his dead mother

Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Magic mushrooms ‘promising’ in depression

OPINION: Mushrooms can treat PTSD and depression

Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Twelve people with moderate to severe treatment-resistant depression who had not responded to at least two courses of antidepressants were recruited (six men and six women, aged 30 to 64). Most of the participants actively volunteered to take part following presentations by the researchers and media coverage.

Hallucinogenics such as psilocybin can cause unpleasant reactions, including anxiety and paranoia, so it is important to establish whether the drug can be administered safely to people with depression. To investigate the safety and feasibility of using psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, researchers from Imperial  conducted a strictly monitored feasibility study.  As this was not a randomised-controlled trial, the patients knew they were receiving the drug and there was no control group to provide comparison either with existing treatments or with no treatment at all.

Previous studies have looked into the potential of using psychedelic drugs for conditions such as end of life anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and smoking dependence. Psilocybin acts on the serotonin system suggesting it could be developed for use in the treatment of depression.

It is estimated that 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression. The annual cost of depression in England is thought to be around £7.5 billion. Most people with depression respond positively to treatment using antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. But around 20 per cent of those with depression do not respond to treatments and are classified as having treatment-resistant depression.

The study team, from Imperial College London, say this could pave the way for future randomised-controlled trials to establish the efficacy of the compound in treating this form of depression.