Psychedelic expert: Shrooms will be approved for depression in 10 years


Ask a healthy person who’s tripped on psychedelics what it felt
like, and they’ll probably tell you they saw sounds or heard colors: The crash-bang of a dropped box took on an aggressive,dark shape. A bright green light seemed to emit a piercing, high-pitched screech.

In actuality, this “cross-wiring” — synaesthesia, as it’s known scientifically — may be one example of the drug “freeing” the brain from its typical connection patterns. And this fundamental change in how the brain sends and receives information also might be the reason the drugs are so promising
as a treatment for people with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or addiction.

“I’m absolutely sure that, within ten years, psilocybin will be an accepted treatment for depression,” David Nutt, the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London told me last month.

To understand why he might believe this so strongly, it helps to take a look first at how a healthy brain works — and then at how a psychedelic trip appears to modify the way a depressed brain does.

Normally, information is exchanged in the brain across various circuits, or what Paul Expert, who coauthored one of the first studies to map the
activity in the human brain on psilocybin, described to me as “informational highways.” On some highways, there’s a steady stream of traffic. On others, however, there are rarely more than a few cars on the road. Psychedelics appear to  drive traffic to these underused highways, opening up dozens
of different routes and freeing up some space along the more heavily used ones.

Robin  Carhart-Harris, who leads the psychedelic research arm of the Center for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London,
captured these changes in one of the first neuroimaging studies of the brain on a psychedelic trip. He presented his findings last year in New York at a conference on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. With psilocybin, “there was a definite sense of lubrication, of freedom, of the cogs being loosened and firing in all sorts of unexpected directions,” Carhart-Harris said.

Here’s a visualization that Expert created to show the brain connections in a person on psilocybin (shrooms) — the chart on the right — compared to the connections in the brain of someone not on the drug (left):


shrooms brain networks
Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Source: Psychedelics expert: Shrooms will be approved for depression in 10 years – Business Insider

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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LSD’s impact on the brain revealed in groundbreaking images


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “LSD’s impact on the brain revealed in groundbreaking images” was written by Ian Sample Science editor, for The Guardian on Monday 11th April 2016 18.09 UTC

The profound impact of LSD on the brain has been laid bare by the first modern scans of people high on the drug.

The images, taken from volunteers who agreed to take a trip in the name of science, have given researchers an unprecedented insight into the neural basis for effects produced by one of the most powerful drugs ever created.

A dose of the psychedelic substance – injected rather than dropped – unleashed a wave of changes that altered activity and connectivity across the brain. This has led scientists to new theories of visual hallucinations and the sense of oneness with the universe some users report.

The brain scans revealed that trippers experienced images through information drawn from many parts of their brains, and not just the visual cortex at the back of the head that normally processes visual information. Under the drug, regions once segregated spoke to one another.

Further images showed that other brain regions that usually form a network became more separated in a change that accompanied users’ feelings of oneness with the world, a loss of personal identity called “ego dissolution”.

David Nutt, the government’s former drugs advisor, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, and senior researcher on the study, said neuroscientists had waited 50 years for this moment. “This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics,” he said. “We didn’t know how these profound effects were produced. It was too difficult to do. Scientists were either scared or couldn’t be bothered to overcome the enormous hurdles to get this done.”

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was first synthesised in 1938 but its extraordinary psychological properties did not become clear until 1943. Throughout the 1950s and 60s the drug had a major impact on psychology and psychiatric research, but its adoption as a recreational drug and its influence on youth culture led to it being banned in the 1960s.

The outlawing of LSD had an immediate effect on scientific research and studies into its effects on the brain and its potential therapeutic uses have been hampered ever since. The latest study was made possible through a crowdfunding campaign and The Beckley Foundation, which researches psychoactive substances.

With his colleague Robin Carhart-Harris, Nutt invited 20 physically and mentally healthy volunteers to attend a clinic on two separate days. One day they received an injection of 75mcg of LSD and on the other they received a placebo instead.

Using three different brain imaging techniques, named arterial spin labelling, resting state MRI and magnetoencephalography, the scientists measured blood flow, functional connections within and between brain networks, and brainwaves in the volunteers on and off the drug.

Carhart-Harris said that on LSD, scans suggested volunteers were “seeing with their eyes shut”, though the images they reported were from their imaginations rather than the world outside. “We saw many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD, even though volunteers’ eyes were closed,” he said. The more prominent the effect, the more intense people rated their dreamlike visions.

Under the influence, brain networks that deal with vision, attention, movement and hearing became far more connected, leading to what looked like a “more unified brain”, he said. But at the same time, other networks broke down. Scans revealed a loss of connections between part of the brain called the parahippocampus and another region known as the retrosplenial cortex.

LSD brain scan
A second image shows different sections of the brain, either on placebo, or under the influence of LSD (lots of orange). Photograph: Imperial/Beckley Foundation

The effect could underpin the altered state of consciousness long linked to LSD, and the sense of the self-disintegrating and being replaced with a sense of oneness with others and nature. “This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way, and seems to be associated with improvements in wellbeing after the drug’s effects have subsided,” Carhart-Harris said.

The drug can be seen as reversing the more restricted thinking we develop from infancy to adulthood, said Nutt, whose study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study could pave the way for LSD or related chemicals to be used to treat psychiatric disorders. Nutt said the drug could pull the brain out of thought patterns seen in depression and addiction through its effects on brain networks.

Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation, said: “We are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal, but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself.”

  • This article was amended on 11 April 2016 to give the correct amount (75mcg) of LSD administered to each volunteer.

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The Trip Treatment – The New Yorker

Psilocybin may be useful in treating anxiety, addiction, and depression, and in studying the neurobiology of mystical experience.

Extract from The Trip Treatment – The New Yorker

On an April Monday in 2010, Patrick Mettes, a fifty-four-year-old television news director being treated for a cancer of the bile ducts, read an article on the front page of the Times that would change his death. His diagnosis had come three years earlier, shortly after his wife, Lisa, noticed that the whites of his eyes had turned yellow. By 2010, the cancer had spread to Patrick’s lungs and he was buckling under the weight of a debilitating chemotherapy regimen and the growing fear that he might not survive. The article, headlined “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning in Again,” mentioned clinical trials at several universities, including N.Y.U., in which psilocybin—the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms—was being administered to cancer patients in an effort to relieve their anxiety and “existential distress.” One of the researchers was quoted as saying that, under the influence of the hallucinogen, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states . . . and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.” Patrick had never taken a psychedelic drug, but he immediately wanted to volunteer. Lisa was against the idea. “I didn’t want there to be an easy way out,” she recently told me. “I wanted him to fight.”

The revival of psychedelic research today owes much to the respectability of its new advocates. At sixty-eight, Roland Griffiths, who was trained as a behaviorist and holds senior appointments in psychiatry and neuroscience at Hopkins, is one of the nation’s leading drug-addiction researchers. More than six feet tall, he is rail-thin and stands bolt upright; the only undisciplined thing about him is a thatch of white hair so dense that it appears to have held his comb to a draw. His long, productive relationship with nida has resulted in some three hundred and fifty papers, with titles such as “Reduction of Heroin Self-Administration in Baboons by Manipulation of Behavioral and Pharmacological Conditions.” Tom Insel, the director of the N.I.M.H., described Griffiths as “a very careful, thoughtful scientist” with “a reputation for meticulous data analysis. So it’s fascinating that he’s now involved in an area that other people might view as pushing the edge.”

The lab at Hopkins is currently conducting a study of particular interest to Griffiths: examining the effect of psilocybin on long-term meditators. The study plans to use fMRI—functional magnetic-resonance imaging—to study the brains of forty meditators before, during, and after they have taken psilocybin, to measure changes in brain activity and connectivity and to see what these “trained contemplatives can tell us about the experience.” Griffiths’s lab is also launching a study in collaboration with N.Y.U. that will give the drug to religious professionals in a number of faiths to see how the experience might contribute to their work. “I feel like a kid in a candy shop,” Griffiths told me. “There are so many directions to take this research. It’s a Rip Van Winkle effect—after three decades of no research, we’re rubbing the sleep from our eyes.”

“Ineffability” is a hallmark of the mystical experience. Many struggle to describe the bizarre events going on in their minds during a guided psychedelic journey without sounding like either a New Age guru or a lunatic. The available vocabulary isn’t always up to the task of recounting an experience that seemingly can take someone out of body, across vast stretches of time and space, and include face-to-face encounters with divinities and demons and previews of their own death.

Volunteers in the N.Y.U. psilocybin trial were required to write a narrative of their experience soon after the treatment, and Patrick Mettes, having worked in journalism, took the assignment seriously. His wife, Lisa, said that, after his Friday session, he worked all weekend to make sense of the experience and write it down.

When Mettes arrived at the treatment room, at First Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street, Tony Bossis and Krystallia Kalliontzi, his guides, greeted him, reviewed the day’s plan, and, at 9 A.M., presented him with a small chalice containing the pill. None of them knew whether it contained psilocybin or the placebo. Asked to state his intention, Mettes said that he wanted to learn to cope better with the anxiety and the fear that he felt about his cancer. As the researchers had suggested, he’d brought a few photographs along—of Lisa and him on their wedding day, and of their dog, Arlo—and placed them around the room.

Read moreThe Trip Treatment – The New Yorker