Psychedelics pioneer keeps his inner hippy in check

Psychedelics pioneer keeps his inner hippy in check

 

After giving people LSD and psilocybin, Robin Carhart-Harris is convinced of psychedelic therapy’s potential – but he daren’t get too excited about it

Robin Carhart-Harris
“I have conviction in psychedelics as tools to fundamentally understand the mind and the brain”

Liz Hingley

ONE of the last times I saw Robin Carhart-Harris, I was absolutely off my head on MDMA. On a Monday morning. He knew, because he was the one who gave it to me. He scanned my brain, put me through some psychological tests, and talked to me for what felt like hours about how I was feeling. I remember him being calming and patient. Then again, I was on drugs.

Today I’m completely straight, but he is still calming and patient. It’s a character trait that must come in

Source: Psychedelics pioneer keeps his inner hippy in check | New Scientist

Psychedelic medicine: the potential, the people, the politics

A multicoloured pill capsule
Trippy treatment

James Worrell/Getty

It was quite a comedown in the 1970s when research into psychedelic medicine was virtually shut down in the West. Many countries were beginning to classify psychedelics as “schedule 1”, making them illegal, on the grounds that they were drugs of “abuse” with no agreed-upon medical use.

The stigma, and many obstacles, remain. For many people – crucially those who hold the purse strings – research into psychedelic drugs has a whiff of disreputability about it. As our exclusive interview with Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London reveals, anyone daring to lead this science has to perform a balancing act, with their reputations always on the line.

Nevertheless, the field is showing the green shoots of a renaissance. Here’s a round up of New Scientist’s coverage on the potential, the people and the politics of psychedelic medicine….

The people

Many creators of psychedelic drugs famously tested their products on themselves first. Alexander Shulgin, considered the world’s foremost “psychonaut”, is among those featured in our gallery of self-experimenters.

Over the years, New Scientist has interviewed many key players in psychedelics research, including: Robin Carhart-Harris; David Nutt of Imperial College London, also a former advisor to the UK government on the misuse of drugs; Amanda Feilding, a drugs policy reformer who founded the Beckley Foundation, which promotes and funds clinical research into the therapeutic possibilities of psychedelics; Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, California; and Torsten Passie of Hannover Medical School. From the other side of the fence, we’ve spoken to medicine maker David Nichols, whose work was subverted by manufacturers of recreational drugs; and a maker of legal highs, Dr Z, who argued that mind-altering drugs should be legalised for the improvement of society.

….

Watch this psychedelic space for the latest developments.

More on these topics:

Source: Psychedelic medicine: the potential, the people, the politics | New Scientist

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.”

Full Article – 

Source: David Nutt – The Psychedelic Crusader

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.

 

 

Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial” was written by Sarah Boseley Health editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th May 2016 09.15 UTC

Magic mushrooms have lifted severe depression in a dozen volunteers in a clinical trial, raising scientists’ hopes that the psychedelic experiences beloved of the Aztecs and the hippy counter-culture of the 1970s could one day become mainstream medicine.

A clinical trial, which took years and significant money to complete due to the stringent regulatory restrictions imposed around the class 1 drug, has found that two doses of psilocybin, the active substance in the mushrooms, was sufficient to lift resistant depression in all 12 volunteers for three weeks, and to keep it away in five of them for three months.

The size of the trial and the absence of any placebo means the research, funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal (pdf), is a proof of principle only.

The scientists, from Imperial College London, said they hoped the results would encourage the MRC or other funders to put up the money needed for a full trial. However, the use of a placebo control, comparing those who use the drug with those who do not, will always be difficult, because it will be obvious who is having a psychedelic experience.

In spite of the outcome, the researchers urged people not to try magic mushrooms themselves.

The lead author, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, said: “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support.

“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”

The senior author, Prof David Nutt, said it was justified for researchers to explore the medical use of banned recreational drugs.

“It is important that academic research groups try to develop possible new treatments for depression as the pharmaceutical industry is pulling out of this field‎. Our study has shown psilocybin is safe and fast acting so may, if administered carefully, have value for these patients.”

All the volunteers had severe depression and had failed to improve on at least two standard antidepressants. They were initially given a low dose of psilocybin to ensure they had no adverse reactions (none did) and then a higher dose a week later. They were treated in a specially prepared room, with music playing and in the presence of two psychiatrists who talked with them throughout. The psychedelic experience lasted up to five hours.

One of the volunteers, Kirk Rutter, from London, described himself as being heartbroken by the death of his mother and unable to come to terms with it in spite of counselling and medication. He said he was nervous about taking part and had never taken magic mushrooms, but said the friendly staff, the room layout and the music had relaxed him by the time he came to swallow the capsules.

“Both times I experienced something called ‘psychedelic turbulence’. This is the transition period to the psychedelic state, and caused me to feel cold and anxious,” the 45-year-old said. “However this soon passed, and I had a mostly pleasant – and sometimes beautiful – experience.

“There were certainly some challenging moments during the sessions, for instance when I experienced being in hospital with my mother when she was very ill. And during the high-dose session I visualised my grief as an ulcer that I was preventing from healing so that I could stay connected to my mother. However, by going through memories, and feeling the love in our relationship, I saw that letting go of the grief was not letting go of her memory.”

He said it was not a quick fix and he needed to keep working at feeling positive, but he was still “doing great”.

Nutt said major hurdles had to be overcome to carry out the research. It took a year to get ethical approval and there was a six-month safety study, but the hardest part was getting through the red tape.

It took 30 months to get the drug, which had to be specially packaged into capsules for the trial by a company which was required to get a licence to do so. All the regulatory approvals took 32 months, Nutt said. “It cost £1,500 to dose each person, when in a sane world it might cost £30.”

The researchers said they did not know whether the effect of the drug was caused by chemical changes in the brain or whether the psychedelic experience, which people describe as spiritual or mystical, gives them a new perspective. Either way, they said psilocybin offered hope for those who had been depressed for an average of 18 years – the majority of the volunteers had been depressed most of their lives.

The study was part of a research collaboration between Imperial and the Beckley Foundation, a thinktank that focuses on drugs policy.

Amanda Feilding, founder of Beckley and co-director of the trial programme with Nutt, said: “The results from our research are helping is to understand how psychedelics change consciousness, and how this information can be used to find breakthrough treatments for many of humanity’s most intractable psychiatric disorders, such as depression, addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder.”

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