A recent article in Scientific American highlights the need to reform federal drug policy. In “Turn On, Tune In, Get Better: Psychedelic Drugs Hold Medical Promise,” writer Roni Jacobson describes how the FDA and DEA created a Catch-22 situation for scientists who study psychedelics. The federal agencies claim that there is insufficient research to justify removing psychedelics from Schedule I, the most restrictive category of illegal drugs. This legal barrier makes it very difficult for scientists to conduct the necessary research. Even so, the article notes that “Psychedelic drugs are poised to be the next major breakthrough in mental health care.”
An article in the UK newspaper The Independent profiles Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a researcher at the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College. Writer Laurence Phelan interviews Carhart-Harris about the history and current status of psychedelic research as well as his work using fMRI scanning technology to study the brains of human subjects under the influence of LSD.
The potential scientific benefits of psychedelics (as distinct from whatever cultural, social, artistic, spiritual or subjectively enjoyable benefits one might also argue they have) fall broadly into two categories. They look like being medicinally or therapeutically useful, and they offer an unconventional view of the workings of the human mind, such that the age-old, so-called “hard problem of consciousness” might be made a little easier. The etymology of the word “psychedelic” is, after all, from the Greek for “mind-revealing.”
Two upcoming conferences may be of interest to readers of this website.
The World Ayahuasca Conference will be held from September 25th to the 27th in Ibiza, Spain.
“The World Ayahuasca Conference 2014, organized by the ICEERS Foundation, aims to be a multidisciplinary event that brings together leading scientists, legal experts, practitioners. environmentalists and other experts involved in the ayahuasca field, facilitating the interchange of experience and knowledge, and the birth of new synergies and collaborations through the formal presentations and round tables, workshops and debates, as well as the informal events of the conference.”
Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics will be held from October 10th through the 12th in New York City.
“Horizons is an annual forum for learning about psychedelics in New York City. Its goal is to open a fresh dialogue on their role in medicine, culture, history, spirituality, and creativity. 2014 is its eighth year.”
An article on the news site Vox features an in-depth interview with Heffter board member Dr. Charles Grob. “The Case for Medical LSD, Mushrooms, and Ecstasy,” by German Lopez, surveys the history and current status of psychedelic research. Dr. Grob discusses the potential of psychedelic treatment for end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients and chronic alcoholism with an emphasis on patient safety.
“When you’re talking about psychiatry, the medications we use that I prescribe all the time usually have to be utilized on a daily basis — for weeks, for months, sometimes for years,” Grob says. “When you’re talking about a hallucinogen treatment model, the drug itself might only need to be applied on one occasion or perhaps a couple of occasions spread out by many weeks or many months — all within the context of ongoing psychotherapy.”
California, the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association, has a moving article by Laura B. Childs about the memorial service for Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, the renowned psychedelic chemist.
“Sasha’s work is by all objective criteria worthy of the very highest academic honors, Nobel Prize kind of stuff, but such honors are impossible as we struggle as a society to learn how to balance the complexities that are stirred up by the power of psychedelics,” said UC Berkeley neurobiology lecturer David Presti during the hour-long memorial service. “It was too big to be done in a multimillion dollar laboratory. It instead required an alchemist’s den, a courageous spirit, a careful focus of intention, and a goodly dose of mystical insight. Then the stuff of legend happened. Thank you, Sasha.”
According to The Washington Post, new research at Imperial College London shows that subjects injected with the psychedelic drug psilocybin exhibit brain activity that resembles the dreaming state. The researchers found that psilocybin increases activity in parts of the brain associated with emotion, memory, and arousal. They found a corresponding decrease in the activity of brain networks associated with high-level cognition.
by Rachel Feltman
“In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after “trips” that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.
“But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.”
An article by Kai Kupferschmidt in Science magazine gives a comprehensive survey of current psychedelic research. “High Hopes” focuses on the work of Heffter board member Stephen Ross and includes quotes from board members Roland Griffiths and Franz Vollenweider.
“Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD and psilocybin, believed that these psychedelic drugs might be useful in treating mental illness; the company he worked for, Sandoz, sent them to doctors around the world for experimentation in the 1950s and ’60s. But then, the drugs fell from grace, and most of the research was stopped. Now, researchers have rediscovered psychedelic drugs for their unmatched ability to alter the way the brain processes information, and they are studying them as possible treatments for depression, addiction, anxiety, cluster headaches, and other disorders. But this remains a contentious field, and the scientists studying these drugs face many difficult questions.”
Heffter co-founder David Nichols has an “Editors Pick” article on reset.me, a new web site devoted to journalism on psychedelics and related topics. In “When Will Medicinal ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Be Legalized?” Dr. Nichols gives an overview of Heffter-sponsored research using psilocybin to treat addiction, anxiety, and other disorders. He also describes the three-phase research process that Heffter is undertaking with the goal of making psilocybin a legal medication.
“Many people have now seen media stories about the renewed research interest in psychedelics as medicines, often called a “renaissance” in psychedelic research, over perhaps the past five years or so. Although many psychedelic substances have been used safely as medicines in indigenous cultures for millennia, we are now seeing renewed interest in these substances in Western cultures. As a co-founder ofthe Heffter Research Institute I have watched with an increasing sense of both amazement and gratitude — that we have been able to accomplish so much in such a relatively short time. We are on the path to make psilocybin into a prescription medicine! The Heffter Institute has been a key driver of this “renaissance,” utilizing most of the donations we receive directly to support clinical research.”
An article in the New York Times “Fashion and Style” section covers the current popularity of the psychedelic beverage ayahuasca. The article features quotes from Heffter board member Charles Grob.
“‘It’s a fascinating compound with a great deal to be learned from its effects,’ said Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist who is the director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center and who helped administer a study in Manaus, Brazil, in the 1990s that linked dramatic positive transformations among alcoholics and drug addicts with ayahuasca use. But along with its positives, Dr. Grob is quick to list its dangers.”
A new study uses fMRI technology to distinguish the effects of MDMA (“Ecstasy”) and the classic psychedelic psilocybin on the networks within the brain. Researchers found that psilocybin produces unique changes in consciousness.
The effects of psilocybin and MDMA on between-network resting state functional connectivity in healthy volunteers
Leor Roseman, Robert Leech, Amanda Feilding, David J. Nutt, and Robin L. Carhart-Harris
“Perturbing a system and observing the consequences is a classic scientific strategy for understanding a phenomenon. Psychedelic drugs perturb consciousness in a marked and novel way and thus are powerful tools for studying its mechanisms. In the present analysis, we measured changes in resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) between a standard template of different independent components analysis (ICA)-derived resting state networks (RSNs) under the influence of two different psychoactive drugs, the stimulant/psychedelic hybrid, MDMA, and the classic psychedelic, psilocybin. Both were given in placebo-controlled designs and produced marked subjective effects, although reports of more profound changes in consciousness were given after psilocybin. Between-network RSFC was generally increased under psilocybin, implying that networks become less differentiated from each other in the psychedelic state. Decreased RSFC between visual and sensorimotor RSNs was also observed. MDMA had a notably less marked effect on between-network RSFC, implying that the extensive changes observed under psilocybin may be exclusive to classic psychedelic drugs and related to their especially profound effects on consciousness. The novel analytical approach applied here may be applied to other altered states of consciousness to improve our characterization of different conscious states and ultimately advance our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying them.”