The use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s prompted the United States government to assign these drugs Schedule I status, the most controlled drugs under federal regulation. According to the Controlled Substances Act, they have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. This status effectively halted the clinical research being conducted on these drugs. However, in the past 20 years, new, well-designed trials have demonstrated that these drugs elicit mystical experiences in the user that may have sustained, beneficial effects, especially in people who have depression. In this clip, Dr. Roland Griffiths describes the current state of research on psychedelic drugs.
Roland: We can do reductionistic neuroscience. Whether we're doing brain imaging work, we can ask questions about pharmacology, we can ask questions about biological and genetic dispositions or behavioral interactions or set and setting conditions that modulate those experiences. And to bring this to your question, we can look at therapeutic effects.
And so, one of the first studies that we've conducted looking at therapeutic effects is to look at cancer patients who are experiencing very significant anxiety or fear in face of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. And it turns out that this kind of very disquieting existential anxiety and sometimes depression very often accompanies these life-threatening cancer diagnoses as you might expect that it would. And our treatment options are quite limited, so we do have our classic antidepressants and our anxiolytics. And there are different kinds of psychotherapy approaches, but for many people, these interventions are not very effective and they can really experience a very degraded quality of life and a sense of hopelessness and depression that really diminishes their whole experience in the latter parts of their lives.
So, it was this population that we were interested in treating with psilocybin to see whether there would be therapeutic effects. One of the reasons we chose that population is that there were studies back in the 50s and 60s that produced suggestive evidence that compounds from this category of the classic hallucinogens like LSD and some other psilocybin analogs might be effective in this regard, but these trials were not conducted under the rigorous clinical standards that would be expected today. And just a footnote, of course, work with these classic hallucinogens really came to a standstill in the late 60s with the psychedelic movement and the cultural reactivity we had to that which placed these drugs into schedule one. They became very difficult to obtain. There was no funding that was available, and the media surrounding the surge in use of these compounds back in the 60s led people to conclude incorrectly as it turns out that the risks of exposure to these compounds were greater than any possible benefits. But functionally, what happened was there was a period of several decades where no clinical research was done with these compounds.
So, people had made observations previously that there might be a signal here. There had been one pilot study published a couple years ago with a low dose of psilocybin out of UCLA. And then we undertook our study at Johns Hopkins. A group at NYU ran a somewhat smaller study and we co-published just this last week, in fact, our results. And the results really were quite striking. They confirmed everything we had seen in the healthy volunteers that is these very vulnerable cancer patients who had very significant anxiety or depression experience the same types of...experience is very often classified as this mystical-type experiences, but they were deeply moved by these experiences.
And interestingly, these people experience very large and sustained decreases in anxiety and depression, and the effects occurred really quite promptly after the administration of the drug. And although the design of the study was such, it was a crossover design so people were crossed over between essentially an inactive dose of psilocybin to an active dose or vice-versa. So the strongest conclusion we can make comparing our placebo condition and our active condition is this effect lasted out to five weeks, but in fact, we followed people out to six months and there was no evidence that there was any significant rate of relapse over that period of time.
So, in other words, most people who demonstrated a large therapeutic effect remained having low levels of anxiety or depression out to six months. So there's suggestive evidence that there's a long duration of that...
Rhonda: After one treatment.
Roland: ...after one treatment, yeah.
A mood disorder characterized by profound sadness, fatigue, altered sleep and appetite, as well as feelings of guilt or low self-worth. Depression is often accompanied by perturbations in metabolic, hormonal, and immune function. A critical element in the pathophysiology of depression is inflammation. As a result, elevated biomarkers of inflammation, including the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, are commonly observed in depressed people. Although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and cognitive behavioral therapy typically form the first line of treatment for people who have depression, several non-pharmacological adjunct therapies have demonstrated effectiveness in modulating depressive symptoms, including exercise, dietary modification (especially interventions that capitalize on circadian rhythms), meditation, sauna use, and light therapy, among others.
A naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms. As a prodrug, psilocybin is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects including euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and spiritual experiences, and can include possible adverse reactions such as nausea and panic attacks.
A class of hallucinogenic substances whose primary action is to alter cognition and perception, typically as serotonin receptor agonists, causing thought and visual/auditory changes, and "heightened state of consciousness." Major psychedelic drugs include mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. Psychedelics have a long history of traditional use in medicine and religion, for their perceived ability to promote physical and mental healing.
A chemical reaction in which an atom, molecule, or ion gains one or more electrons.
Under the Controlled Substances Act schedule 1 drugs are the most controlled drugs under federal regulation. Schedule 1 drugs are classified as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Set and setting describes the context for psychoactive and particularly psychedelic drug experiences. "Set" is the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations. "Setting" is the physical and social environment.
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