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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Psychedelics
Posted: November 2, 2019 at 9:45 am
Photos courtesy of those interviewed.
One of Mac Dres most beloved lyrics is from a song titled Weekend.
The shrooms I consume are making me laugh/ Im high as the eye on a fucking giraffe, he raps on the track Weekend. The song appeared on 2006s 16 wit dre, a mix album that was released two-and-a-half years after Dres death on November 1, 2004.
The Oakland-born Dre was a fan of magic mushrooms and MDMA; he even devoted a song to the pair titled Shrooms and E-Pills.
So, its likely that he wouldve celebrated the news of Oakland decriminalizing psilocybin (the scientific name for magic or psychedelic mushrooms).In June 2019, Oakland City Council passed a local ordinance to decriminalize certain natural psychedelicslike mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote and DMT. (Synthetic psychedelics like LSD and MDMA are still illegal, and psychedelic mushrooms and other natural hallucinogens are technically still illegal under California state law and federal law. The ordinance also doesnt legalize the sale or distribution of psychedelic mushrooms.) Approved a month prior to Denvers voter-led ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin, Oaklands resolution is a continuation of Californias progressive drug reform history. The state became the first in the country to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.
These are not drugs. These are healing plants We just think they should never have been made illegal to begin with, Carlos Plazola, founder of Decriminalize Nature Oakland (DNO), an advocacy group dedicated to making natural medicine accessible to Oakland, told the Guardian.
Inspired by his own experiences using psychedelic mushrooms to heal from childhood trauma, Plazola created the DNO.
This is getting the word out about the healing power, Plazola said. Many people in communities of color and communities of trauma are not getting access.
For generations, communities of color utilized natural psychedelics for medicinal purposes. Rooted in spiritual-based healing, the practices of plant-based medicine became whitewashed by Americas counterculture movement of the 1960s. Despite this, black people have continued to experiment with psychedelics. The creation of hyphy music a subgenre of rap music that came about in the Bay Area in the late 90s and rose to prominence in the mid-2000s was a byproduct of rappers using MDMA, with the late Mac Dre at the forefront of that experimentation. Countless Dre songs, like Weekend and Shrooms and E-Pills, found him referencing not only MDMA but psychedelic mushrooms. While he was alive, Dre had also coined a term not just for ecstasy but for the euphoric effects people felt from taking it thizz. Dres Thizzle Dance practically served as an explainer for the term as the rapper (alongside Chuck Beez) broke down what thizz is all about: letting your body move as fluidly and erratically as it wants. In 2012, eight years after Dres death, Thizz Entertainment his record label was implicated in a nationwide ecstasy ring. (Court records revealed that most of the people arrested in the operation had no connection to the label.)
Aware of the regions previously established relationship with usage of psychedelics and the fear of being criminalized, Plazola wants to transform the headquarters of the DNO into a consciousness community, a co-working space where people can also reflect on their psychedelic journeys and learn about natural psychedelics. Helping him with this aretwo Black women: co-founder Nicolle Greenheart and community outreach and education activist Amber Senter.
Okayplayer spoke with Greenheart and Senter about being involved with DNO, the importance of people of color reclaiming and experimenting with psychedelics and more.
Greenheart: Denver;s strategy was focused on psilocybin through a voter-centered route. DNO ensured the resolution included all plant medicine because individuals should have autonomy over what plants they use to heal. We wanted to make sure people had that choice, because there is a wealth of plants. Going the council route resulted in the consultation of professionals in the psychedelic space scientists, therapists, and input from community leaders before the resolution was presented to council.
Carlos Plazola previously worked for city council and knew how to navigate and lobby. So it was helpful to have an individual with expertise in Oakland politics. Despite the creation of our resolution being predominantly white in terms of contributions, we received support from the indigenous community, and crafted a diverse team of advocates to discuss legislation with city council members. When we presented at The Public Safety Community, we intentionality chose diverse speakers men, women, and people of color so city council witnessed the diversity of voices in the psychedelic movement.
Greenheart: Since childhood, Ive suffered from depression and underwent the traditional routes of treatment such as psycho-therapy and antidepressants, which negatively impacted my health. After that experience I asked myself, How am I going to heal myself naturally? I tried meditation, yoga, homeopathic treatments, crystals, but I was always looking for community.
I attended an all-day retreat and was intrigued by a ceremonial practice of microdosing huachuma (San Pedro cactus) to align with your higher self and open your heart chakra. Once I found out the healing plant was a psychedelic, I began a one-and-a-half year long research study on psychedelics and attended local community-centered events in the Bay Area. But I noticed I was the only Black person in the room. I questioned the lack of my community in these spaces, because we need this medicine just as much as anybody else. It gave me a new motivation to create space for establishing community for Black people in psychedelic spaces. The integration of plant-based medicine in Black communities is an offering of help and support because Ive experienced how powerful and life transforming it is.
Senter: Theres an insignificant lack of awareness and education on how medicinal plants can help Black communities. Black voices in psychedelics are obscured by those in positions of power, and I wanted to ensure my voice was heard in these political efforts to decriminalize ISA genetic plants in Oakland. From my own experience dealing with lupus (a chronic auto-immune disorder), psychedelic mushrooms have been helpful for me. Disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Scholar Derma are rampant in Black women and women of color communities. I reached out to Carlos and told him I wanted to be involved, because as an advocate of women of color in the cannabis spaces through Supernova Women, I know the benefits of plant-based medicine for our communities.
Greenheart: Im familiar with her work and the challenges of getting communities of color to engage with psychedelics in the clinical and/or therapeutic route. I previously held a stereotypical perception of psychedelics as a recreational hippie drug for white people. It wasnt until I started researching the medicinal purposes of psychedelics that I wanted to destigmatize psychedelics in the Black community and advocate its healing purposes. Specifically, to treat the trauma expressed by members within our community while promoting responsible usage. I want to model how to be a safe and responsible user without going the clinical route. There is a place for the therapeutic model and for individuals who want to participate within a community-based environment, while receiving support and being safe.
Senter: Im from Chicago, so theres a regional difference in reception of natural plant medicines compared to Oakland. Indigenous and Latinx communities have been very open and welcoming to the decriminalization of natural psychedelics. I expected resistance from the Black Church, but attendees have understood that God made these plants for healing purposes.
Greenheart: There needs to be collaboration between hip-hop and psychedelics. Whether the merger is a conference we need people to join in. Were a small team with limited capacity, so we need to hear from local artists to participate in this movement alongside us. Were in infancy, so everybody is waiting to see what happens.
Taylor Crumpton has written for Pitchfork, PAPER, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, and more. You can follow her@taylorcrumpton
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Posted: at 9:45 am
The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) is financing a study into the psychedelic psilocybin with the help of decentralized fundraising platform Molecule Catalyst, in the first attempt to fund a clinical trial into psychedelics using decentralized finance.
According to a recent post on the Molecule blog, the effort will be a joint collaboration between Molecule Catalyst, Rotem Petranker and Thomas Anderson, directors at the University of Toronto Mississauga Psychedelic Studies Research Program (PSRP).
Through its partnership with Molecule Catalyst, UTM hope to raise an undisclosed sum to fund its planned psilocybin clinical trials.
Molecule uses blockchain technology to provide an incentive-based market for scientific research. Through Molecule Catalyst, research groups will be able to raise funds for the study of rare diseases, ageing & longevity and psychedelics, among other fields.
Be the first to get Decrypt Members. A new type of account built on blockchain.
To provide an incentive to investors, Molecule uses smart contracts to make the chemical intellectual property resulting from successful products easily tradeable on the Ethereum blockchain. In this way, funders receive a stake in the projects they supportallowing investors of all sizes to help fund potentially pioneering research and benefit from its success. Molecule uses the dollar-backed stablecoin DAI to overcome market instability.
UTM's psilocybin study is the first fund-raising project to be hosted by Molecule Catalyst, which ultimately aims to create a Web 3.0 marketplace and exchange for chemical IP.
The UTM study will investigate the effects of microdosing a psychedelic compound known as psilocybin on a variety of cognitive indicators.
Besides examining psilocybin's effect on creativity, mood and focus, the study will also measure its influence on social connection, self-efficacy and mindfulness.
Overall, UTM hopes that the data produced will help to guide global psychedelics research, by setting a new precedent that can be used to direct impactful psychedelics research.
Previously, psilocybin has been shown to effective in treating a wide variety of mental disorders, ranging from anxiety and depression, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).However, due to its potential to be abused as a psychedelic drug, the psychoactive substance has been shelved as a potential therapeutic by most pharmaceutical research groups.
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Posted: at 9:45 am
MICHAEL POLLAN: So this was an enormously challenging book to write. First of all, I knew very little about neuroscience. I knew very little about psychology, psychotherapy. And I had very limited experience of psychedelics. I had these mushrooms a couple of times in my 20s, but it was what people call a museum dose enough to make the world sparkle, but not to lead to any kind of profound insights. So I was faced with the challenge of mastering a new subject, and I was faced with the challenge of trying these psychedelics because I realized I could not describe the experience strictly based on interviews with other people.
And that's how I work as a writer. One of the very important parts of my work is to find a way to have an experience that will illuminate the story. So when I wrote about food, I bought a cow and followed it through the food system, through the meat industry. And I apprenticed myself to a great baker to learn how to bake. And I feel that these kind of experiences, especially when you're doing it for the first time, gives you an ability to see things very freshly. And you have that sense of wonder that comes with first sight, and you also get the common possibilities of a fish out of water, doing something that he or she is not very good at and the learning that comes from that.
So one of the things I always think about when I'm starting a project like this is, what are the different perspectives that I need to bring to bear on this subject? I don't believe any one perspective can unlock a subject as complex as psychedelics. So you need to look at it and this was true when I was writing about food and plants. Nonfiction gets interesting when you multiply the perspectives or layer the different lenses that you bring to. So you can look at this through the lens of neuroscience, say. A very interesting lens illuminates a lot.
But that doesn't tell you anything about the lived experience. Because neuroscience cannot reach consciousness. It has no tools for penetrating or measuring consciousness, except the absence of it. And so phenomenology the accounts of lived experience are very important. And I could get those from the volunteers I interviewed and from my own experience. So I needed a memoiristic element, as well as the neuroscientific element. And then there's the historical lens. History always illuminates things. How did we get here? Why did it take so long to get here? What have we learned along the way?
So I realized, O.K., I'm going to need to do a chapter of history, or two. I'm going to need to do a chapter of neuroscience, a chapter of my own trips, and it gradually comes together. Each chapter is going to represent a different lens on this subject, and I'm going to circle it from these different points of view. And that, to me, is how you make nonfiction rich. Otherwise, you might as well write an article. And what necessitates a book is the fact that no one perspective will give you the picture you need, the full dimensional picture.
Within that frame, the most challenging part was describing the psychedelic trips. And William James famously said that the mystical experience is ineffable beyond the reach of language. Well, I had an effort. I couldn't just let that lie and just say you had to be there. But it's very hard to describe because these are kind of pre-linguistic experiences.
One of the researchers I interviewed said I said why are these experiences so hard to describe? And he said, well, imagine a cave man coming to New York in 2019, and he sees subways going by, and planes overhead, and people talking on phones, and the noise of traffic. And then he goes back to his friends in the cave, and what does he say? He says it's loud and fast, and he doesn't have the words for cell phone or the bustle of urban life. The language doesn't exist.
But I had to find the language, and so I approach those chapters with a great deal of trepidation and as much trepidation as I had about the trips themselves. And it took me a while to figure out how to write about it. Because I was trying to write for a general audience. I'm not writing for psycho nuts. I'm writing for people who've never had this experience, but might be curious. And I want to tell them what it's like. And it took me a while, but I gradually found a voice in which I could do it. And this comes through trial and error of writing an account and reading it and going, that sounds crazy. Or that sounds really banal. "Gee, you've had an insight that love is the most important thing in the universe. That's a Hallmark card."
The solution I found to that was to be very candid with my reader and essentially tell the narratives. And then break the fourth wall at various points, step out of the narrative, and say, "Look, I know how banal this sounds, but let's talk about banality for a little while. There's a very thin line between the profound and the banal. What is a platitude? Well, it's a truth that's lost its emotional force from sheer repetition. So how do we recover that?" Or, in another moment, where if something crazy happens, I would break the wall and say, "I know how crazy this sounds."
So I kind of move in and out of the experience, sort of the way a memoir writer would juxtapose the point of view of the 10-year-old with the adult and go back and forth. Because if you just stayed in the head of the 10-year-old, it would have no perspective. It might have vividness, but no perspective. And if you stayed in the head of the adult, it wouldn't be evocative. So memoirs, I realized and I realized this teaching them because I teach writing get their savor or their edge from that going back and forth in perspective. And I kind of did the same thing, not in a temporal dimension, but on this inside outside of the experience.
So I found my voice to write about it, and once I did, it was great fun to write about the trips. I've never had more fun as a writer. I loved describing them. And I and I would license the absolute madness of parts of the experience by saying, "Yeah, I know, it's crazy, but this is what happened." So this book was great fun to write. I was learning new things. I loved being at the beginning of the learning curve on this subject, rather than at the end. One of the reasons I moved from writing about food to this was I realized I had become an expert after three or four books on food.
And I don't like writing as an expert. I think readers don't like experts. I think they want someone to take them on a journey. And my education becomes the story that you follow. I always start out as an idiot in my writing. I'm naive. I don't know what's going on. I'm confused. I have questions in my head. I'm reluctant. I'm skeptical. And gradually, I build my knowledge. We learn things. Things happen. And by the end, we are experts, but we're not at the beginning. And I think that's a really important lesson for writing in general.
I think even though when you finish a research project, you have your conclusions, don't put them on page one. That's like starting the joke with the punchline. Storytelling is you start from knowing less, and you move toward knowing more. So that the novelty of this subject, the fact that I was very naive, was a virtue, or at least, made a virtue. So we shouldn't be afraid of our ignorance. We should use it in our storytelling.
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Posted: October 20, 2019 at 10:08 pm
From left to right, panelists Drs. Matthew Johnson, David Nichols, and Mendel Kaelen discussed the promise of psychedelics research.PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDRIJA DIMITRIJEVIC/MAPPING THE MIND
The promise of psychedelics research in a wide range of fields was explored at the Mapping the Mind: 2019 Psychedelic Science Conference at U of Ts Earth Sciences Centre in September.
Psychedelics are a class of mind-altering chemicals with therapeutic potential. The conference aimed to promote public education of psychedelic science and research in the field. It featured 10 speakers, including U of T professors, from a wide array of fields, such as psychiatry, pharmacology, and law.
Each speaker discussed their unique perspective on the future of psychedelic research.
Dr. David Nichols: psychedelic science researcher
The conference began with Dr. David Nichols, a respected pharmacologist and medicinal chemist from Purdue University, who has been widely known for his prolific work on psychedelic science since 1969.
Nichols has mainly worked with rats to study the effect of psychedelics on animal brains. Over his years of research, he has developed a strong faith in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Patients with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, often display dysfunctional brain connectivity. Psychedelics can be used for treatment in these cases because they lead to a global increase in brain cell communications.
When Nichols began psychedelics research he faced difficulties receiving funding, as well as controversy due to the subject of his research. However, Nichols has described the field in recent years as blossoming, as it begins to demonstrate some promising prospects.
In support of psychedelic science research, Nichols founded the Heffter Research Institute in 1993. The institute works closely with some of the top universities in the world such as Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Yale University, and the University of Zurich.
What we work on today, [I] never imagined wed have them in my lifetime, Nichols said. When asked about his hope for the future, he commented, [If] at least the trajectory is going in the right direction, I will be happy.
In the future, when patients find themselves in crisis, Nichols hopes that they can experience at least one psychedelic session with their psychiatrists. His vision for the future was met with lasting applause from the audience.
Dr. Srinivas Rao: psychedelics as antidepressants in pharmacology
After a short break, the conference introduced the audience to a different perspective from Dr. Srinivas Rao, Chief Scientific Officer at ATAI Life Sciences AG and former CEO of Kyalin Biosciences.
Raos companies mainly work on the development of rapid-acting antidepressant drugs based on psilocybin and ketamine. These chemicals may lead to more compelling effects in contrast to the numerous limitations of conventional antidepressants such as poor compliance, delayed efficacy, and negative side effects.
For example, patients who are treated with ketamine have demonstrated rapid relief of depression symptoms and fewer side effects than with other drugs. According to Rao, the US Food and Drug Administration recently approved an esketamine medicine targeted for treatment-resistant depression, sold under the name SPRAVATO.
The drug is a nasal spray that needs to be administered in a supervised setting. A patient who has had a treatment session with the psychedelic described their experience as giving them the ability to step back, which Rao further elaborated on as the ability to give you the distance that you need from all the negative thinking.
The success of SPRAVATO is a lucky case. As Rao emphasized, the development of such drugs can take almost a decade, yet still fail to succeed on the market despite FDA approval.
Currently, Raos companies are testing psilocybin in early clinical trials, and he remains hopeful for the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics in treating depression.
Tags: conference, psychedelics, Science
Psychedelic Drugs: Researchers experimenting with active agent in magic mushrooms to treat addiction, depression and anxiety – 60 Minutes – CBS News
Posted: October 17, 2019 at 4:46 pm
For most of us, psychedelic drugs conjure up images of the 1960's. Hippies tripping out on LSD or magic mushrooms. But these powerful, mind-altering substances are now being studied seriously by scientists inside some of the country's foremost medical research centers. They're being used to treat depression, anxiety and addiction.
The early results are impressive, as are the experiences of the studies' volunteers who go on a six-hour, sometimes terrifying, but often life-changing psychedelic journey deep into their own minds.
Carine McLaughlin: (LAUGH) People ask me, "Do you wanna do it again?" I say, "Hell no. I don't wanna go do that again."
Anderson Cooper: It was really that bad?
Carine McLaughlin: Oh, it was awful. The entire time, other than the very end and the very beginning, I was crying.
Carine McLaughlin is talking about the hallucinogenic experience she had here at Johns Hopkins University, after being given a large dose of psilocybin, the psychedelic agent in magic mushrooms, as part of an ongoing clinical trial.
Roland Griffiths: We tell people that their experiences may vary from very positive to transcendent and lovely to literally hell realm experiences.
Anderson Cooper: Hell realm?
Roland Griffiths: As frightening an experience as you have ever had in your life.
That's scientist Roland Griffiths. For nearly two decades now, he and his colleague Matthew Johnson have been giving what they call "heroic doses" of psilocybin to more than 350 volunteers, many struggling with addiction, depression and anxiety.
Anderson Cooper: Can you tell who is going to have a bad experience, who's gonna have a transcendent experience?
Roland Griffiths: Our ability to predict that is almost none at all.
Anderson Cooper: Really?
Matthew Johnson: About a third will-- at our-- at a high dose say that they have something like that, what folks would call a bad trip. But most of those folks will actually say that that was key to the experience.
Carine McLaughlin was a smoker for 46 years and said she tried everything to quit before being given psilocybin at Johns Hopkins last year. Psilocybin itself is non-addictive.
Anderson Cooper: Do you remember what, like, specifically what you were seeing or?
Carine McLaughlin: Yes. The ceiling of this room were clouds, like, heavy rain clouds. And gradually they were lowering. And I thought I was gonna suffocate from the clouds.
That was more than a year ago; she says she hasn't smoked since. The study she took part in is still ongoing, but in an earlier, small study of just 15 long-term smokers, 80% had quit six months after taking psilocybin. That's double the rate of any over-the-counter smoking cessation product.
Roland Griffiths: They come to a profound shift of world view. And essentially, a shift in sense of self that I think--
Anderson Cooper: They-- they see their life in a different way?
Roland Griffiths: Their world view changes and-- and they are less identified with that self-narrative. People might use the term "ego." And that creates this sense of freedom.
And not just with smokers.
Jon Kostakopoulos: Beer usually, cocktails, usually vodka sodas, tequila sodas, scotch and sodas.
Jon Kostakopoulos was drinking a staggering 20 cocktails a night and had been warned he was slowly killing himself when he decided to enroll in another psilocybin trial at New York University. During one psilocybin session, he was flooded with powerful feelings and images from his past.
Jon Kostakopoulos: Stuff would come up that I haven't thought of since they happened.
Anderson Cooper: So old memories that you hadn't even remembered came back to you?
Jon Kostakopoulos: I felt, you know, a lot of shame and embarrassment throughout one of the sessions about my drinking and how bad I felt for my parents to put up with all this.
He took psilocybin in 2016. He says he hasn't had a drink since.
Anderson Cooper: Do you ever have a day where you wake up and you're like, man, I wish I could have a vodka right now or beer?
Jon Kostakopoulos: Never.
Anderson Cooper: Not at all?
Jon Kostakopoulos: Not at all, which is the craziest thing because that was my favorite thing to do.
Using psychedelic drugs in therapy is not new. There were hundreds of scientific studies done on a similar compound - LSD - in the 1950's and 60's. It was tested on more than 40,000 people, some in controlled therapeutic settings like this one. But there were also abuses. The U.S. military and CIA experimented with LSD sometimes without patients knowledge.
Fear over rampant drug use and the spread of the counterculture movement, not to mention Harvard professor Timothy Leary urging people to turn on, tune in and drop out, led to a clamp down.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the controlled substances act and nearly all scientific research in the U.S. Into the effects of psychedelics on people stopped. It wasn't until 2000 that scientist Roland Griffiths won FDA approval to study psilocybin.
Roland Griffiths: This whole area of research has been in the deep freeze for 25 or 30 years. And so as a scientist, sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle.
Anderson Cooper: And once you saw the results
Roland Griffiths: Yeah. The red light started flashing. This is extraordinarily interesting. It's unprecedented and the capacity of the human organism to change. It just was astounding.
Anderson Cooper: It sounds like you are endorsing this for everybody.
Roland Griffiths: Yeah, let's be really clear on that. We are very aware of the risks, and would not recommend that people simply go out and do this.
Griffiths and Johnson screen out people with psychotic disorders or with close relatives who have had schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Study volunteers at Johns Hopkins are given weeks of intensive counseling before and after the six-hour psilocybin experience; the psilocybin is given in a carefully controlled setting one to three times. To date, they say there's not been a single serious adverse outcome.
We were told we couldn't record anyone participating in the study while they were on psilocybin because it might impact their experience, but we were shown how it begins without the psilocybin.You lay on a couch, with a blindfold to shut out distractions and headphones playing a mix of choral and classical music a psychedelic soundtrack with a trained guide, mary cosimano, watching over you.
Everything is done the same way it was for the LSD experiments scientists conducted in the 1950s and 60s. Some of the most dramatic results have been with terminal cancer patients struggling with anxiety and paralyzing depression.
Kerry Pappas: I start seeing the colors and the geometric designs and it's like 'oh this is so cool, and how lovely' and, and then, boom. Visions began.
Kerry Pappas was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer in 2013. During her psilocybin session, she found herself trapped in a nightmare her mind created.
Kerry Pappas: An ancient, prehistoric, barren land. And there's these men with pickaxes, just slamming on the rocks. So
Anderson Cooper: And this felt absolutely real to you?
Kerry Pappas: Absolutely real. I was being shown the truth of reality. Life is meaningless, we have no purpose. And then I look and I'm still like a witness, a beautiful, shimmering, bright jewel. And then it was sound, and it was booming, booming, booming. Right here right now.
Anderson Cooper: That was being said?
Kerry Pappas: Yes. "You are alive. Right here right now, because that's all you have." And that is my mantra to this day.
Michael Pollan: It seemed so implausible to me that a single experience caused by a molecule, right, ingested in your body could transform your outlook on something as profound as death. That's-- that's kind of amazing.
Author Michael Pollan wrote about the psilocybin studies in a bestselling book called "How to Change Your Mind." As part of his research, he tried psilocybin himself with the help of an underground guide.
Anderson Cooper: The kind of things that cancer patients were saying, like, "I touched the face of God." You were skeptical about when you hear phrases like that?
Michael Pollan: Yeah. Or, "Love is the most important thing in the universe." When someone tells me that I'm just like, "yeah, okay."
Anderson Cooper: So you don't go for some of the phrases that are used?
Michael Pollan: No. It gives me the willies as a writer. And I really struggled with that cause during one of my experiences I came to the earth-shattering conclusion that love is the most important thing in the universe. But it's, that's Hallmark card stuff, right? And um, so
Anderson Cooper: And yet while you were on it and afterward
Michael Pollan: It was profoundly true. And it is profoundly true. Guess what? Um
Anderson Cooper: There's a reason it's on a Hallmark card.
Michael Pollan: There is a reason. And one of the things psychedelics do is they peel away all those essentially protective levels of irony and, and cynicism that we, that we acquire as we get older and you're back to those kind of "Oh, my God. I forgot all about love." (Laugh)
Pollan said he also experienced what the researchers describe as ego loss, or identity loss - the quieting of the constant voice we all have in our heads.
Michael Pollan: I did have this experience of seeing my ego-- burst into-- a little cloud of Post-It notes. I know it sounds crazy.
Anderson Cooper: And what are you are without an ego?
Michael Pollan: You're, uh (Laugh) You had to be there.
Researchers believe that sensation of identity loss occurs because psilocybin quiets these two areas of the brain that normally communicate with each other. They're part of a region called the default mode network and it's especially active when we're thinking about ourselves and our lives.
Michael Pollan: And it's where you connect what happens in your life to the story of who you are.
Anderson Cooper: We all develop a story over time about what our past was like and who we are.
Michael Pollan: Right. Yeah, what kind of person we are. How we react. And the fact is that interesting things happen when the self goes quiet in the brain, including this rewiring that happens.
To see that rewiring, Johns Hopkins scientist Matthew Johnson showed us this representational chart of brain activity. The circle on the left shows normal communication between parts of the brain, on the right, what happens on psilocybin. There's an explosion of connections or crosstalk between areas of the brain that don't normally communicate.
Anderson Cooper: The difference is just startling.
Matthew Johnson: Right.
Anderson Cooper: Is that why people are having experiences of-- seeing you know, repressed memories, or past memories, or people who have died or?
Matthew Johnson: That's what we think. And even the perceptual effect, sometimes the synesthesia, like, the-- the seeing sound.
Anderson Cooper: People see sound?
Matthew Johnson: Yeah, sometimes.
Anderson Cooper: I-- I don't even know what that means.
Matthew Johnson: Right, yeah. (LAUGH) It's-- it's--
Michael Pollan: Maybe the ego is one character among many in your mind. And you don't necessarily have to listen to that voice that's chattering at you and criticizing you and telling you what to do. And that's very freeing.
It was certainly freeing for Kerry Pappas. Though her cancer has now spread to her brain, her crippling anxiety about death is gone.
Kerry Pappas: Yeah, it's amazing. I mean, I feel like death doesn't frighten me. Living doesn't frighten me. I don't frighten me. This frightens me.
Anderson Cooper: This interview frightens you, but death doesn't?
Kerry Pappas: No.
It turns out most of the 51 cancer patients in the Johns Hopkins study experienced "significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety" after trying psilocybin. Two-thirds of them rated their psilocybin sessions as among the most meaningful experiences of their lives. For some, it was on par with the birth of their children.
Kerry Pappas: To this day, it evolves in me.
Anderson Cooper: It's still alive in you--
Kerry Pappas: It's still absolutely alive in me.
Anderson Cooper: Does it make you happier?
Kerry Pappas: Yeah. And-- and I don't necessarily use the word happy.
Kerry Pappas: Comfortable. Like, comfortable. I mean, I've suffered from anxiety my whole life. I'm comfortable. That, to me, okay. I can die. I'm comfortable. (LAUGH) I mean, it's huge. It's huge.
Produced by Sarah Koch. Associate producer, Chrissy Jones
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CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER has never drunk alcohol nor smoked a cigarette. He is, however, a fan of ketamine. In January ATAI Life Sciences, the German biotech company he founded last year, acquired a majority stake in Perception Neuroscience, a biopharmaceutical firm from New York which is developing a medication for pyschiatric conditions like depression from the drug, which is illegal in parts of the world (though not in America). Along with Peter Thiel, a veteran Silicon Valley investor known for headline-grabbing bets, ATAI has also backed COMPASS Pathways, a startup in London aiming to be the first legal provider of psilocybin, which gives mushrooms their magic.
Messrs Angermayer and Thiel are not alone in putting money into the medical application of psychedelics. A clutch of investors see these drugs going the way of cannabis, whose creeping decriminalisation has spurred commercial interest in the weeds medical uses. In particular, backers think, psychedelic drugs could be used to treat mental-health disorders like depression, anxiety and addiction. In April Imperial College London, inaugurated the first research centre dedicated to psychedelics research. Last month Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore launched Americas first such scientific outfit.
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The market for antidepressants is dispiritingly large. Over 300m people worldwide suffer from depression. A report last year by the Lancet Commission, a body of experts, estimated that mental-health disorders could cost the global economy $16trn by 2030. Sales of antidepressants were $14bn in 2017 and analysts expect them to grow to $16bn-19bn by the middle of the next decade.
In October last year Americas Food and Drug Administration granted COMPASS breakthrough therapy designation, which fast-tracks the approval process. The company is using the $38m it has raised to run the largest clinical study of psilocybin ever. Ekaterina Malievskaia, its co-founder, hopes that the therapy could go on sale within five years if everything works out, including the science. Patients would receive carefully controlled doses in one-off, therapist-run sessions. These may last all day and cost $1,000 a pop. Field Trip Ventures, a Canadian startup, plans to open speciality clinics where they could be administered (and clinical trials conducted).
Sceptics doubt COMPASS can get its drug to market by 2024if at all. Worries about psychedelics side-effects, which can include drug-induced psychosis, abound. And it is unclear their medical use can ever be more than a niche. Finicky treatments make psychedelics trickier to scale than cannabis, which can be self-administered in spliffs, cakes and other forms. Field Trip Ventures co-founder, Ronan Levy, concedes as much. Big Pharma has steered clear, preferring pills which can be manufactured cheaply once approved and need to be taken regularly rather than just once, providing steady revenue streams. That left an opening for startups like COMPASS. Time will tell if ushering people through the doors of perception is a hard-headed business propostionor a trippy one.
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Posted: at 4:46 pm
Youre not being invited to tune in, turn on and drop out, or sit in a white room without curtains but the controlled use of psychedelics a counterpart to the LSD pill drop of the 1960s that sent many people into a kind of end-of-2001-Space Odyssey trip deep into their own mind ( some never recovered or went bats) is showing impressive results at Johns Hopkins University.
Scientist Roland Griffiths and his colleague Matthew Johnson have been giving what they call heroic doses of psilocybin, like the old magic mushrooms from Hippie times, to more than 350 volunteers over the last two decades, CBS News reported in a feature by Anderson Cooper.
The early results are encouraging, as are the experiences of the studies volunteers who go on a six-hour, sometimes terrifying, but often life-changing psychedelic journey deep into their own minds, the report said.
Among the volunteers was Jon Kostakopoulos, who said he wanted to end his daily binge drinking of beer and cocktails, usually vodka sodas, tequila sodas, scotch and sodas, as many as 20 a day he said was wearing him down and out, killing him slowly.
During one psilocybin session, he was flooded with powerful feelings and images from his past.Stuff would come up that Ihavent thought of since they happened, he told Cooper, who asked if old memories he couldnt remember returned again.
I felt, you know, a lot of shame and embarrassment throughout one of the sessions about my drinking and how bad I felt for my parents to put up with all this, said Kostakopoulos, who took the psilocybin in 2016 and stopped drinking on the spot.
Do you ever have a day where you wake up and youre like, man, I wish I could have a vodka right now or beer? asked Cooper.
Never, said KostakopoulosNot at all, which is the craziest thing because that was my favorite thing to do.
As the show noted, using psychedelic drugs in therapy is not new, with hundreds of scientific studies done on a similar compound LSD in the 1950s and 60s, tested on more than 40,000 people, some in controlled therapeutic settings like this one.
But there were also abuses. The U.S. military and CIA experimented with LSD sometimes without patients knowledge, said the report, and LSD took on a bad reputation as dangerous and even deadly in some cases.
When Harvard professor Timothy Leary urged people to turn on, tune in, and drop out during the counterculture movement that brought fear to the establishment, then-President Richard Nixon in 1970 signed the controlled substances act and nearly all scientific research in the United States into the effects of psychedelics on people stopped.
It wasnt until 2000 that Roland Griffiths won FDA approval to study psilocybin. This whole area of research has been in the deep freeze for 25 or 30 years. And so as a scientist, sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle, he said.
After the first results he said, The red light started flashing. This is extraordinarily interesting. Its unprecedented and the capacity of the human organism to change it just was astounding.
But he cautioned what he does is scientific in a very controlled setting and that, we are very aware of the risks, and would not recommend that people simply go out and do this.
Griffiths and Johnson screen out people with psychotic disorders or with close relatives who have had schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and volunteers are given weeks of intensive counseling before and after the six-hour psilocybin experience; the psilocybin is given in a carefully controlled setting one to three times. They said there hasnt been one adverse reaction but warn some people will find the experience terrifying and be taken into a hell realm of fear.
Everything is done the same way it was for the LSD experiments scientists conducted in the 1950s and 60s and some of the most dramatic results have been with terminal cancer patients struggling with anxiety and paralyzing depression.
Kerry Pappas, who was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer in 2013 took the chance on the psilocybin. I start seeing the colors and the geometric designs and its like oh this is so cool, and how lovely and, and then, boom. Visions began, she said. During her psilocybin session, she found herself trapped in a nightmare her mind created. An ancient, prehistoric, barren land. And theres these me with pickaxes, just slamming on the rocks. So she said.
Cooper asked, and this felt absolutely real to you?
Absolutely real. I was being shown the truth of reality. Life is meaningless, we have no purpose. And then I look, and Im still like a witness, a beautiful, shimmering, bright jewel. And then it was sound, and it was booming, booming, booming. Right here right now.
That was being said? asked Cooper.
You are alive. Right here right now, because thats all you have. And that is my mantra to this day, she said. The cancer has spread to her brain but she said her crippling anxiety about death is gone.
Yeah, its amazing. I mean, I feel like death doesnt frighten me. Living doesnt frighten me. I dont frighten me. This frightens me. She added, to this day, it evolves in meIts still absolutely alive in me.
When Cooper asked if the drug had made her happier, she said, Yah. And and I dont necessarily use the word happy. Comfortable. Like, comfortable. I mean, Ive suffered from anxiety my whole life. Im comfortable. That, to me, okay. I can die. Im comfortable, she laughed.
She ended: I mean, its huge. Its huge. Shes freed.
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On his latest album, True Love, Devon Welsh is singular. Thats not to say that the incisive singer-songwriteris alone in the world, but it wouldnt be such a bad thing if he were. I think its been more solo than the first one, Welsh says of this release, his sophomore outing following the dissolution of his electro-pop group Majical Cloudz. Its safe to say that for Welsh, who moved from his native Montreal to rural Wisconsin before making this album (I think a change of scenery can give you a new perspective on who you could be, Welsh tells me) theres something about the broader concept of alone-ness that feels both vital and terrifying.
That comes across on True Love, a record with such a big name Googling What is true love? brings back 3,460,000,000 attempted articulations it could easily become an abstraction. But rather than preaching some grand theory, Welsh stresses the personal, thriving in the ever-changing grey-space of subjectivity. Songs like Grace, a meditative, acoustic track that sees Welsh attempting to distinguish between the real or the easy Grace, seem to prick gently at the impulse to give into outside forces before looking inward. Still, when I ask if his album intentionally grapples with looming structures and archetypes, he says no. When I sit down to write a song, there wont really be an intention, he says. Therell just be the intention to write a song. If anything, its just about concocting something thats easy to understand.
Ironically, its this earnest simplicity that makes Welshs music feel so definitive. The instinct to translate the personal to the public, to find the communal in the close-to-home, is what makes the album so effectiveand affecting. With this in mind, I asked Welsh his point of view on everythingfrom acid to Roswell to the Xeroxed drawing his dad framed when he was fiveall in the style of Glenn OBriens iconic 1977 interview with Andy Warhol. Fittingly, Welshs perspective(s) on how psychedelics shake things up could just as easily serve as his take on the true nature of true love: Its not set in stone, he says, thinking of our relationships to the world and to each other. Its certainly not objective. And then there were 3,460,000,001.
JADIE STILLWELL: What was your first work of art?
DEVON WELSH: Before I answer, Andy Warhol answers these questions with only a few words, and I know that thats his style, but I dont know if theres some sort of faux pas depending on how many words I use.
STILLWELL: Youre free to use as many words as you want. No judgement.
WELSH: Okay. The first thing that came to mind was just a drawing that I had made that my father then made Xerox copies of, and then he framed one of them when I was a kid. It was just, like, a stick figure, but he was very excited about it, and I think that made me feel excited about it, too.
STILLWELL: How old were you when you did that?
WELSH: I would say five.
STILLWELL: What did you do for fun as a teenager?
WELSH: I watched TV. I lived outside of a town, in the country, and so some people that I knew could hang out. But then when I was at home, I couldnt really go anywhere. So I watched a lot of TV, and I read a lot of books, and I spent a lot of time on MSN Messenger. Then I played sports, and then I started playing music. I played Diablo II and made music on the computer with my friend. And I smoked marijuana.
STILLWELL: Thats one of the other questions. Now youve answered it. Did people say you had natural talent?
WELSH: I was voted most dramatically talented at my high school prom.
STILLWELL: Did you do theater?
WELSH: I sort of did. My dad is an actor, and I grew up in a small town. He was on the CBC a lot in Canada, and so he was a well-known face and a well-known actor. A lot of people would say, Oh, youre going to be an actor when you grow up, arent you? That was something I always heard. And I accepted that up until a point, and then after that I was like, Im not going to be an actor. No way. Because thats not me. So then I didnt audition for the high school plays, but I really loved drama. In my classes, I really enjoyed it, and my drama teacher was the director. So he would always create little parts that I could play. It would be a background kind of thing. Like we did West Side Story, and I was one of the members of the Sharks that never actually had a line.
STILLWELL: Who was the first artist to influence you?
WELSH: The first artist that I ever remember enjoying as a child was Mariah Carey. I also remember the first CD that I ever wanted to listen to on my own was Sarah McLachlan. But the first thing that influenced me in terms of actually creating something myself was probably punk music in general. Because I didnt really know a lot about it, but other people that were making music were into different punk and hardcore bands. So then I started playing that music. Probably inspired by like just other local bands like, Oh, theyre playing music. We should play music, too.
STILLWELL: Did you go to the movies a lot?
WELSH: I did go to the movies a lot when I was young. Me and my friend, Nicholas, would go to the movies together all the time.
STILLWELL: Do you ever think about politics?
WELSH: All the time.
STILLWELL: Do you vote?
STILLWELL: What is your favorite of all of your work?
WELSH: Oh, thats such a tough question.
STILLWELL: They get harder.
WELSH: Theres probably an interesting answer to this, but I dont know what it is. If I had to say something, I would probably say the song, This Is Magic, from the first Majical Cloudz album because I remember the moment that I wrote it was kind of like a moment of flipping a lot of self-doubt into self-confidence. I was very insecure and scared and, at some point, I realized that there was really nowhere to go in that direction, and that there was nothing to lose by just deciding to reverse it. And I feel like writing that song, that was sort of a moment where that happened in my life.
STILLWELL: Whats your favorite color?
WELSH: My favorite color is green.
STILLWELL: A specific green or just green?
WELSH: Like a forest-y green. I dont know the names of the different colors, but something thats sort of dark, not very fluorescent.
STILLWELL: Have you ever taken acid?
WELSH: Yes. I think psychedelic drugs have had a positive effect on my identity and my life. When I was in high school, I remember I got into smoking pot, and then I watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and things like that. So I found out about psychedelic drugs, and then I was like, Oh, this is interesting. What is this? Then I read the book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, and I decided that I really needed to try psychedelic drugs as a kind of exploration. It was like, Wait, I can eat this thing, and then I perceive everything differently? Thats pretty cool. So I tried it. I feel like so many formative experiences have involved something like that. And I think theyre important because they let you see that the way that you think of yourself, the way that you think of the world, the way that you think of your relationships, you can see it all differently. Its not set in stone. Its certainly not objective.
STILLWELL: Do you make music every day?
WELSH: Not every day.
STILLWELL: Would you like to live in outer space?
WELSH: Absolutely not. I feel like existence would lose all meaning, and I would be afraid to know what direction that would take.
STILLWELL: Do you know how to drive?
WELSH: Yes. Ive driven across Canada with other people twice, and then Ive driven all across the United States many, many times.
STILLWELL: Do you look in the mirror when you get up in the morning?
STILLWELL: How much time do you spend on the phone every day?
WELSH: Oh. Either looking at it or talking? I dont know, but probably a lot of time.
STILLWELL: Do you think youre a father figure to anyone?
WELSH: I dont know. I would say, if anything, maybe an older brother figure. I dont think Im at father status yet. I dont think the age discrepancy between my myself and anyone I know is that far away yet.
STILLWELL: Have you ever gone to see a psychiatrist?
STILLWELL: Have you ever hated anybody?
STILLWELL: Have you ever been in love?
STILLWELL: Have you ever tried to grow a mustache?
STILLWELL: How did that go?
WELSH: It went very well. I loved it. Its just that everyone in my life whose romantic affection I was interested in was not interested in me having it.
STILLWELL: So it went well and not well?
WELSH: I really enjoyed it. It was a nice time in my life.
STILLWELL: Do you believe in flying saucers?
STILLWELL: No? You dont think there are aliens?
WELSH: I mean, Im sure there are aliens. But do I believe in, like, the Roswell story? I certainly think the probability is very high that theres some kind of other life in the universe. But the Roswell thing probably didnt happen.
STILLWELL: Do you know how to dance?
STILLWELL: Do you dance well?
WELSH: I think so. Ive been complimented on it before, and I think my best attribute as a dancer is my endurance and commitment.
STILLWELL: Do you believe in the American dream?
WELSH: I think I believe in the American dream in the sense of the Declaration of Independence and the idea of liberty. I believe in that. I believe in the principles that America presents.
STILLWELL: I sense a but coming.
WELSH: But I dont know. Its obviously not real. I mean, its as real as any of our aspirations are, so its always possible, and maybe its a good thing to put on the horizon.
STILLWELL: Do you think the world can be saved?
WELSH: I hope so. I guess the only thing that could save it is itself.
STILLWELL: Do you believe in God?
WELSH: I do in a sense that I trust in my total ignorance of reality, and that makes me sort of believe in God. Or just in my total ignorance as to the nature of reality and of existence. My total ignorance is an experience of God, in a way.
STILLWELL: Do you have any secrets that youll tell after everyone else is dead?
WELSH: I would tell them all, but who would I tell them to?
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Johns Hopkins Medicine/Wikimedia CommonsRoland Griffths/psilocybin mushrooms
Roland Griffiths is a Johns Hopkins University professor, researcher and expert in the field of pharmacology. He is best known for his research into the beneficial effects psilocybin on cancer patients.
He began his research into psilocybin and other psychedelics when he began meditation. He is a proponent of the connection between science, spirituality and mysticism. Griffiths is continuing his psilocybin research and hopes to complete larger scale trials to produce conclusive data. Preliminary data shows promising results.
Griffiths is also the founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. He appears on 60 Minutes in an episode that airs on CBS at 7:30 p.m. EST Sunday, October 13, 2019.
Heres what you need to know:
Studies into the effects of psilocybin predated the Controlled Substances Act, which President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1970. Psilocybin was also used as a substance for healing and spiritual connection in ancient times. The Controlled Substances Act labeled psilocybin a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has high potential for abuse and does not serve a legitimate medical purpose. Griffiths acknowledges there are risks associated with psilocybin, but his preliminary data shows that there are benefits which he believes outweigh the risks when it is used in a controlled environment.
Researchers conducted studies before the Controlled Substances Act, but their studies required further research. The law effectively prevented studies into whether psilocybin did, in fact, have any medical benefits. His research into the effects of psilocybin began in 1999 after he received FDA approval to conduct studies, he said on a TED Talk in 2015.
His profile on the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research says:
In 1999 he initiated a research program investigating the effects of the classic psychedelic psilocybin that includes studies in healthy volunteers, in beginning and long-term meditators, and in religious leaders. Therapeutic studies with psilocybin include treatment of psychological distress in cancer patients, treatment of cigarette smoking cessation, and psilocybin treatment of major depression. Other studies have examined the effects of salvinorin A, dextromethorphan, and ketamine which produce altered states of consciousness having some similarities to psilocybin. Drug interaction studies and brain imaging studies (fMRI and PET) are examining pharmacological and neural mechanisms of action. The Hopkins laboratory has also conducted a series of internet survey studies characterizing various psychedelic experiences including those associated with acute and enduring adverse effects, mystical-type effects, entity and God-encounter experiences, and alleged positive changes in mental health, including decreases in depression and anxiety, decreases in substance abuse, and reductions in death anxiety.
Griffiths founded the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and continues to serve as its director. He is also a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, according to his Johns Hopkins University profile.
Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and founding Director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, the profile says. His principal research focus in both clinical and preclinical laboratories has been on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs.
He is also a member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Dependence for the World Health Organization, and he has been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health and to pharmaceutical companies regarding the development of new psychotropic drugs. He has also conducted research into sedative-hypnotics, caffeine and other mood-altering drugs.
Griffiths has written more than 380 journal articles and book chapters, his profile says. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which he obtained in 1972, and he has a bachelor of science degree from Occidental College in California, which he earned in 1968, according to a separate Johns Hopkins University profile.
Roland Griffiths said his interest in research into the beneficial properties of psychedelic drugs began when he started a meditation practice, he said in a 2009 interview with Mulidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies journal. He was trained as a psychopharmacologist, with training in both experimental psychology and pharmacology.
He said in the 2009 interview:
About fifteen years ago, I took up a meditation practice that opened up a spiritual window for me, and made me very curious about the nature of mystical experience and spiritual transformation. It also prompted an existential question for me about the meaningfulness of my own research program in drug abuse pharmacology. On reflecting about the history of psychopharmacology and the claims that had been made about the classical hallucinogens occasioning mystical and spiritual experience, I became intrigued about whether I could turn the direction of some of my research program toward addressing those kinds of questions. Through a confluence of interactions and introductions, I first met Robert Jesse of the Council of Spiritual Practices, and he introduced me to Bill Richards, who had a long history of working with these compounds from the 1960s and 70s. We decided that we would undertake a research project characterizing the effects of psilocybin.
His foray into meditation was a life-changing experience for him, which shifted his outlook on life, he said in a 2015 TED Talk.
Roland Griffiths discussed his research into the effects of psilocybin on a TED Talk in 2015, framing the discussion as a connection between science and spirituality or mysticism. You can watch the full TED Talk here.
Its like trying to mix oil and water. Most people assume that science and spirituality dont play well together, but its not true. Einstein said that the most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. He said its the source of all true science, Griffiths said.
Griffiths discussed details about his studies, which showed promising results in studies on healthy participants, cancer patients and smokers. He noted his data is preliminary and the drug must be used in a controlled environment to reduce risks. He wants to conduct large-scale trials to show more conclusive results, but those require a substantial amount of funding. His research, he said, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Further research will surely reveal underlying biological mechanisms of action, will likely result in an array of therapeutic applications, and more importantly, because such experiences are foundationally related to our moral and our ethical understandings, further research may ultimately prove to be crucial to the very survival of our species, he said.
While Roland Griffiths became most well known for his study into the effects of psilocybin on patients with life-threatening cancer and death anxiety, he started his research on healthy patients. You can read the results of his cancer trial here.
The study on cancer patients showed more than 80 percent of participants experienced positive changes in attitudes about life, self, mood, relationships and spirituality, and many of them reported it was one of the most profound experiences of their lives, comparing it to the birth of a child. Studies on healthy participants also showed promising results with participants reporting similar effects. A high number of smokers quit smoking after participating in the study, he said on his TED Talk.
While the Johns Hopkins Medicine study on the effects of psilocybin showed very promising results in treating patients suffering from depression and anxiety related to life-threatening cancer diagnoses, the study only included 51 cancer patients.
Griffiths wants to conduct a much larger study, but that would require between $20 and $40 million. Without government funding, those funds would have to come from private donors or foundations, he told SciPol, a Duke University science and technology publication.
The larger study would be considered Phase 3. Multiple sites across the country would host studies including a much larger participant pool.
Ross, the NYU researcher, and Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins medical school who led the study there, each said they would pursue a Phase 3 study enrolling a larger group of patients at multiple sites nationally, the publication said. That effort would take between $20 million and $40 million, and with government funding for a psychedelic research study unlikely, at least in the short term, that money would have to come from foundations and private donors.
The study involving Kerry Pappas and featured on 60 Minutes October 13, 2019 was Phase 2 of the study. It was led by the Heffter Research Institute and the RiverStyx Foundation, which are both non-profit organizations.
READ NEXT: Psilocybin: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:17 am
If you were an American scientist interested in hallucinogens, the 1950s and 1960s were a great time to be working. Drugs like LSD and psilocybinthe active ingredient in magic mushroomswere legal and researchers could acquire them easily. With federal funding, they ran more than a hundred studies to see if these chemicals could treat psychiatric disorders.
That heyday ended in 1970, when Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act. It completely banned the use, sale, and transport of psychedelicsand stifled research into them. There was an expectation that you could potentially derail your career if you were found to be a psychedelics researcher, says Jason Slot from Ohio State University.
For Slot, that was a shame. He tried magic mushrooms as a young adult, and credits them with pushing him into science. It helped me to think more fluidly, with fewer assumptions or acquired constraints, he says. And I developed a greater sensitivity to natural patterns. That ability inspired him to return to graduate school and study evolution, after drifting through several post-college jobs. (They are not for everyone, they entail risks, theyre prohibited by law in many countries, and only supervised use by informed adults would be advisable, he adds.)
Ironically, he became a mycologistan aficionado of fungi. And he eventually came to study the very mushrooms that he had once experienced, precisely because so few others had. I realized how pitifully little we still knew about the genetics and ecology of such a historically significant substance, he says.
Why, for example, do mushrooms make a hallucinogen at all? Its certainly not for our benefit: These mushrooms have been around since long before people existed. So why did they evolve the ability to make psilocybin in the first place?
And why do such distantly related fungi make psilocybin? Around 200 species do so, but they arent nestled within the same part of the fungal family tree. Instead, theyre scattered around it, and each one has close relatives that arent hallucinogenic. You have some little brown mushrooms, little white mushrooms ... you even have a lichen, Slot says. And youre talking tens of millions of years of divergence between those groups.
Its possible that these mushrooms evolved the ability to make psilocybin independently. It could be that all mushrooms once did so, and most of them have lost that skill. But Slot thought that neither explanation was likely. Instead, he suspected that the genes for making psilocybin had jumped between different species.
These kinds of horizontal gene transfers, where genes shortcut the usual passage from parent to offspring and instead move directly between individuals, are rare in animals, but common among bacteria. They happen in fungi, too. In the last decade, Slot has found a couple of cases where different fungi have exchanged clusters of genes that allow the recipients to produce toxins and assimilate nutrients. Could a similar mobile cluster bestow the ability to make psilocybin?
To find out, Slots team first had to discover the genes responsible for making the drug. His postdoc Hannah Reynolds searched for genes that were present in various hallucinogenic mushrooms, but not in their closest non-trippy relatives. A cluster of five genes fit the bill, and they seem to produce all the enzymes necessary to make psilocybin from its chemical predecessors.
After mapping the presence of these five genes in the fungal family tree, Slots team confirmed that they most likely spread by jumping around as a unit. Thats why theyre in the same order relative to each other across the various hallucinogenic mushrooms.
These genes seem to have originated in fungi that specialize in breaking down decaying wood or animal dung. Both materials are rich in hungry insects that compete with fungi, either by eating them directly or by going after the same nutrients. So perhaps, Slot suggests, fungi first evolved psilocybin to drug these competitors.
His idea makes sense. Psilocybin affects us humans because it fits into receptor molecules that typically respond to serotonina brain-signaling chemical. Those receptors are ancient ones that insects also share, so its likely that psilocybin interferes with their nervous system, too. We dont have a way to know the subjective experience of an insect, says Slot, and its hard to say if they trip. But one thing is clear from past experiments: Psilocybin reduces insect appetites.
By evolving the ability to make this chemical, which prevents the munchies in insects, perhaps some fungi triumphed over their competitors, and dominated the delicious worlds of dung and rotting wood. And perhaps other species gained the same powers by taking up the genes for those hallucinogens. Its not clear how they did so. Some scientists think that fungi can occasionally fuse together, giving them a chance to share their DNA, while Slot prefers the idea that in times of stress, fungi can soak up DNA from their environment. Either way, the genes for psilocybin have spread.
Much of this is speculation, based on circumstantial evidence. Since psilocybin is still a controlled substance, Slot cant legally make it in his lab, which means he cant prove that the gene cluster he identified actually produces psilocybin in mushrooms. Still, his team have done as much as they can, says Jennifer Wisecaver, an evolutionary biologist from Purdue University who studies fungal genes. Given the other evidence they provide, I'd say the hypothesis is very compelling, she says.
This work is part of a resurgence of psilobycin research. Just last week, a German team led by Dirk Hoffmeister identified four enzymes that can produce the drug, paving the way to manufacture it without growing shrooms. Other scientists have shown that psilocybin could have potential for treating depression, helping smokers to quit, and relieving the anxiety felt by cancer patients. The science thats being done on [magic mushrooms] has taken on more of an air of respectability, says Slot.
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