Rolling Stone on the ‘Psychedelic Miracle’

Cover image featuring Ed Sheeran squatting down with his arms wrapped around his kneed and shoulder. Cover story is for The Psychedelic Miracle.

March 21, 2017

This month’s issue of Rolling Stone magazine includes a powerful cover story by writer Mac McClelland about both the “renaissance” of legal research with psychedelics as well as “underground” therapy to treat mental health issues. That includes her attempts to address her own PTSD, major depressive disorder, and suicidal ideation with both MDMA and ayahuasca.

The story calls out very serious, and potentially troubling, issues for those of us in the scientific and medical research communities. Psychedelics are not a “miracle,” as put forward by Rolling Stone. Work by researchers today aims to unlock their potential as powerful medicines to reduce suffering. As with other powerful medicines, being clear and careful about the treatment regimes that accompany how the medicine is administered are crucial to understanding their potential benefit.

The article notes that New York University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Zurich, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Alabama and the University of California-Los Angeles have all partnered with the Heffter Research Institute to study psilocybin for alcoholism, smoking cessation, cocaine dependence, terminal-cancer anxiety, and depression.

Evidence gathered so far, the article states, “makes researchers cautiously optimistic that psychedelics hold potential for great healing and change. If they're right, medicalization could address the deficits in treatment options for afflictions – trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction – that collectively impact millions of Americans, and ultimately shape our world.”

Unfortunately, the piece also appears to argue that because waiting for psychedelics to become legal and widely available is “untenable” for many patients whose suffering is not being sufficiently addressed by existing pharmaceutical options, underground therapy is a viable option. McClelland’s first-hand stories reveal the risks of using psychedelics under the supervision of underground practitioners who “vary in quality, expertise and method.”

McClelland recounts that the underground therapist who provided her with MDMA forced her to leave, still clearly under the influence of the drug, because another appointment was coming. Hours later, she had a breakdown at a restaurant and fled from her hotel, alone. After weeks of mood swings, she spent one day “indulging a rich and specific fantasy” about committing suicide. Despite that experience and a family history of schizophrenia, she tried ayahuasca under the supervision of a different underground therapist, with mixed results.

We want to be very clear — no patient participating in a Heffter-related research project would encounter this experience. Our researchers are governed by multiple layers of supervision, from the first evaluation of a research proposal to the scrutiny of a host institution. The experience McClelland shares, though well intentioned, raises red flags for us at Heffter.

Heffter researchers believe the administration of psilocybin as medicine in a clinical setting provides crucial protections from harm as well as an important baseline for evaluating and better understanding potential benefits.

Protections offered patients include a psychiatric evaluation to exclude subjects with a history of a serious mental disorder that could recur with psilocybin as well as the presence of specially trained psychotherapists with experience administering psilocybin to support subjects through distressing and confusing experiences, which can happen to anyone in any setting. Finally, the medical research setting provides hours of both pre-session preparation and post-session integration psychotherapy sessions to help the subject maximize the benefit from the session and ensure that positive impacts are enduring.

To her credit, the author is open in sharing her challenging experiences and plainly states that psychedelics are not for everyone, not foolproof, and “often far from painless.” The article highlights the downsides to underground therapy with psychedelics — in addition to the threat of arrest, she writes, there can be difficulty ensuring pure compounds, a failure to screen out patients with certain personality and other psychiatric disorders, and a lack of support before, during, and after the treatment.

Ultimately, psilocybin is a powerful medicine. Heffter’s position is unequivocal: The positive effects found in research to date are most reliably achieved when psilocybin is administered in a therapeutic setting by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist with special training. We recognize that safety has not been demonstrated for psilocybin when used outside of a clinical or laboratory setting that meets well-established criteria, and we caution against “underground” use of psilocybin because of potential adverse psychological reactions.

 
 

Heffter President Dave Nichols on Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio

 

February 6, 2017

Heffter Research Institute President Dr. Dave Nichols recently appeared on Sirius XM’s “Doctor Radio” show, where he discussed the latest psilocybin news and future research plans.

Along with Dr. Matthew Johnson, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Stephen Ross, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NYU, and Dinah Bazer, an ovarian cancer survivor who participated in a psilocybin study in 2011, Dr. Nichols reviewed the recent findings from New York University and Johns Hopkins that show a reduction in depression, anxiety and existential distress in cancer patients. Studies showed success in treating this type of distress for months at a time with only a single dose.

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Heffter's Plans for Future Research

  December 22, 2016

With Phase 2 studies on cancer-related depression and anxiety now complete, Heffter is excited to investigate other conditions that might be successfully treated with psilocybin.

Drawing on the scientific expertise and longstanding partnership of the world’s leading investigators of psychedelics, Heffter mentors the next generation of psilocybin researchers and therapists, vets new approaches, supports proof-of-concept studies, and gathers the evidence base for therapeutic treatments that, pending FDA approval, will be available to patients in need.

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Heffter Research Winter 2016 Newsletter

 

 

  December 16, 2016

 

 

heffter-logo

2016 has been a watershed year for the Heffter Research Institute and its programs! We believe that our work is contributing to what we hope will be a paradigm shift in the way that many psychiatric and addictive disorders are treated. We hope you enjoy reading about all of the great things we have accomplished this past year.

Johns Hopkins and NYU Studies of Psilocybin for Anxiety and Depression in Cancer Patients

Our big news is the publication of two Heffter-supported studies on psilocybin treatment of anxiety and depression in cancer patients at Johns Hopkins and NYU on December 1. You can access the free full-text articles by clicking on those links.

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Heffter-Funded Studies Find Psilocybin Therapy Dramatically Reduces Anxiety and Depression in Cancer Patients

December 1, 2016

 

Two randomized controlled trials published today in The Journal of Psychopharmacology report unprecedented findings on the use of psilocybin to dramatically reduce anxiety, depression and existential distress in cancer patients.

These two studies — reviewed and funded by the Heffter Research Institute and conducted by the NYU School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University — showed that a single dose of psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, produced rapid, robust and enduring (for more than six months) antianxiety and antidepressant effects in patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses.

“These findings, the most profound to date in the medical use of psilocybin, indicate it could be more effective at treating serious psychiatric diseases than traditional pharmaceutical approaches, and without having to take a medication every day,” said Heffter Medical Director George Greer.

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Survey of Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

October 5, 2016

 

The recent survey of difficult recreational psilocybin experiences by Heffter Board member and researcher Roland Griffiths, Ph.D. and his team at Johns Hopkins University draws two main conclusions that at first may seem contradictory. On one hand, psilocybin use outside the medical setting occasionally involves traumatic and potentially harmful experiences, as well as occasionally dangerous behaviors. On the other hand, most people report improvements in their quality of life after these difficult experiences.

The medical research setting provides crucial protections from harm that the recreational setting does not: a psychiatric evaluation to exclude subjects with a history of a serious mental disorder that could recur with psilocybin. Another key protection is the presence of specially trained psychotherapists with experience administering psilocybin to support subjects through distressing and confusing experiences, which can happen to anyone in any setting. Finally, the medical research setting provides hours of both pre-session preparation and post-session integration psychotherapy sessions to help the subject maximize the benefit from the session and ensure the positive impacts are enduring.

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Heffter President David Nichols On 50 Years Of Research

April 16, 2016

Please join Heffter Research Institute President and co-founder David Nichols for his presentation “Nearly Half a Century Studying Psychedelics,” an overview of his pioneering career in the field of psychedelic research. Dr. Nichols will appear at 7:00 PM on Saturday, April 30th, at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

“Beginning with his graduate studies in 1969, Dr. David Nichols began research on drug molecules known then as ‘psychotomimetics.’ This talk will roughly chronicle his journey from 1969 until the present, presenting advances in the evolution of thinking about these drugs, now popularly called psychedelics.”

Nearly Half a Century Studying Psychedelics with David Nichols