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.
Legendary food writer Michael Pollan explains his interest in psychedelic plants in this podcast interview. Pollan discusses the re-emergence of psilocybin-assisted therapy research after long being suppressed.
Here’s a video from The Atlantic Montlhy about the study at Johns Hopkins using psilocybin for treating long-term smokers.
Psilocybin may help smokers quit the habit by giving them a mystical experience, according to an article in The Atlantic Monthly. In a Heffter-supported study at Johns Hopkins University, 12 of 15 subjects quit smoking after three sessions with the psychedelic substance. Lead researcher Dr. Matthew Johnson suggests that psychedelics may help smokers overcome addiction by changing their self image. “’People will recognize this profound self-worth that they’ve dismissed,’ he said. ‘They look at their life and see themselves as a miracle.’”
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.”
A team of researchers at Imperial College London produced the first images of the human brain under the influence of LSD. According to ScienceDaily, 20 healthy volunteers received 75 micrograms of LSD. The research team, led by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, used advanced imaging technology to study how the psychedelic substance acts in the brain. Carhart-Harris says the study advances our understanding of the complex visual and psychological effects of psychedelics.
“Professor David Nutt, the senior researcher on the study and Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial, said: ‘Scientists have waited 50 years for this moment — the revealing of how LSD alters our brain biology. For the first time we can really see what’s happening in the brain during the psychedelic state, and can better understand why LSD had such a profound impact on self-awareness in users and on music and art. This could have great implications for psychiatry, and helping patients overcome conditions such as depression.’”
A pioneering study by Heffter researcher Matthew Johnson continues to draw attention in the media. A story in the online magazine ATTN covers Johnson’s research on the use of psilocybin for treating nicotine addiction. Writer Kyle Jaeger compares the success rate in Johnson’s study, in which 80 percent of the subjects remained abstinent after six months, with the 30 percent success rate for nicotine replacement and behavioral therapies.
“‘Quitting smoking isn’t a simple biological reaction to psilocybin, as with other medications that directly affect nicotine receptors,’ Dr. Matthew Johnson, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote. ‘When administered after careful preparation and in a therapeutic context, psilocybin can lead to deep reflection about one’s life and spark motivation to change.’
“Johnson plans to pursue further research into the use of psilocybin to treat smoking addiction, comparing the results to the success of using nicotine patches, and the researchers will ‘use MRI scans to study brain activity in participants.’”
A feature article in the December 2015 issue of Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, surveys recent developments in psychedelic science with an emphasis on Heffter-sponsored research. In “One Hit Wonder,” writer Kirsten Weir quotes Heffter researchers Roland Griffiths, Anthony Bossis, and Jeffrey Guss. The article focuses on psilocybin as a treatment for existential distress in cancer patients.
“We don’t deal well with death and dying in this culture,” says Roland Griffiths, PhD, a professor of behavioral biology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease often leads to a kind of chronic syndrome of anxiety, depression and emotional distress. “But under appropriate conditions in well-prepared participants, psilocybin can produce these really quite profound and abrupt shifts in mood and attitude and behavior, even after a single session,” he says. “It’s unlike anything available within psychiatry.”
A documentary film titled A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin explores the use of psilocybin as a treatment for cancer patients.
“The film presents an intimate look into the lives of several terminally ill cancer patients participating in the studies, and opens an intriguing discourse of the dying process and our role as a society in that process. By informing current misconceptions about psychedelics, A New Understanding utilizes a collection of accomplished minds to discuss psilocybins’ role in culture, evolution, mystical states, and even life itself.”
New research by a team including Heffter board member Franz Vollenweider casts light on the well-known but little understood ability of psychedelics to produce spiritual experiences. The study, published in the journalPsychopharmacology, involved EEG recordings of 50 healthy volunteers who took a moderate dose of psilocybin. The researchers discovered intriguing correlations between the intensity of spiritual experience and activity in certain areas of the brain.
“These results provide systematic evidence for the direct association of a specific spatiotemporal neuronal mechanism with spiritual experiences and enhanced insight into life and existence. The identified mechanism may constitute a pathway for modulating mental health, as spiritual experiences can promote sustained well-being and psychological resilience.”