March was a great month for research into psychedelics. The month featured a large-scale microdosing study where participants self-blinded their psychedelics. Other studies helped us form a framework around psychedelic retreats and how community factors help someone have better outcomes. Whilst other studies have, once again, shown the power of placebo and possible ways of dissecting that from other factors such as the active drug.
MAPS celebrated its 35th anniversary and is now ever closer to getting MDMA approved by the FDA. At the same time, decriminalization is still moving forward at the level of cities and proposals have been made for states too. Heck, cannabis become legal in New York, another big win. People working or promoting NGOs clashed with for-profit companies and, among others, Tim Ferriss and Christian Angermeyer (atai) discussed this publicly.
More money has been pouring into this space in the last month. CIIS, a training ground for new therapists, has received $1 million. And Robin Carhart-Harris is moving house to California with the newly founded Neuroscape Psychedelics Division. In 2022, Canada will also be home to a new psychedelic research center at the Legion Veterans Village. All good news that will help us better understand how psychedelics work and get access to patients.
Psychedelic News of March 2021 – Week 1
A self-blinding experiment (n=191, study, analysis) finds that the placebo and microdosing groups both experienced similar improvements in self-rated psychological well-being and cognitive function (e.g. mood, energy, creativity) after four weeks. This study provides more evidence that microdosing benefits can be attributed to expectancy (placebo) effects.
A meta-analysis (n=349, study, analysis) found that the dose of psilocybin (3-27mg/70kg) correlated positively with positive changes in perception (e.g. ego dissolution). Negative experiences were barely modulated by dose.
A review (14 studies, study, analysis) found that traits of absorption, openness, acceptance, and surrender correlated with more positive and mystical (MEQ30) experiences. Gender didn’t predict drug effects, but possible biomarkers are serotonin receptor binding potential, executive network node diversity, and right anterior cingulate cortex volume.
NGO and Advocacy
Spokane (Washington) is the latest city to push for decriminalization.
Psychedelic apps are having a moment as Lumenate (a strobscopic light app) is launched. This app tries to replicate psychedelic effects, other apps that recently have launched serve to track psychedelic intake, inform users, and help with connecting to therapists.
- Can Psilocybin and LSD Relieve Existential Suffering? (Psychedelic Science Review)
- Good primer on 1960s and current research with psilocybin and LSD for end-of-life anxiety (existential distress)
- ALIUS ~ Dr. David Yaden & Dr. David Olson ~ Subjective and Therapeutic effects of Psychedelics (ALIUS)
- Interesting interview by George Feyer with David Olson and David Yaden
- Much agreement on the effects of psychedelics and understanding of how they work
- Some disagreement, but less than you would expect, on the question if an acute experience is necessary for full/enduring/maximal therapeutic effects
- Some Thoughts on For-Profit Psychedelic Startups and Companies (Tim Ferriss)
- Tim has valid questions for Christian Angermeyer which will hopefully result in a respectable podcast
- For-profit companies are needed in this space, they will make the services that insurers will pay for in some years time
- But grabbing patents left and right seems to be the wrong thing
- The Race to Patent Psychedelics Is Just Getting Started (Vice, Shayla Love)
- JR Rahn of MindMed – LSD, ADHD, and Decriminalization (Psychedelics Today, podcast)
- Very balanced conversation with the corporate side of psychedelics (as represented by JR Rahn of MindMed)
- Putting it into the context that money is needed for the experiments to turn this into something insurers will pay for
- Making Soil for Space Habitats by Seeding Asteroids with Fungi (NASA)
- Paul Stamets teams up with NASA to figure out how to colonize asteroids with fungi, very cool!
- Online Psychedelic Community Options to Ride Out the Rest of Covid-19 (Psychedelics Today, Michelle Janikian)
- Good primer on where to find community whilst there is little opportunity away-from-keyboard
- How Psychedelic Drugs Are Making A Comeback To Treat Depression (WSJ, podcast)
- Why mental health researchers are studying psychedelics all wrong (Salon)
- Attack? on psychedelic research and the DSM-V
- Although some of it’s valid, I think it heaps too many things together
- E.g. using case study of someone for whom MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD didn’t help, conflating the use of DSM-V categories and fully endorsing it (many psychedelics work across many categories and as far as I know the field is quite hostile towards the categories of symptoms the DSM names but also sees that it could be valuable sometimes, e.g. measuring if you’re experiencing fewer)
- Good criticisms revolve around the Hawthorne (observation) effect, and that people after the trials continue to see each other (peer support) and find underground therapists, which will probably inflate the numbers
- Ending racist drug policies starts with being open about drug use (Mic)
- We need to be (more) open about our own drug use, to shed the stigma of drug use (also the ‘bad’ ones)
- Inspired by Carl Hart’s Drug Use for Grown-Ups (recommended)
- The History of Psychedelic Therapy: What Can We Learn? (Psychology Today)
- Interview with Matt Oram
- Author of The Trials of Psychedelic Therapy which goes through the history of LSD research
- It challenges the narrative of drug laws leading to the end of research, and present LSD research in the 1970s that showed null resultswith LSD for alcoholism
- but again, those studies did not follow the psychotherapy protocol and as datapoints might not be too valuable
- Vine Ventures: Rethinking Venture Capital for a Novel Approach to Health & Wellness (Ryan Zurrer, Vine Ventures)
- Great analysis of psychedelics space, from VC company (so somewhat biased but seems to have been done well)
- Most (stock market) value is currently in pharmaceutical development (vs downstream places like education)
- Argues that too much is focussed on patents (which are weak) and MD in hospital-like setting therapies (vs wider access)
Psychedelic News of March 2021 – Week 2
Balázs Szigeti and David Erritzoe hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on r/microdosing about their recent paper. In the post, they announced that they will run a 2.0 version (using the Mydelica app), and a study on CBD oils (with the same self-blinding protocol).
A study (analysis) on neuronal-glial cells (CD11b+ microglia, from mice) found that the direct application of psilocin (a metabolite of psilocybin) and DMT, led to increased capacity for the cells to fulfill their immune responses. Specifically, it reduced levels of TLR4, p65, CD80 proteins (markers of the immune response), and upregulated TREM2 (neuroprotective receptor).
Is it all in our head? A double-blind placebo-controlled study (n=30, analysis) controlled for expectation bias in a naturalistic ayahuasca ceremony. The use of ayahuasca led to more emotional empathy, but both groups improved as much on symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Noted should be that the dosage of ayahuasca was relatively low (14-21mg DMT, 2-4x lower than usual).
A review (64 studies, analysis) investigated the literature and found no clear relationship (finding correlation both ways, and non-significant results) between non-clinical use of psychedelics and suicidality. There is preliminary evidence for acute and sustained decreases in suicidality after psychedelic therapy.
A systematic review (analysis) argues that de-blinding (breaking blind) in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of psychedelic therapies is leading to a (not defined/measurable) over-estimation of the outcomes (outside clinical trials). The authors suggest measures to tackle this and to use caution interpreting the existing RCTs.
A EEG study (n=35, analysis) showed that the baseline power of theta oscillations (associated with mind-wandering) negatively correlated with the intensity of mystical-type (MEQ30) experiences after smoking DMT.
The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics has launched.
NGO and Advocacy
It seems the tables have turned, a doctor has sued the DEA to get permission to give psilocybin to his patients. The lawsuit is specific to end-of-life care, but could set a president to allow psychedelics (for therapy) at a federal level.
A New York lawmaker is trying, again, to decriminalize psilocybin.
There was a lot of back–and–forth between Christian Angermayer (atai) and Tim Ferriss. The need for patents, the (over)reach of them and more were discussed. Shayla Love also covered this conversation for Vice. Still, one is left wondering if patents (in this case) lead to innovation (rewarding the patent holder) or stagnation/rent-seeking and the prevention of competition. Rick Doblin also mentioned exclusivity as a way to protect your investment, something that MAPS will initially do with their MDMA-assisted therapy model.
You can soon buy another exchange traded fund (ETF) for psychedelics (following the one by Horizons – not the conference). The only problem, 65% of the basket is made up of cannabis stocks.
- The Outlaw Chemists Who Deserve a Cut of the Psychedelic Gold Rush (The Soapbox, John Semley)
- Arguments for reintroducing the psychedelic chemists of the past in the new (business) gold rush
Psychedelic News of March 2021 – Week 3
A follow-up study (n=11, analysis) of psilocybin-assisted therapy for anxiety and depression, found that it also significantly reduced suicidal ideation (SI) and loss of meaning (LoM) up to the 4.5 years follow-up.
A brain imaging (EEG) study (n=37, analysis) found that the shamanic practitioners showed significant differences to control participants on an altered states of consciousness scale (OAV) and EEG measures. Their brainwaves resembled that of earlier data on those under the influence of psychedelics but still were identified as unique, sometimes stronger, patterns.
A perspective article (analysis) proposes various synergies between mindfulness practice and psychedelics. The authors argue that psychedelics can form the compass (direction setting) and mindfulness the vehicle (integration).
NGO and Advocacy
CIIS, one of the biggest trainers of psychedelic therapists, has received a $1 million grant from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. This money will go to expand their training program by over 1000 graduates in the next three years.
The advisory board that oversees the implementation of Measure 109 (Oregon) has been formed. It includes Tom Eckert (who petitioned for this measure), Mason Marks (researcher), Andre Ourso (public health director), and more.
After first rejecting the rescheduling of MDMA, the Australian government has granted $15 million to support psychedelic trials. A happy turn of events. A narrative that brings together these disparate standpoints is that they need more research (to approve it) and this is exactly what the ‘Mental Illness Grant Opportunity’ is for.
Arketamine is getting some more attention with Perception Neuroscience and Otsuka Pharmaceutical announcing a collaboration on further developing this drug for depression.
- Compass Pathways: rNPV Probabilities Of Success Are Underestimated (Andreas Repeta, Seeking Alpha)
- Makes the bull (upside) case for the success of FDA approval for Compass
- “Factoring in historic psychedelic use and the elucidated mechanism of action on 5-HT2A receptors and downstream activation on mTOR-transcription increases probabilities of success dramatically in clinical phases.“
- Makes the bull (upside) case for the success of FDA approval for Compass
- Sounding the Alarm on Compass’s Interference with Oregon’s Psilocybin Therapy Program (Dr. Bronner’s)
- Highlights the interference of Compass (behind the scenes) on Measure 109 and that more people need access, not less
- PTSF51 – Miracle Cures, Money, and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Psychedelics Today, podcast)
- Discusses Why mental health researchers are studying psychedelics all wrong and some of the patent-related articles of last week
- Makes the good (evergreen) comment that the only reason we’re having to go through the FDA for psychedelics is the medical model that we’re imposing on drugs (vs people using them recreationally/self-improvement)
- Psilocybin Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa: Paris 1959 (Erica Rex, The Brave New World of Psychedelic Medicine)
- Details the treatment of anorexia with psilocybin (2x8mg injection) as part of the first trial with psilocybin in France
- The first trip didn’t result in significant changes, as she was being treated with chlorpromazine (a antipsychotic)
- The second trip led to acute trip effects and positive changes such as weight gain after the treatment, alas no follow-up counselling was done
Psychedelic News of March 2021 – Week 4
An open-label study (n=256, analysis) found that directly after an ayahuasca retreat, and three months later, the personality of the participants was changed. The strongest finding was for neuroticism, but noted should be that there was no control group.
A survey study (n=452, analysis) found that the use of mescaline led to improvements in scores on clinical conditions for those suffering from clinical conditions (anxiety 80%, depression 86%, PTSD & AUD 76%). Those who scored higher on acute mystical experience (MEQ30), ego dissolution, and psychological insight had larger improvement than those who scored lower.
The Pacific Neuroscience Institute is starting a trial with psilocybin for alcoholism (AUD). The unique thing about this trial is that it will combine nature-themed videos to (possibly) enhance the therapeutic benefits. And a trial in Sydney will study psilocybin for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction.
A prospective survey study (n=886, analysis) of those participating in a psychedelic ceremony, validated the adapted Communitas Scale and found that positive interpersonal experiences (including personal sharing) correlated with positive outcomes (psychological wellbeing & social connectedness).
A pooled-data study (n=194) of healthy participants of RCTs with MDMA (75mg-125mg) found that MDMA plasma concentration was the strongest predictor of outcomes. The more active the CYP2D6 enzyme, the lower the plasma concentration. And the higher the score on Openness, the more closeness and two subscales of an altered states of consciousness questionnaire (5D-ASC).
A review (2021) explores the prospects of psychedelic substances as facilitators of behavioral change that promote a healthy lifestyle concerning diet, exercise, and substance abuse, through psychological mechanisms such as the relaxation of prior beliefs.
A placebo-controlled randomized, crossover study (n=17) investigated the impact of LSD (100 μg/70kg) and the counteracting influence of the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin (40mg/70kg) on the autonomic nervous system within healthy subjects. LSD predominantly increased the sympathetic activity, while ketanserin increased the parasympathetic influence, thus antagonizing the effects of LSD on the autonomic nervous system completely.
A meta-analysis (41 studies; 5 at 6-weeks post-treatment) found ketamine to be effective up to 6 weeks later when ketamine was used for the treatment of depressive episodes (MDD, bipolar). The effects found, at all three follow-up points, were large (g = -1.28 to -1.36).
NGO and Advocacy
Surrey, Canada, will be home to a new psychedelic research center in 2022. The $312 Legion Veterans Village will host a research center with a focus on PTSD.
Report on Psychedelics has just come out with their report on NGO’s within psychedelics, worth checking out!
Compass has been granted two patents on the use of their oral synthetic psilocybin for depression. Only weeks earlier they were embroiled in controversy regarding their (other) broad claims in patent applications.
MindMed has published their patent application for 18-MC, their ibogaine derivative that will be used to help with the treatment of addictions. Graham Pechenik posted a good review thread of this application on Twitter (and Matt Baggott also chimes in).
- UW–Madison pioneers master’s program in the therapeutic use of psychoactive drugs (UW)
- Announcement of the (already added) MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences
- Psychedelic Synesthesia: Smell That Tune (Psychedelic Science Review)
- Synesthesia, or the combination of senses, is something that can happen under the influence of psychedelics
- The experience is somewhat different than that for people born with it
- Benefits of microdosing LSD might be placebo effect, study finds (The Guardian)
- Reporting on the largest self-blinding microdosing study by Szigeti and colleagues (2021)
- A Conversation with Dr Friederike Meckel Fischer (Erica Rex, Substack)
- MAPS Bulletin Winter 2021: Vol 31, No. 1 (MAPS)
- Some great articles and updates on what MAPS is doing
- The Biology of Psychedelics: Part I / Part II (Tyler Quigley, Substack)
- Awesome new newsletter that dives into the science of psychedelics and explains it beautifully
- Why Canada Is Pulling the Plug on Its War on Drugs (Lucid News)
- Reporting on changing drug laws (care vs criminalization) in Canada
- Noetic Launches Venture Studio to Build Psychedelic Biotechnology Companies (press release)
- Providing money for smaller bets/projects in psychedelics
- Focus on biotech companies