Top 10 Articles for Psychedelic Novices

This post was made by Floris Wolswijk in cooperation, and co-published, with the MIND Foundation

If you’re a student, researcher, or otherwise interested in psychedelic science, we have selected 10 publications for you to begin with. 

These papers will give you a solid foundation to start your psychedelic journey. You will gain an overview of psychedelic science’s state-of-the-art, the history of psychedelic exploration, the many applications of psychedelic substances in various research fields, and most importantly, their therapeutic potential.

In order to keep up with the growing popularity of psychedelic research, we will walk you through our current understanding of the pharmacology of psychedelics in the brain, their acute and long-term effects on the human psyche, and finally, of their promise of mental health improvement. Alongside the research findings, you will also get to know the most important players of today’s psychedelic research.

Although targeted for beginners and newcomers, this top 10 features articles diving deep into the science of psychedelics, which is a crossroads between multiple disciplines; not only neuroscience and psychology, but also philosophy, social sciences, and chemistry. To further your psychedelic exploration, we recommend the Drug Science Program↗ and uniMIND↗ discussion groups by the MIND Foundation.

Top 10 Novice Psychedelic Papers Walkthrough

1. How do psychedelics work?

The quickest overview of psychedelic research has been published by Robin Carhart-Harris in 2019. Currently the Head of Imperial Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London, Carhart-Harris has been the icebreaker of psychedelic research for more than a decade. In ‘How do psychedelics work?‘ he summarizes multiple levels of research developments, as well as future perspectives. A must-read for everyone!

2. Psychedelic drugs: neurobiology and potential for treatment of psychiatric disorders

In September 2020 Franz Vollenweider and Katrin Preller from the University Hospital for Psychiatry in Zurich published a comprehensive review of the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs in the brain. Together they developed a stunning visual representation of the effects of psychedelic drugs on brain circuits. ‘Psychedelic drugs: neurobiology and potential for treatment of psychiatric disorders‘ summarizes several decades of discoveries and makes them very easy to digest.

3. REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics

If the previous article left you craving for more neuroscience research, you should check out another article by Carhart-Harris, written in collaboration with his colleague Karl Friston from University College London. ‘REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics‘ proposes a model ‘Relaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS)’ that investigates how a high amount of bottom-up information is incorporated when the brain is influenced by psychedelics.

4. Unifying Theories of Psychedelic Drug Effects

A review by Link Swanson (2018) looks further back at ‘Unifying Theories of Psychedelic Drug Effects‘. In his article, Swanson, an IT professional currently associated with the Center for Cognitive Sciences in Minneapolis, discusses over a century of theories of psychedelic science, including key concepts from Freud to modern predictive processing. The article suggests that the common denominator among theories is the fact that default brain processes are disturbed, thus leading to more unconstrained thought flow under the influence of psychedelics.

5. Psychedelics

After more than 300 publications dating back to 1969, David E. Nichols, who is also a founder of the Heffter Research Institute and the originator of the term ‘entactogen’, wrote an extensive compendium of the chemistry of psychedelic substances. ‘Psychedelics‘ (2016) is a near 100-page summary of the research on the serotonergic system, which explains how do serotonergic hallucinogens affect the 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) 2A receptors and what it means for patients and therapists.

6. Classic psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, therapeutics, mystical experience, and brain network function

Since the molecular grounds of psychedelic active principles is just one of the dimensions of the research on psychedelics, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine aimed at compiling our hitherto knowledge of subjective psychedelic experience. ‘Classic psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, therapeutics, mystical experience, and brain network function‘ (Johnson et al. 2019) gathers reflections on the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances while revisiting various types of research methods throughout history.

7. The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future

Robin Carhart-Harris, this time together with Guy Goodwin from the University of Oxford, investigates challenges (e.g. subjectivity of effects) and promises (e.g. the large positive outcomes) of psychedelic-assisted therapy. In ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future‘ (2017), the two researchers discuss the “steady revival of human psychedelic research” and share their opinions on the perspective of psilocybin-assisted therapy becoming one of the mainstream depression treatment methods.

8. Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon

The therapeutic action of psychedelic substances is mediated by subjective experiences, such as ‘peak experiences (mystical experience) or ‘afterglow’ phenomena. Tomislav Majić, together with Timo Schmidt and Jürgen Gallinat, investigates how the subjective effects of psychedelics influence their therapeutic effects in ‘Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon: When and how do therapeutic effects of hallucinogens depend on psychedelic experiences?‘.

9. A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

So far, we recommended reviews discussing large pieces of the psychedelic puzzle. It is worth mentioning, however, that double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials are also integral to the understanding of psychedelic research development. Luoma and colleagues (2020) performed ‘A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy‘. This cooperation between Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Adler University, Ohio State University, and Innate Path Psychotherapy Clinic resulted in a detailed comparison of psychedelic-assisted therapy trials published since 1994. The authors’ analysis suggests that psychedelic-assisted therapy is effective in all four investigated mental health conditions.

10. A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics

Last, but not least, we would like to recommend an article discussing microdosing, which is a practice of administration of sub-therapeutic doses of psychedelic substances, with the hope of improving mood, concentration, and creativity among healthy subjects. ‘A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics‘ performed by Vince Polito and Richard Stevenson from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in 2019, analyses two trials examining the perceived well-being effects of microdosing.

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