Posts Tagged ‘Imperial College London’

Could taking LSD help people make peace with their neuroses?

Psychiatrists in the 1960s certainly thought so. They carried out many studies looking at the effect of LSD and other psychedelics on people undergoing psychotherapy for schizophrenia, OCD and alcoholism.

The idea was that the drug would mimic the effect of hypnotherapy, making people more suggestible and open to changing their thought patterns. The results were reportedly positive, but the experiments rarely included control groups and so don’t stand up to modern scrutiny.

The work ground to a halt when recreational use of LSD was banned in 1971 – even though using LSD for research purposes was exempt.

Several decades on and LSD research is less of a contentious issue. This has allowed a team of researchers to revisit LSD’s suggestive powers with more care.

A team at Imperial College London gave 10 healthy volunteers two injections a week apart, either a moderate dose of LSD or a placebo. The subjects acted as their own controls, and didn’t know which dose was which. Two hours after the injection, the volunteers lay down and listened to the researchers describe various scenarios often used in hypnotherapy. They were asked to “think along” with each one. These scenarios included tasting a delicious orange, re-experiencing a childhood memory, or relaxing on the shore of a lake.

“Sometimes the suggestions had a kind of irresistible quality” says team member Robin Carhart-Harris. “In a suggestion which describes heavy dictionaries in the palm of your hand, one of the volunteers said that even though they knew that I was offering a suggestion and it wasn’t real, their arm really ached, and only by letting their arm drop a little bit did the ache go away.”

Once all the scenarios had been read out, the participants had to rate the vividness of the mental experiences they triggered on a standard scale.

The volunteers rated their experiences after taking LSD as 20 per cent more vivid than when they had been injected with the placebo.

Treating neuroses with psychotherapy requires the therapist to be able to influence the patient’s way of viewing themselves and their obsession. Co-author David Nutt, also at Imperial College, says the work suggests that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy may provide a unique opportunity for the brain to enter the plastic, or malleable, state required for this to happen.

Peter Gasser, a psychiatrist working in Solothurn, Switzerland, who recently conducted the first clinical trial using LSD in over 40 years, commended the study and emphasized the importance of suggestibility for therapy. “The mind on LSD is easily able to make connections between ideas and thoughts,” he says.

Now that the team has verified the historical findings, the path is laid for them to explore the mechanisms underpinning LSD’s effect on consciousness, and the legitimacy of its use in psychotherapy.

Journal reference: Psychopharmacology, DOI: 10.1007/s00213-014-3714-z

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26351-lsds-ability-to-make-minds-malleable-revisited.html

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By Jonathan Webb

The design, published in Nature Photonics, adapts technology used in fusion research.

Several locations could now enter a race to convert photons into positrons and electrons for the very first time.

This would prove an 80-year-old theory by Breit and Wheeler, who themselves thought physical proof was impossible.

Now, according to researchers from Imperial College London, that proof is within reach.

Prof Steven Rose and his PhD student, Oliver Pike, told the BBC it could happen within a year.

“With a good experimental team, it should be quite doable,” said Mr Pike.

If the experiment comes to fruition, it will be the final piece in a puzzle that began in 1905, when Einstein accounted for the photoelectric effect with his model of light as a particle.

Several other basic interactions between matter and light have been described and subsequently proved by experiment, including Dirac’s 1930 proposal that an electron and its antimatter counterpart, a positron, could be annihilated upon collision to produce two photons.

Breit and Wheeler’s theoretical prediction of the reverse – that two photons could crash together and produce matter (a positron and an electron) – has been difficult to observe.

“The reason this is very hard to see in the lab is that you need to throw an awful lot of photons together – because the probability of any two of them interconverting is very low,” Prof Rose explained.

His team proposes gathering that vast number of very high-energy photons by firing an intense beam of gamma-rays into a further cloud of photons, created within a tiny, gold-lined cylinder.

That cylinder is called a “hohlraum”, German for “hollow space”, because it contains a vacuum, and it is usually used in nuclear fusion research. The cloud of photons inside it is made from extraordinarily intense X-rays and is about as hot as the Sun.

Hitting this very dense cloud of photons with the powerful gamma-ray beam raises the probability of collisions that will make matter – and history.

“It’s pretty amazing really,” said Mr Pike. He says it took some time to realise the value of the scheme, which he and two colleagues initially jotted down on scrap paper over several cups of coffee.

“For the first 12 hours or so, we didn’t quite appreciate its magnitude.”

But their subsequent calculations showed that the design, theoretically at least, has more than enough power to crack the challenge set by Breit and Wheeler in the 1930s.

“All the ingredients are there,” agrees Sir Peter Knight, an emeritus professor at Imperial College who was not involved in the research but describes it as a “really clever idea”.

“I think people will seriously start to have a crack at this,” Prof Knight told BBC News, though he cautioned that there were a lot of things to get right when putting the design into practice.

“If it’s done in a year, then they’ve done bloody well! I think it might take a bit longer.”

Some healthy scientific competition may speed up the process.

There are at least three facilities with the necessary equipment to test out the new proposal, including the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Oldham.

“The race to carry out and complete the experiment is on,” said Mr Pike.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27470034

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.