Posts Tagged ‘LSD’

In September, the Brooklyn Psychedelic Society hosted a “Plant Parenthood” event to educate moms and dads on how psychedelics can make a person a better — and more present — parent.

Psychedelics have been shown to help people battling depression and anxiety by disrupting ruminative thought patterns, and enabling people to connect more deeply to the world around them.

A number of parents at the “Plant Parenthood” event said that psychedelics have helped them to overcome childhood trauma and keep it from interfering with how they relate to their own children now.

When Nina’s baby turned 1 last year, Nina quit her job working as a therapist. She realized she could no longer cope, let alone help her patients get through trying times.

Nina was still battling postpartum depression. When she held her daughter, she wanted to feel at peace the way she had always envisioned. But, instead, she was awash with dark memories of her traumatic childhood and sexual assault.

That’s when Nina started microdosing with LSD and mushrooms. It’s also when she finally started to feel some relief.

“I realized how much I was reliving my childhood trauma through my own child,” Nina, who asked to use just her first name to protect her family’s privacy, told Insider. “It was affecting my mothering skills. I wanted the cycle of trauma to end with me.”

Nina, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, grew up homeless and often felt responsible for her mother’s hardships. She felt guilty that her mother endured a difficult pregnancy with her, and she constantly worried about her mother’s financial struggles.

Now, the 31-year-old microdoses a couple of times a week in sub-perceptual doses — very low amounts that don’t cause a user to experience a traditional “trip.” The precise amount is determined based on a person’s tolerance and body weight.

Nina said the experience has helped her to let go of some of her pain and refocus energy towards her daughter.

The mother of one is hardly alone in examining how psychedelics could help her become a better parent. Insider met Nina at a September event in Brooklyn called “Plant Parenthood,” which was an opportunity for moms and dads to learn more about the benefits of psychedelics.


The Brooklyn Psychedelic Society hosted an event last month to teach about the benefits of psychedelics. Jodie Love

Organized by Brooklyn Psychedelic Society, a group that educates about psychedelics, the event drew about 30 parents. Panelists, which included a poet, a church founder, and a lactation consultant, spoke from personal experience about how psychedelics can help people to overcome trauma, battle addiction, treat anxiety and depression, and simply feel more present.

Psychedelics help to disrupt ruminative thought patterns

Research into how psychedelics can be incorporated into a therapy setting began in the 1990s.

Psychedelics have been shown to disrupt the way people who are distressed think, and allow them to break out of depressive thought patterns. Psilocybin, which is similar in chemical makeup to LSD,targets the “default mode network” in the brain, and essentially causes that part of the mind to go “offline,” author Michael Pollan wrote in his book, “How to Change Your Mind,” which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal.

In turn, the user is able to more effectively connect to other people and the world around them.

“All these disorders involve uncontrollable and endlessly repeating loops of rumination that gradually shade out reality and fray our connections to other people and the natural world,” Pollan wrote. “The ego becomes hyperactive, even tyrannical, enforcing rigid habits of thought and behavior — habits that the psychedelic experience, by loosening the ego’s grip, could help us to break.”

More than 30 million Americans are psychedelic users, according to a 2013 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. That figure has remained consistent since the 1970s, Matthew Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry at the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic Research, told Insider.

Johnson said that many of his patients who have used the mind-altering drugs report feeling more present and having a better ability to refocus their priorities, especially when it comes to familial relationships.

Despite the purported benefits, Johnson doesn’t encourage the use of these substances to help with improving parenting techniques. However, he confirmed that the drugs are physiologically safe for most people: They’re non-addictive and it’s nearly impossible to overdose.

People with heart conditions, however, run the risk of experiencing elevated blood pressure and cardiac arrest. The drugs are also unsafe for people who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders, because they can lead to a psychotic break.

That being said, anybody who takes a high enough dose can have a “bad trip” which, though relatively rare, can lead to potentially dangerous behaviors. “I have a file folder full of cases where people have gotten into accidents or killed by the police because they were out of it and broke into a neighbor’s house,” Johnson said. Anxiety and depression can be exacerbated, even though there are anecdotes stating the opposite.

Experts across the board stress the importance of parents hiring a babysitter to care for their children while they’re using psychedelics.

A number of parents at the Brooklyn event agreed that the drugs have helped them to relate to their children in a deeper way.

“Psychedelics have cleared the path between me and my son,” Nicholas Powers, a poet and journalist, said during the event. “This helps me listen to him.”

Others had similar experiences to Nina, saying that psychedelics allowed them to overcome issues from their childhoods, and keep them from interfering with their relationships with their children.

This was the case with Danny Allan, a 42-year-old filmmaker and father of one. Allan said he and his wife take a “hearty” dose of mushrooms once every few months. They aim to mimic indigenous shamanic ceremonial practices and used Ayahuasca, a drink used for spiritual purposes by Amazonian tribes, once during a retreat in Peru.

Allan said using these drugs has helped him to work through the issues he had with his own mother growing up. As a child, Allan often felt that his mother was detached and that having children disrupted the lifestyle she actually wanted. When he was a teenager, Allan’s mother changed gears and became more religious, and more controlling.

As a result of his experience, Allan said he was at times smothering to his 8-year-old son, because of his mother’s aloofness. At other times, he was detached in response to her controlling behaviors.

He said psychedelics have helped him to find an even ground with his child.

“When you do that internal work with the help of psychedelics, you can heal from childhood wounds,” Allan said, “and make your parenting decisions with love and empathy.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-psychedelics-like-mushrooms-lsd-help-parents-relate-to-kids-2019-10

By Bahar Gholipour

The consciousness-altering drug LSD is best known for its bizarre visual effects: even a small dose of the drug can turn the flat walls of your living room into something out of Wonderland. Objects bend, colors blend and intricate patterns cast a shimmer on everything you see. But what would LSD feel like if you couldn’t see?

In an unusual case report published in the April issue of the journal Cognition and Consciousness, a blind 70-year-old former rock musician has some answers.

The man, who is referred to as “Mr. Blue Pentagon” after his favorite kind of LSD, gave researchers a detailed account of what he experienced when taking the drug during his music career in the 1970s. Mr. Pentagon was born blind. He did not perceive vision, with or without LSD. Instead, under the influence of psychedelics, he had strong auditory and tactile hallucinations, including an overlap of the two in a form of synesthesia, according to the report.

“I never had any visual images come to me. I can’t see or imagine what light or dark might look like,” Mr. Blue Pentagon told the researchers. But under the influence of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid), sounds felt unique and listening to music felt like being immersed in a waterfall, he said. “The music of Bach’s third Brandenburg concerto brought on the waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having a one hour long monologue using different tones of voices … LSD gave everything ‘height.’ The sounds coming from songs I would normally listen to became three dimensional, deep and delayed.”

Mr. Blue Pentagon’s account is a rare glimpse into how LSD may feel in the absence of vision. Beyond a few Q&A threads on Reddit, the only other resource is a 1963 study of 24 blind people, which was actually conducted by an ophthalmologist to test whether a functioning retina (the part of the eye that senses light) is enough for visual hallucinations (it’s not), and didn’t include the participants’ psychological experiences beyond vision.

Understanding Mr. Blue Pentagon’s experience with the drugmay give unique insights about how novel synesthetic experiences through multiple senses are concocted by the brain — especially a brain that is wired differently due to lack of vision, according to the researchers from the University of Bath in the U.K. who published the report. Synesthesia is a rare condition in which one sense is perceived in the form of another; for example, a person may “hear” colors or “taste” sounds. This overlap of senses may ocurr because of cross communication between brain networks processing each sense, scientists have proposed.

As numerous anecdotal reports suggest and a few studies have documented, LSD causes auditory-visual synesthesia, an experience in which sounds and sights influence each other. Mr. Blue Pentagon appeared to experience a similar phenomenon, but rather than mixing sound and sight, it involved the senses that were available to him: sound and touch, the researchers suggested.

Still, there’s only so much to be gleaned from a qualitative report based on a single person.

“It is next to impossible to gain ‘general’ insights from individual narratives,” said Ilsa Jerome, a clinical researcher for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) who was not involved with the report.

Jerome, who is visually impaired herself, said she is unconvinced that having a visual impairment provides any special insight on how LSD alters sensory processes. “But it might provide greater motivation or interest in the sensory impact of psychedelic compounds,” she told Live Science.

The brain in blindness
The details of what exactly LSD does in the brain are still unclear, but research suggests that the drug’s psychedelic effects occur because LSD alters neuronal communication in the brain. Specifically, LSD latches onto receptors for serotonin, one of the neurotranmitters neurons use to communicate. The visual hallucinations are likely a result of LSD stimulating these receptors in the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes light, color and other visual information. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

The first studyto look at the brain effects of LSD using modern technology was published recently, in 2016, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In that study, when people took LSD, the researchers observed that the visual cortex was unusually activeand showed greater synchronous activity with many areas of the brain. This connectivity was correlated with the complex visual hallucinations reported by the participants.

The visual cortex develops into a fully functioning system during early life in response to sensory information from the eyes. But in the absence of early visual experience, which is the case for people born blind, the visual cortex doesn’t develop normally. Instead, it rewires to process sound and touch.

This could explain the nature of Mr. Blue Pentagon’s experience with LSD.

“I expect that the cortical ‘real estate’ that would have housed vision does not do so in Mr. Pentagon’s case,” Jerome said. “So LSD may be doing the same thing with that area of cortex, but since that area is, for him, connected with other senses, those experiences — such as sound, touch or sense of self in space — are altered.”

Visual or other sensory hallucinations are only one part of LSD’s effects. The compound can cause profound changes in emotions and consciousness, all of which are reported by both blind and sighted people. The few studies that exist on the subject suggest LSD may be doing this by lowering the barriers between brain networks, allowing them to communicate in a more flexible way.

Original article on Live Science.

https://www.livescience.com/62343-psychedelics-lsd-effects-blind-people.html

By Rafi Letzter

Scientists in Switzerland dosed test subjects with LSD to investigate how patients with severe mental disorders lose track of where they end and other people begin.

Both LSD and certain mental disorders, most notably schizophrenia, can make it difficult for people to distinguish between themselves and others. And that can impair everyday mental tasks and social interactions, said Katrin Preller, one of the lead authors of the study and a psychologist at the University Hospital of Psychiatry in Zurich. By studying how LSD breaks down people’s senses of self, the researchers aimed to find targets for future experimental drugs to treat schizophrenia.

“Healthy people take having this coherent ‘self’ experience for granted,” Preller told Live Science, “which makes it difficult to explain why it’s so important.”

Depression, she said, also relates to the sense of self. Whereas people with schizophrenia can lose track of themselves entirely, people with depression tend to “ruminate” on themselves, unable to break obsessive, self-oriented patterns of thought.

But this kind of phenomenon is challenging to study, Preller said.

“If you want to investigate self-experience, you have to manipulate it,” Preller said. “And there are very few substances that can actually manipulate sense of self while patients are lying in our MRI scanner.”

One of the substances that can, however, is LSD. And that’s why this experiment happened in Zurich, Preller said. Switzerland is one of the few countries where it’s possible to use LSD on human beings for scientific research. (Doing so is still quite difficult, though, requiring lots of oversight.)

The experiment itself didn’t sound like the most exciting use of the drug for the test subjects, all of whom were physically healthy and did not have schizophrenia or other illnesses After taking the drug, the subjects lay inside MRI machines with video goggles strapped to their faces, trying to make eye contact with a computer-generated avatar. Once they accomplished this, the subjects then tried to look off at another point in space that the avatar was also looking at. This is the kind of social task, Preller said, that’s very difficult if your sense of self has broken down.

Every study subject tried the task three times: once sober, once on LSD, and once after taking both LSD and a substance called ketanserin. This substance blocks LSD from interacting with a particular serotonin receptor in the brain, which researchers call “5-HT2.”

Previous studies on animals had suggested that 5-HT2 played a key role in LSD’s ability to mess with sense of self. The researchers suspected that blocking the receptor in humans might somewhat reduce the effect of LSD.

But it turned out to more than “somewhat” block the effect: There was no difference between the performance of subjects who took ketanserin and the placebo group.

“This was surprising to us, because LSD interacts with a lot of receptors [in the brain], not just 5-HT2,” Preller said.

But LSD’s most dramatic measurable effects entirely abated when subjects first took ketanserin.

That tentatively indicates that 5-HT2 plays an important role in regulating sense of self in the brain, Preller said. The next step, she added, is to work on drugs that target that receptor and see if they might alleviate some of the symptoms of severe psychiatric illnesses that affect the sense of self.

The paper detailing the study’s results was published today (March 19) at The Journal of Neuroscience.

https://www.livescience.com/62059-schizophrenia-lsd-sense-self.html#?utm_source=ls-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=03202018-ls

By Carolyn Gregoire

Long before microdosing was being touted as the Silicon Valley life hack du jour, Dr. James Fadiman was investigating the potential mind-enhancing effects of ingesting psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms.

In the 1960s, Fadiman conducted pioneering psychedelic research, including one study in which he gave LSD and another hallucinogen, Mescaline, to scientists, mathematicians and architects to see how it affected creative problem-solving. (His research was one of the last investigations into LSD due to the Food and Drug Administration’s mid-1960s research ban of the substance.)

More recently, Fadiman authored “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” a how-to manual for safe and therapeutic psychedelic drug experiences.

Now, his research has taken a new turn.

Fadiman is examining the effects of administering psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin in amounts so small that they are below the perceptual threshold. As part of an ongoing research project, Fadiman is collecting the self-reported testimonies of hundreds of people from around the globe who have experimented with psychedelic “microdosing” to treat ailments from anxiety to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or simply to improve productivity or break through writer’s block.

How does one microdose? You take a very small dose of either LSD or psilocybin (roughly one-tenth to one-fifth of a normal dose), on a regular schedule. Fadiman recommends dosing in the morning, once every three days. The dose isn’t enough to “trip,” but for some users, it can lead to subtle yet profound internal shifts. Many microdosers report experiencing improvements in mood; enhanced focus, productivity or creativity; less reactivity; and in some cases, even relief from depression or cluster headaches.

“What it seems to do is rebalance people,” Fadiman told The Huffington Post.

HuffPost Science recently sat down with Fadiman to learn more about how microdosing works, and its potential for enhancing well-being and treating a range of health problems.

Where did this idea of microdosing come from?

Dr. Albert Hofmann (the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD) had been microdosing for at least the last couple decades of his life. He lived to be 102 and at age 100 he was still giving two-hour lectures. Hoffman said that he would mainly use it when he was walking in trees, and it would clarify his thinking. So he was the person who first introduced this to many people, and he also said that this was a very under-researched area.

And of course, for thousands of years, indigenous people have been using low doses of mind-altering substances as well.

What types of people are microdosing, and who do you think can benefit most from the practice?

Microdosing seems to improve a vast range of conditions. I’ve explored microdosing as a safer way of doing psychedelics than the high doses that have been used before. Roughly 95 percent of the people who write me have considerable psychedelic experience. I’ll basically tell them, this isn’t going to harm you, let me know what happens.

The general response is that they feel better. There is an actual movement towards increased health or wellness. What that means, for instance, is that people who write in for anxiety seem to get help with their anxiety. People who use it for learning, improve their learning. One Ivy League student said he was using microdosing to get through the hardest math class in the undergraduate curriculum, and he did wonderfully in the class. Another young man used it for severe stuttering, and others have used it for social anxiety. One young woman, an art historian, even found that it regulated her periods and made them painless.

What does your microdosing protocol look like?

On day one, you dose. Day two, you’re still having the effects. Day three, you should be noticeably not having the effects, and on day four you dose again. For self-study, that’s ideal because it gives you a chance to see what’s going on. After a month — which is all I ask of people — most people say that they’re still microdosing, but not as often.

You’ve worked with hundreds of people on a self-reported microdosing study. How did that get started and what have you been finding?

Over the past number of years, people have written to me and said, “I’m interested in microdosing” for this or that reason, “can you help me?” They ask me to tell them what I’ve been suggesting to people, and they ask to be in the study. I then send them a protocol I’ve developed for a self-study and ask them to get back to me. I’ve probably sent out 200 or 300 of these, and I’ve gotten about half as many back as reports. A number are in process right now.

The range of interest goes from “Hey man, new drug, cool” to “I have post-traumatic stress, I’m recovering from cancer, and I hate my meds.” It’s a very wide range. I get a lot of people who say “I have anxiety or depression and I’ve either gotten off my meds or I hate my meds. Could microdosing help?” And my response is, “It’s helped a lot of other people and I hope it helps you. Here’s the protocol.”

I’ve heard there’s potential for enhancing focus and improving symptoms of ADHD, too.

What people basically say is that they’re better. They focus more in class. A number of people have told me that it’s like Adderall but without the side effects. Now these people are coming off Adderall and have used microdosing to help them taper off pharmaceuticals, or at least to take their pharmaceutical use way, way down.

In your study, are you seeing a lot of people turning to microdosing as a way to come off pharmaceuticals?

For some people, it can take a year or two to come off of a pharmaceutical. A number of people have simply said that with microdosing it was much easier. They said they could do it without incredible suffering. A woman who was coming off of some anti-psychotics that she probably should never have been put on said that it wasn’t that she didn’t have the same symptoms, but she didn’t identify with them as much. She said that she could think of her mood swings as her brain chemistry rebalancing.

What’s going on beneath the surface to create these changes?

What microdosing seems to do is rebalance people. Here’s a generalization, which is how I’ve come to this conclusion: A number of people, by the time they’ve finished a month, say, “I’m sleeping better, I’m eating more healthy food, I’ve returned to yoga and I’m doing meditation.” They’ve improved their relationship to their body ― or their body has improved their relationship to them.

One man quit smoking. He said that he knew smoking wasn’t good, and it was as if his body could actually help him make the decision. What seems to happen with microdosing is that you’re more attuned to your own real needs.

Why has there been so little research into microdosing?

There are two main problems. One is that nobody was interested in microdosing, even a couple of years ago. The early research was always high-dose, and the fact that you could take psychedelics as a microdose didn’t occur to people. The only person we knew of who microdosed seriously was Hofmann … It was basically invisible during the time when research was legal and most of the time when it wasn’t.

On the other side of it, I talked with a major researcher who’s done a number of psychedelic studies and who said that he would love to do a microdosing study. I asked him what was stopping him. He said that the Institutional Review Board is not going to say, “Oh you want to give a Schedule I drug to people every few days and have them just go run around?” It’s going to be really hard.

Now, there are two groups, one in Australia and one in Europe, who are starting microdosing studies. I’m working with both of those groups on designing the studies.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/psychedelic-microdosing-research_us_569525afe4b09dbb4bac9db8

by Daniel Oberhaus

Amanda Feilding used to take lysergic acid diethylamide every day to boost creativity and productivity at work before LSD, known as acid, was made illegal in 1968. During her downtime, Feilding, who now runs the Beckley Foundation for psychedelic research, would get together with her friends to play the ancient Chinese game of Go, and came to notice something curious about her winning streaks.

“I found that if I was on LSD and my opponent wasn’t, I won more games,” Feilding told me over Skype. “For me that was a very clear indication that it improves cognitive function, particularly a kind of intuitive pattern recognition.”

An interesting observation to be sure. But was LSD actually helping Feilding in creative problem solving?

A half-century ban on psychedelic research has made answering this question in a scientific manner impossible. In recent years, however, psychedelic research has been experiencing something of a “renaissance” and now Feilding wants to put her intuition to the test by running a study in which participants will “microdose” while playing Go—a strategy game that is like chess on steroids—against an artificial intelligence.

Microdosing LSD is one of the hallmarks of the so-called “Psychedelic Renaissance.” It’s a regimen that involves regularly taking doses of acid that are so low they don’t impart any of the drug’s psychedelic effects. Microdosers claim the practice results in heightened creativity, lowered depression, and even relief from chronic somatic pain.

But so far, all evidence in favor of microdosing LSD has been based on self-reports, raising the possibility that these reported positive effects could all be placebo. So the microdosing community is going to have to do some science to settle the debate. That means clinical trials with quantifiable results like the one proposed by Feilding.

As the first scientific trial to investigate the effects of microdosing, Feilding’s study will consist of 20 participants who will be given low doses—10, 20 and 50 micrograms of LSD—or a placebo on four different occasions. After taking the acid, the brains of these subjects will be imaged using MRI and MEG while they engage in a variety of cognitive tasks, such as the neuropsychology staples the Wisconsin Card Sorting test and the Tower of London test. Importantly, the participants will also be playing Go against an AI, which will assess the players’ performance during the match.

By imaging the brain while it’s under the influence of small amounts of LSD, Feilding hopes to learn how the substance changes connectivity in the brain to enhance creativity and problem solving. If the study goes forward, this will only be the second time that subjects on LSD have had their brain imaged while tripping. (That 2016 study at Imperial College London was also funded by the Beckley Foundation, which found that there was a significant uptick in neural activity in areas of the brain associated with vision during acid trips.)

Before Feilding can go ahead with her planned research, a number of obstacles remain in her way, starting with funding. She estimates she’ll need to raise about $350,000 to fund the study.

“It’s frightening how expensive this kind of research is,” Feilding said. “I’m very keen on trying to alter how drug policy categorizes these compounds because the research is much more costly simply because LSD is a controlled substance.”

To tackle this problem, Feilding has partnered with Rodrigo Niño, a New York entrepreneur who recently launched Fundamental, a platform for donations to support psychedelic research at institutions like the Beckley Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University.

The study is using smaller doses of LSD than Feilding’s previous LSD study, so she says she doesn’t anticipate problems getting ethical clearance to pursue this. A far more difficult challenge will be procuring the acid to use in her research. In 2016, she was able to use LSD that had been synthesized for research purposes by a government certified lab, but she suspects that this stash has long since been used up.

But if there’s anyone who can make the impossible possible, it would be Feilding, a psychedelic science pioneer known as much for drilling a hole in her own head (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/drilling-a-hole-in-your-head-for-a-higher-state-of-consciousness) to explore consciousness as for the dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies on psychedelic use she has authored in her lifetime. And according to Feilding, the potential benefits of microdosing are too great to be ignored and may even come to replace selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs as a common antidepressant.

“I think the microdose is a very delicate and sensitive way of treating people,” said Feilding. “We need to continue to research it and make it available to people.”

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/first-ever-lsd-microdosing-study-will-pit-the-human-brain-against-ai


Synthetic psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, has been administered to cancer patients in a study at New York University. Researcher Anthony Bossis says many subjects report decreased depression and fear of death after their session. Although some patients do not report persistent positive feelings, none report persistent adverse effects. Photo: Bossis, NYU.

By John Horgan

Bossis, a psychologist at New York University, belongs to an intrepid cadre of scientists reviving research into psychedelics’ therapeutic potential. I say “reviving” because research on psychedelics thrived in the 1950s and 1960s before being crushed by a wave of anti-psychedelic hostility and legislation.

Psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin and mescaline are still illegal in the U.S. But over the past two decades, researchers have gradually gained permission from federal and other authorities to carry out experiments with the drugs. Together with physicians Stephen Ross and Jeffrey Guss, Bossis has tested the potential of psilocybin—the primary active ingredient of “magic mushrooms”–to alleviate anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

Journalist Michael Pollan described the work of Bossis and others in The New Yorker last year. Pollan said researchers at NYU and Johns Hopkins had overseen 500 psilocybin sessions and observed “no serious adverse effects.” Many subjects underwent mystical experiences, which consist of “feelings of unity, sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy,” as well as the conviction that you have discovered “an objective truth about reality.”

Pollan’s report was so upbeat that I felt obliged to push back a bit, pointing out that not all psychedelic experiences—or mystical ones–are consoling. In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James emphasized that some mystics have “melancholic” or “diabolical” visions, in which ultimate reality appears terrifyingly alien and uncaring.

Taking psychedelics in a supervised research setting doesn’t entirely eliminate the risk of a bad trip. That lesson emerged from a study in the early 1990s by psychiatrist Rick Strassman, who injected dimethyltryptamine, DMT, into human volunteers.

From 1990 to 1995, Strassman supervised more than 400 DMT sessions involving 60 subjects. Many reported dissolving blissfully into a radiant light or sensing the presence of a loving god. But 25 subjects had “adverse effects,” including terrifying hallucinations of “aliens” that took the shape of robots, insects or reptiles. (For more on Strassman’s study, see this link: https://www.rickstrassman.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=60

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who discovered LSD’s powers in 1943 and later synthesized psilocybin, sometimes expressed misgivings about psychedelics. When I interviewed him in 1999, he said psychedelics have enormous scientific, therapeutic and spiritual potential. He hoped someday people would take psychedelics in “meditation centers” to awaken their religious awe.

Yet in his 1980 memoir LSD: My Problem Child, Hofmann confessed that he occasionally regretted his role in popularizing psychedelics, which he feared represent “a forbidden transgression of limits.” He compared his discoveries to nuclear fission; just as fission threatens our fundamental physical integrity, so do psychedelics “attack the spiritual center of the personality, the self.”

I had these concerns in mind when I attended a recent talk by Bossis near New York University. A large, bearded man who exudes warmth and enthusiasm, Bossis couldn’t reveal details of the cancer-patient study, a paper on which is under review, but he made it clear that the results were positive.

Many subjects reported decreased depression and fear of death and “improved well-being” after their session. Some called the experience among the best of their lives, with spiritual implications. An atheist woman described feeling “bathed in God’s love.”

Bossis said psychedelic therapy could transform the way people die, making the experience much more meaningful. He quoted philosopher Victor Frankl, who said, “Man is not destroyed by suffering. He is destroyed by suffering without meaning.”

During the Q&A, I asked Bossis about bad trips. Wouldn’t it be awful, I suggested, if a dying patient’s last significant experience was negative? Bossis said he and his co-researchers were acutely aware of that risk. They minimized adverse reactions by managing the set (i.e., mindset, or expectations, of the subject) and setting (context of the session).

First, they screen patients for mental illness, eliminating those with, say, a family history of schizophrenia. Second, the researchers prepare patients for sessions, telling them to expect and explore rather than suppressing negative emotions, such as fear or grief. Third, the sessions take place in a safe, comfortable room, which patients can decorate with personal items, such as photographs or works of art. A researcher is present during sessions but avoids verbal interactions that might distract the patient from her inner journey. Patients and researchers generally talk about sessions the following day.

These methods seem to work. Some patients, to be sure, became frightened or melancholy. One dwelled on the horrors of the Holocaust, which had killed many members of his family, but he found the experience meaningful. Some patients did not emerge from their sessions with persistent positive feelings, Bossis said, but none reported persistent adverse effects.

Bossis has begun a new study that involves giving psilocybin to religious leaders, such as priests and rabbis. His hope is that these subjects will gain a deeper understanding of the mystical roots of their faiths.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/psychedelic-therapy-and-bad-trips/

lsd

by Angus Chen

Some users of LSD say one of the most profound parts of the experience is a deep oneness with the universe. The hallucinogenic drug might be causing this by blurring boundaries in the brain, too.

The sensation that the boundaries between yourself and the world around you are erasing correlates to changes in brain connectivity while on LSD, according to a study published Wednesday in Current Biology. Scientists gave 15 volunteers either a drop of acid or a placebo and slid them into an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity.

After about an hour, when the high begins peaking, the brains of people on acid looked markedly different than those on the placebo. For those on LSD, activity in certain areas of their brain, particularly areas rich in neurons associated with serotonin, ramped up.

Their sensory cortices, which process sensations like sight and touch, became far more connected than usual to the frontal parietal network, which is involved with our sense of self. “The stronger that communication, the stronger the experience of the dissolution [of self],” says Enzo Tagliazucchi, the lead author and a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.

Tagliazucchi speculates that what’s happening is a confusion of information. Your brain on acid, flooded with signals crisscrossing between these regions, begins muddling the things you see, feel, taste or hear around you with you. This can create the perception that you and, say, the pizza you’re eating are no longer separate entities. You are the pizza and the world beyond the windowsill. You are the church and the tree and the hill.

Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, described this in his book LSD: My Problem Child. “A portion of the self overflows into the outer world, into objects, which begin to live, to have another, a deeper meaning,” he wrote. He felt the world would be a better place if more people understood this. “What is needed today is a fundamental re-experience of the oneness of all living things.”

The sensation is neurologically similar to synesthesia, Tagliazucchi thinks. “In synesthesia, you mix up sensory modalities. You can feel the color of a sound or smell the sound. This happens in LSD, too,” Tagliazucchi says. “And ego dissolution is a form of synesthesia, but it’s a synesthesia of areas of brain with consciousness of self and the external environment. You lose track of which is which.”

Tagliazucchi and other researchers also measured the volunteers’ brain electrical activity with another device. Our brains normally generate a regular rhythm of electrical activity called the alpha rhythm, which links to our brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant activity. But in a different paper published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he and several co-authors show that LSD weakens the alpha rhythm. He thinks this weakening could make the hallucinations seem more real.

The idea is intriguing if still somewhat speculative, says Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who was not involved with the work. “They may genuinely be on to something. This should really further our understanding of the brain and consciousness.” And, he says, the work highlights hallucinogens’ powerful therapeutic potential.

The altered state of reality that comes with psychedelics might enhance psychotherapy, Grob thinks. “Hallucinogens are a catalyst,” he says. “In well-prepared subjects, you might elicit powerful, altered states of consciousness. [That] has been predicative of positive therapeutic outcomes.”

In recent years, psychedelics have been trickling their way back to psychiatric research. LSD was considered a good candidate for psychiatric treatment until 1966, when it was outlawed and became very difficult to obtain for study. Grob has done work testing the treatment potential of psilocybin, the active compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

He imagines a future where psychedelics are commonly used to treat a range of conditions. “[There could] be a peaceful room attractively fixed up with nice paintings, objects to look at, fresh flowers, a chair or recliner for the patient and two therapists in the room,” he muses. “A safe container for that individual as they explore deep inner space, inner terrain.”

Grob believes the right candidate would benefit greatly from LSD or other hallucinogen therapy, though he cautions that bad experiences can still happen for some on the drugs. Those who are at risk for schizophrenia may want to avoid psychedelics, Tagliazucchi says. “There has been evidence saying what could happen is LSD could trigger the disease and turn it into full-fledged schizophrenia,” he says. “There is a lot of debate around this. It’s an open topic.”

Tagliazucchi thinks that this particular ability of psychedelics to evoke a sense of dissolution of self and unity with the external environment has already helped some patients. “Psilocybin has been used to treat anxiety with terminal cancer patients,” he says. “One reason why they felt so good after treatment is the ego dissolution is they become part of something larger: the universe. This led them to a new perspective on their death.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/04/13/474071268/how-lsd-makes-your-brain-one-with-the-universe