Posts Tagged ‘psychedelic drugs’

by Tia Ghose

For Martijn Schirp, it’s a way to make an ordinary day just a little bit better.

A former poker player and recent graduate in interdisciplinary science in Amsterdam, Schirp has been experimenting with a new way to take psychedelic drugs: Called microdosing, it involves routinely taking a small fraction of a normal dose of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or magic mushrooms.

Microdosing has gained a cult following amongst a small group of hallucinogen enthusiasts like Schirp, who now writes at HighExistence.com. Proponents report improvements in perception, mood and focus, minus the trippy tangerine trees and marmalade skies normally associated with psychedelics.

Schirp said he prefers to microdose when he’s immersed in creative or contemplative activities, such as writing, painting, meditating or doing yoga.

“It’s like the coffee to wake up the mind-body connection. When I notice it is working, depending on the dosage, time seems to be slowing down a bit, everything seems covered with a layer of extra significance,” Schirp told Live Science in an email.

Given his positive experiences with higher doses of psychedelics, “microdosing offered a way to get a taste of this without [the experience] completely overwhelming me,” Schirp said.

But while the effects Schirp and others describe are plausible from a physiological perspective, microdosing is uncharted territory, said Matt Johnson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who has studied the behavioral effects of psychedelic drugs. Scientists have yet to run a clinical trial to assess the effects (or lack thereof) of microdosing. Johnson added that taking a smaller dose of a psychedelic is safer than taking a large dose, but the way people tend to do it — regularly taking small doses every several days — could have long-term side effects.

Just a little bit

The idea of taking small doses of psychedelics has been around for a while. The inventor of LSD, Albert Hofmann, was known to microdose in his old age and told a friend that microdosing was an under-researched area. But microdosing gained greater visibility when James Fadiman, a psychologist and researcher at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, described it in his book “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide” (Park Street Press, 2011).

Since then, Fadiman has received about 50 anecdotal reports from microdosers around the world. Most report positive, barely perceptible shifts while microdosing, Fadiman said.

“What people say is that whatever they’re doing, they seem to be doing it a little better,” Fadiman told Live Science. “They’re a little kinder, a little bit nicer with their kids.”

People with creative jobs report improved focus and an ability to enter the state of flow more easily. Some report a desire to eat healthier or start meditating, Fadiman said.

“It’s like they tend to live a little better,” Fadiman said.

Still others report taking the teeny doses of psychedelics for psychiatric conditions, said Brad Burge, the director of marketing and communications at Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, California, where scientists study the effect of psychedelics on medical conditions such as PTSD.

“I’ve heard anecdotally of people using it for depression, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder],” Burge told Live Science. “With microdoses, the point would be to create subtle changes in people’s psychopharmacology or experience, in much the same way as most traditional pharmaceuticals are used now.”

Plausible mechanism, no evidence

The effects people report with microdoses of LSD, psilocybin, DMT or other “classic” psychedelics aren’t completely implausible, Johnson said. All of these drugs work by activating a particular receptor in the brain known as the serotonin 5HT-2A receptor. This receptor fuels the release of the “feel-good” brain chemical, serotonin, which creates a domino effect in the brain that leads to many other brain changes.

At high doses, these drugs temporarily, but radically, reshape brain networks; for instance, one study found that magic mushrooms create a hyperconnected brain. But antidepressants like Prozac also target serotonin receptors, so it’s possible that a low, constant dose of a psychedelic might work in a similar manner, Johnson said.

Still, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest microdosing works as people claim it does, Johnson said. The effects described are so subtle — on par with having the caffeine in a cup of coffee — that they “fall within that category of barely perceptible, and it’s right in the range where people can so easily fool themselves,” Johnson told Live Science. That means microdosing is particularly susceptible to the placebo effect, in which people taking a sugar pill who believe they’re taking a drug report perceptible effects, he said.

To prove that microdosing has an effect, psychedelics researchers would need to do a double-blind study, in which neither the people administering the drug nor the recipients know whether a particular participant is getting a microdose of a psychedelic or something inert, like a little sugar dissolved in water, Johnson said. Some groups of people are allegedly doing these trials — but because LSD is illegal, and is only approved for research use in a few small trials in a few locations, all of these people are off the grid and not publicizing their efforts, Fadiman said.

Unknown side effects

What’s more, microdosing could have side effects, Johnson said. The few microscopic grains of LSD — just 10 micrograms — typically used to microdose are too tiny to measure even on a professional laboratory scale, Johnson said. To get around this, people who microdose typically take a blotter paper laced with one hit of LSD, soak it in water and then drink some of the water. But since LSD is an illegal substance procured on the black market, there’s really no way to know exactly what you’re getting, Johnson said.

Even in the lab, with carefully measured doses of drugs administered in a controlled environment, Johnson has found substantial variation in the way that people react to the same dose. Combined, those two uncertainties mean people may not be able to reliably microdose, he said.

“Someone might be expecting a kind of sparkly day, just a really productive day at work — and next thing you know, they’re grasping hold to their office chair wondering why the world is dissolving,” Johnson said.

Schirp, for instance, has occasionally had negative microdosing experiences.

“At times, the experience was still too overwhelming to be productive — I just wanted to lay down or take a walk,” Schirp said.

Beyond that possible experience, the long-term risks of the drug are unknown. The risk of taking a single, tiny dose of LSD or psilocybin is going to be smaller than the risk of taking one big hit, Johnson said. But even the most dedicated psychonauts don’t typically trip daily or even weekly, Johnson said. By contrast, people who are microdosing report using the drugs every three or four days, he said.

Such frequent use could have unknown, long-term side effects, he said.

“You’re tinkering with the system that is involved with depressive systems, but in unexplored ways,” Johnson said.

http://www.livescience.com/51482-more-people-microdosing-psychedelic-drugs.html

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Psychedelics were highly popular hallucinogenic substances used for recreational purposes back in the 1950s and 1960s. They were also widely used for medical research looking into their beneficial impact on several psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. In 1967, however, they were classified as a Class A, Schedule I substance and considered to be among the most dangerous drugs with no recognized clinical importance. The use of psychedelics has since been prohibited.

Psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, at Psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, at King’s College London, James Rucker, MRCPsych, is proposing to reclassify and improve access to psychedelics in order to conduct more research on their therapeutic benefits. He believes in the potential of psychedelics so much that late last month he took to the pages of the prestigious journal the BMJ to make his case. He wrote that psychedelics should instead be considered Schedule II substances which would allow a “comprehensive, evidence based assessment of their therapeutic potential.”

“The Western world is facing an epidemic of mental health problems with few novel therapeutic prospects on the horizon,” Rucker told Psychiatry Advisor, justifying why studying psychedelics for treating psychiatric illnesses is so important.

Rucker recognizes that the illicit substance may be harmful to some people, especially when used in a recreational and uncontrolled context. He cited anecdotal reports of the substance’s disabling symptoms, such as long-term emotionally charged flashbacks. However, he also believes that psychedelic drugs can have positive outcomes in other respects.

“The problem at the moment,” he argued, “is that we don’t know who would benefit and who wouldn’t. The law does a good job of preventing us from finding out.”

From a biological perspective, psychedelics act as an agonist, a substance that combines with a receptor and initiates a physiological response to a subtype of serotonin known as 5HT2a. According to Rucker, this process influences the balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters.

“The psychedelics may invoke a temporary state of neural plasticity within the brain, as a result of which the person may experience changes in sensory perception, thought processing and self-awareness,” Rucker speculated. He added that psychedelic drugs can act as a catalyst that stirs up the mind to elicit insights into unwanted cycles of feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

“These cycles can then be faced, expressed, explored, interpreted, accepted and finally integrated back into the person’s psyche with the therapist’s help,” he explained. Reclassifying psychedelics could mean that the mechanism by which these substances can help with anxiety, depression and psychiatric symptoms could be studied and understood better.

Several experts in the field of drug misuse have disagreed strongly with Rucker’s proposals in this area, and are quick to refute his findings and recommendations. Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), emphasized the fact that psychedelics can distort a person’s perception of time, motion, colors, sounds and self. “These drugs can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally, or even to recognize reality, sometimes resulting in bizarre or dangerous behavior,” she wrote on a NIDA webpage dealing with hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.

“Hallucinogenic drugs are associated with psychotic-like episodes that can occur long after a person has taken the drug,” she added. Volkow also says that, despite being classified as a Schedule I substance, the development of new hallucinogens for recreational purposes remains of particular concern.

Rucker has several suggestions to help mediate the therapeutic action of the drug during medical trials, and thereby sets out to rebut the concerns of experts such as Volkow. When a person is administered a hallucinogen, they experience a changed mental state. During that changed state, Rucker points out, it is possible to control what he describes as a “context,” and thereby make use of the drug more safe.

According to Rucker, the term “context” is divided into the “set” and the “setting” of the drug experience. “By ‘set,’ I mean the mindset of the individual and by ‘setting’ I mean the environment surrounding the individual,” he explained.

To prepare the mindset of the person, Rucker said that a high level of trust between patient and therapist is essential. “A good therapeutic relationship should be established beforehand, and the patient should be prepared for the nature of the psychedelic experience,” he suggested. The ‘setting’ of the drug experience should also be kept closely controlled — safe, comfortable and low in stress.

It is also necessary to screen participants who undergo the drug experience in order to minimize the risk of adverse effects. Rucker suggested screening patients with an established history of severe mental illness, as well as those at high risk of such problems developing. It is also important to screen the medical and drug history of participants.

“The action of psychedelics is changed by many antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs and some medications that are available over the counter, so a full medical assessment prior to their use is essential,” he said.

In order to avoid the danger of addiction, psychedelics should be given at most on a weekly basis. Indeed, for many patients, very few treatments should be required. “The patient may need only one or two sessions to experience lasting benefits, so the course should always be tailored to the individual,” Rucker advised.

If there are any adverse effects during the psychedelic experience, a pharmacological antagonist or antidote to the drug can be administered to immediately terminate the experience. “This underlines the importance of medical supervision being available at all times,” Rucker noted.

Psychedelics are heavily influenced by the environment surrounding the drug experience. Rucker is proposing they be administered under a controlled setting and with a trusted therapist’s supervision. Together with a reclassification of the drug, medical research could generate a better understanding and application of the benefits of psychedelics to mental health.

1.Rucker JJH. Psychedelic drugs should be legally reclassified so that researchers can investigate their therapeutic potential. BMJ. 2015; 350:h2902.

http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2902/related

An analysis of data provided by 135,000 randomly selected participants – including 19,000 people who had used drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms – finds that use of psychedelics does not increase risk of developing mental health problems. The results are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Previously, the researchers behind the study – from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim – had conducted a population study investigating associations between mental health and psychedelic use. However, that study, which looked at data from 2001-04, was unable to find a link between use of these drugs and mental health problems.

“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says author and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” concurs co-author and neuroscientist Teri Krebs.

For their study, they analyzed a data set from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) consisting of 135,095 randomly selected adults from the US, including 19,299 users of psychedelic drugs.

Krebs and Johansen report that they found no evidence for a link between use of psychedelic drugs and psychological distress, depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.

In fact, on a number of factors, the study found a correlation between use of psychedelic drugs and decreased risk for mental health problems.

“Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs.

However, Johansen acknowledges that – given the design of the study – the researchers cannot “exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others.”

Despite this, Johansen believes that the findings of the study are robust enough to draw the conclusion that prohibition of psychedelic drugs cannot be justified as a public health measure.

Krebs says:

“Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personality, and free-time and play.”

Commenting on the research in a piece for the journal Nature, Charles Grob, a paediatric psychiatrist at the University of California-Los Angeles, says the study “assures us that there were not widespread ‘acid casualties’ in the 1960s.” However, he urges caution when interpreting the results, as individual cases of adverse effects can and do occur as a consequence of psychedelic use.

For instance, Grob describes hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, sometimes referred to as “a never-ending trip.” Patients with this disorder experience “incessant distortions” in their vision, such as shimmering lights and colored dots. “I’ve seen a number of people with these symptoms following a psychedelic experience, and it can be a very serious condition,” says Grob.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290461.php