Posts Tagged ‘psychedelic’

By Rafi Letzter

“Magic” mushrooms seem to have passed their genes for mind-altering substances around among distant species as a survival mechanism: By making fungus-eating insects “trip,” the bugs become less hungry — and less likely to feast on mushrooms.

That’s the upshot of a paper published Feb. 27 in the journal Evolution Letters by a team of biologists at The Ohio State University and the University of Tennessee.

The researchers studied a group of mushrooms that all produce psilocybin — the chemical agent that causes altered states of consciousness in human beings — but aren’t closely related. The scientists found that the clusters of genes that caused the ‘shrooms to fill themselves with psilocybin were very similar to one another, more similar even than clusters of genes found in closely related species of mushrooms.

That’s a sign, the researchers wrote, that the genes weren’t inherited from a common ancestor, but instead were passed directly between distant species in a phenomenon known as “horizontal gene transfer” or HGT.

HGT isn’t really one process, as the biologist Alita Burmeister explained in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health in 2015. Instead, it’s the term for a group of more or less well-understood processes — like viruses picking up genes from one species and dropping them in another — that can cause groups of genes to jump between species.

However, HGT is believed to be pretty uncommon in complex, mushroom-forming fungi, turning up much more often in single-celled organisms.

When a horizontally transferred gene takes hold and spreads after landing in a new species, the paper’s authors wrote, scientists believe that’s a sign that the gene offered a solution to some crisis the organism’s old genetic code couldn’t solve on its own.

The researchers suggested — but didn’t claim to prove — that the crisis in this case was droves of insects feasting on the defenseless mushrooms. Most of the species the scientists studied grew on animal dung and rotting wood — insect-rich environments (and environments full of opportunities to perform HGT). Psilocybin, the scientists wrote, might suppress insects’ appetites or otherwise induce the bugs to stop munching quite so much mush’.

https://www.livescience.com/61877-magic-mushrooms-evolution.html

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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


2C-E was one of the hundreds of drugs synthesised by Alexander Shulgin, who was known as the ‘godfather of ecstasy’. Photograph: Scott Houston/Corbis

Police investigating a mass intoxication of a homeopathy conference in Germany with psychedelic drugs have said they still do not know nearly a week later whether it was an accident or an experiment gone wrong.

Emergency services called to the meeting in Handeloh, south of Hamburg, found a group of 29 alternative healers hallucinating, staggering around, groaning and rolling on the grass.

Police spokesman Lars Nicklesen said on Thursday that investigators believe a psychedelic drug was to blame but remain unsure of how or why it was taken. The delegates are now all out out of physical danger, he said, but there may yet be legal consequences for the healers in the course of the ongoing criminal investigation.

“We’re now questioning the delegates and awaiting the results of blood and urine tests,” he said. “We still don’t know if they took the drugs on purpose. The question is whether they want to talk about it; they have the right to remain silent.”

Nicklesen added that police suspect the group took 2C-E, known in Germany as Aquarust, a drug which heightens perceptions of colours and sounds and in higher doses triggers hallucinations, psychosis and severe cramps.

Germany’s health ministry banned the drug last year due to its highly addictive nature and unknown side effects.

The homeopaths’ meeting – billed as a “further education seminar” – was suspended shortly after it started when delegates began experiencing psychotic hallucinations, cramps, racing heartbeats and shortage of breath. One of them alerted the emergency services.

Alarmed by the sight of so many grown men and women rolling around on the floor, the first fire crews on the scene called for backup, triggering a major incident response. A total of 160 police, fire crews, and ambulance staff and a helicopter were involved in the four hour operation to treat the group.

“It was great that none of the people were in mortal danger in the end”, said fire service spokesman Matthias Köhlbrandt. “The leading emergency doctor at the scene believed they would all recover without lasting damage.”

Unsure of what they had taken, medical staff gave the homeopaths oxygen on site before transferring them to seven different nearby hospitals.

The Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper reported that in one clinic, the Asklepios in Harburg, hallucinating patients had to be strapped down to a bed to prevent them causing danger to others. “They were completely off their heads,” a spokesman for the clinic said.

Staff at the conference centre were unable to shed light on the mystery as they had all gone home at the time of the incident. “We’re absolutely shocked, we’ve only had good experiences in the past with the group,” a spokeswoman for the Tanzheimat Inzmühlen conference centre told the Hamburger Abendblatt.

The Association of German Healing Practitioners was quick to distance itself from the incident and emphasised that hallucinogenic drugs had no place in the study of homeopathy. “If I find out that one of our members took part [in what happened in Handeloh] then they will be excluded from the association,” Heinz Kropmanns, the association president, told NDR.

The drug 2C-E was one of hundreds synthesised by the American chemist Alexander Shulgin. The scientist, who died in 2014, and had become known as the godfather of ecstasy after he introduced MDMA to psychotherapists on the US west coast in the late 1970s.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/10/homeopathy-conference-in-germany-goes-awry-as-delegates-take-lsd-like-drug

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

The following nine drawings were made a half century ago by an artist under the influence of LSD, or acid, during an experiment designed to investigate the psychedelic drug’s effects . The unnamed artist was given two 50-microgram doses of LSD, one 65 minutes after the other, and had access to an activity box full of crayons and pencils. The subject of his art was the assisting doctor who administered the drug. Though records of the identity of the principal researcher have been lost, it was probably a University of California-Irvine psychiatrist, Oscar Janiger. Janiger, known for his LSD research, died in 2001.

“I believe the pictures are from an experiment conducted by the psychiatrist Oscar Janiger starting in 1954 and continuing for seven years, during which time he gave LSD to over 100 professional artists and measured its effects on their artistic output and creative ability. Over 250 drawings and paintings were produced,” said Andrew Sewell, a physician at Yale School of Medicine who has done research on psychedelic drugs.

During the experiment, the artist reported how he felt the acid was affecting him as he drew each sketch. To add some modern understanding of how LSD affects the brain to the artist’s scrawlings, we reached out to Sewell and a few other psychologists for insight on what was probably going on in the artist’s head.

Attending doctor’s observations: The first drawing is done 20 minutes after the first dose. Patient chooses to start drawing with charcoal.

Artist’s Comment: “Condition normal … no effect from the drug yet.”

Analysis: According to Duncan Blewett and Nick Chwelos, psychiatrists who conducted extensive LSD research in the 1950s, symptoms set in sometime between 15 minutes and two hours after taking the drug, and usually after about half an hour.

“The period of waiting for the drug to have an effect is important, since the psychological set which is established at that time can determine much of what follows,” they wrote in 1959 in “The Handbook for the Therapeutic Use of LSD.” “Boredom on the part of either the subject or therapist must be avoided. The therapist should also aim at preventing the development of a pattern in which the subject is waiting intently for any change which might be ascribed to the drug. Finally, the therapist should be particularly careful to prevent the build-up of apprehension in the subject.”

Observations: Eighty-five minutes after first dose, 20 minutes after second dose. The patient seems euphoric.

Artist’s comment: “I can see you clearly, so clearly. This… you… it’s all … I’m having a little trouble controlling this pencil. It seems to want to keep going.”

Analysis: Research suggests that “LSD experiences may wildly enhance artists’ creative potential without necessarily enhancing the mechanisms needed to harness that creativity toward artistic ends,” anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios wrote in her book “LSD, Spirituality and the Creative Process” (Park Street Press, 2003).

In other words, artistic technique doesn’t necessarily keep pace with the flow of ideas during an acid trip. But practice can help. “With practice, most of Janinger’s artists became adept at working under its influence,” said Sewell.

Observations: Two hours, 30 minutes after first dose, 85 minutes after second dose. The patient appears very focused on the business of drawing.

Artist’s comment: “Outlines seem normal, but very vivid everything is changing color. My hand must follow the bold sweep of the lines. I feel as if my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s now active my hand, my elbow… my tongue.”

Analysis: “Janiger believed that LSD favored the prepared mind and that formal artist training would be the best preparation to handle the creative explosion that came from LSD use,” Sewell told Life’s Little Mysteries. “He ultimately concluded that the art was no better or worse, but it was different. LSD is not a creativity tool, nor does it unlock creativity. Rather, it makes accessible parts of the individual not normally available.

“People who are already artists or craftsmen when they take LSD benefit from it, but uncreative people are not suddenly made so. He also concluded that although LSD could be a powerful instrument to free the artist from conceptual ruts, it did little to facilitate the development of technique.”

Observations: Two hours, 32 minutes after first dose. The patient seems gripped by his pad of paper.

Artist’s comment: “I’m trying another drawing. The outlines of the model are normal, but now those of my drawing are not. The outline of my hand is going weird, too. It’s not a very good drawing, is it? I give up I’ll try again …”

Analysis: When under the influence of LSD, “some people describe a kind of frustration with language or art that does not allow for a 3-D experience ,” Erika Dyck, medical historian and author of the book “Psychedelic Psychiatry” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Observations: Two hours, 35 minutes after first dose. The patient follows quickly with another drawing. Upon completing it, he starts laughing, then becomes startled by something on the floor.

Artist’s comment: “I’ll do a drawing in one flourish … without stopping … one line, no break!’

Analysis: “Paintings produced under the influence of LSD tend to have the following characteristics,” Sewell said. “The artist’s work tends to fill all available space and resists being contained within its borders; alternately, figures may shrink or become embedded in a matrix. Figure and ground becomes a continuum, with less differentiation between object and subject. The object is in continuous movement, with greater vibrancy and motion. There is greater intensity of color and light. There is an elimination of detail and extraneous elements. Objects may be depicted symbolically or as abstractions. They may also become more fragmented, disorganized, and distorted.”

Observations: Two hours, 45 minutes after first dose. The patient tries to climb into the activity box, and is generally agitated responds slowly to the suggestion that he might like to draw some more. He has become largely nonverbal. Patient mumbles inaudibly to a tune (sounds like “Thanks for the Memory”). He changes medium to tempera.

Artist’s comment: “I am … everything is … changed … They’re calling … your face … interwoven … who is…”

Analysis: “Common reactions to LSD include a retreat into often less verbal forms of communication, more abstract ideas,” Dyck said, “or, at the very least, ideas that are difficult to describe or even paint in a conventional way.”

Observations: Four hours, 25 minutes after the first dose. The patient retreated to the bunk, spending approximately two hours lying, waving his hands in the air. His return to the activity box is sudden and deliberate, changing media to pen and watercolor. He makes the last half-a-dozen strokes of the drawing while running back and forth across the room.

Artist’s comment: “This will be the best drawing, like the first one, only better. If I’m not careful I’ll lose control of my movements, but I won’t, because I know, I know.” [Repeats “I know” several more times.]

Analysis: A group of Italian scientists led by G. Tonini also investigated LSD-influenced art making. “When done under the influence of these drugs, [the art] reflected psychopathological manifestations markedly similar to those observed in schizophrenia,” Tonini wrote in 1955.

Observations: Five hours, 45 minutes after the first dose. The patient continues to move about the room, intersecting the space in complex variations. It’s an hour and a half before he settles down to draw again he appears to be over the effects of the drug.

Artist’s comment: “I can feel my knees again; I think it’s starting to wear off. This is a pretty good drawing this pencil is mighty hard to hold.” (He is holding a crayon.)

Analysis: “LSD can give people a different perspective than the one they usually have,” Sewell said. “What they do with that is up to them. It is not a ‘creativity pill.’ The best analogy is travel. It can broaden the mind … or not. It depends where you go and what you do there.”

Observations: Eight hours after the first dose. The patient sits on the bunk bed. He reports that the intoxication has worn off except for the occasional distorting of our faces. We ask for a final drawing, which he performs with little enthusiasm.

Artist’s comment: “I have nothing to say about this last drawing. It is bad and uninteresting. I want to go home now.”

Analysis: In a later interview, Janiger said that after the artists in his studies were done tripping, “99 percent expressed the notion that this was an extraordinary, valuable tool for learning about art and the way one learns about painting or drawing. Almost all personally agreed they would take it again.”

“In 1971, Carl Hertzel, a professor of art history at Pitzer College in Claremont, undertook a stylistic assessment of the artwork, which was published by the Lang Art Gallery also in 1971,” Sewell said. “In 1986, 25 of the original artists participated in an exhibit called, ‘The Enchanted Loom: LSD and Creativity’ in which they commented on their own artwork, mostly positively.”

http://www.livescience.com/33166-slideshow-scientists-analyze-drawings-acid-trip-artist.html

by Natalie Wolchover

The main theory of psychedelics, first fleshed out by a Swiss researcher named Franz Vollenweider, is that drugs like LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, tune down the thalamus’ activity. Essentially, the thalamus on a psychedelic drug lets unprocessed information through to consciousness, like a bad email spam filter. “Colors become brighter , people see things they never noticed before and make associations that they never made before,” Sewell said.

LSD, or acid, and its mind-bending effects have been made famous by pop culture hits like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a film about the psychedelic escapades of writer Hunter S. Thompson. Oversaturated colors, swirling walls and intense emotions all supposedly come into play when you’re tripping. But how does acid make people trip?

Life’s Little Mysteries asked Andrew Sewell, a Yale psychiatrist and one of the few U.S.-based psychedelic drug researchers, to explain why LSD short for lysergic acid diethylamide does what it does to the brain.

His explanation begins with a brief rundown of how the brain processes information under normal circumstances. It all starts in the thalamus, a node perched on top of the brain stem, right smack dab in the middle of the brain. “Most sensory impressions are routed through the thalamus, which acts as a gatekeeper, determining what’s relevant and what isn’t and deciding where the signals should go,” Sewell said.

“Consequently, your perception of the world is governed by a combination of ‘bottom-up’ processing, starting … with incoming signals, combined with ‘top-down’ processing, in which selective filters are applied by your brain to cut down the overwhelming amount of information to a more manageable and relevant subset that you can then make decisions about.

“In other words, people tend to see what they’ve been trained to see, and hear what they’ve been trained to hear.”

The main theory of psychedelics, first fleshed out by a Swiss researcher named Franz Vollenweider, is that drugs like LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, tune down the thalamus’ activity. Essentially, the thalamus on a psychedelic drug lets unprocessed information through to consciousness, like a bad email spam filter. “Colors become brighter , people see things they never noticed before and make associations that they never made before,” Sewell said.

n a recent paper advocating the revival of psychedelic drug research, psychiatrist Ben Sessa of the University of Bristol in England explained the benefits that psychedelics lend to creativity. “A particular feature of the experience is … a general increase in complexity and openness, such that the usual ego-bound restraints that allow humans to accept given pre-conceived ideas about themselves and the world around them are necessarily challenged. Another important feature is the tendency for users to assign unique and novel meanings to their experience together with an appreciation that they are part of a bigger, universal cosmic oneness.”

But according to Sewell, these unique feelings and experiences come at a price: “disorganization, and an increased likelihood of being overwhelmed.” At least until the drugs wear off, and then you’re left just trying to make sense of it all.

http://www.livescience.com/33167-how-acid-lsd-make-people-trip.html?li_source=pm&li_medium=most-popular&li_campaign=related_test

Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a group of veterans chokes down a gritty, gut-wrenching shot of liquid absolution. They try to drink away their severe mental disturbances, but not the way you drink away your ex-girlfriend with a bottle of whiskey. They’re looking for a cure. Their leader: 27-year-old retired infantryman Ryan LeCompte. Their goal: to hallucinate away their terrible memories.

From a few fringe psychiatrists to veterans like LeCompte, there is a budding belief that extreme hallucination can save our brains from themselves. Several organizations, including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and adventurous doctors around the world test out psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca for possible medical uses.

Ayahuasca is a devilish brew. It’s made of vines and roots found in the Amazon; drinking it equals a heavy psychedelic experience and profuse vomiting. “As the shapes and colors continued to move about, they sometimes converged to create the face of a woman, who of course I immediately labeled as Aya,” says an ayahuasca user on the underground drug website Erowid. Aya is known as the spirit or soul of the ayahuasca world. LeCompte described having kaleidoscope vision during his ayahuasca trip, and he even began to dance and went to look at leaves and other pieces of the nature around him at points.

Ryan LeCompte is a scruffy former Marine who, today, is studying at the eccentric Naropa University in Boulder. The school was founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford University scholar Chögyam Trungpa and includes schools such as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The beat poets used to flock to there. It’s a Buddhist-inspired school infamous for attracting people who are looking for an alternative education in an attractive location.

For his part, LeCompte didn’t ever face a PTSD diagnosis during his time in service. But he’s lucky, because many of his peers did. What he did experience still shook him. In 2008, while stationed in 8th and I Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., LeCompte walked into the room of a good friend in his barracks one morning to find Sgt. Jorge Leon-Alcivar dead—a suicide. He was not the only Marine LeCompte encountered who would take his own life. At least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. Leon-Alcivar’s death was the final straw, and three years later LeCompte retired from the Marines to start fighting PTSD. He received his End of Active Service honorable discharge after four years in the Marines and didn’t look back.

LeCompte began traveling to the VA hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was living, to learn what was ailing disturbed veterans and soldiers. He hung around in waiting rooms, cautiously approaching the soldiers, wheedling their stories out. But it didn’t take much persuasion; the men were “so beat,” he recalls, that they opened up to him instantly. This took course over several years, during his free time, while he did contract work building helicopters.

Soon, LeCompte had amassed the information from about 100 cases in Birmingham; Veterans spilled almost everything to him: their meds, their dosages, their choice of therapy. It all added up. Over and over again, he discovered his peers were taking the same types of medicines such Zoloft and Paxil, in the same dosages, 50 to 200mg of Zoloft a day or 20 to 60mg of Paxil a day were common, and with the same form of EMDR therapy. EMDR is a somatic therapy that follows eye movements and dream states.

LeCompte didn’t see anything wrong with the therapy. How about the drugs? Yeah, it’s probably the drugs. LeCompte’s complaints ring of an old story these days in American psychiatry: we’re too drugged up, we’re overdosed and overdiagnosed. It’s a complaint plenty of professionals agree with, but only a handful of psychiatrists are taking alternate routes. “There are some veterans who actually do respond to those meds, but it’s rare,” Dr. Sue Sisley, an expert on PTSD in veterans who has studied treating the illness with marijuana, told ATTN:. “The vets who respond to the standard FDA approved meds like Zoloft or Paxil is probably less than 10 percent. The rest come in looking like zombies.”

LeCompte had tried almost all the drugs they were offering, from “highly addictive anxiolytics like Klonopin, and … Prozac as an anti-depressant and Ambien for a sleep aid,” he said. “These different drugs sort of mixed together in a cocktail just as a recipe for disaster,” he said. He never tried to contact U.S. Veteran’s Affairs to inform them of these problems, because he didn’t think they would do anything about it. VA psychiatrists like Dr. Basimah Khulusi of Missouri have been fired for simply refusing to increase medication dosages that they didn’t think their patients needed shows the kind of system LeCompte was dealing with.

LeCompte looked into how these drugs work and found they’re just mind blockers, they’re not helping you deal with your problems. “Medications do not entirely eliminate symptoms but provide a symptom reduction and are sometimes more effective when used in conjunction with an ongoing program of trauma specific psychotherapy,” according to the VA website.

LeCompte looked at research from people like Julie D. Megler, watched videos of the academic conferences focusing on psychedelics called Psychedemia from Penn State and went on websites like Erowid to look at ayahuasca experiences people had posted to the site. What did he learn? “Something like ayahuasca or MDMA is used to bridge severed connections in the brain that trauma plays a big part in creating,” he said.

“Ayahuasca opens the limbic pathways of the brain to affect the emotional core of the trauma in a way similar to affective psychotherapy for trauma, and also impacts higher cortical areas … to allow the patient to assign a new context to their trauma,” wrote brain experts J. L. Nielson and J. D. Megler, in the book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.

Soon, LeCompte started having conversations with veterans and began informing people of the possible benefits of ayahuasca, wondering if anyone else was daring enough to start considering the idea of drinking a shot of psychedelics for their PTSD. LeCompte had never tried ayahuasca, but he was willing to try anything to help his comrades. Eventually he heard of an ayahuasca retreat, the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, where he could test out his medicine.

It took him six months to do what any sane person would do before planning a group outing to South America to hallucinate in a forest together… he started a nonprofit. Its name? The Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy. Other vets started to find him; some were suicidal, exhausted by the daily challenge of deciding whether or not they wanted to be alive. He didn’t know them, but he felt he intimately understood – or at least sympathized with – their minds. He rounded up a trip: five other vets, and him. MAPS helped pay for two of the trips for veterans who couldn’t afford it, and the rest paid for themselves.

The prep was strangely regimented: LeCompte had to ensure the veterans were off their medication for a month leading up to the trip; anti-depressants plus ayahuasca equal a lethal mix. That task amounted to phone therapy and keeping a close eye on everyone: He called the guys every day, even their friends and family, to make sure the men had quit their pills, he said. But he made it work. The families may have thought the idea was strange, but LeCompte says none of them tried to stop their family members because of their knowledge that the drugs weren’t helping treat the PTSD symptoms, and they just wanted to help their family.

The veterans flew into Iquitos, Peru, from Lima – from Iquitos, they sat in a van all the way to the Amazon, winding past motorbikes and rickshaws “on back roads in the middle of bum fuck,” LeCompte says.

Then their lives collided and things got weird.

They were stationed for 10 days at Phoenix Ayahuasca. The camp was little more than a set of huts in the jungle, made from wood and leaves. They would drink the ayahuasca on ceremony nights and be led through their experience by the shaman, and they would stay in their personal huts on days off to reflect on their experiences alone.

LeCompte said the ayahuasca drink “tastes like shit.” The shaman leading the experience dressed in all white scrub-like clothes, like a nurse lost in the jungle. After you drink the brew, the shaman’s job is simply to observe. He diagnoses: Is anyone losing it? Some people have been known to begin convulsing. Is this the moment they need to hear a song that will send them burrowing into a different dimension? “I don’t know how he does it. It’s beyond my rational mind,” LeCompte said. “It” amounts to singing, blowing smoke on trippers’ faces and using instruments like a rattler to change their state of mind.

For his part, LeCompte only wanted two out of the four drink ceremonies, since they were so powerful. It certainly wasn’t about the PTSD for LeCompte; he was trying to get past his experiences of fallen friends and broken relationships. He says just returning home to family and friends from military service or an ayahuasca trip is a difficult experience of its own. “You’re a changed person and there’s no doubting or denying that.”

“Most people get a cut, and they put a bandaid on it,” he said. “These people have had these wounds for so long that they’ve become infected. The infection can’t be fought off with a bandaid.” LeCompte sees ayahuasca as an antibiotic, not a bandaid.

LeCompte is now planning to do an official study to look at how ayahuasca could treat PTSD, which will serve as his thesis for Naropa University. It is being sponsored by MAPS, and it will focus on 12 veterans with treatment resistant PTSD who will try using ayahuasca to treat it. The plan is to conduct the study over 10 days in early 2016. LeCompte is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund research and education around the medicinal use of ayahuasca.

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