Depression and suicidal ideation reduced after psychedelic usage
Another study confirms the positive effects of psychedelics on mental health.
- Two studies found reduced rates in depression severity, suicidal ideation, and experiential avoidance four weeks after taking psychedelics.
- With hundreds of millions of dollars in investment flowing into psychedelics companies, a renaissance in the field is occurring.
- Researchers hope these findings will lead to better therapeutic modalities for mental health disorders.
From mysticism to mental health, the journey of psychedelics in American culture has been quite a trip. With hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into psychedelics startups—the "Rainbow Rush"—and a clinical study investigating the therapeutic effects of MDMA and LSD (besides many other single-substance trials), a renaissance is unfolding right before our eyes.
Researchers are picking up where their forebears left off. Hundreds of studies on LSD and psilocybin were conducted in the '50s and '60s. Psychiatrist Sidney Cohen wrote an extensive review in 1960 on the complications and side effects of LSD; he found minimal damaging effects in over 25,000 administrations. Likewise, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger used LSD therapeutically with 930 patients. He noted few adverse effects.
Writing about Janiger's experiments, medical anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios notes, "The nature of the individual drug experience reflects the basic psychophysiological action of the substance as it interacts with the total life experience that the person brings to it."
The total life experience. Mental health today is expressed in terms of chemical imbalances, but that hypothesis has been on shaky ground for decades. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation—conditions dependent on memories, environment, relationships, genetics, finances, a host of causes. Psychedelics help reframe your relationship to your situation, sometimes alleviating the existential weight of modernity.
How psychedelics can treat depression - Robin Carhart Harris
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris is the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. He's published nearly a hundred studies on psychedelics. A recent research article, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, found that the effects of psychedelics are associated with a decrease in the severity of depression and suicidal ideation.
The two studies in the article include 358 volunteers. Each participant filled out questionnaires about their levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and experiential avoidance—"openness to one's experiences and engagement in behaviors that are congruent with one's values." They then took part in either ceremonial psychedelic consumption (as in an ayahuasca ritual) or non-ceremonial usage. Carhart-Harris's team followed up two weeks and four weeks later.
The parameters of the first study were broad. The individuals had a variety of psychedelics to choose from: LSD, ayahuasca, DMT, salvia divinorum, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, or ibogaine. Interestingly, respondents that planned on using ketamine were excluded. While the sedative has recently been touted as a psychedelic, it's not classically considered in this regard.
The second study was slightly more structured, as the team accepted participants attending a psychedelic ceremony. This is especially important given the work by organizations like MAPS ( Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), which is training psychedelic therapists in the hopes of legalized MDMA by 2023.
"Such ceremonies usually involve the presence of one or more "facilitators"—individuals who aim to provide a safe, conducive environment, emotional support, as well as certain contextual stimuli which are intended to enhance or structure the psychedelic experience."
Photo: fran_kies / Shutterstock
This research differs from previous studies in that psychedelic usage was not conducted in a clinical setting. As the environment is an important component of the psychedelic ritual, researchers are more likely to receive real-world results from anecdotal experiences. Letting go in a clinic poses challenges.
The results, the team writes, were overwhelmingly positive.
"Across two separate studies, we found significant decreases in depression severity and suicidal ideation 4-weeks after psychedelic use… We found that use of psychedelics was associated with decreases in experiential avoidance 2-weeks later and was sustained for at least 4-weeks."
Psychedelic researchers will continue to face is the difficulty of implementing a control group, although at least one study found that the placebo effect is relevant. A larger barrier will be financial support from pharmaceutical companies with vested interests in current drug protocols.
That said, this renaissance shows no signs of slowing. During a time when rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising, a return to psychedelic rituals can help chip away at the frustration and confusion of this moment. These substances have been used for millennia to keep societies intact. Such ceremonies are sorely needed right now.
- From mushrooms to ecstasy, a renaissance in psychedelics ... ›
- Can psychedelics help prevent suicide? - Big Think ›
- Psychedelics alleviate anxiety and depression in an unexpected way ›
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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