Moving the needle forward on psychedelic research.
- Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine has had a psychedelic research group since 2000.
- Funded by a $17 million donation from a number of private donors, the university will be able to open a new center.
- This comes on the heels of an increasing acceptance of psychedelic research and use.
Progressive psychedelic research<p>LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and a number of other psychedelics have been illegal in the United States for a number of decades. A small trickle of studies have come out in the intervening years showing that they may be effective medical treatments for a number of issues. This has shifted public perception considerably. </p><p>Earlier this year, Denver became one of the first cities in the United States to <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/denver-decriminalization-of-magic-mushrooms" target="_self">decriminalize magic mushrooms</a> – the mushrooms that have psychoactive makeup of psilocybin. They did this after consulting research which suggested the compounds in mushrooms could be beneficial for treating anxiety and depression experienced by cancer patients.</p><p>A host of these psychedelic substances are still listed as Tier 1 illegal drugs in the United States, which means they're on part with much more harmful drugs like heroin and cocaine. </p><p>The new funding for this facility will help spur a five year research study to find out whether or not psilocybin can also treat alcoholism, PTSD and a few other complex mental conditions.</p><p>Primarily, they're looking to figure out the physiological effects of the drug on the brain and body. This will transfer over when it comes to treating opioid addiction and even Alzheimer's disease.</p><p>In reference to the new organization, Dr. John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University, stated, "This is an exciting initiative that brings new focus to efforts to learn about mind, brain and psychiatric disorders by studying the effects of psychedelic drugs."</p><p>The center at John Hopkins has been producing some amazing research for years. As they've explored the potential of psychedelics and other recreational drugs for psychiatric problems, they've found evidence to suggest that ketamine and its related compounds <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/can-ketamine-stop-depression-suicide" target="_self">could help to treat depression.</a></p>
Breaking the psychedelic taboo<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="t2DRACgR" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c5181247b0c15fae0e3baaa37b0a56ae"> <div id="botr_t2DRACgR_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/t2DRACgR-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/t2DRACgR-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/t2DRACgR-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The history of abuse related to psychedelics has kept a great deal of researchers at bay for years. Evidence is mounting for claims that psychedelics have a positive effect on treating a host of these mental issues, but experts are still cautious. Psychedelic treatments can't be used in a double blind experiment in the same way most drugs are tested, that is because participants will know right away whether or not they're experiencing the placebo or the real thing.</p><p>Dr. Guy Goodwin, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford mentioned the infamous Leary trials and the debacle that followed in the sixties and beyond.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It raises the caution that the investigation of hallucinogens as treatments may be endangered by grandiose descriptions of their effects and unquestioning acceptance of their value. Timothy Leary was a research psychologist before he decided the whole world should 'Turn on, tune in, and drop out.' It is best if some steps are not retraced."</p><p>A lot has changed during that time. Messianic inklings and a cultural shift of epic proportions helped swell the psychedelic revolution of the era. If we can somehow incorporate psychedelic research in our modern institutions, we may get a second chance to do it all over again. </p><p>So far 2019 has been a banner year for psychedelic research and access. On top of Denver decriminalization, there was also the vote that decriminalized entheogenic plants in Oakland, California. </p><p>The university announced in a press release:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The group's findings on both the promise and the risks of psilocybin helped create a path forward for its potential medical approval and reclassification from a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive federal government category, to a more appropriate level."</p><p>John Hopkins's new center will be able to continue on the research and hopefully push forth the federal government towards a more equitable and fair treatment of psychedelic use and study. </p>
A study on the effects of LSD microdosing shows some fittingly strange results.
- A new study offers some of the first evidence that microdosing – taking tiny, regular doses of LSD – does have measurable effects.
- Subjects taking LSD were less accurate when estimating how long an image appeared on a screen than subjects who were sober.
- The mechanism that causes this effect remains unknown, but several ideas have been put forward.
Taking LSD for science? The hippies have taken over!<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="zw4g21gu" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="b9ffcdc8b0eaf8a08ca15f07048108d5"> <div id="botr_zw4g21gu_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/zw4g21gu-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/zw4g21gu-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/zw4g21gu-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>In a <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-018-5119-x" target="_blank">study</a> published in <em>Psychopharmacology</em>, British scientists had 48 older adults take either a placebo or a microdose of LSD and then try to measure time subjectively. The LSD doses were tiny, either 5, 10, or 20 micrograms, and most patients reported not noticing any hallucinogenic effects at all.</p><p>In this case, time was measured by looking at a blue dot on a screen, deciding how long they thought they saw it for, and then holding the space bar on a keyboard down for the same amount of time afterward. The act of pressing down the spacebar created another blue dot on the screen for comparison. The scientists looked for how accurate or inaccurate the test subjects were in their attempts to press the space bar for the same amount of time. </p><p>As you might have guessed, people on LSD were <a href="https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/j5zd7p/lsd-changes-something-about-the-way-you-perceive-time" target="_blank">less accurate</a> than the ones on placebo and tended to hold the spacebar down too long. This effect was negligible for the shorter tests, such as when the dot was on the screen for 1.6 seconds, but was significant when the dot was on the display for 2-4 seconds. </p><p>The study is similar to a <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881106065859" target="_blank">previous one</a> involving psilocybin, the drug in psychedelic mushrooms. Strangely, the results here were the <em>opposite </em>of what was found in that study, with patients consistently carrying out their task for too short of a time. The authors of this study suggest that the different mechanisms the drugs use – LSD affects both the serotonin and dopamine systems while psilocybin only affects serotonin – could have something to do with this discrepancy as could the size of the doses used in each study. </p><p>The authors mention other studies that their new research seemingly conflicts with, and suggest that further investigation into how these drugs influence time perception must be carried out to understand why these discrepancies exist. </p>
This is groovy and all, but what are the implications? What caused these observed effects?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="83HrLnMe" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="e834635ec27ede810bf69997f37bed8d"> <div id="botr_83HrLnMe_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/83HrLnMe-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/83HrLnMe-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/83HrLnMe-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>This is one of the first studies into the effects of <a href="https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/lsd-is-regaining-popularity-through-the-practice-of-microdosing-and-attracting-scientific-interest" target="_blank">microdoses </a>of LSD, as almost all previous studies have been more interested in what the drug does at regular, psychedelic doses. If nothing else, this study demonstrates that there are statistically significant effects of microdosing which could be very different from larger, more typical doses. </p><p>Exactly what causes this time-warping effect when reproducing an image you just saw is still unknown, and this study wasn't extensive enough to determine what caused it. Was the over-reproduction caused by tripping test subjects thinking the blue dot was on the screen longer than it was when they saw it or, as suggested in a <a href="https://twitter.com/ManojDoss/status/1067467004569882624" target="_blank">Twitter post</a> by neuropharmacologist <a href="https://hopkinspsychedelic.org/doss/" target="_blank">Manoj Doss,</a> by the memory of how long the dot was there being influenced by the LSD? </p><p>Study co-author <a href="https://www.gold.ac.uk/psychology/staff/terhune-devin/" target="_blank">Devin Terhune</a> hypothesized that the effects could be <a href="https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/j5zd7p/lsd-changes-something-about-the-way-you-perceive-time" target="_blank">caused</a> by acid first affecting the serotonin system and then the dopamine system, as has been observed in animals, and that the differences between this study and others could be explained by which system was being affected when the test was carried out.</p> The authors mention that the neurophysiological effects of microdosing LSD are largely unknown and suggest that some of the discrepancies mentioned above between this study and previous findings could be attributed to the dosage. If this idea is correct, it could lead to many new applications for microdoses of LSD and a better understanding of how the mind works.
But what does it mean for time, man? Is it all, like, in my head?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ehbGP8uu" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8a2ec18a1cbe396e4c7a33a210b06e4"> <div id="botr_ehbGP8uu_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ehbGP8uu-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ehbGP8uu-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ehbGP8uu-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>This study suggests that LSD can seriously affect how we grasp the passage of time even at doses too small to have other noticeable effects. By seriously investigating this effect and following up with more studies on <em>how</em> this drug warps our perception of time we could come to understand the brain processes that shape our understanding of and experience with time. Maybe someday such a study will even give us a more definitive answer on what <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time#Philosophy" target="_blank">time really is</a>.</p><p>LSD is a potent drug with tremendous potential for both helping people and causing harm. While microdosing to help improve performance is increasingly popular, the effects of this are still largely unknown. While this study begins to examine how these small doses affect our experiences, much remains to be discovered. </p><p>Though why you would take a drug that can make the present moment last forever while you're in the office, I'll never know.</p>
Time is a puzzle to scientists, but your brain has it all figured out<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="2hbCvqU7" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="56ea4d903aecdfaaab43be834f8f4002"> <div id="botr_2hbCvqU7_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/2hbCvqU7-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/2hbCvqU7-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/2hbCvqU7-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
From the cosmic blast into another being's mind, to rolling bliss or obedient mind-slavery, fictional drugs have it all.
- Fictional drugs are a major part of the lore and foundation for many science fiction stories.
- The unique effects they have on their characters is an interesting new way to explore important issues.
- Many of these fictional drugs are synonymous with the stories that have been told.
Soma – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley<p>Soma derives its name from the ancient and legendary psychedelic plant used in Indian religious ceremonies. Author Aldous Huxley, profound philosopher and <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/7-of-the-best-psychedelic-books-ever-written" target="_self">dabbler in altered states of consciousness</a>, created one of fiction's most memorable drugs.</p><p>Soma is used to pacify an entire population in <em>Brave New World.</em> The World State's populace is split into uniform castes, cloned and grown from vats, and they all lovingly accept their servitude and uniformity. And it's all thanks to Soma. The wonder drug and means of control for all castes in society has variable affects at different dosages: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon...</p><p>Like a mix between television and religion, Soma quells the masses with ease.<br></p>
Tasp – Ringworld by Larry Niven<p>In the futuristic alien world of Larry Niven's <em>Ringworld, </em>the Tasp is device and drug of sorts wielded by a three-legged alien race known as the puppeteers. When attached to a human or other species, the device fires off a beam that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.</p><p>You'd think such an overload of ecstasy and pure exaltation of joy would be welcomed by the inhabitants of Niven's fictional universe. But to the contrary, it's used as a means of control and a threat. Enough of a tasp exposure and you'll be the unwitting slave to whoever wields it. In a conversation between a puppeteer named Nessus and a Kzin, an eight-foot bipedal feline, the threat is made to use the tasp if the beast gets out of line. Later in the story, it is done: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">But Nessus zapped him with a surgically implanted tasp, reducing Speaker to helpless ecstasy, and Louis disarmed the Kzin. Nessus warned Speaker he would use the tasp whenever he felt menaced. Speaker replied he would not again threaten the Puppeteer; a prideful Kzin would not shame himself with addiction to a tasp.</p>
Penfield Mood Organ – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick<p>The Penfield Mood Organ is an ingenious invention of author Philip K. Dick. In the novel that Blade Runner was very loosely based on – <em>Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – </em>there exists a device in the opening scenes that the characters can use to tune their thoughts.</p><p>It isn't clear how the mood organ works, but it seems that some kind of wave affects certain parts of the brain. Here is an excerpt from the book when Rick Deckard is arguing with his wife about the right mood to tune into:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."</p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">'So I left the TV sound off and I sat down at my mood organ and I experimented. And I finally found a setting for despair… So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that's a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything...'<em></em></p><p>One hilarious example of the mood organ is when they dial 888, which gives its users "the desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it..."</p><p>Philip K. Dick also explored this idea in other books with the concept of the empathy box, which religious adherents used to let their followers experience their savior's apotheosis. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>"An empathy box," he said, stammering in his excitement, "is the most personal possession you have. It's an extension of your body; it's the way you touch other humans, it's the way you stop being alone."<em></em></p>
Water of the River Lethe – Aeneid by Virgil<p>Long before there was Soma, humans have dreamed of chemical means of suppressing and changing the nature of our thoughts. In the great Latin epic poem, <em>the Aeneid, </em>Virgil tells the story of the wandering Aeneas. At one point in the story he comes across the water from the River Lethe, one of the first known fictional drugs.</p><p>On the edge of the Elysian Fields of Greek eternity, Lethe water grants its users forgetfulness and erases their memories. It was a form of cleansing if you wished to be reincarnated — you had to leave your past thoughts and experiences behind in order to know the divine. In a beautiful quote in <em>The Magic Mountain</em>, Thomas Mann elucidates and expands on this concept:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state — indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.<em></em></p>
Beta-phenethylamine – Neuromancer by William Gibson<p>William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk work <em>Neuromancer</em> is jam-packed with uppers, downers, zoomers and electronic bloomers. Early in the book, Case (a virtual reality hacker extraordinaire and junkie) undergoes surgery so he can get booted back into the virtual world. During that surgery, they also give him a new pancreas and plugs in his liver that stop him from getting high on his usual round of super amphetamines.</p><p>When visiting Freeside, a Vegas-in-Space, Case meets a woman named Cath, a junkie who seems to be permanently spaced and jacked up on some majorly powerful drugs. She gives him something called beta-phenethylamine. Ecstatic bouts and super energy are followed by some of the most hard-hitting hangovers ever written. But with crystalline moments realized like these: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines.</p><p>Case stays a functional albeit highly scatterbrained genius virtual hacker.</p>
Moloko Plus – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess<p>Made famous by one of the most iconic openings of a film ever, Anthony Burgess's book <em>A Clockwork Orange </em>(which was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name), put Moloko Plus on the map of fictional drugs. Alex and his gang of droogs hang out and get their kicks at the Korova bar drinking Moloko Plus.</p><p>This milk-based drink with a cocktail of add-ons includes some kind of mix of barbiturates, opiates and synthetic mescaline. The details are a bit murky on its effects, but Alex states at one point: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>... a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg.<em></em></p>
Melange (Spice) – Dune by Frank Herbert<p>One of the most famous drugs in science fiction, Spice isn't just your regular everyday enlightenment trip. Melange is found on a desert planet called Arrakis, and it's produced by giant sandworms. The inhabitants of Frank Herbert's fictional universe <em>Dune</em> consider this the perfect high. It even allows its users the knowledge and ability to travel through different forms of space-time. There are some downsides to it, like having to battle giant sandworms just to get a taste and a few other negative side effects as it changes each time it's used.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>It's like life—it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavor reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavor as pleasurable—slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized.<em></em></p>
Ketamine is showing promise in alleviating suicidal thoughts.
- The popular party drug has shown promise in stopping suicidal thoughts in a number of small clinical studies.
- First synthesized in 1962, the anesthetic was used to treat Vietnam War soldiers in the early seventies.
- Though the accompanying hallucinations are a roadblock to widespread therapy, innovations in psychiatry are necessary.
Turn on, tune in, and drop out and into a good psychedelic book.
- Psychedelic literature contains some of the richest prose and musings on the human condition.
- A great deal of these books hail from the 20th century.
- These are gateway books to a rich and other worldly adventure.