The FDA just approved a new antidepressant, the first of its kind. Unlike other antidepressants, this one is a nasal spray. Esketamine, under the brand name Spravato, is developed by Johnson & Johnson and has been in testing for the past 2 years. The drug has seen remarkable success. This success is interesting because the drug is closely tied to the club drug “Special K.” Related to MDMA, Special K is known as Ecstasy. This marks the first major breakthrough in the treatment of depression since the 1980s.
Spencer Kellogg | @Spencer_Kellogg
Magic Mushrooms are having their legislative moment. Last month in Denver, a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms was given the green light for a vote in May. Today, citizens caught in possession of psilocybin are likely to receive lengthy jail sentences and permanent criminal records. The “Mile High City” would become the first in the nation to decriminalize what is now a Schedule 1 drug. Moreover, in Oregon, advocacy groups are organizing to put psilocybin legalization on the ballot in 2020.
Ryan Lau | @agorisms
For thousands of years, people have used psychedelics to pursue life-altering experiences. With relatively low risk, these drugs have provided great insight to many. They also have, in smaller doses, helped to improve concentration and mental ability. Recently, LSD microdosing even became the subject of an anonymous public study. Now, information is out about the healing effects of psilocybin mushrooms on depression and anxiety on the terminally ill.
Also known as magic mushrooms, the drug can produce vivid hallucinations in heavy doses, but the overdose and injury risk are both particularly low. As a result, Denver is actually considering decriminalizing the drug, but they are not alone in showing support; a recent study points to a very interesting medical use for psilocybin mushrooms.
Psilocybin Mushrooms and Terminal Cancer
In December of 2016, the Journal of Psychopharmacology published a groundbreaking study on the effects of psilocybin mushrooms on terminal cancer patients. It’s fairly common knowledge that those facing a terminal illness have higher rates of depression and anxiety; of course, people with terminal cancer are prone to these effects. But evidence shows that the drug may have a major effect on their condition.
In the study, researchers looked at 51 cancer patients, each of whom had symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. A month after getting baseline measurements of depression and anxiety, half of the group received 3 micrograms of psilocybin (less than a microdose, a placebo). The other half consumed 30 micrograms, which is a medically significant quantity.
Five weeks later, the two groups reversed, getting the opposite dose. The researchers also monitored depression and anxiety levels after the first and second trial, as well as six months later. They then published their results from after the first and second session and at the follow-up.
Astonishingly, the drug had a clinically significant effect on the patients. The researchers defined this as depression and/or anxiety decreasing 50% or more from the baseline. For those that received the high dose first, the results were immediate. After the first session, 92% of subjects with depression and 76% of those with anxiety saw a clinical response. For 60% and 52%, respectively, the symptoms were in full remission.
On the other hand, those with the placebo dose did not see these changes. Clinical response rates were 32% and 24%, while remission rates were a paltry 16% and 12%. But once they received their dose the second time, the numbers shot up.
After session 2, the group that then received the high dose (the low-dose group from session 1) saw similar results to the high-dose group from session 1. Their clinical response rates for depression and anxiety were 75% and 83%, while remission rates spiked to 58% and 42%. At the six-month follow-up, the figures only changed marginally.
What Can We Conclude?
All in all, this study strongly suggests that psilocybin mushrooms may be very helpful in treating depression and anxiety in cancer patients. After all, just one dose sent over half of all participants into remission. Of course, the drug is not helpful in treating the diseases themselves. However, it can still change the way that people die, altering their perception of life for the better.
At this time, the biggest obstacle to treatment will almost certainly be governments across the world. In most countries, it is a crime to consume psilocybin mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs. Very few allow the practice and those that do have many nuances in the law. For example, psilocybin is illegal in Brazil, but the sale and consumption of mushrooms containing them are not. The United States, along with most countries, has a blanket ban on the substance.
With increasing evidence for medical capability, it is entirely possible that the world will soon see a push to legalize mushrooms. This could play out quite like the drive to legalize marijuana. As stated previously, Denver is already considering the measure. The FDA is also beginning to approve trials for their use. However, there likely will be pushback, particularly from more conservative lawmakers hesitant even to take action on marijuana. The future of psilocybin as a medical treatment is quite unknown, but one thing is clear: the drug has the potential to make a major impact on the world.
By Max Bibeau | United States
Since its first dose in 1943, countless people have used lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for intense, life-changing “trips”. While many studies explain the impacts of these large trips, there is a shocking lack of scientific research on the other side of LSD: microdosing.
LSD microdosing, the practice of taking small amounts of LSD during the day (between 10ug and 20ug), is becoming increasingly common in tech communities like Silicon Valley. Microdosing is said to have a multitude of positive effects. For example, it treats depression and anxiety and increases cognitive ability. However, there has been little to no actual research on LSD microdosing. Therefore, all of these claims are anecdotal, not conclusive.
The Beckley Foundation, working in tandem with Imperial College London, is looking to change that. By crowdsourcing participants around the world, the organizations are creating the most expansive study yet on microdosing.
LSD is still widely illegal. Thus, the study has made it clear that participants will not be sent any substances. Instead, they will need to obtain and handle all doses independently.
LSD Microdosing: How to Participate
To participate in the study, one must be at least 18 years of age, have had prior experience with psychedelics, and be willing to follow the study’s manual in order to ensure accurate data. Given the relatively low barrier to entry, the groups hope that the study will garner many participants around the world.
The study will be self-blinding and placebo-controlled in order to ensure the best results. Participants must create their own doses and placebos and not know which they are taking each day. They also must self-report the results on a daily basis.
While there are obviously many sources of error (impure street LSD, inaccurate self-reporting, difficulty in self-blinding) the study hopes to pave the way for future clinical studies of LSD microdosing. From the study’s page:
“[The study is] neither a conventional clinical trial nor plain personal experimentation. Rather, it is somewhere in between and as such the strength of the resulting evidence will be also somewhere in between.”
Thus, this study will not conclusively prove anything regarding microdosing. Rather, it will provide backing to advocate for future clinical studies. However, given the dramatic lack of information on LSD microdosing, the psychedelic community will likely welcome any research on the practice with open arms.
To sign up to participate in the study, and to receive more information, you can go to the organization’s website HERE.
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By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury
COMPASS Pathways, a mental health startup funded by tech pioneer Peter Thiel, has quietly gained approval from the FDA to begin phase IIb clinical trials utilizing psilocybin mushrooms as a potential treatment for depression. More commonly referred to as ‘psychedelic’ or ‘magic’ mushrooms, psilocybin fungus has been studied previously for its physical and mental properties but has recently seen a renewed resurgence in interest and research.
The trial will feature 216 patients spanning across countries in Europe and North America throughout up to 15 different research sites. The therapy will combine an active dose of the mushroom along with psychological support from mental health practitioners. So far, the testing has seen positive results as a safe treatment for depression in the U.K. George Goldsmith, Chairman of COMPASS Pathways pointed to the more than 100 million people globally that suffer from mental illness as a need and reason for new research.
The scientific team that COMPASS has assembled is impressive and includes both Tom Insel and David Nutt as board advisors and a steady supply of venture capital from libertarian-leaning entrepreneurs like Thiel. Limited research in the field of using psychedelics to treat depression has already produced positive results that could radically change the healthcare options for those that are struggling with mental illness or terminally ill. In cancer patients, psychedelic mushrooms have been shown to relieve anxiety and stress and in Denver, activists have advocated for the drug as an end-of-life treatment.
In a Business Insider article from 2017, a patient named Martin told how his participation in an experimental psilocybin trial helped him cope with cancer that had plagued him for years. “With the psilocybin, you get an appreciation — it’s out of time — of well-being, of simply being alive and a witness to life and to everything and to the mystery itself.” Martin went on to explain how taking psychedelic mushrooms had made him more cognizant of how to live present in social situations. He suggested that his experience for a few hours with psilocybin had created a sea change in his outlook on life.
This is most likely because psychedelic drugs operate as a sort of low key “reboot” in for users, resetting tension and anxiety that exists in a person’s everyday experience. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and NYU confirmed this very hypothesis when they found that ‘a single dose of psilocybin decreased anxiety in cancer patients for eight months when compared to a placebo.’ Other scientists have found that using psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy can help curb cigarette smoking.
Mushrooms aren’t the only drug that is being hailed as a possible new therapeutical avenue for suffering patients. Ecstasy, which has been used as an experimental substance in couple therapy for years, is now also being trialed to help treat veterans with PTSD. COMPASS Pathways, which has already produced over 20,000 doses of magic mushrooms, is hopeful that these new treatments will become available in the near future and have suggested that we could see psychedelics being used as legal therapy as early as 2027.
In recent years, microdosing psychedelics as a way to improve physical stamina, mental acuity, and overall happiness has become vogue in intellectual and celebrity circles. Joe Rogan has spoken extensively about the benefits of eating magic mushrooms and Janet Chang wrote a beautiful essay on how a year of microdosing helped different aspects of her life. In a 2016 research paper released by a team of scientists at John Hopkins, the conclusion read simply: “In conjunction with psychotherapy, single moderate-dose psilocybin produced rapid, robust and enduring anxiolytic and antidepressant effects in patients with cancer-related psychological distress.”
COMPASS Pathways is a life sciences company dedicated to accelerating patient access to evidence-based innovation in mental health
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