Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms

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Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Cocaine Dependency?

The hunt for a pharmacological agent to help people strung out on cocaine get off the marching powder has been a long one, and non-traditional types of treatments are among the possibilities being studied. Ibogaine is one pharmacological therapy being studied. Another is href="https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9565-study-can-taking-a-hallucinogen-curb-cocaine-use" target=_blank_>psilocybin, the chemical that puts the magic in magic mushrooms.

Scientists at the University of Alabama-Birmingham's (UAB) School of Public Health are now conducting a clinical trial to see whether psilocybin can help break cocaine addiction.

The trial currently has almost 20 people enrolled, but researchers are looking for more subjects -- people who are currently using cocaine and have a strong desire to quit.

"Our goal is to create a tool or drug that provides significantly better outcomes for individuals addicted to cocaine than those that currently exist," said Sara Lappan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Health Behavior

In the trial, participants receive a dose of psilocybin and are monitored for six hours, about the duration of the experience. Then, the researchers track his or her cocaine use.

"Our idea is that six hours of being under the effects of psilocybin may be as productive as 10 years of traditional therapy," Lappan said.

The researchers theorize that psilocybin works on three levels: the biochemical, the psychological, and the spiritual. In terms of biochemistry, psilocybin disrupts brain receptors thought to reinforce addictive behaviors. Psychologically, the drug is believed to reduce cravings, increase motivation, and increase one's sense of self-efficacy. Spiritually -- or transcendentally -- psilocybin (along with other psychedelics) is thought to increase both a person's sense of purpose and his or her sense of universal connectedness or oneness.

"If our hypotheses are supported, this has the potential to revolutionize the fields of psychology and psychiatry in terms of how we treat addiction," Lappan said.

But don't run out and start gobbling down magic mushrooms to quit cocaine just yet, the researchers cautioned.

"We aren't advocating for everyone to go out and do it," said Peter Hendricks, Ph.D., associate professor of health behavior in the School of Public Health at UAB. "What we are saying is that this drug, like every other drug, could have appropriate use in a medical setting. We want to see whether it helps treat cocaine use disorder."

They're not the only ones looking into the secrets of psilocybin. UAB is one of a half-dozen universities studying its potential medicinal benefits. The others are Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, New York University, University of California-San Francisco and Yale.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Different Psychedelics Share a Common Trait: Enhancing ‘Neural Plasticity"

New research suggests that different classes of psychedelic drugs all share the tendency to promote the growth of new brain cells, especially the kind that reach out and forge connections with other brain cells. This finding could help explain both the mind-expanding properties of the drugs and the mechanisms by which they appear to act as valuable treatments for a broad range of psychiatric disorders.

Earlier research had identified the dissociative anesthetic ketamine as promoting growth in key brain cells (as well as being a fast-acting and effective treatment for depression), but this new research finds similar effects in amphetamine-based psychedelics such as DOI (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine), ergoline psychedelics (such as LSD), and tryptamines (such as DMT).

Using experiments in cell culture and with animals, researchers led by Dr. David Olson of the University of California at Davis found that various classes of hallucinogenic drugs acted on the structure and function of cortical neurons using the same mechanisms as ketamine. The findings could point to new treatment approaches for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, the researchers wrote last Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports.

"The state-of-the-art, prototypical, fast-acting antidepressant is ketamine -- a compound that promotes neural plasticity and repairs circuits involved in mood and anxiety disorders," Olson told MedPage Today. "Our work demonstrates that psychedelics produce comparable effects on neuronal structure and function, providing a potential explanation for why MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca seem to have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in the clinic."

Using test tubes, as well as rats and fruit fly larvae, the researchers found that all of these classes of psychedelics increased "neural plasticity," the ability to create new connections among brain cells. The drugs all excited the growth of dendritic spines and axons, the cerebral hangers-on that brain cells use to reach out and create connections, or synapses, with other brain cells.

That's the opposite of what happens with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The current theory is that these disorders may occur when neurites retract, not allowing brain cells to connect at synapses.

"One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex -- a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety -- those neurites tend to shrivel up," Olson said in a statement.

Olson's research found that the neural plasticity effect found with ketamine was also "remarkably potent" with even very small doses of LSD, which could help explain the popularity of "microdosing" among people seeking happier and more creative lives. Chemical compounds that mimicked psilocybin and MDMA also increased neural plasticity on the same level as ketamine, and that could mean new opportunities for researchers working with psychiatric disorders.

The studies also showed that the effect outlasted the action of the drugs. In rats, for example, psilocybin produced results that lasted for hours after the drug had left the body. Similarly, rats given a single dose of DMT not only saw an increase in dendritic spines similar to ketamine but saw that effect last for 24 hours when the drug itself had been eliminated within one hour.

This is potentially very good news for researchers working on treatments for anxiety, depression, and addiction, which all seem to act on the same brain circuits.

"Prior to this study, there was only one player in town and that was ketamine. This opens up some new doors," Olson said. "As the diversity of chemical structures capable of producing ketamine-like plasticity effects continues to grow, so does my hope that we will find a safe and effective fast-acting treatment for depression," he said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Can Magic Mushrooms Fight Authoritarianism?

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Psychedelic drugs have been associated with anti-authoritarian counter-cultures since the 1960s, but a new study suggests using psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, actually makes people less likely to embrace authoritarian views, PsyPost reports. The study conducted by the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

psilocybin mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
While other studies have linked the use of psychedelics to a greater sense of oneness with nature, openness to new experiences and political and social liberalism, this is the first to provide experimental evidence their use can leading to lasting changes in these attitudes.

In the study, researchers gave two oral doses of psilocybin to seven participants suffering from treatment-resistant major depression while a control group of seven healthy subjects did not receive psilocybin. Researchers surveyed participants about their political views and relationship to nature before the sessions, one week after the sessions, and 7-12 months later.

Subjects who received the psilocybin treatment showed a significant decrease in authoritarian attitudes after treatment, and that reduction was sustained over time. They also reported a significant increase in a sense of relatedness to nature.

"Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting… But now I see there's no separation or distinction -- you are it," one participant told researchers.

Subjects who had not received psilocybin did not exhibit significant changes in attitudes.

"Our findings tentatively raise the possibility that given in this way, psilocybin may produce sustained changes in outlook and political perspective, here in the direction of increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarianism," wrote study authors Taylor Lyons and Robin L. Carhart-Harris.

That is a significant advance in the research on the links between psychedelics and anti-authoritarianism. That's because this is the first study to suggest that psychedelic use promoted such attitudes and not the other way around.

But while this study's design allows the drawing of some inferences about cause and effect, its small sample size limits the strength of its findings. As Lyon and Carhart-Harris noted in their study, "It would be hasty, therefore, to attempt any strong claims about a causal influence due specifically to psilocybin at this stage."

Still, one can't help but wonder what might happen if, say, Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump or Rodrigo Duterte were to go tripping on 'shrooms. The world might be a better place.

You Won't Believe Which Middle East Theocrat Has Okayed Psychedelics Treatment

In a move barely noticed in the West, more than three years ago, Iran's Grand Ayatollah Rohani issued a formal legal ruling -- a "fatwa" -- declaring that the use of entheogens and psychedelics was permissible ("ḥalāl") for Shi'i Muslims for purposes of treatment and spiritual growth.

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Rohani (Wikipedia)
Grand Ayatollah Rohani's fatwa specified that such use should be undertaken under the direction and supervision of qualified experts, but it did not specify which psychoactive substances were meant to be included. The fatwa, however, was delivered after long discussions with petitioners about the effects of DMT, ayahuasca, haoma (or soma), LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, ibogaine, and marijuana.

Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar and psychedelic practitioner Wahid Azal explained what happened in an interview with Reality Sandwich. Another Shi'i scholar approached him about opening a dialog with the Shi'i religious establishment in an effort to get some sort of formal legal opinion about the approach to the therapeutic and spiritual use of entheogens:

To make a long story short, after well over a year and a half of back and forth discussions and correspondences between my friend (and one other individual) with the office of Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Sadeq Hussaini Rohani in Qom, Iran; in mid-March 2014, via email, the Grand Ayatollah issued a formal legal ruling (that is, a fatwa) determining the use of entheogens and psychoactive substances to be licit and thus permissible (ḥalāl) for Shi'i Muslims provided it be under the direction and supervision of qualified experts (ahl al-ikhtiṣāṣ), and that, moreover, such plant substances as a rule do not impair the mind. In the final missive before the decision, the questioner specifically underscored the issue of the visionary component of these plants, where people have reported visions of paradise and hell, and Grand Ayatollah Rohani's fatwa finds no objections here either.
 

Rohani could have been open to mind-altering drugs because the psychedelics have a resemblance to Esfand, also known as Syrian rue (peganum harmala), which contains the psychoactive indole alkaloid harmaline, a central nervous system stimulant and MAO inhibitor used for thousands of years in the region. According to at least one Shi'i tradition, the Prophet Mohammed took esfand for 50 days.

Whatever the precise theological reasoning behind the Rohani's fatwa, with it, Iran could leapfrog Western nations when it comes to psychedelic research. Although psychedelics are seeing a research renaissance in the West, research here is limited by their criminalized legal status, as well as lack of funding. But the Islamic Republic has cleared the way.

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