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Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change

Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change. Tao Lin. Random House USA. ISBN: 9781101974513

After discovering the works of Terence McKenna, Lin embarks on a journey of personal discovery that aids his recovery from addiction, changes his world view and leads him to ask big questions such as: Why do we make art? Is the world made of language? What happens when we die? And is the imagination more real than the universe?

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Safety of ibogaine administration in detoxification of opioid-dependent individuals: a descriptive open-label observational study


Background and aims: Ibogaine is an indole alkaloid used in rituals of the African Bwiti tribe. It is also used in non-medical settings to treat addiction. However, ibogaine has been linked to several deaths, mainly due to cardiac events called torsades des pointes preceded by QTc prolongation as well as other safety concerns. This study aimed to evaluate the cardiac, cerebellar and psychomimetic safety of ibogaine in patients with opioid use disorder.

Design: A descriptive open-label observational study.

Setting: Department of psychiatry in a university medical center, the Netherlands.

Participants: Patients with opioid use disorder (n = 14) on opioid maintenance treatment with a lasting wish for abstinence, who failed to reach abstinence with standard care.

Intervention and measurements: After conversion to morphine-sulphate, a single dose of ibogaine-HCl 10 mg/kg was administered and patients were monitored at regular intervals for at least 24 hours assessing QTc, blood pressure and heart rate, scale for the assessment and rating of ataxia (SARA) to assess cerebellar side effects and the delirium observation scale (DOS) to assess psychomimetic effects.

Findings: The maximum QTc (Fridericia) prolongation was on average 95ms (range 29-146ms). Fifty percent of subjects reached a QTc of over 500ms during the observation period. In six out 14 subjects prolongation above 450ms lasted beyond 24 hours after ingestion of ibogaine. No torsades des pointes were observed. Severe transient ataxia with inability to walk without support was seen in all patients. Withdrawal and psychomimetic effects were mostly well-tolerated and manageable (11/14 did not return to morphine within 24 hours, DOS scores remained below threshold).

Conclusions: This open-label observational study found that ibogaine treatment of patients with opioid use disorder can induce a clinically relevant but reversible QTc prolongation, bradycardia, and severe ataxia.

Knuijver, T., Schellekens, A., Belgers, M., Donders, R., van Oosteren, T., Kramers, K., & Verkes, R. (2022). Safety of ibogaine administration in detoxification of opioid-dependent individuals: a descriptive open-label observational study. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 117(1), 118–128.

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Naturalistic Use of Mescaline Is Associated with Self-Reported Psychiatric Improvements and Enduring Positive Life Changes


Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid that has been used as a sacrament by Indigenous populations in spiritual ritual and healing ceremonies for millennia. Despite promising early preliminary research and favorable anecdotal reports, there is limited research investigating mescaline’s psychotherapeutic potential. We administered an anonymous online questionnaire to adults (N = 452) reporting use of mescaline in naturalistic settings about mental health benefits attributed to mescaline. We assessed respondents’ self-reported improvements in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol and drug use disorders (AUD and DUD). Of the respondents reporting histories of these clinical conditions, most (68-86%) reported subjective improvement following their most memorable mescaline experience. Respondents who reported an improvement in their psychiatric conditions reported significantly higher ratings of acute psychological factors including mystical-type, psychological insight, and ego dissolution effects compared to those who did not report improvements (Cohen’s d range 0.7 – 1.5). Many respondents (35-50%) rated the mescaline experience as the single or top five most spiritually significant or meaningful experience(s) of their lives. Acute experiences of psychological insight during their mescaline experience were associated with increased odds of reporting improvement in depression, anxiety, AUD and DUD. Additional research is needed to corroborate these preliminary findings and to rigorously examine the efficacy of mescaline for psychiatric treatment in controlled, longitudinal clinical trials.

Agin-Liebes, G., Haas, T. F., Lancelotta, R., Uthaug, M. V., Ramaekers, J. G., & Davis, A. K. (2021). Naturalistic Use of Mescaline Is Associated with Self-Reported Psychiatric Improvements and Enduring Positive Life Changes. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 543–552.

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Clinical and biological predictors of psychedelic response in the treatment of psychiatric and addictive disorders: A systematic review


Background: The use of psychedelic treatments has shown very promising results in some psychiatric and addictive disorders, but not all patients achieved a response.

Aim: The aim of this review is to explore the clinical and biological factors which could predict the response to psychedelics in psychiatric and addictive disorders.

Methods: A systematic research was performed on MEDLINE, PsycInfo, Web of science, and Scopus databases from January 1990 to May 2020. All studies investigating the predictive factors of response to psychedelics regardless of psychiatric or addictive disorders, were included.

Results: Twenty studies investigating addictive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depressive and anxiety symptoms in patients with life-threatening cancer were included in this review. We found that, in all indications, the main predictive factor of response to psychedelics is the intensity of the acute psychedelic experience. Indeed, we found this factor for alcohol and tobacco use disorders, treatment-resistant depression, and anxiety and depressive symptoms in patients with life-threatening cancer, but not for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Conclusion: The intensity of the acute psychedelic experience was the main predicting factor of response. The action mechanism of this experience was not clear, but some hypotheses could be made, such as a modulation of serotoninergic system by 5-HT2A receptors agonism, a modulation of the default mode network (DMN) with an acute modular disintegration of the DMN followed by a re-integration of this network with a normal functioning, or an anti-inflammatory effect of this treatment.

Romeo, B., Hermand, M., Pétillion, A., Karila, L., & Benyamina, A. (2021). Clinical and biological predictors of psychedelic response in the treatment of psychiatric and addictive disorders: A systematic review. Journal of psychiatric research, 137, 273–282.

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First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder


Background: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) therapy has qualities that make it potentially well suited for patients with addictions, but this has never been explored in a research study. We present data from the Bristol Imperial MDMA in Alcoholism (BIMA) study. This is the first MDMA addiction study, an open-label safety and tolerability proof-of-concept study investigating the potential role for MDMA therapy in treating patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Aims: This study aimed to assess if MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be delivered safely and can be tolerated by patients with AUD post detoxification. Outcomes regarding drinking behaviour, quality of life and psychosocial functioning were evaluated.

Methods: Fourteen patients with AUD completed a community alcohol detoxification and received an eight-week course of recovery-based therapy. Participants received two sessions with MDMA (187.5 mg each session). Psychological support was provided before, during and after each session. Safety and tolerability were assessed alongside psychological and physiological outcome measures. Alcohol use behaviour, mental well-being and functioning data were collected for nine months after alcohol detoxification.

Results: MDMA treatment was well tolerated by all participants. No unexpected adverse events were observed. Psychosocial functioning improved across the cohort. Regarding alcohol use, at nine months post detox, the average units of alcohol consumption by participants was 18.7 units per week compared to 130.6 units per week before the detox. This compares favourably to a previous observational study (the ‘Outcomes’ study) by the same team with a similar population of people with AUD.

Conclusions: This study provides preliminary support for the safety and tolerability of a novel intervention for AUD post detox. Further trials to examine better the therapeutic potential of this approach are now indicated.

Sessa, B., Higbed, L., O’Brien, S., Durant, C., Sakal, C., Titheradge, D., Williams, T. M., Rose-Morris, A., Brew-Girard, E., Burrows, S., Wiseman, C., Wilson, S., Rickard, J., & Nutt, D. J. (2021). First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 375–383.

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Within-treatment changes in a novel addiction treatment program using traditional Amazonian medicine


Aims: The therapeutic use of psychedelics is regaining scientific momentum, but similarly psychoactive ethnobotanical substances have a long history of medical (and other) uses in indigenous contexts. Here we aimed to evaluate patient outcomes in a residential addiction treatment center that employs a novel combination of Western and traditional Amazonian methods.

Methods: The study was observational, with repeated measures applied throughout treatment. All tests were administered in the center, which is located in Tarapoto, Peru. Data were collected between 2014 and 2015, and the study sample consisted of 36 male inpatients who were motivated to seek treatment and who entered into treatment voluntarily. Around 58% of the sample was from South America, 28% from Europe, and the remaining 14% from North America. We primarily employed repeated measures on a psychological test battery administered throughout treatment, measuring perceived stress, craving frequency, mental illness symptoms, spiritual well-being, and physical and emotional health. Addiction severity was measured on intake, and neuropsychological performance was assessed in a subsample from intake to at least 2 months into treatment.

Results: Statistically significant and clinically positive changes were found across all repeated measures. These changes appeared early in the treatment and were maintained over time. Significant improvements were also found for neuropsychological functioning.

Conclusion: These results provide evidence for treatment safety in a highly novel addiction treatment setting, while also suggesting positive therapeutic effects.

O’Shaughnessy, D. M., Berlowitz, I., Rodd, R., Sarnyai, Z., & Quirk, F. (2021). Within-treatment changes in a novel addiction treatment program using traditional Amazonian medicine. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 11, 2045125320986634.

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Classical Psychedelics as Therapeutics in Psychiatry – Current Clinical Evidence and Potential Therapeutic Mechanisms in Substance Use and Mood Disorders


Classical psychedelics, primarily psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), have been used and extensively studied in Western medicine as part of substance-assisted psychotherapy in the 1950s and 1960s. Modern clinical research is currently gaining momentum and provides new evidence for the safety and efficacy of classical psychedelics (primarily psilocybin, but also LSD and ayahuasca) in the treatment of different psychiatric conditions, including substance use and mood disorders.In this review article, we outline common pathological mechanisms of substance use disorders (SUD) and unipolar depression. Next, the current literature on the effects of psychedelics is summarized in order to generate hypotheses regarding their potential therapeutic mechanisms of action in treating these psychiatric conditions. Finally, we review and discuss clinical trials published since 2011 investigating the effects of psychedelics in SUD and depression.While results from those modern clinical trials are promising, most of them do not meet the methodological requirements to allow firm conclusions on the clinical efficacy of psychedelics. Larger, blinded, randomized controlled trials (RCT) with clearly defined patient groups and well-defined primary endpoints are needed. Additionally, the therapeutic mechanisms of classical psychedelics are currently unknown. This review presents hypotheses derived from preclinical and human studies that need to be tested in future trials to better understand the clinical potential of psychedelic substances in modern psychiatry.

Mertens, L. J., & Preller, K. H. (2021). Classical Psychedelics as Therapeutics in Psychiatry – Current Clinical Evidence and Potential Therapeutic Mechanisms in Substance Use and Mood Disorders. Pharmacopsychiatry, 54(4), 176–190.

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Set and Setting: A Randomized Study of Different Musical Genres in Supporting Psychedelic Therapy


Mounting evidence supports the serotonin 2A receptor agonist psilocybin as a psychiatric pharmacotherapy. Little research has experimentally examined how session “set and setting” impacts subjective and therapeutic effects. We analyzed the effects of the musical genre played during sessions of a psilocybin study for tobacco smoking cessation. Participants (N = 10) received psilocybin (20-30 mg/70 kg) in two sessions, each with a different musical genre (Western classical versus overtone-based), with the order counterbalanced. Participants chose one genre for a third session (30 mg/70 kg). Mystical experiences scores tended to be higher in overtone-based sessions than in Western classical sessions. Six of ten participants chose the overtone-based music for a third session. Biologically confirmed smoking abstinence was similar based on musical choice, with a slight benefit for participants choosing the overtone-based playlist (66.7% versus 50%). These data call into question whether Western classical music typically used in psychedelic therapy holds a unique benefit. Broadly, we call for experimentally examining session components toward optimizing psychedelic therapeutic protocols.

Strickland, J. C., Garcia-Romeu, A., & Johnson, M. W. (2020). Set and Setting: A Randomized Study of Different Musical Genres in Supporting Psychedelic Therapy. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 472–478.

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Neural Mechanisms Underlying the Rewarding and Therapeutic Effects of Ketamine as a Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the most prevalent substance use disorder and causes a significant global burden. Relapse rates remain incredibly high after decades of attempting to develop novel treatment options that have failed to produce increased rates of sobriety. Ketamine has emerged as a potential treatment for AUD following its success as a therapeutic agent for depression, demonstrated by several preclinical studies showing that acute administration reduced alcohol intake in rodents. As such, ketamine’s therapeutic effects for AUD are now being investigated in clinical trials with the hope of it being efficacious in prolonging sobriety from alcohol in humans (, Identifier: NCT01558063). Importantly, ketamine’s antidepressant effects only last for about 1-week and because AUD is a lifelong disorder, repeated treatment regimens would be necessary to maintain sobriety. This raises questions regarding its safety for AUD treatment since ketamine itself has the potential for addiction. Therefore, this review aims to summarize the neuroadaptations related to alcohol’s addictive properties as well as ketamine’s therapeutic and addictive properties. To do this, the focus will be on reward-related brain regions such as the nucleus accumbens (NAc), dorsal striatum, prefrontal cortex (PFC), hippocampus, and ventral tegmental area (VTA) to understand how acute vs. chronic exposure will alter reward signaling over time. Additionally, evidence from these studies will be summarized in both male and female subjects. Accordingly, this review aims to address the safety of repeated ketamine infusions for the treatment of AUD. Although more work about the safety of ketamine to treat AUD is warranted, we hope this review sheds light on some answers about the safety of repeated ketamine infusions.

Strong, C. E., & Kabbaj, M. (2020). Neural Mechanisms Underlying the Rewarding and Therapeutic Effects of Ketamine as a Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14, 593860.

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A non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analogue with therapeutic potential


The psychedelic alkaloid ibogaine has anti-addictive properties in both humans and animals1. Unlike most medications for the treatment of substance use disorders, anecdotal reports suggest that ibogaine has the potential to treat addiction to various substances, including opiates, alcohol and psychostimulants. The effects of ibogaine-like those of other psychedelic compounds-are long-lasting2, which has been attributed to its ability to modify addiction-related neural circuitry through the activation of neurotrophic factor signalling3,4. However, several safety concerns have hindered the clinical development of ibogaine, including its toxicity, hallucinogenic potential and tendency to induce cardiac arrhythmias. Here we apply the principles of function-oriented synthesis to identify the key structural elements of the potential therapeutic pharmacophore of ibogaine, and we use this information to engineer tabernanthalog-a water-soluble, non-hallucinogenic, non-toxic analogue of ibogaine that can be prepared in a single step. In rodents, tabernanthalog was found to promote structural neural plasticity, reduce alcohol- and heroin-seeking behaviour, and produce antidepressant-like effects. This work demonstrates that, through careful chemical design, it is possible to modify a psychedelic compound to produce a safer, non-hallucinogenic variant that has therapeutic potential.

Cameron, L. P., Tombari, R. J., Lu, J., Pell, A. J., Hurley, Z. Q., Ehinger, Y., Vargas, M. V., McCarroll, M. N., Taylor, J. C., Myers-Turnbull, D., Liu, T., Yaghoobi, B., Laskowski, L. J., Anderson, E. I., Zhang, G., Viswanathan, J., Brown, B. M., Tjia, M., Dunlap, L. E., Rabow, Z. T., … Olson, D. E. (2021). A non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analogue with therapeutic potential. Nature, 589(7842), 474–479.

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