OPEN Foundation


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder After a Psychedelic Experience, a Case Report


In the last 2 decades, there is a renaissance in the scientific investigation of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds. It is studied for the treatment of many psychiatric disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder. The treatment is always done in the setting of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. A little is known about the potential effects, outside of the setting of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, on people diagnosed with a mental disorder or have a significant trauma history. In this case report, we present a young man who developed posttraumatic stress disorder after a psychedelic experience, induced by both Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and N, N Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). In the psychedelic experience, a repressed memory of childhood sexual abuse was recovered. To our knowledge, this is the first report on posttraumatic stress disorder onset after a psychedelic experience. We believe that this case report is important since the history of trauma is prevalent among individuals with substance use disorder. Medical staff that treat people with either substance use disorder or trauma should be familiar with irregular presentations, such as the one described in this case.

Rubin-Kahana, D. S., Hassan, A. N., & Le Foll, B. (2021). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder After a Psychedelic Experience, a Case Report. Journal of addiction medicine, 15(3), 248–251.

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Therapeutic effects of classic serotonergic psychedelics: A systematic review of modern-era clinical studies


Objective: To conduct a systematic review of modern-era (post-millennium) clinical studies assessing the therapeutic effects of serotonergic psychedelics drugs for mental health conditions. Although the main focus was on efficacy and safety, study characteristics, duration of antidepressants effects across studies, and the role of the subjective drug experiences were also reviewed and presented.

Method: A systematic literature search (1 Jan 2000 to 1 May 2020) was conducted in PubMed and PsychINFO for studies of patients undergoing treatment with a serotonergic psychedelic.

Results: Data from 16 papers, representing 10 independent psychedelic-assisted therapy trials (psilocybin = 7, ayahuasca = 2, LSD = 1), were extracted, presented in figures and tables, and narratively synthesized and discussed. Across these studies, a total of 188 patients suffering either cancer- or illness-related anxiety and depression disorders (C/I-RADD), major depressive disorder (MDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or substance use disorder (SUD) were included. The reviewed studies established feasibility and evidence of safety, alongside promising early data of efficacy in the treatment of depression, anxiety, OCD, and tobacco and alcohol use disorders. For a majority of patients, the therapeutic effects appeared to be long-lasting (weeks-months) after only 1 to 3 treatment session(s). All studies were conducted in line with guidelines for the safe conduct of psychedelic therapy, and no severe adverse events were reported.

Conclusion: The resurrection of clinical psychedelic research provides early evidence for treatment efficacy and safety for a range of psychiatric conditions, and constitutes an exciting new treatment avenue in a health area with major unmet needs.

Andersen, K., Carhart-Harris, R., Nutt, D. J., & Erritzoe, D. (2021). Therapeutic effects of classic serotonergic psychedelics: A systematic review of modern-era clinical studies. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, 143(2), 101–118.

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Kinetic profile of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and β-carbolines in saliva and serum after oral administration of ayahuasca in a religious context

Ayahuasca is a beverage obtained from Banisteriopsis caapi plus Psychotria viridis. B. caapi contains the β-carbolines harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine that are monoamine oxidase inhibitors and P. viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that is responsible for the visionary effects of the beverage. Ayahuasca use is becoming a global phenomenon, and the recreational use of DMT and similar alkaloids has also increased in recent years; such uncontrolled use can lead to severe intoxications. In this investigation, liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) was used to study the kinetics of alkaloids over a 24 h period in saliva and serum of 14 volunteers who consumed ayahuasca twice a month in a religious context. We compared the area under the curve (AUC), maximum concentration (Cmax ), time to reach Cmax (Tmax ), mean residence time (MRT), and half-life (t1/2 ), as well as the serum/saliva ratios of these parameters. DMT and β-carboline concentrations (Cmax ) and AUC were higher in saliva than in serum and the MRT was 1.5-3.0 times higher in serum. A generalized estimation equations (GEEs) model suggested that serum concentrations could be predicted by saliva concentrations, despite large individual variability in the saliva and serum alkaloid concentrations. The possibility of using saliva as a biological matrix to detect DMT, β-carbolines, and their derivatives is very interesting because it allows fast noninvasive sample collection and could be useful for detecting similar alkaloids used recreationally that have considerable potential for intoxication.

Lanaro, R., Mello, S. M., da Cunha, K. F., Silveira, G., Corrêa-Neto, N. F., Hyslop, S., Cabrices, O. G., Costa, J. L., & Linardi, A. (2021). Kinetic profile of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and β-carbolines in saliva and serum after oral administration of ayahuasca in a religious context. Drug testing and analysis, 13(3), 664–678.

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Rapid and sustained decreases in suicidality following a single dose of ayahuasca among individuals with recurrent major depressive disorder: results from an open-label trial


Rationale: Suicidality is a major public health concern with limited treatment options. Accordingly, there is a need for innovative interventions for suicidality. Preliminary evidence indicates that treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca may lead to decreases in depressive symptoms among individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). However, there remains limited understanding of whether ayahuasca also leads to reductions in suicidality.

Objective: To examine the acute and post-acute effect of ayahuasca on suicidality among individuals with MDD.

Methods: We conducted a secondary analysis of an open-label trial in which individuals with recurrent MDD received a single dose of ayahuasca (N = 17). Suicidality was assessed at baseline; during the intervention; and 1, 7, 14, and 21 days after the intervention.

Results: Among individuals with suicidality at baseline (n = 15), there were significant acute (i.e., 40, 80, 140, and 180 min after administration) and post-acute (1, 7, 14, and 21 days after administration) decreases in suicidality following administration of ayahuasca. Post-acute effect sizes for decreases in suicidality were large (Hedges’ g = 1.31-1.75), with the largest effect size 21 days after the intervention (g = 1.75).

Conclusions: When administered in the appropriate context, ayahuasca may lead to rapid and sustained reductions in suicidality among individuals with MDD. Randomized, double-blind studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm this early finding.

Zeifman, R. J., Singhal, N., Dos Santos, R. G., Sanches, R. F., de Lima Osório, F., Hallak, J., & Weissman, C. R. (2021). Rapid and sustained decreases in suicidality following a single dose of ayahuasca among individuals with recurrent major depressive disorder: results from an open-label trial. Psychopharmacology, 238(2), 453–459.

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Toxicokinetics and Toxicodynamics of Ayahuasca Alkaloids N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine: Clinical and Forensic Impact


Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic botanical beverage originally used by indigenous Amazonian tribes in religious ceremonies and therapeutic practices. While ethnobotanical surveys still indicate its spiritual and medicinal uses, consumption of ayahuasca has been progressively related with a recreational purpose, particularly in Western societies. The ayahuasca aqueous concoction is typically prepared from the leaves of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing Psychotria viridis, and the stem and bark of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of harmala alkaloids. Herein, the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of the psychoactive DMT and harmala alkaloids harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, are comprehensively covered, particularly emphasizing the psychological, physiological, and toxic effects deriving from their concomitant intake. Potential therapeutic utility, particularly in mental and psychiatric disorders, and forensic aspects of DMT and ayahuasca are also reviewed and discussed. Following administration of ayahuasca, DMT is rapidly absorbed and distributed. Harmala alkaloids act as potent inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), preventing extensive first-pass degradation of DMT into 3-indole-acetic acid (3-IAA), and enabling sufficient amounts of DMT to reach the brain. DMT has affinity for a variety of serotonergic and non-serotonergic receptors, though its psychotropic effects are mainly related with the activation of serotonin receptors type 2A (5-HT2A). Mildly to rarely severe psychedelic adverse effects are reported for ayahuasca or its alkaloids individually, but abuse does not lead to dependence or tolerance. For a long time, the evidence has pointed to potential psychotherapeutic benefits in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders; and although misuse of ayahuasca has been diverting attention away from such clinical potential, research onto its therapeutic effects has now strongly resurged.

Brito-da-Costa, A. M., Dias-da-Silva, D., Gomes, N., Dinis-Oliveira, R. J., & Madureira-Carvalho, Á. (2020). Toxicokinetics and Toxicodynamics of Ayahuasca Alkaloids N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine: Clinical and Forensic Impact. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 13(11), 334.

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DMT alters cortical travelling waves


Psychedelic drugs are potent modulators of conscious states and therefore powerful tools for investigating their neurobiology. N,N, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) can rapidly induce an extremely immersive state of consciousness characterized by vivid and elaborate visual imagery. Here, we investigated the electrophysiological correlates of the DMT-induced altered state from a pool of participants receiving DMT and (separately) placebo (saline) while instructed to keep their eyes closed. Consistent with our hypotheses, results revealed a spatio-temporal pattern of cortical activation (i.e. travelling waves) similar to that elicited by visual stimulation. Moreover, the typical top-down alpha-band rhythms of closed-eyes rest were significantly decreased, while the bottom-up forward wave was significantly increased. These results support a recent model proposing that psychedelics reduce the ‘precision-weighting of priors’, thus altering the balance of top-down versus bottom-up information passing. The robust hypothesis-confirming nature of these findings imply the discovery of an important mechanistic principle underpinning psychedelic-induced altered states.

Alamia, A., Timmermann, C., Nutt, D. J., VanRullen, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020). DMT alters cortical travelling waves. eLife, 9, e59784.

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N,N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo


N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a component of the ayahuasca brew traditionally used for ritual and therapeutic purposes across several South American countries. Here, we have examined, in vitro and vivo, the potential neurogenic effect of DMT. Our results demonstrate that DMT administration activates the main adult neurogenic niche, the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, promoting newly generated neurons in the granular zone. Moreover, these mice performed better, compared to control non-treated animals, in memory tests, which suggest a functional relevance for the DMT-induced new production of neurons in the hippocampus. Interestingly, the neurogenic effect of DMT appears to involve signaling via sigma-1 receptor (S1R) activation since S1R antagonist blocked the neurogenic effect. Taken together, our results demonstrate that DMT treatment activates the subgranular neurogenic niche regulating the proliferation of neural stem cells, the migration of neuroblasts, and promoting the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, therefore enhancing adult neurogenesis and improving spatial learning and memory tasks.

Morales-Garcia, J. A., Calleja-Conde, J., Lopez-Moreno, J. A., Alonso-Gil, S., Sanz-SanCristobal, M., Riba, J., & Perez-Castillo, A. (2020). N,N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Translational psychiatry, 10(1), 331.

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DMT and near-death experiences

Being one of the most powerful psychedelics we know, it is not strange that DMT has become the subject of numerous speculations over the years. Theories linking this molecule to near-death experiences have circulated persistently among users and researchers – yet the scientific evidence just doesn’t seem to be there. 
Enzo Tagliazucchi is a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Buenos Aires. He will be speaking at ICPR 2020 about his research and the first neuroimagery study of DMT in naturalistic settings.
This is the final part of a three-part interview series with Prof. Enzo Tagliazucchi
Part one: The Science and Folklore of DMT
Part two: Psychedelics: key to consciousness
Part three: DMT and near-death experiences
Enzo, you have experience researching NDEs. How is this phenomenon approached from a scientific perspective?
NDEs are really fun to investigate because they are simultaneously a very strange phenomenon, and something that does indeed happen to people in robust and reproducible ways.
There are several things that are common features to most reported NDEs, such as the feeling of floating around, feelings of extreme bliss and transcendence, life review, and the sensation that you are about to cross a visible or invisible threshold, among others. It seems that different cultural backgrounds are not a huge factor determining the specific contents of NDEs. This is somewhat controversial, but apparently at least some of these features could be, in a certain sense, universal.
Then comes the question of why this is happening, and this has been the source of a lot of bullshit, unfortunately. Some insist that everything that happens during NDEs is the manifestation of your soul leaving your body and entering into the afterlife or other realms of existence, which is something that many people would love to believe. Researchers have tested this experimentally: for instance, they have hidden an object in a room and then have somebody experience an out-of-body experience (a defining feature of NDEs) and float around. Needless to say, they never find the object, and they don’t find it simply because they are not floating around in any meaningful interpretation of those words.
People do not even know whether some NDEs happen in the moment someone flatlines, or before or after the event. It could happen moments before you wake up: there is simply no known way of proving that NDEs take place when you are sort of dead for a moment. Even worse than that, people can report NDEs when they think they are going to die but they aren’t really at risk. For example, if you fall from a chair, you might report a flash experience that is indistinguishable from a NDE, but you weren’t even unconscious for a moment.
What are the main explanatory theories of NDEs and how would you assess Strassman’s DMT hypothesis?
Nobody knows for certain why NDEs occur. And maybe there is not simply just one answer, it could be several different factors. But as scientists like to have simple explanations, they have tried to come up with one factor underlying all the different aspects of NDEs.
Perhaps the most attractive one-factor theories are related to the potential presence of endogenous chemicals. Some came to believe that there is a kind of chemical imbalance during NDEs that can lead to the experience, and here Strassman proposed that a massive release of DMT when you are close to death is what is behind the strange phenomenology of NDEs.
As an alternative, Karl Jansen proposed that there is some ketamine-like compound in the brain that blocks NMDA receptors in a similar way to ketamine, a substance whose acute effects can lead to NDE-like phenomenology. At some point in the last couple years, I started to read Jansen and Strassman, became interested in this discussion, and eventually published a paper in which I tried to put their hypotheses to test for the first time.
Using computational semantic analysis, we compared drug reports from Erowid to the narratives of patients who had NDEs, and we confirmed that ketamine was actually way above in similarity to those experiences compared to DMT. Actually, if you think of what the DMT experience is like, it is not this solemn-going-to-the-light-in-bliss but rather a confusing but festive colourful state. People do not really report these things in NDEs at all. And if you have been in the K-hole you already know that it is probably the closest to feeling dead, whatever that means. But that is not the point… this is science and I try to be scientific about it, haha!
In the last paper I read by Strassman, he conceded that there might be some release of a ketamine-like substance when you are close to dying, but the question remains: Why does this substance lead to this strange state of consciousness? Whatever the function of this molecule, why can’t it just shut off your consciousness instead of giving rise to NDEs?
The answer given by Jansen is that a ketamine-like compound could have neuroprotective effects. If there is a massive release of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that makes neurons fire at a high rate, neurons might die because they are basically too activated, a phenomenon known as excitotoxicity. So if ketamine or a related compound blocks that process, it can extend the life of neurons and increase the likelihood of survival. It sounds reasonable that you have that kind of process built into your brain as a mechanism to cope when you are close to death.
But at this point, Strassman argued something like: OK, but why has evolution given us this very strange experience that happens when we block the glutamate receptor? Why can’t the brain just block the glutamate receptors and protect itself with no experience at all? He concluded that maybe it is not that these receptors get blocked and then you have this experience. It is something different, something like you have a soul and the moment your soul starts to leave your body, the receptors get blocked.
For me that is very difficult to swallow. I am a physicist, and I cling to a scientific worldview. At some point I think Strassman lost that worldview and I actually haven’t read much of his theories since then. I respect him nevertheless, he is a pioneer in this field of research.
So what happened in the search of an endogenous chemical behind these experiences? Again, not conclusive. My guess is that it is a combination of several factors, and that people are really misled when they believe something related to the proximity of death is behind all these experiences.
What about other non-ordinary phenomena such as mystical experiences?
Mystical-type experiences, on the other hand, you can investigate more easily, because you can induce these experiences in safe and reproducible ways. That is what the Johns Hopkins group has been showing over the last years, focusing on psilocybin as an induction agent.
Griffiths’ group repeated the famous Good Friday experiment by Panhke, but under more controlled and rigorous conditions, and they showed that you can induce these experiences with psilocybin combined with the proper set and setting in 60% of the participants. The likelihood of induction is dose-dependent, so the higher the dose the higher the chances of having this kind of experience. They also showed that if you are undergoing treatment for tobacco cessation or if you are an oncological patient with anxiety related to the end of life and you are treated with psilocybin, the likelihood that you are going to get better increases if you have a mystical-type experience. In other words, the potential therapeutic properties of the psychedelic experience are apparently tied to mystical-type experiences. I believe these findings are really interesting from a clinical perspective and, again, in contrast to NDEs this is something that you can induce reliably in a controlled setting.

Psychedelic Treatment for Trauma-Related Psychological and Cognitive Impairment Among US Special Operations Forces Veterans

U.S. Special Operations Forces Veterans are at increased risk for a variety of mental health problems and cognitive impairment associated with military service. Current treatments are lacking in effectiveness and adherence. Therefore, this study examined psychedelic treatment with ibogaine and 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine for trauma-related psychological and cognitive impairment among U.S. Special Operations Forces Veterans.

We conducted a survey of Veterans who completed a specific psychedelic clinical program in Mexico between 2017 and 2019. Questions probed retrospective reports of mental health and cognitive functioning during the 30 days before and 30 days after treatment. A total of 65 people completed treatment during this time frame and were eligible for contact. Of these, 51 (78%) completed the survey and were included in data analyses (mean age = 40; male = 96%; married = 55%; Caucasian/White = 92%; Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Service = 96%).

Results indicated significant and very large reductions in retrospective report of suicidal ideation (p < .001; d = −1.9), cognitive impairment (p < .001; d = −2.8), and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (p < .001; d = −3.6), depression (p < .001; d = −3.7), and anxiety (p < .001; d = −3.1). Results also showed a significant and large increase in retrospective report of psychological flexibility (p < .001; d = 2.9) from before-to-after the psychedelic treatment. Increases in the retrospective report of psychological flexibility were strongly associated with retrospective report of reductions in cognitive impairment, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety (rs range −0.61 to −0.75; p < .001). Additionally, most participants rated the psychedelic experiences as one of the top five personally meaningful (84%), spiritually significant (88%), and psychologically insightful (86%) experiences of their lives.
Limitations: Several limitations should be considered including the retrospective, self-report, survey design of the study, and the lack of randomization and blinding, thus making these finding preliminary.

U.S. Special Operations Forces Veterans may have unique treatment needs because of the sequela of problems associated with repeated trauma exposure and the nature of the exposure. Psychedelic-assisted therapy with these under-researched psychedelics may hold unique promise for this population. However, controlled studies are needed to determine whether this treatment is efficacious in relieving mental health and cognitive impairment among U.S. Special Operations Forces Veterans.

Davis, A. K., Averill, L. A., Sepeda, N. D., Barsuglia, J. P., & Amoroso, T. (2020). Psychedelic Treatment for Trauma-Related Psychological and Cognitive Impairment Among US Special Operations Forces Veterans. Chronic Stress4, 2470547020939564; 10.1177/2470547020939564
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Synthesis and characterization of high-purity N,N-dimethyltryptamine hemifumarate for human clinical trials


Since 2006, there has been a resurgent interest in the pharmacology and therapeutics of psychedelic drugs. Psilocybin, the 4-phosphoryl ester of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has been studied most often, but DMT itself is also appealing because of its brief but profound psychological effects and its presence as an endogenous substance in mammalian brain. Although there have been a few studies of ayahuasca, a DMT-containing water infusion, only one human study with pure DMT has been reported since the early 2000s. Newly planned clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of DMT in humans with major depressive disorders require high-purity water-soluble DMT for intravenous administration. Accordingly, we synthesized and characterized DMT hemifumarate for these upcoming studies. The synthetic approach of Speeter and Anthony was slightly modified to gain some efficiency in time. In particular, this is the first known report to use aluminum hydride, generated in situ from lithium aluminum hydride, to reduce the intermediate 2-(1H-indol-3-yl)-N,N-dimethyl-2-oxoacetamide to DMT. A quench protocol was developed to produce a good yield of exceptionally pure free base DMT upon workup, which was then converted to the hemifumarate salt. Analysis of the final product included differential scanning calorimetry, thermogravimetric analysis, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), 1 H and 13 C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, high-performance liquid chromatography, residual solvent analysis by GC headspace sampling, X-ray powder diffraction analysis, and residual lithium analysis by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. The DMT hemifumarate was minimally 99.9% pure, with no significant impurities or residual solvents, thus meeting regulatory standards for administration to humans.

Cozzi, N. V., & Daley, P. F. (2020). Synthesis and characterization of high‐purity N, N‐dimethyltryptamine hemifumarate for human clinical trials. Drug Testing and Analysis12(10), 1483-1493.; 10.1002/dta.2889

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