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Ketamine in Bipolar Disorder: A Review


Bipolar disorder (BD) is a psychiatric illness associated with high morbidity, mortality and suicide rate. It has neuroprogressive course and a high rate of treatment resistance. Hence, there is an unquestionable need for new BD treatment strategies. Ketamine appears to have rapid antidepressive and antisuicidal effects. Since most of the available studies concern unipolar depression, here we present a novel insight arguing that ketamine might be a promising treatment for bipolar disorder.

Wilkowska, A., Szałach, Ł., & Cubała, W. J. (2020). Ketamine in Bipolar Disorder: A Review. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 16, 2707–2717.

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Pivotal mental states


This paper introduces a new construct, the ‘pivotal mental state’, which is defined as a hyper-plastic state aiding rapid and deep learning that can mediate psychological transformation. We believe this new construct bears relevance to a broad range of psychological and psychiatric phenomena. We argue that pivotal mental states serve an important evolutionary function, that is, to aid psychological transformation when actual or perceived environmental pressures demand this. We cite evidence that chronic stress and neurotic traits are primers for a pivotal mental state, whereas acute stress can be a trigger. Inspired by research with serotonin 2A receptor agonist psychedelics, we highlight how activity at this particular receptor can robustly and reliably induce pivotal mental states, but we argue that the capacity for pivotal mental states is an inherent property of the human brain itself. Moreover, we hypothesize that serotonergic psychedelics hijack a system that has evolved to mediate rapid and deep learning when its need is sensed. We cite a breadth of evidences linking stress via a variety of inducers, with an upregulated serotonin 2A receptor system (e.g. upregulated availability of and/or binding to the receptor) and acute stress with 5-HT release, which we argue can activate this primed system to induce a pivotal mental state. The pivotal mental state model is multi-level, linking a specific molecular gateway (increased serotonin 2A receptor signaling) with the inception of a hyper-plastic brain and mind state, enhanced rate of associative learning and the potential mediation of a psychological transformation.

Brouwer, A., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2021). Pivotal mental states. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 319–352.

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Making “bad trips” good: How users of psychedelics narratively transform challenging trips into valuable experiences


Background: We study the significance of stories about bad trips among users of psychedelics. Drawing on narrative theory, we describe the characteristics of such stories and explore the work they do.

Methods: In-depth qualitative interviews with 50 Norwegian users of psychedelics.

Results: Almost all participants had frightening experiences when using psychedelics and many described these as bad trips. The key feature of a bad trip was a feeling of losing oneself or going crazy, or ego dissolution. Most users said that these experiences could be avoided by following certain rules, based on tacit knowledge in the subcultures of users. Possessing such knowledge was part of symbolic boundary work that distinguished between drug culture insiders and outsiders. Some also rejected the validity of the term bad trip altogether, arguing that such experiences reflected the lack of such competence. Finally, and most importantly, most participants argued that unpleasant experiences during bad trips had been beneficial and had sometimes given them deep existential and life-altering insights.

Conclusion: Bad trip experiences are common among users of psychedelics. Such experiences are often transformed into valuable experiences through storytelling. Bad trip narratives may be a potent coping mechanism for users of psychedelics in non-controlled environments, enabling them to make sense of frightening experiences and integrate these into their life stories. Such narrative sense-making, or narrative work, facilitates the continued use of psychedelics, even after unpleasant experiences with the drugs.

Gashi, L., Sandberg, S., & Pedersen, W. (2021). Making “bad trips” good: How users of psychedelics narratively transform challenging trips into valuable experiences. The International journal on drug policy, 87, 102997.

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The effectiveness of intravenous ketamine in adults with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder presenting with prominent anxiety: Results from the Canadian Rapid Treatment Center of Excellence


Background: Individuals meeting criteria for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) are differentially affected by high levels of anxiety symptoms.

Aims: There is a need to identify the efficacy of novel rapid-onset treatments in adults with mood disorders and comorbid anxious-distress.

Methods: This study included patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD) or bipolar disorder (BD) who were receiving intravenous (IV) ketamine treatment at a community-based clinic.Anxious-distress was proxied using items from the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Self Report 16-item (QIDS-SR16) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD7) scales. The difference in QIDS-SR16 total score, QIDS-SR16 suicidal ideation (SI) item and GAD7 score were analyzed between groups.

Results: A total of 209 adults with MDD (n = 177) and BD (n = 26) were included in this analysis. From this sample, 94 patients (mean = 45 ± 13.9 years) met the criteria for anxious-distress. Individuals meeting the criteria for anxious-distress exhibited a significantly greater reduction in QIDS-SR16 total score following four infusions (p = 0.02) when compared with patients not meeting the anxious-distress criteria. Both anxious-distressed and low-anxiety patients exhibited a significant reduction in SI (p < 0.0001) following four infusions.Finally, there was a significantly greater reduction in anxiety symptoms in the anxious-distress group compared with the non-anxious distress group following three (p = 0.02) and four infusions (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Patients with TRD and prominent anxiety receiving IV ketamine exhibited a significant reduction in depressive, SI and anxiety symptoms.

McIntyre, R. S., Rodrigues, N. B., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Gill, H., Lui, L. M., Subramaniapillai, M., Kratiuk, K., Teopiz, K., Ho, R., Lee, Y., Mansur, R. B., & Rosenblat, J. D. (2021). The effectiveness of intravenous ketamine in adults with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder presenting with prominent anxiety: Results from the Canadian Rapid Treatment Center of Excellence. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(2), 128–136.

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Compassionate use of psychedelics


In the present paper, we discuss the ethics of compassionate psychedelic psychotherapy and argue that it can be morally permissible. When talking about psychedelics, we mean specifically two substances: psilocybin and MDMA. When administered under supportive conditions and in conjunction with psychotherapy, therapies assisted by these substances show promising results. However, given the publicly controversial nature of psychedelics, compassionate psychedelic psychotherapy calls for ethical justification. We thus review the safety and efficacy of psilocybin- and MDMA-assisted therapies and claim that it can be rational for some patients to try psychedelic therapy. We think it can be rational despite the uncertainty of outcomes associated with compassionate use as an unproven treatment regime, as the expected value of psychedelic psychotherapy can be assessed and can outweigh the expected value of routine care, palliative care, or no care at all. Furthermore, we respond to the objection that psychedelic psychotherapy is morally impermissible because it is epistemically harmful. We argue that given the current level of understanding of psychedelics, this objection is unsubstantiated for a number of reasons, but mainly because there is no experimental evidence to suggest that epistemic harm actually takes place.
Greif, A., & Šurkala, M. (2020). Compassionate use of psychedelics. Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy.,
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The psychoactive aminoalkylbenzofuran derivatives, 5-APB and 6-APB, mimic the effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) on monoamine transmission in male rats


Rationale: The nonmedical use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) is a worldwide public health concern. The so-called “benzofury” compounds, 5-(2-aminopropyl)benzofuran (5-APB) and 6-(2-aminopropyl)benzofuran (6-APB), are NPS with stimulant-like properties in human users. These substances are known to interact with monoamine transporters and 5-HT receptors in transfected cells, but less is known about their effects in animal models.

Methods: Here, we used in vitro monoamine transporter assays in rat brain synaptosomes to characterize the effects of 5-APB and 6-APB, together with their N-methyl derivatives 5-MAPB and 6-MAPB, in comparison with 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). In vivo neurochemical and behavioral effects of 5-APB (0.3 and 1.0 mg/kg, i.v.) and 6-APB (0.3 and 1.0 mg/kg, i.v.) were assessed in comparison with MDA (1.0 and 3.0 mg/kg, i.v.) using microdialysis sampling in the nucleus accumbens of conscious male rats.

Results: All four benzofuran derivatives were substrate-type releasers at dopamine transporters (DAT), norepinephrine transporters (NET), and serotonin transporters (SERT) with nanomolar potencies, similar to the profile of effects produced by MDA and MDMA. However, the benzofurans were at least threefold more potent than MDA and MDMA at evoking transporter-mediated release. Like MDA, both benzofurans induced dose-related elevations in extracellular dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but benzofurans were more potent than MDA. The benzofuran derivatives also induced profound behavioral activation characterized by forward locomotion which lasted for at least 2 h post-injection.

Conclusions: Overall, benzofurans are more potent than MDA in vitro and in vivo, producing sustained stimulant-like effects in rats. These data suggest that benzofuran-type compounds may have abuse liability and could pose risks for adverse effects, especially if used in conjunction with abused drugs or medications which enhance monoamine transmission in the brain.

Brandt, S. D., Walters, H. M., Partilla, J. S., Blough, B. E., Kavanagh, P. V., & Baumann, M. H. (2020). The psychoactive aminoalkylbenzofuran derivatives, 5-APB and 6-APB, mimic the effects of 3, 4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) on monoamine transmission in male rats. Psychopharmacology237(12), 3703-3714; 10.1007/s00213-020-05648-z

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A low dose of lysergic acid diethylamide decreases pain perception in healthy volunteers


Background: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is an ergot alkaloid derivative with psychedelic properties that has been implicated in the management of persistent pain. Clinical studies in the 1960s and 1970s have demonstrated profound analgesic effects of full doses of LSD in terminally ill patients, but this line of research evaporated after LSD was scheduled worldwide.

Aim: The present clinical study is the first to revisit the potential of LSD as an analgesic, and at dose levels which are not expected to produce profound mind-altering effects.

Methods: Twenty-four healthy volunteers received single doses of 5, 10 and 20 µg LSD as well as placebo on separate occasions. A Cold Pressor Test was administered at 1.5 and 5 h after treatment administration to assess pain tolerance to experimentally evoked pain. Ratings of dissociation and psychiatric symptoms as well as assessments of vital signs were included to monitor mental status as well as safety during treatments.

Results: LSD 20 µg significantly increased the time that participants were able to tolerate exposure to cold (3°C) water and decreased their subjective levels of experienced pain and unpleasantness. LSD elevated mean blood pressure within the normal range and slightly increased ratings of dissociation, anxiety and somatization.

Conclusion: The present study provides evidence of a protracted analgesic effect of LSD at a dose that is low enough to avoid a psychedelic experience. The present data warrant further research into the analgesic effects of low doses of LSD in patient populations.

Ramaekers, J. G., Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., … & Kuypers, K. P. (2020). A low dose of lysergic acid diethylamide decreases pain perception in healthy volunteers. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881120940937; 10.1177/0269881120940937
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Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications


Psychedelic drugs and virtual reality (VR) each have the capacity to disrupt the rigidity and limitations of typical conscious experience. This article delineates the parallels among psychedelic and VR states as well as their potential synergistic applications in clinical and recreational settings. Findings indicate that, individually, psychedelics and VR are used in analogous ways to alter sensory experience and evoke awe. They are also both used in tandem with traditional therapies to treat a variety of mood disorders; their shared capacity to transiently alter perspective and disrupt rigid patterns of mental experience may underly their analogous and transdiagnostic therapeutic uses. In terms of their combined applications, a number of recreational users currently utilize psychedelics and VR together to enhance their experience. We propose that VR may be a useful tool for preparing hallucinogen-naïve participants in clinical trials for the sensory distortions experienced in psychedelic states. Given the critical role of “setting” in psychedelic treatment outcomes, we also detail how VR could be used to optimize the environment in psychedelic sessions. Finally, we provide considerations for future studies and detail how advancements in psychedelic and VR research can inform one another. Collectively, this article outlines a number of connections between psychedelics and VR, and, more broadly, is representative of growing scientific interest into the interactions among technology, psychopharmacology, and mental health.

Aday, J. S., Davoli, C. C., & Bloesch, E. K. (2020). Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 10, 2045125320948356.

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The rise, fall, and possible rise of LSD


LSD and other hallucinogens or psychedelics have been therapeutically used in psychiatry in the period between the Second World War and the late 1980s. In the past years renewed interest in the medical sciences for research and therapeutic use of these substances has evolved. AIM: A discussion of contemporary lsd research in the context of earlier research. METHOD: A systematic survey of the literature on the psychiatric use of lsd and the reactions towards lsd use in society. RESULTS: Since 1947 lsd has been therapeutically used in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, post traumatic disorders, and other conditions. Since the early 1960s this use has been criticized because of the danger of evoking psychoses in patients, and because of the rise of a widespread non-medical use. However, there is no consolidated evidence-base for either the positive or the negative outcomes of lsd therapy. CONCLUSION: At this moment it is unpredictable whether lsd will make a comeback in psychiatry. Contemporary research attempts to evade all public controversy and to build up a solid evidence-base. Nevertheless it demonstrates a direct continuity with earlier research.

Snelders, S., & Pieters, T. (2020). The rise, fall, and possible rise of LSD. Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie62(8), 707-712.
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The Current Status of Psychedelics in Psychiatry


In the 1950s, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz, which employed the chemist Albert Hofmann, who discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and the similar serotonergic psychedelic psilocybin, made these drugs available to the psychiatric research community as the products Delysid and Indocybin, respectively. By the 1960s, these drugs had caused a revolution in brain science and psychiatry because of their widespread use by researchers and clinicians in many Western countries, especially the US. Before LSD was banned, the US National Institutes of Health funded more than 130 studies exploring its clinical utility, with positive results in a range of disorders but particularly anxiety, depression, and alcoholism. However, the displacement of LSD into recreational use and eventual association with the anti-Vietnam war movement led to all psychedelics being banned in the US. This ban became ratified globally under the 1971 UN Convention on narcotics. Since then, research funding, drug production, and the study of psychedelics as clinical agents has been virtually stopped. Until very recently, no companies would manufacture medical-grade psychedelics, which made getting regulatory approval for clinical research—especially clinical trials—very difficult and in some countries (eg, Germany) impossible.

Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2021). The current status of psychedelics in psychiatry. JAMA psychiatry78(2), 121-122.; 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2171
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27 June - Spiritual & Existential Dimensions in Psychedelic Care: Challenges & Insights