OPEN Foundation

Phenomenology

Hallucinations Under Psychedelics and in the Schizophrenia Spectrum: An Interdisciplinary and Multiscale Comparison

Abstract

The recent renaissance of psychedelic science has reignited interest in the similarity of drug-induced experiences to those more commonly observed in psychiatric contexts such as the schizophrenia-spectrum. This report from a multidisciplinary working group of the International Consortium on Hallucinations Research (ICHR) addresses this issue, putting special emphasis on hallucinatory experiences. We review evidence collected at different scales of understanding, from pharmacology to brain-imaging, phenomenology and anthropology, highlighting similarities and differences between hallucinations under psychedelics and in the schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Finally, we attempt to integrate these findings using computational approaches and conclude with recommendations for future research.

Leptourgos, P., Fortier-Davy, M., Carhart-Harris, R., Corlett, P. R., Dupuis, D., Halberstadt, A. L., Kometer, M., Kozakova, E., LarØi, F., Noorani, T. N., Preller, K. H., Waters, F., Zaytseva, Y., & Jardri, R. (2020). Hallucinations Under Psychedelics and in the Schizophrenia Spectrum: An Interdisciplinary and Multiscale Comparison. Schizophrenia bulletin, 46(6), 1396–1408. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbaa117

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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102997

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Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study

Abstract

There is a popular interest in microdosing with psychedelics such as LSD. This practice of using one-tenth of a full psychedelic dose according to a specific dosing schedule, anecdotally enhances mood and performance. Nonetheless, controlled research on the efficacy of microdosing is scarce. The main objective of the present dose-finding study was to determine the minimal dose of LSD needed to affect mood and cognition. A placebo-controlled within-subject study including 24 healthy participants, was conducted to assess the acute effects of three LSD doses (5, 10, and 20 mcg) on measures of cognition, mood, and subjective experience, up until 6 h after administration. Cognition and subjective experience were assessed using the Psychomotor Vigilance Task, Digit Symbol Substitution Test, Cognitive Control Task, Profile of Mood States, and 5-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness rating scale. LSD showed positive effects in the majority of observations by increasing positive mood (20 mcg), friendliness (5, 20 mcg), arousal (5 mcg), and decreasing attentional lapses (5, 20 mcg). Negative effects manifested as an increase in confusion (20 mcg) and anxiety (5, 20 mcg). Psychedelic-induced changes in waking consciousness were also present (10, 20 mcg). Overall, the present study demonstrated selective, beneficial effects of low doses of LSD on mood and cognition in the majority of observations. The minimal LSD dose at which subjective and performance effects are notable is 5 mcg and the most apparent effects were visible after 20 mcg.

Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J. G., & Kuypers, K. (2020). Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study. European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 41, 81–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2020.10.002

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Acute dose-dependent effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy subjects

Abstract

Growing interest has been seen in using lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in psychiatric research and therapy. However, no modern studies have evaluated subjective and autonomic effects of different and pharmaceutically well-defined doses of LSD. We used a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design in 16 healthy subjects (eight women, eight men) who underwent six 25 h sessions and received placebo, LSD (25, 50, 100, and 200 µg), and 200 µg LSD 1 h after administration of the serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine-2A (5-HT2A) receptor antagonist ketanserin (40 mg). Test days were separated by at least 10 days. Outcome measures included self-rating scales that evaluated subjective effects, autonomic effects, adverse effects, plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels, and pharmacokinetics up to 24 h. The pharmacokinetic-subjective response relationship was evaluated. LSD showed dose-proportional pharmacokinetics and first-order elimination and dose-dependently induced subjective responses starting at the 25 µg dose. A ceiling effect was observed for good drug effects at 100 µg. The 200 µg dose of LSD induced greater ego dissolution than the 100 µg dose and induced significant anxiety. The average duration of subjective effects increased from 6.7 to 11 h with increasing doses of 25-200 µg. LSD moderately increased blood pressure and heart rate. Ketanserin effectively prevented the response to 200 µg LSD. The LSD dose-response curve showed a ceiling effect for subjective good effects, and ego dissolution and anxiety increased further at a dose above 100 µg. These results may assist with dose finding for future LSD research. The full psychedelic effects of LSD are primarily mediated by serotonin 5-HT2A receptor activation.

Holze, F., Vizeli, P., Ley, L., Müller, F., Dolder, P., Stocker, M., Duthaler, U., Varghese, N., Eckert, A., Borgwardt, S., & Liechti, M. E. (2021). Acute dose-dependent effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 46(3), 537–544. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-00883-6

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Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125320948356

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Depression, Mindfulness, and Psilocybin: Possible Complementary Effects of Mindfulness Meditation and Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression. A Review

Abstract

Depression is a major public health problem that affects approximately 4.4% of the global population. Since conventional pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies are only partially effective, as demonstrated by the number of patients failing to achieve remission, alternative treatments are needed. Mindfulness meditation (MM) and psilocybin represent two promising novel treatments that might even have complementary therapeutic effects when combined. Since the current literature is limited to theoretical and empirical underpinnings of either treatment alone, the present review aimed to identify possible complementary effects that may be relevant to the treatment of depression. To that end, the individual effects of MM and psilocybin, and their underlying working mechanisms, were compared on a non-exhaustive selection of six prominent psychological and biological processes that are well known to show impairments in patients suffering from major depression disorder, that is mood, executive functioning, social skills, neuroplasticity, core neural networks, and neuroendocrine and neuroimmunological levels. Based on predefined search strings used in two online databases (PubMed and Google Scholar) 1129 articles were identified. After screening title and abstract for relevance related to the question, 82 articles were retained and 11 were added after reference list search, resulting in 93 articles included in the review. Findings show that MM and psilocybin exert similar effects on mood, social skills, and neuroplasticity; different effects were found on executive functioning, neural core networks, and neuroendocrine and neuroimmune system markers. Potential mechanisms of MM’s effects are enhanced affective self-regulation through mental strategies, optimization of stress reactivity, and structural and functional adjustments of prefrontal and limbic areas; psilocybin’s effects might be established via attenuation of cognitive associations through deep personal insights, cognitive disinhibition, and global neural network disintegration. It is suggested that, when used in combination, MM and psilocybin could exert complementary effects by potentiating or prolonging mutual positive effects, for example, MM potentially facilitating psilocybin-induced peak experiences. Future placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trials focusing on psilocybin-assisted mindfulness-based therapy will provide knowledge about whether the proposed combination of therapies maximizes their efficacy in the treatment of depression or depressive symptomatology.

Heuschkel, K., & Kuypers, K. P. (2020). Depression, Mindfulness, and Psilocybin: Possible Complementary Effects of Mindfulness Meditation and Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression. A Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry11., https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00224
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Experience of Music Used With Psychedelic Therapy: A Rapid Review and Implications.

Abstract

Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music emerged following discontinuation of psychedelic therapy research in the early 1970s, but psychedelic therapy research has since revived. Music remains a vital component. This study examined participants’ experiences of music in psychedelic therapy research. A rapid review of qualitative and quantitative journal articles in four major databases was conducted in February to April, 2019, using the terms hallucinogens, psychedelic, “lysergic acid diethylamide,” psilocybin, ayahuasca, music, and/or “music therapy.” Of 406 articles retrieved, 10 were included (n = 180; 18-69 years old). Participants had varied backgrounds. Music was widely considered integral for meaningful emotional and imagery experiences and self-exploration during psychedelic therapy. Music transformed through its elicitation of anthropomorphic, transportive, synesthetic, and material sensations. Music could convey love, carry listeners to other realms, be something to “hold,” inspire, and elicit a deep sense of embodied transformation. Therapeutic influence was especially evident in music’s dichotomous elicitations: Music could simultaneously anchor and propel. Participant openness to music and provision of participant-centered music were associated with optimal immediate and longer-term outcomes. Many studies reported scarce details about the music used and incidental findings of music experienced. Further understanding of participants’ idiosyncratic and shared responses to music during drug therapy phases will inform optimal development of flexible music protocols which enhance psychedelic therapy. Music therapists could be involved in the psychedelic therapy research renaissance through assisting with research to optimize music-based protocols used. If psychedelics become approved medicines, music therapists may be involved in offering psychedelic therapy as part of therapeutic teams.

O’Callaghan, C., Hubik, D. J., Dwyer, J., Williams, M., & Ross, M. (2020). Experience of Music Used With Psychedelic Therapy: A Rapid Review and Implications. Journal of Music Therapy., https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/thaa006
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Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences

Abstract

Historical research about the use of psychedelics in specific religious contexts can provide rational explanations for visionary experiences that could otherwise be cause to question the mental health of religious actors. Reversely, if historians ignore or overlook empirical evidence for the use of psychedelics, the result can be that normal and even predictable reactions of healthy subjects to the effects of psychedelic substances are arbitrarily interpreted as ‘irrational’.

AIM: To describe the meaning of the psychedelic factor in historical visionary experiences.

METHOD: Discussion based on three examples of selective use of historical sources on psychedelics.

RESULTS: This theme is of broader relevance to cultural history and scientific theory because we are typically dealing with religious practices that have traditionally been categorized as ‘magic’ and thereby classified in advance as irrational and potentially pathological. The article discusses three historical examples: the so-called Mithras Liturgy from Roman Egypt, early modern witches’ ointments, and spiritual use of hashish in the nineteenth century.

CONCLUSION: Established academics often deny the significance of psychedelics in visionary experiences. Discussion of pre-Enlightenment source material appears to be of considerable importance for the correct interpretation of important religious and cultural traditions. Critical empirical source research without prejudices or implicit agendas is the appropriate method.

Hanegraaff, W. J. (2020). Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences. Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie62(8), 713-720.
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Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects

Abstract

Both psychedelics and meditation exert profound modulatory effects on consciousness, perception and cognition, but their combined, possibly synergistic effects on neurobiology are unknown. Accordingly, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 38 participants following a single administration of the psychedelic psilocybin (315 μg/kg p.o.) during a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Brain dynamics were quantified directly pre- and post-intervention by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the resting state and two meditation forms. The analysis of functional connectivity identified psilocybin-related and mental state–dependent alterations in self-referential processing regions of the default mode network (DMN). Notably, decoupling of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, which is thought to mediate sense of self, was associated with the subjective ego dissolution effect during the psilocybin-assisted mindfulness session. The extent of ego dissolution and brain connectivity predicted positive changes in psycho-social functioning of participants 4 months later. Psilocybin, combined with meditation, facilitated neurodynamic modulations in self-referential networks, subserving the process of meditation by acting along the anterior–posterior DMN connection. The study highlights the link between altered self-experience and subsequent behavioral changes. Understanding how interventions facilitate transformative experiences may open novel therapeutic perspectives. Insights into the biology of discrete mental states foster our understanding of non-ordinary forms of human self-consciousness and their concomitant brain substrate.

Smigielski, L., Scheidegger, M., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects. NeuroImage196, 207-215., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.04.009
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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
METHODS:
Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
RESULTS:
Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
CONCLUSIONS:
Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119855974., https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881119855974
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