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Psychology

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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1111/acps.13249

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Effect of Ketamine on Rumination in Treatment-Resistant Depressive Patients

Abstract

Background: A rapid antidepressant effect of ketamine has repeatedly been documented in the literature, and identifying clinical features associated with a better response to this treatment is currently an essential question. Considering the relationship between rumination and depression and the need to identify potential predictors of response to ketamine, we analyzed the effect of a single injection of ketamine 0.5 mg/kg on rumination in treatment-resistant depressive (TRD) patients and explored whether baseline ruminative style and early improvements of rumination would predict a greater antidepressant effect of ketamine.

Methods: Ten TRD outpatients who participated in a 4-week open study on the antidepressant effect of ketamine also completed the Ruminative Response Scale the day before, the day after, and a week after ketamine administration.

Results: We found that in our patients, a single rapid 1-minute intravenous injection of ketamine 0.5 mg/kg was efficacious in reducing rumination, but neither severity of rumination at baseline nor early improvements of rumination after ketamine injection predicted antidepressant response.

Conclusions: Our preliminary data suggest that a single injection of ketamine 0.5 mg/kg can be efficacious in reducing rumination in TRD patients but rumination does not seem to be a useful clinical predictor of response to ketamine. Larger studies are necessary to confirm these results.

Vidal, S., Jermann, F., Aubry, J. M., Richard-Lepouriel, H., & Kosel, M. (2020). Effect of Ketamine on Rumination in Treatment-Resistant Depressive Patients. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 40(6), 607–610. https://doi.org/10.1097/JCP.0000000000001305

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Neurocognitive impact of ketamine treatment in major depressive disorder: A review on human and animal studies – PubMed

Abstract

Background: Most recent evidence support a rapid and sustained antidepressant effect of subanesthetic dose of intravenous ketamine in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). However, clinical and animal studies investigating the effects of intravenous ketamine on specific functional domains disrupted by depression reported conflicting results. Therefore, the aim of this review is to provide an overview of the recent findings exploring the cognitive effects of ketamine in depression.
Methods: After a bibliographic search on PubMed, Medline and PsycInfo, we retrieved 11 original studies meeting our research criteria, 7 in humans with MDD or Treatment Resistant Disorder and 4 using rats models for depression.
Results: Overall the results showed that a) ketamine reduced activation and normalized connectivity measures of several brain regions related to depressive behaviors and reversed deficits in cognitive flexibility and coping response strategy in rats with depressive features, and b) ketamine leads to a no significant impairment on neurocognitive functions in most of the studies, with only three studies observing improvements in speed of processing, verbal learning, sustained attention and response control, verbal and working memory.
Limitations: The methodological heterogeneity, in terms of neuropsychological tests used and cognitive domain explored, of the studies included.
Conclusions: Most of the studies included showed no significant cognitive impairments in MDD patients after ketamine treatment. Furthermore, the results of the fMRI studies considered suggest that ketamine may have a normalizing effect on brain functions during attentional and emotional processing in MDD patients. However, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary evidences.
Crisanti, C., Enrico, P., Fiorentini, A., Delvecchio, G., & Brambilla, P. (2020). Neurocognitive impact of ketamine treatment in major depressive disorder: A review on human and animal studies. Journal of Affective Disorders., 10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.119
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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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05692-9

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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph13110334

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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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Psychedelic Psychiatry: Preparing for Novel Treatments Involving Altered States of Consciousness

Abstract

The past decade has seen a renaissance of research interest into the psychotherapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds. In 2019, Oakland and Denver became the first two jurisdictions in the United States to decriminalize the possession of psychedelic-containing organisms. As research and public policy continue to evolve, it becomes increasingly plausible that psychedelics will become viable treatment options for psychiatric conditions. Psychiatrists should be integral to models of psychedelic prescription and patient management. The risk for adverse psychological and medical effects from psychedelic sessions necessitates psychiatric supervision. The literature on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy may provide wisdom regarding practical aspects of managing patients’ treatment sessions.

Holoyda B. (2020). Psychedelic Psychiatry: Preparing for Novel Treatments Involving Altered States of Consciousness. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 71(12), 1297–1299. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.202000213

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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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120954048

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Potential safety, benefits, and influence of the placebo effect in microdosing psychedelic drugs: A systematic review

Abstract

Microdosing psychedelic drugs-that is, taking sub-behavioral doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin-is a growing practice in Western societies. Taken mainly for creative or mood-enhancing purposes, thousands of users are increasingly being exposed to (micro)doses of psychedelic drugs. In this systematic review, we searched the available evidence from human studies, focusing our results in terms of three main axes: efficacy, safety, and the influence of the placebo effect in microdosing practices. While the available evidence has some strengths (e.g. large sample sizes, robust methodologies) there are also remarkable limitations (e.g. gender bias, heterogeneity of dosing schedules and drugs used). Highly contradictory results have been found, showing both the benefits and detriments of microdosing in terms of mood, creative processes, and energy, among other regards. This review provides a general overview of the methods and approaches used, which could be useful for improving future studies.

Ona, G., & Bouso, J. C. (2020). Potential safety, benefits, and influence of the placebo effect in microdosing psychedelic drugs: A systematic review. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 119, 194–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.09.035

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