OPEN Foundation

Salvia / Salvinorin A

Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety


There has recently been a renewal of human research with classical hallucinogens (psychedelics). This paper first briefly discusses the unique history of human hallucinogen research, and then reviews the risks of hallucinogen administration and safeguards for minimizing these risks. Although hallucinogens are relatively safe physiologically and are not considered drugs of dependence, their administration involves unique psychological risks. The most likely risk is overwhelming distress during drug action (‘bad trip’), which could lead to potentially dangerous behaviour such as leaving the study site. Less common are prolonged psychoses triggered by hallucinogens. Safeguards against these risks include the exclusion of volunteers with personal or family history of psychotic disorders or other severe psychiatric disorders, establishing trust and rapport between session monitors and volunteer before the session, careful volunteer preparation, a safe physical session environment and interpersonal support from at least two study monitors during the session. Investigators should probe for the relatively rare hallucinogen persisting perception disorder in follow-up contact. Persisting adverse reactions are rare when research is conducted along these guidelines. Incautious research may jeopardize participant safety and future research. However, carefully conducted research may inform the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and may lead to advances in basic science.

Johnson, M. W., Richards, W. A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2008). Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety.  Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 603–620.
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Hallucinogenic botanicals of America: A growing need for focused drug education and research


Botanical sources for medicines in America have been known since long before the arrival of Columbus. Nevertheless, both scientists and the general public are often unaware that some of these botanical drugs are also potent intoxicants. We provide a quick overview of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs harvested from nature or that are openly and legally cultivated in the United States. Examples of harmful outcomes reported in the media are contrasted with existing responsible ingestion by others, some of whom have the protected right to do so for traditional or sacramental religious purposes. Despite an ongoing and expensive effort to warn people of the potential harms of recreational drug use, little is known about the extent of use of these psychoactive botanicals, and the recent explosion of information available via the Internet could herald a storm of morbidity to come. Mounting more targeted research and educational efforts today may reduce later use and abuse, inform society about the special circumstances of religious use, and better prepare clinicians and other health care providers about the issues involved when people choose to indigenously source psychoactive drugs for human consumption.

Halpern, J. H., & Sewell, R. A. (2005). Hallucinogenic botanicals of America: A growing need for focused drug education and research. Life sciences, 78(5), 519-526.
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Screening the receptorome for plant-based psychoactive compounds


Throughout time, humans have used psychoactive plants and plant-derived products for spiritual, therapeutic and recreational purposes. Furthermore, the investigation of psychoactive plants such as Cannabis sativa (marijuana), Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco) and analogues of psychoactive plant derivatives such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) have provided insight into our understanding of neurochemical processes and diseases of the CNS. Currently, many of these compounds are being used to treat a variety of diseases, such as depression and anxiety in the case of Piper methysticum Kava Kava (Martin et al., 2002; Singh and Singh, 2002). G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the most common molecular target for both psychoactive drugs and pharmaceuticals. The “receptorome” (that portion of the genome encoding ligand reception) encompasses more than 8% of the human genome (Roth et al., 2004) and as such provides a large number of possible targets for psychoactive drug interactions. A systematic, comprehensive study is necessary to identify novel active psychoactive plant-based compounds and the molecular targets of known compounds. Herein we describe the development of a high throughput system (HTS) to screen psychoactive compounds against the receptorome and present two examples (Salvia divinorum, the “magic mint” hallucinogen and Banisteriopsis caapi, the main component of Ayahuasca, a psychoactive beverage) where HTS enabled the identification of the molecular target of each compound.

O’connor, K. A., & Roth, B. L. (2005). Screening the receptorome for plant-based psychoactive compounds. Life sciences, 78(5), 506-511. 10.1016/j.lfs.2005.09.002
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Hallucinogens and dissociative agents naturally growing in the United States


It is usually believed that drugs of abuse are smuggled into the United States or are clandestinely produced for illicit distribution. Less well known is that many hallucinogens and dissociative agents can be obtained from plants and fungi growing wild or in gardens. Some of these botanical sources can be located throughout the United States; others have a more narrow distribution. This article reviews plants containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine, reversible type A monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), lysergic acid amide, the anticholinergic drugs atropine and scopolamine, or the diterpene salvinorin-A (Salvia divinorum). Also reviewed are mescaline-containing cacti, psilocybin/psilocin-containing mushrooms, and the Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina mushrooms that contain muscimol and ibotenic acid. Dangerous misidentification is most common with the mushrooms, but even a novice forager can quickly learn how to properly identify and prepare for ingestion many of these plants. Moreover, through the ever-expanding dissemination of information via the Internet, this knowledge is being obtained and acted upon by more and more individuals. This general overview includes information on the geographical range, drug content, preparation, intoxication, and the special health risks associated with some of these plants. Information is also offered on the unique issue of when bona fide religions use such plants as sacraments in the United States. In addition to the Native American Church’s (NAC) longstanding right to peyote, two religions of Brazilian origin, the Santo Daime and the Uniao do Vegetal (UDV), are seeking legal protection in the United States for their use of sacramental dimethyltryptamine-containing “ayahuasca.”

Halpern, J. H. (2004). Hallucinogens and dissociative agents naturally growing in the United States. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 102(2), 131-138.
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Hallucinogens: An update


Research of hallucinogen abuse rarely extends beyond epidemiology and observed pathology. Even less research has been completed on the special circumstances surrounding the religious use of hallucinogens or on potential therapeutic applications. Rather than offer another basic review on the well-known hazards of illicit hallucinogen use, this paper provides an overview and practice recommendations on compounds the clinician may be less familiar with, such as the botanical plant Salvia divinorum, the drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“ecstasy”) and synthetic hallucinogen analogs. The often-warned, but rarely occurring, hazard of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (“flashbacks”) is also reviewed with treatment recommendations provided. The current status of clinical research with the hallucinogens is presented, with case vignettes suggesting hallucinogens may have anti-addictive applications. The special circumstances surrounding the religious, nondrug use of hallucinogens as sacred sacraments in the US and elsewhere are also presented. It is hoped that the reader will gain a more nuanced understanding of how these physiologically nonaddictive drugs may offer legitimate benefits in modern society. By appreciating that such benefits may one day be borne out by careful, methodologically sound research, clinicians should be better armed in raising the topic of hallucinogen use and abuse with their patients.

Halpern, J. H. (2003). Hallucinogens: an update. Current psychiatry reports, 5(5), 347-354.

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Do entheogen-induced mystical experiences boost the immune system? Psychedelics, peak experiences, and wellness


Daily events that boost the immune system (as indicated by levels of salivary immunoglobulin A), some instances of spontaneous remission, and mystical experiences seem to share a similar cluster of thoughts, feelings, moods, perceptions, and behaviors. Entheogens – psychedelic drugs used in a religious context – can also produce mystical experiences (peak experiences, states of unitive consciousness, intense primary religious experiences) with the same cluster of effects. When this happens, is it also possible that such entheogen-induced mystical experiences strengthen the immune system? Might spontaneous remissions occur more frequently under such conditions? This article advances the so called “Emxis hypothesis” – that entheogen-induced mystical experiences influence the immune system.

Roberts, T. B. (1999). Do entheogen-induced mystical experiences boost the immune system? Psychedelics, peak experiences, and wellness. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, 15, 139-147.
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Placeboing with Psychedelics

Letter to the editor

When we consider the so-called “placebo effect,” we should realize that it is not something mysterious that merely happens on its own. It is something we do with our minds that effects our bodies. To be more accurate: we placebo. To placebo is a verb. Our minds plus our bodies do this, and like any other human activity we can speak of placeboing. When looked at this way, we can ask: How do we placebo? and Can we learn placeboing more skillfully?

A clue comes from studies of stress and emotions in the immune system. It is widely known that negative emotions and stressful life events weaken the immune system, while positive emotions and life events strengthen it. Since positive life events strengthen our immune system, here is a clue to learning to placebo.

A common healing cluster of positive feelings and thoughts accompany many instances of spontaneous remission and spiritual healing. These include feelings of exceedingly positive mood, being cared for in the hands of a loving power, dropping stress, feelings of sacredness, feeling at home in the world, among others. Thoughts include a sense of temporarily transcending one’s identity, forgiving oneself and others, overwhelming gratitude, and increased sense of reality—this is the way things really are and ought to be.

If we can reproduce this cluster, we will be on the way to learning to placebo. Various mindbody techniques including meditation, imagery, contemplative prayer, yoga, the martial arts, breathing techniques, hypnosis, and chanting all suggest a yes answer to this question, and more research to follow these apparent leads may lead to learning how to use these mindbody methods to increase our placeboing skills by strengthening our immune systems.

Do examples of extreme positive emotional states produce extreme healing? The recent flurry of articles about current research into exploring the psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics for post traumatic stress disorder, death anxiety, and other disorders show that these substances are successful when they produce states of unitive consciousness (mystical experiences) and not successful when they do not.

Lost in this discussion is that fact that mystical experiences are the most powerful emotionally positive experiences humans can have, and if normal daily positive events boost the immune system somewhat, do these strongest positive experiences boost it a great deal?

Can this spontaneous cluster of healing thoughts and feelings be recreated in a medical setting? As a 2008 Johns Hopkins study of psilocybin induced mystical experiences showed, under the right conditions and with careful screening, preparation, and professional guidance, psychedelic sessions can produce mystical experiences and a similar cluster of emotions and experiences in normal, healthy, adult volunteers. In a 14-month following up, volunteers’ comments illustrated this healing cluster:

– The utter joy and freedom of letting go—without anxiety—without direction— beyond ego self.
– The understanding that in the eyes of God—all people—were equally important and equally loved by God.
– When I confronted my shadow and yelled “What do you want?” and it disappeared in a puff smoke.

Among the other outcomes were positive mood changes, improved sense of well-being and life satisfaction, positive attitudes about life and/or self, and altruistic social effects. About two-thirds of healthy adults rated as one of the five most important spiritual experiences of their lives, including about one-third who rated them as the single most important spiritual experience of their lives. However, the researchers did not measure possible effects on the immune system.

A question on placeboing: Do overwhelmingly powerful peak experiences stimulated by psychedelics as part of professionally guided sessions boost the immune system? A possible major advance in mindbody health awaits an answer.

Roberts, T. B. (1987). Is There a Placebo Ability? Advances: Journal of the Institute for the Advancement of Health, 4(1), 5.

27 June - Spiritual & Existential Dimensions in Psychedelic Care: Challenges & Insights