OPEN Foundation

A. Davis

Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Abstract

Importance: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a substantial public health burden, but current treatments have limited effectiveness and adherence. Recent evidence suggests that 1 or 2 administrations of psilocybin with psychological support produces antidepressant effects in patients with cancer and in those with treatment-resistant depression.

Objective: To investigate the effect of psilocybin therapy in patients with MDD.

Design, setting, and participants: This randomized, waiting list-controlled clinical trial was conducted at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Adults aged 21 to 75 years with an MDD diagnosis, not currently using antidepressant medications, and without histories of psychotic disorder, serious suicide attempt, or hospitalization were eligible to participate. Enrollment occurred between August 2017 and April 2019, and the 4-week primary outcome assessments were completed in July 2019. A total of 27 participants were randomized to an immediate treatment condition group (n = 15) or delayed treatment condition group (waiting list control condition; n = 12). Data analysis was conducted from July 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020, and included participants who completed the intervention (evaluable population).

Interventions: Two psilocybin sessions (session 1: 20 mg/70 kg; session 2: 30 mg/70 kg) were given (administered in opaque gelatin capsules with approximately 100 mL of water) in the context of supportive psychotherapy (approximately 11 hours). Participants were randomized to begin treatment immediately or after an 8-week delay.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome, depression severity was assessed with the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (GRID-HAMD) scores at baseline (score of ≥17 required for enrollment) and weeks 5 and 8 after enrollment for the delayed treatment group, which corresponded to weeks 1 and 4 after the intervention for the immediate treatment group. Secondary outcomes included the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Self Rated (QIDS-SR).

Results: Of the randomized participants, 24 of 27 (89%) completed the intervention and the week 1 and week 4 postsession assessments. This population had a mean (SD) age of 39.8 (12.2) years, was composed of 16 women (67%), and had a mean (SD) baseline GRID-HAMD score of 22.8 (3.9). The mean (SD) GRID-HAMD scores at weeks 1 and 4 (8.0 [7.1] and 8.5 [5.7]) in the immediate treatment group were statistically significantly lower than the scores at the comparable time points of weeks 5 and 8 (23.8 [5.4] and 23.5 [6.0]) in the delayed treatment group. The effect sizes were large at week 5 (Cohen d = 2.5; 95% CI, 1.4-3.5; P < .001) and week 8 (Cohen d = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.5-3.7; P < .001). The QIDS-SR documented a rapid decrease in mean (SD) depression score from baseline to day 1 after session 1 (16.7 [3.5] vs 6.3 [4.4]; Cohen d = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.8-3.5; P < .001), which remained statistically significantly reduced through the week 4 follow-up (6.0 [5.7]; Cohen d = 2.3; 95% CI, 1.5-3.0; P < .001). In the overall sample, 17 participants (71%) at week 1 and 17 (71%) at week 4 had a clinically significant response to the intervention (≥50% reduction in GRID-HAMD score), and 14 participants (58%) at week 1 and 13 participants (54%) at week 4 were in remission (≤7 GRID-HAMD score).

Conclusions and relevance: Findings suggest that psilocybin with therapy is efficacious in treating MDD, thus extending the results of previous studies of this intervention in patients with cancer and depression and of a nonrandomized study in patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03181529.

Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., Finan, P. H., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481–489. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3285

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Naturalistic Use of Mescaline Is Associated with Self-Reported Psychiatric Improvements and Enduring Positive Life Changes

Abstract

Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid that has been used as a sacrament by Indigenous populations in spiritual ritual and healing ceremonies for millennia. Despite promising early preliminary research and favorable anecdotal reports, there is limited research investigating mescaline’s psychotherapeutic potential. We administered an anonymous online questionnaire to adults (N = 452) reporting use of mescaline in naturalistic settings about mental health benefits attributed to mescaline. We assessed respondents’ self-reported improvements in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol and drug use disorders (AUD and DUD). Of the respondents reporting histories of these clinical conditions, most (68-86%) reported subjective improvement following their most memorable mescaline experience. Respondents who reported an improvement in their psychiatric conditions reported significantly higher ratings of acute psychological factors including mystical-type, psychological insight, and ego dissolution effects compared to those who did not report improvements (Cohen’s d range 0.7 – 1.5). Many respondents (35-50%) rated the mescaline experience as the single or top five most spiritually significant or meaningful experience(s) of their lives. Acute experiences of psychological insight during their mescaline experience were associated with increased odds of reporting improvement in depression, anxiety, AUD and DUD. Additional research is needed to corroborate these preliminary findings and to rigorously examine the efficacy of mescaline for psychiatric treatment in controlled, longitudinal clinical trials.

Agin-Liebes, G., Haas, T. F., Lancelotta, R., Uthaug, M. V., Ramaekers, J. G., & Davis, A. K. (2021). Naturalistic Use of Mescaline Is Associated with Self-Reported Psychiatric Improvements and Enduring Positive Life Changes. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 543–552. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsptsci.1c00018

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Predicting Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Systematic Review of States and Traits Related to Acute Drug Effects

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs are increasingly being incorporated into therapeutic contexts for the purposes of promoting mental health. However, they can also induce adverse reactions in some individuals, and it is difficult to predict before treatment who is likely to experience positive or adverse acute effects. Although consideration of setting and dosage as well as excluding individuals with psychotic predispositions has thus far led to a high degree of safety, it is imperative that researchers develop a more nuanced understanding of how to predict individual reactions. To this end, the current systematic review coalesced the results of 14 studies that included baseline states or traits predictive of the acute effects of psychedelics. Individuals high in the traits of absorption, openness, and acceptance as well as a state of surrender were more likely to have positive and mystical-type experiences, whereas those low in openness and surrender or in preoccupied, apprehensive, or confused psychological states were more likely to experience acute adverse reactions. Participant sex was not a robust predictor of drug effects, but 5-HT2AR binding potential, executive network node diversity, and rACC volume may be potential baseline biomarkers related to acute reactions. Finally, increased age and experience with psychedelics were individual differences related to generally less intense effects, indicating that users may become slightly less sensitive to the effects of the drugs after repeated usage. Although future well-powered, placebo-controlled trials directly comparing the relative importance of these predictors is needed, this review synthesizes the field’s current understanding of how to predict acute reactions to psychedelic drugs.

Aday, J. S., Davis, A. K., Mitzkovitz, C. M., Bloesch, E. K., & Davoli, C. C. (2021). Predicting Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Systematic Review of States and Traits Related to Acute Drug Effects. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 424–435. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsptsci.1c00014

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Development of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire among a sample of people who have consumed psilocybin or LSD

Abstract

Background: Several measures have been developed to examine acute psychedelic effects (e.g. mystical-type and challenging experiences), but no measure assesses acute psychologically insightful experiences that may occur during psychedelic experiences.

Aim: The purpose of this study was to develop and examine the psychometric properties of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire.

Method: A cross-sectional survey study among psilocybin and LSD users. Respondents (n=1661; Mage=22.9, standard deviation=8.5; Caucasian/White=83%; non-Hispanic=91%; men=72%; United States resident=66%) completed an Internet-based survey.

Results: The Psychological Insight Questionnaire consists of 23 items with two subscales: (a) Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns Insights and (b) Goals and Adaptive Patterns Insights. Construct validity of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire was supported by strong correlations of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire (and Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns Insights and Goals and Adaptive Patterns Insights subscales) scores with the insight subscale of the Session Impacts Scale, and weak-to-moderate correlations with the Mystical Experiences and Challenging Experiences Questionnaires. Furthermore, Psychological Insight Questionnaire (and Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns Insights and Goals and Adaptive Patterns Insights subscales) scores were moderately-to-strongly correlated with retrospectively reported increases in psychological flexibility, and well-being/life satisfaction that were attributed to a memorable psychedelic experience. Lastly, incremental validity was established showing that the Psychological Insight Questionnaire (and Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns Insights subscale) scores predict unique variance in changes in psychological flexibility, and Psychological Insight Questionnaire (and Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns Insights and Goals and Adaptive Patterns Insights subscales) scores predict changes in well-being and life satisfaction, beyond measures of acute mystical-type and challenging effects.

Conclusions: The Psychological Insight Questionnaire has the potential to extend the understanding of the acute and enduring effects of psychedelics. Further longitudinal research is necessary to determine the long-term predictive validity of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire and to examine the role of psychological insight in predicting therapeutic outcomes.

Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., So, S., Gukasyan, N., Swift, T. C., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Development of the Psychological Insight Questionnaire among a sample of people who have consumed psilocybin or LSD. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 437–446. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120967878

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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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A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Abstract

After a two-decade hiatus in which research on psychedelics was essentially halted, placebo-controlled clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy for mental health conditions have begun to be published. We identified nine randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy published since 1994. Studies examined psilocybin, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), ayahuasca (which contains a combination of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and harmala monoamine oxidase inhibitor alkaloids), and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). We compared the standardized mean difference between the experimental and placebo control group at the primary endpoint. Results indicated a significant mean between-groups effect size of 1.21 (Hedges g), which is larger than the typical effect size found in trials of psychopharmacological or psychotherapy interventions. For the three studies that maintained a placebo control through a follow-up assessment, effects were generally maintained at follow-up. Overall, analyses support the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy across four mental health conditions – post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety/depression associated with a life-threatening illness, unipolar depression, and social anxiety among autistic adults. While study quality was high, we identify several areas for improvement regarding the conduct and reporting of trials. Larger trials with more diverse samples are needed to examine possible moderators and mediators of effects, and to establish whether effects are maintained over time.
Luoma, J. B., Chwyl, C., Bathje, G. J., Davis, A. K., & Lancelotta, R. (2020). A Meta-analysis of Placebo-controlled Trials of Psychedelic-assisted Therapy. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1-11., https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1769878
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Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review

Abstract

Research into the basic effects and therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs has grown considerably in recent years. Yet, pressing questions remain regarding the substances’ lasting effects. Although individual studies have begun monitoring sustained changes, no study to-date has synthesized this information. Therefore, this systematic review aims to fill this important gap in the literature by synthesizing results from 34 contemporary experimental studies which included classic psychedelics, human subjects, and follow-up latencies of at least two weeks. The bulk of this work was published in the last five years, with psilocybin being the most frequently administered drug. Enduring changes in personality/attitudes, depression, spirituality, anxiety, wellbeing, substance misuse, meditative practices, and mindfulness were documented. Mystical experiences, connectedness, emotional breakthrough, and increased neural entropy were related to these long-term changes in psychological functioning. Finally, with proper screening, preparation, supervision, and integration, limited aversive side effects were noted by study participants. Future researchers should focus on including larger and more diverse samples, lengthier longitudinal designs, stronger control conditions, and standardized dosages.

Aday, J. S., Mitzkovitz, C. M., Bloesch, E. K., Davoli, C. C., & Davis, A. K. (2020). Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews., 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.017
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Use of Benefit Enhancement Strategies among 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) Users: Associations with Mystical, Challenging, and Enduring Effects.

Abstract

5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) is a potent, fast-acting psychedelic. Anecdotal reports from 5-MeO-DMT users suggest that they employ a variety of benefit enhancement (BE) strategies aimed to increase positive effects and decrease any potential challenging effects of the substance, but no empirical study has investigated this claim. We examined the prevalence of BE strategy use using secondary data from a survey of 5-MeO-DMT users (n = 515; Mage = 35.4, SD = 11.7; Male = 79%; White/Caucasian = 86%). Results indicated that BE strategy use was common in this sample. As a secondary aim, we assessed whether the use of BE strategies was associated with acute subjective (i.e., mystical-type, challenging) and persisting effects of 5-MeO-DMT among a subset of respondents who reported using 5-MeO-DMT once in their lifetime (n = 116). Results showed that the use of several BE strategies were associated with significantly more intense mystical-type effects and enduring beliefs about the personal meaning and spiritual significance of their experience, and some BE strategies were associated with less intense or challenging experiences. Data suggests that BE strategies are commonly used, and that the use of BE strategies may be associated with increases in positive mystical-type and enduring effects. The causal influence of BE strategies on acute/persisting effects of 5-MeO-DMT should be examined in longitudinal research.

Lancelotta, R. L., & Davis, A. K. (2020). Use of benefit enhancement strategies among 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) users: Associations with mystical, challenging, and enduring effects. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1-9.,10.1080/02791072.2020.1737763
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Persisting Reductions in Cannabis, Opioid, and Stimulant Misuse After Naturalistic Psychedelic Use: An Online Survey.

Abstract

Background: Observational data and preliminary studies suggest serotonin 2A agonist psychedelics may hold potential in treating a variety of substance use disorders (SUDs), including opioid use disorder (OUD).

Aims: The study aim was to describe and analyze self-reported cases in which naturalistic psychedelic use was followed by cessation or reduction in other substance use.

Methods: An anonymous online survey of individuals reporting cessation or reduction in cannabis, opioid, or stimulant use following psychedelic use in non-clinical settings.

Results: Four hundred forty-four respondents, mostly in the USA (67%) completed the survey. Participants reported 4.5 years of problematic substance use on average before the psychedelic experience to which they attributed a reduction in drug consumption, with 79% meeting retrospective criteria for severe SUD. Most reported taking a moderate or high dose of LSD (43%) or psilocybin-containing mushrooms (29%), followed by significant reduction in drug consumption. Before the psychedelic experience 96% met SUD criteria, whereas only 27% met SUD criteria afterward. Participants rated their psychedelic experience as highly meaningful and insightful, with 28% endorsing psychedelic-associated changes in life priorities or values as facilitating reduced substance misuse. Greater psychedelic dose, insight, mystical-type effects, and personal meaning of experiences were associated with greater reduction in drug consumption.

Conclusions: While these cross-sectional and self-report methods cannot determine whether psychedelics caused changes in drug use, results suggest the potential that psychedelics cause reductions in problematic substance use, and support additional clinical research on psychedelic-assisted treatment for SUD.

Garcia-Romeu, A., Davis, A. K., Erowid, E., Griffiths, R. R., & Johnson, M. W. (2020). Persisting reductions in cannabis, opioid, and stimulant misuse after naturalistic psychedelic use: An online survey. Frontiers in psychiatry10, 955; 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00955
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Prospective examination of synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine inhalation: effects on salivary IL-6, cortisol levels, affect, and non-judgment

Abstract

Rationale

5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine is a psychotropic substance found in various plant and animal species and is synthetically produced. 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine is used in naturalistic settings for spiritual exploration, recreation, or to address negative affect and mood problems. However, scientific knowledge on the effects of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in humans is scarce.

Objectives

The first objective was to assess the effects of inhalation of vaporized synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine on neuroendocrine markers. The second objective was to assess effects of the substance on affect and mindfulness. In addition, we assessed whether ratings of subjective measures were associated with changes in stress biomarkers (i.e., cortisol) and immune response (i.e., IL-6, CRP, IL-1β), as well as the acute psychedelic experience.

Methods

Assessments (baseline, immediately post-session, and 7-day follow-up) were made in 11 participants. Salivary samples were collected at baseline and post-session and analyzed by high-sensitivity enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

Results

5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine significantly increased cortisol levels and decreased IL-6 concentrations in saliva immediately post-session. These changes were not correlated to ratings of mental health or the psychedelic experience. Relative to baseline, ratings of non-judgment significantly increased, and ratings of depression decreased immediately post-session and at follow-up. Ratings of anxiety and stress decreased from baseline to 7-day follow-up. Participant ratings of the psychedelic experience correlated negatively with ratings of affect and positively with ratings of non-judgment.

Conclusion

Inhalation of vaporized synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine produced significant changes in inflammatory markers, improved affect, and non-judgment in volunteers. Future research should examine the effect of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamineamine with healthy volunteers in a controlled laboratory setting.

Uthaug, M. V., Lancelotta, R., Szabo, A., Davis, A. K., Riba, J., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2019). Prospective examination of synthetic 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine inhalation: effects on salivary IL-6, cortisol levels, affect, and non-judgment. Psychopharmacology, 1-13., 10.1007/s00213-019-05414-w
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