OPEN Foundation

D. Erritzoe

Psychedelic Psychiatry’s Brave New World

Abstract

After a legally mandated, decades-long global arrest of research on psychedelic drugs, investigation of psychedelics in the context of psychiatric disorders is yielding exciting results. Outcomes of neuroscience and clinical research into 5-Hydroxytryptamine 2A (5-HT2A) receptor agonists, such as psilocybin, show promise for addressing a range of serious disorders, including depression and addiction.

Nutt, D., Erritzoe, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2020). Psychedelic Psychiatry’s Brave New World. Cell181(1), 24-28.
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Recreational use of psychedelics is associated with elevated personality trait openness: Exploration of associations with brain serotonin markers

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Recent studies have suggested therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for a variety of mental health conditions. The understanding of how single psychedelic administrations can induce long-lasting effects are, in large, still lacking. However, recent studies in both healthy and clinical populations suggest a role for personality changes.

AIM:

To test support for some of these plausible mechanisms we evaluated (cross-sectional) associations between recreational use of psychedelics and 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and (a) personality measures and (b) key markers of cerebral serotonergic signalling (serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding).

METHODS:

In 10 psychedelic-preferring recreational users, 14 MDMA-preferring users and 21 non-using controls, personality was assessed using the ‘big five’ instrument Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). Frontal serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding potentials were quantified using [11C]DASB and [18F]altanserin positron emission tomography, respectively.

RESULTS:

Of the five NEO-PI-R traits, only openness to experience scores differed between the three groups; psychedelic-preferring recreational users showing higher openness to experience scores when compared with both MDMA-preferring users and controls. Openness to experience scores were positively associated with lifetime number of psychedelic exposures, and among all MDMA-preferring user/psychedelic-preferring recreational user individuals, frontal serotonin transporter binding – but not frontal serotonin-2A-receptor binding – was positively associated with openness to experience.

CONCLUSION:

Our findings from this cross-sectional study support increasing evidence of a positive association between psychedelic experiences and openness to experience, and (a) expands this to the context of ‘recreational’ psychedelics use, and (b) links serotonergic neurotransmission to openness to experience. A modulation of personality induced by psychedelic experiences may have important therapeutic implications via its impact on peoples’ value systems, cognitive flexibility, and individual and social behaviour.

Erritzoe, D., Smith, J., Fisher, P. M., Carhart-Harris, R., Frokjaer, V. G., & Knudsen, G. M. (2019). Recreational use of psychedelics is associated with elevated personality trait openness: Exploration of associations with brain serotonin markers. Journal of Psychopharmacology., 10.1177/0269881119827891
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Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels.

Abstract

The main psychedelic component of magic mushrooms is psilocybin, which shows promise as a treatment for depression and other mental disorders. Psychedelic effects are believed to emerge through stimulation of serotonin 2A receptors (5-HT2ARs) by psilocybin’s active metabolite, psilocin. We here report for the first time the relationship between intensity of psychedelic effects, cerebral 5-HT2AR occupancy and plasma levels of psilocin in humans. Eight healthy volunteers underwent positron emission tomography (PET) scans with the 5-HT2AR agonist radioligand [11C]Cimbi-36: one at baseline and one or two additional scans on the same day after a single oral intake of psilocybin (3-30 mg). 5-HT2AR occupancy was calculated as the percent change in cerebral 5-HT2AR binding relative to baseline. Subjective psychedelic intensity and plasma psilocin levels were measured during the scans. Relations between subjective intensity, 5-HT2AR occupancy, and plasma psilocin levels were modeled using non-linear regression. Psilocybin intake resulted in dose-related 5-HT2AR occupancies up to 72%; plasma psilocin levels and 5-HT2AR occupancy conformed to a single-site binding model. Subjective intensity was correlated with both 5-HT2AR occupancy and psilocin levels as well as questionnaire scores. We report for the first time that intake of psilocybin leads to significant 5-HT2AR occupancy in the human brain, and that both psilocin plasma levels and 5-HT2AR occupancy are closely associated with subjective intensity ratings, strongly supporting that stimulation of 5-HT2AR is a key determinant for the psychedelic experience. Important for clinical studies, psilocin time-concentration curves varied but psilocin levels were closely associated with psychedelic experience.
Madsen, M. K., Fisher, P. M., Burmester, D., Dyssegaard, A., Stenbæk, D. S., Kristiansen, S., … & Erritzoe, D. (2019). Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1., 10.1038/s41386-019-0324-9
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DMT Models the Near-Death Experience

Abstract

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex subjective experiences, which have been previously associated with the psychedelic experience and more specifically with the experience induced by the potent serotonergic, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Potential similarities between both subjective states have been noted previously, including the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying. In this within-subjects placebo-controled study we aimed to test the similarities between the DMT state and NDEs, by administering DMT and placebo to 13 healthy participants, who then completed a validated and widely used measure of NDEs. Results revealed significant increases in phenomenological features associated with the NDE, following DMT administration compared to placebo. Also, we found significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline. Furthermore, we found a significant overlap in nearly all of the NDE phenomenological features when comparing DMT-induced NDEs with a matched group of ‘actual’ NDE experiencers. These results reveal a striking similarity between these states that warrants further investigation.
Timmermann, C., Roseman, L., Williams, L., Erritzoe, D., Martial, C., Cassol, H., … & Carhart-Harris, R. (2018). DMT models the near-death experience. Frontiers in psychology9, 1424., 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424
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Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:
To explore whether psilocybin with psychological support modulates personality parameters in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression (TRD).
METHOD:
Twenty patients with moderate or severe, unipolar, TRD received oral psilocybin (10 and 25 mg, one week apart) in a supportive setting. Personality was assessed at baseline and at 3-month follow-up using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), the subjective psilocybin experience with Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) scale, and depressive symptoms with QIDS-SR16.
RESULTS:
Neuroticism scores significantly decreased while Extraversion increased following psilocybin therapy. These changes were in the direction of the normative NEO-PI-R data and were both predicted, in an exploratory analysis, by the degree of insightfulness experienced during the psilocybin session. Openness scores also significantly increased following psilocybin, whereas Conscientiousness showed trend-level increases, and Agreeableness did not change.
CONCLUSION:
Our observation of changes in personality measures after psilocybin therapy was mostly consistent with reports of personality change in relation to conventional antidepressant treatment, although the pronounced increases in Extraversion and Openness might constitute an effect more specific to psychedelic therapy. This needs further exploration in future controlled studies, as do the brain mechanisms of postpsychedelic personality change.
Erritzoe, D., Roseman, L., Nour, M. M., MacLean, K., Kaelen, M., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart‐Harris, R. L. (2018). Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 10.1111/acps.12904
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Are Ecstasy Induced Serotonergic Alterations Overestimated For The Majority Of Users?

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Neuroimaging studies imply that the regular use of ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), the major constituent of ecstasy pills, alters the brain’s serotonergic system in a dose-dependent manner. However, the relevance of these findings remains unclear due to limited knowledge about the ecstasy/MDMA use pattern of real-life users.
AIMS:
We examined the representativeness of ecstasy users enrolled in neuroimaging studies by comparing their ecstasy use habits with the use patterns of a large, international sample.
METHODS:
A systematic literature search revealed 10 imaging studies that compare serotonin transporter levels in recreational ecstasy users to matched controls. To characterize the ecstasy use patterns we relied on the Global Drug Survey, the world’s largest self-report database on drug use. The basis of the dose comparison were the Usual Amount (pills/session), Use Frequency (sessions/month) and Dose Intensity (pills/year) variables.
RESULTS:
Both the average Usual Amount (pills/session) and Use Frequency (sessions/month) of neuroimaging study participants corresponded to the top 5-10% of the Global Drug Survey sample and imaging participants, on average, consumed 720% more pills over a year than the Global Drug Survey participants.
CONCLUSIONS:
Our findings suggest that the serotonin brain imaging literature has focused on unusually heavy ecstasy use and therefore the conclusions from these studies are likely to overestimate the extent of serotonergic alterations experienced by the majority of people who use ecstasy.
Szigeti, B., Winstock, A. R., Erritzoe, D., & Maier, L. J. (2018). Are Ecstasy Induced Serotonergic Alterations Overestimated For The Majority Of Users?. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881118767646.
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Psychedelics and the essential importance of context

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs are making waves as modern trials support their therapeutic potential and various media continue to pique public interest. In this opinion piece, we draw attention to a long-recognised component of the psychedelic treatment model, namely ‘set’ and ‘setting’ – subsumed here under the umbrella term ‘context’. We highlight: (a) the pharmacological mechanisms of classic psychedelics (5-HT2A receptor agonism and associated plasticity) that we believe render their effects exceptionally sensitive to context, (b) a study design for testing assumptions regarding positive interactions between psychedelics and context, and (c) new findings from our group regarding contextual determinants of the quality of a psychedelic experience and how acute experience predicts subsequent long-term mental health outcomes. We hope that this article can: (a) inform on good practice in psychedelic research, (b) provide a roadmap for optimising treatment models, and (c) help tackle unhelpful stigma still surrounding these compounds, while developing an evidence base for long-held assumptions about the critical importance of context in relation to psychedelic use that can help minimise harms and maximise potential benefits.
Carhart-Harris, R. L., Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Erritzoe, D., Branchi, I., & Kaelen, M. (2018). Psychedelics and the essential importance of context. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881118754710.
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Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: six-month follow-up

Abstract

Rationale

Recent clinical trials are reporting marked improvements in mental health outcomes with psychedelic drug-assisted psychotherapy.

Objectives

Here, we report on safety and efficacy outcomes for up to 6 months in an open-label trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression.

Methods

Twenty patients (six females) with (mostly) severe, unipolar, treatment-resistant major depression received two oral doses of psilocybin (10 and 25 mg, 7 days apart) in a supportive setting. Depressive symptoms were assessed from 1 week to 6 months post-treatment, with the self-rated QIDS-SR16 as the primary outcome measure.

Results

Treatment was generally well tolerated. Relative to baseline, marked reductions in depressive symptoms were observed for the first 5 weeks post-treatment (Cohen’s d = 2.2 at week 1 and 2.3 at week 5, both p < 0.001); nine and four patients met the criteria for response and remission at week 5. Results remained positive at 3 and 6 months (Cohen’s d = 1.5 and 1.4, respectively, both p < 0.001). No patients sought conventional antidepressant treatment within 5 weeks of psilocybin. Reductions in depressive symptoms at 5 weeks were predicted by the quality of the acute psychedelic experience.

Conclusions

Although limited conclusions can be drawn about treatment efficacy from open-label trials, tolerability was good, effect sizes large and symptom improvements appeared rapidly after just two psilocybin treatment sessions and remained significant 6 months post-treatment in a treatment-resistant cohort. Psilocybin represents a promising paradigm for unresponsive depression that warrants further research in double-blind randomised control trials.

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Bolstridge, M., Day, C. M. J., Rucker, J., Watts, R., Erritzoe, D. E., … & Rickard, J. A. (2017). Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: six-month follow-up. Psychopharmacology, 1-10. 10.1007/s00213-017-4771-x
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Psychedelics and connectedness

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs are creating ripples in psychiatry as evidence accumulates of their therapeutic potential. An important question remains unresolved however: how are psychedelics effective? We propose that a sense of connectedness is key, provide some preliminary evidence to support this, and suggest a roadmap for testing it further.
Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Haijen, E., Kaelen, M., & Watts, R. (2017). Psychedelics and connectedness. Psychopharmacology, 1-4. 10.1007/s00213-017-4701-y
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Altered Insula Connectivity Under MDMA

Abstract

Recent work with noninvasive human brain imaging has started to investigate the effects of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) on large-scale patterns of brain activity. MDMA, a potent monoamine-releaser with particularly pronounced serotonin- releasing properties, has unique subjective effects that include: marked positive mood, pleasant/unusual bodily sensations and pro-social, empathic feelings. However, the neurobiological basis for these effects is not properly understood, and the present analysis sought to address this knowledge gap. To do this, we administered MDMA-HCl (100 mg p.o.) and, separately, placebo (ascorbic acid) in a randomized, double-blind, repeated-measures design with twenty-five healthy volunteers undergoing fMRI scanning. We then employed a measure of global resting-state functional brain connectivity and follow-up seed-to-voxel analysis to the fMRI data we acquired. Results revealed decreased right insula/salience network functional connectivity under MDMA. Furthermore, these decreases in right insula/salience network connectivity correlated with baseline trait anxiety and acute experiences of altered bodily sensations under MDMA. The present findings highlight insular disintegration (ie, compromised salience network membership) as a neurobiological signature of the MDMA experience, and relate this brain effect to trait anxiety and acutely altered bodily sensations-both of which are known to be associated with insular functioning.

Walpola, I. C., Nest, T., Roseman, L., Erritzoe, D., Feilding, A., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2017). Altered Insula Connectivity Under MDMA. Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1038/npp.2017.35
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