OPEN Foundation

E. Nunes

The Impact of Ayahuasca on Suicidality: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial.

Abstract

Suicide is a major public health problem. Given increasing suicide rates and limitations surrounding current interventions, there is an urgent need for innovative interventions for suicidality. Although ayahuasca has been shown to target mental health concerns associated with suicidality (i.e., depression and hopelessness), research has not yet explored the impact of ayahuasca on suicidality. Therefore, we conducted secondary analyses of a randomized placebo-controlled trial in which individuals with treatment-resistant depression were administered one dose of ayahuasca (n = 14) or placebo (n = 15). Suicidality was assessed by a trained psychiatrist at baseline, as well as 1 day, 2 days, and 7 days after the intervention. A fixed-effects linear mixed model, as well as between and within-groups Cohen’s d effect sizes were used to examine changes in suicidality. Controlling for baseline suicidality, we found a significant effect for time (p < .05). The effect of the intervention (i.e., ayahuasca vs. placebo) trended toward significance (p = .088). At all time points, we found medium between-group effect sizes (i.e., ayahuasca vs. placebo; day 1 Cohen’s d = 0.58; day 2 d = 0.56; day 7 d = 0.67), as well as large within-group (ayahuasca; day 1 Cohen’s d = 1.33; day 2 d = 1.42; day 7 d = 1.19) effect sizes, for decreases in suicidality. Conclusions: This research is the first to explore the impact of ayahuasca on suicidality. The findings suggest that ayahuasca may show potential as an intervention for suicidality. We highlight important limitations of the study, potential mechanisms, and future directions for research on ayahuasca as an intervention for suicidality. Clinical Trial Registration: www.ClinicalTrials.gov, identifier NCT02914769.

Zeifman, R., Palhano-Fontes, F., Hallak, J., Nunes, E. A., Maia-de-Oliveira, J. P., & de Araujo, D. B. (2019). The Impact of Ayahuasca on Suicidality: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. Frontiers in Pharmacology10, 1325.
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A sub-set of psychoactive effects may be critical to the behavioral impact of ketamine on cocaine use disorder: Results from a randomized, controlled laboratory study

Abstract

Efforts to translate sub-anesthetic ketamine infusions into widespread clinical use have centered around developing medications with comparable neurobiological activity, but with attenuated psychoactive effects so as to minimize the risk of behavioral toxicity and abuse liability. Converging lines of research, however, suggest that some of the psychoactive effects of sub-anesthetic ketamine may have therapeutic potential. Here, we assess whether a subset of these effects – the so-called mystical-type experience – mediates the effect of ketamine on craving and cocaine use in cocaine dependent research volunteers. We found that ketamine leads to significantly greater acute mystical-type effects (by Hood Mysticism Scale: HMS), dissociation (by Clinician Administered Dissociative States Scale: CADSS), and near-death experience phenomena (by the Near-Death Experience Scale: NDES), relative to the active control midazolam. HMS score, but not the CADSS or NDES score, was found to mediate the effect of ketamine on global improvement (decreased cocaine use and craving) over the post-infusion period. This is the first controlled study to show that mystical-type phenomena, long considered to have therapeutic potential, may work to impact decision-making and behavior in a sustained manner. These data suggest that an important direction for medication development is the identification of ketamine-like pharmacotherapy that is selectively psychoactive (as opposed to free of experiential effects entirely), so that mystical-type perspectival shifts are more reliably produced and factors lending to abuse or behavioral impairment are minimized. Future research can further clarify the relationship between medication-occasioned mystical-type effects and clinical benefit for different disorders.
Dakwar, E., Nunes, E. V., Hart, C. L., Hu, M. C., Foltin, R. W., & Levin, F. R. (2018). A sub-set of psychoactive effects may be critical to the behavioral impact of ketamine on cocaine use disorder: Results from a randomized, controlled laboratory study. Neuropharmacology. 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.01.005
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Cocaine self-administration disrupted by the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine: a randomized, crossover trial

Abstract

Repeated drug consumption may progress to problematic use by triggering neuroplastic adaptations that attenuate sensitivity to natural rewards while increasing reactivity to craving and drug cues. Converging evidence suggests a single sub-anesthetic dose of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine may work to correct these neuroadaptations and restore motivation for non-drug rewards. Using an established laboratory model aimed at evaluating behavioral shifts in the salience of cocaine now vs money later, we found that ketamine, as compared to the control, significantly decreased cocaine self-administration by 67% relative to baseline at greater than 24 h post-infusion, the most robust reduction observed to date in human cocaine users and the first to involve mechanisms other than stimulant or dopamine agonist effects. These findings signal new directions in medication development for substance use disorders.

Dakwar, E., Hart, C. L., Levin, F. R., Nunes, E. V., & Foltin, R. W. (2016). Cocaine self-administration disrupted by the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine: a randomized, crossover trial. Molecular Psychiatry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/mp.2016.39
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Therapeutic infusions of ketamine: Do the psychoactive effects matter?

Abstract

Background

Sub-anesthetic ketamine infusions may benefit a variety of psychiatric disorders, including addiction. Though ketamine engenders transient alterations in consciousness, it is not known whether these alterations influence efficacy. This analysis evaluates the mystical-type effects of ketamine, which may have therapeutic potential according to prior research, and assesses whether these effects mediate improvements in dependence-related deficits, 24 h postinfusion.

Methods

Eight cocaine dependent individuals completed this double-blind, randomized, inpatient study. Three counter-balanced infusions separated by 48 h were received: lorazepam (2 mg) and two doses of ketamine (0.41 mg/kg and 0.71 mg/kg, with the former dose always preceding the latter). Infusions were followed within 15 min by measures of dissociation (Clinician Administered Dissociative Symptoms Scale: CADSS) and mystical-type effects (adapted from Hood’s Mysticism Scale: HMS). At baseline and 24 h postinfusion, participants underwent assessments of motivation to stop cocaine (University of Rhode Island Change Assessment) and cue-induced craving (by visual analogue scale for cocaine craving during cue exposure).

Results

Ketamine led to significantly greater acute mystical-type effects (by HMS) relative to the active control lorazepam; ketamine 0.71 mg/kg was associated with significantly higher HMS scores than was the 0.41 mg/kg dose. HMS score, but not CADSS score, was found to mediate the effect of ketamine on motivation to quit cocaine 24 h postinfusion.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that psychological mechanisms may be involved in some of the anti-addiction benefits resulting from ketamine. Future research can evaluate whether the psychoactive effects of ketamine influence improvements in larger samples.

Dakwar, E., Anerella, C., Hart, C. L., Levin, F. R., Mathew, S. J., & Nunes, E. V. (2014). Therapeutic infusions of ketamine: Do the psychoactive effects matter?. Drug and alcohol dependence, 136, 153-157. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.12.019

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