OPEN Foundation

F. Barrett

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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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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The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain

Abstract

Salvinorin A (SA) is a κ-opioid receptor agonist and atypical dissociative hallucinogen found in Salvia divinorum. Despite the resurgence of hallucinogen studies, the effects of κ-opioid agonists on human brain function are not well-understood. This placebo-controlled, within-subject study used functional magnetic resonance imaging for the first time to explore the effects of inhaled SA on strength, variability, and entropy of functional connectivity (static, dynamic, and entropic functional connectivity, respectively, or sFC, dFC, and eFC). SA tended to decrease within-network sFC but increase between-network sFC, with the most prominent effect being attenuation of the default mode network (DMN) during the first half of a 20-min scan (i.e., during peak effects). SA reduced brainwide dFC but increased brainwide eFC, though only the former effect survived multiple comparison corrections. Finally, using connectome-based classification, most models trained on dFC network interactions could accurately classify the first half of SA scans. In contrast, few models trained on within- or between-network sFC and eFC performed above chance. Notably, models trained on within-DMN sFC and eFC performed better than models trained on other network interactions. This pattern of SA effects on human brain function is strikingly similar to that of other hallucinogens, necessitating studies of direct comparisons.

Doss, M. K., May, D. G., Johnson, M. W., Clifton, J. M., Hedrick, S. L., Prisinzano, T. E., Griffiths, R. R., & Barrett, F. S. (2020). The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain. Scientific reports, 10(1), 16392. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73216-8

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Classic Psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, mystical experience, brain network function, and therapeutics

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to provide an integrative review and offer novel insights regarding human research with classic psychedelics (classic hallucinogens), which are 5HT2AR agonists such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, and psilocybin. Classic psychedelics have been administered as sacraments since ancient times. They were of prominent interest within psychiatry and neuroscience in the 1950s to 1960s, and during this time contributed to the emergence of the field of molecular neuroscience. Promising results were reported for treatment of both end-of-life psychological distress and addiction, and classic psychedelics served as tools for studying the neurobiological bases of psychological disorders. Moreover, classic psychedelics were shown to occasion mystical experiences, which are subjective experiences reported throughout different cultures and religions involving a strong sense of unity, among other characteristics. However, the recreational use of classic psychedelics and their association with the counterculture prompted an end to human research with classic psychedelics in the early 1970s. We review recent therapeutic studies suggesting efficacy in treating psychological distress associated with life-threatening diseases, treating depression, and treating nicotine and alcohol addictions. We also describe the construct of mystical experience, and provide a comprehensive review of modern studies investigating classic psychedelic-occasioned mystical experiences and their consequences. These studies have shown classic psychedelics to fairly reliably occasion mystical experiences. Moreover, classic psychedelic-occasioned mystical experiences are associated with improved psychological outcomes in both healthy volunteer and patient populations. We also review neuroimaging studies that suggest neurobiological mechanisms of psychedelics. These studies have also broadened our understanding of the brain, the serotonin system, and the neurobiological basis of consciousness. Finally, we provide the most comprehensive review of epidemiological studies of classic psychedelics to date. Notable among these are a number of studies which have suggested the possibility that nonmedical naturalistic (non-laboratory) use of classic psychedelics is associated with positive mental health and prosocial outcomes, although it is clear that some individuals are harmed by classic psychedelics in non-supervised settings. Overall, these various lines of research suggest that classic psychedelics might hold strong potential as therapeutics, and as tools for experimentally investigating mystical experiences and behavioral-brain function more generally.

Johnson, M. W., Hendricks, P. S., Barrett, F. S., & Griffiths, R. R. (2018). Classic Psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, mystical experience, brain network function, and therapeutics. Pharmacology & therapeutics., 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.11.010

 
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Psychedelics and music: neuroscience and therapeutic implications

From the beginning of therapeutic research with psychedelics, music listening has been consistently used as a method to guide or support therapeutic experiences during the acute effects of psychedelic drugs. Recent findings point to the potential of music to support meaning-making, emotionality, and mental imagery after the administration of psychedelics, and suggest that music plays an important role in facilitating positive clinical outcomes of psychedelic therapy. This review explores the history of, contemporary research on, and future directions regarding the use of music in psychedelic research and therapy, and argues for more detailed and rigorous investigation of the contribution of music to the treatment of psychiatric disorders within the novel framework of psychedelic therapy.
Barrett, F. S., Preller, K. H., & Kaelen, M. (2018). Psychedelics and music: neuroscience and therapeutic implications. International Review of Psychiatry30(4), 350-362., 10.1080/09540261.2018.1484342
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Double-blind comparison of the two hallucinogens psilocybin and dextromethorphan: effects on cognition

Abstract

Objectives

Classic psychedelics (serotonin 2A receptor agonists) and dissociative hallucinogens (NMDA receptor antagonists), though differing in pharmacology, may share neuropsychological effects. These drugs, however, have undergone limited direct comparison. This report presents data from a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subjects study comparing the neuropsychological effects of multiple doses of the classic psychedelic psilocybin with the effects of a single high dose of the dissociative hallucinogen dextromethorphan (DXM).

Methods

Twenty hallucinogen users (11 females) completed neurocognitive assessments during five blinded drug administration sessions (10, 20, and 30 mg/70 kg psilocybin; 400 mg/70 kg DXM; and placebo) in which participants and study staff were informed that a large range of possible drug conditions may have been administered.

Results

Global cognitive impairment, assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination during peak drug effects, was not observed with psilocybin or DXM. Orderly and dose-dependent effects of psilocybin were observed on psychomotor performance, working memory, episodic memory, associative learning, and visual perception. Effects of DXM on psychomotor performance, visual perception, and associative learning were in the range of effects of a moderate to high dose (20 to 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin.

Conclusions

This was the first study of the dose effects of psilocybin on a large battery of neurocognitive assessments. Evidence of delirium or global cognitive impairment was not observed with either psilocybin or DXM. Psilocybin had greater effects than DXM on working memory. DXM had greater effects than all psilocybin doses on balance, episodic memory, response inhibition, and executive control.

Barrett, F. S., Carbonaro, T. M., Hurwitz, E., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2018). Double-blind comparison of the two hallucinogens psilocybin and dextromethorphan: effects on cognition. Psychopharmacology235(10), 2915-2927., 10.1007/s00213-018-4981-x
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Serotonin 2A Receptor Signaling Underlies LSD-induced Alteration of the Neural Response to Dynamic Changes in Music

Abstract

Classic psychedelic drugs (serotonin 2A, or 5HT2A, receptor agonists) have notable effects on music listening. In the current report, blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal was collected during music listening in 25 healthy adults after administration of placebo, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and LSD pretreated with the 5HT2A antagonist ketanserin, to investigate the role of 5HT2A receptor signaling in the neural response to the time-varying tonal structure of music. Tonality-tracking analysis of BOLD data revealed that 5HT2A receptor signaling alters the neural response to music in brain regions supporting basic and higher-level musical and auditory processing, and areas involved in memory, emotion, and self-referential processing. This suggests a critical role of 5HT2A receptor signaling in supporting the neural tracking of dynamic tonal structure in music, as well as in supporting the associated increases in emotionality, connectedness, and meaningfulness in response to music that are commonly observed after the administration of LSD and other psychedelics. Together, these findings inform the neuropsychopharmacology of music perception and cognition, meaningful music listening experiences, and altered perception of music during psychedelic experiences.
Barrett, F. S., Preller, K. H., Herdener, M., Janata, P., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). Serotonin 2A Receptor Signaling Underlies LSD-induced Alteration of the Neural Response to Dynamic Changes in Music. Cerebral Cortex, 1-12. 10.1093/cercor/bhx257
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Qualitative and Quantitative Features of Music Reported to Support Peak Mystical Experiences during Psychedelic Therapy Sessions

Abstract

Psilocybin is a classic (serotonergic) hallucinogen (“psychedelic” drug) that may occasion mystical experiences (characterized by a profound feeling of oneness or unity) during acute effects. Such experiences may have therapeutic value. Research and clinical applications of psychedelics usually include music listening during acute drug effects, based on the expectation that music will provide psychological support during the acute effects of psychedelic drugs, and may even facilitate the occurrence of mystical experiences. However, the features of music chosen to support the different phases of drug effects are not well-specified. As a result, there is currently neither real guidance for the selection of music nor standardization of the music used to support clinical trials with psychedelic drugs across various research groups or therapists. A description of the features of music found to be supportive of mystical experience will allow for the standardization and optimization of the delivery of psychedelic drugs in both research trials and therapeutic contexts. To this end, we conducted an anonymous survey of individuals with extensive experience administering psilocybin or psilocybin-containing mushrooms under research or therapeutic conditions, in order to identify the features of commonly used musical selections that have been found by therapists and research staff to be supportive of mystical experiences within a psilocybin session. Ten respondents yielded 24 unique recommendations of musical stimuli supportive of peak effects with psilocybin, and 24 unique recommendations of musical stimuli supportive of the period leading up to a peak experience. Qualitative analysis (expert rating of musical and music-theoretic features of the recommended stimuli) and quantitative analysis (using signal processing and music-information retrieval methods) of 22 of these stimuli yielded a description of peak period music that was characterized by regular, predictable, formulaic phrase structure and orchestration, a feeling of continuous movement and forward motion that slowly builds over time, and lower perceptual brightness when compared to pre peak music. These results provide a description of music that may be optimally supportive of peak psychedelic experiences. This description can be used to guide the selection and composition of music for future psychedelic research and therapy sessions.
Barrett, F. S., Robbins, H., Smooke, D., Brown, J. L., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Qualitative and quantitative features of music reported to support peak mystical experiences during psychedelic therapy sessions. Frontiers in psychology8. 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01238
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Neuroticism is associated with challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms

Abstract

Objectives

Classic hallucinogens (e.g. psilocybin and LSD) have substantial effects on perception, cognition, and emotion that can often be psychologically challenging, however we know very little regarding the source of significant individual variability that has been observed in the frequency and intensity of challenging experiences (i.e. “bad trips”) with psychedelics. Previous clinical and observational literature suggests that there may be an association between neuroticism and challenging psychedelic experiences.

Methods

Data from two online surveys of challenging experiences with psilocybin were analyzed. Multivariate analysis was used to estimate the associations between total score and scores from seven sub-factors (fear, grief, physical distress, insanity, isolation, death, and paranoia) of the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ), and scale scores from the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) in Study 1 (N = 1993) and the Big Five Inventory (BFI) in Study 2 (N = 981).

Results

CEQ scores were negatively associated with emotional stability scores (the inverse of neuroticism) in Study 1 and positively associated with neuroticism scores in Study 2.

Conclusions

Neuroticism may contribute to the strength of challenging experiences with psychedelics in uncontrolled settings.

Barrett, F. S., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Neuroticism is associated with challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. Personality and Individual Differences117, 155-160. 10.1016/j.paid.2017.06.004
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Classic Hallucinogens and Mystical Experiences: Phenomenology and Neural Correlates

Abstract

This chapter begins with a brief review of descriptions and definitions of mystical-type experiences and the historical connection between classic hallucinogens and mystical experiences. The chapter then explores the empirical literature on experiences with classic hallucinogens in which claims about mystical or religious experiences have been made. A psychometrically validated questionnaire is described for the reliable measurement of mystical-type experiences occasioned by classic hallucinogens. Controlled laboratory studies show that under double-blind conditions that provide significant controls for expectancy bias, psilocybin can occasion complete mystical experiences in the majority of people studied. These effects are dose-dependent, specific to psilocybin compared to placebo or a psychoactive control substance, and have enduring impact on the moods, attitudes, and behaviors of participants as assessed by self-report of participants and ratings by community observers. Other studies suggest that enduring personal meaning in healthy volunteers and therapeutic outcomes in patients, including reduction and cessation of substance abuse behaviors and reduction of anxiety and depression in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, are related to the occurrence of mystical experiences during drug sessions. The final sections of the chapter draw parallels in human neuroscience research between the neural bases of experiences with classic hallucinogens and the neural bases of meditative practices for which claims of mystical-type experience are sometimes made. From these parallels, a functional neural model of mystical experience is proposed, based on changes in the default mode network of the brain that have been observed after the administration of classic hallucinogens and during meditation practices for which mystical-type claims have been made.
Barrett, F. S., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Classic Hallucinogens and Mystical Experiences: Phenomenology and Neural Correlates. 10.1007/7854_2017_474
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