OPEN Foundation

R. Watts

Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression

Abstract

Background: Psilocybin may have antidepressant properties, but direct comparisons between psilocybin and established treatments for depression are lacking.

Methods: In a phase 2, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial involving patients with long-standing, moderate-to-severe major depressive disorder, we compared psilocybin with escitalopram, a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor, over a 6-week period. Patients were assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive two separate doses of 25 mg of psilocybin 3 weeks apart plus 6 weeks of daily placebo (psilocybin group) or two separate doses of 1 mg of psilocybin 3 weeks apart plus 6 weeks of daily oral escitalopram (escitalopram group); all the patients received psychological support. The primary outcome was the change from baseline in the score on the 16-item Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Self-Report (QIDS-SR-16; scores range from 0 to 27, with higher scores indicating greater depression) at week 6. There were 16 secondary outcomes, including QIDS-SR-16 response (defined as a reduction in score of >50%) and QIDS-SR-16 remission (defined as a score of ≤5) at week 6.

Results: A total of 59 patients were enrolled; 30 were assigned to the psilocybin group and 29 to the escitalopram group. The mean scores on the QIDS-SR-16 at baseline were 14.5 in the psilocybin group and 16.4 in the escitalopram group. The mean (±SE) changes in the scores from baseline to week 6 were -8.0±1.0 points in the psilocybin group and -6.0±1.0 in the escitalopram group, for a between-group difference of 2.0 points (95% confidence interval [CI], -5.0 to 0.9) (P = 0.17). A QIDS-SR-16 response occurred in 70% of the patients in the psilocybin group and in 48% of those in the escitalopram group, for a between-group difference of 22 percentage points (95% CI, -3 to 48); QIDS-SR-16 remission occurred in 57% and 28%, respectively, for a between-group difference of 28 percentage points (95% CI, 2 to 54). Other secondary outcomes generally favored psilocybin over escitalopram, but the analyses were not corrected for multiple comparisons. The incidence of adverse events was similar in the trial groups.

Conclusions: On the basis of the change in depression scores on the QIDS-SR-16 at week 6, this trial did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram in a selected group of patients. Secondary outcomes generally favored psilocybin over escitalopram, but the analyses of these outcomes lacked correction for multiple comparisons. Larger and longer trials are required to compare psilocybin with established antidepressants.

Carhart-Harris, R., Giribaldi, B., Watts, R., Baker-Jones, M., Murphy-Beiner, A., Murphy, R., Martell, J., Blemings, A., Erritzoe, D., & Nutt, D. J. (2021). Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression. The New England journal of medicine, 384(15), 1402–1411. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2032994

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The potential synergistic effects between psychedelic administration and nature contact for the improvement of mental health

Abstract

Therapeutic psychedelic administration and contact with nature have been associated with the same psychological mechanisms: decreased rumination and negative affect, enhanced psychological connectedness and mindfulness-related capacities, and heightened states of awe and transcendent experiences, all processes linked to improvements in mental health amongst clinical and healthy populations. Nature-based settings can have inherently psychologically soothing properties which may complement all stages of psychedelic therapy (mainly preparation and integration) whilst potentiating increases in nature relatedness, with associated psychological benefits. Maximising enhancement of nature relatedness through therapeutic psychedelic administration may constitute an independent and complementary pathway towards improvements in mental health that can be elicited by psychedelics.

Gandy, S., Forstmann, M., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Timmermann, C., Luke, D., & Watts, R. (2020). The potential synergistic effects between psychedelic administration and nature contact for the improvement of mental health. Health psychology open, 7(2), 2055102920978123. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102920978123

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Post-Psychedelic Reductions in Experiential Avoidance Are Associated With Decreases in Depression Severity and Suicidal Ideation

Abstract

Psychedelic therapy shows promise as a novel intervention for a wide range of mental health concerns but its therapeutic action is incompletely understood. In line with acceptance and commitment therapy’s (ACT’s) transdiagnostic model, qualitative research has suggested that reductions in experiential avoidance are an important component of therapeutic outcomes associated with psychedelics. However, limited research has quantitatively explored the association between decreases in experiential avoidance and therapeutic outcomes associated with psychedelics. Therefore, in two prospective studies, using convenience samples of individuals with plans to use a psychedelic, we explored the impact of psychedelic use on experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation, as well as relationships between changes in these outcomes. Participants (Study 1, N=104; Study 2, N=254) completed self-report questionnaires of depression severity, suicidal ideation, and experiential avoidance: 1) before using a psychedelic (in ceremonial and non-ceremonial contexts), as well as 2) 2-weeks and 3) 4-weeks after psychedelic use. Across both studies, repeated measures ANOVAs indicated significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation after psychedelic use. Furthermore, decreases in experiential avoidance were significantly associated with decreases in depression severity and suicidal ideation. These results suggest that psychedelics may lead to significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation. Additionally, these findings imply that reduced experiential avoidance may be a transdiagnostic mechanism mediating treatment success within psychedelic therapy. We conclude that integrating psychedelics with psychotherapeutic interventions that target experiential avoidance (e.g. ACT) may enhance therapeutic outcomes.

Zeifman, R. J., Wagner, A. C., Watts, R., Kettner, H., Mertens, L. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020). Post-Psychedelic Reductions in Experiential Avoidance Are Associated With Decreases in Depression Severity and Suicidal Ideation. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 782. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00782

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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
METHODS:
Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
RESULTS:
Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
CONCLUSIONS:
Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119855974., https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881119855974
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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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Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Objective:

To identify patients’ perceptions of the value of psilocybin as a treatment for depression.

Method:

Twenty patients enrolled in an open-label trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression participated in a semistructured interview at 6-month follow-up. Thematic analysis was used to identify patients’ experiences of the treatment and how it compared with previous treatments.

Results:

Two main change processes were identified in relation to the treatment. The first concerned change from disconnection (from self, others, and world) to connection, and the second concerned change from avoidance (of emotion) to acceptance. A third theme concerned comparison between psilocybin and conventional treatments. Patients reported that medications and some short-term talking therapies tended to reinforce their sense of disconnection and avoidance, whereas treatment with psilocybin encouraged connection and acceptance.

Conclusion:

These results suggest that psilocybin treatment for depression may work via paradigmatically novel means, antithetical to antidepressant medications, and some short-term talking therapies.
Watts, R., Day, C., Krzanowski, J., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2017). Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 0022167817709585.

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