Found My Fitness: Roland Griffiths, Ph.D. on Psilocybin, Psychedelic Therapies & Mystical Experiences

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Some Background
  • Roland has been doing research with mood altering drugs for over 40 years
  • About 20 years ago, he took up a mediation practice which really got him interested in altered states of consciousness and spiritual experiences
  • This meditation practice reacquainted him with older psychedelic research (LSD, psilocybin, DMT etc.)
An Important Study
  • His group published a study ~10 years ago involving healthy volunteers receiving psilocybin
    • Note – psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms
  • They found that when people are carefully selected, prepared, and then administered the drug, the resulting effects are profound and deeply meaningful to the individuals
  • Months later, participants say it was among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives
How does psilocybin compare to other drugs?
  • Effects from psilocybin are much more salient and long lasting
  • People feel they have learned something personally important and it has information value moving forward
How are his studies run?
  • ~8 hours of prep the day before to make participants feel comfortable
  • On the session day, they take a capsule of synthsized psilocybin
  • Participants start by laying down on a coach with eye shades while listening to music
  • They are then advised to direct their attention inward on their inner experiences
  • There are 2 guides to provide reassurance if needed, on the off chance anxiety or fear arises
  • How are participants chosen for studies?
    • Extensive medical history screening
    • People are screened out even if they have a second degree relative with history of psychotic disorder
  • How are placebos given in the studies?
    • Participants are told they will be given 1 of 11 different psychoactive compounds
    • Magnitude of the experiences tends to be correlated with expectations, but expectancy does not account for full effect
    • Control substances may be something like ritalin or very low does psilocybin
What kind of experiences do people have on psychedelics?
  • Quite varied
  • Autobiographical experiences where they remember childhood issues
  • Reflection on current relationships
  • Aesthetic experiences where people get involved with imagery/color
Core Features of a Psychedelic Experience
  • Interconnectedness of all people and things, a sense of universal unity
  • The experience has an authenticity to it, a high truth value. People claim it’s more real/true than everyday life.
  • Sense of positive mood
  • Trancendance of time/space, present state awareness.
  • People tend to experience the mystery of conciousness
  • It’s not unusual for people to value the experience for months to come
Psilocybin, Cancer, and End of Life Depression
  • Roland and his colleagues recently published a study on the effects of psilocybin on depressive symptoms and anxiety for patients with late stage cancer
  • Treatment options are limited for depressed/anxious cancer patients
  • The therapeutic effects of psilocybin tend to be profound – large and sustained decreases in anxiety/depression
  • The reduced levels of anxiety/depression persisted for 6 months
  • How did the psilocybin effect the cancer/immune function?
    • Remains to be determined
    • If patients are feeling better, maybe it’s actually doing something to the immune system?
A Stand Still
  • In the late 1960’s, clinical work with psychedelics came to a stand still due to government regulation
  • Psychedelics became a Schedule I compound
  • Media led people to believe the risks of these compounds were far greater than the benefits
Psilocybin to Treat Depression in Otherwise Healthy Individuals
  • Psilocybin is a seretonergic agonist – actives 5-HT2a receptors (it binds to this receptor)
  • As this is just a single dose, this is a very different approach than typical depression treatments which involve taking antidepressants every day
  • Perhaps there is a link between the psilocybin and increased neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) – when you grow new neurons, you have to break a connection between old neurons to form a new connection. There might possibly be a selective break of the traumatic neuron connections.
  • Currently. Roland is discussing a Phase III clinical trial with the FDA for treatment of depression with psilocybin
    • If efficacy is demonstrated, there is potential for approvability
Ketamine and Depression
  • Ketamine is dissociative anisthetic
  • Has some psychedelic like properties
  • Ketamine has been shown to have very rapid anti-depressive effects in treatment resistant depression, although they are short lived
Pslocybin Appears to Decrease Activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN)
  • Why is it reduced? – Reduced blood flow to that part of the brain, and reduced connectivity among neurons
  • Activity in the default mode network is increased in patients experiencing clinical depression
  • The default mode network (DMN) is typically activated during rumination, or overthinking
  • The DMN is thought to be responsible for self processing, i.e. ideas that relate to a sense of self
  • Activty in the DMN is decreased in long term meditators, so psilocybin is like mediation in that regard
  • This is why psilocybin brings about such a present state of awareness
Is neuroplasticty affected by psilocybin?
  • Has to be
  • Once people have a psychelic experience, they report having an altered sense of self and a greater connection to the universe
  • Core personality changes, people become more open
  • The way users see themselves changes as well
Psilocybin to Treat Addictions
  • One pilot study showed psilocybin was effective in overcoming smoking addition, 60% of the treatment group were still abstinent a year afterward
  • There is work going on involving treating cocaine dependence with psychadelics at the University of Alabama
  • Possible treatment for PTSD, OCD, eating disorders
Risks Associated with Taking Psilocybin
  • A large survey study was recently published by Roland and his group. They asked 2,000 people if they had ever had a bad experience with psilocybin mushrooms.
  • Around 10% of people say they may have put themselves or others at risk of physical harm during a pscilocybin experience.
  • A very small percentage say they have enduring psychological problems
  • People who already have psychological disorders may be more sensitive to the negative effects of psilocybin
  • Sometimes, the bad trip experiences can be of very short duration and open into experiences of great insight/transendence
  • Roland says about 30% of his study volunteers describe feeling significant fear/anxiety at least for some duration of time
Does dose play a role in effects?
  • Roland has given up to 30mg psilocybin per 70kg of body weight (30mg/70kg) in his studies and doses as low as 5mg/70kg
  • Probability of mystical type experiences and challenging experiences increase as a function of dose
  • Probabilty of very difficult experiences increases significantly between 20-30mg/70kg of body weight
  • In the cancer study, the dose was 22mg/70kg
“Psilocybin is mediation on steroids”
  • There is such an abrupt shift in the nature of conciousness that it wakes people up and shows them that their normative cognitive process is only 1 type of many
  • However, it is not a substitution for mediation, because it doesn’t lead to any stability of the awareness state
Roland’s Meditation Practice