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
- Roland meditates daily
- Studies show there are gene expression changes after only 5 minutes of meditating
- Meditators tend to have longer telomeres. Stress accelerates telomere shortening