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Hallucinogen Eases Depression in Cancer Patients, Studies Find

From The New York Times:

Psilocybin has been illegal in the United States for more than 40 years. But Mr. Mihai, who had just finished treatment for Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was participating in a study looking at whether the drug can reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Throughout that eight-hour session, a psychiatrist and a social worker from NYU Langone Medical Center stayed by his side.

Published Thursday, the results from that study, and a similar small, controlled trial, were striking. About 80 percent of cancer patients showed clinically significant reductions in both psychological disorders, a response sustained some seven months after the single dose. Side effects were minimal.

In both trials, the intensity of the mystical experience described by patients correlated with the degree to which their depression and anxiety decreased.

The studies, by researchers at New York University, with 29 patients, and at Johns Hopkins University, with 51, were released concurrently in The Journal of Psychopharmacology. They proceeded after arduous review by regulators and are the largest and most meticulous among a handful of trials to explore the possible therapeutic benefit of psilocybin.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Dr. Daniel Shalev of the New York State Psychiatric Institute are among leaders in psychiatry, addiction medicine and palliative care who endorsed the work. The studies, they wrote, are “a model for revisiting criminalized compounds of interest in a safe, ethical way.”

If research restrictions could be eased, they continued, “there is much potential for new scientific insights and clinical applications.”

Psilocybin trials are underway in the United States and Europe for alcoholism, tobacco addiction and treatment-resistant depression. Other hallucinogens are also being studied for clinical application. This week, the Food and Drug Administration approved a large-scale trial investigating MDMA, the illegal party drug better known as Ecstasy, for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Posted: 12/1/2016 8:58:00 AM

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Police Say New 'N-Bomb' Drug is a Dangerous Addition to St. Louis Area

From the Town and Country-Manchester Patch:

St. Louis County Police are warning parents and teens about a new sythentic drug called "N-Bomb" that is already responsible for deaths in several states.

The name stems from its chemical composition, 2C-I-NBOMe or 25INBOMe, and police say it is a powerful hallucinogen that is a more potent and deadly derivative of mescaline. It has been reportedly responsible for fatal overdoses in California, North Dakota, Minnesota, Lousiana and Virginia.

St. Louis County Police said the substance has been purchased undercover in the metro area by drug detectives. Chief Tim Fitch said it's important for the public to be aware about the dangerous nature of this relatively new drug.

Effects of the drug are similar to LSD and include hallucinations, impairment of perception to sound and depth, and uncontrollable body movements.

The statement from law enforcement was partly in response to a Chesterfield mother who said she believes her teenage daughter was offered N-Bomb at a New Year's Eve Party in Wildwood and nearly overdosed as a result.

Posted: 1/10/2013 8:53:00 AM

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Scientist haunted by misuse of drugs he invented

From The Associated Press:

David Nichols studies the way psychedelic drugs act in the brains of rats. But he's haunted by how humans hijack his work to make street drugs, sometimes causing overdose deaths.

Nichols makes chemicals roughly similar to ecstasy and LSD that are supposed to help explain how parts of the brain function. Then he publishes the results for other scientists, hoping his work one day leads to treatments for depression or Parkinson's disease.

But Nichols' findings have not stayed in purely scientific circles. They've also been exploited by black market labs to make cheap and marginally legal recreational drugs.

Nichols estimates that at least five of his compounds — out of hundreds — have been turned into street drugs.

Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again

From The New York Times:

As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.

Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.

Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The results so far are encouraging but also preliminary, and researchers caution against reading too much into these small-scale studies. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, when some scientists-turned-evangelists exaggerated their understanding of the drugs’ risks and benefits.

Because reactions to hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting, experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with adverse reactions. They have established standard protocols so that the drugs’ effects can be gauged more accurately, and they have also directly observed the drugs’ effects by scanning the brains of people under the influence of hallucinogens.

Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little public money granted for the research, which is being conducted at Hopkins, the University of Arizona; Harvard; New York University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and other places.

The work has been supported by nonprofit groups like the Heffter Research Institute and MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr. Charles S. Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U.C.L.A., describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.

Posted: 4/12/2010 9:37:00 AM

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Bizarre fatal shootings leave questions of why?

From The Oregonian:

As of Tuesday, west Washington County is still wondering why - why did a young Hillsboro man with no previous criminal record suddenly snap Saturday after a seemingly minor traffic accident, fatally shoot a seemingly uninvolved stranger then die exchanging bullets with police?

One possibility is drugs, said Dr. Karen Gunson, the Oregon Medical Examiner. Gunson says it's clear 28-year-old Shane Schumacher of Hillsboro died from the police bullets in his head and chest. But it could be weeks before it's known if the hallucinogenic drug mescaline had anything to do with the bizarre circumstances that ended in death for Schumacher and 55-year-old Danny K. Le Gore, also of Hillsboro.

While it's easy to screen for mescaline's presence, it takes a specialty lab to determine if there is enough of the drug present to say someone is under its influence.

"If there's mescaline there, we can screen for it, we can test for it, but we can't quantify it," Gunson said. She anticipates sending the toxicology reports to national forensics authority NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pa. Definitive results should be available in two to four weeks, she said.

The mescaline theory was developed after detectives found evidence Schumacher was producing mescaline from the small, spineless cactus commonly called peyote at his residence in the 1000 block of Southeast Nazomi Avenue. Users often suffer sensation and perception impairment, loss of a sense of time, disorganization of thought and psychotic reactions, according to police drug recognition experts.

Investigators believe Schumacher got out of his westbound 1997 Honda Civic at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, after being rear-ended at the intersection of 10th and Oak streets. Barefoot and wearing only ragged khaki pants, Schumacher walked toward an unrelated southbound vehicle and fired at least 12 rounds from two guns into the driver's side.

Miraculously, none of the bullets struck the driver, but one bullet hit the driver's uncle, 55-year-old Danny K. Le Gore, of Hillsboro, who was sitting in the passenger's seat. Le Gore was Life-flighted to Oregon Health Science University, where he later died.

Police say Schumacher fired an unknown number of rounds as he sped into the city, where officers scrambled to set up spike strips. But Schumacher eliminated the need to disable his vehicle when he crashed into a parked Ford van at 13th Avenue and Adair Street, in Cornelius.

Two Cornelius officers and a WCSO deputy approached, where Schumacher was reportedly slumped over the wheel.

According to police, Schumacher emerged with a handgun in each hand and started shooting, putting one bullet in a patrol car. The officers returned fire, killing Schumacher. No bullets struck officers.

After eliminating road rage as a cause, investigators are now hanging their collective hats on Schumacher being in a "drug-induced state," he said.

"But in the end I think we have to be comfortable with the fact we're never going to know 100 percent," Rouches said. "We just can't because he's gone. It doesn't make it easier (on either of the families), but we'll conclude it as well as we can. It's a sad thing for everyone involved."

Posted: 11/30/2009 3:13:00 PM

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LSD Returns--For Psychotherapeutics

From Scientific American:

Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, lambasted the countercultural movement for marginalizing a chemical that he asserted had potential benefits as an invaluable supplement to psychotherapy and spiritual practices such as meditation. “This joy at having fathered LSD was tarnished after more than ten years of uninterrupted scientific research and medicinal use when LSD was swept up in the huge wave of an inebriant mania that began to spread over the Western world, above all the United States, at the end of the 1950s,” Hofmann groused in his 1979 memoir LSD: My Problem Child.

For just that reason, Hofmann was jubilant in the months before his death last year, at the age of 102, when he learned that the first scientific research on LSD in decades was just beginning in his native Switzerland. “He was very happy that, as he said, ‘a long wish finally became true,’ ” remarks Peter Gasser, the physician leading the clinical trial. “He said that the substance must be in the hands of medical doctors again.”

The preliminary study picks up where investigators left off. It explores the possible therapeutic effects of the drug on the intense anxiety experienced by patients with life-threatening disease, such as cancer. A number of the hundreds of studies conducted on lysergic acid diethylamide-25 from the 1940s into the 1970s (many of poor quality by contemporary standards) delved into the personal insights the drug supplied that enabled patients to reconcile themselves with their own mortality. In recent years some researchers have studied psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) and MDMA (Ecstasy), among others, as possible treatments for this “existential anxiety,” but not LSD.

Gasser, head of the Swiss Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy, which he joined after his own therapist-administered LSD experience, has only recently begun to discuss his research, revealing the challenges of studying psychedelics. The $190,000 study approved by Swiss medical authorities, was almost entirely funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a U.S. nonprofit that sponsors research toward the goal of making psychedelics and marijuana into prescription drugs. Begun in 2008, the study intends to treat 12 patients (eight who will receive LSD and four a placebo). Finding eligible candidates has been difficult—after 18 months only five patients had been recruited, and just four had gone through the trial’s regimen of a pair of all-day sessions. “Because LSD is not a usual treatment, an oncologist will not recommend it to a patient,” Gasser laments.

The patients who received the drug found the experience aided them emotionally, and none experienced panic reactions or other untoward events. One patient, Udo Schulz, told the German weekly Der Spiegel that the therapy with LSD helped him overcome anxious feelings after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, and the experience with the drug aided his reentry into the workplace.

The trials follow a strict protocol—“all LSD treatment sessions will begin at 11 a.m.”—and the researchers are scrupulous about avoiding mistakes that, at times, occurred during older psychedelic trials, when investigators would leave subjects alone during a drug session. Both Gasser and a female co-therapist are present throughout the eight-hour sessions that take place in quiet, darkened rooms, with emergency medical equipment close at hand. Before receiving LSD, subjects have to undergo psychological testing and preliminary psychotherapy sessions.

Another group is also pursuing LSD research. The British-based Beckley Foundation is funding and collaborating on a 12-person pilot study at the University of California, Berkeley, that is assessing how the drug may foster creativity and what changes in neural activity go along with altered conscious experience induced by the chemical. Whether LSD will one day become the drug of choice for psychedelic psychotherapy remains in question because there may be better solutions.

Posted: 9/24/2009 1:42:00 PM

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