Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study

Apr 23, 2010 By MALCOLM RITTER , AP Science Writer
In this April 13, 2010 photo, one gram of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, is seen on a scale at New York University in New York. A study being conducted at the university examines the effects of hallucinogenic drugs on the emotional and psychological state of advanced cancer patients. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP) -- The big white pill was brought to her in an earthenware chalice. She'd already held hands with her two therapists and expressed her wishes for what it would help her do.

She swallowed it, lay on the couch with her eyes covered, and waited. And then it came.

"The world was made up of jewels and I was in a dome," she recalled. Surrounded by brilliant, kaleidoscopic colors, she saw the dome open up to admit "this most incredible luminescence that made everything even more beautiful."

Tears trickled down her face as she saw "how beautiful the world could actually be."

That's how Nicky Edlich, 67, began her first-ever trip on a psychedelic drug last year.

She says it has greatly helped her psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety from her advanced ovarian cancer.

And for researchers, it was another small step toward showing that hallucinogenic drugs, famous but condemned in the 1960s, can one day help doctors treat conditions like cancer anxiety and .

The New York University study Edlich participated in is among a handful now going on in the United States and elsewhere with drugs like LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin, the main ingredient of "magic mushrooms." The work follows lines of research choked off four decades ago by the war on drugs. The research is still preliminary. But at least it's there.

"There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds some of the work. "We're at the end of the beginning of the renaissance."

He said that more than 1,200 people attended a conference in California last weekend on psychedelic science.

But doing the research is not easy, Doblin and others say, with government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can't patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.

"There's still a lot of resistance to it," said David Nichols, a Purdue University professor of medicinal chemistry and president of the Heffter Institute, which is supporting the NYU study. "The whole hippie thing in the 60s" and media coverage at the time "has kind of left a bad taste in the mouth of the public at large.

"When you tell people you're treating people with psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is Day-Glo art and tie-dyed shirts."

Nothing like that was in evidence the other day when Edlich revisited the room at NYU where she'd taken psilocybin. Landscape photos and abstract art hung on the walls, flowers and a bowl of fruit adorned a table near the window. At the foot of the couch lay an Oriental rug.

"The whole idea was to create a living room-like setting" that would be relaxing, said study leader Dr. Stephen Ross.

Edlich, whose cancer forced her to retire from teaching French at a private school, had plenty of reason to seek help through the NYU project. Several recurrences of her had provoked fears about suffering and dying and how her death would affect her family. She felt "profound sadness that my life was going to be cut short." And she faced existential questions: Why live? What does it all mean? How can I go on?

"These things were in my head and I wanted them to take a back seat to living in the moment," she said. So when she heard NYU researchers speak about the project at her cancer support group, she was interested.

Psilocybin has been shown to invoke powerful spiritual experiences during the four to six hours it affects the brain. A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.

Experts emphasize people shouldn't try psilocybin on their own because it can be harmful, sometimes causing bouts of anxiety and paranoia.

The NYU study is testing whether that drug experience can help with the nine months of psychotherapy each participant also gets.

The therapy seeks to help patients live fuller, richer lives with the time they have left.

Each study participant gets two drug-dose experiences, but only one of those involves psilocybin; the other is a placebo dose of niacin, which makes the face flush.

The homey NYU room where Edlich had been getting psychotherapy was the setting for her drug experiences. She had brought along photos of her son, grandchildren and partner. She met with two therapists she'd come to trust, knowing they would stay with her through her hours under the influence.

Taking the drug followed a ritual, including the chalice and the hand-holding, because ritual has been part of psilocybin's successful use for centuries by traditional cultures, said Ross, the lead researcher.

After swallowing the white pill, Edlich perused an art book for about a half-hour while waiting for the psilocybin to take effect. Then she lay on the couch with headphones and listened to music with eyeshades over her eyes.

After her vision of the brilliantly colored dome, Edlich went on to two more experiences involving parts of her life. She won't describe those much, even to friends. They "brought me profound sadness and profound grief" but also transformed her understanding of what was important to her in the areas of relationships and trusting, she says.

She sat up and talked with her psychotherapists about what had gone on. And after nine hours in that room, she went home and wrote 30 pages in a diary about what had happened. And she thought about it for weeks afterward.

Did the drug experience help?

It let her view the issues she was working on through a different lens, she said.

"I think it made me more aware of what was so important and what was making me either sad or depressed. I think it was revelatory."

All three people in the study so far felt better, with less general anxiety and fear of death, and greater acceptance of the dying process, Ross said. No major side effects have appeared. The project plans to enroll a total of 32 people.

Ross' work follows up on a small study at the University of California, Los Angeles; results haven't been published yet, but they too are encouraging, according to experts familiar with it.

Yet another study of psilocybin for cancer anxiety, at Johns Hopkins University, has treated 11 out of a planned 44 participants so far. Chief investigator Roland Griffiths said he suspected the results would fall in line with the UCLA work.

In interviews, some psychiatrists who work with cancer patients reacted coolly to the prospects of using psilocybin.

"I'm kind of curious about it," said Dr. Susan Block of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She said it's an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and "I don't think it's ever going to be a widely used treatment."

Ross, meanwhile, thinks patients might benefit from more than one dose of the drug during the psychotherapy. The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.

Edlich said her single dose "brought me to a deeper place in my mind, that I would never have gone to ... I feel a second session would even take me to more important places.

"I would do it a second time in a New York minute."

Explore further: Growing up poor affects adults' sense of control, impulsiveness when faced with economic uncertainty

More information: NYU experiment: http://bit.ly/dBZVGs
Johns Hopkins experiment: http://www.cancer-insight.org
Psychedelic research organization: http://www.maps.org
Heffter Research Institute: http://www.heffter.org

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Husky
1.9 / 5 (7) Apr 23, 2010
...unfortunately , the profound spirituaL emotional experience quickly wears off when you start munching more often on them substances trying to replicate the effect.
SRDUB2
4 / 5 (4) Apr 23, 2010
That's a weird view husky. I try and have a psychedelic experience once every 6 months or so. I've been caring on in that way for the past 3 or so years. Though the experiences are amazing, enlightening, and enjoyable I have never thought of them so trivial that I need to replicate them on a regular basis.

When they said "It let her view the issues she was working on through a different lens, she said." i really related to it. Trying to explain to someone what it is to look at life from a different perspective is ultra hard. Its like taking a step back from your existence and being able to contemplate it and reflect upon it.
danman5000
1.5 / 5 (12) Apr 23, 2010
The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.

So the people given drugs immediately wanted more. How surprising. Why not throw in a couple doses of heroin for the next study too?
rgw
2 / 5 (3) Apr 23, 2010
As long as it's pharmaceutical heroin and no charge, it would go well after 250mics of pharmaceutical LSD.
gwrede
4.3 / 5 (11) Apr 23, 2010
The first experience with LSD is disturbed by one's fear. That's why most of them ask for a second dose. "Entering" the second trip is then smoother, and since one is not fearful and knows the outline, then there's more of a chance to actually explore one self, and "let go" to feel the experience wholeheartedly.

It's a little like your first time in the new and scary ride in the amusement park. First time around, you just concentrate on surviving without puking or soiling yourself, but from the second time on you actually have time to experience the ride.

What is curious, is that even though the LSD experience usually is described as profound and unique, there seems to be little problem with addiction. Makes an interesting contrast to cigarettes, which are notoriously addictive while still not producing any high to speak of.
jamesevans
5 / 5 (6) Apr 23, 2010
"A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had."

I am surprised that a few of the comments here accept the prejudiced view against illicit drugs. Lumping different molecules together into one large bin of "bad" does not make scientific sense. I have used psychedelics several times in my life. The most recent time was over 5 years ago. I can honestly report back that the experiences are is both profound and valid. It is possible to translate them into day to day life so that you do not have to continually "take drugs."

It is sensible to treat these questions with scientific skepticism rather than outright prejudice. We should be conducting more careful research into these molecules.
ppnlppnl
1 / 5 (9) Apr 23, 2010

I once talked to a guy who took a drug. He say hippopotamus wearing a hat. It asked him if he wanted a ride. Profound and valid? He thought so. But then he believed that the hippopotamus was a real being that contacted him through the drug.

Powerful experience? No doubt. Spiritually significant? Be careful there.
HealingMindN
1.4 / 5 (5) Apr 23, 2010
OK, I have the talking stick. You Timothy Leary era white boys have it all wrong. You have to do this with the proper ritual at your next big house ceremony. You can't just chugalug your peyote. You need a drum circle beating rhythms slower and slower in unison around a holy fire. The medicine man or woman prepares your wild horse elixir and brings it to you while you chant to the four winds. Throw fresh river grass into the fire and drink the elixir. Then you will experience the thunder visions as the smoke from the spiritual realm enters your body. This is how to visit the spirit world. Your white man's black magic will only cause you flashbacks and habitual cravings.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2010
I see no problem with this if it is controlled. Think about it a legally produced pill and 2 phycologists there to keep an eye on you so you dont try to fly away off the roof. Making it a safe controlled experience. And it seems to help.
Husky
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
it's my way of saying that indeed you should space several months between single use as not to build resistance, otherwise the experience becomes more and more of seeking a shallow quick high needing increasingly larger doses and damaging side effects become more prominent.
GPG
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
Tolerance to LSD is short-lived, a few days to a week at most.
fliss
4 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2010
Whilst the illicit use of drugs in uncontrolled circumstances cannot be condoned and the movement in the sixties did nothing to improve the image of psychadelics, it has proved useful historically. Indeed, Aldous Huxley would not have written The Doors of Perception and experienced what he did in the name of research whilst under the influence of psychadelics. Other greats like Gregory Bateson and Fritjof Capra also mention positives. More research needed.
prisonersdilema
1 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2010
People who are anxious should not take hallucinogens, because it will utimately make them more anxious, by destroying the brains natural gating system. Panic attacks and crippeling anxiety will result.

Seems like some intellectuals, need them because otherwise they can't feel anything, their way too cerebral otherwise.
CDClock
Apr 24, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
CDClock
4 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2010
Husky, psychedelic drugs are everything but a "quick high." Trips on psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, and other ethneogenic drugs invoke extraordinary changes in perception and thought that are extremely hard to describe in words. Most ethneogens are not addictive, in fact they're somewhat "anti-addictive." After an intense trip, I need time to reflect on the experience and integrate it into everyday life.

Also, sertogernic hallucinogens (such as psilocybin or LSD) cause an almost immediate tolerance to the drug that lasts for about a week. This prevents constant and daily use of the drug (although I can't imagine why anyone would want to trip for days on end.)

Please, educate yourself on psychedelic substances. They are truly amazing and we really need to study the effects of them more.
Toby1
5 / 5 (5) Apr 24, 2010
Dr. Susan Block of the ( cancer industry ) .. said it's an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and "I don't think it's ever going to be a widely used treatment."
Yes indeed. Why would you pay any attention to a treatment that makes patients feel much better. The voice of the pharma industry for you.
But hey,
" So the people given drugs immediately wanted more. How surprising. Why not throw in a couple doses of heroin for the next study too? "
says one comment above. This guy and Susan would deny a 67 year old woman relief from her terrible despair because.. why exactly?
Makes you realize what stunted and hatefull pygmies are trolling around free in our society.
Husky
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2010
well, for some people LSD, ketamine, DXM etc is addictive, personally i grew too much of a liking to 2ct7 with xtc combo, but i liked it more as a partyghoer than for shamanistic use, i don't do that stuff often anymore but I do recognize that strong hallucinogens should better be used in a controlled setting and while sporadic use can open up the mind, make a person more emphatic/retrospective/at ease with himself/herself, regular recreational of use of hallucinogens will either trigger/amplify a slumbering mental disorder or otherwise cook your brains.
Husky
1 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2010
i have seen a fair share of hallucinogen addicts losing sense of reality and now lingering halfway somewhere between the gutter and stars.
HealingMindN
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 24, 2010
Psychedelic trips are not necessary to cure emotional disorders: http://bit.ly/aM4t9x. If you want to get permanently high, maybe you should try pointing microwaves at your head? Supposedly. this can induce schizophrenia, but I'm sure you crackheads won't mind. You probably hear voices all the time anyway.
Mercury_01
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
i have seen a fair share of hallucinogen addicts losing sense of reality and now lingering halfway somewhere between the gutter and stars.


"Hallucinogen addicts?" Seriously? I believe you are referring to those who would be classified as mentally ill. That would explain why you know them so well.
fuzz54
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
To those who are against helping someone who is mentally ill... Try being suicidally depressed for a couple years. It is more damaging than the drugs used to cure it. I know from experience. As for what is an illicit substance, that is entirely up to the lawmakers. Alcohol is addictive and mind altering and is legal. Does that make sense?
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
OK, I have the talking stick. You Timothy Leary era white boys have it all wrong. You have to do this with the proper ritual at your next big house ceremony. You can't just chugalug your peyote. You need a drum circle beating rhythms slower and slower in unison around a holy fire. The medicine man or woman prepares your wild horse elixir and brings it to you while you chant to the four winds... Your white man's black magic will only cause you flashbacks and habitual cravings.

Who let the shaman on the magic box of internet magic?

Seriously, shamanism worked. Very well, but only because it accidentally ascribed spiritual understanding in place of knowledge of biochemistry and reactionary pneumonic patterning.

We can use their ancient, bronze age techniques and potentially achieve the same mental states, or we can do it in a lab and skip thousands of years of smoking, snorting, drinking, boiling, and other trial and error techniques.

Choose science, stop idiocy.
Husky
1 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
well its no secret that people with mental disorders, often feel attracted to hallucinogens as they want to escape from a reality/social structure in wich they feel they don't fit in. The problem with these self-medicators is that they just use as a vehicle to get away from reality, while a shaman aims to get a person on terms with reality.
Husky
not rated yet Apr 25, 2010
as for science, I heard they can pretty good result from using strong magnets (like used in mri scanners) to either smooth out the jaggies or in peoples brainwaves or stimulate hardgaining neurons and thus relax a number of phobias or elevate depressive states etc...
Bloodoflamb
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
The first experience with LSD is disturbed by one's fear. That's why most of them ask for a second dose. "Entering" the second trip is then smoother, and since one is not fearful and knows the outline, then there's more of a chance to actually explore one self, and "let go" to feel the experience wholeheartedly.
Not necessarily. The first time I did acid, I did it with 6 really close friends. It was the first time any of us had done it except for one. We all had a great time. Though it was not as immediately spiritual (in the sense of feeling an extremely strong connection to the world around me while under its effects) as my first experience with mushrooms would later be, the day AFTER that trip was by far the happiest day of my entire life.
Bloodoflamb
5 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2010
i have seen a fair share of hallucinogen addicts losing sense of reality and now lingering halfway somewhere between the gutter and stars.
I'm going to go ahead and guess you have little to zero experience with people that have done either LSD or mushrooms.

I know a person who has done a 'thumb-print' of acid (~150 to 200 hits), which he described as watching the world melt. He sees distorted colors and object boundaries form this experience to this day.

He's also consumed a quarter ounce of very potent psilocybin mushroom and experienced 'ego death,' which is the feeling that one is actual dying (not the reality of future death) then accepting that death.

I can have conversations with this person. He's extremely intelligent. The main issue he has is with (!) alcoholism. I know over a half dozen people between the ages of 20 and 25 that shake when they don't drink in a given day.
Bloodoflamb
5 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2010
(continued)
Do you know even FIVE people that have done LSD or shrooms? Have you interacted with them when they've done so? Have YOU done so?