Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Andrea K. McDaniels


Hallucinogenics May Ease Addictions, Mental Disorders

Gordon McGlothlin, who took his first puff at age 12 behind his 
family's garage, tried to quit smoking for years, but no cessation 
technique worked until he used a psychedelic drug. Researchers with 
the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine gave the 69year-old a 
derivative of psychedelic mushrooms similar to LSD, or acid, and 
watched him "trip" in a therapy room during six-hour sessions.

McGlothlin experienced wild hallucinations, including watching his 
body slowly unraveling until it disappeared into a puff of smoke. 
After researchers took his blood pressure, he imagined a red 
blood-like fluid covering him from head to toe.

After the third session, the artist had lost his urge to smoke.

McGlothlin was part of a group study on the effects of psilocybin, 
the active hallucinogenic ingredient in "magic mushrooms," on smoking 
cessation. The study represents a resurgence in research at Johns 
Hopkins, New York University and other academic institutions looking 
at whether mind-altering psychedelics, such as LSD, mushrooms and 
ecstasy can be effective in treating a variety of emotional and 
addictive disorders.

Scientists have discovered that psychedelic drugs have the potential 
to relieve clinical depression, anxiety in cancer patients, 
depression in hospice patients, posttraumatic stress disorder and 
obsessive-compulsive disorder.

McGlothlin, who was one of the study's early participants three years 
ago, had gone cold-turkey, attended smoking cessation classes and 
practiced behavioral modification. He said psychedelics gave him a 
sense of peace and clarity that enabled him to give up cigarettes.

"It's not just that it makes you quit smoking, but it changes your 
mind," he said. "Smoking has just become a nonissue . ... It is no 
longer important. It is no longer a factor in my life."

In recent years, researchers have investigated a number of possible 
ways that psychedelics could be used therapeutically.

Last year, Johns Hopkins completed a study of individuals suffering 
from a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. The patients were 
administered psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety and depression 
symptoms. The findings have not yet been released.

Hopkins also studied how the drugs, combined with meditation, can 
enhance psychological well-being and spirituality in healthy people. 
Those finding also have not been released.

Psilocybin is being studied as a treatment for alcoholism at the 
University of New Mexico and New York University, as a treatment for 
cocaine dependence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and as 
a novel antidepressant at Johns Hopkins and at Imperial College London.

Psilocybin has also been studied as a treatment for 
obsessive-compulsive disorder at the University of Arizona.

Interest, then stigma

Psychedelics were more widely studied in the 1950s and 1960s, until 
people began abusing the drugs and their use was stigmatized. The 
federal government made possession and distribution of the drugs 
illegal, and scientists and government funders shied away from research.

The drugs were listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act as a 
Schedule 1 substance, the most dangerous designation. Researchers 
wanting to use the drugs in experiments had to get extra layers of 
approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency, which made the process 
more time-consuming and expensive.

Some researchers in the 1990s became interested in the drugs again 
and were helped by private funders, such as the Beckley Foundation 
and the Heffter Research Institute.

Even with the renewed interest in researching the drugs, scientists 
say it remains difficult to get funding because of the decades-old 
stigma of psychedelics and their association with American counterculture.

Pharmaceutical companies do not have an interest in developing 
psychedelic drugs because they can't be patented, and drug makers 
haven't determined how to make them profitable, said Brad Burge of 
the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The 
nonprofit promotes the medical use of psychedelic drugs and marijuana.

But those attitudes may be shifting as more people seek holistic and 
alternative treatment options for mental health, he said.

Researchers say they haven't seen any dangerous side effects. The 
most recent studies, like the one at Johns Hopkins, are small.

"It is early in the research, so none of us know if this will pan out 
to be a broadly used treatment, but certainly from where we sit it is 
promising enough to be rigorously examined and to be taken 
seriously," said Albert Garcia-Romeu, a research associate in the 
department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, 
who is working on the smoking studies.

For the drugs to be approved for widespread use, federal or state 
laws would have to be changed.

High success rate

McGlothlin was one of 15 people who took part in the smoking 
cessation study in which patients underwent cognitive behavioral 
therapy, where they reflected on their attitude toward smoking before 
receiving doses of psilocybin. They also were given one last 
cigarette before the session began.

Twelve of them quit smoking - a much higher success rate than the 35 
percent who quit after taking the widely used smoking cessation drug 
varenicline, or Chantix, or the 30 percent who quit after using 
nicotine replacement.

The Hopkins scientists are now building off this research. This time, 
researchers also are looking at brain imaging to see what happens 
during a psychedelic high.

Psychedelics are believed to cause people to deeply reflect on their 
lives and unearth motivation to make changes, said Matthew W. 
Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences 
at Johns Hopkins and the study's lead author.

"People tend to experience very personally meaningful experiences 
under the influence, and it helps reconnect them with important parts 
of their life," he said.

Johnson, along with researchers from the University of Alabama, 
looked at whether prolonged use of psychedelics could help people 
suffering with depression or who are suicidal.

Critics say that extreme caution should be taken when using illicit 
drugs to treat illness. Scott Chipman, with the group Citizens 
Against the Legalization of Marijuana, said more research of 
psychedelics is needed and that the Food and Drug Administration - 
not lawmakers - should approve their use.

"If the FDA approves LSD or some other drug for treatment, that means 
they have done the testing," Chipman said. "Any medicine should be 
approved through the FDA process, not through voters, not through legislation."

Moreover, certain hallucinogens can be addictive, according to the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse. While LSD isn't considered 
addictive, users can develop a tolerance so that they take the drug 
repeatedly at higher doses to achieve the same effect, which can be dangerous.

The researchers looking at psychedelics emphasize that the trials are 
carefully controlled, as medical professionals remain with patients 
under the influence of the drug. The researchers also warn that 
people shouldn't try to self-medicate because some have extreme 
reactions to psychedelics, including feeling out of control or 
disconnected from their bodies.

Of more than 190,000 U.S. adults surveyed over five years as part of 
the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, regular use of certain 
psychedelic drugs was associated with a 19 percent reduced likelihood 
of psychological distress within the past month and a 14 percent 
reduced likelihood of suicidal thinking within the past year. Users 
of most other illicit drugs generally exhibited an increased 
likelihood of psychological distress, or feelings of suicide, the 
federal study found.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies has 
completed six clinical trials using MDMA, to treat military veterans, 
sexual assault survivors, disaster survivors and others suffering from PTSD.

Researchers who conducted the studies in the United States, 
Switzerland, Israel, and Canada treated 107 people with PTSD. After 
two sessions of treatment, 51 percent of participants no longer met 
the clinical definition for having the disorder. Sixty-one percent no 
longer met the definition after three sessions, and 66 percent no 
longer met the criteria after 12 months.

The group said they plan to present the results to the FDA in the 
fall and begin a final clinical trial with 200 to 400 participants.

The group has other studies underway, including using psychedelics to 
treat social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum and anxiety 
associated with life-threatening illness. The researchers also plan 
to study how MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or "Molly," can be used 
along with psychotherapy for couples that include one person 
suffering with PTSD.

The researchers said they hope the studies will yield findings that 
help attract funding for more studies. They pointed to the growing 
acceptance of medical marijuana as a road map for their efforts. Half 
of states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia, have 
legalized medical marijuana.

"Medical marijuana shows that just because a drug is illegal doesn't 
mean that it doesn't have great promise, and that all of these 
compounds deserve careful study," Burge said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom