Category: Drugs

“Lack Of Scientific Proof” That Microdosing Psychedelic Drugs Improves Wellbeing Or Creativity

LSD caps and tweezers on wood

By Emma Young

“Microdosing” psychedelic drugs involves regularly taking amounts so tiny that they don’t impair a person’s normal functioning, but — it’s claimed — subtly enhance wellbeing, concentration and creativity. In May, for example, the Digest reported on a study that found hints of reduced stress and increased emotional intensity among people who microdosed LSD and psilocybin, from ‘magic’ mushrooms.

However, we also stressed that there has been little research into the technique — and now a review of the field published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology concludes that while the popularity of microdosing has exploded over the past eight years, knowledge about what it actually does remains patchy and anecdotal. In fact, there are still far more questions about the technique than answers, write Kim Kuypers at Maastricht University, and her colleagues.

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This Diary Study Suggests It’s Probably Not A Good Idea To Use Cannabis To Help You Sleep

GettyImages-537641263.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Poor sleepers may be hoping that with the gradual liberalisation of marijuana laws around the world, a new drug to help them sleep will soon become legally available. Bad news, then, from a new diary study, published in Health Psychology, of people who take cannabis as a sleep aid. While the drug seemed to improve some aspects of sleep, it also led people to feel more tired the next day. 

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Study Finds Microdosing Psychedelics Can Be Beneficial, But Not In The Way That Users Most Expect

GettyImages-967113414.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

What if you could take a psychedelic drug regularly in such tiny quantities that the immediate effects were not discernible, yet over time it led to a range of psychological benefits, especially enhanced focus and heightened creativity? That’s the principle behind “microdosing” – a controversial technique that’s exploded in popularity ever since the publication of a 2011 book The Psychedelic Explorers Guide and a 2015 Rolling Stone article titled How LSD Microdosing Became The Hot New Business Trip. Large online communities of microdosing enthusiasts have since emerged on sites like Reddit, where dosing tips are shared and the supposed manifold benefits of the practice are espoused.

However, actual scientific investigations into the effects of microdosing can be counted on one hand. Earlier this year, PLOS One published one of the few systematic investigations ever conducted into the practice, by Vince Polito and Richard Stevenson at Macquarie University. Though exploratory and tentative due to “legal and bureaucratic” obstacles (meaning there was no placebo control or randomisation in this research), the results suggest that microdosing can be beneficial, although not in the ways that users most expect, and not necessarily for everyone.

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“Skunk” Cannabis Disrupts Brain Networks – But Effects Are Blocked In Other Strains

Human head with marijuana leaf iconBy Matthew Warren

Over the past decade, neuroimaging studies have provided new insights into how psychoactive drugs alter the brain’s activity. Psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – has been found to reduce activity in brain regions involved in depression, for example, while MDMA seems to augment brain activity for positive memories.

Now a new study sheds some light into what’s going in the brain when people smoke cannabis – and it turns out that the effects can be quite different depending on the specific strain of the drug. The research, published recently in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, suggests that cannabis disrupts particular brain networks – but some strains can buffer against this disruption.

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Massive Comparison Of Narrative Accounts Finds Ketamine Trips Are Remarkably Similar to Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Supporting The Neurochemical Model Of NDEs

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Similarity in the most frequently used words in accounts of near death experiences (NDE) and ketamine trips, via Martial et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

First-hand accounts of what it is like to come close to death often contain the same recurring themes, such as the sense of leaving the body, a review of one’s life, tunnelled vision and a magical sense of reality. Mystics, optimists and people of religious faith interpret this as evidence of an after life. Sceptically minded neuroscientists and psychologists think there may be a more terrestrial neurochemical explanation – that the profound and magical near death experience is caused by the natural release of brain chemicals at or near the end of life.

Supporting this, observers have noted the striking similarities between first-hand accounts of near-death experiences and the psychedelic experiences described by people who have taken mind-altering drugs.

“I had the feeling of floating, still tied to the remains of my heavy body, but floating nonetheless. I rocked and moved, at times as if on a liquid, undulating surface, at other times rising upwards, like a helium-filled flat container.” Excerpt from Amazing First-time Experience in the K-hole, published by Phaeton at the Erowid Experience vaults.

Perhaps, near death, the brain naturally releases the same psychoactive substances as used by drug takers, or substances that act on the same brain receptors as the drugs. It’s also notable that psychedelic drugs have been taken by the shamans of traditional far-flung cultures through history as a way to, as they see it, visit the after world or speak to the dead.

To date, however, much of the evidence comparing near death experiences and psychedelic trips has been anecdotal or it’s been based on questionnaire measures that arguably struggle to capture the complexity of these life-changing experiences. Pursuing this line of enquiry with a new approach, an international team of researchers led by Charlotte Martial at the University Hospital of Liège has conducted a deep lexical analysis, comparing 625 written narrative accounts of near death experiences with more than 15,000 written narrative accounts of experiences taking psychoactive drugs (sourced from the Erowid Experience vaults), including 165 different substances in 10 drug classes.

Continue reading “Massive Comparison Of Narrative Accounts Finds Ketamine Trips Are Remarkably Similar to Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Supporting The Neurochemical Model Of NDEs”

Amsterdam coffee-shop study explores the effects of cannabis on eye-witness memory

Cannabis intoxication strengthened the correlation between eye-witnesses’ memory confidence and accuracy

By Christian Jarrett

The fallibility of eye-witness memory has been well-documented by psychologists, including how alcohol intoxication undermines witness accuracy still further. In fact, psychological research into the foibles of human memory and the implications this has for legal proceedings is arguably one of the best examples of the discipline making a practical contribution to everyday life.

And yet, as Annelies Vredeveldt at VU University Amsterdam and her team explain in their new paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology, there is a striking gap in the literature: “despite the frequency with which people use cannabis, there is almost no research examining its effects on eye-witness memory.”

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Psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) plus meditation and spiritual training leads to lasting changes in positive traits

GettyImages-512153806.jpgBy Emma Young

“Conferences on psychedelics are popping up everywhere, like mushrooms!” said Jakobien van der Weijden, of the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands, when I met her in Amsterdam last week. Indeed, research into the use of psychedelic (mind-altering) drugs as tools in the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life angst, is on the increase. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, may help to alleviate symptoms of depression by altering brain activity in key areas involved in emotional processing, for example.

Now a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, led by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University, has found that for mentally and physically healthy volunteers, two doses of psilocybin in conjunction with a programme of meditation and other “spiritual” practices was enough to bring about lasting, positive changes to traits including altruism, gratitude, forgiveness and feeling close to others.

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Neural changes after taking psychedelic drugs may reflect “heightened consciousness”

Girl's Portrait With Crazy Hair - Lifestyle Concept.By Emma Young

Is there anything psychedelic drugs can’t do? A recent wave of scientific scrutiny has revealed that they can elicit “spiritual” experiences, alleviate end-of-life angst, and perhaps treat depression – and they might achieve at least some of all this by “heightening consciousness”, according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Academically successful children smoke more cannabis as teenagers: is it time to rethink drug education programmes?

You want a joint?By guest blogger Simon Oxenham

Academically successful children are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis in their teenage years than their less academic peers. That’s according to a study of over 6000 young people in England published recently in BMJ Open by researchers at UCL. While the results may sound surprising, they shouldn’t be. The finding is in fact consistent with earlier research that showed a relationship between higher childhood IQ and the use in adolescence of a wide range of illegal drugs.

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LSD boosts people’s suggestibility, raising possibility of clinical uses

A rigorously controlled new study reports that a dose of LSD makes us more susceptible to suggestions, a finding that raises the possibility of clinical usage in contexts where hypnosis has proven effective.

The study recruited 10 participants (9 men), aged 27–47, all of whom had used psychedelics in the past, but were clear of any diagnosis of mental illness. They attended two testing sessions 5–10 days apart where placebo was administered in the first session, and a standard dose of LSD (40–80 μg) on the second. This fixed order was necessary to avoid any leakage of psychedelic effects from one session to another, mimicking the design of an earlier experiment on nitrous oxide.

Two hours after receiving placebo/dose, participants closed their eyes and were led through a series of standard suggestions used in hypnosis research, such as imagining hearing exquisite music, feeling time slowing, or their finger becoming numb. Their subsequent ratings of vividness of the imaginings were nearly one point higher (on a five-point scale) in the LSD session than the placebo, a significant effect.

LSD led to bigger rises in suggestibility for participants who scored higher on a measure of conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is associated with “ego control”, and it may be that LSD’s much-reported effect of “ego dissolution” may be pulling down bulwarks that would otherwise make these individuals resistant to accepting suggestions.

If you’ve had personal experience with LSD, the results of this study may seem plausible to you. If you haven’t, users report a sense of the external world mingling with their own thoughts. Also, groups of people who “go on a trip” together tend to converge on the same ideas and feelings in an uncanny fashion. Given these subjective accounts it makes sense that the drug was associated with increased suggestibility in this research. The practical significance of this finding is that it shows the malleability offered by LSD has parallels with how hypnosis operates, justifying and paving the way for exploration of LSD in contexts where hypnosis has proven effective – clinically in areas such as pain, PTSD and weight loss, often in conjunction with other interventions.

It’s high time for LSD to receive this renewed focus. Its potential for suggestibility was investigated clinically – albeit without the placebo controls we see here – way back in the 1950s (and no doubt influenced its investigation in the CIA’s infamous MK-Ultra programme for mind control). Indeed, in its early days LSD was considered full of promise for clinical applications; a meta-analysis of a set of trials looking at LSD treatment for alcoholism showed an effect that hasn’t been bettered by any other means.

Regulatory restrictions imposed in the mid–1960s slammed shut the door onto these perceptions, forcing later researchers to operate in an unwelcoming climate, including political obstacles and costly, difficult licensing criteria, which explains why peer-reviewed articles gave way to albums and other missives of the counterculture as our main sources of information about the significance of hallucinogens.

Now we may be seeing the beginning of a renaissance of psychedelic research, with fuller understanding of its activity at the levels of neuronal populations and brain regions, and clinical investigation into its use to reduce anxiety in those with terminal illness. If you are interested in these issues, and more, be sure to check out the September issue of the Psychologist, which focuses on hallucinogens. It’s entirely open access and free to everyone. _________________________________

ResearchBlogging.orgR. L. Carhart-Harris & M. Kaelen & M. G. Whalley & 7 M. Bolstridge & A. Feilding & D. J. Nutt. (2014). LSD enhances suggestibility in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology.

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.