‘Psychedelics’ could find new lease on lifein the doctors office

Originally Appeared at: http://www.world-science.net/othernews/100818_psychedelic.htm The au­thor Al­dous Hux­ley spec­u­lat­ed in the 1950s that cer­tain hal­lu­cin­ati­on-inducing drugs—most of them now il­le­gal—could serve as aids to spir­it­u­al growth. Some pre­s­ent-day doc­tors are, in­stead, in­creas­ingly dis­cussing a more mun­dane func­ti­on for these con­tro­ver­sial sub­stances: as medicines. An ar­ti­cle in the Aug. 20 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Na­ture Re­views in Neu­ro­sci­ence pro­poses that “psych­e­del­ics” might be use­ful in low doses as a treat­ment for psy­chi­at­ric dis­or­ders such as de­pres­si­on, anx­i­e­ty and obsessive-compulsive dis­or­ders. “Re­cent ad­vanc­es in our un­der­stand­ing of the neuro­bi­ol­o­gy of psych­e­del­ics… have led to re­newed in­ter­est in [their] clin­i­cal po­ten­tial,” wrote the au­thors, Franz X. Vol­len­wei­der and Mi­chael Ko­me­ter of the Uni­vers­ity of Zu­rich in Switz­er­land. The drugs may re­duce clin­i­cal symp­toms in peo­ple with var­i­ous psy­chi­at­ric dis­or­ders or with chron­ic pain, ac­cord­ing to the au­thors. The drugs un­der con­sid­er­ati­on in­clude sub­stances such as ly­ser­gic ac­id di­ethy­la­mide, pop­u­larly known as LSD or “ac­id”; and psil­o­cy­bin, the mind-altering com­po­nent in so-called mag­ic mush­rooms. Re­cent brain im­ag­ing da­ta, the au­thors wrote, show that the drugs might achieve ther­a­peu­tic aims by act­ing on brain cir­cuits and brain-chem­i­cal trans­mis­si­on sys­tems known to be al­tered in peo­ple with de­pres­si­on and anx­i­e­ty. The rel­e­vant brain chem­i­cal path­ways, al­so called neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sys­tems, in­clude ser­o­to­nin and glu­ta­mate sys­tems, they added. The ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of psych­e­del­ics can oc­cur at low doses that don’t in­duce psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­in­tegr­ati­on or true hal­lu­cin­ati­ons, the au­thors went on. “Psychedelic drugs have long held a spe­cial fascin­ati­on for man­kind be­cause they pro­duce an al­tered state of con­scious­ness… char­ac­ter­ized by dis­tor­ti­ons of per­cep­ti­on, hal­lu­cin­ati­ons or vi­si­ons, ec­stasy, dis­so­lu­ti­on of self bound­aries and the ex­pe­ri­ence of un­ion with the world,” the pair wrote. “As plant-derived ma­te­ri­als, they have been used traditi­onally by many in­dig­e­nous cul­tures in med­i­cal and re­li­gious prac­tice for cen­turies, if not mil­len­nia.” Re­search in­to the ef­fects of psych­e­del­ics has long been re­strict­ed be­cause of the neg­a­tive con­not­ati­ons of the drugs, but the au­thors ar­gue that more re­search in­to the clin­i­cal po­ten­tial of these drugs is war­ranted. More­o­ver, they added, be­cause cer­tain ef­fects of psych­e­del­ic drugs re­sem­ble some of the symp­toms of psy­cho­sis, the drugs could be used to study the brain ba­sis of psy­chot­ic dis­or­ders such as schiz­o­phre­nia. “The most re­cent work has pro­vid­ed com­pel­ling ev­i­dence that clas­si­cal hal­lu­cinogens pri­marily act as ag­o­nists,” or stim­u­la­tors, of mo­lec­u­lar struc­tures in the brain that al­so re­spond to the nat­u­ral brain chem­i­cal ser­o­to­nin, they con­tin­ued. Ser­o­to­nin is a chem­i­cal mes­sen­ger that trans­mits nerve sig­nals be­tween cells. It is in­volved in in­flu­enc­ing mood, pro­mot­ing feel­ings of well-be­ing, and in sleep. Early psy­chi­a­trists not­ed “that LSD can en­hance self-awareness and fa­cil­i­tate the recollecti­on of, and re­lease from, emoti­onally load­ed mem­o­ries,” Vol­len­wei­der and Kome­ter wrote. “By 1965 there were more than 1,000 pub­lished clin­i­cal stud­ies that re­ported prom­is­ing ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects in over 40,000 sub­jects.” “LSD, psil­o­cy­bin and, spo­rad­ic­ally, ke­ta­mine have been re­ported to have ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects in pa­tients with anx­i­e­ty and obsessive-compulsive dis­or­ders (OCD), de­pres­si­on, sex­u­al dysfunc­ti­on and al­co­hol addicti­on, and to re­lieve pain and anx­i­e­ty in pa­tients with ter­mi­nal can­cer,” they added. “Un­for­tu­nately, through­out the 1960s and 1970s LSD and re­lat­ed drugs be­came in­creas­ingly as­so­ci­at­ed with cul­tur­al rebelli­on; they were widely pop­u­larized as drugs of abuse and were de­picted in the me­dia as highly dan­ger­ous,” the pair wrote. Re­search in­to psych­e­del­ics was there­af­ter “se­verely re­strict­ed,” they wrote, leav­ing “many questi­ons un­an­swered.”

A discussion of the recent review in the Aug 20 issue of the research journal Nature Neuroscience proposing that “psych­e­del­ics” might be use­ful in low doses as a treat­ment for psy­chi­at­ric dis­or­ders such as de­pres­si­on, anx­i­e­ty and obsessive-compulsive dis­or­ders.