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.