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  • yourbrainscience

The Hope

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Psychedelics have become a big media sensation prompting a lot of public attention. While this may be a good thing, in last weeks episode and blog post Alaina talked about the potential harm arising from such sweeping generalizations often made in these media think pieces. This week we talk about why although we must remain critical and keep an eye towards research based findings, there is a lot of hope here! A lot of potential for the future of psychedelic research.

Some of the big clinical studies to first draw this media attention were clinical studies looking at the effects of psychedelics on depression and anxiety in patients with terminal diagnosis such at this Johns Hopkins study from 2016 that looked at the use of psilocybin in the treatment of depression and anxiety in terminally ill patients. This study found that at a 6 month follow up, 80% of participants showed significant clinical improvements in their symptoms of depression and anxiety, along with various other measures.

In the same year, Carhart Harris and his group published an article about their open-label trial examining the effects of psilocybin on treatment resistant depression. This study found that 67% of the patients achieved complete remission from treatment resistant depression at 1 week and 58% continued to meet criteria for response at 3 months, with five of these 42%)still in complete remission. These results are nothing short of astounding and really highlight why psychedelics do deserve the hype!

Along with this, psychedelics have been having remarkable outcomes in substance use disorder treatment. Such as in this study by Bogenshutz and his team in which they investigate the use of psilocybin in the treatment of alcohol dependence. They found that they found that Percentage of heavy drinking days during the 32-week double-blind follow up-period after psychedelic administration, was 9.7% for the psilocybin group and 23.6% for the diphenhydramine group- a statistically significant difference!

Similarly, Matthew Johnson and his group in a study examining the effects of psilocybin on smoking cessation, found that 2-3 moderate to high doses of psilocybin along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) resulted in smoking cessation at a 6 month follow up and that this was significantly different from what you see with other medications or just CBT alone in the treatment of nicotine addiction.

This is barely scratching the surface of the exciting research being done in the field, all of this work furthering the field and also prompting investigations into how psychedelics may be having such incredible therapeutic benefit. The entropic brain hypothesis, and the neuroplastic hypothesis of psychedelic action both aim to provide hypothesis to answer this question.

There is so much to be hopeful about in this field and as we look to rigorous science to add to the psychedelic body of literature we must remain critical and responsible in our communications about this field and not contribute to blind optimism and hype.

List of Readings:

"Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial"

"Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study"

"Percentage of Heavy Drinking Days Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy vs Placebo in the Treatment of Adult Patients With Alcohol Use Disorder"

"Long-term Follow-up of Psilocybin-facilitated Smoking Cessation"

"The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs"

"Catalysts for change: the cellular neurobiology of psychedelics"

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