All Science Articles

KETAMINE

January 2022

Dose-related effects of ketamine for antidepressant-resistant symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans and active duty military: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled multi-center clinical trial

This study tested the efficacy of repeated intravenous ketamine doses to reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans and service members with PTSD (n = 158) who failed previous antidepressant treatment were randomized to 8 infusions administered twice weekly of intravenous placebo (n = 54), low dose (0.2 mg/kg; n = 53) or standard dose (0.5 mg/kg; n = 51) ketamine. Participants were assessed at baseline, during treatment, and for 4 weeks after their last infusion. Primary analyses used mixed effects models. The primary outcome measure was the self-report PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5), and secondary outcome measures were the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5) and the Montgomery Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). There were no significant group-by-time interactions for PTSD symptoms measured by the PCL-5 or CAPS-5. The standard ketamine dose ameliorated depression measured by the MADRS significantly more than placebo. Ketamine produced dose-related dissociative and psychotomimetic effects, which returned to baseline within 2 h and were less pronounced with repeated administration. There was no evidence of differential treatment discontinuation by ketamine dose, consistent with good tolerability. This clinical trial failed to find a significant dose-related effect of ketamine on PTSD symptoms. Secondary analyses suggested that the standard dose exerted rapid antidepressant effects. Further studies are needed to determine the role of ketamine in PTSD treatment.

KETAMINE

January 2022

Depression, Estrogens, and Neuroinflammation: A Preclinical Review of Ketamine Treatment for Mood Disorders in Women

Ketamine has been shown to acutely and rapidly ameliorate depression symptoms and suicidality. Given that women suffer from major depression at twice the rate of men, it is important to understand how ketamine works in the female brain. This review explores three themes. First, it examines our current understanding of the etiology of depression in women. Second, it examines preclinical research on ketamine’s antidepressant effects at a neurobiological level as well as how ovarian hormones present a unique challenge in interpreting these findings. Lastly, the neuroinflammatory hypothesis of depression is highlighted to help better understand how ovarian hormones might interact with ketamine in the female brain.

KETAMINE

January 2022

Adjunctive Ketamine With Relapse Prevention–Based Psychological Therapy in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder

Early evidence suggests that ketamine may be an effective treatment to sustain abstinence from alcohol. The authors investigated the safety and efficacy of ketamine compared with placebo in increasing abstinence in patients with alcohol use disorder. An additional aim was to pilot ketamine combined with mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy compared with ketamine and alcohol education as a therapy control.

PSYCHEDELICS

January 2022

Validation of the Psychological Insight Scale: A new scale to assess psychological insight following a psychedelic experience

As their name suggests, ‘psychedelic’ (mind-revealing) compounds are thought to catalyse processes of psychological insight; however, few satisfactory scales exist to sample this. This study sought to develop a new scale to measure psychological insight after a psychedelic experience: the Psychological Insight Scale (PIS).

PSILOCYBIN RESEARCH

November 2021

Acute Effects of Psilocybin After Escitalopram or Placebo Pretreatment in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study in Healthy Subjects

The psychedelic psilocybin is being investigated for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Unclear is whether antidepressant treatments interact with psilocybin. The present study used a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design with two experimental test sessions to investigate the response to psilocybin (25 mg) in healthy subjects after pretreatment with escitalopram or placebo. The treatment order was random and counterbalanced. Pretreatment consisted of 10 mg escitalopram daily for 7 days, followed by 20 mg daily for 7 days, including the day of psilocybin administration, or 14 days of placebo pretreatment before psilocybin administration. Psilocybin treatments were separated by at least 16 days. The outcome measures included self-rating scales that evaluated subjective effects, autonomic effects, adverse effects, plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, electrocardiogram QTc time, whole-blood HTR2A and SCL6A4 gene expression, and pharmacokinetics. Escitalopram pretreatment had no relevant effect on positive mood effects of psilocybin but significantly reduced bad drug effects, anxiety, adverse cardiovascular effects, and other adverse effects of psilocybin compared with placebo pretreatment. Escitalopram did not alter the pharmacokinetics of psilocin. The half-life of psychoactive free (unconjugated) psilocin was 1.8 hours (range 1.1-2.2 hours), consistent with the short duration of action of psilocybin. Escitalopram did not alter HTR2A or SCL6A4 gene expression before psilocybin administration, QTc intervals, or circulating BDNF levels before or after psilocybin administration. Further studies are needed with a longer antidepressant pretreatment time and patients with psychiatric disorders to further define interactions between antidepressants and psilocybin.

PSYCHEDELICS

November 2021

Psychedelic experience dose-dependently modulated by cannabis: results of a prospective online survey

The current study aimed to explore the subjective effects of psychedelics when used alongside cannabis.

Ketamine-Assisted, Psychotherapy

October 2021

Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for trauma-exposed patients in an outpatient setting: A clinical chart review study

Trauma exposure across the lifespan produces risks for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, as well as global disability in functioning. This retrospective clinical chart review is the first of its kind to assess the utility of sublingual ketamine-assisted body-centered psychotherapy in trauma-exposed patients in a real world clinic setting.

Research

October 2021

Psychedelics and Other Psychoplastogens for Treating Mental Illness

Psychedelics have inspired new hope for treating brain disorders, as they seem to be unlike any treatments currently available. Not only do they produce sustained therapeutic effects following a single administration, but they also appear to have broad therapeutic potential, demonstrating efficacy for treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorder, and alcohol use disorder, among others. Psychedelics belong to a more general class of compounds known as psychoplastogens, which robustly promote structural and functional neural plasticity in key circuits relevant to brain health. Here we discuss the importance of structural plasticity in the treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases, as well as the evidence demonstrating that psychedelics are among the most effective chemical modulators of neural plasticity studied to date.

September 2021

Psychedelics, Sociality, and Human Evolution

Terrence McKenna famously proposed the Stoned Ape Theory which suggests that psychedelic mushrooms catalyzed human evolution by enhancing visual acuity (low dose), sexual activity (moderate dose), and visionary experience (high dose). Moreover, he believed that the fungi likely brought about self-reflection and language. This article looks at new evidence that lends further support to the vital role that psilocybin might have played in human evolution.

Ketamine-Assisted, PSYCHEDELICS

September 2021

Critical Period Plasticity as a Framework for Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

There are numerous critical periods throughout the maturation of a human. For example, there are developmental periods during which language is most readily learned, physical sensations are developed, emotional responses are mastered, and movement is refined. The enhanced neuroplasticity that allows for these critical periods doesn’t last forever, so once a period is passed it’s especially difficult to learn a new skill. This hypothesis posits that psychedelics may temporarily reinstate this plasticity, sensitizing adults to environmental inputs and facilitating the relearning process that can be optimized via psychotherapy.

KETAMINE

September 2021

Plasma inflammatory cytokines and treatment-resistant depression with comorbid pain: improvement by ketamine

Ketamine can address both physical and psychological pain. In fact, it’s widely used as an analgesic. Many people with depression also experience physical pain. This study found that ketamine had a stronger antidepressant effect in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and pain than in patients with TRD alone.

Psychotherapy

August 2021

Prescription Psychedelics: The Road from FDA Approval to Clinical Practice

After languishing for decades from legal restrictions and stigma, research into psychedelic drugs is exploding – with the encouragement of the Food and Drug Administration. Recent clinical trial successes suggest some long-banned drugs could soon be authorized as treatments for debilitating illnesses. Yet because of these drugs’ history, FDA approval would be just one important step in a complex process to transform these compounds into therapies. Incorporating psychedelic drugs into clinical practice will require peeling back multiple layers of legal prohibition, clarifying prescribing guidelines, and developing treatment models that work for drug-makers, physicians, and payers.

Ketamine-Assisted, Psychotherapy

August 2021

Efficacy of Oral Ketamine Combined with Psychotherapy for Treatment Resistant Depression

Background: Treatment resistant depression (TRD) is defined as a major depressive episode that does not improve in response to at least two trials, each of a different class, of antidepressant medication. Pharmacotherapy of TRD with low dose ketamines has been shown as relatively successful in recent studies. Effects of such pharmacotherapy can be augmented by combining ketamine with psychotherapeutic interventions such as Zdyb’s Therapeutic Reset of Internal Processes (TRIP) protocol. Method: 10 adult TRD patients (4 men, 6 women) were treated with low dose ketamines and were also receiving psychotherapeutic intervention as per TRIP protocol. All patients were administered the Patient Health Questionnaire, module 9 (PHQ9) which is a measure of a major depressive episode. The PHQ9 was administered twice: on baseline (i.e., prior to treatment) and after the treatment. Results: On average, our patients fell in the moderate range of severity with respect to symptoms of TRD at baseline (pre-TRIP) as by their mean PHQ9 score of 17.9, (SD = 5.1). Their mean PHQ9 score decreased post TRIP treatment to 9.5 (SD = 6.6): the difference is significant in a t-test, t(10) = 4.3172, p = 0002 (two-tailed). The magnitude of the decrease amounts to 46.9% of the average baseline score. Discussion and Conclusions: Our patients experienced significant reductions in symptoms of TRD in this pilot study. Research studies are now needed with control groups of TRD patients on a waiting list or also of those receiving only the ketamine pharmacotherapy

PSYCHEDELICS

August 2021

Increases in Psychological Flexibility Mediate Relationship Between Acute Psychedelic Effects and Decreases in Racial Trauma Symptoms Among People of Color

Previous research showed acute psychedelic effects were associated with decreases in racial trauma (RT) symptoms among black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Among samples comprised primarily of white participants, positive outcomes of psychedelic experiences have been mediated by increases in psychological flexibility. Therefore, we examined whether changes in psychological flexibility from before to after a psychedelic experience mediated the relationship between acute psychedelic effects and changes in RT symptoms among BIPOC.

KETAMINE

July 2021

Neuroimaging correlates and predictors of response to repeated-dose intravenous ketamine in PTSD: preliminary evidence

Promising initial data indicate that the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine may be beneficial in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here, we explore the neural correlates of ketamine-related changes in PTSD symptoms, using a rich battery of functional imaging data (two emotion-processing tasks and one task-free scan), collected from a subset of participants of a randomized clinical trial of repeated-dose intravenous ketamine vs midazolam (total N = 21). In a pre-registered analysis, we tested whether changes in an a priori set of imaging measures from a target neural circuit were predictive of improvement in PTSD symptoms, using leave-one-out cross-validated elastic-net regression models (regions of interest in the target circuit consisted of the dorsal and rostral anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior hippocampus, anterior insula, and amygdala). Improvements in PTSD severity were associated with increased functional connectivity between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and amygdala during emotional face-viewing (change score retained in model with minimum predictive error in left-out subjects, standardized regression coefficient [β] = 2.90). This effect was stronger in participants who received ketamine compared to midazolam (interaction β = 0.86), and persisted following inclusion of concomitant change in depressive symptoms in the analysis model (β = 0.69). Improvement following ketamine was also predicted by decreased dorsal anterior cingulate activity during emotional conflict regulation, and increased task-free connectivity between the vmPFC and anterior insula (βs = −2.82, 0.60). Exploratory follow-up analysis via dynamic causal modelling revealed that whilst improvement in PTSD symptoms following either drug was associated with decreased excitatory modulation of amygdala→vmPFC connectivity during emotional face-viewing, increased top-down inhibition of the amygdala by the vmPFC was only observed in participants who improved under ketamine. Individuals with low prefrontal inhibition of amygdala responses to faces at baseline also showed greater improvements following ketamine treatment. These preliminary findings suggest that, specifically under ketamine, improvements in PTSD symptoms are accompanied by normalization of hypofrontal control over amygdala responses to social signals of threat.

PSYCHEDELICS

May 2021

Sustained, multifaceted improvements in mental well-being following psychedelic experiences in a prospective opportunity sample

In the last fifteen years, psychedelic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, have regained legitimacy in clinical research. In the general population as well as across various psychiatric populations, mental well-being has been found to significantly improve after a psychedelic experience. Mental well-being has large socioeconomic relevance, but it is a complex, multifaceted construct. In this naturalistic observational study, a comprehensive approach was taken to assessing well-being before and after a taking a psychedelic compound to induce a ‘psychedelic experience’. Fourteen measures of well-being related constructs were included in order to examine the breadth and specificity of change in well-being. This change was then analysed to examine clusters of measures changing together. Survey data was collected from volunteers that intended to take a psychedelic. Four key time points were analysed: one week before and two weeks, four weeks, and two years after the experience (N = 654, N = 315, N = 212, and N = 64 respectively). Change on the included measures was found to cluster into three factors which we labelled: 1) ‘Being well’, 2) ‘Staying well’, and 3) ‘Spirituality’. Repeated Measures Multivariate Analysis of Variance revealed all but the spirituality factor to be improved in the weeks following the psychedelic experience. Additional Mixed model analyses revealed selective increases in Being Well and Staying Well (but not Spirituality) that remained statistically significant up to two years post-experience, albeit with high attrition rates. Post-hoc examination suggested that attrition was not due to differential acute experiences or mental-health changes in those who dropped out versus those who did not. These findings suggest that psychedelics can have a broad, robust and sustained positive impact on mental well-being in those that have a prior intention to use a psychedelic compound. Public policy implications are discussed.

PSYCHEDELICS

May 2021

Psychedelics and health behaviour change

Healthful behaviours such as maintaining a balanced diet, being physically active and refraining from smoking have major impacts on the risk of developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other serious conditions. The burden of the so-called ‘lifestyle diseases’-in personal suffering, premature mortality and public health costs-is considerable. Consequently, interventions designed to promote healthy behaviours are increasingly being studied, e.g., using psychobiological models of behavioural regulation and change. In this article, we explore the notion that psychedelic substances such as psilocybin could be used to assist in promoting positive lifestyle change conducive to good overall health. Psilocybin has a low toxicity, is non-addictive and has been shown to predict favourable changes in patients with depression, anxiety and other conditions marked by rigid behavioural patterns, including substance (mis)use. While it is still early days for modern psychedelic science, research is advancing fast and results are promising. Here we describe psychedelics’ proposed mechanisms of action and research findings pertinent to health behaviour change science, hoping to generate discussion and new research hypotheses linking the two areas. Therapeutic models including psychedelic experiences and common behaviour change methods (e.g., Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Motivational Interviewing) are already being tested for addiction and eating disorders. We believe this research may soon be extended to help promote improved diet, exercise, nature exposure and also mindfulness or stress reduction practices, all of which can contribute to physical and psychological health and well-being.

Psychedelic-Enhanced

May 2021

LSD flattens the brain’s energy landscape: evidence from receptor-informed network control theory

Psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) offer a powerful window into the function of the human brain and mind, by temporarily altering subjective experience through their neurochemical effects. The RElaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS) model postulates that 5-HT2a receptor agonism allows the brain to explore its dynamic landscape more readily, as suggested by more diverse (entropic) brain activity. Formally, this effect is theorized to correspond to a reduction in the energy required to transition between different brain-states, i.e. a “flattening of the energy landscape.” However, this hypothesis remains thus far untested. Here, we leverage network control theory to map the brain’s energy landscape, by quantifying the energy required to transition between recurrent brain states. In accordance with the REBUS model, we show that LSD reduces the energy required for brain-state transitions, and, furthermore, that this reduction in energy correlates with more frequent state transitions and increased entropy of brain-state dynamics. Through network control analysis that incorporates the spatial distribution of 5-HT2a receptors, we demonstrate the specific role of this receptor in flattening the brain’s energy landscape. Also, in accordance with REBUS, we show that the occupancy of bottom-up states is increased by LSD. In addition to validating fundamental predictions of the REBUS model of psychedelic action, this work highlights the potential of receptor-informed network control theory to provide mechanistic insights into pharmacological modulation of brain dynamics.

PSYCHEDELICS

April 2021

Can pragmatic research, real-world data and digital technologies aid the development of psychedelic medicine?

Favourable regulatory assessments, liberal policy changes, new research centres and substantial commercial investment signal that psychedelic therapy is making a major comeback. Positive findings from modern trials are catalysing developments, but it is questionable whether current confirmatory trials are sufficient for advancing our understanding of safety and best practice. Here we suggest supplementing traditional confirmatory trials with pragmatic trials, real-world data initiatives and digital health solutions to better support the discovery of optimal and personalised treatment protocols and parameters. These recommendations are intended to help support the development of safe, effective and cost-efficient psychedelic therapy, which, given its history, is vulnerable to excesses of hype and regulation.

Industry news

April 2021

Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression

On the basis of the change in depression scores on the QIDS-SR-16 at week 6, this trial did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilo- cybin and escitalopram in a selected group of patients. Secondary outcomes gener- ally favored psilocybin over escitalopram, but the analyses of these outcomes lacked correction for multiple comparisons.

PSYCHEDELICS

April 2021

Spontaneous and deliberate creative cognition during and after psilocybin exposure

Creativity is an essential cognitive ability linked to all areas of our everyday functioning. Thus, finding a way to enhance it is of broad interest. A large number of anecdotal reports suggest that the consumption of psychedelic drugs can enhance creative thinking; however, scientific evidence is lacking. Following a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group design, we demonstrated that psilocybin (0.17 mg/kg) induced a time- and construct-related differentiation of effects on creative thinking. Acutely, psilocybin increased ratings of (spontaneous) creative insights, while decreasing (deliberate) task-based creativity. Seven days after psilocybin, number of novel ideas increased. Furthermore, we utilized an ultrahigh field multimodal brain imaging approach, and found that acute and persisting effects were predicted by within- and between-network connectivity of the default mode network. Findings add some support to historical claims that psychedelics can influence aspects of the creative process, potentially indicating them as a tool to investigate creativity and subsequent underlying neural mechanisms. Trial NL6007; psilocybin as a tool for enhanced cognitive flexibility.

KETAMINE

March 2021

A qualitative and quantitative account of patient’s experiences of ketamine and its antidepressant properties

Ketamine is central to one of the most rapidly growing areas of neuroscientific research into novel treatments for depression. Limited research has indicated that the psychedelic properties of ketamine may play a role in its antidepressant effects.

KETAMINE

March 2021

Something Old Becomes Something New: Ketamine

The story of ketamine is a fascinating one from its synthesis from phencyclidine derivatives in the 1950s,5 its widespread use during the Vietnam war, its re-emergence on the modern-day battlefield, and today for the treatment of wounded warriors and others suffering from intractable chronic depression. Ketamine’s story is still not finished and so something old continues to become something new.

PSYCHEDELICS

March 2021

Medicinal psychedelics for mental health and addiction: Advancing research of an emerging paradigm

The medical use of psychedelic substances (e.g. psilocybin, ayahuasca, lysergic acid diethylamide and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is attracting renewed interest, driven by a pressing need for research and development of novel therapies for psychiatric disorders, as well as promising results of contemporary studies. In this Viewpoint, we reflect upon the ‘Clinical Memorandum on Psychedelics’ recently released by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and note subsequent developments including the application for down-scheduling of psilocybin and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine presently being considered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and approvals for access via the Special Access Scheme.

PSYCHEDELICS

March 2021

Hallucinogenic/psychedelic 5HT2A receptor agonists as rapid antidepressant therapeutics: Evidence and mechanisms of action

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is among the most prevalent mental health disorders worldwide, and it is associated with a reduced quality of life and enormous costs to health care systems. Available drug treatments show low-to-moderate response in most patients, with almost a third of patients being non-responders (treatment-resistant). Furthermore, most currently available medications need several weeks to achieve therapeutic effects, and the long-term use of these drugs is often associated with significant unwanted side effects and resultant reductions in treatment compliance. Therefore, more effective, safer, and faster-acting antidepressants with enduring effects are needed. Together with ketamine, psychedelics (or classic or serotoninergic hallucinogens) such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and ayahuasca are among the few compounds with recent human evidence of fast-acting antidepressant effects.

PSYCHEDELICS

March 2021

Predicting Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Systematic Review of States and Traits Related to Acute Drug Effects

Psychedelic drugs are increasingly being incorporated into therapeutic contexts for the purposes of promoting mental health. However, they can also induce adverse reactions in some individuals, and it is difficult to predict before treatment who is likely to experience positive or adverse acute effects. Although consideration of setting and dosage as well as excluding individuals with psychotic predispositions has thus far led to a high degree of safety, it is imperative that researchers develop a more nuanced understanding of how to predict individual reactions. To this end, the current systematic review coalesced the results of 14 studies that included baseline states or traits predictive of the acute effects of psychedelics. Individuals high in the traits of absorption, openness, and acceptance as well as a state of surrender were more likely to have positive and mystical-type experiences, whereas those low in openness and surrender or in preoccupied, apprehensive, or confused psychological states were more likely to experience acute adverse reactions. Participant sex was not a robust predictor of drug effects, but 5-HT2AR binding potential, executive network node diversity, and rACC volume may be potential baseline biomarkers related to acute reactions. Finally, increased age and experience with psychedelics were individual differences related to generally less intense effects, indicating that users may become slightly less sensitive to the effects of the drugs after repeated usage. Although future well-powered, placebo-controlled trials directly comparing the relative importance of these predictors is needed, this review synthesizes the field’s current understanding of how to predict acute reactions to psychedelic drugs.

PSYCHEDELICS

February 2021

The Evolved Psychology of Psychedelic Set and Setting: Inferences Regarding the Roles of Shamanism and Entheogenic Ecopsychology

This review illustrates the relevance of shamanism and its evolution under effects of psilocybin as a framework for identifying evolved aspects of psychedelic set and setting. Effects of 5HT2 psychedelics on serotonin, stress adaptation, visual systems and personality illustrate adaptive mechanisms through which psychedelics could have enhanced hominin evolution as an environmental factor influencing selection for features of our evolved psychology.

KETAMINE

February 2021

Low dose oral ketamine treatment in chronic suicidality: An open-label pilot study

Recently, low-dose ketamine has been proposed as a rapid-acting treatment option for suicidality. The majority of studies to date have utilised intravenous (IV) ketamine, however, this route of administration has limitations. On the other hand, oral ketamine can be administered in a range of settings, which is important in treating suicidality, although studies as to safety and feasibility are lacking. n = 32 adults (aged 22–72 years; 53% female) with chronic suicidal thoughts participated in the Oral Ketamine Trial on Suicidality (OKTOS), an open-label trial of sub-anaesthetic doses of oral ketamine over 6 weeks. Participants commenced with 0.5 mg/kg of ketamine, which was titrated to a maximum 3.0 mg/kg. Follow-up assessments occurred at 4 weeks after the final dose. The primary outcome measure was the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSS) and secondary measures included scales for suicidality and depressive symptoms, and measures of functioning and well-being. Mean BSS scores significantly reduced from a high level of suicidal ideation at the pre-ketamine (week 0) timepoint to below the clinical threshold at the post-ketamine (week 6) timepoint. The proportion of participants that achieved clinical improvement within the first 6 weeks was 69%, whereas 50% achieved a significant improvement by the follow-up (week 10) timepoint. Six weeks of oral ketamine treatment in participants with chronic suicidality led to significant reduction in suicidal ideation. The response observed in this study is consistent with IV ketamine trials, suggesting that oral administration is a feasible and tolerable alternative treatment for chronic suicidality.

January 2021

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Repeated Ketamine Administration for Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic and disabling disorder, for which available pharmacotherapies have limited efficacy. The authors’ previous proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial of single-dose intravenous ketamine infusion in individuals with PTSD showed significant and rapid PTSD symptom reduction 24 hours postinfusion. The present study is the first randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy and safety of repeated intravenous ketamine infusions for the treatment of chronic PTSD.

December 2020

Set and Setting: A Randomized Study of Different Musical Genres in Supporting Psychedelic Therapy

Mounting evidence supports the serotonin 2A receptor agonist psilocybin as a psychiatric pharmacotherapy. Little research has experimentally examined how session “set and setting” impacts subjective and therapeutic effects. We analyzed the effects of the musical genre played during sessions of a psilocybin study for tobacco smoking cessation. Participants (N = 10) received psilocybin (20–30 mg/70 kg) in two sessions, each with a different musical genre (Western classical versus overtone-based), with the order counterbalanced. Participants chose one genre for a third session (30 mg/70 kg). Mystical experiences scores tended to be higher in overtone-based sessions than in Western classical sessions. Six of ten participants chose the overtone-based music for a third session. Biologically confirmed smoking abstinence was similar based on musical choice, with a slight benefit for participants choosing the overtone-based playlist (66.7% versus 50%). These data call into question whether Western classical music typically used in psychedelic therapy holds a unique benefit. Broadly, we call for experimentally examining session components toward optimizing psychedelic therapeutic protocols.

December 2020

A Dendrite-Focused Framework for Understanding the Actions of Ketamine and Psychedelics

Pilot studies have hinted that serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin may relieve depression, and could possibly do so by promoting neural plasticity. Intriguingly, another psychotomimetic compound, ketamine, is a fast-acting antidepressant and induces synapse formation. The similarities in behavioral and neural effects have been puzzling because the compounds target distinct molecular receptors in the brain. In this opinion article, we develop a conceptual framework that suggests the actions of ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics may converge at the dendrites, to both enhance and suppress membrane excitability. We speculate that mismatches in the opposing actions on dendritic excitability may relate to these compounds’ cell-type and region selectivity, their moderate range of effects and toxicity, and their plasticity-promoting capacities.

KETAMINE

December 2020

Oral S-ketamine effective after deep brain stimulation in severe treatment-resistant depression and extensive comorbidities

This case report describes successful maintenance treatment with oral S-ketamine in a patient with severe depression, who previously was resistant to electroconvulsive therapy and deep brain stimulation, and who also had comorbid psychotic and obsessive compulsive symptoms.

December 2020

A non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analogue with therapeutic potential

The psychedelic alkaloid ibogaine has anti-addictive properties in both humans and animals1. Unlike most medications for the treatment of substance use disorders, anecdotal reports suggest that ibogaine has the potential to treat addiction to various substances, including opiates, alcohol and psychostimulants. The effects of ibogaine—like those of other psychedelic compounds—are long-lasting2, which has been attributed to its ability to modify addiction-related neural circuitry through the activation of neurotrophic factor signalling3,4. However, several safety concerns have hindered the clinical development of ibogaine, including its toxicity, hallucinogenic potential and tendency to induce cardiac arrhythmias. Here we apply the principles of function-oriented synthesis to identify the key structural elements of the potential therapeutic pharmacophore of ibogaine, and we use this information to engineer tabernanthalog—a water-soluble, non-hallucinogenic, non-toxic analogue of ibogaine that can be prepared in a single step. In rodents, tabernanthalog was found to promote structural neural plasticity, reduce alcohol- and heroin-seeking behaviour, and produce antidepressant-like effects. This work demonstrates that, through careful chemical design, it is possible to modify a psychedelic compound to produce a safer, non-hallucinogenic variant that has therapeutic potential.

December 2020

The potential synergistic effects between psychedelic administration and nature contact for the improvement of mental health

Therapeutic psychedelic administration and contact with nature have been associated with the same psychological mechanisms: decreased rumination and negative affect, enhanced psychological connectedness and mindfulness-related capacities, and heightened states of awe and transcendent experiences, all processes linked to improvements in mental health amongst clinical and healthy populations. Nature-based settings can have inherently psychologically soothing properties which may complement all stages of psychedelic therapy (mainly preparation and integration) whilst potentiating increases in nature relatedness, with associated psychological benefits. Maximising enhancement of nature relatedness through therapeutic psychedelic administration may constitute an independent and complementary pathway towards improvements in mental health that can be elicited by psychedelics.

KETAMINE

November 2020

Sleep quality among individuals with ketamine use and the mediating role of craving

Poor sleep may be associated with many illnesses, including substance use disorders. Ketamine use disorder has significantly increased in Taiwan in recent years and may lead to physical and cognitive problems.

November 2020

A single dose of psilocybin increases synaptic density and decreases 5-HT2A receptor density in the pig brain

A single dose of psilocybin, a psychedelic and serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) agonist, may be associated with antidepressant effects. The mechanism behind its antidepressive action is unknown but could be linked to increased synaptogenesis and down-regulation of cerebral 5- HT2AR. Here, we investigate if a single psychedelic dose of psilocybin changes synaptic vesicle protein 2A (SV2A) and 5-HT2AR density in the pig brain.

October 2020

Psilocybin-Assisted Group Therapy and Attachment: Observed Reduction in Attachment Anxiety and Influences of Attachment Insecurity on the Psilocybin Experience

Attachment insecurity is determined early in life, is a risk factor for psychopathology, and can be measured on two separate continuous dimensions: attachment anxiety and attach- ment avoidance. Therapeutic changes toward more secure attachment correlate with reduction in psychiatric symptoms. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has demonstrated promise in the treatment of psychopathology, such as treatment-resistant depression and substance use disorders. We hypothesized that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy would reduce attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, thus increasing attachment security. We also hypothesized that baseline measures of attachment insecurity, which can reflect a diminished capacity for trust and exploration, would inform the quality of the psilocybin session. Participants were male long-term AIDS survivors with moderate-severe demoralization (n = 18). Using the Experiences in Close Relationships scale, we measured attachment insecurity at baseline as well as immediately, and 3 months, after completion of a brief group therapy course, which included a single midtreatment open-label psilocybin session conducted individually. Clinically important aspects of the psilocybin session were assessed using the revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire the day following psilocybin administration. Self-reported ratings of attachment anxiety decreased significantly from baseline to 3-months post-intervention, t(16) = −2.2; p = 0.045; drm = 0.45; 95% CI 0.01, 0.87. Attachment avoidance did not change significantly. Baseline attachment anxiety was strongly correlated with psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experiences, r(15) = 0.53, p = 0.029, and baseline attachment avoidance was strongly correlated with psilocybin-related challenging experiences, r(16) = 0.62, p = 0.006. These findings have important implications for the general treatment of psychopathology as well as optimizing psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy as a broadly applicable treatment modality.

April 2020

Efficacy of single and repeated administration of ketamine in unipolar and bipolar depression: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials

Due to unmet clinical needs for efficient drugs with a rapid onset of antidepressant effects, we aimed to evaluate the efficacy of single-dose ketamine in different subgroups of patients with major depression and establish whether repeated ketamine administration could be a viable strategy to maintain treatment gains.

Psychedelic-Enhanced, Psychotherapy

April 2020

Registered clinical trials investigating ketamine for psychiatric disorders

As interest has grown in the potential psychiatric applications of ketamine, the number of registered clinical trials has grown substantially. Herein, we summarize and analyze clinical trials registered with ClinicalTrials.gov that assess the treatment of any psychiatric disorder with ketamine or ketamine enantiomers (e.g., S-ketamine, R-ketamine), with a focus on ongoing clinical trials. A ClinicalTrials.gov search on February 2020 returned 140 registered trials. Frequency data was analyzed to determine the distribution of study designs. The majority of trials (70%) investigated the therapeutic effect of ketamine in mood disorders (unipolar: 60%, bipolar: 0.7%, both:5.7%). Suicidal ideation (13.1%), post-traumatic stress disorder (5.4%), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (3.6%) were also investigated. Intravenous (IV) administration was the most common route with 87% of the studies using IV ketamine. Single-dose studies represented 50% of IV ketamine studies. Few studies were assessing maintenance treatment. Most studies were phase I or II with few definitive phase III trials registered. Given the large number of ongoing studies assessing psychiatric application of ketamine, researchers and relevant stakeholders should consider not only completed, published studies, but also ongoing registered studies in adjudicating the most relevant research questions. More definitive phase III trials and maintenance studies of IV ketamine for mood disorders are required, as numerous completed and ongoing studies have already assessed and demonstrated the proof-of-concept of acute antidepressant effects in phase I and II trials.

April 2020

Psychedelic Psychiatry’s Brave New World

After a legally mandated, decades-long global arrest of research on psychedelic drugs, investigation of psychedelics in the context of psychiatric disorders is yielding exciting results. Outcomes of neuroscience and clinical research into 5-Hydroxytryptamine 2A (5-HT2A) receptor agonists, such as psilocybin, show promise for addressing a range of serious disorders, including depression and addiction.

Psychedelic-Enhanced, Psychotherapy

November 2019

Ketamine can reduce harmful drinking by pharmacologically rewriting drinking memories

Maladaptive reward memories (MRMs) are involved in the development and maintenance of acquired overconsumption disorders, such as harmful alcohol and drug use. The process of memory reconsolidation – where stored memories become briefly labile upon retrieval – may offer a means to disrupt MRMs and prevent relapse. However, reliable means for pharmacologically weakening MRMs in humans remain elusive. Here we demonstrate that the N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist ketamine is able to disrupt MRMs in hazardous drinkers when administered immediately after their retrieval. MRM retrieval + ketamine (RET + KET) effectively reduced the reinforcing effects of alcohol and long-term drinking levels, compared to ketamine or retrieval alone. Blood concentrations of ketamine and its metabolites during the critical ‘reconsolidation window’ predicted beneficial changes only following MRM reactivation. Pharmacological reconsolidation interference may provide a means to rapidly rewrite maladaptive memory and should be further pursued in alcohol and drug use disorders.

June 2019

Toward specific ways to combine ketamine and psychotherapy in treating depression

In major depression, remission rate in response to monoaminergic antidepressant is around 50%. The lack of strong synergies between classical antidepressants and psychotherapy may be due to the molecular effects of classical antidepressants. They modulate synapses but they do not substantially influence synaptogenesis. They also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). However, for activity-dependent plasticity, BDNF release has to work in concert with activation of synaptogenesis. There has been considerable excitement about ketamine’s antidepressant effect. Ketamine leads to fast changes in synaptic function and plasticity that go well beyond effects of classical antidepressants. As a result, ketamine may turn out to have the capacity to considerably enhance the effects of psychotherapy. Such enhancing effects may become an important clinical indication for ketamine since its purely pharmacological effect is transient. This editorial outlines some mechanistic hypotheses, how Behavioral Activation, Trauma-Focused Psychotherapies and Humanistic Psychotherapy may specifically prolong ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

March 2019

Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP): Patient Demographics, Clinical Data and Outcomes in Three Large Practices Administering Ketamine with Psychotherapy

Currently, ketamine is the only legal psychedelic medicine available to mental health providers for the treatment of emotional suffering. Over the past several years, ketamine has come into psychiatric use as an intervention for treatment resistant depression (TRD), administered intravenously without a psychotherapeutic component. In these settings, ketamine’s psychedelic effects are viewed as undesirable “side effects.” In contrast, we believe ketamine can benefit patients with a wide variety of diagnoses when administered with psychotherapy and using its psychedelic properties without need for intravenous (IV) access. Its proven safety over decades of use makes it ideal for office and supervised at-home use. The unique experience that ketamine facilitates with its biological, experiential, and psychological impacts has been tailored to optimize office-based treatment evolving into a method that we call Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP). This article is the first to explore KAP within an analytical framework examining three distinct practices that use similar methods. Here, we present demographic and outcome data from 235 patients. Our findings suggest that KAP is an effective method for decreasing depression and anxiety in a private practice setting, especially for older patients and those with severe symptom burden.

KETAMINE

March 2017

A Consensus Statement on the Use of Ketamine in the Treatment of Mood Disorders

Several studies now provide evidence of ketamine hydrochloride’s ability to produce rapid and robust antidepressant effects in patients with mood and anxiety disorders that were previously resistant to treatment. Despite the relatively small sample sizes, lack of longer-term data on efficacy, and limited data on safety provided by these studies, they have led to increased use of ketamine as an off-label treatment for mood and other psychiatric disorders.

Psychedelic-Enhanced, Psychotherapy

October 2014

Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Ketamine

By now, everyone knows that medication development for mental disorders has hit a wall, pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the search for new medications, and there are no promising new medications on the horizon.1 So it is important to take a moment to consider ketamine, an anesthetic that has been around for decades. Intravenous ketamine was the anesthetic of choice for outpatient procedures in children when I was in medical training nearly 40 years ago. Twenty years ago ketamine achieved notoriety as a recreational drug under the moniker “Special K.” But in the past decade, ketamine has emerged as a potential antidepressant.

PSILOCYBIN RESEARCH

February 2014

Rapid antidepressant effects of repeated doses of ketamine compared with electroconvulsive therapy in hospitalized patients with major depressive disorder.

Accumulating evidence suggests that ketamine may exert rapid antidepressant effects in major depressive disorder patients. This study showed that ketamine is as effective as ECT in improving depressive symptoms in MDD patients and has more rapid antidepressant effects compared with the ECT.

Research, Treatment-Resistant

November 2013

Neuroplasticity and the Next Wave of Antidepressant Strategies

Depression is a common chronic psychiatric disorder that is also often co-morbid with numerous neurological and immune diseases. Accumulating evidence indicates that disturbances of neuroplasticity occur with depression, including reductions of hippocampal neurogenesis and cortical synaptogenesis. Improper trophic support stemming from stressor-induced reductions of growth factors, most notably brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), likely drives such aberrant neuroplasticity. We posit that psychological and immune stressors can interact upon a vulnerable genetic background to promote depression by disturbing BDNF and neuroplastic processes. Furthermore, the chronic and commonly relapsing nature of depression is suggested to stem from “faulty wiring” of emotional circuits driven by neuroplastic aberrations. The present review considers depression in such terms and attempts to integrate the available evidence indicating that the efficacy of current and “next wave” antidepressant treatments, whether used alone or in combination, is at least partially tied to their ability to modulate neuroplasticity. We particularly focus on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist, ketamine, which already has well documented rapid antidepressant effects, and the trophic cytokine, erythropoietin (EPO), which we propose as a potential adjunctive antidepressant agent.

Psychedelic-Enhanced, Psychotherapy

September 2011

Ketamine Psychedelic Therapy (KPT): A Review of the Results of Ten Years of Research

Ketamine is a prescription drug used for general anesthesia. In subanesthetic doses, it induces profound psychedelic experiences and hallucinations. The subanesthetic effect of ketamine was the hypothesized therapeutic mechanism in the authors’ use of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for alcoholism. The results of a controlled clinical trial demonstrated a considerable increase in efficacy of the authors’ standard alcoholism treatment when supplemented by ketamine psychedelic therapy (KPT). Total abstinence for more than one year was observed in 73 out of Ill (65.8%) alcoholic patients in the KPT group, compared to 24% (24 out of 100 patients) of the conventional treatment control group (p<0.01). The authors’ studies of the underlying psychological mechanisms of KPT have indicated that ketamine-assisted psychedelic therapy of alcoholic patients induces a harmonization of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) personality profile, positive transformation of nonverbalized (mostly unconscious) self-concept and emotional attitudes to various aspects of self and other people, positive changes in life values and purposes. important insights into the meaning of life and anincrease in the level of spiritual development. Most importantly, these psychological changes were shown to favor a sober lifestyle. The data from biochemical investigations showed that the phannacological action of KPT affects both monoaminergic and opioidergic neurotransmitter metabolism, i.e., those neurochemical systems which are involved in the pathogenesis of alcohol dependence. The data from EEG computer-assisted analysis demonstrated that ketamine increases theta activity in cerebrocortical regions of alcoholic patients. This is evidence of the reinforcement of limbic cortex interaction during the KPT session.

Depression, Treatment-Resistant

December 2010

A Randomized Add-on Trial of an N-methyl-d-aspartate Antagonist in Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Depression

Existing therapies for bipolar depression have a considerable lag of onset of action. Pharmacological strategies that produce rapid antidepressant effects—for instance, within a few hours or days—would have an enormous impact on patient care and public health.