The Government of Canada has given me a prescription that I can’t fill!
The Government of Canada has given me a prescription that I can’t fill!
My name is Alison and I am 49 years old, have Chronic Progressive MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS and Left-side TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (a.k.a. Tic Douloureux ). After symptoms dating back to Cheerleading in High School, I was finally diagnosed in October 1992 at the age of 28, back to the age of 10 and 11 years old, with this puzzling disease.
Almost 20 years ago I had my most serious Exacerbation to date and lost full use of my body from the waist down. After many years off and on a walker, utilizing a wheelchair more often than I liked AND working with some wonderful therapists, I am happy to say I now walk most days with a cane. Sadly I was consuming very small amounts of cannabis through my Doctors but none of us knew the incredible benefits back then…
After being assessed by some of the TOP PAIN SPECIALISTS in this end of Canada, being prescribed every Opioid (short of Methadone), trying numerous Epileptic medications and following various Alternative Therapies from Acupuncture to Infra-Orbital Nerve Blocks, in early 1994 I was introduced to MEDICAL CANNABIS for relief from the pain in my face and head that was absolutely unbearable most days.
Soon after, I investigated all avenues trying to find help with the COST and SUPPLY of this natural substance that was giving me so much RELIEF and so FEW side effects. (I have been on FULL disability since 1995 so affordability was a KEY FACTOR in my being able to use this as MEDICATION being given my first “prescription” for cannabis in 1994/95). Enter the Canadian Government…
To find out more regarding my Application for an “Exemption from Section 56 of The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” to my note on my Doctor’s Prescription Pad stating “Alison Myrden uses cannabis for relief from Multiple Sclerosis and a terrible pain in her face associated with MS called trigeminal neuralgia” in the mid to late 1990’s which then, ultimately turned into a License from “the Medical Marihuana Access Division” (MMAD). We now sport the new Regulations calling the Program the “Medical Marihuana Access Regulations” or what is now known as “MMAR”, please read on…
I have been smoking CANNABIS as MEDICINE through my Doctors for over 18 years; I have had face pain for over 23 years. I have been living with this pain around the clock 24/7 for 20 years as of the Summer of 2011.
I smoke half of a small Marijuana cigarette every 1/2 hour to hour to relieve the excruciating pain I experience in the left side of my face and head every day around the clock. Marijuana has helped me to come down from almost 2000 mg of Morphine per day. It has helped my leg spasms. It helped my bladder problems. It took away my nausea and stopped my constant vomiting. It has helped other symptoms that I wasn’t expecting. I am alert and functional after smoking and am NOT addicted to it. When will people understand that this is NOT a “hard drug” and that it DOES BENEFIT some of us MEDICINALLY!!!??? I have now come down from over 30 pills per day for symptoms ranging from nerve pain, to bladder dysfunction, to muscle spasms, to a third of my total and now try to rely on cannabis as much as possible for relief. I cannot stress how much my quality of life has improved since being introduced to this WONDERFUL, NATURAL plant!
I wish those of you luck who have approached your Doctors. I did and with their help, I am now one of, in and around 20,000 people in Canada to be given an Exemption or a LEGAL License, to be sanctioned by Health Canada and the Canadian Government to smoke, grow and possess a restricted amount of this MEDICATION anywhere in this country.
This issue has just been acknowledged by the Canadian Government and they have been reviewing applications for people battling a plethora of health conditions for these Exemptions as they are submitted. When word continues to get out about HOW to approach the Government for this Exemption, Health Canada’s offices will CONTINUE to be FLOODED!!
PLEASE, those of you who believe in this as MEDICATION, talk to your Doctors – THIS – is how things change! Be PRO-ACTIVE in your health! Ask the Doctor’s to fill out the forms in support of this as MEDICATION for YOUR HEALTH ISSUE(S).
There are some WONDERFUL LINKS to the many diseases which medical cannabis has been said to help, including what I suffer from – Multiple Sclerosis and Trigeminal Neuralgia (a.k.a. tic douloureux) – as well as Spinal Cord Injury, Hepatitis C, AIDS (effects from wasting syndrome), Epilepsy, Cancer, Glaucoma, Chronic Pain, Depression, Alcoholism, Drug Dependence and hundreds if not thousands MORE! I just wanted to to mention a few health conditions that I have read over the many years I have been doing this. For a List of more illnesses and issues please drop by my dear friend GRANNY STORM CROW’S Grannystormcrow list to see a List of MMJ and many of the recognized conditions cannabis helps
If I have given one person an alternative to some of the NEGATIVE PHARMACEUTICAL DRUGS that are out there, then MY WORK HAS ALL BEEN WORTH IT. I understand your frustration and respect your need for a more comforting approach to the many health issues we face in our daily lives. I am asking the Government for a SAFE, CLEAN (fungus/pesticide-free), AFFORDABLE SOURCE of this MEDICATION now that they are handing out EXEMPTIONS. How can they give us a “PRESCRIPTION” that we have to go the STREETS to fill?
This has been my battle since coming out to the MEDIA in APRIL of 2000 for help and assistance in legalizing and regulating cannabis once and for all. I am now helping fellow Exemptees and those looking for help all across Canada to be Licensed to consume medical cannabis to fight this issue, as their health is more than likely failing and I believe they have ENOUGH to deal with!
I am going to make sure that no one else has to risk THEIR health in fighting this same issue.
I am making it easier for YOU and – WE – need YOUR HELP!! I DO NOT want someone I love to have to deal with THESE ISSUES in the future…
Look out Canada, and WORLD ~ I’m here to stay !! :o)
Good Luck and Good Health to All!
Here is the Story of how myself and 20 others got the very first FEDERAL Exemption for medical cannabis from the Government of Canada in the year 1999/2000…
My Medical History
The reason I looked into getting an EXEMPTION from Section 56 of “The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” or what is now called a License in “the Medical Marijuana Access Division” (the MMAD) under a branch of Health Canada in the Canadian Government called “the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations” (MMAR) started like this…
In 1995 I started getting a sporadic stabbing pain in my left face. This was controlled for a period of time with pharmaceutical medication. First I tried a short course of Solumedrol intravenously that relieved the pain. I continued with Prednisone for about ten days. October 1995 my pain was episodic and was kept under control with Tylenol # 3’s on an as needed basis. Next came a regular dose of Tegretol. This was increased in February ’96 to 200 mg three times a day. Pain returned and 25 mg Dantrium was added, increasing to four times a day. This was probably due more to leg spasms. In March ’96 Tegretol was increased by 200 mg because I was describing pain 8-9 out of a scale to 10.
April ’96 I was started on another well known epileptic medication called Dilantin, increasing this while decreasing Tegretol. June ’96 I was on 100 mg four times a day with relief for a few weeks. July ’96 pain came back full force and Dilantin was increased to 500 mg/day. There was still trouble with breakthrough pain. Late October ’96 pain increased, therefore I was told to increase my Dilantin… for the rest go to http://www.AlisonMyrden.com
Go to CNN iREPORT – Click Here
Can marijuana help solve the opioid crisis?
CHCH News Hamilton,
The latest stats from the province say that 718 Ontarians died from opioid overdoses in 2015. A McMaster emergency room doctor believes that the solution to treating this crisis is with medical marijuana.
For years, Dr. Ira Price has had a front row seat to the city’s opioid crisis
“In the emergency departments, seeing an increase in the rise of opioid overdoses and intoxication and patients that wanted alternatives but we didn’t know where they were.” Dr. Ira Price.
Price deviated from his medical training and uncovered the benefits of medical marijuana. His first Synergy health clinic opened in 2010 where he prescribed cannabinoids to people suffering from various illnesses including opioid addiction. Price says about 50% of his patients have ditched opioids for medical marijuana.
“The devastation that you get with opioids you don’t have with cannabis, patients are going back to work, people are able to function in society they’re able to sleep.”
Both patient and doctor hope that once marijuana’s medical benefits are better understood and accepted, insurance companies will cover people who need the treatment.
Watch CHCH News Video on the story – Click Here
Video on C45 through CPAC Channel/Web – LINK HERE
The Anvil – Alison is in the Reefer Madness article
Alison in The Anvil – The Anvil IS Hamilton’s Topical News Quarterly Publication
Down the Rabbit Hole by Brandon Braithwaite
There was a time in my life when I thought drugs were bad.
I still remember the DARE Bear being passed around my fifth grade classroom. I don’t know what a bear has to do with drugs or how they thought it would relate to fifth graders but there it is, planted in my memory as one of those random things I think about when pondering drug education. Their mandatory drug lessons had a strong impact on me, for years I was adamantly against drugs. The information they shared, the pictures they showed, the stories they told were frightening. Cemented inside of my head was a fear and belief that drugs, all drugs, were bad. In some ways that fear helped me, it kept me from experimenting too much and potentially falling down a hole that would be difficult to escape from. What I got from the teachings that I hate about myself was a belief that I am morally better than somebody that’s fallen down the hole.
A few days ago I sat down with a drug user (or as some like to say a substance user). She was anything but scary. Alison Myrden is a long time ‘substance user’ and advocate for the legalization of drugs. Alison consumes large quantities of cannabis, upwards of 100+ grams a day in concentrates and joints. She told me that she smokes 30 joints a day. I’ve seen the joints her partner Gary rolls and I couldn’t smoke even one on my own. I’m pretty sure she could smoke Snoop (Dogg)Lion himself under the table. Due to medicinal cannabis laws she is able to consume this much legally. She has a medical license for 150 grams a day.
Coming from a family of police and corrections officers then spending a lot of time herself as an officer in youth correctional facilities, Alison had no interest in heavy drugs or even marijuana. She wasn’t looking for a good time by getting high. What eventually drove her to try drugs was the constant pain. Her doctors tried anything and everything to find her a little bit of relief. “It was the world’s worst pain in my face and head, 24 hours a day. I used to take 32 pills a day, 2,000 mg of morphine a day, heroin, than cocaine.” As we chat in her living room I can tell that she’s still experiencing pain. She instinctively pokes at the side of her face with quite a bit of force. For almost thirty years Alison has lived with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and a pain on both sides of her face called bilateral trigeminal neuralgia (aka Tic Douloureux). “The main symptom of tic douloureux is a sudden, severe, stabbing, sharp, shooting, electric-shock-like pain on one side of the face” (WebMD). The only thing that brings her relief is cannabis and a certain strain of blue capped magic mushrooms. Alison now spends much of her time advocating for the healing effects of Cannabis. She wants to make sure that others who suffer can get the relief they need.
Shortly after speaking with Alison I bumped into a hooded, erratic gentleman named Steven. A few of us from the Anvil had set up at the Central Library talking to passersby’s about drug addiction and legalization. It wasn’t easy, people weren’t interested in being recorded (lesson learned) and weren’t about to be stopped on their way out. Then out of nowhere came a middle-aged guy with a scraggly beard and hoodie. Speaking almost excitedly he told me that he was an intravenous drug user and had watched his friend pass away from fentanyl laced drugs only a few weeks prior. He told me he was on his way to his friends but wanted to chat more. After taking my number he left me with the title of a spectator article telling me to “read that before we chat, it will catch you up on who I am.” And then he was gone as fast as he had come. Intrigued to say the least, I jumped onto google and sure enough there he was, looking a tad younger and in a much healthier state. The article was 10 years old. It was about a City of Hamilton program that housed 18 people struggling with homelessness. Featured in the article was an interview with my hooded friend. Steven and his interviewer spoke about life, drugs and how trouble with the law led him to sleeping in Vancouver back alleys. From there he came to Hamilton where he stayed in the Good Shepherd shelters until being selected for the housing program. The interview ends with some questions about his future. When asked about what he would do for work, Steven replied “I have no clue. I have no skills at all, no education. Just getting back and finishing my Grade 12 is one of the things I want to do. But right now, it’s taking care of myself, and that is keeping clean. Keeping clean is more important than getting my Grade 12 because if I don’t stay clean, my Grade 12 won’t mean anything.” Other than not being clean, I have no idea how Steven’s life turned out. Sadly, we were unable to reconnect. However, I know from his own confession that he was back using intravenous drugs.
Many people use drugs to cover up some sort of pain. They’ll pop a pill, snort a line, light a joint or shoot up just to make life bearable enough to continue on. In some cases it might not be the best thing for them but that’s where they’re at. Excluding them more by labeling them law breakers, piling on more challenges in fines and jail time takes the focus off the health (physical or mental) of a person and makes it an issue of morality and punishment.
“If everything was legalized the community as a whole could better monitor people. There would likely be less over doses. We could have places that tested the quality to make sure product wasn’t laced with fentanyl.” I met Michelle for a coffee on one of the beautiful days in April. We sat outside, sipped coffee and chatted about her work as a Street Outreach Coordinator. She’s been part of the SO team for 13 years, working to make connections and build relationships with the absolute homeless of Hamilton, people living on the streets, under bridges, in parks or in shelters. “I think it all comes down to fear, stigma and stereotyping. The media (society) tells us this is what a drug user looks like. It gives us the wrong image of what users are.” Michelle’s work follows a philosophy of Harm Reduction. It simply means that they aim to reduce the harmful effects from behaviours that could be harmful. The Needle Exchange Van is a good example of harm reduction in action. It is literally a van that drives around Hamilton dropping off clean syringes (as well as other H.R. equipment) and picking up the used ones, no questions asked. The service helps prevent the spreading of diseases like Hepatitis C and Aids. “It can be very intimidating for someone to come to a service agency and confide that they are using a substance and trust that the agency won’t call the police. The Van Needle Exchange have a good reputation, they’ve been around for many years. People get to know these services, then friends start using them and they develop a really good relationship with people on the van.” Providing needed health care without the stigma builds a level of trust, in turn this strengthens a relationship and eventually the potential for intervention when the person is ready.
Recently a co-worker of mine shared an interesting story from a show called the West Wing.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
Maybe addiction and substance abuse hasn’t caused you to fall down a hole but I am willing to bet that there is something that trips you up every now and then. If we could look at others with the same compassion we often show ourselves or would like to have shown to us then maybe we would see less people trapped in holes.
Alison Benefits from psilocybin
This is Alison’s latest authorization from her Doctors …
Scientists are beginning to unravel the mechanisms behind the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs.
September 1, 2017|
Lying in a room at Imperial College London, surrounded by low lighting and music, Kirk experienced a vivid recollection of visiting his sick mother before she passed away. “I used to go and see my mum in the hospital quite a lot,” recalls Kirk, a middle-aged computer technician who lives in London (he requested we use only his first name). “And a lot of the time she’d be asleep . . . [but] she’d always sense I was there, and after about five minutes she’d wake up, and we’d interact. I kind of went through that again—but it was a kind of letting go.”
Kirk choked up slightly while retelling his experience. “It’s still a little bit emotional,” he says. “The thing I realized [was that] I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to hold on to the grief, because that was the only connection I had with my mum.”
While this may sound like an ordinary therapy session, it was not what you would typically expect. Kirk was experiencing the effects of a 25-mg dose of psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms—which he had ingested as part of a 2015 clinical trial investigating the drug’s therapeutic potential.
After his mother died, Kirk says, he fell into a “deep, dark pit of grief.” Despite antidepressants and regular sessions with a therapist, his condition was not improving. “I was stuck in it for years,” he recalls. So when he heard Imperial College London was recruiting participants for an upcoming trial studying the impact of psilocybin on depression, Kirk decided to sign up.
The study, led by psychologist and neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris as part of the Beckley/Imperial Research Program, enrolled 12 patients with varying stages of treatment-resistant depression. Each participant took part in two guided treatment sessions, first with a low dose (10 mg) of psilocybin in pill form, then a high dose (25 mg) one week later. During each psychedelic session, subjects were closely monitored by at least one psychiatrist and an accompanying counselor or psychologist. “The guides [help] provide a safe space for the patient to have their experience,” Carhart-Harris explains.
In addition to the deeply emotional encounter with his deceased mother, Kirk also recalls moments of “absolute joy and pleasure” during his sessions. He remembers having a vision of the Hindu deity Ganesh (the “remover of obstacles”) and feeling an altered sense of self and his surroundings. “Your mind is always chattering and observing things,” Kirk says. “And that was all shut down. For me, there was a feeling of new space.”
Experiences like Kirk’s are common among people who have participated in a psychedelic session (or “trip,” as it was allegedly first called by US Army scientists in the 1950s). Reports consistently include feeling intense emotions, having mystical experiences, and entering a dreamlike state. Many also articulate a dissolving sense of a bounded self, coupled with a feeling of increased connectedness with others and the rest of the world.
When Carhart-Harris and his team assessed their study’s participants three months after treatment, they found that most of the participants showed reduced depressive symptoms, with 5 of the 12 in complete remission1—including Kirk. It’s now been two years since he received psilocybin therapy, and he says that he has not needed antidepressants or therapy since. “I got a new positivity that I didn’t have for some time,” he says.
These results are preliminary—the study tested a small sample size with no control group. But other recent trials, including some that were larger and included controls, have revealed additional therapeutic benefits. Last December, for example, two randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials of psilocybin in terminal cancer patients (51 and 29 patients, respectively) found that giving participants psilocybin in guided sessions could substantially decrease depression and anxiety—an improvement that persisted for at least six months after treatment. 2,3 In smaller pilot studies, psilocybin has also shown success in treating addiction. In two small trials, one involving smokers4 and the other alcoholics,5 most participants remained abstinent for months after treatment with the psychedelic.
A number of early studies have also reported evidence that other psychedelics, primarily lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), have similar effects. Roland Griffiths, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University, describes the effects of psychedelics as a sort of “reverse PTSD” (posttraumatic stress disorder). With PTSD, there is “some discrete, traumatic event that produces some alteration in neurology and perception that produces [psychological] dysregulation going forward,” he says. In a similar but opposite way, treatment with hallucinogenic substances is a “discrete event that occurs to which people attribute positive changes that endure into the future.” While scientists are only beginning to understand the mechanisms behind these effects, what they’ve found so far already tells quite a compelling story.
Most psychedelics researchers believe that the session itself—the profound experiences individuals have during a trip—is key to the drugs’ therapeutic effects. But whether this is a cause or consequence of underlying neurobiological effects is still unclear. Studies show that psychedelics disrupt established networks in the brain, potentially allowing new connections to form. Recent work has also begun to reveal that these drugs’ effects—such as promoting neuroplasticity and reducing inflammation—are exerted through the serotonin 2A receptor.
“It’s very exciting that we seem to be at a threshold of establishing the neurobiological basis for the range of effects that hallucinogens have, and specifically, the therapeutic range of action,” says Charles Grob, a psychiatry professor at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who conducted a pilot study of psilocybin for terminal cancer patients that was published in 2011.6 “I think there is growing knowledge and appreciation that this work can be conducted responsibly and safely, and that it has the quite compelling potential to offer us very new and exciting treatment models.”
While on psychedelics, people commonly experience ego dissolution, a loss of the sense of a separate self, and an enhanced feeling of connectedness with the outside world. Recent neuroimaging studies have revealed that the intensity of this experience correlates with changes in brain activity, primarily in the default mode network (DMN)—a system of brain regions that is more active at rest than during tasks, and that is thought to be involved in, among other things, processing information related to the self.
To understand what happens in the brain during a trip, Carhart-Harris and colleagues have been dosing healthy participants with psychedelics and scanning their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure cerebral blood flow, a proxy measure of neural activity. In 2012, for example, the researchers found that, following an intravenous injection of 2 mg of psilocybin, 15 subjects displayed an overall decrease in cerebral blood flow as well as decreased connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, two hubs of the default mode network.7
Follow-up studies using both fMRI and magnetoencephalography (MEG)—a technique to detect the tiny magnetic fields generated by electrical activity in the brain—on subjects dosed with LSD have revealed similar effects. This work also revealed a correlation between decreased connectivity in the default mode network and subjective ratings of ego dissolution.8
But while the two psychedelic drugs “share signature psychological effects,” Carhart-Harris notes, “they differ in the potency [and] in their kinetics. The psilocybin trip is shorter, and for that reason is more manageable than an LSD trip.”
What’s been consistently found is that the brain or the mind during psychedelic states is in a different state of consciousness, and this is also reflected in how the brain is behaving.—Rainer Krähenmann, University of Zurich
Researchers have found similar neurological effects during meditation—another altered state of mind associated with psychological well-being. Expert meditators also show an acute reduction in the activity of the default mode network.9Conversely, an increase in activity and connectivity in this network has been found in some individuals with depression. “In some ways, it kind of makes sense that psilocybin, which brings people very powerfully into the present moment, would be more similar to meditation than it would be to depression,” says Griffiths. “In other words, people are riveted with interest in the present moment and what’s happening here and now, rather than in the future or in the past.” Griffiths and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins are currently conducting a neuroimaging experiment probing the brains of expert meditators on psychedelic trips.
Using MEG, Carhart-Harris and colleagues have also discovered that psilocybin and LSD alter neural oscillations, rhythmic brain activity linked to various perceptual and cognitive functions, across the default mode network.10 Individuals under the influence of these drugs experience a drop in so-called alpha rhythms, oscillations in the range of around 8 to 13 hertz, that correlate with their reports of ego dissolution. “When you plot out what rhythms contribute to the brain’s overall oscillatory activity, you get this huge peak in the alpha band—this really prominent frequency that, in some ways, sort of dominates the rhythmicity of the brain,” Carhart-Harris explains. “It’s a really curious rhythm, because it’s more prominent in humans than in any other species, and its prominence increases as we develop into adulthood. I see it as a kind of signature of high-level consciousness that adult humans have.”
In contrast to the decrease in activity and connectivity within the DMN, imaging studies have revealed an increase in functional links between normally discrete brain networks during a trip, and such activity also correlates with reports of ego-dissolution.11 Together with findings of changes in the default mode network and reduced alpha rhythms, these results are contributing to a hypothesis that the brain becomes “entropic”—more disordered, fluid, and unpredictable—during psychedelic use, disrupting certain pathways while allowing for new connections to be made. “What’s been consistently found is that the brain or the mind during psychedelic states is in a different state of consciousness, and this is also reflected in how the brain is behaving,” says Rainer Krähenmann, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Zurich. But, he adds, more research is needed to understand just what these changes mean. “I would not say that we can reduce it to certain areas or certain mechanisms,” Krähenmann says. “The brain is still too complex to really understand what’s going on.”
© CATHERINE DELPHIA
And of course, the biggest question that remains is how these neurological changes might be therapeutic. In a soon-to-be published study, Carhart-Harris and his colleagues found that changes in the connectivity of the default mode network predicted how well patients would do after psilocybin treatment, but the results are preliminary. “We know that there’s fascinating things happening acutely in terms of these changes in the synchronization across brain areas,” says Matthew Johnson, a behavioral pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins. “But the really tantalizing possibilities that a number of groups, including ours, are looking at is whether those types of changes persist and are related to long-standing clinical benefits.”
© SEAN MCCABEAll the classic psychedelic drugs—psilocybin, LSD, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active component in ayahuasca—activate serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors, which are distributed throughout the brain. In all likelihood, this receptor plays a key role in the drugs’ effects. Krähenmann and his colleagues in Zurich have discovered that ketanserin, a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist, blocks LSD’s hallucinogenic properties and prevents individuals from entering a dreamlike state or attributing personal relevance to the experience.12,13
Other research groups have found that, in rodent brains, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI), a highly potent and selective 5-HT2A receptor agonist, can modify the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)—a protein that, among other things, regulates neuronal survival, differentiation, and synaptic plasticity. This has led some scientists to hypothesize that, through this pathway, psychedelics may enhance neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neuronal connections in the brain.14 “We’re still working on that and trying to figure out what is so special about the receptor and where it is involved,” says Katrin Preller, a postdoc studying psychedelics at the University of Zurich. “But it seems like this combination of serotonin 2A receptors and BDNF leads to a kind of different organizational state in the brain that leads to what people experience under the influence of psychedelics.”
This serotonin receptor isn’t limited to the central nervous system. Work by Charles Nichols, a pharmacology professor at Louisiana State University, has revealed that 5-HT2A receptor agonists can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Nichols and his former postdoc Bangning Yu stumbled upon this discovery by accident, while testing the effects of DOI on smooth muscle cells from rat aortas. When they added this drug to the rodent cells in culture, it blocked the effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), a key inflammatory cytokine.
“It was completely unexpected,” Nichols recalls. The effects were so bewildering, he says, that they repeated the experiment twice to convince themselves that the results were correct. Before publishing the findings in 2008,15 they tested a few other 5-HT2A receptor agonists, including LSD, and found consistent anti-inflammatory effects, though none of the drugs’ effects were as strong as DOI’s. “Most of the psychedelics I have tested are about as potent as a corticosteroid at their target, but there’s something very unique about DOI that makes it much more potent,” Nichols says. “That’s one of the mysteries I’m trying to solve.”
After seeing the effect these drugs could have in cells, Nichols and his team moved on to whole animals. When they treated mouse models of system-wide inflammation with DOI, they found potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the rodents’ bodies, with the strongest effects in the small intestine and a section of the main cardiac artery known as the aortic arch.16 “I think that’s really when it felt that we were onto something big, when we saw it in the whole animal,” Nichols says.
The group is now focused on testing DOI as a potential therapeutic for inflammatory diseases. In a 2015 study, they reported that DOI could block the development of asthma in a mouse model of the condition,17 and last December, the team received a patent to use DOI for four indications: asthma, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. They are now working to move the treatment into clinical trials. The benefit of using DOI for these conditions, Nichols says, is that because of its potency, only small amounts will be required—far below the amounts required to produce hallucinogenic effects.
In addition to opening the door to a new class of diseases that could benefit from psychedelics-inspired therapy, Nichols’s work suggests “that there may be some enduring changes that are mediated through anti-inflammatory effects,” Griffiths says. Recent studies suggest that inflammation may play a role in a number of psychological disorders, including depression18 and addiction.19
“If somebody has neuroinflammation and that’s causing depression, and something like psilocybin makes it better through the subjective experience but the brain is still inflamed, it’s going to fall back into the depressed rut,” Nichols says. But if psilocybin is also treating the inflammation, he adds, “it won’t have that rut to fall back into.”
© CATHERINE DELPHIA
If it turns out that psychedelics do have anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, the drugs’ therapeutic uses could be even broader than scientists now envision. “In terms of neurodegenerative disease, every one of these disorders is mediated by inflammatory cytokines,” says Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who in 2013 reported that small doses of psilocybin could promote neurogenesis in the mouse hippocampus.20 “That’s why I think, with Alzheimer’s, for example, if you attenuate the inflammation, it could help slow the progression of the disease.”
See “What Causes Alzheimer’s?”
© SEAN MCCABE Although researchers have only recently started to test psychedelics’ effects in controlled clinical trials, evidence that these drugs could help treat conditions such as depression and terminal cancer–related anxiety has existed since the middle of the 20th century. (See table below.) Despite promising results, the counterculture that emerged around LSD use led to the criminalization of it and other psychedelics in 1966. Since 1970, almost all of these compounds have been Schedule I controlled substances, which imposes strict prohibitions on their use, even in research.
“If the drug war hadn’t started, and we didn’t have this demonization [of psychedelics], we’d know a lot more about what makes people happy, sad, depressed,” says David Nichols, a professor emeritus of pharmacology at Purdue University and a pioneering psychedelics researcher (also the father of Charles Nichols). “That’s the tragedy—that none of that has happened because [the research] basically died in 1970.”
Now, psychedelics research is slowly starting to regain ground, though it’s still not easy to win federal funding for these studies. But with support from private organizations such the Heffter Research Institute and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), scientists have begun to probe the mechanisms underlying the drugs’ psychological effects and the enduring changes they can bring about. The answers to these mysteries may help scientists gain insight into what happens to the brain in disease, and perhaps learn more about the nature of consciousness itself.
“There are many different questions to ask, and in some ways, the therapeutic ones are among the most mundane,” says Griffiths. “Our understanding is so primitive that I think it’s important that we not be so naive as to think that our current technologies are going to be able to unravel the many, many subtleties that account for some of these kinds of sustained effects. That’s why [the study of psychedelics is] such an interesting, important, and rich field of investigation for neuroscience.”
|CLINICAL STUDIES WITH PSYCHEDELICS|
|Anxiety in terminal cancer patients|
|1950s to 1970s||Unblinded trials suggested that psychedelics such as LSD could reduce anxiety and depression in terminal cancer patients.|
|2011||A small placebo-controlled trial of 12 subjects with advanced-stage cancer reported that treatment with psilocybin reduced anxiety for up to six months after treatment.|
|2016||Two larger randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials, at Johns Hopkins University and New York University (NYU), found that psilocybin can substantially reduce death-related anxiety and depression in terminal cancer patients.|
|2016||A pilot study at Imperial College London found that psilocybin had antidepressant effects that persisted for more than three months in a subset of participants.|
|2017||Researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil published a preprintfor their randomized, placebo-controlled trial of ayahuasca for 35 patients with treatment-resistant depression, reporting improved symptoms one week after treatment.|
|2017||At the University of Zurich, researchers are in the process of developing a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of psilocybin as a treatment for major depression that is scheduled to start later this year. Similar plans are currently underway at Imperial College London.|
|1950s to 1970s||Researchers conducted early studies of therapeutic use of LSD for treating alcoholism and heroin addiction, showing that the psychedelic could reduce substance abuse.|
|2014||A small study of 15 cigarette smokers at Johns Hopkins University found that psilocybin treatment led to an 80 percent abstinence rate at six months.|
|2015||At New York University, researchers found positive effects in a small study of 10 participants who underwent psilocybin-facilitated treatment for alcohol dependence.|
|2014 to 2017||Survey studies show that people who have taken psychedelics subsequently choose to abstain from cigarettes, alcohol, and other drug dependencies.|
|2017||Researchers at both Johns Hopkins and NYU are currently conducting larger, randomized trials with control groups for both smoking and alcohol dependence. A group at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is currently conducting a pilot trial of psilocybin-assisted treatment for cocaine addiction.|
|1950s to 1970s||Psychiatrists examined LSD treatments for schizophrenia patients. Preliminary studies, many with small sample sizes and no control groups, reported beneficial effects in some children who received this treatment. Around the same time, state-approved tests of psychedelic drugs were also conducted on inmates in the U.S. diagnosed with schizophrenia by doctors who believed in the drugs’ therapeutic potential. Some psychiatrists also examined the effects of various psychedelic drugs on healthy individuals as a way to elucidate the experiences of patients with schizophrenia and to improve treatment.|
|1990s to 2000s||Recent studies have focused on using these drugs to model psychotic states rather than to treat them.|
- R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., “Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: An open-label feasibility study,” Lancet Psychiatry, 3:619-27, 2016.
- R.R. Griffiths et al., “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial,” J Psychopharmacol, 30:1181-97, 2016.
- S. Ross et al., “Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial,” J Psychopharmacol, 30:1165-80, 2016.
- A. Garcia-Romeu et al., “Psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences in the treatment of tobacco addiction,” Curr Drug Abuse Rev, 7:157-64, 2014.
- M.P. Bogenschutz et al., “Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study,” J Psychopharmacol, 29:289-99, 2015.
- C.S. Grob et al., “Pilot study of psilocybin treatment for anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer,” JAMA Psychiatry, 68:71-78, 2011.
- R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., “Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin,” PNAS, 109:2138-43, 2012.
- R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., “Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging,” PNAS, 113:4853-58, 2016.
- K.A. Garrison et al., “Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task,” Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 15:712-20, 2015.
- S.D. Muthukumaraswamy et al., “Broadband cortical desynchronization underlies the human psychedelic state,” J Neurosci, 33:15171-83, 2013.
- E. Tagliazucchi et al., “Increased global functional connectivity correlates with LSD-induced ego dissolution,” Curr Biol, 26:1043-50, 2016.
- R. Kraehenmann et al., “Dreamlike effects of LSD on waking imagery in humans depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation,” Psychopharmcology, 234:2031-46, 2017.
- K.H. Preller et al., “The fabric of meaning and subjective effects in LSD-induced states depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation,” Curr Biol, 27:451-57, 2017.
- F.X. Vollenweider, M. Kometer, “The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: Implications for the treatment of mood disorders,” Nat Rev Neurosci, 11:642-51, 2010.
- B. Yu et al., “Serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine(2A) receptor activation suppresses tumor necrosis factor-α-induced inflammation with extraordinary potency,” J Pharm Exp Ther, 327:316-23, 2008.
- F. Nau et al., “Serotonin 5-HT2A receptor activation blocks TNF-α mediated inflammation in vivo,” PLOS ONE, 8:e75426, 2013.
- F. Nau et al., “Serotonin 5-HT2 receptor activation prevents allergic asthma in a mouse model,” Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol, 308:L191-L198, 2015.
- E. Setiawan et al., “Role of translocator protein density, a marker of neuroinflammation, in the brain during major depressive episodes,” JAMA Psychiatry, 72:268-75, 2015.
- C. Cui et al., “Neuroimmune mechanisms of alcohol and drug addiction,” Int Rev Neurobiol, 118:1-12, 2014.
- B.J. Catlow et al., “Effects of psilocybin on hippocampal neurogenesis and extinction of trace fear conditioning,” Exp Brain Res, 228:481-91, 2013.
Correction (September 16): In the table, two addiction studies incorrectly listed the years of publication. The study of 15 cigarette smokers was published in 2014; the study of 10 participants who underwent psilocybin-facilitated treatment for alcohol dependence was published in 2015. The Scientist regrets the errors.