Recommended readings 1
Psilocybin

 

In 1957 R. Gordon Wasson published a photo essay in LIFE magazine titled ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom.’ This article was the first one to introduce a psilocybin-induced experience to the western society. Since then, Psilocybe mushrooms have been featured in a number of newspaper and magazine articles.

In this list we focus on general press articles about psilocybin research and therapy that were published mainly in larger international newspaper outlets.

Prof. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. In this article, he discusses the extent of the mental health crisis worldwide, explains how psychedelics can be used in psychotherapy for depression, and their advantages compared to widely used antidepressants.

Shortly after Denver authorities voted to decriminalize psilocybin, Michael Pollan, who is a world-renowned US American journalist (and Prof. of Journalism at UC Berkley), wrote this opinion article. Pollan, the co-founder of the Center for the Science of Psychedelics at UC Berkley and himself a bestselling author about the psychedelic renaissance (“How to change your mind”), argues that psychedelic research requires rigorous controlling to support the current drug policy change safely and responsibly. Both the positive and the adverse effects of psychedelics should be carefully investigated to help avoid a repetition of the chaotic public debate and the following ‘war on drugs’ that happened in the late 1960s.

Just as in the US, psilocybin and LSD are classified as Schedule I substances in the UK. Clinical trials produce extensive costs as special licenses are required for permission to work with scheduled substances. These range from manufacturing to administering of the drug. In this article, several experts advocate for rescheduling psychedelics to Schedule 2 – a classification that would significantly improve research availability. Surprisingly, substances with much higher abuse potential, such as heroin and fentanyl, are listed as Schedule 2 drugs. Jo Neill, professor of psychopharmacology at Manchester University, states the urgency to reschedule and thereby enable broader access to treatment methods involving psychedelic substances.

“People will take psilocybin at a rave or at Burning Man” — the art and performance desert festival — “but the effect evaporates like water running through their hands” states Prof. Dr. Roland R. Griffiths, also a member of MIND Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. This quote illustrates the fact that the administration of psychedelics can trigger acute subjective effects, but to achieve the long-term therapeutic effects, the recreational setting may not be sufficient and a therapeutic framework helps to create the long-term beneficial and safe effects reported in clinical studies.

The article presents the case of Octavian Mihai, who suffered from depression and anxiety following treatment for Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mr. Mihai is an example of a survivor of a life-threatening disease who continued to suffer and whose quality of life improved significantly with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. The article sheds light on the patients’ reports and the researchers’ opinions on the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy to achieve sustained beneficial effects.

Jacobs’ article focuses on a study at the Imperial College London by Robin Carhart-Harris and colleagues, in which fMRI data were collected from patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression before and after psilocybin sessions. One of the interviewed participants reports on the effects of his experience as rejuvenating, encouraging, and enormously relieving. The author includes conversations with researchers, including Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt. The two of them strongly advocate for getting psilocybin to the status of a medically approved drug for treatment-resistant depression.

Mushrooms have inhabited Earth since long before the first humans’ appearance, and there is a great variety of mushroom species that have influenced human cultures. The relationship between mind-altering fungi and humans can be traced to ancient Mesoamerican cultures, and mushroom depictions found in what is now the Sahara Desert date back seven to nine thousand years ago. According to the article, even the story of Santa Claus, and the way we imagine him in his red-white outfit, could be an outcome of mushroom consumption in Siberia. Dozens of mushroom species produce psilocybin, which does not only produce hallucinogenic effects upon ingestion but has the potential to improve the condition of patients suffering from mental disorders.

In this article, Roland Griffiths discusses the establishment of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, which focuses on exploring the potential of psilocybin in the treatment of alcohol use in depressed patients, opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and anorexia. The founding of the center was enabled through the support of private investors. They hope to accelerate the reversal of the negative narrative around psychedelic substances and create a platform to train a new generation of psychedelic researchers.

In the talk with Prof. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Matthews-King presents future research plans of the newly established Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. Although banned in the UK in 2005, ‘magic mushrooms’ could become a licensed alternative to mainstream antidepressants, such as SSRIs, in less than a decade, reckons Carhart-Harris. The article title states a period of five years for replacement of conventional treatment, which seems unrealistic fast.

Psychedelics such as psilocybin promise extraordinary potential in treating mental health disorders, but they might also improve healthy people’s well-being. This article sheds light on the attitudes among private users of psilocybin mushrooms. Many of such recreational users praise the benefits of occasional magic mushroom ingestion, and the community has grown significantly in recent years. In the year 2020, which forced millions of people into lockdown, the demand for mind-altering drugs (but also alcohol consumption) increased. In the UK, some young professionals coped with the dread of months in isolation by enjoying group activities in nature under the influence of psilocybin. This article sheds light on non-clinical uses of psilocybin and how they differ from the therapeutic framework while still providing benefits to some users.

One of the critical factors to be considered in psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions is both patients’ and therapists’ belief systems. Matthew Johnson, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, argues that a “secular framework” should be maintained to prevent patients from getting primed with specific expectations for their mystical experience. Patients may be receptive to cultural cues, narratives around certain substances, decorations in the therapy room, or the therapist’s attitude. In continuation, the article discusses therapists’ interpretational challenges of the frequently “noetic,” revelatory quality of a personal mystical experience.

Unsurprisingly, approaches to the study of subjective experience in psychedelics-assisted therapy differ. At the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, researchers measure the ‘mystical experience’ while at the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College, London, UK, the focus is on ‘ego-dissolution.’ Finally, some patients seem to benefit from the “spiritual aspects” of psychedelic experience while others benefit more from intense biographical or emotional exploration in the complete absence of a “spiritual element.”

In this interview, Marvin Däumichen, co-founder of the MIND Foundation and Director of Research & Knowledge Exchange, discusses the EPIsoDE Study – a collaborative psilocybin depression study with the main center at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. He details that in Germany this study paves the way for psychedelic-assisted therapy research, especially since it received public funding by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research The study aims to treat a large sample of 144 patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Its principal investigator and clinical lead is Prof. Dr. med. Gerhard Gründer, department head of molecular neuroimaging at CIMH in Mannheim. Däumichen is optimistic that the study’s success can significantly contribute to improving mental health care practices and stimulate reflection on the reform of drug-policy in Germany.