Recommended Readings

for Psychedelic Novices 

 

This list was made by Jagoda Mackowiak in cooperation, and co-published, with Blossom

 

If you’re a student, researcher, or otherwise interested in psychedelic research, we have selected 10 publications for you to begin with.

These papers will give you a solid foundation to start your psychedelic research journey. You will gain an overview of the stateoftheart of psychedelic research, the history of psychedelic exploration, the many applications of psychedelic substances ivarious research fields, and most importantly, their therapeutic potential. 

In order to keep up with the growing popularity of psychedelic research, we will walk you through our current understanding of the pharmacology of psychedelics in the brain, their acute and long-term effects on human psyche, and finally, of their promise of mental health improvement. Alongside with the research findings, you will also get to know the most important players of today’s psychedelic research. 

Although targeted for beginners and newcomers, our selection features articles diving deep into the science of psychedelics, which is a crossroad between multiple disciplines; not only neuroscience and psychology, but also philosophy, social sciences and chemistry. This briefing, in combination with our Drug Science Program and uniMIND discussion groups, will make you well equipped to continue your psychedelic exploration. 

 

How do psychedelics work? (2018)
Psychedelic drugs: neurobiology and potential for treatment of psychiatric disorders. (2020)

In September 2020, Franz X. Vollenweider and Katrin H. Preller published a comprehensive, yet accessible review of the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs in the brain. Together they developed a stunning visual representation of the effects of psychedelic drugs on brain circuits. ‘Psychedelic drugs: neurobiology and potential for treatment of psychiatric disorders‘ summarizes several decades of discoveries in psychedelic research.

Vollenweider, F. X. and Preller, K. H. (2020). Psychedelic drugs: neurobiology and potential for treatment of psychiatric disorders. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 21:611-624

REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics (2019)

If the previous article left you craving for more neuroscience research, you should reach out to another article by Robin Carhart-Harris, written in collaboration with Karl J. Friston. ‘REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics’ proposes a model named ‘Relaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS) that investigates how a high amount of bottom-up information is incorporated when the brain is influenced by psychedelics.

For more on this topic, check out this MIND Blog post by Andy Meijer.

Carhart-Harris, R. L. and Friston K. J. (2019) REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics
Pharmacological Reviews, 71(3):316-344

Unifying theories of psychedelic drug effects. (2018)

A review by Link R. Swanson (2018) looks further back at ‘Unifying Theories of Psychedelic Drug Effects.’ In his article, Swanson discusses over a century of psychedelic research theories, including key concepts from Freud to modern predictive processing. The article suggests that the common denominator among theories is the fact that default brain processes are disturbed, thus leading to more unconstrained thought flow under the influence of psychedelics.

Swanson, L. R. (2018) Unifying theories of psychedelic drug effects. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9:172

Psychedelics. (2016)                                                                                                                

After more than 300 publications dating back to 1969, David Nichols, who is also a founder of Heffter Research Institute and the originator of the term ‘entactogen,’ published an updated version of his extensive compendium of the chemistry of psychedelic substances. ‘Psychedelics (2016) is a near 100-page summary of the research on the serotonergic system, explaining how serotonergic hallucinogens affect the 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) 2A receptors and what that means for patients and therapists.

Nichols, D. E. (2016) Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews, 68(2):264-355

Classic Psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, mystical experience, brain network function, and therapeutics. (2018)

Since the molecular grounds of psychedelic active principles is just one of the dimensions of the research on psychedelics, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine led by Roland Griffiths aimed at compiling our hitherto knowledge of subjective psychedelic experience. ‘Classic psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, therapeutics, mystical experience, and brain network function’ (Johnson et al. 2019) gathers reflections on the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances, while revising various types of research methods throughout history.

Johnson, M. W., Hendricks, P. S., Barrett, F. S., and Griffiths, R. R. (2018) Classic Psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, mystical experience, brain network function, and therapeutics. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 197:83-102

 

The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future. (2017)

Robin Carhart-Harris, together with Guy M. Goodwin, investigates challenges (e.g., the subjectivity of effects) and promises (e.g., the large positive outcomes) of psychedelic-assisted therapyIn ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future‘ (2017), the two researchers discuss the steady revival of human psychedelic research’ and share their opinions on the perspective of psilocybin-assisted therapy becoming one of the mainstream depression treatment methods.

Carhart-Harris, R. L. and Goodwin, G. M. (2017) The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(11):2105-2113

Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon: When and how do therapeutic effects of hallucinogens depend on psychedelic experiences? (2015)

The therapeutic action of psychedelic substances is mediated by subjective experiences, such as ‘peak-experiences’ (mystical experience) or ‘afterglow’ phenomena. Tomislav Majić together with colleagues Timo Schmidt and Jürgen Gallinat investigate how the subjective effects of psychedelics influence their therapeutic effects in ‘Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon: When and how do therapeutic effects of hallucinogens depend on psychedelic experiences?‘ (2015) 

Majić, T., Schmidt, T. T., and Gallinat, J. (2015). Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon: When and how do therapeutic effects of hallucinogens depend on psychedelic experiences? Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29(3):241-253

A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy (2020)

So far, we recommended reviews discussing large pieces of the psychedelic puzzle. It is worth mentioning, however, that double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials are also integral to the understanding of psychedelic research development. Luoma and colleagues (2020) performed ‘A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy.’ This cooperation between several labs resulted in a detailed comparison of psychedelic-assisted therapy trials published since 1994. The authors’ analysis suggests that psychedelic-assisted therapy is effective in all four investigated mental health conditions.

Luoma, J. B., Chwyl, C., Bathje, G. J., Davis, A.K. and Lancelotta, R. (2020) A Meta-Analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 52(4):289-299

A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics. (2019)

Last but not least, we would like to recommend an article discussing microdosing, which is a practice of administration of sub-therapeutic doses of psychedelic substances, with the hope of improving mood, concentration, and creativity among healthy subjects. This practice receives a lot of hype lately, however, there is still no sufficient proof of its benefits. ‘A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics’ performed by Vince Polito and Richard J. Stevenson in 2019, analyses two trials examining the perceived well-being effects of microdosing.

Polito, V. and Stevenson, R. J. (2019) A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics. PLoS ONE 14(2):e0211023