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Psilocybin Investigated

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Gonzo Nieto

on 19 September 2015

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Transcript of Psilocybin Investigated

Concord Prison Experiment
34-year follow-up

Psilocybin & Mysticism in the
Psychedelic Renaissance

A team at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, led by Dr. Roland Griffiths, sets out to study whether psilocybin can induce experiences similar to spontaneous mystical experiences.
Psilocybin & Mysticism
Good Friday experiment:
25-year follow-up

For his undergraduate thesis, Rick Doblin tracked down most of the original participants (missing 3 experimental subjects) for a follow-up 25 years later.
Good Friday Experiment
Psilocybin, Investigated
Twenty theology students with no prior psychedelic experience were recruited.
Setting: Boston University's Marsh Chapel during the Good Friday service given by Reverend Howard Thurman
But.. how do you define a mystical experience, and how do you measure it?
Working under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, Walter Pahnke (minister, physician, psychiatrist) sought to explore if psilocybin could facilitate mystical experiences.
Pahnke consulted the mystical literature and created a typology of mystical experience.
Unity: Internal (pure awareness, all sensory impressions fade or melt away, ego is transcended) or External (subject-object dichotomy dissolves, "seeing that at the most basic level all [objects] are part of a single unity")
Transcendence of Time & Space
Deeply Felt Positive Mood (joy, blessedness, peace, experienced with "an intensity that marks them as being at the highest levels of the human experience of these feelings")
Sense of Sacredness ("a non-rational, intuitive, hushed, palpitant response in the presence of inspiring realities
Ineffability (impossibility of adequate expression)
Paradoxicality (an emptiness which is at the same time full and complete; the dissolution of individuality and sense of self into unity, yet something remains to experience the state)
Half were given 30 mg psilocybin, the rest were given nicotinic acid as placebo
Participants who took psilocybin scored significantly higher on measures of mystical experience.
Six months later, psilocybin participants self-reported persisting positive changes in perspectives and behaviour.
Pahnke: "psilocybin can induce states of consciousness which are apparently indistinguishable from, if not identical with, those experienced by the mystics, according to their own descriptions"
Some issues
The double-blind was broken! Nicotinic acid has quicker onset and shorter duration, and it's not hard for participants or researchers to tell who got psilocybin. By the end, all participants knew their group assignment.
Data on positive changes was self-reported.
Setting was highly suggestive of spiritual experience.
Overall, difficult to determine relative contribution of setting, suggestion, and drug.
Participants' assessment according to the mystical experience typology had been changed "remarkably little" by the passage of time.
Persisting positive changes in psilocybin group: the experience had "helped them to resolve career decisions, recognize the arbitrariness of ego boundaries, increase their depth of faith, increase their appreciation of eternal life, deepen their sense of the meaning of Christ, and heighten their sense of joy and beauty."
"The experimental subjects unanimously described their Good Friday psilocybin experience as having had elements of a genuinely mystical nature and characterized it as one of the high points of their spiritual life."
And a significant omission!
Thorazine (chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic) had to be administered to calm him down.
A group member arose and went to the pulpit, mumbled a homily, blessed the congregation, walked back down the aisle and went outside. After failed attempts to get him back inside, he walked into Boston University's School of Theology building, and managed to snatch an important-looking envelope from a passing postman.

Apparently, he had been gripped and deeply moved by the sermon which emphasized that it was each Christian's obligation to tell people there was a man on the cross.
Concord Prison Experiment
Under the direction of Leary, a team of Harvard researchers sought to evaluate whether psilocybin could be used to reduce rates of recidivism in prisoners.
1961-63: 32 inmates at Concord Prison in Massachusetts participated in the study. Psilocybin was used to assist group psychotherapy sessions with the aim of addressing prisoners' antisocial behaviours.
Two psilocybin administrations over six weeks. Preparatory sessions beforehand, and follow-up sessions to discuss and integrate.
At first follow-up (avg. 10 months post-release), Leary reported that psilocybin treatment had reduced recidivism rates by approximately half.
Last follow-up: recidivism rates were no different than the expected base rates.
Leary still argued for a treatment effect, because recidivism rates in the experimental group were due mostly to technical infractions rather than new crimes being committed.
Leary: "The main conclusion can be stated as follows: one and one half years after termination of the program, the rate of new crimes has been reduced."
34 years later, Rick Doblin gains access to all the source documents for the Concord Prison Experiment and conducts a follow-up.
After reanalyzing the available data for 21 out of 32 subjects, Doblin discovers that "claims of an initial treatment effect were false."
Base rate recidivism data has been used in a misleading way to create a treatment effect. Experimental group after 10 months out of prison had been compared with a control group after 30 months out of prison.
Some much-needed clarification
Once corrected, the treatment effect disappears.
"Parole violations" were also categorized in a misleading way to reduce the new crime statistic for the experimental group.
Final analysis: long-term recidivism results were no different than chance.
Lessons learned
The need for better post-release support was underscored by both Leary & Doblin.
Psychedelics aren't a magic bullet; they are most effective within a system that supports processing and integration.
Doblin: "With the current renewal of research into the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs after three decades of almost total prohibition, psychedelic researchers must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in order to retain a measure of trust from regulators and the general public."
Psilocybin & Mystical Experience
STUDY: Doblin's 34-year follow-up to the Concord Prison Experiment, plus a commentary from Ralph Metzner, Ph.D.:
Pahnke's original 1963 paper on the Good Friday Experiment, "Drugs and Mysticism":
Doblin's 25-year follow-up study:
New evidence emerges!
January 2014: Longitudinal study with over 25,000 people under community corrections supervision, looking at the relationship between psychedelic use and criminal recidivism.
Results: psychedelic use correlated with a lower likelihood of "supervision failure" (noncompliance with supervision requirements
ARTICLE: Psychedelics & recidivism (RawStory):
STUDY: Longitudinal study on psychedelic use & criminal recidivism (2014): http://jop.sagepub.com/content/28/1/62.abstract
First addition to this line of research since Pahnke's Good Friday experiment & Doblin's follow-up.
36 participants:
97% college graduates, 56% post-graduates
no history of hallucinogen use
majority report daily or monthly involvement in religious or spiritual activities
Non-religious setting
Better placebo: methylphenidate (Ritalin), similar onset & duration to psilocybin, some overlapping subjective effects
Community observers (i.e. family members, friends, colleagues) recruited & interviewed to strengthen self-reports.
Four non-drug sessions before and after.
22 of 36 participants fit the criteria for a "complete mystical experience."
Two months later, 67% of participants in the psilocybin group considered it either the single most meaningful experience, or among the top five most meaningful experiences, of his or her life.
Compared in significance to the birth of a first child or the death of a parent.
Self-reported positive changes in mood, behaviour, and attitudes toward self and life.
Community observers corroborated "small but significant positive changes in the participants' behaviour and attitudes."
Johns Hopkins psilocybin research group conducts a follow-up after 14 months.
Spiritually significant
67% say it's among the five spiritually significant experiences of their life.
17% say it's the most spiritually significant experience of their life.
Personally meaningful
58% say it's among the five most personally meaningful experiences of their life.
11% say it's the most personally meaningful experience of their life.
Results did not diminish over 14 months.
64% say it increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction moderately or very much.
"It is remarkable that a 8-h laboratory-based intervention could have such large and sustained personally and spiritually significant effects in such a large proportion of volunteers."
No evidence of adverse effects.
Participant Comments
11 of 36 participants experienced a period of significant fear, with six having transient paranoia. No negative effects persisted beyond the session.
"That in every horrible experience or frightening experience, if you stay with it, enter into it, you will find God, That the horror is in reality only an illusion and God lies beneath it all. It has become a guiding principle in my life."
"The experience of death, which initially was very uncomfortable, followed by absolute peace and being in the presence of God."
"The profound grief I experienced as if all of the pain and sadness of the world were passing through me cell by cell tearing apart my being."
"I experienced a reality that was clear, beautiful, bright and joyful... In short, this experience opened me up (gave me a tangible vision) of what I think is attainable every day."
In 2011, another study is published by the Johns Hopkins group.
Psilocybin & Mysticism
Dose: 30mg / 70kg psilocybin (4-6 dry grams for someone weighing 70kg)
72% of participants met criteria for "complete" mystical experience.
83% rated it among the five most spiritually significant experiences in their life.
This increased to 94% at the 14-month follow-up.
Persisting positive changes in attitudes, mood, life satisfaction, behavior, and altruism/social effects.
18 participants
Five 8h sessions conducted individually
Evaluated five dose levels (0, 5, 10, 20, & 30mg / 70kg psilocybin)
Participant Comments
Frequently cited behaviour change: better social relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased spiritual practice. Reports from community observers supported the claims of persistent positive changes in behaviour and attitude.
"I have an increased commitment to spiritual practices; I think my heart is more open to all interactions with other people; more aware of choices, take time to pause and choose, more breaks; better boundaries at work and personal relationships."
"More frequent and enjoyable meditation; more desire to connect with loving energy and have loving energy flow through me to others; less willingness to allow manipulative or abusive treatment to happen without my confronting it."
"I take more time in nature, with art. I feel closer to children and parents. I am more comfortable with friends and acquaintances. I am more committed to my career. I eat better and have taken up dance."
Psilocybin & Personality Change
Earth & Fire Erowid's summary and commentary on both 2011 studies: https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/psilocybin/psilocybin_article3.shtml
STUDY: Psilocybin & mystical experience, multiple dosages (2011):
STUDY: Psilocybin & mystical experience (2006):
STUDY: 14-month follow-up of 2006 study:
STUDY: Psilocybin & personality change (2011):
ARTICLE: "Hallucinogens as Medicine" by Roland Griffiths & Charles Grob:
In the same year, Johns Hopkins group also puts out a study on psilocybin & personality change.
Combined and analyzed the high-dose (30mg / 70kg) session data from the 2006 and 2011 studies.
Looked for increases in the personality domain of Openness.
The observed changes "were larger in magnitude than changes in personality typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experience."
Openness remained higher for over a year in people who had complete mystical experiences.
"This is the first study to demonstrate changes in personality in healthy adults after an experimentally manipulated discrete event."
Openness includes traits related to "aesthetic appreciation and sensitivity, fantasy and imagination, awareness of feelings in self and others, and intellectual engagement."
People with high levels of Openness are 'permeable to new ideas and experiences' and 'motivated to enlarge their experience into novel territory.'
Johns Hopkins news release for psilocybin & personality change study:
Psilocybin & Terminal Illness
Psilocybin & Drug Dependence
Individuals facing life-threatening illness are faced with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and unresolved relationship and family issues.
Terminal Illness
Existing treatment options often fail to provide relief.
In the 1960s, Eric Kast and Vincent Collins reasoned that the changes in attention, body perception, and ego boundaries would allow LSD to be used as an analgesic.
Why psychedelics?
Found some reductions in pain, also in depression and anxiety. Some subjects were able to speak "with an apparent disregard for the severity of their condition," in a way that was "most beneficial to their own psychic states."
Other anecdotal reports and case studies pointed to this as well.
Notably: Aldous Huxley requesting LSD administration on his deathbed.
Charles Grob, MD, leads a team of researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in reviving research on psychedelics & terminal illness.
Pilot study:
12 adults w/ advanced stage cancer & end-of-life anxiety
Double blind, placebo-controlled (niacin)
14mg / 70kg psilocybin, one drug session along with preparatory and follow-up therapy sessions.
Participants instructed to lie down with eyeshades and focus inwardly.
Picking Up Where We Left Off
Decrease in trait anxiety sustained at least six months.
Reduction in depression sustained at least six months.
Participants suggested future studies should provide an opportunity for a second session.
They felt "that a follow-up experience with psilocybin would reinforce and extend the perceived therapeutic effects of the initial session."
Similar results came from a 2014 study from Swiss researcher Peter Gasser, MD, who used LSD to treat anxiety related to life-threatening illness.
(The first LSD study in over four decades!)
Reduction in state & trait anxiety at two months, sustained at 12 months.
Improvements in quality of life, overall psychological problems, anxiety, and depression.
Support from similar work with LSD
At Spring Grove State Hospital, Stanislav Grof & Walter Pahnke were studying the use of LSD to alleviate the emotional and physical suffering of cancer patients.
480,000 smoking-related deaths in the US every year.
5 million smoking-related deaths worldwide every year.
Will be 8 million by 2030.
Smoking-related public & private healthcare expenditures per year in the US:
$170 billion.
Annual productivity loss caused by smoking:
$151 billion.
Success rate of existing smoking cessation interventions:
Less than 35% still abstaining six months later.
Psilocybin to treat tobacco addiction
Team at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, led by Matthew Johnson, PhD, sets out to see whether psilocybin can help treat tobacco addiction
Subjects: "15 psychiatrically healthy nicotine-dependent smokers."
Average of 6 lifetime quit attempts.
Average of 19 cigarettes per day for 31 years.
Three administrations of moderate & high doses of psilocybin (20mg & 30mg / 70kg) within a 15-week smoking cessation treatment protocol involving CBT.
Main finding: 80% of participants (12 out of 15) were abstinent after six months (compared to <35% for existing interventions).
73% (11 out of 15) rated at least one psilocybin session as among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
87% (13 out of 15) reported that their personal well-being or life satisfaction had increased very much as a result of the sessions.
What did participants say?
It helped them to quit:
"By changing how you prioritize values in life, so that reasons to smoke no longer outweighed reasons to quit."
"By changing the way you orient yourself concerning the future, such that you now act in your long-term holistic benefit, rather than acting in response to immediate desire."
"By reframing your quitting and staying quit as a sacrament or spiritual task."
"By strengthening your belief that you have the ability to quit and stay quit."
Ongoing Research
Psilocybin & Cancer
NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study
Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Cancer Project
Psilocybin & Spirituality
"Effect of Psilocybin on Behavior, Psychology, and Brain Function in Long-Term Meditators" (Johns Hopkins)
"The Effects of Psilocybin-Facilitated Experience on the Psychology and Effectiveness of Religious Professionals"
(NYU & Johns Hopkins)
Psilocybin & Substance Dependence
"Psilocybin-Facilitated Smoking Cessation Treatment" (Johns Hopkins)
"A Double-Blind Trial of Psilocybin-Assisted Treatment of Alcohol Dependence" (University of New Mexico)
"Psilocybin-Facilitated Treatment for Cocaine Use" (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
STUDY: Psilocybin used to treat anxiety in patients with advanced stage cancer (Grob et al., 2011):
STUDY: LSD used to treat anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases (Gasser et al., 2014):
ARTICLE: "Psilocybin for Anxiety and Depression in Cancer" (Psychology Today):
ARTICLE: "Prescribing Mushrooms for Anxiety" (The Atlantic):
BOOK: "The Human Encounter with Death" by Stanislav Grof & Joan Halifax
Chapter 2, "The History of Psychedelic Therapy with the Dying":
Interview with participant from
NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety study:
VIDEO: "Magic Mushrooms and the Healing Trip" (New Yorker):
ARTICLE: "The Trip Treatment" by Michael Pollan (New Yorker):
ARTICLE: "Hallucinogen in 'magic mushrooms' helps longtime smokers quit in Hopkins trial":
PRESENTATION: NYU Research Team, "Toward a New Understanding of Altered States of Consciousness"
(From Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics Conference, 2014)
PODCAST: "Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough?" (The Tim Ferris Experiment):
PRESENTATION: Katherine MacLean, Ph.D., "Psilocybin and Personality Change"
(From Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics Conference, 2014)
PRESENTATION: Anthony Bossis, Ph.D., "Psilocybin Induced Mystical Experience for End-of-Life Existential and Spiritual Distress" (Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics Conference, 2013)
ARTICLE: "LSD 'helps alcoholics to give up drinking'" (BBC News):
PRESENTATION: Albert Garcia-Romeu, Ph.D., "Psilocybin in the Treatment of Smoking Addiction” (Horizons 2013)
VIDEO: Interview with participant in study using psilocybin to treat alcohol dependence:
Psychedelics & Drug Dependence
History of using LSD to treat dependence to alcohol and opiates.
In 2012, Pål-Ørjan Johansen & Teri Krebs conducted a meta-analysis of studies that used LSD to treat alcoholism.
Found that it approximately doubled success rates at the first follow-up.
..but nothing on tobacco addiction.
STUDY: "Response of cluster headaches to psilocybin and LSD"
Harvard Psilocybin Project
Timothy Leary
Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass)
Ralph Metzner
ARTICLE: "The Harvard Psychedelic Club" (The Daily Beast):
ARTICLE: "This Is What It Feels Like To Treat Depression With Magic Mushrooms" (VICE):
ARTICLE: "Microdosing: The Revolutionary Way of Using Psychedelics" (HighExistence):
PODCAST: "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Risks, Micro-Dosing, Ibogaine, and More"
(The Tim Ferris Experiment): http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/03/21/james-fadiman
Reforming Criminals with Psilocybin
Reported Results
Who am I?
Co-organizer of this weekend's events
Co-Chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Drug educator
Writer of 'Turning Inward' column on drugs & the mind at The Link newspaper
B.Sc. Psychology & Behavioural Neuroscience
Full transcript