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Psilocybin Investigated

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Gonzo Nieto

on 23 September 2017

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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 (2006)
Psilocybin & Mysticism
Good Friday experiment:
25-year follow-up

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 for a double-blind study
Setting: Basement of Boston University's Marsh Chapel during Reverend Howard Thurman's Good Friday service
But.. how do you define a mystical experience, and how do you measure it?
As part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project, Walter Pahnke (minister, physician, psychiatrist) sought to explore if psilocybin could facilitate mystical experiences.
Pahnke consulted the mystical literature to create a typology of mystical experience; updated versions of this mysticism scale are used in today's psychedelic research
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 (impossible to adequately express)
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 (approx. 4-6 dried grams), 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
In the end, Thorazine (chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic) was administered to calm him down.
Doblin found that Pahnke failed to report that a participant had left and gone outside after going to the pulpit, mumbling a homily, and blessing the congregation. 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
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 to be either the single most meaningful experience, or among the top five most meaningful experiences, of their 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."
2008 - 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
Better social relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased spiritual practice. 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 requested LSD on his deathbed and a beautiful account was written by his wife Laura Huxley.
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
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.
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
Researchers at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center had explored using 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."
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":
PODCAST: "Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough?" (The Tim Ferris Experiment):
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, Norwegian researchers Pål-Ørjan Johansen & Teri Krebs conducted a meta-analysis of studies that used LSD to treat alcoholism.
LSD approximately doubled success rates at the first follow-up.
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):
Reforming Criminals with Psilocybin
Reported Results
20 & 30 mg/70kg doses were most effective
Pro-social effects of psychedelics
Domestic Violence
Psilocybin & Pro-Environmental Behaviour
12 months later: 10 participants (67%) were still abstinent

16+ months later: 9 participants (60%) were still abstinent

"These results suggest that in the context of a structured treatment program, psilocybin holds considerable promise in promoting long-term smoking abstinence"

(Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, & Griffiths, 2017)
ARTICLE: Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation (Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, Griffiths, 2017):
(Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, Cosimano, & Griffiths, 2014)
In a study of 302 men aged 17-40 serving time in prison in the US, "42 percent of those who did not take psychedelic drugs were arrested within six years of their release for domestic battery, compared to 27 percent of those who had taken"
(Walsh et al., 2016)
Policy Horizons Canada: "This new study challenges the prevailing focus on the harms and risks of psychedelic drugs, and speaks to a potential expanded range of unexpected therapeutic effects, including pro-social ones. [..] Such findings could stimulate more nuanced discussions about drug use. They could also augment public support for legalizing illicit drugs beyond cannabis."
Hallucinogen use and intimate partner violence (Walsh et al., 2016):
Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study (Krebs & Johansen, 2013):
Psychedelics & Mental Health
Population studies
Population Studies
Data from the 2001-2004 US Nat'l Survey on Drug Use and Health (130,152 respondents; 21,967 with lifetime psychedelic use)
"No significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics and increased rate of any of the mental health outcomes. [..] In several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems."
(Krebs & Johansen, 2013)
Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study (Johansen & Krebs, 2015):
New data set: 135,095 adults (19,299 psychedelic users): "no significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and increased likelihood of past year serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempt, depression and anxiety"
(Krebs & Johansen, 2015)
Data from the 2008-2012 US Nat'l Survey on Drug Use & Health (191,832 adults): "Lifetime classic psychedelic use (LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline) was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress, past year suicidal thinking, past year suicidal planning, and past year suicide attempt"
(Hendricks et al, 2015)
Classic psychedelic use is associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality in the United States adult population (Hendricks et al, 2015):
Longitudinal study of 25,622 people under community corrections supervision with a history of substance involvement
"Hallucinogen use predicted a reduced likelihood of supervision failure (e.g. noncompliance with legal requirements including alcohol and other drug use)"
Hallucinogen use predicts reduced recidivism among substance-involved offenders (Hendricks et al, 2014):
Psilocybin, psychological distress, and suicidality (Hendricks, Johnson, & Griffiths, 2015):

"Multiple significantly improved outcomes in the Psilocybin Only group and among those who have ever used psilocybin suggest that even among the broader class of classic psychedelics, psilocybin may be associated with the greatest therapeutic potential."
(Hendricks, Johnson, Griffiths, 2015)
Online population study (n=1487) found that people who had used classic psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline) were more likely to self-report pro-environmental behaviors (e.g. saving water, recycling), and that this was mediated by the person's sense of connectedness with nature
(Forstmann & Sagioglou, 2017)
Psilocybin & Terminal Illness
Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study -- 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety
Very low, placebo-like dose (1 or 3 mg/70kg) vs high dose (22 or 30mg/70kg)
"High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety"
6 months later: "changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety"
Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes
(Griffiths et al., 2016)
>80% report moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction
Lifetime experience with (classic) psychedelics predicts pro-environmental behavior (Forstmann & Sagioglou, 2017):
Psilocybin & Alcohol Dependence
Proof-of-concept study: 10 volunteers with diagnosed alcohol dependence
21mg/70kg or 28mg/70kg (high dose), along with Motivational Enhancement Therapy and therapy sessions to prepare and debrief
Abstinence increased significantly after psilocybin administration and was largely maintained at the 36-week follow-up.
"The intensity of effects in the first psilocybin session strongly predicted change in drinking during weeks 5–8 and also predicted decreases in craving and increases in abstinence self efficacy during week 5"
(Bogenschutz et al., 2015)
Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study (Bogenschutz et al., 2015):
Double-blind, placebo-controlled trial: 29 participants with cancer-related anxiety and depression
21mg/70kg psilocybin
"Psilocybin produced immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression and led to decreases in cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness, improved spiritual wellbeing, and increased quality of life"
6.5 months later: "psilocybin was associated with enduring anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects, sustained benefits in existential distress and quality of life, as well as improved attitudes towards death"
(Ross et al., 2016)
Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer (Ross et al., 2016):
(Hendricks et al., 2014)
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