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Show 1188: The Healing Potential of Psychedelic Drugs

For decades, there was no research on the potential uses of psychedelic drugs. Scientists are now starting to explore how these drugs may help.
Matthew W. Johnson, PhD, Associate Center Director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
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The Healing Potential of Psychedelic Drugs

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Many indigenous peoples around the world have developed traditional uses for psychedelic compounds. In Western medicine, these were mostly unknown until Albert Hoffmann synthesized LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in 1938. He later tried to figure out how it might be used after having an extraordinary personal experience. By the mid to late 1960s, psychedelic drugs like LSD or psilocybin had become a cultural phenomenon. By 1970, medical research on such drugs was essentially shut down.

Current Research on Psychedelic Drugs:

Over the past decade or so, investigators have been conducting research on the healing potential of psychedelic drugs. Dr. David Nichols, an international authority on these compounds, describes the history of this research. His son Charles Nichols, a pharmacologist, studies the molecular and behavioral effects of hallucinogens in animal models.

The Healing Potential of Mystical Experience:

Dr. Matthew Johnson, associate director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has conducted a number of clinical trials utilizing psilocybin. He and his colleagues have been exploring the possible uses of psychedelic drugs as medicines for people with life-threatening cancer. They have also examined the possible benefits of a single dose of psilocybin for smoking cessation and overcoming alcohol misuse. Their research was recently highlighted in an episode of the CBS television show “60 Minutes.”  

How Psychedelic Drugs Affect Existential Crises:

When people are diagnosed with terminal cancer or other life-threatening conditions, many become extremely anxious or depressed. While this reaction may seem rational in the face of a frightening diagnosis and foreshortened life expectancy, it can interfere with people actually appreciating the days, weeks or months they have left. Dr. Johnson and other scientists have found that a session with psilocybin that results in a mystical experience can alter people’s lives dramatically. They have far less anxiety and depression and seem to find more purpose in their lives, along with other positive changes. How does this work? Dr. Johnson’s most recent publication (with colleagues) explores the nature of these mystical experiences (PLoS One, April 23, 2019). 

This Week’s Guests:

David Nichols, PhD, is an adjunct professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  David Nichols had an active research program at Purdue University for 38 years prior to his retirement in June 2012. His research interests focused in two areas: the study of hallucinogens (psychedelics), where he was recognized as an international authority, and also discovery of novel D1 dopamine receptor full agonists, which showed efficacy comparable to levodopa in both animal models of Parkinson’s disease, and in human Parkinson patients. In 1993 he founded the Heffter Research Institute, which has encouraged and supported modern clinical studies of the psychedelic agent psilocybin (from “magic mushrooms”) for treatment of depression, anxiety, and various addictions. His general interests continue in the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology of CNS-active agents.

Charles Nichols, PhD, is Professor of Pharmacology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. As David Nichols’ son, he did not begin his career with the intention of studying hallucinogens. However, his current research interests include the molecular and behavioral effects of such compounds on the brain.

Matthew W. Johnson, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Center Director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The photograph of Dr. Johnson is courtesy of Johns Hopkins Magazine. The website is https://hopkinspsychedelic.org

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Griffiths RR et al, "Survey of subjective "God encounter experiences": Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT." PLoS One, April 23, 2019. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214377
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Of course, all those who might actually benefit medicinally from psychoactive drugs are going to tout the reasoning behind pushing this change. I do not downplay them their pain and mental relief. But I do want to hear also about all the things that these drugs might do to our society by putting minds in “escape mode that” many will label “transcendence.” It might sound like a cry in the wilderness to anyone who wants this to happen but rationality and caution seem too little the logic of those swayed. I would think anyone knowing the history of big government, big pharma, and big corporate taking interest in this might tend to slow down and take heed for the red flags, but money and addiction are too often smooth and myopic.

I have been in pain for years, and that’s bad enough. Don’t want anything that messes with my brain.

There is also MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which has been doing great work for some time.

We have opened many doors to pain relief recently. I have severe spinal problems and major pain issues. The recent opioid crisis has scared doctors from prescribing opioid pain relievers. Was I to be left to suffer in the years left to me? Hemp oil came along. I take the hemp pearls and I am virtually pain-free. I see no reason why educated researchers cannot farm psychedelic compounds for relief of conditions that seem resistant to intervention. This may lead to new discoveries to relieve conditions that have otherwise been resistant to relief.

Paul Stamets is an American mycologist and entrepreneur who sells various mushroom products through his own company. He is an author, speaker (has a TED talk worth looking at), and advocate of medicinal fungi and mycoremediation. He has applied for a patent for a “stack” of drugs, including psilocybin, to treat some diseases. I’m trying Lion’s Mane, in conjunction with flushing Niacin, to (hopefully) treat peripheral neuropathy. The theory looks plausible, and it probably can’t hurt.

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