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      The influence of therapists’ first-hand experience with psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy research and therapist training


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          Clinical research on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is rapidly advancing in the USA, with two drugs, psilocybin and MDMA, progressing through a structure of FDA-approved trials on a trajectory toward Drug Enforcement Agency rescheduling for therapeutic use. Researcher’s and clinician’s personal use of psychedelics was cited as a potential confound in psychedelic research studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, a concern which contributed to the cessation of this research for some 20 years. Currently, there is no empirical research on personal use of psychedelics by current academic researchers and clinicians; its influence is undocumented, unknown, and undertheorized. This paper explores the history of personal use of psychedelics by clinicians and researchers, the potential impact of personal use on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and research, and the rationale for opening an academic discussion and program of research to investigate the role of personal use. We propose that there are factors unique to psychedelic-assisted therapy such that training for it cannot neatly fit into the framework of modern psychopharmacology training, nor be fully analogous to psychotherapy training in contemporary psychological and psychiatric settings. We argue that scientific exploration of the influence of therapists’ first-hand experience of psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted therapy outcomes is feasible, timely, and necessary for the future of clinical research.

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          Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study.

          Several lines of evidence suggest that classic (5HT2A agonist) hallucinogens have clinically relevant effects in alcohol and drug addiction. Although recent studies have investigated the effects of psilocybin in various populations, there have been no studies on the efficacy of psilocybin for alcohol dependence. We conducted a single-group proof-of-concept study to quantify acute effects of psilocybin in alcohol-dependent participants and to provide preliminary outcome and safety data. Ten volunteers with DSM-IV alcohol dependence received orally administered psilocybin in one or two supervised sessions in addition to Motivational Enhancement Therapy and therapy sessions devoted to preparation for and debriefing from the psilocybin sessions. Participants' responses to psilocybin were qualitatively similar to those described in other populations. Abstinence did not increase significantly in the first 4 weeks of treatment (when participants had not yet received psilocybin), but increased significantly following psilocybin administration (p < 0.05). Gains were largely maintained at follow-up to 36 weeks. The intensity of effects in the first psilocybin session (at week 4) strongly predicted change in drinking during weeks 5-8 (r = 0.76 to r = 0.89) and also predicted decreases in craving and increases in abstinence self-efficacy during week 5. There were no significant treatment-related adverse events. These preliminary findings provide a strong rationale for controlled trials with larger samples to investigate efficacy and mechanisms.
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            Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction.

            Despite suggestive early findings on the therapeutic use of hallucinogens in the treatment of substance use disorders, rigorous follow-up has not been conducted. To determine the safety and feasibility of psilocybin as an adjunct to tobacco smoking cessation treatment we conducted an open-label pilot study administering moderate (20 mg/70 kg) and high (30 mg/70 kg) doses of psilocybin within a structured 15-week smoking cessation treatment protocol. Participants were 15 psychiatrically healthy nicotine-dependent smokers (10 males; mean age of 51 years), with a mean of six previous lifetime quit attempts, and smoking a mean of 19 cigarettes per day for a mean of 31 years at intake. Biomarkers assessing smoking status, and self-report measures of smoking behavior demonstrated that 12 of 15 participants (80%) showed seven-day point prevalence abstinence at 6-month follow-up. The observed smoking cessation rate substantially exceeds rates commonly reported for other behavioral and/or pharmacological therapies (typically <35%). Although the open-label design does not allow for definitive conclusions regarding the efficacy of psilocybin, these findings suggest psilocybin may be a potentially efficacious adjunct to current smoking cessation treatment models. The present study illustrates a framework for future research on the efficacy and mechanisms of hallucinogen-facilitated treatment of addiction.
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              Pilot study of psilocybin treatment for anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer.

              Researchers conducted extensive investigations of hallucinogens in the 1950s and 1960s. By the early 1970s, however, political and cultural pressures forced the cessation of all projects. This investigation reexamines a potentially promising clinical application of hallucinogens in the treatment of anxiety reactive to advanced-stage cancer. To explore the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in patients with advanced-stage cancer and reactive anxiety. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety, with subjects acting as their own control, using a moderate dose (0.2 mg/kg) of psilocybin. A clinical research unit within a large public sector academic medical center. Twelve adults with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety. In addition to monitoring safety and subjective experience before and during experimental treatment sessions, follow-up data including results from the Beck Depression Inventory, Profile of Mood States, and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory were collected unblinded for 6 months after treatment. Safe physiological and psychological responses were documented during treatment sessions. There were no clinically significant adverse events with psilocybin. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory trait anxiety subscale demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety at 1 and 3 months after treatment. The Beck Depression Inventory revealed an improvement of mood that reached significance at 6 months; the Profile of Mood States identified mood improvement after treatment with psilocybin that approached but did not reach significance. This study established the feasibility and safety of administering moderate doses of psilocybin to patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety. Some of the data revealed a positive trend toward improved mood and anxiety. These results support the need for more research in this long-neglected field. clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00302744.

                Author and article information

                Journal of Psychedelic Studies
                Akadémiai Kiadó (Budapest )
                22 August 2018
                December 2018
                : 2
                : 2
                : 64-73
                [ 1 ]Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine , New York, NY, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author: Elizabeth M. Nielson; Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA; E-mail: elizabeth.nielson@ 123456nyumc.org
                © 2018 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium for non-commercial purposes, provided the original author and source are credited, a link to the CC License is provided, and changes – if any – are indicated.

                : 19 May 2018
                : 26 July 2018
                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 55, Pages: 10
                ORIGINAL ARTICLE

                Evolutionary Biology,Medicine,Psychology,Educational research & Statistics,Social & Behavioral Sciences
                psychotherapy training,psychedelic therapists,ethics,LSD,MDMA,psilocybin


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