- Oakland could become the second US city after Denver, Colorado, to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs.
- Photofusion / Contributor/GettyImages
Oakland, California, could become the second city in the United States to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs. The anticipated move comes after a councilman proposed a resolution that would lessen the legal repercussions for possessing naturally occurring forms of the drug type, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Denver, Colorado, citizens voted to decriminalize psilocybin, the psychoactive component in “magic” mushrooms, on May 7, making it the first U.S. city to pass such a law. Denver’s law doesn’t legalize psilocybin, but rather makes personal possession of the substance a low enforcement priority for the city and county.
Oakland’s proposed initiative would do the same for psilocybin, as well as ayahuasca, psychoactive cacti that contain compounds like mescaline, and iboga – all psychedelic drugs that occur naturally. The initiative would not decriminalize synthetic psychedelics like MDMA and LSD.
Oakland councilman Noel Gallo introduced the initiative, which he believes has the potential to help people with mental health problems. “If I can … talk about (how it can) deal with the mental illnesses that we have in the city, why not?” Gallo told the Chronicle.
Council President Rebecca Kaplan also said she supported the resolution, citing mass incarceration for drug possession as a reason for her stance. “I recognize that the war on drugs has been a racist, expensive, wasteful failure,” she told the Chronicle. “I also believe there are strong public health reasons to support this change.”
The illegal status of psychedelic drugs has limited research efforts, but some studies have shown psilocybin has the potential to treat depression. A small November 2016 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that people with cancer who had depression and anxiety related to their diagnoses reported a reduction in their symptoms when using psilocybin.
Another small study, published in 2006 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found that 50% (18 of 36 participants) of those who used 30 milligrams of psilocybin two to three times over a two-month period reported their psilocybin experience improved their personal well-being or life satisfaction moderately. Another 29% said psilocybin improved their life satisfaction “very much.”
Oakland law enforcement’s main concern about the resolution is its potential to increase the number of people driving while under the influence of psilocybin or other psychedelic drugs, Sergeant Ray Kelly told the Chronicle. One 1998 study found psilocybin caused psychotic episodes in some users, which raises more concerns about its effects.
More research on psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs needs to be done to better understand its effects and potential uses, and decriminalization advocates believe the Oakland resolution is a step in that direction.
Oakland’s city council is scheduled to discuss the decriminalization proposal on June 4.
- We can’t help comparing ourselves to others on social media.
- eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock
- A new study has shown a link between social media use and depression.
- Research has been hinting at the connection for several years, but scientists from the University of Pennsylvania say this is the most comprehensive, rigorous study yet.
- People tend to show a more glamorous, positive, and envious lifestyle on their social media.
- But social media isn’t all bad.
- Like many things, it’s all about balance and moderation.
Ever since sites like Facebook and Instagram became part of daily life, scientists have wondered whether they contribute to mental health problems. In fact, research has hinted at a connection between social media use and depression for several years.
A new study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, has added more evidence to the theory.
The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania designed their experiment to be more comprehensive than previous studies on the topic. Rather than relying on short-term lab data or self-reported questionnaires, they recruited 143 undergraduate students to share screenshots of their Phone battery screens over a week to collect data on how much they were using social media apps – Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
Subjects were told either to maintain their typical social media behaviour, or limit it to 10 minutes per day. Alongside the screen shot data, the researchers also looked at how much the participants experienced fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
- Cookie Studio/Shutterstock
Read more: Yale psychiatrist has one explanation for why students these days are so anxious
“Here’s the bottom line,” said Melissa G. Hunt, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”
She added 18-to-22-year-olds shouldn’t stop using social media altogether, but cutting down might be beneficial.
“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she said.
“Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”
People tend to show a more glamorous, positive, and envious lifestyle on their social media. In fact, over half of millennials admit they portray their relationship as better than it really is.
This is a problem because your social media life can become like a negative feedback loop – wanting others to be jealous of your life, while constantly comparing yourself to those on your feed.
“If you spend most of your time scrolling through your newsfeed checking out other people’s lives and compare them to your own, you become more at risk of developing (or having worsening) symptoms of depression or anxiety,” psychologist Allison Abrams told Business Insider. “This is especially so in those with low self esteem.”
Read more: Half of millennials portray their relationship on social media as better than it really is – here’s why that’s a problem
A study earlier this year found teens who spend too much time looking at screens are more unhappy. But, if they spent just less than an hour using the technology, the opposite was true.
The results suggest social media and screens should be used in moderation, just like most things. But they are probably not as bad for us as we’ve been led to believe.
In fact, one expert – Andrew Przybylski, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute – told Business Insider that much of our bias against social media may simply be a projection of our own fears. We talk to each other about how smartphones are decreasing our intelligence and ruining our real friendships, but in reality, we may just be worrying that this is true.
- Screens shouldn’t take time away from physical activity and sleep.
- Burdun Iliya / Shutterstock
Looking at screens isn’t a good idea if you’re doing it in lieu of any physical exercise or sleep. But used in moderation, technology is handy for staying in touch with friends when in-person contact isn’t a possibility, and video games can improve your skills in coordination, problem-solving, and memory.
Hunt said the new study only looked at three social media apps, so it’s not clear if it applies more broadly. But she hopes to answer more questions with further research. Overall, she said there are two conclusions we can reach from the study’s results.
“When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.” she said. “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”
A group of Canadian doctors are to begin prescribing trips to an art gallery to help patients suffering a range of ailments become a picture of health.
A partnership between the Francophone Association of Doctors in Canada (MFdC) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) will allow patients suffering from a number of physical and mental health issues, along with their loved ones, to take in the benefits of art on health with free visits.
The pilot project is unprecedented globally, according to its organiser.
The project will see participating physicians prescribe up to 50 visits to the MMFA during treatment, each pass valid for up to two adults and two minors.
So far 100 doctors have enrolled to take part over the course of a year, said Nicole Parent, head of the MFdC.
The numbers offer proof that doctors have “a sensitivity and openness to alternative approaches if you want” Parent said, citing scientifically proven benefits of art on health.
The benefits are similar to those patients can get from physical activity, prompting the secretion of a similar level of feel-good hormones, and can help with everything from chronic pain to depression, stress and anxiety.
The pilot programme will allow organisers to gather data and analyse results, allowing for the development of protocol for identifying patients.
Parent said she hopes other museums in Canada will follow the lead of the MMFA, which since 2016 has cultivated expertise in art therapy for people with a variety of health ailments.
“I am convinced that in the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century,” said MMFA director Nathalie Bondil in a statement.
“Cultural experiences will benefit health and wellness, just as engaging in sports contributes to fitness,” she said. – AFP Relaxnews
Once portrayed as illegal ways to “drop out” or “tune in,” psychedelic and semi-psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and ecstasy are finally starting to turn into federally-regulated medicines.
The tide began to turn over the summer, when a little-known startup backed by Silicon Valley tech mogul Peter Thiel churned out enough of the active ingredient in magic mushrooms to send 20,000 people on a psychedelic trip. It was part of a larger research effort by the company, called Compass Pathways, to study how psychedelic drugs could be used to treat depression.
It was only the beginning. Earlier this month, a German entrepreneur launched a new company called Atai Life Sciences with $25 million to back more studies that explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs on psychiatric disease. And last week, federal regulators deemed psilocybin worthy of “breakthrough status,” a designation designed to speed the drug approval process for treatments that serve unmet needs.
MDMA, better known as ecstasy, nabbed that designation last year. Just this week, researchers published a new study that suggested MDMA could help people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Prior to the recent wave of research, the study of psychedelic substances – many of which remain officially recognized as Schedule 1 drugs with no legal medical use – was nearly impossible. But in recent years, the efforts have begun to make headway.
The obvious psychedelic suspects aren’t the only drugs in the realm that are turning into medicines. The first prescription drug made with marijuana, which many experts consider a psychedelic in high enough doses, was green-lit by U.S. federal regulators in June.
A type of ecstasy might accelerate PTSD therapy
- Reuters/ DEA
On Monday, researchers published the latest findings of a year-long study designed to assess if MDMA could play a role in treatment for PTSD. Their positive findings suggest that it could.
After the treatment, in which patients were given MDMA alongside traditional talk therapy and compared with a group that got the same treatment only using a placebo instead of the drug, some three-quarters of the participants no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. In other words, their symptoms had resolved.
That’s a significant result. One of the chief problems with current talk therapy is that even when patients are able to afford and access the treatment, they grow tired of the painful process of rehashing traumatic events and sometimes disappear for months on end, according to psychiatrist Julie Holland, who currently serves as a medical observer for the MDMA study.
Still, the treatment was tied to some unpleasant side effects including insomnia, tiredness, and headaches. The drug, which amps up the activity of chemical messengers involved in mood regulation, can be dangerous when used without medical supervision because it raises body temperature and blood pressure.
MDMA also recently received a key federal designation designed to hasten the research and approval process. Some experts believe the drug will be approved as early as 2021.
A compound in magic mushrooms is showing promise for anxiety
Researchers studying psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, have likened its quick effects on cancer patients to a “surgical intervention” for depression.
Brain scan studies suggest that depression ramps up the activity in brain circuits linked with negative emotions, and weakens the activity in circuits linked with positive ones. Psilocybin appears to restore balance to that system.
Two for-profit companies are currently leading the research in the space. The first, called Compass Pathways, is backed by entrepreneur Peter Thiel and has plans to start its own clinical trials of magic mushrooms for depression later this year. The second, a biotech startup launched last month called Atai, is focused on financing more of the kind of research that Compass is doing. Atai has already raised $25 million from investors like ex-hedge fund manager Mike Novogratz and Icelandic entrepreneur Thor Bjorgolfsson.
Some researchers have high hopes that a psilocybin-inspired drug will get approved within a decade. David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, told Business Insider last year that he believed psilocybin would become an “accepted treatment” for depression before 2027.
The first prescription drug made from marijuana won federal approval this summer
The first prescription drug made from marijuana won federal approval this summer.
Called Epidiolex, the drug is designed to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy using a cannabis compound called cannabidiol (or CBD).
British-based GW Pharmaceuticals makes the drug. It does not contain THC, the well-known psychoactive component of marijuana responsible for the drug’s characteristic high.
The federal thumbs-up comes on the heels of several months of promising research results and a positive preliminary vote from the Food and Drug Administration this spring. Experts are hopeful that the approval will unleash a wave of new interest in the potential medical applications of CBD and other marijuana compounds to treat other psychiatric and neurological diseases.
Ketamine is inspiring a handful of novel drugs for depression
A widely used anesthetic that is also known as a party drug, ketamine was shown to have benefits as a rapid-fire antidepressant nearly a decade ago. Early studies suggested ketamine could help people who failed to respond to existing medications or were suicidal.
The authors of one paper called ketamine “the most important discovery in half a century.”
As opposed to existing antidepressants, ketamine acts on a brain mechanism that scientists have only recently begun to explore. Homing in on this channel appears to provide relief from depression that is better, arrives faster, and works in far more people than current drugs.
After a lack of new drugs for depression spurred scientists to go back to the drawing board, pharmaceutical companies like Allergan and Johnson & Johnson are now in hot pursuit of new blockbuster depression drugs that take after ketamine.
Allergan’s drug is in the last phase of clinical trials and has received a key FDA designation designed to speed it through the approval process. A Johnson & Johnson spokesperson told Business Insider that it expects to file for FDA approval of its drug – a nasal spray made with the chemical mirror image of ketamine – this year, despite what some experts have called disappointing results from a study done in its most recent phase of research.
Read more of our psychedelic medicine coverage:
It’s not every day that a team of top-notch scientists calls for an illegal psychedelic drug to be made available as medicine.
But earlier this year, some of the leading researchers at Johns Hopkins University – people who’ve pioneered some of the highest-caliber studies on psychedelics’ therapeutic mental health potential – suggested that’s what should happen for a drug derived from magic mushrooms.
In a recent article published in the medical journal Neuropharmacology, four preeminent psychiatrists wrote that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, should be placed in the most lenient category by the Drug Enforcement Administration and made legally available through clinicians, pending final data from several ongoing clinical trials.
In essence, they argue, the potential benefits presented by psilocybin outweigh its possible harms.
The available evidence suggests they’re correct.
Although the DEA currently considers psilocybin a Schedule I drug “with no medical use,” the past decade has seen a resurgence of research on psychedelics’ therapeutic possibilities for treating psychiatric diseases like anxiety and depression. A large recent survey also suggested that magic mushrooms could be among the safest recreational drugs.
That suggests to several experts – including the authors of the recent article – that psilocybin should be handled differently than, say, heroin or bath salts (other Schedule I drugs).
“It is the opinion of the authors of this review that the original placement of psilocybin was the result of a substantial overestimation of the risk of harm and abuse potential,” they wrote.
The authors included Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professors of psychiatry Matthew Johnson, Roland Griffiths, and Jack Henningfield; as well as Peter Hendricks, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health.
A resurgence of interest in psychedelics as medicine
- Daiana Lorenz/Youtube
Over the past several years, a handful of studies have suggested that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin could help treat a range of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and PTSD.
One of those studies – a clinical trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016 – was written by Griffiths and Johnson, two authors of the recent piece outlining why psilocybin should be made medically available. Griffiths’ and Johnson’s seminal work concluded that in people with a terminal cancer diagnosis, a single high dose of psilocybin appeared to help pull them out of severe depression and anxiety. On a press call after the study came out, Griffiths likened the treatment to “a surgical intervention” for the mental illnesses.
Since then, research into drugs like LSD, ecstasy, ketamine, and marijuana (which many experts consider to have psychedelic properties) has abounded. Last year, a study suggested that ecstasy could help veterans cope with PTSD symptoms. Another recent paper hinted that ketamine could be used to curb severe depression. Several more recent studies of psilocybin have suggested it might help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder as well.
“At this point, the data suggest that the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin-assisted therapy are real, and of potential medical and public health significance,” the four authors wrote in their recent article.
The findings on psychedelics are also garnering the attention of investors and tech moguls. Just last month, German entrepreneur Christian Angermeyer launched a new biotech company called Atai with the mission of backing more psychedelic mental health research. Compass Pathways, a research startup studying and producing psilocybin for depression, recently attracted backing from tech magnate Peter Thiel.
But the legal classifications of these drugs not be keeping adequate pace with the research or the investments.
‘Replacing fear and misinformation with scientifically based facts’
Despite the ongoing research, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the DEA has announced an intent to reschedule psilocybin or any other psychedelic. But such a move could happen. It did recently with marijuana.
In June, the FDA approved the first medicine made with a compound from cannabis. Called Epidiolex, the drug treats two rare forms of epilepsy using CBD, a marijuana compound that’s not responsible for a high. As a result of the FDA’s green light, the DEA was forced to reclassify CBD.
“We don’t have a choice on that,” DEA public affairs officer Barbara Carreno told Business Insider in June. “It absolutely has to become Schedule 2, 3, 4, or 5.”
So this September, the DEA officially shifted its stance on marijuana for the first time in 46 years by putting CBD in Schedule 5 alongside substances like cough syrup and sleep aids – all drugs that the agency considers at the lowest risk of abuse or harm.
In their article on psilocybin, the authors write that it too should be placed in Schedule 5, pending its approval as a medicine. Some experts say that could happen as soon as 2027.
“Schedule I is for substances with a high potential for abuse, lack of therapeutic approval, and that cannot be used safely in medicine,” they write. “History of use and available scientific data show that the first criterion is questionable, and the third criterion is likely not true.”
Meanwhile, the research on psilocybin is continuing to blossom. Clinical trial results from Compass are expected before 2020; researchers at the University of California, San Francisco are currently enrolling patients in a study to see whether psilocybin could assist in group therapy to improve the mental health of long-term AIDS survivors; and scientists at New York University aim to study whether psilocybin could be used to treat alcoholism.
Johnson, Griffiths, Henningfield, and Hendricks seem to believe the future of those studies – and psilocybin’s potential – is bright.
“This area of regulatory science has the potential to facilitate innovative therapeutic breakthroughs by replacing fear and misinformation with scientifically based conclusions and facts,” they wrote.
Read more of our psychedelic medicine coverage: