Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
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Susan Gaidos By age 25, Patrick Schnur had cycled through a series of treatment programs, trying different medications to kick his heroin habit. But the drugs posed problems too: Vivitrol injections were painful and created intense heroin cravings as the drug wore off. Suboxone left him drowsy, depressed and unable to study or go running like he wanted to. Determined to resume the life he had before his addiction, Schnur decided to hunker down and get clean on his own. In December 2015, he had been sober for two years and had just finished his first semester of college, with a 4.0 grade point average. Yet, just before the holidays, he gave in to the cravings. Settling into his dorm room he stuck a needle in his vein. It was his last shot. Scientists are searching for a different kind of shot to prevent such tragedies: a vaccine to counter addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as the prescription painkiller fentanyl and similar knockoff drugs. In some ways, the vaccines work like traditional vaccines for infectious diseases such as measles, priming the immune system to attack foreign molecules. But instead of targeting viruses, the vaccines zero in on addictive chemicals, training the immune system to usher the drugs out of the body before they can reach the brain. Such a vaccine may have helped Schnur, a onetime computer whiz who grew up in the Midwest, far removed from the hard edges of the drug world. His overdose death reflects a growing heroin epidemic and alarming trend. In the 1960s, heroin was seen as a hard-core street drug abused mostly in inner cities. Now heroin is a problem in many suburban and rural towns across America, where it is used primarily by young, white adults — male and female, according to research published by psychiatrist Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201
By BENEDICT CAREY New York University’s medical school has quietly shut down eight studies at its prominent psychiatric research center and parted ways with a top researcher after discovering a series of violations in a study of an experimental, mind-altering drug. A subsequent federal investigation found lax oversight of study participants, most of whom had serious mental issues. The Food and Drug Administration investigators also found that records had been falsified and researchers had failed to keep accurate case histories. In one of the shuttered studies, people with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress caused by childhood abuse took a relatively untested drug intended to mimic the effects of marijuana, to see if it relieved symptoms. “I think their intent was good, and they were considerate to me,” said one of those subjects, Diane Ruffcorn, 40, of Seattle, who said she was sexually abused as a child. “But what concerned me, I was given this drug, and all these tests, and then it was goodbye, I was on my own. There was no follow-up.” It’s a critical time for two important but still controversial areas of psychiatry: the search for a blood test or other biological sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, which has so far come up empty, and the use of recreational drugs like ecstasy and marijuana to treat it. At least one trial of marijuana, and one using ecstasy, are in the works for traumatized veterans, and some psychiatrists and many patients see this work as having enormous promise to reshape and improve treatment for trauma. But obtaining approval to use the drugs in experiments is still politically sensitive. Doctors who have done studies with these drugs say that their uncertain effects on traumatic memory make close supervision during treatment essential. © 2016 The New York Times Company
by German Lopez and Javier Zarracina After years of struggling with treatments for his worsening cancer, Roy was miserable — anxious, depressed, hopeless. Traditional cancer treatments had left him debilitated, and it was unclear whether they would save his life. But then Roy secured a spot in a clinical trial to test an exotic drug. The drug was not meant to cure his cancer; it was meant to cure his terror. And it worked. A few hours after taking a little pill, Roy declared to researchers, "Cancer is not important, the important stuff is love." His concerns about his imminent death had suddenly vanished — and the effects lasted for at least months, according to researchers. It was not a traditional antidepressant, like Zoloft, or anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax, that led Roy to reevaluate his life. It was a drug that has been illegal for decades but is now at the center of a renaissance in research: psilocybin, from hallucinogenic magic mushrooms. Psychologists and psychiatrists have been studying hallucinogens for decades — as treatment for things like alcoholism and depression, and to stimulate creativity. But support for studies dried up in the 1970s, after the federal government listed many psychedelics as Schedule 1 drugs. But now researchers are giving the drugs another look. © 2016 Vox Media, Inc.
By MAIA SZALAVITZ I SHOT heroin and cocaine while attending Columbia in the 1980s, sometimes injecting many times a day and leaving scars that are still visible. I kept using, even after I was suspended from school, after I overdosed and even after I was arrested for dealing, despite knowing that this could reduce my chances of staying out of prison. My parents were devastated: They couldn’t understand what had happened to their “gifted” child who had always excelled academically. They kept hoping I would just somehow stop, even though every time I tried to quit, I relapsed within months. There are, speaking broadly, two schools of thought on addiction: The first was that my brain had been chemically “hijacked” by drugs, leaving me no control over a chronic, progressive disease. The second was simply that I was a selfish criminal, with little regard for others, as much of the public still seems to believe. (When it’s our own loved ones who become addicted, we tend to favor the first explanation; when it’s someone else’s, we favor the second.) We are long overdue for a new perspective — both because our understanding of the neuroscience underlying addiction has changed and because so many existing treatments simply don’t work. Addiction is indeed a brain problem, but it’s not a degenerative pathology like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, nor is it evidence of a criminal mind. Instead, it’s a learning disorder, a difference in the wiring of the brain that affects the way we process information about motivation, reward and punishment. And, as with many learning disorders, addictive behavior is shaped by genetic and environmental influences over the course of development. Scientists have documented the connection between learning processes and addiction for decades. Now, through both animal research and imaging studies, neuroscientists are starting to recognize which brain regions are involved in addiction and how. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22365 - Posted: 06.27.2016
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Global health authorities are trying to get more countries to mandate the use of the “world’s ugliest color” on cigarette packaging to discourage smoking. In 2012, GfK Bluemoon, a market research company under contract to the Australian government, announced that nearly 1,000 smokers had voted that a drab greenish brown known as opaque couché, number 448c in the Pantone color matching system, was the world’s most repulsive color. It was described as looking like death, filth, lung tar or baby excrement. Color aficionados later noted that it was also similar to the hue of the dress worn by the Mona Lisa. Photo Cigarettes on sale in Sydney, New South Wales. Credit Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Australia then mandated “plain packaging” for cigarettes that was actually anything but plain. The opaque couché-colored boxes have vivid pictures of rotted teeth, tongues with tumors and dangerously tiny newborns, along with warnings about smoking’s dangers printed in type larger than the brand names. Australia has been very successful in getting smokers to quit, so health officials in Britain, France and Ireland have announced plans to imitate the packaging. Last month, the European Court of Justice rebuffed legal challenges, by tobacco companies, to the use of shocking images, and India’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of letting them cover 85 percent of packs. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that these pictures prompt more smokers to at least try to quit, but the American tobacco industry has blocked all attempts to put them on cigarette packs sold in the United States. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22344 - Posted: 06.22.2016
Laurel Hamers People hooked on cocaine are more likely to stick to other habits, too. They’re also less sensitive to negative feedback that tends to push nonaddicts away from harmful habitual behaviors, new research published in the June 17 Science suggests. The findings might help explain why cocaine addicts will do nearly anything to keep using the drug, despite awareness of its negative consequences. Instead, treatments that encourage new, healthier habits in place of drug use might click better. Similar results have been demonstrated with mice and rats, but the effect hadn’t been well-established in humans. There’s no pharmacological treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that targets cocaine addiction as there is for opioid addiction. So the best treatment currently focuses on changing patients’ behavior — and it’s not easy. “It’s such a devastating situation for families,” says Karen Ersche, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge who led the study. Drug users “know they’ll lose their job. They’ll tell you they want to change, but still they carry on using the drug. It seems incomprehensible.” Habits can be helpful because they free up brainpower for other things. A new driver has to think through every push of the pedal and flick of the turn signal, while an experienced one can perform these actions almost effortlessly, allowing them to also carry on a conversation. But people can also snap out of that automation when necessary, slamming on the brakes when a deer darts across the road. It’s harder for someone addicted to cocaine to get off autopilot. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22340 - Posted: 06.20.2016
By Jane E. Brody Smokers who think they are escaping the lung-damaging effects of inhaled tobacco smoke may have to think again, according to the findings of two major new studies, one of which the author originally titled “Myth of the Healthy Smoker.” Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or C.O.P.D., may be among the best known dangers of smoking, and current and former smokers can be checked for that with a test called spirometry that measures how much air they can inhale and how much and how quickly they can exhale. Unfortunately, this simple test is often skipped during routine medical checkups of people with a history of smoking. But more important, even when spirometry is done, the new studies prove that the test often fails to detect serious lung abnormalities that cause chronic cough and sputum production and compromise a person’s breathing, energy level, risk of serious infections and quality of life. “Current or former smokers without airflow obstruction may assume that they are disease-free,” but that’s not necessarily the case, one of the research teams pointed out. These researchers projected that there are 35 million current or former smokers older than 55 in the United States with unrecognized smoking-caused lung disease or impairments. Many, if not most, of these people could get worse with time, even if they have quit smoking. They are also unlikely to be referred for pulmonary rehabilitation, a treatment that can head off encroaching disability. Perhaps most important, those currently smoking may be inclined to think they’ve dodged the bullet and so can continue to smoke with impunity. Doctors, who are often reluctant to urge patients with symptoms to quit smoking, may be even less likely to recommend smoking cessation to those with normal spirometry results. Referring to C.O.P.D., one of the researchers, Dr. Elizabeth A. Regan, said, “Smoking is really taking a terrible toll on our society.” Dr. Regan, a clinical researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver, is the lead author of one of the new studies, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine. “We live happily in the world thinking that only a small percentage of people who smoke get this devastating disease,” she said. “However, the lungs of millions of people in the United States are negatively impacted by smoking, and our methods for identifying their lung disease are relatively insensitive.” © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22339 - Posted: 06.20.2016
By Brady Dennis In one city after another, the tests showed startling numbers of children with unsafe blood lead levels: Poughkeepsie and Syracuse and Buffalo. Erie and Reading. Cleveland and Cincinnati. In those cities and others around the country, 14 percent of kids — and in some cases more — have troubling amounts of the toxic metal in their blood, according to new research published Wednesday. The findings underscore how despite long-running public health efforts to reduce lead exposure, many U.S. children still live in environments where they're likely to encounter a substance that can lead to lasting behavioral, mental and physical problems. "We've been making progress for decades, but we have a ways to go," said Harvey Kaufman, senior medical director at Quest Diagnostics and a co-author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. "With blood [lead] levels in kids, there is no safe level." Kaufman and two colleagues at Quest, the nation's largest lab testing provider, examined more than 5.2 million blood tests for infants and children under age 6 that were taken between 2009 and 2015. The results spanned every state and the District of Columbia. The researchers found that while blood lead levels declined nationally overall during that period, roughly 3 percent of children across the country had levels that exceed five micrograms per deciliter — the threshold that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers cause for concern. But in some places and among particular demographics, those figures are much higher.
By Brian Platzer It started in 2010 when I smoked pot for the first time since college. It was cheap, gristly weed I’d had in my freezer for nearly six years, but four hours after taking one hit I was still so dizzy I couldn’t stand up without holding on to the furniture. The next day I was still dizzy, and the next, and the next, but it tapered off gradually until about a month later I was mostly fine. Over the following year I got married, started teaching seventh and eighth grade, and began work on a novel. Every week or so the disequilibrium sneaked up on me. The feeling was one of disorientation as much as dizziness, with some cloudy vision, light nausea and the sensation of being overwhelmed by my surroundings. During one eighth-grade English class, when I turned around to write on the blackboard, I stumbled and couldn’t stabilize myself. I fell in front of my students and was too disoriented to stand. My students stared at me slumped on the floor until I mustered enough focus to climb up to a chair and did my best to laugh it off. I was only 29, but my father had had a benign brain tumor around the same age, so I had a brain scan. My brain appeared to be fine. A neurologist recommended I see an ear, nose and throat specialist. A technician flooded my ear canal with water to see if my acoustic nerve reacted properly. The doctor suspected either benign positional vertigo (dizziness caused by a small piece of bonelike calcium stuck in the inner ear) or Ménière’s disease (which leads to dizziness from pressure). Unfortunately, the test showed my inner ear was most likely fine. But just as the marijuana had triggered the dizziness the year before, the test itself catalyzed the dizziness now. In spite of the negative results, doctors still believed I had an inner ear problem. They prescribed exercises to unblock crystals, and salt pills and then prednisone to fight Ménière’s disease. All this took months, and I continued to be dizzy, all day, every day. It felt as though I woke up every morning having already drunk a dozen beers — some days, depending on how active and stressful my day was, it felt like much more. Most days ended with me in tears. © 2016 The New York Times Company
[Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, Contributing Writer] People who use marijuana for many years respond differently to natural rewards than people who don't use the drug, according to a new study. Researchers found that people who had used marijuana for 12 years, on average, showed greater activity in the brain's reward system when they looked at pictures of objects used for smoking marijuana than when they looked at pictures of a natural reward — their favorite fruits. "This study shows that marijuana disrupts the natural reward circuitry of the brain, making marijuana highly salient to those who use it heavily," study author Dr. Francesca Filbey, an associate professor of behavioral and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas, said in a statement. "In essence, these brain alterations could be a marker of transition from recreational marijuana use to problematic use." [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana] In the study, researchers looked at 59 marijuana users who had used marijuana daily for the past 60 days, and had used the drug on at least 5,000 occasions during their lives. The researchers wanted to see whether the brains of these long-term marijuana users would respond differently to picures of objects related to marijuana use than they did to natural rewards, such as their favorite fruits, compared with people who did not use marijuana.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22317 - Posted: 06.14.2016
By Monique Brouillette The brain presents a unique challenge for medical treatment: it is locked away behind an impenetrable layer of tightly packed cells. Although the blood-brain barrier prevents harmful chemicals and bacteria from reaching our control center, it also blocks roughly 95 percent of medicine delivered orally or intravenously. As a result, doctors who treat patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's, often have to inject drugs directly into the brain, an invasive approach that requires drilling into the skull. Some scientists have had minor successes getting intravenous drugs past the barrier with the help of ultrasound or in the form of nanoparticles, but those methods can target only small areas. Now neuroscientist Viviana Gradinaru and her colleagues at the California Institute of Technology show that a harmless virus can pass through the barricade and deliver treatment throughout the brain. Gradinaru's team turned to viruses because the infective agents are small and adept at entering cells and hijacking the DNA within. They also have protein shells that can hold beneficial deliveries, such as drugs or genetic therapies. To find a suitable virus to enter the brain, the researchers engineered a strain of an adeno-associated virus into millions of variants with slightly different shell structures. They then injected these variants into a mouse and, after a week, recovered the strains that made it into the brain. A virus named AAV-PHP.B most reliably crossed the barrier. © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 22313 - Posted: 06.13.2016
By JOHN ELIGON and SERGE F. KOVALESKI Prince, the music icon who struggled with debilitating hip pain during his career, died from an accidental overdose of self-administered fentanyl, a type of synthetic opiate, officials in Minnesota said Thursday. The news ended weeks of speculation about the sudden death of the musician, who had a reputation for clean living but who appears to have developed a dependency on medications to treat his pain. Authorities have yet to discuss how he came to be in possession of the fentanyl and whether it had been prescribed by a doctor. Officials had waited several weeks for the results of a toxicology test undertaken as part of an autopsy performed after he was found dead April 21 in an elevator at his estate. He was preparing to enroll in an opioid treatment program when he died at 57, according to the lawyer for a doctor who was planning to treat him. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted the autopsy, declined to comment beyond releasing a copy of its findings. The Carver County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the death with help from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The sheriff’s office had said it was looking into whether opioid abuse was a factor, and a law enforcement official had said that painkillers were found on Prince when investigators arrived. “The M.E. report is one piece of the whole thing,” said Jason Kamerud, the county’s chief deputy sheriff. Fentanyl is a potent but dangerous painkiller, estimated to be more than 50 times more powerful than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report did not list how much fentanyl was found in Prince’s blood. Last year, federal officials issued an alert that said incidents and overdoses with fentanyl were “occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States.” © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Mark Gollom, Anti-smoking advocates who support the Liberal government's proposal to require plain packaging on tobacco products argue that Australia's implementation of similar regulations has had a significant effect on smoking rates in that country. "Australia has seen the biggest decline in smoking prevalence that they've ever recorded after plain packing [was introduced]," said David Hammond, an associate professor of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo. "All the data we have suggest that plain packing has reduced smoking in Australia." Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, agrees and says research supports the effectiveness of plain packaging. "If it wasn't effective, the tobacco companies wouldn't be so strongly opposed," he said. "And it's precisely because it's going to have an effect on sales that they are going to lobby hard against it, threaten legal cases." But not everyone believes that Australia's policy of imposing bland tobacco branding has done much to deter smoking, which has been steadily declining for decades, according to Julian Morris, vice-president of research at the libertarian think tank the Reason Foundation. "The decline in smoking seems to have been continuous and not dramatically effected, one way or the other, by the introduction of plain packaging," he said. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22274 - Posted: 06.02.2016
By Kelly Servick There’s an unfortunate irony for people who rely on morphine, oxycodone, and other opioid painkillers: The drug that’s supposed to offer you relief can actually make you more sensitive to pain over time. That effect, known as hyperalgesia, could render these medications gradually less effective for chronic pain, leading people to rely on higher and higher doses. A new study in rats—the first to look at the interaction between opioids and nerve injury for months after the pain-killing treatment was stopped—paints an especially grim picture. An opioid sets off a chain of immune signals in the spinal cord that amplifies pain rather than dulling it, even after the drug leaves the body, the researchers found. Yet drugs already under development might be able to reverse the effect. It’s no secret that powerful painkillers have a dark side. Overdose deaths from prescription opioids have roughly quadrupled over 2 decades, in near lockstep with increased prescribing. And many researchers see hyperalgesia as a part of that equation—a force that compels people to take more and more medication, while prolonging exposure to sometimes addictive drugs known to dangerously slow breathing at high doses. Separate from their pain-blocking interaction with receptors in the brain, opioids seem to reshape the nervous system to amplify pain signals, even after the original illness or injury subsides. Animals given opioids become more sensitive to pain, and people already taking opioids before a surgery tend to report more pain afterward. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc
Martha Bebinger Labels for the first long-acting opioid addiction treatment device are rolling off printing machines Friday. Trainings begin Saturday for doctors who want to learn to insert four matchstick-size rods under the skin. They contain the drug buprenorphine, which staves off opioid cravings. The implant, called Probuphine, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, and is expected to be available to patients by the end of June. "This is just the starting point for us to continue to fight for the cause of patients with opioid addiction," said Behshad Sheldon, CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Probuphine. But debate continues about how effective the implant will be and whether insurers will cover it. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, calls Probuphine a game changer, saying it will help addiction patients stay on their meds while their brain circuits recover from the ravages of drug use. And addiction experts say it will be much harder for patients prescribed the implant to sell their medication on the street, which can be a problem with addiction patients prescribed pills. "I think it's fantastic news," said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital. "We need as many tools in the toolbox as possible to deal with the opioid epidemic." © 2016 npr
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22256 - Posted: 05.28.2016
Ronald Crystal The goal of antiaddiction vaccines is to prevent addictive molecules from reaching the brain, where they produce their effects and can create chemical dependencies. Vaccines can accomplish this task, in theory, by generating antibodies—proteins produced by the immune system—that bind to addictive particles and essentially stop them in their tracks. But challenges remain. Among them, addictive molecules are often too small to be spotted by the human immune system. Thus, they can circulate in the body undetected. Researchers have developed two basic strategies for overcoming this problem. One invokes so-called active immunity by tethering an addictive molecule to a larger molecule, such as the proteins that encase a common cold virus. This viral shell does not make people sick but does prompt the immune system to produce high levels of antibodies against it and whatever is attached to it. In our laboratory, we have tested this method in animal models and successfully blocked chemical forms of cocaine or nicotine from reaching the brain. Another approach researchers are testing generates what is known as passive immunity against addictive molecules in the body. They have cultured monoclonal antibodies that can bind selectively to addictive molecules. The hurdle with this particular method is that monoclonal antibodies are expensive to produce and need to be administrated frequently to be effective. © 2016 Scientific American
By Lucas Powers, CBC News You're standing on the side of the road, with traffic whizzing past. The police officer who pulled you over suspects you may have smoked the reefer before departing for McDonald's. But she's in a bit of a quagmire, because, really, there's no reliable way to know for sure. Are you high? If you are high, how high are you, really? Or really did you just want those little cheeseburgers (no ketchup and extra pickles)? So she does the most logical thing: a field sobriety test. Tried and true. Walk the line. Touch the tip your nose. Can't do it? That's... suspicious. Maybe a night in the clink? Some Canadian cops also have roadside saliva swabs that can be used to test for the presence of drugs, but they are useless, legally speaking (for now.) Now, had you been quaffing ales before the drive, a breathalyzer — controversial as they can be in terms of accuracy and reliability — would have cleared up the situation pretty quickly. Of course, no such roadside device exists for cannabis and its psychotropic ingredient THC. There's growing evidence that cannabis can impair driving by slowing reaction times and encouraging perplexing moves by drivers, like slowing way down and being reluctant to change lanes. Doctors at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health are doing the world's biggest-ever clinical study, asking exactly what causes this behaviour, and how dangerous it is. Either way, an innovation war worth billions to the victor has been declared over developing a cannabis breathalyzer. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22236 - Posted: 05.23.2016
Andrea Hsu Scientists and doctors say the case is clear: The best way to tackle the country's opioid epidemic is to get more people on medications that have been proven in studies to reduce relapses and, ultimately, overdoses. Yet, only a fraction of the more than 4 million people believed to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are being given what's called medication-assisted treatment. One reason is the limited availability of the treatment. But it's also the case that stigma around the addiction drugs has inhibited their use. Methadone and buprenorphine, two of the drugs used for treatment, are themselves opioids. A phrase you often hear about medication-assisted treatment is that it's merely replacing one drug with another. While doctors and scientists strongly disagree with that characterization, it's a view that's widespread in recovery circles. Now, the White House is pushing to change the landscape for people seeking help. In his 2017 budget, President Obama has asked Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding to address the opioid epidemic, with almost all of it geared toward expanding access to medication-assisted treatment. The White House is also highlighting success stories. At the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit held in Atlanta in March, President Obama appeared on stage with Crystal Oertle, a 35-year-old mother of two from Ohio. Oertle spoke of her spiral into addiction, which began with prescription painkillers and progressed to heroin. She tried unsuccessfully to quit on her own several times, before being prescribed buprenorphine a year ago. © 2016 npr
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22226 - Posted: 05.18.2016
Zoe Cormier A hallucinogenic drug derived from magic mushrooms could be useful in treating depression, the first safety study of this approach has concluded. Researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms. All had been clinically depressed for a significant amount of time — on average 17.8 years. None of the patients had responded to standard medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy. One week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, all patients experienced a marked improvement in their symptoms. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission. “That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and first author of the latest study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry1. The equivalent remission rate for SSRIs is around 20%. The study's authors are not suggesting that psilocybin should be a treatment of last resort for depressed patients. “Our conclusion is more sober than that — we are simply saying that this is doable,” says Carhart-Harris. “We can give psilocybin to depressed patients, they can tolerate it, and it is safe. This gives us an initial impression of the effectiveness of the treatment.” © 2016 Nature Publishing Group
By CLYDE HABERMAN At respected research centers in the United States and other countries, scientists have spent much of their professional lives in drug rehabilitation. It is not because they themselves struggle with addiction. What they are trying to rehabilitate are the drugs. Their focus is on mind-altering compounds that fell far from grace nearly half a century ago, LSD prominent among them. Along with other psychedelics, it was outlawed by the federal government, damned as bearing a high potential for abuse and offering no accepted medical benefit. But in recent years, researchers have sought to rescue hallucinogens from exile by examining their efficacy in treating certain disorders of the mind, and perhaps even in understanding the nature of consciousness and spirituality. The work of these scientists now draws the attention of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories of the past and their enduring significance. Psychoactive substances, often derived from mushrooms, have been part of human cultures from Central and South America to the Sahara for thousands of years. But there is no need to look that far back; 1938 will do. That was when Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist searching for a drug to combat circulatory ailments, happened to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide: LSD or, more familiarly, acid. Five years later, Dr. Hofmann, who died in 2008 at age 102, accidentally ingested a small dose of his creation and discovered its mind-blowing potential as he embarked on the first known acid trip. Many more such journeys would follow, for him and for countless others. © 2016 The New York Times Company