Biological responses to ayahuasca, Portland store busted for openly selling illegal shrooms, and evaluating psychedelics’ abuse potential
Plus: DEA releases final 2023 drug quotas and Berkeley resolution could decriminalize psychedelics
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Biological responses to ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has been used by Indigenous people for centuries for both ceremonial and therapeutic purposes. More recently, researchers have studied the psychedelic brew’s potential to treat mental health issues. In a new paper published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a group of Brazilian and Australian researchers report on people’s biological responses to ayahuasca use.
The study included 72 volunteers, all of whom underwent mental health evaluations. Twenty-eight of those participants had been diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression; the other 44 were declared “healthy” by a psychiatrist. The researchers gave half the participants a single dose of ayahuasca, while the other half received a placebo. Before and two days after the dosing session, researchers collected participants’ saliva and blood samples and assessed their depression levels. Researchers also collected several saliva samples during the ayahuasca session and asked volunteers to complete the Hallucinogenic Rating Scale, a standard scale used to measure the intensity and effects people experience while on psychedelics.
The scientists previously published some results from this study; their most notable finding was that participants diagnosed with depression and given ayahuasca had lower depression scores after the study compared with those in the placebo group. In this new paper, they assessed which biological measures were correlated with the decrease in depressive symptoms — and they report that the key seems to be cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. People with depression already tend to have higher levels of cortisol, and the participants with depression in this study also had high levels of cortisol at baseline. Researchers found that participants who took ayahuasca and showed fewer depressive symptoms also had higher levels of cortisol in their blood two days after dosing, compared to participants who did not show fewer depressive symptoms after their ayahuasca session. Participants with fewer depressive symptoms were more likely to show spikes in cortisol in their saliva during their ayahuasca trip. The causal effects between these factors is not definitive, but researchers point to previous work that suggests high levels of cortisol are associated with an increase in the protein Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is in turn associated with lower depressive symptoms.
Portland store was openly selling illegal shrooms; now busted
Previously, The Microdose reported on Canadian shops selling magic mushrooms. Now, Shroom House — a store in Portland, Oregon, with a sister location in Vancouver — has attracted long lines of Oregonians looking to buy psilocybin mushrooms. To be clear, under both federal and state law, psilocybin mushrooms are illegal to sell in Oregon. The state’s Measure 110, passed in 2020, reduced penalties for personal drug possession, and Measure 109 established psilocybin service centers, which have yet to officially launch in the state — but selling psilocybin out of a retail store is not permitted under either measure. The Oregonian reports that Portland police raided the store early Thursday morning, arresting four people and seizing cash and what police believe to be psilocybin products.
A free newsletter from the U.C. Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics
Evaluating psychedelics’ abuse potential
To approve a new drug for human use, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) must analyze the risks and benefits of a drug and weigh whether its therapeutic effects outweigh any safety and health risks. But because classic psychedelics were classified as Schedule I drugs in the 1970s, “their abuse potential has not been systematically assessed using modern methodology,” write six staffers at CDER in a paper published this week in Neuropharmacology.
The paper lays out how CDER evaluates the abuse potential of psychedelics and how that information would be used by the Drug Enforcement Administration in considering rescheduling the drugs. Some of that data will come from controlled clinical trials designed to evaluate questions of safety, but the authors note that government agencies also consider each drug’s history and current patterns of abuse and risk to public health, which will likely require data on how people use and abuse psychedelics outside of clinical trials. They suggest that data from the National Poison Data Center System or info on people admitted to drug treatment centers could be included in these analyses, and that psychological and physical dependence on drugs may be considered as well.
DEA releases final 2023 drug quotas
Psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA are classified as Schedule I drugs in the U.S., which means it’s illegal to possess or manufacture them without special permissions. Each year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) dictates how much of each scheduled drug can be manufactured for research purposes. In October, we reported that the DEA proposed quotas for 2023; last Friday, the DEA released its final quotas. Compared with its proposed quotas, the agency’s final quotas increase the amounts of psilocin and MDMA to be produced by nearly 50%, from around 8,000 to 12,000 grams. The DEA also nearly doubled the allowed production of 5-MeO-DMT, from 6,000 to 11,000 grams.
State of Psychedelics: Berkeley resolution could decriminalize psychedelics
Three years ago, the Berkeley City Council first considered a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics. Last week, the Berkeley Community Health Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a resolution stating that no city funds or resources should be used to enforce “laws imposing criminal penalties for the possession of psychedelic drugs for personal use, or laws imposing criminal penalties for the cultivation, processing, and preparation of psychedelic-drug-containing plants and fungi for personal use.” Psychedelics, the resolution clarifies, includes LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, “and all other compounds that exert psychoactive effects through stimulation of the 5-HT2A receptor,” but the resolution excludes peyote. The commissioners’ vote now sends the resolution on to the city council for a vote. According to Berkeleyside, if passed the resolution would make the city the first in the U.S. to “decriminalize LSD.”
The original 2019 proposal was drafted by Oakland-based organization Decriminalize Nature. Berkeleyside writes that two commissioners, Joseph Holcomb Adams (see The Microdose’s 5 Questions for Adams) and Karma Smart, were appointed to study the issue and “entirely rewrote” the bill. “We considered the resolution that the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature proposed in 2019,” the commission wrote in a memo. “This proposed Berkeley resolution would have opened the door for the emergence of an unregulated gray market in Berkeley, without first establishing a safety scaffolding and a policy for public health data collection.” As a result, the new resolution also notes that the city manager should work with organizations for “unbiased, evidence-informed psychedelic harm-reduction, education, and support resources to the Berkeley community,” that the city collaborate with Fireside Project to promote its Psychedelic Peer Support Line (see The Microdose’s 5 Questions for the Fireside Project’s Hanifa Nayo Washington), and that city officials create a policy to collect public health information about psychedelic use in Berkeley.
In the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, historian J. Christian Greer traces how psychedelics shaped ideologies and social movements that gave rise to environmental groups like Greenpeace and Earth First! in the 1970s.
In their newsletter On Drugs, attorneys Shane Pennington and Matt Zorn, who helped craft the recently introduced federal Breakthrough Therapies Act, rebut a recent critique of the legislation published in STAT by bioethicist Arthur Caplan and Kenneth Moch, president of biotech company Euclidean Life Science Advisors.
Lucid News reports that a Monterey, California jury found that MAPS was 25 percent responsible for the death of Baylee Ybarra Gatliand and liable for $1 million in damages. The organization’s Zendo Project had a booth at the 2017 festival where Gatlin died; RGX Medical, which staffed a medic tent at the festival, and Do Lab, who produced the festival, were also found liable. The day after the jury’s decision was announced, MAPS released a statement saying they plan to appeal.
Mashable explores the intersection of virtual reality and psychedelic therapy.
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