This Week in Psychedelics: The wild west of ketamine, microdosing data, psychedelics on Broadway, and more
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose. Here's what happened this week in the world of psychedelics:
Microdosing! These days, there’s no shortage of microdosing aficionados, particularly in Silicon Valley. People who microdose take a very small amount of psilocybin or LSD on a regular basis; doses are small enough that users can go about their daily activities without experiencing the hallmark symptoms of a full-blown psychedelic experience, like euphoria or visions. Many who microdose claim that the practice has improved their focus or helped alleviate their anxiety or depression.
But scientific research on microdosing is still scarce. That’s due in large part to the legal status of psychedelics and the logistics of study planning; while researchers can administer psychedelics to participants in the lab under close observation, it’s not feasible to have participants come in and stay for observation every day for weeks or months to study the effect of microdoses. Instead, most research on microdosing has been observational — scientists connect with people who are already planning to microdose, and ask them to report back about their experiences. (A study released this week in Scientific Reports concluded microdosers reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress than non-microdosers.) Such studies provide some insight, but can’t tease apart the potential role of the placebo effect: participants could report feeling better simply because they know they’re taking their medicine of choice, not necessarily because the microdose itself produces an effect.
A new study announced this week will take an empirical look at microdosing, and compare its effects to those of a placebo. Psychedelic biomedical company MindMed is now recruiting participants who will take microdoses of LSD in the lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Using digital measurement devices, researchers will then track cognitive performance, sleep, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in blood plasma, which are thought to be correlated with depressive symptoms.
Psilocybin in Pennsylvania. Could Pennsylvania be the next state to pass new psilocybin legislation? House Bill 1959, the Public Health Benefits of Psilocybin Act, would allow researchers to conduct clinical studies of psilocybin for conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Harold Brubaker says the bill “falls between what has happened in Oregon and Texas” — it doesn’t fully legalize psilocybin like Oregon’s new legislation, but allows more flexibility in who can conduct research than Texas’s new directives. Currently, HB 1959 is awaiting a vote from the state’s health committee.
There has never been a more exciting – or bewildering – time in the world of psychedelics. Don’t miss a beat.
“If it stays underground, abuse like this will continue to happen.” A new investigation by Inverse’s Katie MacBride details the allegations of psychedelic-assisted therapy abuse that have been brought to the fore by Will Hall and other former clients of underground psychedelic therapist Aharon Grossbard. Sources told MacBride that, “a culture of silence and inaction” have silenced abuse allegations, and that Grossbard and his wife Françoise Bourzat’s influence in the field has dissuaded many from speaking out. (Many sources in the piece remain anonymous.) Some sources told MacBride they are aware that people in the community fear these abuse allegations will give fuel to critics opposed to the medicalization and legalization of psychedelics. Still, they say these “difficult realizations” are a necessary first step towards preventing future abuse in the field.
Upping psychedelic quotas. Psychedelics like psilocybin, DMT, and MDMA are still illegal, Schedule I drugs in the U.S. — but the government sanctions the production of a certain amount of them each year to be used in research. Earlier this week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released their final quotas for the production of controlled substances, including psychedelics, in 2022. Marijuana Moment breaks down the differences between 2021 and 2022 quotas; while the amount of MDMA the government has ordered for production remained the same between the two years, the amount of psilocybin has been cut in half, and DMT’s production has been slashed from 3200 grams a year in 2021 to just 250 grams in 2022. On the other hand, production of LSD will increase twelvefold, from 40 grams to 500 grams, and there will be fifteen times more 5-MeO-DMT in 2022 than the year before. In their official report, the DEA notes that these adjustments reflect information they received from researchers’ study applications and drug manufacturers.
The Wild West of Ketamine. In the UK, it is legal for ketamine to be prescribed as anesthetic — but The Guardian reports that private clinics are using it in unapproved ways as part of their therapy for depression. (Similarly, in the U.S., ketamine has not been cleared by the FDA for treating mood disorders, but plenty of physicians are prescribing it off-label.) In this “wild west” of ketamine clinics, patients’ records are not included into the UK’s National Health Service records, which could open the door for abuse. Experts “warned of ‘doctor shopping,’ where patients go to a ketamine clinic one day and another the next without health professionals being able to keep track of who is getting the drug,” write Sarah Marsh and Hannah Devlin.
Hallucinations on Broadway. “Flying Over Sunset,” a new Broadway show, imagines what would’ve happened if three 1950s stars — actor Cary Grant, author Aldous Huxley, and writer and politician Clare Boothe Luce — had taken an acid trip together in Southern California. In real life, the three never knew one another, but after director James Lapine learned that they had all experimented with drugs, he started imagining what such an encounter might have been like in the uptight, post-war era. In a New York Times piece about the new musical, Lisa Birnbach writes that, “the discordancy is so intriguing — like learning that Katharine Graham went to nude encounter sessions at Esalen, or Alan Greenspan was once in a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band.”
You’re all caught up! Have a great weekend, and stay tuned on Monday for 5 Questions, our weekly Q&A with a leader in the psychedelics space.
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