Two defendants claim drug use as a factor in their alleged crimes; New research on extended bad trips; FDA issues ketamine warning
Plus: Gov. Newsom vetoes SB 58 and psychedelics pioneer Roland Griffiths dies at 77
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose, an independent journalism newsletter brought to you by the U.C. Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. We took a couple weeks off for fall break, and here’s what’s happened in the psychedelics world since our last issue.
Two defendants claim psychedelic mushroom use as a factor in their crimes
This week, an Alaska Airlines flight between Everett, Washington and San Francisco was diverted to Portland after an off-duty pilot named Joseph Emerson attempted to turn off the plane’s engines. Emerson was charged with endangering an aircraft and 83 counts of attempted murder. At his arraignment on Tuesday, he told investigators that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms about 48 hours before the incident in an effort to treat his depression — and that it was the first time he’d ever tried them.
In mid-October, the trial of Nathaniel Veltman began in Ontario, Canada. Veltman was charged with murder after driving his truck into pedestrians in June 2021. He told police he had targeted the Muslim family because of the way they dressed. At his trial, Veltman testified that he took psychedelic mushrooms the day before the murder in order to escape mental turmoil.
In both cases, the accused men say they took mushrooms a day or two before committing the crimes they’re charged with. It’s unclear what role, if any, their reported psilocybin use played in their crimes or will play in their legal proceedings. The acute mind-altering effects of psilocybin typically last no more than a half-day. Still, there are several case studies published in medical journals in which the drug triggered manic or psychotic episodes in individual patients, and these can persist long after psilocybin has been eliminated from the body.
The extended bad trip
Some people experience “extended difficulties” for months and even years after taking psychedelics, according to a new study published this week in PLoS One. The study included 608 adults who reported difficulties lasting more than a day after using a psychedelic drug. Participants filled out online surveys and provided written accounts of their experiences. They listed a variety of different drugs as having triggered their enduring distress; the most common were psilocybin mushrooms (27%) and LSD (25%), followed by ayahuasca (10%) and cannabis (10%). When asked about mental health, nearly 70% of the people in the study said they had not been diagnosed with a mental illness prior to their extended bad trip; 19% of those people told researchers they were diagnosed with a mental illness afterward.
Participants were afflicted with a wide range of negative after effects, including feeling disconnected, anxious, and lonely; visual distortions and hallucinations; hearing buzzing sounds and voices; tactile, taste and olfactory distortions; confusion and difficulties thinking clearly; intrusive, ruminative or obsessive thoughts; fear, suicidality and depression; feelings of guilt and shame; panic attacks; resurfaced trauma; existential struggles; experiencing what the researchers called “sense of hell / evil presence / fear of the afterlife”; nightmares and sleep problems; breathing difficulties, heart issues and nausea; excessive self-consciousness; fear of losing control or going mad; and full-blown psychotic episodes. One participant wrote, “For about 18 months, I awoke with the sun every morning full of a feeling of absolute terror.”
Despite these alarming outcomes, more than half of the participants in the study reported that they continued to use psychedelics after the extended bad trip experience and almost 90% reported a positive view on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. “These substances can foster greater social connection or, conversely, provoke intense social disconnection. They can alleviate anxiety or exacerbate it. They have the potential to heal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or induce it. They can boost an individual’s sense of meaning or plunge them into existential confusion,” the authors write.
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FDA issues ketamine alert
On October 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a bulletin clarifying that ketamine is not FDA-approved for treating any psychiatric disorder, and warning patients and healthcare providers that compounded ketamine (when the drug is tailored for individual patients by changing its dosage and/or combining it with other ingredients) could be dangerous. The FDA wrote that telemedicine platforms and compounding pharmacies may not be properly disclosing the risks of compounded ketamine to patients and that interactions between ketamine and additional drugs could worsen psychiatric disorders, increase blood pressure, cause breathing to slow, and result in lower urinary tract or bladder symptoms. The agency referenced one adverse effect report submitted by a patient who took compounded ketamine to treat PTSD and experienced slowed breathing. “The patient’s ketamine blood level appeared to be twice the blood level typically obtained for anesthesia,” the FDA wrote.
The State of Psychedelics: Gov. Newsom vetoes SB 58; Eureka, CA passes deprioritization resolution
Last month, the California legislature approved SB 58, a bill that would have made it state-legal for people over 21 to possess, prepare, grow, gather, gift, and transport (but not sell) a variety of psychedelics found in plants and fungi. On October 7, Newsom vetoed the bill, and wrote a letter to the California State Senate explaining his decision. “California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines — replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to guard against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses,” Newsom wrote. “Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.” He instead encouraged the legislature to introduce bills that address therapeutic guidelines.
California Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced the bill, wrote in a statement that the veto was “not the end of our fight,” and that he will introduce therapeutic focused legislation next year. In a 2022 interview with The Microdose, Wiener said that decriminalization was “the first step” in psychedelics policy reform, while medicalization and legalization introduce more “complicated” problems. Newsom’s letter and Wiener’s response suggest the California legislature could move towards introducing bills that would create psilocybin programs that resemble those in Oregon and Colorado.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in California, the city council of Eureka passed a resolution last week ordering local police to deprioritize the enforcement of laws that prohibit people over 21 from cultivating, possessing, or using entheogenic plants and fungi. The resolution still prohibits the sale of these drugs and the involvement of people under 21.
Psychedelics pioneer Roland Griffiths passes
As many readers who follow news about psychedelics already know, psychedelic research luminary Roland Griffiths died early last week at 77. Griffiths, a professor of behavioral science and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, published a landmark 2006 paper studying how psilocybin induced mystical experiences. Many credit the paper, published in Psychopharmacology, with reviving scientific interest in studying psychedelics and helping to legitimize research in this field. In 2019, Griffiths became the director of the psychedelics research center at Johns Hopkins, the nation’s first. Griffiths’ work explored a wide range of questions about psychedelics, including how the substances work in the brain, how they affect people’s attitudes about death and dying, and how they intersect with ideas of spirituality.
In 2021, Griffiths was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He spoke openly about his diagnosis and the role of both meditation and psychedelics in helping him face and accept it. “If I had a regret, it’s that I didn’t wake up as much as I have without a cancer diagnosis,” he told the New York Times Magazine in an April 2023 interview.
Many in the psychedelics world regarded Griffiths not only as a pioneering scientist, but also as a key figure in the growing psychedelics movement. At MAPS’ Psychedelic Science conference this past summer, artist Alex Grey, known for his portrait series of people he calls “psychedelic saints,” including LSD inventor Albert Hofmann, unveiled a portrait of Griffiths at a dinner held in his honor. In a tribute after his passing, Johns Hopkins researcher David Yaden wrote that his former advisor started his work “as a skeptic,” but “came to believe that the scientific study of psychedelic experiences could potentially help to explain some important components of human well-being and altruism.” Griffiths, he said, “was desperately concerned that we as humans make progress on these topics to save ourselves from ourselves.”
When authorities crack down on certain drugs, do they become more potent? Undark explores.
Filter Magazine ran a yarn from an incarcerated writer using a pseudonym in which he discusses the trips of his youth, which included injecting psilocybin tea.
A former Tesla executive donated $16 million to Harvard to launch an interdisciplinary program to study psychedelics in society and culture.
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