Psychedelics 411

What are psychedellics?

Psychedelics are part of a class of psychotropics that are known to activate the serotonin receptors in our brain, which have a direct effect on mood, cognition, and perception.

Their use as a treatment for mental healing and to facilitate spiritual experiences dates back thousands of years in a variety of different cultures across the globe, but for the first time in history, the benefits of psychedelics, backed by recently gained scientific evidence, have shown promise as "breakthrough therapies" in treating a range of cognitive and physical conditions, which have been labeled as treatment-resistant to traditional medicines and therapies.

These new medical studies and the companies at the forefront of the industry's development are changing the way we think about mental health and human consciousness, creating a psychedelic renaissance for global wellness and unprecedented opportunities.

The following are some of the most common forms of psychedelics used within the last century and includes those that are being studied today as medical treatments for a range of intractable ailments:

Psilocybin (Mushrooms)

Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as “magic mushrooms,” are capable of producing mystical-type experiences and powerful hallucinations in those who consume it.

Psilocybin is the naturally occurring psychoactive compound within the fungi that is responsible for producing these effects, which are thought to be the brain’s response to promoted serotonin activity in the 5-Ht2a serotonin receptor. The compound was first isolated in 1957 at Sandoz Pharmaceutical Labs by Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman, and produced synthetically for the first time in 1958. The drug was branded as Indocybin and marketed for psychotherapeutic uses in the 1960s. Due to misuse and abuse within that era’s counterculture drug scene, the product was classified as an illicit Schedule 1 drug with no therapeutic benefits, ceasing all research and abandonment of its production by Sandoz labs. Through renewed interest and FDA-approved medicinal studies, the 21st century has witnessed the resurrection of psilocybin’s potential as a revolutionary treatment for debilitating mental health conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. The highly anticipated results of these major studies are expected to be announced by the end of 2021.  

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Ibogaine

Ibogaine, a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the root bark of plants in the Apocynaceae family, has traditionally been used as medicine and a ritual tool in the Bwiti religion in Gabon, Africa.

Ibogaine has hallucinogenic properties and was first extracted in 1901 from the Tabernathe Iboga shrub in the African rainforest and synthesized in 1966. In 1962, it was first promoted in the West for its anti-addictive properties by Howard Lotsof, and in small doses it acts as a stimulant. Although it’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S., it is available in varying degrees in Canada, Mexico and several European countries, and is predominantly used in treating opiate addiction and other highly addictive drugs. MindMed, a neuro-pharmaceutical company, has obtained a patent for its product called 18MC, which is a synthetically derived substance similar to ibogaine and is being used and studied for its efficacy in treating addiction.  

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Lysergic Acid (LSD)

LSD is a synthetically manufactured and powerful psychedelic drug derived from lysergic acid.

LSD is a parasitic chemical that feeds on rye and other plants, and was discovered and synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman in 1938 in Basel, Switzerland. Mr. Hoffman unexpectedly discovered the psychedelic effects of LSD when the drug came into contact with his skin. After this discovery, LSD was studied in earnest for its potential therapeutic efficacy in treating addiction, depression and other mental health disorders. During this time, over 1,000 academic papers and dozens of books were published on the psychotherapeutic use of LSD, but its release into the counterculture of the 60s and 70s initiated an era of misuse and abuse causing LSD to be classified as an illicit Schedule 1 drug, ceasing all research on its psychotherapeutic use and potential benefits. Since then, LSD has remained widely stigmatized, but its consideration as a therapeutic drug has resurfaced with the popularity of microdosing, the practice of taking small doses on a regular basis to increase creativity, production and cognitive brain function. New studies are revealing promising results for LSD administered in psychotherapy sessions to reduce end of life anxiety and positive effects on patients diagnosed with life-threatening diseases that include reduced anxiety, valuable insights, improvements in interpersonal relationships and an elevated perception on quality of life. Other recent studies have shown an astonishingly high success rate in LSD treating alcoholism.

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Ketamine

Ketamine is a general anesthetic that was first synthesized in 1962 and is used most commonly in veterinary practice as an animal tranquilizer.

It has, however, been long used on humans as a sedative, especially in patients with respiratory or circulatory problems, because it doesn’t disrupt breathing or circulation in the manner of traditional anesthetics. Ketamine has powerful dissociative and psychedelic effects, and as an antidepressant, ketamine’s S-enantiomer, “esketamine,” has twice been designated a “Breakthrough Therapy” by the FDA. In August 2016, it was fast-tracked for development as a viable medication. One of its most redeeming features that sets it apart from traditional antidepressants is its rapid onset, where depressive symptoms improve within 4-72 hours compared to 6-12 weeks with other medications, making it a revolutionary treatment with a success rate of 85% compared to 45% with traditional antidepressants. Ketamine has shown to be highly effective in patients with treatment resistant depression, even in cases where symptoms have persisted for decades without relief, and because of its rapid onset, it’s also shown great promise in eliminating suicidal thoughts making ketamine the first emergency “anti-suicide” drug. Thousands of clinics have opened around the world to administer ketamine therapy treatment to patients and are showing just as much promise in successfully treating substance abuse, addiction and PTSD as in its treatment for depression.  

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Mescaline (Peyote)

Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid with hallucinogenic properties derived from a range of cacti.

It is found predominantly in Mexico and the southwestern deserts of the U.S. It has been used in its natural state for thousands of years as traditional medicines and as a shamanic tool in religious rituals and spiritual ceremonies by Native American Indians, Mexican and South American tribes. Mescaline was first isolated from the peyote plant in 1896 and predating psilocybin and LSD, it was the first psychedelic to appear in Western culture. Mescaline can be synthetically manufactured, and its extracted compound, similar in structure to adrenaline and noradrenaline, is recently being considered for its health benefits as a potential psychotherapeutic treatment in conditions such as substance abuse and depression.

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Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)

DMT, the active hallucinogenic compound in ayahuasca, is a naturally occurring psychedelic chemical that is found at low concentrations in many plants and animals.

In concentrated doses, DMT acts as a fast-acting powerful hallucinogenic with effects dissipating after 15-20 minutes. When ingested as an ayahuasca brew, the effects take longer to appear and can last for a few hours. Although DMT produces one of the most powerful psychedelic experiences in its genre and is traditionally used in ayahuasca for treating mood disorders and addiction, the therapeutic value of DMT on its own has not been reviewed to the extent of other psychedelics. However, as research into psychedelics continues to expand, it’s expected that more studies will be looking at DMT specifically for its therapeutic efficacy.  

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MDMA

MDMA is a synthetic stimulant drug of the central nervous system (CNS) that alters mood and perception and is derived from amphetamine.

It shares a chemical structure to stimulants (methamphetamines) and psychedelics (mescaline) and produces feelings of euphoria and increased energy, and experiences of emotional communion, such as oneness, relatedness and empathy. MDMA was granted “Breakthrough Therapy” status by the FDA, which means that due to clinical evidence which shows that the substance may offer significant improvement over existing treatments, the FDA will expedite the substance’s development and review process. In MDMA’s case, it is now in Phase III clinical trials for use as a therapeutic aid in the treatment of PTSD, which is being administered by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and involves a few administrations of the drug alongside guided professional therapy. Many patients are war veterans with treatment resistant PTSD, and the results of the therapeutic sessions reveal that MDMA therapy helps them to achieve a greater sense of acceptance, warmth and compassion when mentally approaching their past trauma, which is providing them with the opportunity to cope and heal. MDMA has also shown promise in treating social anxiety in individuals with autism and clinical anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses, helping the patients to shift their anxiety toward openness, introspection and compassion. The MDMA therapy sessions are accomplishing these encouraging results for these conditions with infrequent or even single doses, eliminating the need for frequent administration and mitigating adverse side effects and costs associated with longer-term, more involved therapies.  

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Medical uses and psychedelic research

Brief History

For centuries, psychedelics have been valued by various cultures for healing properties and for use in religious rituals. Not until the early 20th century did psychedelic compounds first become recognized, studied and synthesized by Western chemists.

Substances, such as psilocybin and LSD, showed promise in their therapeutic effects to treat mental health disorders, and by the late 1950s and 60s thousands of medical review articles had been written on the subject.

These powerful drugs were discovered by (and perhaps helped to define) ‘hippie’ counterculture and soon thereafter, via the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1970, psychedelics were classified by the federal government as illicit Schedule I drugs, which effectively ended and outlawed all research efforts.

Ongoing Studies

In the decades that followed, psychedelic research remained a third rail issue, meaning that anyone who got involved risked professional marginalization. Nevertheless, in 2000 Dr. Roland Griffiths, aware of the reputational risks, initiated a new set of psilocybin trials with federal approvals and the support of Johns Hopkins University.

In 2006, Dr. Griffiths and his team published their peer-reviewed investigation in the journal Psychopharmacology titled, “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.”

The significance of this landmark study was that for the first time, the benefit of psychedelic usage was scientifically proven through exhaustive observation, including double-blind protocols and peer reviews, allowing psychedelics to emerge as a respected treatment for various cognitive and physical disorders.

From this point forward, Johns Hopkins, and a handful of other universities in the U.S. and abroad, have commissioned an immense amount of follow-up research to explore how psychedelics might help with intractable ailments. Especially within the last 12 months, the evidence of psychedelics’ therapeutic efficacy has shown great promise for those suffering with treatment-resistant mental disorders.

Treatment for Mental Health Disorders

The 2006 Johns Hopkins study is what investors would refer to as a proof of concept demonstration in the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics to treat a number of mental disorders, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and addiction, which affects tens of millions worldwide. Traditional treatments are costly and usually involve counseling and medication, which takes time to produce meaningful results and have a disturbingly high failure rate.

Learn more about effects by dose

Clinical evidence has shown that psychedelics may offer significant improvement over existing treatments, and the FDA has designated psilocybin, MDMA and Ketamine as “breakthrough therapies” in treating these conditions. This has created a surge of activity in the psychedelics industry, including the announcement of new trials being conducted by world-renowned doctors and scientists, and the first psychedelic company IPOs have been launched just within the last few months. In September 2019, Johns Hopkins established the Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research with $17 million from a small group of investors as a fully-funded, freestanding research facility, being led by Dr. Griffiths.

The facility is the first of its kind in the U.S. setting the standard for the groundbreaking work being done in the field at other universities, such as Yale, University of Miami and Wisconsin. The companies to watch at the forefront of this important work are ATAI Life Sciences, Champignon Brands, Compass Pathways, MAPS and MindMed.  

Clinical Results Coming Soon

FDA-approved studies regarding the use of psychedelics as medicine are currently being conducted by a number of innovative companies in conjunction with universities across the U.S. and abroad. These programs are being led by world-renowned doctors, scientists and clinicians around the globe.

By the end of 2021, these studies are expected to yield promising results on the efficacy of psychedelics to treat debilitating mental disorders, such as PTSD, addiction and treatment resistant depression. With growing interest worldwide on the therapeutic research of psychedelics as medicine, we aim to keep our readers informed of recent developments, progress and medicinal  breakthroughs that are revealed through these intriguing studies.

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Research News

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FDA-approved studies at world-renowned research centers, such as Johns Hopkins, Yale, Wisconsin, and University of Miami, are in various phases of trials to review psychedelics as medicine. With results expected as early as 2021, research news will keep our readers apprised of the latest scientific developments as a new era of medicine prepares to successfully heal treatment-resistant mental conditions and expand collective consciousness.

The psychedelic
reform movement

Early Pioneers

Psychedelics are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. What its early pioneers had suspected and were exploring in the  mid 20th century with regards to therapeutic efficacy are now, five decades later, coming full circle with validation through scientifically proven measures.

Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist, discovered LSD in 1938 in Basel, Switzerland. Mr. Hoffman was also responsible for isolating the first psilocybin compound in 1957 while working for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Labs, which in 1958 produced the first synthetic psilocybin drug called Indocybin that was marketed for psychotherapeutic uses in the 1960s.

The early days of psychedelics as medicine were short-lived, but it laid the groundwork for the exciting revelations that are occurring today.

Abuse, Misuse & Schedule I

The Harvard Psilocybin Project was a series of trials between 1960 and 1962 conducted by two psychology professors, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who administered psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, to students in an attempt to understand their effects on people.

Both professors unceremoniously split ties with Harvard in 1963, due to the administration of their drug project. However, both men continued to influence Harvard for years to come by initiating debates on the role of psychedelics on campus and playing a prominent role in bringing 1960s drug culture to the main stream of America’s consciousness.

Because of the unscientific administration and public fear of the dangers of widespread use, psychedelics were criminalized and classified in 1970 as an illicit Schedule I drug with no therapeutic benefits. The reckless use and abuse during this era caused Albert Hoffman to later refer to LSD as his ‘problem child.’

After five decades, psychedelics still remain illegal and stigmatized in many parts of the world, but new studies are showing promise in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics as treatment for chronic ailments.    

A New Foothold in Science

The launch of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Psychedelic Research & Consciousness in September 2019 and the April 2019  launch of its counterpart at  Imperial College in London, has given psychedelic medicine its long-sought and coveted standing in the scientific establishment. These drugs will require further evidence before they can be prescribed by physicians, but quite a few of the clinical studies are in advanced stages of the trials, and results are expected as early as 2021.

New Trading in Public Markets

At the forefront of these studies are innovative companies creating this new frontier from a medicinal and financial perspective. Psychedelic neuroscience companies have gone public within the first couple of months in 2020, and perhaps a few more may follow this year.

These IPOs coupled with the groundbreaking research being done, which has already yielded promising results in ongoing studies, equates to tremendous opportunities for investors in public markets unlike anything ever seen, except for the .com boom of the 90s perhaps.

However, unlike the tech industry, there are only a handful of companies with the credentials to collaborate in these FDA approved studies so the field of first to market is relatively small, the price of entry is reasonable, and industry developments are occurring at a rapid rate.

Movement to Decriminalize

While the focus of the psychedelics reform movement remains on the therapeutic effects of these drugs to treat serious health conditions and be administered in clinical sessions, some jurisdictions around the U.S. are making the bold move to decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin.

The movement appears to come on the heels of the popularity with microdosing psychedelics, the practice of taking small doses on a regular basis to increase creativity, production and cognitive brain function, where the success of this practice has been widely covered by the tech industry in Silicon Valley.

Reform News

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As psychedelics continue to transform our medicinal, financial and cultural landscape, reform news will keep our readers up to date on the latest developments and leading stories that are shaping this emerging industry, the financial opportunities that exist within it and the way we think about possibilities of the mind, mental health and human consciousness .