ALDOUS Huxley famously wrote “take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology.”
Sounds like a dream come true? In Huxley’s classic Brave New World it’s possible. In fact, he wrote a lot about psychedelics and his experiences with them, and before he died, he requested an injection of LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide, a psychedelic drug) from his own wife. The people present at his death described it as ‘serene’, and ‘beautiful’. Think it’s trippy? Well it’s about to get a whole lot more magical.
On planet Earth, there is such a thing called ‘magic mushrooms’. Few mortals have dared to embark on their magical voyage, and even fewer return the way they went. In fact, the US court ruled all LSDs medically useless in 1970, shutting the door on any research on the drug, but scientists today are starting to catch on to their medicinal purposes.
self-medication for depression patients, let alone mere mortals, may be extremely dangerous
Researchers at Imperial College have led a study to investigate the benefits of using psilocybin, the active ingredient in the ‘shrooms’, to treat severe depression in patients with terminal illnesses or advanced cancer. They found that it actually resets key neural circuits that are involved with depression.
Essentially, brain networks are disintegrated during the ‘high’, and reintegrated after that, hence the ‘reset’. The MRI scanning of the test subjects measured blood flow and crosstalk between brain regions, and showed that the blood flow to a region of the brain called the amygdala is reduced. Since the amygdala is responsible for complex emotions, such as stress and fear, it’s no wonder that the results showed marked and lasting reductions in symptoms of depression, with some patients reporting up to 5 weeks of benefits.
The effects were similar to electroconvulsive therapy (cue Harley Quinn and the Joker, or American Horror Story), which was actually used to treat what they called ‘madness’ in lunatic asylums in the 1930s. However, the psilocybin study was only carried out on a very small sample of 20 people with no placebo controls, and this could mean that the results are not as reliable as they could be.
However, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel for medicinal ‘shrooms’. Other studies show benefits for up to 6 months: in two tests carried out by Johns Hopkins University and New York University, 80% of 80 people tested with advanced cancer experiencing anxiety and stress reported significant improvements in their mood, for 6-8 months. This is promising research, as current conventional treatments for depression is statistically appalling.
Maybe that’s why this has opened a gateway for MD, or ecstasy, to undergo trials for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) treatment next year, awaiting the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, US based) to approve MD as a licensed medicinal drug. This is why loyal fans of the drug have raised around 20 million US dollars to fund the trials.
The effects of MD are different to psilocybin, as MD is not a psychedelic drug. Prof David Nutt mentions that in fact, if psychedelics were used to treat PTSD, this could make the condition worse. This is because MD works by dampening brain circuits that are overactive in the traumatic memories.
Do bear in mind that self-medication for depression patients, let alone mere mortals, may be extremely dangerous, as the dosage is key for treating the symptoms. Too high a dosage can stop the heart, and become fatal.
This is promising research, as current conventional treatments for depression is statistically appalling.
The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, credited mystical experiences on the drug for his own recovery. He believed that you had to find a higher power so that you could look down on the affection some people have for alcohol. In his own depression study, he claimed some people did have mystical experiences. Others had powerful emotional experiences. Apparently mystical experiences were the key to lifting depression and dealing with addictions. A quote from Professor David Nutt of Imperial College in London explains the supposed phenomenon:
“When you see that you are more than your current self and you have experiences as our patients do, feeling you are taken outside of your body and floating off into space and into other worlds, then you see the bigger picture. You realise you don’t ever die. No one ever dies. You stop breathing. You stop thinking. But the atoms are still there”.
In fact, there used to be this wonderful little quiz question they set for scientists doing the Cambridge entrance exam asking “how many O2 molecules of Socrates’ last breath do you inhale every time you breathe?” The answer is approximately 26 because the droplets are still around. Insane? Probably, but we would all rather have a magical journey than be depressed.