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For a century, psychedelics have been investigated as models of psychosis for demonstrating phenomenological similarities with psychotic experiences and as therapeutic models for treating depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. This study sought to explore this paradoxical relationship connecting key parameters of the psychotic experience, psychotherapy, and psychedelic experience.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, 24 healthy volunteers received 50 μg d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or inactive placebo. Psychotic experience was assessed by aberrant salience (Aberrant Salience Inventory, ASI), therapeutic potential by suggestibility (Creative Imagination Scale, CIS) and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, FFMQ; Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS; Experiences Questionnaire, EQ), and psychedelic experience by four questionnaires (Altered State of Consciousness Questionnaire, ASC; Mystical Experiences Questionnaire, MEQ; Challenging Experiences Questionnaire, CEQ; Ego-Dissolution Inventory, EDI). Relationships between LSD-induced effects were examined.
LSD induced psychedelic experiences, including alteration of consciousness, mystical experiences, ego-dissolution, and mildly challenging experiences, increased aberrant salience and suggestibility, but not mindfulness. LSD-induced aberrant salience correlated highly with complex imagery, mystical experiences, and ego-dissolution. LSD-induced suggestibility correlated with no other effects. Individual mindfulness changes correlated with aspects of aberrant salience and psychedelic experience.
The LSD state resembles a psychotic experience and offers a tool for healing. The link between psychosis model and therapeutic model seems to lie in mystical experiences. The results point to the importance of meaning attribution for the LSD psychosis model and indicate that psychedelic-assisted therapy might benefit from therapeutic suggestions fostering mystical experiences.
Recent open-label trials show that psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, hold promise as fast-onset antidepressants in treatment-resistant depression.
To test the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca, we conducted a parallel-arm, double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial in 29 patients with treatment-resistant depression. Patients received a single dose of either ayahuasca or placebo. We assessed changes in depression severity with the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) and the Hamilton Depression Rating scale at baseline, and at 1 (D1), 2 (D2), and 7 (D7) days after dosing.
We observed significant antidepressant effects of ayahuasca when compared with placebo at all-time points. MADRS scores were significantly lower in the ayahuasca group compared with placebo at D1 and D2 (p = 0.04), and at D7 (p < 0.0001). Between-group effect sizes increased from D1 to D7 (D1: Cohen's d = 0.84; D2: Cohen's d = 0.84; D7: Cohen's d = 1.49). Response rates were high for both groups at D1 and D2, and significantly higher in the ayahuasca group at D7 (64% v. 27%; p = 0.04). Remission rate showed a trend toward significance at D7 (36% v. 7%, p = 0.054).
To our knowledge, this is the first controlled trial to test a psychedelic substance in treatment-resistant depression. Overall, this study brings new evidence supporting the safety and therapeutic value of ayahuasca, dosed within an appropriate setting, to help treat depression. This study is registered at http://clinicaltrials.gov (NCT02914769).
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