Therapeutic effects of psilocybin in treatment of anxiety and depression. | Roland Griffiths

Therapeutic effects of psilocybin in treatment of anxiety and depression. | Roland Griffiths

[Roland]:…We can do reductionistic neuroscience. Whether we’re doing brain imaging work, we
can ask questions about pharmacology, we can ask questions about biological and genetic
dispositions or behavioral interactions or set and setting conditions that modulate those
experiences. And to bring this to your question, we can
look at therapeutic effects. And so, one of the first studies that we’ve
conducted looking at therapeutic effects is to look at cancer patients who are experiencing
very significant anxiety or fear in face of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. And it turns out that this kind of very disquieting
existential anxiety and sometimes depression very often accompanies these life-threatening
cancer diagnoses as you might expect that it would. And our treatment options are quite limited,
so we do have our classic antidepressants and our anxiolytics. And there are different kinds of psychotherapy
approaches, but for many people, these interventions are not very effective and they can really
experience a very degraded quality of life and a sense of hopelessness and depression
that really diminishes their whole experience in the latter parts of their lives. So, it was this population that we were interested
in treating with psilocybin to see whether there would be therapeutic effects. One of the reasons we chose that population
is that there were studies back in the 50s and 60s that produced suggestive evidence
that compounds from this category of the classic hallucinogens like LSD and some other psilocybin
analogs might be effective in this regard, but these trials were not conducted under
the rigorous clinical standards that would be expected today. And just a footnote, of course, work with
these classic hallucinogens really came to a standstill in the late 60s with the psychedelic
movement and the cultural reactivity we had to that which placed these drugs into schedule
one. They became very difficult to obtain. There was no funding that was available, and
the media surrounding the surgeon use of these compounds back in the 60s led people to conclude
incorrectly as it turns out that the risks of exposure to these compounds were greater
than any possible benefits. But functionally, what happened was there
was a period of several decades where no clinical research was done with these compounds. So, people had made observations previously
that there might be a signal here. There had been one pilot study published a
couple years ago with a low dose of psilocybin out of UCLA. And then we undertook our study at Johns Hopkins. A group at NYU ran a somewhat smaller study
and we co-published just this last week, in fact, our results. And the results really were quite striking. They confirmed everything we had seen in the
healthy volunteers that is these very vulnerable cancer patients who had very significant anxiety
or depression experience the same types of…experience is very often classified as this mystical-type
experiences, but they were deeply moved by these experiences. And interestingly, these people experience
very large and sustained decreases in anxiety and depression, and the effects occurred really
quite promptly after the administration of the drug. And although the design of the study was such,
it was a crossover design so people were crossed over between essentially an inactive dose
of psilocybin to an active dose or vice-versa. So the strongest conclusion we can make comparing
our placebo condition and our active condition is this effect lasted out to five weeks, but
in fact, we followed people out to six months and there was no evidence that there was any
significant rate of relapse over that period of time. So, in other words, most people who demonstrated
a large therapeutic effect remained having low levels of anxiety or depression out to
six months. So there’s suggestive evidence that there’s
a long duration of that… [Rhonda]: After one treatment. [Roland]: …after one treatment, yeah. [Rhonda]: That’s pretty amazing.

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