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Johns Hopkins Wants To Hear About Your Psychedelic Journeys For New ‘Real-World’ Study

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Planning to trip on shrooms anytime soon? If you’re willing to fill out a few surveys, your experience could help chart the future of psychedelic science.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who have been at the forefront of psychedelics studies in a lab setting, are partnering with a Denver-based nonprofit to gather thousands of real-world experiences with psilocybin, the main psychedelic component of so-called magic mushrooms. By diverging from a standard research setting, they’re hoping to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence a trip and its outcomes.

They’re asking people who plan to use psilocybin to share their experiences in order to build a better understanding of the drug’s effects outside a laboratory setting—at festivals and in nature, for example.

“Because our research is ‘real world,’ allowing participants to enroll for any reason and participate in any setting, we will learn unprecedented new details about how individuals are choosing to use this substance,” said Del Jolly, co-founder and director of Unlimited Sciences, the nonprofit funding the study. “We hope to grow our understanding with a large survey set.”

Any English-speaking adult planning to use psilocybin within the next six months can sign up to join the study. “Your input,” the website says, “could materially evolve our collective scientific understanding of psilocybin’s effects on the human mind.”

If that sounds like a worthy goal, be forewarned that there’s homework. Participants will be asked to take up to five surveys about themselves and their psilocybin experiences—one survey two weeks before taking psilocybin, the next in the hours before use, another in the days following the experience and then two follow-up surveys in the weeks and months afterward. Each survey is expected to take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete.

“Participants will be asked to describe details of both their ‘set’ (state of mind) and ‘setting’ (physical situation) at up to six time periods surrounding a planned psilocybin dose,” according to an Unlimited Sciences press release, “to isolate variables of experiences and how they relate to health and other outcomes.”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have been studying psychedelics for decades, and last year the university launched a first-of-its-kind psychedelics research center. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has focused primarily on potential therapeutic uses for psychedelics, such as smoking cessation and treatment for depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia and opioid withdrawal. Assembling a repository of real-world data, Unlimited Sciences says, could help identify areas for future investigation.

“By expanding the study to include far more examples of real-life usage and outcomes, we can continue to learn more and refine our research,” said Heather Jackson, the nonprofit’s board president. “A study of this type can direct future controlled clinical trials.”

As with cannabis, the recent resurgence of interest in psilocybin and other psychedelics has propelled an effort to better understand the science behind the drugs’ effects. Unlimited Sciences was inspired by Realm of Caring, a nonprofit started in 2013 to gather data on how cannabis was being used medically.

“In late 2018, the founders of Unlimited Sciences saw a similar need,” Unlimited’s website says: “To collect scientific data and testimonials about how people use psychedelics in their lives.”

In the current study, Unlimited and Johns Hopkins want to learn more about the positive and negative outcomes of psilocybin use as well as factors that could influence those outcomes. “We aim to investigate variables such as demographics, lifestyle, mindset, and personality traits,” the study website says, “as well as characteristics of the experience itself such as dosage, ingestion method, intention, and setting, that could influence psilocybin’s long-term effects.”

As academics continue to investigate the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics, advocates for safe access are making headway in both the U.S. and Canada.

Voters in Oregon this year will consider a ballot measure that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use as well as  separate proposal that would decriminalize all drugs and invest in treatment. In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, activists have qualified a measure for November’s ballot that would decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Earlier this month in Canada, four cancer patients in end-of-life care successfully petitioned the country’s health minister to exempt them from the country’s laws against psilocybin, allowing them to legally use the drug as part of psychotherapy treatment. “This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion,” said Thomas Hartle, one of the first Canadians in decades who will be able to use psilocybin legally. “I’m so grateful I can move forward with the next step of healing.”

Canada Will Let Terminally Ill Patients Use Psychedelic Mushrooms For End-Of-Life Care

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

CDC Meets With Medical Marijuana Patients To Discuss Cannabis As Alternative Pain Therapy

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently been hosting meetings with medical marijuana patients as part of a broader series of listening sessions on alternative pain treatments.

Dustin McDonald, who uses cannabis to treat Lyme disease and also serves as policy director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), told Marijuana Moment last week that his conversation with the federal agency was productive, with representatives listening attentively as he explained his personal experiences as well as the advocacy work that ASA is involved in.

Beyond simply getting an audience with a main federal health agency, McDonald said what especially stood out to him was that the CDC representatives told him that his wasn’t the first meeting they’ve had with someone who uses medical marijuana as an alternative pain management option. In fact, they said “a lot of the folks that they had spoken with were using cannabis for chronic pain.”

“In addition to my interview and my testimony discussing my experience utilizing medical cannabis for chronic pain and acute pain, there was a large population of people that they spoke with that were doing something similar,” McDonald said, adding that the CDC officials “seemed fairly open-minded” about the subject despite the ongoing federal prohibition of marijuana.

The ASA activist was especially encouraged by the last question the agency put to him, which he said asked “what could CDC do to assist in it advancing the conversation on additional research into medical cannabis applications to human health and health disorders, in talking to the lawmakers about the need to dive more deeply into researching all of these applications.”

ASA wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work with CDC and other related agencies to advocate for “removing roadblocks to research and pushing federal dollars towards combined grant programs for federal government agencies and academic institutions to really take a look at what’s going on with medical cannabis as a medicine,” McDonald said.

While it’s not clear what steps, if any, CDC will take to advance that conversation, McDonald said the fact that the agency heard from a multitude of voices about the therapeutic potential of marijuana could push them to take some action. At the very least, he expects medical marijuana to be discussed at some length in CDC’s forthcoming updated Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

Marijuana Moment reached out to CDC to find out how often cannabis has been brought up in its meetings with stakeholders, but a representative was not immediately available.

The agency said in a notice about the pain management meetings published in the Federal Register in July that the conversations “will help inform CDC’s understanding of stakeholders’ values and preferences related to pain and pain management and will complement CDC’s ongoing work” on updating that guideline.

This comes months after CDC closed a public comment period on pain management that saw over 1,000 submissions advocating for marijuana and kratom as pain relief options.

But while there’s widespread interest in research cannabis as an opioid alternative, federally authorized research has been slow-going because of tight restrictions on who can access the plant for studies and where they can get it. Currently, there’s only one registered manufacturer at the University of Mississippi, and the marijuana they cultivate has been described as chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available in commercial markets.

A House committee last week approved key piece of marijuana research legislation that, among other things, would allow scientists to finally study cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.

In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of the provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.

DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.

Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

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Politics

New Psychedelics Research And Education Center Launched At UC Berkeley As Reform Movement Grows

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The University of California at Berkeley announced on Monday that it is launching a new center dedicated to psychedelics research and education.

Scientists at the center will use psychedelic substances to “investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain,” according to a press release. At the same time, the new entity will be putting resources toward informing the public about “this rapidly advancing field of research.”

To start, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will look at psilocybin, the main psychoactive component of so-called magic mushrooms. This research is being partially funded by an anonymous $1.25 million donation.

“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this,” Berkeley neuroscientist David Presti, a founding member of the center, said. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”

The research is meant to complement studies being conducted at other psychedelics-focused institutions, such as a similar center that launched at Johns Hopkins University last year.

“Some of these studies have produced striking results in cases that are otherwise resistant to more conventional medical treatment,” Berkeley neuroscientist Michael Silver, directer of the new center, said. “This suggests that psychedelic compounds may offer new hope for people suffering from these disorders.”

The researchers will also be partnering with the Graduate Theological Union to create “an immersive learning program on psychedelics and spirituality.” That will involve training individuals to be “facilitators” for psychedelic ceremonies. The training program will look at the “cultural, contemplative and spiritual care dimensions of psychedelics.”

“The training of facilitators is an indispensable part of this project,” Sam Shonkoff, an assistant professor at the Graduate Theological Union, said.

Researchers at the center will attempt to discover potential therapeutic applications of psychedelics for mental health by studying the fundamental mechanisms that go into a psychedelic experience. They plan to explore how visual hallucinations work in the brain, as well as the long-term effects of taking these substances on “social and political attitudes, identity and resilience to stress.”

“Psychedelic medicines can open a doorway to seeing one’s psyche and connection with the world in new and helpful ways,” Presti said. “That’s been appreciated by shamanic traditions for thousands of years. Science is now exploring new ways to investigate this.”

Journalism professor Michael Pollan, author of “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence,” will also be involved.

“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity and learning,” Pollan said. “Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose.”

This center’s foundation comes in the midst of a national psychedelics reform movement, with activists across the country pushing to end criminalization of entheogenic substances.

In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin, with the approval of a local ballot measure. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. The City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities in January.

Last month, Canada’s health minister granted exemptions allowing certain cancer patients to legally use psilocybin for end-of-life care.

The Canadian government will have to officially respond to a petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics after it recently garnered nearly 15,000 signatures—and there’s legislation in the works that could make the reform happen.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is formally throwing his support behind an Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and is helping to raise money for the campaign.

A measure to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics will appear on the Washington, D.C. ballot—and recent polling indicates that it has strong support.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies announced last month that it raised $30 million in donations—including from several notable business leaders outside the drug policy realm—that will enable it to complete a study on using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meanwhile, Oregon voters will also see a separate measure on their November ballots to decriminalize drug possession and fund treatment services.

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Feds Fund Research On Whether Cows Can Eat Hemp Without Milk Drinkers Getting High

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently took to Twitter to publicize a $200,000 grant it awarded to researchers investigating whether or not feeding hemp to livestock leads to unacceptable concentrations of cannabinoids in resulting food for human consumption.

Scientists at Kansas State University are conducting the studies, which will help inform policies on whether hemp can safely be used in animal feed. As it stands, the practice is prohibited despite the federal legalization of the crop and its derivatives.

Little is known about the effects of cannabinoids on cattle, as most studies have focused on humans, mice and pigs. But a main reason for the new research is that there are concerns that feeding hemp to livestock could potentially result in high concentrations of THC in meat and milk sold commercially.

“Our goal is to fill in the knowledge gaps,” Kansas State University’s Michael Kleinhenz, who is part of the multidisciplinary team behind the studies, said. “Until feedstuffs containing hemp are established as safe in animals, our data will assist producers in managing situations involving intentional or unintentional hemp exposures.”

“Industrial hemp is typically grown to produce oil, seed, fiber and medicines,” Kleinhenz added. “While varieties of hemp may be planted for a single or dual purpose, such as for seed and fiber, byproducts consisting of leaves, fodder and residual plant fibers remain after harvest. These byproducts could serve as potential feedstuffs for animals. Because these are predominantly cellulose-containing plant materials, the ideal species for utilizing these feeds are ruminant animals, specifically cattle.”

So far the team has completed two preliminary studies using the USDA funds.

“The cannabinoids CBDA, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid-A (THCA-A), cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA), and cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) were detected in all cattle after [industrial hemp] dosing,” one paper, which was published in the journal Nature in July, concluded. “These results show acidic cannabinoids, especially CBDA, are readily absorbed from the rumen and available for distribution throughout the body.”

Follow-up research will examine the effects of hemp foods on animal behavior and immune function.

“Now that we have found that some cannabinoids are readily absorbed from the rumen, the next steps are to study the tissue and milk residue depletion profiles of these compounds after animal feeding experiments,” Kleinhenz said, referring to one of the four bovine stomachs.

Researchers believe that if farmers were able to use leftover parts of hemp plants as cattle feed, it would make cultivation of the crop more economical and could boost the industry globally.

“We don’t believe that the degree of absorption is sufficient for us to be concerned about potential intoxication following the consumption of meat and milk,” Hans Coetzee, also with Kansas State, said in an interview with KSNW-TV. “If we can prove that that is of no concern of consequence to the consumer, we feel that that would remove one of the major impediments to the widespread production of hemp worldwide.”

The USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant being used by the researchers is another example of how the federal agency is prioritizing hemp since its legalization under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Meanwhile, as scientists work to better understand the crop and its derivatives, USDA is actively developing regulations for the industry. Last week, it announced that a public comment period on its proposed rules for hemp is being reopened due to widespread interest and feedback from stakeholders.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Ulrike Leone.

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