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Psychedelic Toad Venom Relieves Depression, Anxiety And Stress, Studies Find

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A single smoked hit of the dried psychedelic secretion of a certain North American toad can potentially improve a person’s mental health, according to new research.

The study, published this month, found that people reported feeling more satisfied with life right after intake, and that increase in satisfaction persisted even four weeks later. They also reported feeling more mindful over time.

“Ratings of depression, anxiety, and stress decreased after the session, and reached significance at 4 weeks,” the researchers wrote.

The substance in question is called 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), which was initially discovered in the bark of a plant. Researchers later realized the Bufo alvarius toad, more commonly known as the Colorado river toad, secretes a poisonous, milky-white substance in its skin and glands that also contains the 5-MeO-DMT compound.

People who smoke 5-MeO-DMT report having mystical-type experiences, characterized by awe, amazement, intense self-awareness and timelessness, among other effects. Past research has also shown that the compound is associated with a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, and has effectively helped consumers deal with alcoholism and drug abuse.

As first reported by IFL Science, the current study, led by Malin Uthaug of Maastricht University, aimed to better understand just how effective 5-MeO-DMT could be as a treatment for certain mental health conditions. The authors recruited a total of 75 people from Czech Republic, Spain and The Netherlands to participate in their observational research. Forty-two percent of participants said they were interested in the practice because they wanted to better understand themselves, while problem-solving and spiritual healing were cited as other motivations.

The study’s authors assessed participants using several psychiatric tests at three different points: prior to the session during which they inhaled the vapor containing 5-MeO-DMT, 24 hours after use and four weeks post-inhalation. During the sessions, facilitators reported participants inhaled a range of 20 milligrams up to 120 milligrams of the dried toad secretion.

According to the study’s findings, which were published in the journal Psychopharmacology, a single dose of the dried toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT produced both short and long-term improvements in self-reported ratings of satisfaction with life, depression, anxiety and stress. Not only did life satisfaction increase 7 percent one day after the smoke session, the average rate of depression among participants dropped 18 percent below baseline levels, anxiety by 39 percent and stress by 27 percent.

Four weeks later, the authors found that life satisfaction had increased to 11 percent above baseline, while depression ratings had dropped 68 percent. Anxiety and stress were also down 56 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

 

Via Psychopharmacology

Some participants who had especially intense 5-MeO-DMT sessions reported even greater effects on their moods.

Those who “experienced high levels of ego dissolution or oceanic boundlessness during the session displayed higher ratings of satisfaction with life and lower ratings of depression and stress,” the study found.

Understanding how or why dried toad secretion may help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety was outside the scope of this study. The authors, however, offer a few theories, including the notion that psychedelic compounds such as 5-MeO-DMT may bind to certain receptors in the brain, thus reducing inflammation and improving symptoms associated with some neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression.

It’s important to point out, however, that one of the study’s limitations was inconsistent participation. Of the 75 participants, 42 completed the test assessments both before inhalation of the dried toad secretion vapor and within 24 hours, while only 24 completed the test battery at the final assessment.

Despite the lack of a proper control group, the results are promising, the authors said. “This study suggests that a single administration of vapor from toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT produces rapid and persistent improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness and psychopathological symptoms, and that these changes are associated to the strength of the psychedelic experience,” they concluded, adding a call for more research.

The results also support a separate recent study that found a synthetic version of 5-MeO-DMT also appeared to offer therapeutic benefits to those who inhale it. In a survey of 362 adults who said they’d had a mystical experience with 5-MeO-DMT in a group setting, approximately 80 percent reported their anxiety or depression had improved afterward.

Alan Davis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was one of the authors on that study, which was published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in March. “Research has shown that psychedelics given alongside psychotherapy help people with depression and anxiety,” Davis said in a statement. “However, psychedelic sessions usually require 7-8 hours per session because psychedelics typically have a long duration of action. Because 5-MeO-DMT is short-acting and lasts approximately 30-90 minutes, it could be much easier to use as an adjunct to therapy because current therapies usually involve a 60-90 minute session.”

Microdosing Psychedelics Improves Psychological Functioning, Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Renee Grayson.

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.

Kimberly Lawson is a former altweekly newspaper editor turned freelance writer based in Georgia. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, O magazine, Broadly, Rewire.News, The Week and more.

Politics

Feds To Send Marijuana And Hemp Samples To Labs As Part Of Large-Scale Testing Accuracy Study

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A federal science agency is inviting labs to participate in a large-scale study to assess their ability to accurately analyze marijuana and hemp samples for their cannabinoid profile and possible contaminants.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said in a notice on Thursday that it will provide samples of cannabis that it’s already analyzed to labs and then ask them to run their own tests. Once that’s complete, NIST will reveal the actual data and compare the numbers to identify any disparities.

The point of the study isn’t to expose labs that fail to provide accurate analyses; rather, it’s intended to help forensic analysts and the cannabis industry develop best practices. NIST, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said it’s especially important given that hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, while its higher THC cannabis cousin marijuana remains federally illegal.

“If you’re going to confiscate a farmer’s crop, or subject a person to prosecution, you want to be sure that measurement is accurate,” NIST research chemist Brent Wilson said in a press release.

The agency has previously led research on analyzing hemp oil, but this one involving both hemp and marijuana will target flower, which is more challenging for labs. To get the samples for this new study, NIST ground down various cannabis buds and sorted them—”like a baker sifting flour”—to separate the material by particle size.

Wilson then “blended the powders into batches and carefully measured how much of each compound and contaminant was present in each batch.”

“NIST will send samples from those batches to participating labs,” the agency said. “All labs will receive legal hemp samples. Labs that are licensed to handle controlled substances can also request marijuana samples.”

Labs interested in participating in the study have until February 5 to enroll. Samples will be distributed in April.

While determining THC content is a central concern, the research will also look at CBD and other cannabinoids so that cannabis companies are able to ensure that their products meet legal standards and are properly labeled for consumers.

After a lab has analyzed the samples, it will report back to NIST with the results as well as information about the testing method it used. The results will be published, but they will be anonymized. The public will “be able to see the amount of variation across labs but not how any specific lab performed.”

“Our goal is to provide a learning opportunity for labs, not to publicize their performance,” NIST research chemist Melissa Phillips said.

Following the study’s completion, the agency will investigate which testing methods produce the most accurate results to inform the industry. Then it will re-run the test, which is expected to show “less variability in the lab measurements, as labs overall improve their methods.”

A description of the study exercise states that participating labs “may also elect to report only selected analytes (e.g., only reporting total THC, but not all cannabinoids).”

“Participants will be asked to report triplicate results for each sample provided using measurement procedures and calculations normally performed in their laboratories,” it says. “In addition, participants will also be asked to identify the type of sample preparation and analytical methods employed in their testing to facilitate conclusions about potential method bias.”

There are currently 46 labs that are listed as participants in NIST’s cannabis research program. That includes multiple private labs as well as one police department and a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are also facilities from Canada and the Netherlands enrolled.

In December, the Department of Justice announced that it was awarding NIST a grant to help to develop a method of differentiating hemp and marijuana.

The previous year, the Drug Enforcement Administration similarly announced that it was seeking a device to “provide specificity to distinguish between hemp and marijuana” since the former crop was legalized.

The complications resulting from hemp legalization is especially apparent in Texas, where marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent from 2018 to 2019 following the state-level legalization of the non-intoxicating cannabis crop.

Prosecutors in the state have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And officials announced last year that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with the Department of Public Safety saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.”

USDA Announces Grant To Collect ‘Superior Performing’ Hemp Seeds

Photo courtesy of National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Best Music Playlists For Psychedelic Therapy Are Explored In New Johns Hopkins Study

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Psychedelic therapy sessions often incorporate music—and typically that music is of the classical genre. But new research out of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests there may in fact be no special value in playing a Mozart concerto or Chopin étude for tripping patients.

Gongs could work just as well, if not better, the study found.

“Western classical music has long been assumed to be the standard in psychedelic therapy,” researchers wrote in the study, published Tuesday in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Pharmacology and Translational Science. “The present data challenge this notion that Western classical music, or for that matter any specific genre of music, is an intrinsically superior form of music to support psychedelic therapy, at least for all people at all times.”

Analyzing a 10-person trial involving the use of psilocybin therapy to help people quit smoking tobacco, the Johns Hopkins team compared sessions featuring classical music with those involving overtone-based music, featuring instruments such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls or the didgeridoo, among others.

“Although we found no significant differences between the two musical genres studied here,” the team wrote, “several trends suggested that the overtone-based playlist resulted in somewhat better outcomes and was preferred by a larger portion of this small sample of participants.”

In other words, while the results don’t prove that overtone-based music yields better outcomes than classical, the findings nevertheless “call into question whether Western classical music typically played in psychedelic sessions holds unique benefit.”

As one of the study’s authors, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson, put it in a recent tweet: “Apparently classical music is not such a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy.”

The researchers said the study “provides the first contemporary and within-subject experimental manipulation of session set and setting factors in psychedelic research” and is the “first fully randomized test of different musical genres supporting psychedelic therapy.”

Participants each had three therapy sessions, one featuring classical music, another featuring overtone music and a third session for which they could choose between the two genres. Psilocybin doses were between 20 milligrams and 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight.

Among the data researchers analyzed were participants’ evaluations of their own experiences, including “mystical experiences”—such as feelings of unity and transcendence of time and space—as well as “challenging experiences,” such as feelings of panic or losing sanity.

“Visual inspection of individual and average data indicated higher overall scores for overtone-based sessions compared to Western classical sessions,” the authors wrote. “This difference was of a medium effect size but was not statistically significant.”

Researchers also analyzed smoking abstinence outcomes based on the music genre participants selected for their third psychedelic therapy session, after sampling both genres. Participants who chose to listen to overtone music during the third session were more successful at quitting smoking—both immediately after treatment (83.3 percent) and over a period of about 30 months afterward (66 percent). By comparison, half of participants who chose Western classical music quit smoking immediately, and all of those people were still not smoking after 30 months.

Experts have long stressed the role of set and setting in a psychedelic experience, noting how both a person’s psychological state as well as their environment can affect the behavioral and clinical effects of entheogenic drugs. “Traditional laboratory contexts that contain overtly ‘sterile’ stimuli (e.g. white walls and medical equipment,” the authors note as one example, “have been suggested to increase the likelihood of negative reactions.”

While music is a standard feature of clinical psychedelic therapy, the new study says, the default by therapists to predominantly Western classical playlists is “likely due to recommendations present in early guidelines,” which specifically mentioned classical music.

But it may not be music at all, but instead a collection of sounds, that complements the psychedelic experience.

“The lack of superiority of the Western classical playlist is even more interesting considering that some of the overtone-based playlist tracts consisted of sounds without traditionally identifiable melody and/or rhythm and therefore might not be classified as songs or music by some,” the study says. “This suggests that the sounds capable of supporting psychedelic therapy sessions may go beyond the bounds of traditionally defined musical genres.”

The researchers concluded that the study lends support to the idea that “developing a process for generating patient-specific musical selections rather than providing standardized music may improve therapeutic outcomes.”

“For example, future work could evaluate how patient-selected music impacts therapeutic effects or identify individual factors predictive of response to varying musical genres or musical features other than genre to individualize session selections,” the wrote. “More broadly, these findings emphasize the need for the parametric study of psychedelic session components to either provide improved standardized conditions, or to individualize conditions to improve the therapeutic effects of psychedelic therapy across diverse and varied populations.”

Johns Hopkins University, where the study analysis was done, is widely regarded as a leading institution on psychedelic research. In 2000, it became the first U.S. institution to gain federal approval to reinstitute research into psychedelic drugs using subjects who didn’t already have a history of using the drug, and last year it launched the country’s first-ever psychedelic research center.

Canada Will Let Health Care Professionals Legally Use Psychedelic Mushrooms, Health Minister Says

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

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Youth Marijuana Use Remains Stable Amid Surge Of State-Level Legalization, Feds Report

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Youth marijuana use continues to be stable, even as more states move to legalize the plant, according to the latest edition of an annual survey funded by the federal government.

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) report, released on Tuesday, found that cannabis consumption among adolescents “did not significantly change in any of the three grades for lifetime use, past 12-month use, past 30-day use, and daily use from 2019-2020.” That’s based on self-reports from 8th, 10th and 12th grade students.

What’s more, daily marijuana vaping actually decreased by more than half during that time period for 10th and 12th graders. It’s down to 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

For all three grades, lifetime cannabis use, past 30-day consumption and daily use either remained the same or slightly decreased from 2019 to 2020, the survey shows. The only exception is daily use among 12th grade students, which ticked up by half a percentage point.

Perceptions of the harmfulness of marijuana also generally remained stable.

These results run counter to the narrative that prohibitionists have consistently put forward, arguing that the state-level legalization movement will lead to significant increases in youth cannabis use because it would normalize the behavior.

Advocates have countered that establishing regulated marijuana programs would restrict access to underage people, while at the same time mitigating the influence of the illicit markets where policies like ID checks are not required.

The 2018 MTF survey, which is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also revealed that fewer adolescents are using marijuana now compared to 2012, when the first states moved to legalize cannabis.

These results are consistent with other federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that marijuana consumption among high school students declined during the peak years of state-legal recreational cannabis legalization.

There was “no change” in the rate of current cannabis use among high school students from 2009-2019, the survey found. When analyzed using a quadratic change model, however, lifetime marijuana consumption decreased during that period.

The prohibitionist argument that cannabis legalization would embolden young people to use cannabis has been repeatedly debunked in research. And the claim becomes all the more shaky each year as more states legalize legislatively or through the ballot.

Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize marijuana, in 2012. Since then, additional states have come on board with every election cycle. Most recently, Arizona, Mississippi Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota voters elected to enact the reform via the ballot last month.

Another study released by Colorado officials in August showed that youth cannabis consumption in the state “has not significantly changed since legalization” in 2012, though methods of consumption are diversifying.

An official with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative went even further in July, admitting that, for reasons that are unclear, youth consumption of cannabis “is going down” in Colorado and other legalized states and that it’s “a good thing” even if “we don’t understand why.”

Past studies looking at teen use rates after legalization have found declines in consumption or a similar lack of evidence indicating there’s been an increase.

Last year, for example, a study took data from Washington State and determined that declining youth marijuana consumption could be explained by replacing the illicit market with regulations or the “loss of novelty appeal among youths.” Another study from last year showed declining youth cannabis consumption in legalized states but didn’t suggest possible explanations.

Federal Marijuana Legalization Is ‘Inevitable,’ Voters In States That Passed Cannabis Measures Say In New Poll

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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