Psychedelics with and without accompanying psychotherapy have been found to reduce symptoms associated with at least eight different psychiatric diagnoses, a new scientific review reports.
“The conditions treated ranged from depression to autism, with the largest volume of research dedicated to substance use disorders,” the paper states. “The majority of studies that were reviewed demonstrated significant associations with improvement in the conditions investigated.”
While the authors noted that “it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions as most studies suffered from small sample sizes, inconsistent measures, and poor study design,” the concluded that “this body of pilot literature suggests the possibility of therapeutic benefit that could outweigh adverse events and warrants more rigorous, definitive investigation.”
The findings were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice earlier this month.
Last year, an estimated 5.6 million Americans reported using hallucinogens, which are illegal, though federal agencies have acknowledged their potential medical value. To better understand how these psychedelic substances may help people, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reviewed clinical studies that involved ayahuasca, ibogaine, ketamine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy) and psilocybin.
The review’s authors focused on 16 studies published between 1946 and 2017. Here’s a look at some of their findings:
- In two related studies, patients who were diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder saw their symptoms reduced with a single dose of ayahuasca. Though the psychedelic substance was generally well-tolerated, half of study participants experienced vomiting.
- Patients with alcohol use disorder who were given a high dose of dipropyltryptamine while attending therapy for multiple weeks “demonstrated significant improvement on multiple rating scales, including depression, self-regard, and insight” during post-testing, the review states.
- In a study of 75 participants with alcohol, cannabis and cocaine use disorders, 61 percent reported abstaining from their substance of choice for an average of five months after being treated with ibogaine and behavioral therapy.
- Researchers found that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy helped more people abstain from alcohol abuse than those who underwent the same three-month psychotherapy course without the hallucinogen. “The authors,” the review states, “reported treating over 1000 patients with ketamine psychotherapy without any reports of prolonged psychosis, flashbacks, agitation, or ketamine abuse.”
- Patients diagnosed with alcohol use disorder may find it easier to abstain from drinking with a single dose of LSD than daily use of other common medications used to treat the disorder, according to a meta-analysis reviewing six randomized controlled trials.
- A small study found that higher MDMA dosage with therapy appeared to impact chronic PTSD symptoms related to sexual trauma more than lower doses of the substance.
- Another small study found that patients with varying cancers and related anxiety saw their anxiety and depressive symptoms reduced after a moderate dose of psilocybin, though the effects were not “statistically significant” until six months after administration. Researchers also found that patients experienced a short-lived increase in heart rate and blood pressure after taking psilocybin.
“In 15 of the 16 studies, it was reported that hallucinogen monotherapy or augmentation therapy produced clinically significant reduction in symptomatology,” the review states. “Many of these improvements occurred in subjects who had previously failed to respond to traditional treatments. Furthermore, many studies demonstrated improvement in less time than commonly observed with traditional psychopharmacology or therapy.”
Additionally, the review‘s authors found that all but one of the eight studies that examined how psychedelics may affect substance use disorders reported “significant benefits.”
“While the successes reported in the studies reviewed here are intriguing, they should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement for the use of hallucinogens to medicate any of the above conditions,” the authors wrote. “This review was inherently biased by the selection criteria, and dangers of hallucinogenic drug use were not the focus of this review. This should not, however, distract from the potential benefits described.”
The review concluded by pointing out structural barriers to expanded research on psychedelics.
“Despite promising findings in therapeutic hallucinogen trials, current factors, including funding, laws, and stigma, continue to impose limitations on further research,” they wrote. “Schedule 1 classification makes study development difficult, costly, and prolonged. Funding by both government and pharmaceutical companies is nonexistent.”
Photo courtesy of Pretty Drugthings.
Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Cause Increased Crime, Federally Funded Study Finds
Legalizing marijuana has little to no impact on rates of violent or property crime, according to a new study that was funded by a federal agency. The policy change did seem connected to a long-term decline in burglaries in one state, however.
While previous attempts to understand the relationship between legal cannabis markets and crime have turned up mixed results, researchers involved in this study used an enhanced methodology—a “quasi-experimental, multi-group interrupted time-series design”—to produce stronger evidence.
The study, published in the journal Justice Quarterly and funded by the federal National Institute of Justice, found that violent and property crimes rates were not affected in a statistically significant way in the years after Colorado and Washington State became the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult use.
“Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington,” the paper concluded. “We observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states.”
The study authors explicitly cited claims made by prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and author Alex Berenson as being contradicted by their findings.
To determine the impact of legalization, researchers designed experimental models that compared crime rates in Colorado and Washington to those in 21 non-legal states from 1999 to 2016. The analysis was based on FBI data on violent, property, aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, larceny and robbery crime rates.
Following legalization, there were one-time increases in property crime in the two states, as well as a spike in aggravated assault in Washington, but those did not reflect long-term trends, “suggesting that if marijuana legalization influenced crime, it was short-lived,” the study authors wrote.
There was one statistically significant long-term impact that the researchers did attribute to state marijuana laws: The burglary rate in Washington decreased, and that trend has held.
It’s not immediately clear why that is the case, and the study’s conclusion encourages future research that replicates and refines the design used for this experiment to solve answered questions.
“In summary, our results suggest that there may have been some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, yet there have been essentially no longterm shifts in crime rates because of legalization, aside from a decline in Burglary in Washington. Though the short-term increases might appear to suggest that marijuana increased crime, we caution against this interpretation as the increases do not reflect permanent shifts (that is, these are shifts in intercepts, not slopes) and could be artificially induced by the small number of time units between legalization and sales.”
Dale Willits, a study coauthor, said in a press release that in light of the “nationwide debate about legalization, the federal classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, and the consequences of legalization for crime continues, it is essential to center that discussion on studies that use contextualized and robust research designs with as few limitations as possible.”
“This is but one study and legalization of marijuana is still relatively new, but by replicating our findings, policymakers can answer the question of how legalization affects crime,” he said.
Study authors also noted that their analysis did not take into account other crimes such as drug impaired driving.
“Given the likelihood of further liberalization of state and even federal marijuana laws, it is imperative that policy makers and research funders allocate the necessary resources to conduct these more rigorous and intensive types of contextualized studies,” they concluded. “Large-scale policy shifts can take a considerable amount of time to produce stable and understandable effects.”
This is the second recent study that’s received Justice Department funding and arrived at a conclusion that runs against the logic of prohibition. Another example looked at the impact of legalization on law enforcement resources and trafficking trends.
Pilot Study Shows Marijuana Can Help Chronic Pain Patients Stop Taking Opioids
When chronic pain patients participated in a program to reduce their use of opioids with medical marijuana, a quarter of them completely stopped taking opioid medications within half a year, a new pilot study reports.
“After 6 months, 156 patients (26%) had ceased taking opioids,” the paper states. “An additional 329 patients (55%) had reduced their opioid use by an average of 30%. One hundred fourteen patients (19%) neither increased nor decreased their opioid use.”
The study, led by Toronto-based chronic pain specialist Dr. Kevin Rod, was published in American Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
For his pilot study, Rod recruited 600 chronic pain patients who received care at his practice, Toronto Poly Clinic. Their daily opioid doses averaged 120mg morphine equivalent; among the sample, 95 patients were taking between 180mg to 240mg a day to manage their pain.
Rod created a tapering plan for each patient based on their individual needs. Usually, that meant opioid doses were reduced approximately 10 percent every one to two weeks. As the study’s participants lowered the dosage of pharmaceuticals they were taking to deal with pain, they were authorized to consume CBD and THC products in the range of 4 to 6 percent. The cannabis doses were related to the amount of opioids were tapered: that is, half a gram of marijuana a day for each 10 percent reduction in opioid dose as needed. To reduce the risk of additional harm, patients were advised to consume sublingually, orally or by vaping.
Additionally, patients received psychological support via a web-based mental health tool called Zendose, and were monitored regularly by physicians. During their visits to the clinic, patients were assessed for pain, quality of life, whether tapering appeared to be effective, and if there were any withdrawal symptoms, among other things.
Six months after beginning the program, 156 patients were weaned off opioids completely, while more than half of the sample (329) had reduced their intake by an average of 30 percent. These patients reported consuming 1 to 3 grams of cannabis per day. Nineteen percent (114), however, were unable to reduce the amount of opioids they were taking, though they also did not increase their dosage either. One participant did increase their opioid dosage due to “poorly controlled pain and an aggravated pain condition,” the study states. “With that one exception, all patients expressed satisfaction with their pain control, sleep and quality of life. No opioid withdrawal symptoms were noted in follow-up appointments.”
“This [Medical Cannabis – Opioid Reduction Program] pilot study outlines a patient-centered approach, with an individualized program for tapering opioid use,” the study concludes. “The positive results justify further investigation.”
Last year, Rod was a speaker at the World Cannabis Congress in New Brunswick. There, he advocated for the use of cannabis as a tool in the opioid crisis. “As front line fighters in the fight against pain,” he said, “we’re always looking for new ways to treat or manage chronic pain, and it’s not very often that we have a new solution.”
Photo courtesy of Get Budding.
Study Funded By Feds Debunks Myths About Marijuana Legalization’s Alleged Harms
The Department of Justice paid for a new study on the impact of marijuana legalization that ended up showing cannabis programs do not seem to negatively affect neighboring, non-legal states.
The paper’s authors said they sought to answer three questions in these analysis of state-level data: 1) How does legalization impact law enforcement resources in legal states? 2) How does it impact those resources in bordering, non-legal states? and 3) What does legalizing cannabis mean for drug trafficking?
To assess the impact, the researchers looked at statistics on drug possession and distribution arrests in a mix of legalized states and nearby ones that maintained prohibition. According to that data, legalization didn’t cause the sky to fall.
“Legalizing marijuana did not have a noticeable impact on indicators in states that bordered those that legalized,” the study concluded, adding that “there were no noticeable indications of an increase in arrests related to transportation or trafficking offenses in states along the northern or southern borders.”
That is evidently a finding that the Justice Department does not want the public to think it endorses. At the beginning of the report—and on every other page—there’s a disclaimer stressing that while federal funds were used to support the research, “[o]pinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Here’s what the study authors, who are affiliated with the Justice Research and Statistics Association, found:
Not surprisingly, arrests for marijuana possession dropped significantly in Washington after the state legalized cannabis in 2012. Those arrests continued to drop after retails sales became available. Distribution arrests followed a similar trend.
There was less data on Oregon at the time of the study in 2015, as the state legalized the previous year. However, the statistics showed that during “the post-legalization period, arrests for marijuana possession, already low, dropped to close to zero.” Cannabis distribution charges in the state also followed a downward trend.
The researchers then looked at neighboring states that did not legalize. While cannabis accounted for the vast majority of drug possession arrests in Oklahoma, where cannabis is still prohibited for adult use, the arrest rate dipped marginally during the post-legalization years in Colorado from 2012 to 2014.
Arrests for sales and manufacturing of cannabis in Oklahoma also dropped in that timeframe, with the exception of a small spike in 2013.
Arrests for possession “increased from 2003 to 2008, but did not change much from 2009 to 2013 (except for a slight increase in 2012)” in Nebraska.
The findings from Nebraska and Oklahoma are particularly notable since those two states sued Colorado over its marijuana legalization law in 2014, alleging that it effectively polluted their jurisdictions with illegal cannabis. The Supreme Court declined to take the case, and the new study seems to undermine the prohibitionist states’ claims about the impact their neighbor’s legalization law had across their borders.
“No noticeable change in the trend line for marijuana occurred after recreational use was legalized in Colorado,” the study authors said of data on possession convictions in Kansas from 2011 to 2014.
Finally, the researchers looked at drug trafficking trends in Idaho, where cannabis is not legal, and Washington state.
Trafficking arrests actually increased significantly in 2012 and 2013, but at the same time, the number of cases that were ultimately dismissed far outpaced those that ended in a guilty plea in the post-legalization period.
In Washington, seizures of marijuana plummeted after the state legalized cannabis. Those seizures continued to drop, with the exception of a significant spike in January 2014.
The researchers supplemented their report with interviews with several law enforcement officials. Despite the data-based findings on arrest rates for possession, distribution and seizures, police broadly expressed anecdotal concerns about issues such as perceived increases in youth usage, THC potency, drug-impaired driving and an influx in out-of-state visitors that have taxed their departments.
Colorado-based interviewees apparently indicated that the increased availability in higher potency THC products has mitigated the influence of Mexican drug cartels. However, Oregon respondents “reported that Russian and Afghani groups who steal crops and cash from local growers are now heavily involved in drug trafficking.”
After discussing the data limitations of the study, the authors concluded that “it indeed seems to be the case that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana results in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases” and that while law enforcement sources voiced various concerns, several “indicated that methamphetamine and heroin were much larger problems for their agencies than was marijuana.”
The team “saw no evidence that marijuana legalization had an impact on indicators in border states,” adding that they “found no indications of increases in arrests related to transportation/trafficking offenses.”
“Again, it is possible that different indicators, examined over a longer period of time, might reveal impacts of marijuana legalization on drug trafficking,” they wrote.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.