Connect with us


Heroic Hearts: investigating psilocybin for brain trauma in veterans

In part two of two, Heroic Hearts UK research director discusses the organisation’s groundbreaking study.



Psychedelic retreats are mushrooming

Heroic Hearts UK research director Grace Blest-Hopley discusses the organisation’s groundbreaking study that will investigate the use of psilocybin for treating brain trauma in veterans.

Part two of two.

Heroic Hearts UK is conducting a groundbreaking observational study to investigate both the psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin on the brains of veterans who are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The study will be carried out with The Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London and headed by leading psychedelic researcher Dr Robin Carhart-Harris.

Psilocybin for brain trauma

Current research into psilocybin focuses on its use for the treatment of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, with clinical trial results demonstrating the compound’s efficacy for major depressive disorder. More recently, hopes have been raised around the compound’s efficacy for the treatment of PTSD. 

Blest-Hopley points out, however, that alongside promising evidence of its psychological effects, there is emerging anecdotal evidence showing promise for the use of psilocybin as a treatment for TBI – a condition affecting up to 20% of soldiers who served in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to the Ministry of Defence, with many more possibly going undiagnosed.

“If we take it down to a biological level, we know that psilocybin works on the serotonin system and generates a feeling of wellbeing and happiness,” said Dr Blest-Hopley, a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London.

“When your body is in danger there is a “fire alarm” that goes off and psilocybin seems to dampen the effect of that. From a psychological perspective, it enables you to discuss, process and think about traumas that you have had, without that fire alarm going off – processing the trauma in a much more cognitive way without the body reverting to the more primal fight or flight instincts.

See also  New partnership to see psychedelic retreats expand to Europe

“PTSD is this idea that the unconscious part of the brain holds on to the memories or feelings around particular incidents, and those incidents are not properly dealt with. So, by taking psilocybin, you are able to take those memories out, as it were and go through them, allowing the more unconscious parts of you to process them.”

Blest-Hopley explains that one of the distinguishing features of psilocybin compared to other therapeutic substances such as MDMA, is that the compound floods the functional neuronal connections in the brain – breaking down continuous and repetitive thought processes.

“It allows for thoughts to come in from other areas of the cortex, and not just be driven by these primaeval responses. Once you have gone past that acute experience you then get the after-effects of psilocybin. We have seen in studies that have looked at animals and cells that have been treated with psilocybin, that there are alterations in the cells, which increases plasticity and actually causes neurogenesis, which is actually growing more of those connections. It also increases the expression certain of genes – all of which are very relevant for head trauma.

“One thing that is now important to research further at the brain cell level, is the idea that psilocybin appears to show some kind of anti-inflammatory effect. We talk about psilocybin’s effects on the 5-HT2A receptor, but there is a lot of serotonin receptors involved, one of which is involved in inflammation.

“There is a lot of work to be done now on exactly which receptors psilocybin is engaging with. But there is certainly good evidence to suggest that is what’s happening. So, these are the reasons, acute and chronic, biological and psychological, of why we think psilocybin will work for PTSD and brain trauma.”

See also  Exploring MDMA therapy for alcohol use disorder in Europe

At the retreat, the team will be using a number of different methods to measure the impact of psilocybin including electroencephalogram (EEG) brain imaging, which will look at the functioning of the brain and different brain oscillations as current research on PTSD suggests that brain oscillations are altered.

Cognitive and attentional testing will also be carried out using a computer programme that will assess memory, attention and finger tapping, to understand the participant’s motor control, alongside questionnaires to investigate psychological aspects such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, as well as a subject’s head trauma.

The importance of group setting, mystical experiences and integration

The study will also explore the importance of different aspects of using psilocybin as a treatment, including the group setting, the ceremonial, mystical and psychedelic experience itself, and the importance of psychological integration.

“Questions will be included around the idea of the psychedelic experience, as well as the ceremonial and mystical experience because that is something Imperial College are very interested in. After discussing with them, we wanted that to be part of our protocol as well, but also, as we move forward and we collect more evidence, I think it is important for us to start thinking about what the optimum environment for improvement looks like. 

“If we do get allowances to use these treatments in a few years time, is that going to be someone going into a very sterile clinical environment on their own and going through that process alone? Or, do we find that they will find the group experience to be part of that process of getting better?” 

Participants will also go through an integration process following the ceremony through a combination of group and individual sessions.

See also  The psychedelic experience: comparing LSD, ketamine and nitrous oxide 

“The integration is being conducted by an external party that has been working for a number of years, and are very well versed in, the integration of psychedelic experiences, as well as having worked with veterans.

“We want integration to be in a group environment to foster the idea of camaraderie which is spoken about often within veteran populations. We have also decided to add individual sessions which will be counselling, where participants can speak on a more personal level about things they may not initially want to divulge in a big group setting. They can explore how they felt at the retreats and what they have discovered about themselves – all the work does not happen on one night. Actually, it is in the weeks after.

“We are also hoping to develop an alumni network within the project where veterans who have gone through the programme will have a support network with each other after the retreat.

“I really think it is time that we break down the preconceptions that we have around these medicines and start looking at them in a really serious way, and how they can be used going forward with veterans.

“This population are incredibly deserving of treatment, and it is something they have been really let down on. I think it is time that the people in power, as it were, perhaps look at why we are holding the regulation in the position that we are considering the evidence that now exists.”

Hopes are that the study will act as a pilot for larger and more rigorous investigations of head traumas and PTSD, and of how valuable the group and ceremonial experience is. 

Read part one:

The journey behind Heroic Hearts: psychedelic healing for military veterans

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Mapping the effects of ketamine on the brain



Mapping the effects of ketamine on the brain

A new study has mapped the effects of ketamine on the brain, finding that repeated use over extended periods creates widespread structural changes in the brain’s dopamine system.

The study found that repeated ketamine exposure leads to a decrease in dopamine neurons in midbrain regions linked to regulating mood. They also revealed an increase in dopamine neurons in the hypothalamus, which regulates the body’s basic functions like metabolism and homeostasis.

A former finding that ketamine decreases dopamine in the midbrain, may indicate why long-term abuse of ketamine could cause users to exhibit similar symptoms to people with schizophrenia. 

The researchers suggest that their new finding that ketamine increases dopamine in the parts of the brain that regulate metabolism, published in Cell Reports, may help explain why it shows promise in treating eating disorders.

They suggest this strengthens the case for developing ketamine therapies that target specific areas of the brain, rather than administering doses that wash the entire brain in ketamine.

Raju Tomer, the senior author of the paper, stated: “Instead of bathing the entire brain in ketamine, as most therapies now do, our whole-brain mapping data indicates that a safer approach would be to target specific parts of the brain with it, so as to minimise unintended effects on other dopamine regions of the brain.”

Tracking detailed data

The researchers tracked highly detailed data that enabled them to track how ketamine affects dopamine networks across the brain. 

The insight revealed that ketamine reduced the density of dopamine axons (nerve fibers) in the areas of the brain responsible for hearing and vision, while increasing dopamine axons in the brain’s cognitive centers, which may help explain the dissociative behavioral effects observed in individuals exposed to ketamine.

See also  Study to investigate 5-MeO-DMT candidate for alcohol use disorder

Malika Datta, a co-author of the paper, added: “The restructuring of the brain’s dopamine system that we see after repeated ketamine use may be linked to cognitive behavioral changes over time.”

Most studies of ketamine’s effects on the brain to-date have looked at the effects of acute exposure – how one dose affects the brain in the immediate term. 

For this study, researchers examined repeated daily exposure over the course of up to ten days. Statistically significant alterations to the brain’s dopamine makeup were only measurably detectable after ten days of daily ketamine use. 

The researchers also assessed the effects of repeated exposure to the drug at two doses, one dose analogous to the dose used to model depression treatment in mice, and another closer to the dose that induces anesthesia. The drug’s effects on dopamine system were visible at both doses.

“The study is charting a new technological frontier in how to conduct high-resolution studies of the entire brain,” said Yannan Chen, paper co-author. 

It is the first successful attempt to map changes induced by chronic ketamine exposure at what is known as “sub-cellular resolution,” in other words, down to the level of seeing ketamine’s effects on parts of individual cells.

Most sub-cellular studies of ketamine’s effects conducted to date have been hypothesis-driven investigations of one area of the brain that researchers have targeted because they believed that it might play an important role in how the brain metabolises the drug. 

This study is the first sub-cellular study to examine the entire brain without first forming such a hypothesis.

See also  Data shows combination psilocybin therapy effective for TBI and PTSD

Bradley Miller, a Columbia psychiatrist and neuroscientist who focuses on depression, said: “Ketamine rapidly resolves depression in many patients with treatment-resistant depression, and it is being investigated for longer-term use to prevent the relapse of depression. 

“This study reveals how ketamine rewires the brain with repeated use. This is an essential step for developing targeted treatments that effectively treat depression without some of the unwanted side effects of ketamine.”

“This study gives us a deeper brain-wide perspective of how ketamine functions that we hope will contribute to improved uses of this highly promising drug in various clinical settings as well as help minimise its recreational abuse. More broadly, the study demonstrates that the same type of neurons located in different brain regions can be affected differently by the same drug,” added Tomer.

Continue Reading

Markets & Industry

Psychedelic therapy programmes launch to address heartbreak, burnout and more



Psychedelic therapy programmes launch to address heartbreak, burnout and more

Mindbloom has launched its new Mastermind Series of psychedelic programmes for overcoming heartbreak, burnout and other unique mental health challenges. 

Led by and developed with leading experts in the field, each programme combines specialised teachings with ketamine therapy.

All programmes will include six ketamine therapy sessions focusing on a specific mental health issue, expert-led audio, video, and written content for preparation, treatment, and integration, practical tools such as meditation, one-on-one coaching and group integration sessions.

See also  Psychedelics for frontline workers, palliative care and eating disorders

The first programme in the Series is ‘Recovering from Rejection and Failure’, led by Dr Guy Winch who is a leading authority on emotional health, and a best-selling author and TED speaker whose talks have received over 30 million views.

Winch’s programme focuses on healing and preventing emotional injuries that people suffer in their personal, professional and romantic lives.

Mindbloom CEO and Founder Dylan Beynon stated: “More than 100 studies and 20 plus years of clinical use show that ketamine therapy may be the most transformational mental health treatment available today.

“In the face of epidemics of mental illness, addiction, and loneliness, we’re thrilled to offer our clients access to top experts across a range of issues – and to pair their expertise with our best-in-class ketamine therapy honed over hundreds of thousands of treatment sessions.”

“Emotional wounds like rejection and failure can be even more devastating than physical wounds, yet we don’t give them the same time and attention,” added Dr Winch.

“I’m thrilled to combine my techniques for emotional first aid with ketamine therapy, which has been shown to increase neuroplasticity and help build emotional resilience.”

Additional Mastermind programmes will be released in the coming months, including: Getting Unstuck, by Dr Elizabeth Lombardo; Beating Burnout, by Dr Shauna Shapiro; and Coping with Cravings, by Dr Jud Brewer

“Americans are struggling with heartbreak, burnout, and other challenges every day, and they’re looking for new tools to address them,” said Mindbloom’s Medical Director Dr Leonardo Vando.

“I’m grateful to these experts for providing Mindbloom’s clients with the unique practices and insights they’ve cultivated during their distinguished careers, to help them overcome the biggest obstacles in their lives.”

Continue Reading


Psilocybin analogue shows positive results in Phase 2 depression study



Psilocybin analogue shows positive results in Phase 2 depression study

Cybin has announced positive Phase 2 topline safety and efficacy data for its proprietary deuterated psilocybin analogue – CYB003 – for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD).

Results from Cybin’s study have shown that 79% of patients were in remission from depression at six weeks after receiving two doses of CYB003.

CYB003 demonstrated a large improvement in symptoms after one dose and a total of 79% of patients were responsive to the treatment. The compound also demonstrated an excellent safety profile in doses tested, with all reported adverse events mild to moderate and self–limiting.

Additionally, Cybin has stated that the magnitude of improvement was superior compared to approved antidepressants and recently reported data with other psychedelics, stating that the effects translate into an unprecedented effect size.

The company has said that the results compare favorably to pooled data from 232 industry studies of current standard-of-care antidepressants, SSRIs, submitted to the FDA.

The announcement follows Phase 2 interim results in early November 2023, which demonstrated that CYB003 saw a “rapid, robust and statistically significant reduction in symptoms of depression three weeks following a single 12mg dose compared to placebo”.

Cybin CEO, Doug Drysdale, stated: “We are delighted to share that CYB003 achieved the primary efficacy endpoint in this study and showed rapid and statistically significant improvements in depression symptoms after a single dose, with a clear incremental benefit of a second dose, resulting in four out of five patients in remission from their depression at six weeks.

“This is an impressive finding and follows on from the unprecedented interim results we announced earlier this month.”

Drysdale emphasised that the strength of the data will support CYB003 into Phase 3 of the study.

Cybin CMO, Amir Inamdar, added: “The significant reduction in depression symptoms observed in our Phase 2 study is highly gratifying.

“At the three-week primary efficacy endpoint, a single 12mg dose of CYB003 showed a rapid, robust, and highly statistically significant improvement in depression symptoms compared to placebo, with a -14.08 point difference in change from baseline in MADRS. 

“This translated into a very large effect size. Similar significant and robust effects were also seen with a single 16mg dose, which resulted in an improvement in symptoms of depression as measured using the MADRS total score by about 13 points versus placebo. 

“These effects were evident on day one with the 16mg dose and were also highly statistically significant. When data from 12mg and 16mg are pooled, these robust effects are maintained. Further, with two doses, response and remission rates in excess of 75% were observed with CYB003 (12mg). 

“With these findings in hand, we are encouraged by the potential of CYB003 to help those with MDD and look forward to progressing to a multinational, multisite Phase 3 study early next year.”

Cybin is planning on submitting topline data to the FDA with an aim to hold a Phase 2 meeting in Q1 of 2024, with further 12-week durability data from Phase 2 CYB003 expected in Q1, and recruitment for the Phase 3 study anticipated to begin by the end of Q1 2024.

Continue Reading