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Microdosing With Psilocybin and MDMA for Anxiety, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

EDITOR’S SUMMARY: There’s a tendency to attach yourself to past beliefs—what seemed morally “right or wrong” then; what made sense previously. The thing is … that way of thinking doesn’t allow for the way life’s nuances evolve. Research in the fields of mental and physical health, medical interventions, and natural healing modalities, reflect change. Be willing to step away from groupthink, and judgments that don’t serve the greater good. Take a look at what the studies show on the potential benefits of microdosing.  

By Janey Bibolet Ward

Our collective psyche has been assaulted by a deep current of fear for the last few years, and many are suffering from paralyzing anxiety and depression as a result. Conventional mental health treatment often prescribes antidepressant medication classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These may include undesirable side effects, and potential dependence issues, including withdrawal-like symptoms after stopping the medication. 

Researchers have been exploring an alternative drug protocol called microdosing, to enhance the benefits of traditional psychotherapy. This course of treatment has recently been legalized for research-only purposes, or decriminalized in some states, and is still considered controversial. Early-stage research with individuals who have successfully used this method has reported positive results for alleviating crippling anxiety, and for leading patients toward better long-term mental health, and overall well-being. While promising as a treatment for trauma and addiction therapy, it has yet to gain mainstream acceptance or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to allow for widespread legal availability. 

Microdosing is the practice of taking a minimal dose of a substance that is hallucinogenic or psychedelic in nature, to achieve positive mental health results without experiencing strong visual or auditory effects. From “Everything about psychedelics from usage to America’s liberal attitude towards drugs”:

Psychedelics–the word itself–was coined in 1956 by the British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond and refers to the “mind-altering” properties of naturally occurring hallucinogenic plant substances such as marijuana (a common weed), psilocybin (a cow patty mushroom), peyote (a cactus flower), and LSD (a common bread mold). All can currently be found in parts of the U.S.”

Other non-psychedelic substances such as nicotine and caffeine can be used in this manner as well. Dr. Humphrey Osmond’s early work showed tremendous promise treating people with chronic pain and depression. The counterculture movement in the 1960s led to criminalization of these substances by the federal government in the 1970s. 

There are many substances that fall into the Schedule 1 class that are illegal, but have been used intentionally by humans for thousands of years medicinally and ceremoniously, to elicit therapeutic healing effects. Research was halted until a groundbreaking pilot study at UCLA in 2004 demonstrated positive results in late-stage cancer patients, and renewed interest in psychedelics as medicine. “​​Since then, significant advances have been made in characterizing the chemical properties of psilocybin as well as its therapeutic uses.”

Currently, researchers are focusing specifically on psilocybin, aka “magic” mushrooms, a naturally occurring class of fungi, as well as a synthetic, 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), often known as ecstasy. Both have shown promise in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, chronic alcoholism, cancer with depression, and other mental health diagnoses in clinical settings. 

These are the most likely to be approved for mainstream medical practices in the coming years. The FDA granted psilocybin the designation as a “breakthrough therapy” in 2018. This allowed for an accelerated track for drug review of clinical trials, conducted by Compass Pathways, and the Ursona Institute. 

“Project New Day,” started in 2019 by the founder and CEO of Specialized Bicycles, began with a mission to tackle the opioid crisis and provide a safe path to recovery, with the responsible use of psychedelics as trauma medicine. The organization touts its tremendous success in helping addicts and people affected by severe mental health issues, to recover their lives.

The Studies

A 2017 study, “Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measure brain mechanisms,” found that “treatment with psilocybin produced a rapid and sustained antidepressant effect.” This study suggests that positive outcomes can be achieved after only one or two doses, and could have a significant impact on rebalancing the brain. Psilocybin is structurally related to the endogenous neurotransmitter, serotonin in the human brain, and this may explain its therapeutic effect in treating depressive symptoms. 

From “Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels”:

“Psychedelic effects are believed to emerge through stimulation of serotonin 2A receptors (5-HT2ARs) by psilocybin’s active metabolite, psilocin. We here report for the first time the relationship between intensity of psychedelic effects, cerebral 5-HT2AR occupancy and plasma levels of psilocin in humans.” 

A 2018 study funded by the nonprofit, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), “3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers: a randomized, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 clinical trial,” reported that over 75% of the participants no longer required treatment for PTSD with commonly prescribed antidepressants, and the effects lasted over time.

In November 2020, Oregon (Measure 109) was the first state in the country to allow the manufacturing and use of psilocybin in therapy settings, and Washington DC (Initiative 81) with Colorado (Proposition 122), Oakland and Santa Cruz, CA followed suit. 

In February 2023, Australia was the first country to reclassify MDMA for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. The designation will allow authorized providers to prescribe these substances and monitor treatment in a controlled setting. SB-58 was introduced in CA to decriminalize, but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Newsom citing regulatory concerns.

From the Los Angeles Times, “Newsom vetoes bill to decriminalize ‘magic mushrooms’ and other psychedelics in California”:

“California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines — replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses. Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it,”

The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine, recently reported that 38% of healthcare workers surveyed have extreme anxiety and depression, and 49% suffered burnout from the last several years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biotechnology company, Cybin, and the University of Washington have partnered to conduct a clinical trial using psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Their intention is to determine efficacy in treating the lasting impacts associated with post-traumatic stress, from enduring the last few years for front-line healthcare workers. 

Lead scientists Alex Belser, Ph.D., and Bill Brennan, Ph.D. candidate, developed EMBARK, a “transdiagnostic psychotherapy model that can be adapted to address a range of clinical indications and populations.” “The situations that frontline doctors and nurses are facing is unprecedented,” said Dr. Anthony Back, who’s leading the study

“The symptoms of depression, burnout, and moral injury call out for research that looks at whether psychedelics can play a role in healing the healers.” 

This biotechnology firm has taken an interest in commercializing a proprietary deuterated psilocybin analog, and was granted a patent until 2041. The company recently completed its phase 2 clinical trial using this product, CYB003, to treat major depressive disorder, and will be presenting data to the FDA.

AVFC psilocybin MDMA

While ancient cultures used plant medicine in healing traditions, partaking of any substance requires adult informed consent and legal pathways. The discussion is ramping up in the mainstream media, and researchers are encouraged by clinical studies that confirm the safety profile, and ultimately the success of using these substances to combat debilitating neurological conditions.

‘“Let’s be adults about this. These are no longer ‘shrooms.’ These are no longer party drugs for young people,” mycologist Paul Stamets told CNN. “Psilocybin mushrooms are non-addictive, life-changing substances.”’

The future of psychedelics in medicine may be coming close to widespread availability. These promising therapies offer new options for treating and overcoming severe depression, while carving out a path to an emotionally-expansive, fulfilling life. That said, it’s important to proceed with caution, and to work with a therapist who has experience using microdosing in conjunction with psychotherapy, in a controlled and safe setting. This is not intended for recreational drug use, or as a protocol to self-medicate.


Published on November 02, 2023.

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