Psychedelics: Phenomenology, Neurobiology and Clinical Use

 

Psychedelics have fascinated mankind over centuries due to their powerful ability to induce altered states of consciousness. After a nearly 50 years break, the science of psychedelics is reviving to enjoy a „renaissance“ thanks to the development of novel neuroimaging technologies. This workshop will focus on phenomenology, neurobiology and clinical use of psychedelics by the talks of four pioneering scientists. The talks will explain the state-of-the-art research on the phenomenology of the psychedelic-induced state, on the neuropharmacological changes induced by psychedelic substances, the effects of these changes on the large-scale brain activity and also discuss the clinical and therapeutic use of psychedelics.

 

Workshop presenters

 

Selen Atasoy (chair)

Department of Psychiatry

Oxford University, UK

 

Matthew Johnson

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA

 

Katrin Preller

University Hospital of Psychiatry

University of Zurich, Switzerland

 

Morten Kringelbach

Department of Psychiatry

Oxford University, UK

 

Christopher Timmermann

Psychedelic Research Group

Imperial College, London, UK

 

 

Matthew Johnson

Effects of the Psychedelic Compound Psilocybin on Mystical Experience and Therapeutics

 

For over 15 years the Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Group has been the preeminent and most productive research team in the United States conducting human research with psychedelics. They have shown breathtaking scientific productivity, having published over 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts on psychedelics. Notable accomplishments have included: The first research

since the 1970s to focus on mystical experience resulting from psychedelic administration to drug-naïve volunteers; the development of safety guidelines for human psychedelic research which have advanced the approval of psychedelic research at a growing number of universities; the first research showing that psychedelic administration increases personality openness; the

first research examining a psychedelic in the treatment of tobacco/nicotine addiction; the first research demonstrating the psychedelic effects of salvinorin A and dextromethorphan under blind conditions; the development of valid psychological scales for assessing mystical experiences and challenging experiences resulting from acute psychedelic administration; the first study on the effects of psychedelic administration on volunteers initiating a meditation

program; and the largest randomized trial showing that psilocybin produces large and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. This presentation will provide a review of this large program of research.

 

CV

Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, is an experimental psychologist with expertise on psychoactive drugs, addiction and risk behavior. For 20 years he has conducted psychopharmacology and addictions research, and for 15 years he has conducted psychedelic research. He has published more than 100 manuscripts, with

over a third focused on psychedelics. Matt published psychedelic administration safety guidelines in 2008 that have been used by the FDA and IRBs to approve psychedelic research at a growing number of universities. Matt published the first research investigating psilocybin in treating tobacco/nicotine addiction, and research showing MDMA pill testing services reduce risky drug taking. He published the largest study of psilocybin in treating cancer distress, showing large, sustained reductions in depression/anxiety. His recent review of psilocybin abuse liability recommended its placement in Schedule IV upon potential medical approval. He has served as guide for >100 psychedelic sessions. Matt has been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, Fox Business News, National Public Radio, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail, the Daily Mail, the Atlantic, Scientific American, Nature, Vice, Newsweek, Marie Claire, the Dr. Oz Show, and Vogue.

 

Katrin Preller

Psilocybin- and LSD-Induced States - How Psychedelics Can Help Us Understand Social Cognition and Self-Experience

 

Due to their unique effects on consciousness, psychedelics offer the opportunity to investigate the neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying alterations in perception and cognition important for increasing our understanding of psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, renewed interest in the potentially beneficial clinical effects of psychedelics warrants a better

understanding of their underlying neuropharmacological mechanisms. However, major knowledge gaps remain regarding the neurobiology of psychedelics in humans.

In our studies we show that LSD modulates brain connectivity and subjective effects via agonistic activity on the serotonin 2A receptor in humans. Furthermore, we elucidate the neuropharmacology of self-relevance and meaning processing, as well as the intertwined relationship between selfprocessing and social cognition via the administration of LSD and psilocybin. Our results thus attenuate major knowledge-gaps regarding the neurobiology

and neuropharmacology of psychedelics. Furthermore, they increase our mechanistic understanding of meaning processing and social cognition and therefore offer important directions regarding the development of novel therapeutics.

 

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Katrin Preller, Ph.D., received her M.Sc. (Neuropsychology) from University of Konstanz, Germany. For her PhD she went to University of Zurich, Switzerland, where she run several studies investigating the neurobiological and social-cognitive long-term effects of cocaine, MDMA, and heroin use. After completing her PhD, she joined the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging lab at the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich and Heffter Research Center Zürich, investigating the effects of psilocybin and LSD on self-perception, social cognition, and multimodal processing using different brain imaging techniques. After working as a postdoc at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL, London, UK, and Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, she now continues her research on the neurobiological effects of psychedelics at University of Zurich and Yale University.

 

 

Morten Kringelbach

Causal Understanding of the Nonlinear Effects of LSD Using Whole-Brain Multimodal Model with Serotonin Receptor Maps

 

The talk will explore how understanding the underlying mechanisms of the human brain in health and disease requires models with necessary and sufficient details to explain how function emerges from the underlying anatomy and is shaped by neuromodulation. As proof of principle, we combined multimodal anatomical and functional data including neurotransmitter data obtained with positron emission tomography of the detailed serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) density map. This allowed us to model the resting state and mechanistically explain the functional effects of 5-HT2AR stimulation with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on healthy participants. The model identified the causative mechanisms for the non-linear interactions between the neuronal and neurotransmitter system, which are uniquely linked to (1) the underlying anatomical connectivity, (2) the modulation by the specific brainwide distribution

of neurotransmitter receptor density, and (3) the non-linear interactions between the two. The talk will show further evidence of how modeling global brain dynamics with neuromodulation can lead to novel insights into human brain function in health and disease - and altered states of consciousness.

 

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Professor Kringelbach is based at the University of Oxford, UK, and University of Aarhus, Denmark. His prize-winning research uses whole-brain computational models of neuroimaging data measuring the hedonia (pleasure) of, for example, infants, taste, and music, in order

to discover how to increase eudaimonia (the life well-lived). He is a fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford, of the Association for Psychological Science, on the advisory board of Scientific American and a board member of the world’s first Empathy Museum.

 

 

Christopher Timmermann

Effects of DMT in the Brain and in Human Experience

 

DMT is known for inducing rich experiences characterized by feelings of deep immersion into a “different reality or dimension” in which people encounter complex scenes and communicate with seemingly conscious entities. In our research we studied the effects of DMT by administering more than 60 doses while capturing the effects of the compound in the brain using EEG and fMRI, as well as range of subjective effects inspired by a neurophenomenological

approach. Results reveal an intimate relationship between different measures of brain activity and dynamic shifts in different dimensions of conscious experience. Our findings indicate the potential relevance of using DMT in the context of consciousness research as well as its similarities with dreams, near-death experiences and a range of non-ordinary states of consciousness

 

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Christopher Timmermann obtained a BSc in Psychology in Santiago, Chile, and a MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Bologna in Italy. He is currently completing a PhD in Imperial College London, leading a project focusing on the effects of DMT in the brain and consciousness. He is interested in the use of methods bridging the relationship between phenomenology and changes in brain activity by studying the effects of psychedelic compounds in human participants.