Evaluating the Potential Use of Serotonergic Psychedelics in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Recent clinical and preclinical evidence points towards empathogenic and prosocial effects elicited by psychedelic compounds, notably the serotonin 5-HT2A agonists lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and their derivatives. These findings suggest a therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds for some of the behavioural traits associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by atypical social behaviour. In this review, we highlight evidence suggesting that psychedelics may potentially ameliorate some of the behavioural atypicalities of ASD, including reduced social behaviour and highly co-occurring anxiety and depression. Next, we discuss dysregulated neurobiological systems in ASD and how they may underlie or potentially limit the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. These phenomena include: 1) synaptic function, 2) serotonergic signaling, 3) prefrontal cortex activity, and 4) thalamocortical signaling. Lastly, we discuss clinical studies from the 1960s and 70s that assessed the use of psychedelics in the treatment of children with ASD. We highlight the positive behavioural outcomes of these studies, including enhanced mood and social behaviour, as well as the adverse effects of these trials, including increases in aggressive behaviour and dissociative and psychotic states. Despite preliminary evidence, further studies are needed to determine whether the benefits of psychedelic treatment in ASD outweigh the risks associated with the use of these compounds in this population, and if the 5-HT2A receptor may represent a target for social-behavioural disorders.

Direct evidence of the use of multiple drugs in Bronze Age Menorca (Western Mediterranean) from human hair analysis

Human hair dated to Late Prehistory is exceedingly rare in the Western Mediterranean. Archaeological excavations in the Bronze Age burial and cult cave of Es Càrritx, in Menorca (Balearic Islands) provided some human hair strands involved in a singular funerary rite. This finding offered the opportunity to explore the possible use of drug plants by Late Bronze Age people. Here we show the results of the chemical analyses of a sample of such hair using Ultra-High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (UHPLC-HRMS). The alkaloids ephedrine, atropine and scopolamine were detected, and their concentrations estimated. These results confirm the use of different alkaloid-bearing plants by local communities of this Western Mediterranean island by the beginning of the first millennium cal BCE.

United States National Institutes of Health grant funding for psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trials from 2006-2020

Background: Medicine is currently experiencing a “psychedelic renaissance”, said by many to have commenced in 2006. Since then, clinical trials have consistently demonstrated promising findings for psychedelic-assisted therapies in the treatment of various mental health conditions and addictions. While most of this work has been privately funded, governmental biomedical research funding bodies in countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have begun supporting it. Given that the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, it is important to understand the degree to which the organization is supporting clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapies. We are unaware of existing literature quantifying direct NIH grant support for psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trials, so we sought to answer this important question by searching all NIH grants awarded since the beginning of the psychedelic renaissance.

Methods: We queried NIH RePORTER, NIH’s grant database, for grants awarded from 2006-2020 mentioning the psychedelics 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), ayahuasca, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, lysergic acid (LSD), mescaline, peyote, and psilocybin. We manually reviewed resulting grants to determine whether they directly funded psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trials.

Results: We identified zero NIH grants directly funding psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trials during the study period.

Conclusion: While governmental biomedical research funding bodies in other countries have begun funding clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapies during the psychedelic renaissance, NIH has yet to directly fund a single psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trial. Concerns about risks related to psychedelics, a federal law preventing promotion of legalization of Schedule 1 drugs, and prioritization of grants for other types of studies on psychedelics may explain the dearth of NIH funding for psychedelic-assisted therapy clinical trials.

Johns Hopkins Medicine Receives First Federal Grant for Psychedelic Treatment Research in 50 years

Johns Hopkins Medicine was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the potential impacts of psilocybin on tobacco addiction. This is the first NIH grant awarded in over a half century to directly investigate the therapeutic effects of a classic psychedelic, consistent with a recent study published online that searched NIH funding and found zero grants were awarded between 2006 and 2020. Johns Hopkins Medicine will lead the multisite, three-year study in collaboration with University of Alabama at Birmingham and New York University. The study will be conducted simultaneously at the three institutions to diversify the pool of participants and increase confidence that results apply to a wide range of people who smoke. The grant, totaling nearly $4 million, is funded by NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Psychedelic Science and Medicine Interest Group

The Psychedelic Science and Medicine Interest Group is being proposed to create a space within the NIH for scientists to discuss basic, clinical, and translational research related to psychedelics. The revival of psychedelic research extends beyond a single scientific domain and is a transdisciplinary effort. Psychedelics are being researched as therapeutics for a diverse and expanding group of conditions including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, cluster headaches, substance use disorders, and anorexia nervosa. Additionally, psychedelics are being explored as treatment for comorbidities such as depression associated with cancer orAlzheimer’s Disease. As psychedelics enter the clinical sphere, there has also been an increase in research on the mechanisms responsible for the effects of psychedelics on the mind and brain. From animal models to human studies, this basic work is furthering our understanding of these compounds and the potential benefits and risks of their usage. With a resurgence in NIH funding for psychedelic research, there is an opportunity to connect non-NIH, extramural, and intramural researchers with an interest in psychedelic research.

The Psychedelic Science and Medicine Interest Group will host monthly virtual meetings via Teams. It will foster the dissemination of knowledge through invitation of guest speakers and journal clubs reviewing psychedelic scientific literature. In addition to scientific discourse, the Psychedelic Science and Medicine Interest Group welcomes discussion surrounding indigenous history, equity in research and care for underrepresented patient populations, and other sociocultural challenges associated with psychedelic research. Anyone with an interest in psychedelic science and medicine is invited to join and attend meetings. As this is a developing field, we particularly encourage young fellows and trainees to participate to learn more about future opportunities in psychedelic research.

Usona Institute

As a medical research organization, the Usona team collaborates with scientists, clinicians, and leaders worldwide to help expedite the knowledge and the work. These collaborations have inspired a number of Usona programs that complement clinical research including: Medicinal Chemistry, Investigational Drug Supply, and Training/Education.

The Usona team brings a range of proven and published expertise. Our scientists, clinicians, researchers and clinical administrators hold advanced skills in psychiatry, integrative medicine, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutical manufacturing, quality assurance and regulatory affairs in multiple countries.

The RiverStyx Foundation

The RiverStyx Foundation is a charitable organization that strives to work at this boundary place. Through grant-making and seeding non-profits, Riverstyx attends to the places in society and our psychology which have been relegated to the shadows- out of fear, ignorance, and puritan influence- recognizing that which is repressed only festers and breeds pathology in its unnatural separation.

The goal is not to rid life of its darkness, but rather to reconcile it into our lives, to make relationship, and to honor both light and dark as necessarily two sides of the same coin.

In doing so, may we come into greater balance, beauty, and belonging.

Prevalence and epidemiological associates of novel psychedelic use in the United States adult population

Background: Novel psychedelics approximate classic psychedelics, but unlike classic psychedelics, novel psychedelics have been used by humans for a shorter period of time, with fewer data available on these substances.
Aims: The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of novel psychedelic use and the associations of novel psychedelic use with mental health outcomes.
Methods: We estimated the prevalence of self-reported, write-in lifetime novel psychedelic use and evaluated the associations of novel psychedelic use with psychosocial characteristics, past month psychological distress, and past year suicidality among adult respondents pooled from years 2008–2016 of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (weighted n=234,914,788).
Results: A fraction (weighted n=273,720; 0.12%) reported lifetime novel psychedelic use. This cohort tended to be younger, male, and White, have greater educational attainment but less income, be more likely to have never been married, engage in self-reported risky behavior, and report lifetime illicit use of other drugs, particularly classic psychedelics (96.9%). (2-(4-Bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine) (2C-B) (30.01%), (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenethylamine) (2C-I) (23.9%), and (1-(2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenyl)-2-aminoethane) (2C-E) (14.8%) accounted for the majority of lifetime novel psychedelic use. Although lifetime novel psychedelic use was not associated with psychological distress or suicidality compared to no lifetime novel psychedelic use or classic psychedelic use, relative to lifetime use of classic psychedelics but not novel psychedelics, lifetime novel psychedelic use was associated with a greater likelihood of past year suicidal thinking (adjusted Odds Ratio (aOR)=1.4 (1.1–1.9)) and past year suicidal planning (aOR=1.6 (1.1–2.4)).
Conclusion: Novel psychedelics may differ from classic psychedelics in meaningful ways, though additional, directed research is needed.