Policy Updates from CA, CO & NJ; Psychedelics & Religion; MAPS' Group Protocol;
Plus: how neuroimaging has contributed to the cultural adoption of psychedelics
Psychedelic Policy Updates from CA, CO & NJ
Activists in Colorado for Initiative 58, the Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA,) submitted 222,648 signatures in favor of the proposed ballot initiative. The NMHA, like the NJ bill, includes decriminalization and Supported Adult Use Frameworks. Considering the initiative only needs 124,632 valid signatures to make it on the November Ballot, we should assume it will.
California’s SB-519, which would decriminalize possession of several psychedelics, is scheduled for a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on August 3rd.
Psychedleics & Religion
“With a psychedelic it’s almost impossible not to be astonished and humbled by how much you don't understand about the nature of your own mind and the nature of reality. And so we’re confronted with the mystery…”
A recent article in Rolling Stone by UC Berkeley/Ferris Journalism Fellow Cassandra Rosenblum tells the story of “post-Mormons” who, having left the Church of Latter-Day Saints, are finding meaning and connection with psychedelic mushrooms.
The piece covers the radical transition many formerly devout Mormons are undertaking from the fundamentalist Christian sect to a local mushroom church called The Divine Assembly.
Departure from mainline religions has been a trend for at least half a century.
I think there are two primary reasons for this:
Institutionalized corruption and coercion
Abandoning the personal mystical experience
As Steve Urquhart, the founder of The Divine Assembly, put it to Rosenblum:
“Like a mushroom spurting forth from a cow patty, “the Divine Assembly is growing out of the death and decay of the LDS Church.””
Despite the attention the commercial, scientific and policy developments in the media (and this newsletter), I think religious groups like The Divine Assembly will end up being the primary “vessel” by which psychedelics spread into the mainstream.
Regulated pathways will pose significant barriers to entry compared to groups like The Divine Assembly, which operates in the open, has a direct pipeline of ‘apostates’ and is not burdened by regulation.
The downside, of course, is that it is illegal.
Or is it?
The Divine Assembly believes the sincerity of their use will protect them under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
From the Legal Worship section of their website:
“The Divine Assembly believes psilocybin mushrooms are an active sacrament. Our sacrament helps us commune directly with the Divine. Sincerely-held religious beliefs are legally protected.”
Wake Up Call for Religious Leaders
This example of churchgoers departing entrenched and antiquated institutions should be a wake-up call for forward-thinking clergy and religious professionals.
People are craving religious experience and fleeing institutionalized dogma and coercion.
“Although the Divine Assembly is not limited to former LDS members, or “post-Mormons” as they refer to themselves, the majority of the crowd by default is, and they’re aching for a new kind of spirituality to fill the void.”
In other words, the psychedelic experience, by enabling a direct experience with God, could accelerate the departure from mainline religions on the one hand but facilitate the return to mainline faiths through groups like The Divine Academy that embrace psychedelic sacraments.
The intersection of psychedelics and religion is one of the most captivating storylines in the psychedelic sphere. It is poised to receive even more attention when researchers publish their findings from a trial with religious professionals, which is expected sometime this year1.
MAPS’ MDMA Assisted Group Therapy Approved to Move Forward
A phase II study of MDMA-assisted group therapy will proceed at the Veterans Affairs Health Center in Portland, Oregon after the FDA lifted a hold on the study.
“After months of negotiations with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been permitted to initiate the MAPS-sponsored Phase 2 Open-Label Feasibility and Safety Study of MDMA-Assisted Group Therapy for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Veterans (MPG1).”
This is a significant development for two reasons:
It is yet another MDMA-assisted therapy trial in the Veterans Affairs Health System.
Developing Evidence-Based group therapy protocols will be vital for reducing costs and increasing access to MDMA-assisted therapy.
“The study is conducted by MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of MAPS, led by Chris Stauffer, M.D., and hosted within the VA Portland Health Care System. Eighteen Veterans in three cohorts of six will undergo the first of two MDMA-assisted therapy sessions individually and the second treatment session in their group cohort, along with individual and group preparation and integration sessions.”
Neuroimaging in Psychedelics
Yesterday, researchers from Imperial College London published a preprint of a paper titled Neuroimaging in psychedelic drug development: Past, present, and future.
The authors highlight three questions that, if answered, would be a massive step forward in our understanding of psychedelics:
The relationship between the acute brain effects of psychedelics, and their longerterm (clinically-relevant) effects.
The precise effect of psychedelics at the 5-HT2AR, including dose-effect relationships, and how these are related to both acute and longer-term subjective, physiological and functional effects.
The extent to which psychedelics promote neuroplasticity in humans, over what timescales, and the role neuroplastic processes play in their longer-term (clinicallyrelevant) effects”
They follow up with:
“Fortunately, this modern ‘second-wave’ of psychedelic research can take advantage of modern neuroimaging (and other) technologies to address all these issues in a robust manner in human subjects.2”
The paper discusses the specific technology and techniques that could answer these questions and is worth reading if you are interested in this kind of thing.
Neuroimaging Accelerates Mainstream Adoption
An intriguing idea I took away from the paper is the role that neuroimaging has played in accelerating the cultural intrigue and adoption of psychedelics.
Wall and colleagues note:
“The use of neuroimaging as a tightly-integrated part of the methodology in key clinical trials has facilitated this [significant impact in both the scientific community and the popular media.], not only by providing important scientific results and informing theories of psychedelic effects, but also by producing visually arresting results (e.g. 20 ) that have been reproduced extensively in the mainstream media.”
It is a visual representation of fMRI data from a 2012 study that “capture(d) the transition from normal waking consciousness to the psychedelic state3.”
This image succinctly captures the fundamental premise that psychedelics break down the ‘normal’ neural networks and allow many parts of the brain to communicate with each other.
It captures the concept so well that it creates an intuitive understanding of the data, and for this, it has become the most iconic image associated with psychedelic science.
It persists because it tells a story that would not be possible without fMRI.
“Conclusions: This Bayesian reanalysis supports the following inferences: 1) that psilocybin did indeed outperform escitalopram in this trial, but not to an extent that was clinically meaningful and 2) that psilocybin is almost certainly non-inferior to escitalopram. The present results provide a more precise and nuanced interpretation to previously reported results from this trial, and support the need for further research into the relative efficacy of psilocybin therapy for depression with respect to current leading treatments.”
“We’ve trained a machine-learning system, using data analysis and natural-language processing, to figure out the components of an experience with a psychedelic drug. We can connect a person’s experience to the places in the brain that drug affects and posit that certain parts of the brain, when acted upon by specific drugs, cause specific effects.”
Alright, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!
The authors highlight advancements in two areas: MRI and PET scan techniques:
“MRI is a mature and widely available imaging method which is sensitive to pharmacological effects. Recent technical innovations in MRI technology such as accelerated scanning with ‘multiband’ sequences, increased signal-to-noise with multi-echo sequences and standardised processing pipelines provide additional capabilities for this technique. Molecular imaging with the 5-HT2A agonist PET ligand [11C]CIMBI-36 can help elucidate the links between dose and (both acute, and longer-term) clinically-relevant effects”