Psychedelic-Induced Neuroplasticity; Updates from the Beckley Ecosystem; The Trip Report Live
Today we are looking at
A Review of a paper on Psychedelic-Induced Neuroplasticity
But first, a few updates and announcements from the Beckley Ecosystem.
Updates from the Beckley Ecosystem
The Beckley Academy is launching the inaugural cohort of Foundations of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy for mental health professionals or those on a licensure track!
This first cohort will start on October 10th and run through mid-February.
Beckley Academy provides professional development and a community of practice for mental health professionals who wish to develop the skills, self-awareness, and relational depth necessary to hold space for therapeutic psychedelic experiences.
If you are a mental health professional interested in pursuing this training, please complete this intake questionnaire. The Beckley Academy team will reach out to schedule an interview if you are a good candidate!
The Foundations in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy will prepare mental health professionals with the core competencies to practice authentic and ethical Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy.
This initial cohort will be limited to only 20 participants and is 33% off the cost of future courses!
On the Beckley Retreats side, the Beckley Talks series continues this Thursday, September 29th, with a conversation between lead facilitator Lucyne Pearson and co-founding board member Rock Feilding-Mellen.
In the second installment of Beckley Talks, Lucyne and Rock will discuss the Beckley Retreats’ 11-week transformational program and shine a light on personal retreat experiences and the breakthroughs that informed their work.
The Queen of Psychedelics
Finally, our founder, Amanda Feilding, was featured in an extensive and well-balanced write-up from The Economist, which dubbed her “The Queen of Psychedelics” as part of their Technology Quarterly feature titled Fixing the Brain.
“Psychedelics have a history which is probably longer than that of civilisation. They have powerful effects on the brain and their lore is rich in anecdotes about effects on mental health, some for better and some for worse. As pharmaceutical companies tried to find new approaches to the brain, the potential of psychedelics might have seemed an obvious road to go down. But law and stigma blocked it. Until five years ago corporate investment in psychedelics as medicines was more or less unthinkable.
Work by [Amanda Feilding]’s Beckley Foundation, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (maps) in San Jose, California, and other such groups have helped to change that. So has the broadening acceptance of marijuana as a medicine and the softening or repeal of laws limiting its use. A change in the attitude of regulators and researchers towards running proper trials of the drugs has also contributed. Applying modern scientific techniques to the question of how psychedelics and other drugs affect the brain and mind is now seen as opening up possibilities for insight, treatment, and profit.”
What we talk about when we talk about neuroplasticity
The concept of neuroplasticity has been around for a while.
First proposed all the way back in 1894 by Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal—who famously quipped, “Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain”—the basic premise is the neural circuits in the brain, and central nervous system can (and do) change their functionality and/or structure in response to experience.
Neuroplasticity underpins the changing connections of neural networks in response to learning a new skill, developing a new habit, or exposure to repeated stimuli, like meditation.
However, as far as I can tell, harnessing the power of neuroplasticity for the precise, targeted restructuring of specific brain regions or networks for therapeutic or enhancement is still some way off.
But this may be changing with the advent of:
Expansion of psychedelic research and our understanding of their neuroplastic effects
Relatedly, this week an open access (yay!) paper from the journal Neuropsychopharmacology titled Towards an understanding of psychedelic-induced neuroplasticity caught my attention because it covers all of what we know about the relationship between psychedelics and neuroplasticity:
“Classic psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, and the DMT-containing beverage ayahuasca, show some potential to treat depression, anxiety, and addiction. Importantly, clinical improvements can last for months or years after treatment. It has been theorized that these long-term improvements arise because psychedelics rapidly and lastingly stimulate neuroplasticity. The focus of this review is on answering specific questions about the effects of psychedelics on neuroplasticity.
The paper is approachable for the non-academically inclined1 and comprehensive, making it one of those truly valuable reads for those of us captivated by psychedelics and interested in understanding how they work with as much precision and humility as possible without getting a Ph.D.
Notable takeaways include:
Both the neuroplastic effects and the transient subjective effects (the trip) are meditated via the 5- HT2A receptor.
The most robust neuroplastic changes occur in the neocortex with modest changes in deeper brain structures such as the hippocampus (except in pigs!?)
Neuroplasticity appears to be a dose-dependent phenomenon (higher dose, more change)
An important and fertile area of future research is to explore the relationship between chronic microdosing and neuroplastic changes (in other words, can one develop tolerance over time?)
Most exciting, in my opinion, is our understanding of the ‘Neuroplastic Window.’ The authors created an excellent time course graphic that charts the effect up to thirty days for several of the critical features of neuroplasticity:
In closing, the authors nicely capture the take-home message (emphasis added):
“Data thus far supports the theory that psychedelics stimulate dendritogenesis, synaptogenesis, and the upregulation of plasticity-related genes in a 5-HT2A receptor-dependent manner, affecting the cortex in particular. The window of neuroplasticity appears to open within a few hours and may last a few days, although neuroplastic changes occurring during this time may survive for at least a month. Because neuroplastic changes occur in an experience-dependent manner, experiences people have during this time may have a greater psychological impact than they otherwise would.”
In reading this, I got the sense that despite the attention psychedelics are getting for treating mental illness, in time (and in the real world), we should expect to see strategic use of psychedelics for nearly any reason in which people want to change themselves.
Outside the clinic and research settings, people are leveraging psychedelics to be more focused, less ruminative, or anxious—but may also use them to develop or improve athletic skills, learn a language or accelerate learning.
As the authors of another related paper put it:
“A critical period is a window in which environmental input is necessary for the appropriate development of the relevant brain circuit. During a critical period, the brain has a heightened plasticity in which experiences have robust effects on establishing stable neurocircuitry. During this developmental period, the brain’s malleability creates both a vulnerability to environmental insults or deprivations as well as a remarkable ability to quickly and robustly acquire skills.”
Rather than simply medicines, the real promise of psychedelics may be in their capacity to enhance learning and change in any domain.
The Trip Report Live: A Conversation with Reason for Hope
As a reminder, next Tuesday, September 27th, at 3 pm ET, we are hosting the first in a series of panel discussions called The Trip Report Live, which aims to be uniquely informative in-depth conversations with the people driving substantive and essential developments in psychedelic policy, infrastructure, and delivery.
This inaugural event will feature the leadership team from the policy and advocacy group Reason for Hope.
Why Reason for Hope?
I asked them to join me because I think the fruits of their labor will become apparent in the coming months, and I want to get ahead of these developments.
As we’ve covered, several East coast states are taking an approach to psychedelic policy that builds access to psychedelic-assisted therapies through state-funded “research-based treatment” programs.
This approach seeks to leverage established frameworks erected by federal institutions, such as investigator-initiated clinical trials, Expanded Access Programs, and possibly the Right to Try Act, to enable access to veterans and other populations with high rates of mental illness.
This approach has been adopted in Connecticut and Maryland, with Pennsylvania, New York, and others expected to follow suit in the coming months.
This approach is a piece of a larger puzzle that includes the soon-to-be-enacted federal task force.
This week, Ken Jordan and Noah Daly of Lucid News wrote about Reason for Hope and the prospect of a psychedelic task force:
“The purpose of the proposed task force would be to establish national guidelines that states could choose to follow as they put in place frameworks to regulate the legal use of psychedelics. The letter says that “published national guidelines would be the most effective mechanism in establishing good standards of practice, including provider training, credentialing, state licensure, dispensing, safe and ethical use monitoring, etc.” It would also support the establishment of these frameworks through federal funding.”
Behind all of these developments at the state and federal levels is the team from Reason for Hope.
I hope you’ll join us!
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!