The OPEN Foundation is proud to announce that we compiled two special issues of the journal CDAR (Current Drug Abuse Reviews). The title of the Special Issues is ‘Beneficial Effects of Psychedelics with a Special Focus on Addictions’.
The idea of this special issue originated at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research, organised by the OPEN Foundation in 2012. This special issue of CDAR takes an interdisciplinary approach to the topic of psychedelics and mental health, while maintaining a particular focus on applications of psychedelics in the fields of substance abuse and addiction. This special issue also takes a critical look at some widespread assumptions about psychedelics, introduces new ideas and suggests novel directions for future research.
For instance, in the first article, Beatriz Labate and Kenneth Tupper take a critical approach towards the instruments of modern science. They reflect upon the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, which is rapidly gaining popularity, both from individuals interested in experiencing its effects as well as from scientists studying this plant admixture. Drawing from the ever-expanding and interdisciplinary field of ayahuasca studies, Tupper and Labate question the possibility of absolute objectivity when studying ayahuasca and other psychedelics. They also look at how psychedelics are generally regarded and how these conceptualizations influence current research and the scientists pursuing their investigations.
How should one respond to individuals undergoing a difficult experience after ingesting a psychedelic substance? Is it possible to transform such a negative experience into a beneficial one? These questions are at the heart of Maria Carvalho and colleagues’ article. The authors provide a detailed account of how an integrated service that offers ‘compassionate care’ to music festival participants may be effective in mitigating the negative effects occasioned by the use of psychedelics, taken in an unfamiliar and highly stimulating environment. Their article shows how an intervention that combines principles from harm reduction, risk reduction and crisis intervention can effectively deal with the unintended negative consequences of recreational (psychedelic) drug use. This increases knowledge on the risks and benefits of altered states of consciousness – not just those induced by psychedelic substances – for both the individual and professional caregivers.
In the first wave of scientific interest in psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s, their effects on ‘alcoholism’ represented one of the early approaches. Michael Winkelman’s article reviews the historical evidence on the safety and efficacy of various psychedelics used as aids in the treatment of substance dependence disorders. The author also provides an overview of the various possible mechanisms of action that underlie the effectiveness of these therapies. Given the safety of psychedelics and the limited success of current conventional treatments in treating addiction, Winkelman argues that medical professionals have a moral duty to further pursue the investigation of treatment with psychedelics.
As the field of neurosciences makes its advances, more researchers look towards the potential offered by psychedelics in understanding the brain mechanisms underlying their idiosyncratic effects. Samuel Turton’s article provides unique insights in the subjective experiences of study participants. He describes the phenomenology of the experiences of fifteen participants in an fMRI-scanner after intravenous psilocybin administration.
Brazilian neuroscientist Rafael Guimarães dos Santos contributes to this special issue with a thorough review on how the extremely potent, but little investigated non-classical psychedelic Salvinorin A might be effective as a pharmacological agent in treating psychostimulant substance addiction. In his article, he reviews the available data on κ-opioid receptor agonists and their mechanisms of action in animal studies, presenting a novel perspective on the potential effectiveness of this psychedelic substance in the treatment of addiction to psychostimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine.
The next part of the special issue will feature articles by Mitch Liester, Robin MacKenzie and Albert Garcia-Romeu, Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson.
The articles are open access and can be found here.