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Posted 23 April 2010 - 12:19 PM

By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter, Ap Science Writer – Fri Apr 23, 9:40 am ET

NEW YORK – The big white pill was brought to her in an earthenware chalice. She'd already held hands with her two therapists and expressed her wishes for what it would help her do.

She swallowed it, lay on the couch with her eyes covered, and waited. And then it came.

"The world was made up of jewels and I was in a dome," she recalled. Surrounded by brilliant, kaleidoscopic colors, she saw the dome open up to admit "this most incredible luminescence that made everything even more beautiful."

Tears trickled down her face as she saw "how beautiful the world could actually be."

That's how Nicky Edlich, 67, began her first-ever trip on a psychedelic drug last year.

She says it has greatly helped her psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety from her advanced ovarian cancer.

And for researchers, it was another small step toward showing that hallucinogenic drugs, famous but condemned in the 1960s, can one day help doctors treat conditions like cancer anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The New York University study Edlich participated in is among a handful now going on in the United States and elsewhere with drugs like LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin, the main ingredient of "magic mushrooms." The work follows lines of research choked off four decades ago by the war on drugs. The research is still preliminary. But at least it's there.

"There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds some of the work. "We're at the end of the beginning of the renaissance."

He said that more than 1,200 people attended a conference in California last weekend on psychedelic science.

But doing the research is not easy, Doblin and others say, with government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can't patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.

"There's still a lot of resistance to it," said David Nichols, a Purdue University professor of medicinal chemistry and president of the Heffter Institute, which is supporting the NYU study. "The whole hippie thing in the 60s" and media coverage at the time "has kind of left a bad taste in the mouth of the public at large.

"When you tell people you're treating people with psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is Day-Glo art and tie-dyed shirts."

Nothing like that was in evidence the other day when Edlich revisited the room at NYU where she'd taken psilocybin. Landscape photos and abstract art hung on the walls, flowers and a bowl of fruit adorned a table near the window. At the foot of the couch lay an Oriental rug.

"The whole idea was to create a living room-like setting" that would be relaxing, said study leader Dr. Stephen Ross.

Edlich, whose cancer forced her to retire from teaching French at a private school, had plenty of reason to seek help through the NYU project. Several recurrences of her ovarian cancer had provoked fears about suffering and dying and how her death would affect her family. She felt "profound sadness that my life was going to be cut short." And she faced existential questions: Why live? What does it all mean? How can I go on?

"These things were in my head and I wanted them to take a back seat to living in the moment," she said. So when she heard NYU researchers speak about the project at her cancer support group, she was interested.

Psilocybin has been shown to invoke powerful spiritual experiences during the four to six hours it affects the brain. A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.

Experts emphasize people shouldn't try psilocybin on their own because it can be harmful, sometimes causing bouts of anxiety and paranoia.

The NYU study is testing whether that drug experience can help with the nine months of psychotherapy each participant also gets.

The therapy seeks to help patients live fuller, richer lives with the time they have left.

Each study participant gets two drug-dose experiences, but only one of those involves psilocybin; the other is a placebo dose of niacin, which makes the face flush.

The homey NYU room where Edlich had been getting psychotherapy was the setting for her drug experiences. She had brought along photos of her son, grandchildren and partner. She met with two therapists she'd come to trust, knowing they would stay with her through her hours under the influence.

Taking the drug followed a ritual, including the chalice and the hand-holding, because ritual has been part of psilocybin's successful use for centuries by traditional cultures, said Ross, the lead researcher.

After swallowing the white pill, Edlich perused an art book for about a half-hour while waiting for the psilocybin to take effect. Then she lay on the couch with headphones and listened to music with eyeshades over her eyes.

After her vision of the brilliantly colored dome, Edlich went on to two more experiences involving parts of her life. She won't describe those much, even to friends. They "brought me profound sadness and profound grief" but also transformed her understanding of what was important to her in the areas of relationships and trusting, she says.

She sat up and talked with her psychotherapists about what had gone on. And after nine hours in that room, she went home and wrote 30 pages in a diary about what had happened. And she thought about it for weeks afterward.

Did the drug experience help?

It let her view the issues she was working on through a different lens, she said.

"I think it made me more aware of what was so important and what was making me either sad or depressed. I think it was revelatory."

All three people in the study so far felt better, with less general anxiety and fear of death, and greater acceptance of the dying process, Ross said. No major side effects have appeared. The project plans to enroll a total of 32 people.

Ross' work follows up on a small study at the University of California, Los Angeles; results haven't been published yet, but they too are encouraging, according to experts familiar with it.

Yet another study of psilocybin for cancer anxiety, at Johns Hopkins University, has treated 11 out of a planned 44 participants so far. Chief investigator Roland Griffiths said he suspected the results would fall in line with the UCLA work.

In interviews, some psychiatrists who work with cancer patients reacted coolly to the prospects of using psilocybin.

"I'm kind of curious about it," said Dr. Susan Block of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She said it's an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and "I don't think it's ever going to be a widely used treatment."

Ross, meanwhile, thinks patients might benefit from more than one dose of the drug during the psychotherapy. The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.

Edlich said her single dose "brought me to a deeper place in my mind, that I would never have gone to ... I feel a second session would even take me to more important places.

"I would do it a second time in a New York minute."

#2 Minerva8979


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Posted 23 April 2010 - 01:29 PM

I have totally heard this before and believe in it completely. Everyone is different, indeed, and some may experience the exact opposite, but...if you got nothin to lose then what's the big deal. I'm glad these people feel better from this experience. Actually, I was with one of my close friends when he was tripping and he had the most emotional and cathartic revelation about his past demons. He's truly felt better ever since. He's more in tune with himself, able to see past his grief and abuse history.

#3 flipwilson


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Posted 23 April 2010 - 01:33 PM

I've heard of this before. I read an article about a boy, who at age 13, had found his father dead after committing suicide. The boy was messed up for years, and one of the symptoms mentioned was that he was numb. So his mother, I believe when the kid was 19, found a doctor that did treatments with small doses of MDMA. The kid along side his mother and this doctor rolled for however long and when he came out of it he was brand new, all the baggage seemingly removed. I really wish I could find the clinical article...sorry. I would just wonder how a successful a treatment like this would be on all of us who had some sort of drug trigger the damn disorder.

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Posted 23 April 2010 - 01:37 PM

This is kind of off topic, but meditating can be used in therapy too. Meditation can be a self induced trance, you know, changing your brain waves to something close to blissful. Meditation also alters the chemicals in your brain. Be careful though, and be sure to research a good meditation technique.

#5 dragonhat


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Posted 23 April 2010 - 02:56 PM

I have totally heard this before and believe in it completely. Everyone is different, indeed, and some may experience the exact opposite, but...if you got nothin to lose then what's the big deal. I'm glad these people feel better from this experience. Actually, I was with one of my close friends when he was tripping and he had the most emotional and cathartic revelation about his past demons. He's truly felt better ever since. He's more in tune with himself, able to see past his grief and abuse history.

I tripped face on mushrooms for the first time when I was 18.

I think it would have been much more beneficial had it been in a controlled setting, with trained counselors there to help.

Since I was running around on campus at night with a bunch of hippies, and someone got mad and yelled at me on the phone as I was coming up, the experience went downhill pretty quickly. It was a hell of a night.

Even considering that, it was the most profound thing that's ever happened to me. So mystical and spiritual, I can't imagine anything else coming close to the wonder of psychedelics.

#6 sirreal


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Posted 25 April 2010 - 01:21 PM

I used to occasionally use substances such as mushrooms and mescaline. I was a much happier person then. In fact I did not have DP, I had a very positive outlook on life and I was truly happy and healthy. My DP started about 3 months after I last used any psychedelics. For years I have wondered if it induced my DP or not. I am very interested on the potentially positive affects of treatment with psychedelic drugs. Unfortunately if there are studies that people can participate in, I don't think I would be able to as I take an SSRI.

Check out this link.

#7 nabber


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Posted 25 April 2010 - 04:35 PM

I agree too if you have nothing to lose why not. A 67 year old cancer patient doing lsd for the first in a controlled environment with psychiatrists promoting a positive experience. I'm sure it was a very spiritual. The problem is over usage, and people having very traumatic trips that may lead to hppd and dp/dr. Just like George Carlin said lsd opens doors to different perceptions, and he felt that was a huge part of his success. But he only did it a few times and said it's the kind of drug you take a few times and you get to a certain point, you know when to stop taking it.

"There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years," said Rick Doblin- That's kind of funny, I bet if they went to or they might have second thoughts as this disorder is potentionally ruining lives.

#8 lfbenz


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Posted 27 April 2010 - 03:03 PM

Actually now that I think about... The first time I got DP was from a bad mushroom trip back in college. The very next day I told my friend who lived below me that I completely freaked out. He insisted that I took mushrooms with him that day.. So I did. He kept me calm it was just him and me. I had a really good time and laughed the whole time. After that experience my DP was gone for another year until I freaked out on weed. During the trip I just remember saying to myself, "what the hell was I freaking out about, everything is fine."

#9 comfortably numb

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Posted 27 April 2010 - 04:06 PM

I have to say LSD and psilocybin and even ketamine has helped my anxiety and depression quite abit over the years. Ketamine is a totally different drug then LSd of psilocybin it's a dissociative anesthetic but has psychedelic properties to it. But dissociative totally different then shrooms.

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