Compounds Being Studied for Use in Psychiatric Practice
ORLANDO, Fla.—The opening session of the 31st annual Psych Congress gave attendees a detailed view of how psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin and LSD affect the brain and the ways in which they could be used in psychiatric practice.
The hourlong talk was delivered by Robin Carhart-Harris, PhD, the head of psychedelic research for the center for neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London in England.
Psych Congress cochair Charles L. Raison, MD, who is also involved with psychedelic research, described Dr. Carhart-Harris as a “spectacular unique leader in this emerging world.”
“Robin has really been the leading light for the last more than half a decade, looking not just at what [psychedelics] mean clinically but what’s really important, looking much more at this translational science question of how can it be that something that people take one time can produce these long-term effects,” he said. “This is really a special treat for us at Psych Congress.”
Through research involving neuroimaging and other techniques, Dr. Carhart-Harris used psychedelics as “probes into, in many ways, what it means to be human,” Dr. Raison said.
“If you induce these profound experiences in a person’s consciousness, that digs very deeply into what a lot of us cherish in terms of what it means to be human, to have certain perceptions, to have certain feelings,” he added.
“The ability to study those, to induce those and look before and after, because the drugs serve as a probe into that world, is I think one of the greatest and most remarkable technologies that we have at our disposal currently to understand how the brain, the mind, the heart, the spirit all come together.”
In his presentation, Dr. Carhart Harris also highlighted the fact that psychedelics seem to have enduring outcomes after just a single administration.
“As a drug model, that’s kind of unheard of, so what’s going on here?” he asked.
Dr. Carhart-Harris, who has studied both psychoanalysis and psychopharmacology, has been researching the use of psychedelics in humans since 2008, and as a depression treatment since 2011.
He said widespread interest in the topic began to develop in 2016, with the publication of studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland, and the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City on the use of psychedelics for depression and anxiety in people with terminal cancer, which were hailed as potentially groundbreaking. Those studies followed other research demonstrating psychedelics helped increase well-being, reduce suicidality and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and treat substance use disorders.
“This seems to be getting quite mainstream academic support,” he said.
For the last 2 years, Dr. Carhart-Harris has been working with London-based life sciences company Compass Pathways to develop psilocybin as a medicine. In October, the US Food and Drug Administration granted the Breakthrough Therapy designation to the company for the use of psilocybin as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression (TRD).