First Randomized Trial of Psilocybin Assisted Therapy for Depression!

In recent years, psychedelics have reemerged as a popular topic in cultural, political, and scientific discourse. From Michael Pollen’s best-selling book How To Change Your Mind to legalizing psilocybin-assisted therapy through Measure 109 in Oregon, people are curious about how and why these substances may be powerful tools in psychological healing. Additional data, especially on common problems like depression, is particularly important as psilocybin therapy starts to become more widely used.  Until now, psilocybin therapy for depression has never been studied in randomized clinical trials. But now, the first data have been published, with excellent results.

In this trial, Alan K. Davis and other investigators at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins conducted the first randomized, clinical trial exploring psilocybin-assisted therapy for treating Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Traditional treatment methods typically include psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy, or a combination of the two. Current pharmacotherapies, such as SSRI’s, often have limited efficacy and can result in negative side effects such as suicidal ideation, decrease in sexual drive, and weight gain. Additionally, people must be on antidepressants for several weeks before experiencing any benefit, with many only partially responding. Lastly, many people do not respond to treatment, whether that’s pharmacological or psychological. Clearly more treatments are needed.

The team at Johns Hopkins treated 24 people with depression with two administrations of psilocybin combined with therapeutic support. This intervention produced strong antidepressant effects that persisted for 12 months, with 71% of their participants showing a clinically significant response 4 weeks after treatment. Unlike traditional antidepressants, psilocybin was not associated with serious adverse effects and does not have to be taken daily. The only frequent nonserious adverse effects found by Davis et al. were mild-to-moderate headaches and challenging emotions during the session itself. In sum, while this study is small, it provides excellent data to support the idea that psilocybin-assisted therapy is effective for the treatment of depression, while we await results from larger studies that are ongoing.

Although we have come far in psychological healing, there is still more work to do in order to provide services that are effective and accessible to all who need it. Antidepressants do not work for everyone, making promising treatments like psilocybin-assisted therapy worthy of further exploration. If you would like to learn more about psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression, Portland Psychotherapy is hosting a seminar series, Therapy and Research in Psychedelic Science (TRIPS), that includes a presentation from Alan K. Davis, the lead investigator in this trial. He will be discussing what this therapy looks like from the point of view of the patient along with a description of the therapeutic process involved in preparing for and integrating psilocybin experiences as a part of therapy. Click here to register for this event and check out the other events in our seminar series!

TRIPS Seminar Series

By Sarah Smith

Ketamine May Alleviate Bipolar Depression, Too

Ketamine May Alleviate Bipolar Depression, Too

Some months back, I wrote a blog post about researchers using the ketamine as a fast acting treatment for depression. Recently I was alerted to another study by the same core researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) using ketamine to treatment depression in people with bipolar disorder (Zarate et al., 2012). The study was a replication of a similar study published a few years ago (Diazgranados  et al., 2010).

It’s still just ketamine for depression

In this study, ketamine wasn’t used to treat bipolar disorder as a whole. Rather, ketamine was used to treat depressive symptoms in people with bipolar disorder who were currently depressed. The people in the study were also maintained on mood stabilizers to help manage bipolar mania and hypomania.

Otherwise, the procedure and findings were similar to the other studies. People were randomly assigned to receive two infusions of either ketamine or a placebo (saline). The infusions took about 40 minutes, and the second infusion took place 2 weeks after the first.

Most people who received ketamine (79%) felt less depressed, but no one who received the placebo showed improvements. I should note, though, that it was probably pretty obvious to people who received the placebo that it was not ketamine, as ketamine is a powerful psychoactive with obvious psychological effects. In contrast, saline isn’t likely to cause a detectable physiological response.

The treatment is still very experimental

After my earlier post was published, I received calls from a few people looking for ketamine treatment in Oregon. I’m afraid ketamine is still very much an experimental treatment, and no one, to my knowledge, is using it outside of well-controlled research studies. The only studies I’ve come across were conducted by NIMH researchers in Bethesda, Maryland.

The caveats I discussed in my previous post about the feasibility of ketamine for treating depression remain the same. At this point, we’re still not sure what the long-term effects are of using ketamine for depression. Given that it’s so fast-acting and is already a club drug, there is some potential for abuse and addiction.

Ketamine might be a useful intervention for people who are acutely depressed and acutely suicidal. In this respect, I remain cautiously optimistic, as it could reduce costly inpatient stays.

I’m skeptical, though, that ketamine will prove to be a cure-all wonder drug. For example, a newer study found that people treated with ketamine relapse into depression in an average of 2 weeks (Ibrahim et al., 2012). Although ketamine is safely used as an anesthetic in surgical procedures, we don’t know the impact of frequent doses across an extended period of time.

The newer research I cite in this post doesn’t take any steps towards answering questions about ketamine’s effectiveness beyond a few weeks, but it does suggest that people with bipolar disorder who are in a state of deep depression might find quick, if not enduring, relief from depression.

UPCOMING TRAINING EVENTS


De-Mystifying Self-As-Context in ACT: Practical Strategies for Clients

Brian Pilecki, PhD and Kati Lear, PhD
December 3rd, 2021 from 12pm-1:30pm

This workshop will outline how self-as-context can be used to conceptualize commonly discussed topics in therapy such as self-esteem, confidence, identity, and inner conflict. Participants will learn how to flexibly practice practical self-as-context interventions that can be used with clients, as well as have a chance to practice newly learned skills through structured role-play exercises in breakout groups. Read More.


Values in Therapy: An Intro to Working with Values from an ACT Perspective

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
January 21, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This workshop will provide a theoretical and conceptual overview of values from a contextual behavioral science perspective. We will cover the “what”, “why”, “when”, and “how” of values within ACT. While we will also provide an overview of various values exercises and measures that can be used with clients, the emphasis in this workshop will be on providing a foundational framework that will help clinicians approach values work from a functional perspective rather than a primarily technique-focused approach. Read More.



Culturally Responsive Therapy: How to Apply Anti-Racist Values in Session

Christy Tadros, LPCC and RaQuel Neal, LCSW
February 4th, 2022 from 1:30pm-4:45pm
and February 5th from 9:00am-12:00pm

This 2 day 6-hour training will help therapists develop their ability to support clients from a different racial background than them, with a particular focus on Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Through a multicultural social justice framework, it will integrate research and clinical experience to teach a therapeutic model for rapport building, assessment, and treatment. This model is not a rigid therapeutic modality, but provides a contextual lens to build a strong, culturally grounded therapeutic relationship. It is a flexible model and can align with many therapeutic modalities, including a contextual behavioral approach to therapy. Read More.


Truffle Hunting: Bringing Values to Life in the Therapy Room

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
February 25, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This brief workshop is designed to help clinicians deepen their values work with clients by shifting the focus from the content of values conversations to the quality of those conversation. By listening for and deepening the qualities of effective values conversations participants will get a taste for how more experiential and relationally-based values work can supercharge therapy. Participants will have opportunities to both observe demonstrations and practice in small groups with the benefit of feedback. Read More.


Values Prototyping: Using Action to Help Clients Explore Their Values

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
March 11, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This workshop will focus on one specific experiential tool called “values prototyping” that helps clients learn more about their values through engaging in intentional valuing. As participants will hopefully already have a solid foundation of some of the core concepts of the values process in ACT, this workshop will dive right in on how to use values prototyping to help clients learn more about what they would choose to value in their life. You will have the chance to practice developing a values prototype in small groups with the benefit of feedback, so that by the end of the workshop you will be able to use this tool in your work with clients. Read More.


The Invitation to Change Approach: Helping Families Affected by Addiction

Jeff Foote, PhD and Cordelia Kraus, LPC, CADC 1, certified CRAFT clinician
May 13th and 14th, 2022 from 9:00am-5:00pm
at University of Portland, Terrace Room
This two-day in-person workshop will provide skills training for professionals focused on the process of working with clients who have a loved one struggling with substance use issues. The Invitation to Change Approach draws on CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), MI (Motivational Interviewing), and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to provide a compassionate and collaborative way of working with the families and concerned significant others of people who struggle with substance use. Read More.


Therapy and Research in Psychedelic Science (TRIPS) Seminar Series

Second Friday of each month from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (PT)

TRIPS is an online seminar series that hosts speakers discussing science-informed presentations and discussions about psychedelics to educate healthcare professionals. This series was created to guide healthcare providers and students preparing to be professionals towards the most relevant, pragmatic, and essential information about psychedelic-assisted therapy, changing legal statuses, and harm reduction approaches in order to better serve clients and communities. This seminar series is a fundraiser for our clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder that Portland Psychotherapy investigators are preparing for and starting in the Fall of 2021. All proceeds after presenter remuneration will go to fund this clinical trial. Read more.

January 14th, 2022Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy of Major Depressive Disorder using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Therapeutic Frame with Jordan Sloshower, MD, MSc

February 11th, 2022 – Drug-Drug Interactions Between Psychiatric Medications and MDMA or Psilocybin with Aryan Sarparast, MD

May 13th, 2022Implementing Culturally-Attuned & Anti-Racist Psychedelic Therapy: Impact over Intention with Jamilah R. George, M.Div, M.S.