In this week’s Psychedelic News Roundup, we detail a new study that examines the importance of psychedelic visuals as part of the therapeutic process. Other news includes promising new research that highlights psilocybin’s potential to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and fresh regulatory changes in Missouri, the Veteran Administration, and more.

Psychedelic Therapy: The Impact of Visuals on LSD Experiences

Visuals on LSD Experiences

As covered by Big Think, a recent study sheds light on the profound impact that visual stimuli have on the effects of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD. Conducted by researchers including Pedro Mediano and Robin Carhart-Harris, the study explores how external stimuli such as videos can diminish the intensity of a psychedelic experience, which has significant implications for therapeutic settings.

The study involved 20 healthy participants who underwent two sessions: one with intravenous saline (a placebo) and one with intravenous LSD. Researchers collected data using whole-brain magnetoencephalography (MEG) under various conditions, including with eyes open and closed and while watching a silent nature documentary. The findings suggest that closing the eyes not only increases brain entropy—a measure of the complexity and randomness of brain activity—but also strengthens the subjective effects of LSD. This entropy reflects a heightened brain activity that could be therapeutically beneficial.

Visual distractions, however, such as watching videos, appear to compete with the psychedelic effects by lifting the baseline brain complexity required to process them. This competition dilutes the subjective intensity and richness of the psychedelic experience. Notably, the study found that participants reported more vivid imagery and a stronger overall trip when their eyes were closed, correlating highly with increased brain entropy. This suggests that for psychedelic therapies, a minimally distracting setting may enhance the therapeutic potential of drugs like LSD.

This study is a significant step forward in understanding the optimal conditions for psychedelic therapy. By demonstrating the importance of set and setting, particularly the impact of keeping the eyes closed, it supports the use of introspective, visually unstimulated environments to maximize the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. The findings could guide future clinical practices, emphasizing the importance of using music over visual stimuli to enhance the beneficial outcomes of psychedelic therapy.(1)

Unveiling Psychological Flexibility as a Key Mechanism in Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Depression

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

A groundbreaking exploratory placebo-controlled trial published in Nature has shed new light on the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy for treating major depressive disorder (MDD). Conducted by a team led by Jordan Sloshower and colleagues, the study integrates Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of therapy focused on accepting your thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judgment, with psilocybin sessions to enhance psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-congruent living (essentially just living the values you espouse) among participants. This research provides valuable insights into the therapeutic mechanisms that may underlie the enduring benefits of psychedelic treatments.

The trial involved 19 participants with moderate to severe MDD who underwent treatment in a fixed-order sequence, starting with a placebo, followed by a psilocybin session, four weeks later. The incorporation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) aimed to exploit the natural synergy between the psychological effects of psilocybin and the therapy’s focus on enhancing psychological flexibility. Over the 16-week study period, significant improvements were observed in the participants’ psychological flexibility and mindfulness, particularly in their ability to accept experiences without judgment, which were maintained well beyond the initial treatment phase.

Furthermore, the study found a strong correlation between increases in psychological flexibility and experiential acceptance with reductions in the severity of depression symptoms. This association underscores the potential of psychological flexibility as a critical mechanism through which psilocybin can benefit. The findings suggest that focusing on psychological flexibility during psilocybin-assisted therapy could optimize therapeutic outcomes, not just for depression but potentially for other mental health conditions as well.

This research marks a significant step forward in the integration of psychedelic therapy and established psychotherapeutic frameworks. By highlighting the importance of psychological flexibility, the study not only supports the use of psilocybin in therapeutic settings but also opens up new avenues for enhancing the effectiveness of treatments for depression and beyond.(2)

Missouri Moves Forward with Psilocybin Therapy Legislation for Veterans

Missouri Psilocybin Legislation

Coming to us from Marijuana Moment, Missouri’s House of Representatives is advancing a bill that would legalize psilocybin therapy for military veterans diagnosed with conditions such as PTSD or substance use disorders. The bill, HB 1830, recently passed through a second House panel, reflecting growing legislative support for exploring psychedelic therapies. This initiative aligns with a broader push to study and potentially integrate psilocybin in medical treatments, backed by a separate budget proposal allocating $10 million from state opioid settlement funds for related research.

The proposed legislation, championed by Rep. Aaron McMullen, aims to provide veterans aged 21 and over with legal access to laboratory-tested psilocybin under structured and controlled conditions. The bill facilitates access and incorporates rigorous safety protocols, reflecting a cautious yet progressive approach to integrating new treatments into healthcare.

Critics of the bill, like Rep. Mike Haffner, express concerns over the sufficiency of existing research and potential safety issues related to psilocybin’s mood and cognitive effects. However, proponents, including Rep. Rachel Proudie, advocate for the bill as a forward-thinking alternative to conventional pharmaceutical treatments, which have often been linked to dependency issues. This legislative effort in Missouri is part of a larger national trend, with several states exploring regulatory frameworks for psychedelic therapies, reflecting a shift towards more natural and potentially transformative medical treatments.(3)

Navigating the Ethical Complexities of Psychedelic Therapy: Insights from Harvard’s New Initiative

Harvard's New Initiative

As covered by Harvard News, the therapeutic use of psychedelics gains traction, and Harvard University’s Divinity School has launched a timely initiative exploring the ethical dimensions of this burgeoning field. At the forefront of this effort is the Center for the Study of World Religions’ new psychedelics and ethics initiative, which convened its first meeting to address the complex ethical landscape surrounding psychedelic research and application in clinical settings. This gathering brought together experts from various disciplines, including law, philosophy, and spiritual care, setting the stage for a comprehensive examination of the issues at play.

Christine Hauskeller, a philosopher with a background in sociology and psychology, highlighted a striking paradox in modern treatment approaches: the use of induced states previously classified as “madness” to heal mental disorders. This approach, she notes, challenges traditional perceptions of health and treatment. The discussion underscored the variability of psychedelic experiences, which complicates the standardization of dosages and effects, making the ethical management of such therapies increasingly complex.

The initiative also tackled the practical aspects of psychedelic use in therapy, such as ensuring informed consent and equitable access. Mason Marks, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, emphasized the inadequacies found in current informed consent practices within psychedelic clinical trials. He advocates for a more robust consent process that adequately informs participants of the potential long-term impacts, such as changes in perception and personality. Roman Palitsky of Emory University proposed a SERT-based (spiritual, existential, religious, theological) framework for integrating these treatments, reflecting on patients’ profound, often mystical experiences.

This initiative not only seeks to address the immediate ethical issues but also aims to set a precedent for future research and clinical practice as the field of psychedelic therapy expands. The discussions at Harvard are just the beginning of a deeper inquiry into how these powerful substances should be integrated responsibly into healthcare and society.(4)

Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge VA to Prepare for MDMA-Assisted Therapy

Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge VA

Marijuana Moment reports on a significant development on Capitol Hill, where bipartisan congressional lawmakers are urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop a comprehensive plan for the implementation of MDMA-assisted therapy for veterans. This push comes in anticipation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) potentially approving the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as early as this summer. Representatives Morgan McGarvey (D-KY) and Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), along with seven other members of Congress, have highlighted the urgent need for the VA to be ready to offer this innovative therapy in-house rather than having veterans seek treatment through external providers.

The lawmakers expressed concern that without a prepared VA, veterans might face challenges accessing specialized care tailored to the unique aspects of military trauma, which could adversely affect their mental health and lead to increased costs for the VA. The FDA has already prioritized the review of MDMA-assisted therapy, setting a target decision date for August 11, which underscores the timeliness and relevance of the lawmakers’ request.

The lawmakers have requested a detailed plan from the VA by July 1, which should outline care models, implementation timelines, staff training programs, and the locations where MDMA treatments would be administered. This proactive approach by Congress aims to ensure that the VA can integrate these therapies swiftly and effectively, thereby enhancing the quality of mental health care available to America’s veterans.(5)

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.

  1. Eyes wide shut: Why psychedelic trips intensify with eyes closed. (2024, April 18). Big Think. 
  2. Sloshower, J., Zeifman, R. J., Guss, J., Krause, R., Safi-Aghdam, H., Pathania, S., Pittman, B., & D’Souza, D. C. (2024). Psychological flexibility as a mechanism of change in psilocybin-assisted therapy for major depression: results from an exploratory placebo-controlled trial. Scientific Reports, 14(1), 8833. 
  3. Adlin, B. (2024, April 18). Second Missouri House Panel Approves Bill To Legalize Psilocybin Therapy For Veterans. Marijuana Moment. 
  4. zonarich, elizabeth. (2024, April 23). How to untangle ethics of psychedelics for therapeutic care. Harvard Gazette. 
  5. Jaeger, K. (2024, April 23). Bipartisan Congressional Lawmakers Tell VA To Prepare Plan For MDMA-Assisted Therapy As FDA Considers Approving The Psychedelic. Marijuana Moment.