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Psilocybin for alcohol use disorder: Rationale and design considerations for a randomized controlled trial

O'Donnell, Kelley C; Mennenga, Sarah E; Owens, Lindsey; Podrebarac, Samantha K; Baron, Tara; Rotrosen, John; Ross, Stephen; Forcehimes, Alyssa A; Bogenschutz, Michael P
Several lines of evidence suggest that classic psychedelics (5-HT2A receptor agonists or partial agonists) such as psilocybin might facilitate behavior change in individuals with substance use disorders. We conducted a multi-site, double-blind, randomized controlled trial (RCT) to assess the effects of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in alcohol-dependent volunteers. In addition to a structured 12-week psychotherapy platform, participants (n = 96) were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive either oral psilocybin or an active placebo (oral diphenhydramine) in each of two dosing sessions (at weeks 4 and 8). Initial doses were 25 mg/70 kg psilocybin or 50 mg diphenhydramine, which could be increased in the second session depending on initial response. The psychotherapy platform combined evidence-based, manualized therapy for alcohol dependence with a supportive context for the dosing sessions. All participants were followed in the RCT through week 36. At the end of the RCT, participants who still met safety criteria were offered an open-label psilocybin session. Data collected at screening, baseline and throughout the study included: demographics, measures of alcohol use, subjective response to psilocybin and diphenhydramine, and safety measures. The primary outcome was the proportion of heavy drinking days during the 32 weeks after the first dosing session (i.e., between week 4 and week 36). Secondary outcomes included safety, additional measures of drinking (e.g., abstinence, drinking days, etc.), craving, self-efficacy, and acute effects. We will also explore moderators and mediators of the primary outcome. The primary outcomes will be published elsewhere. In this paper, we describe the protocol and rationale for our design decisions.
PMID: 36332827
ISSN: 1559-2030
CID: 5358872

MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder

Traynor, Jenna M; Roberts, Daniel E; Ross, Stephen; Zeifman, Richard; Choi-Kain, Lois
ORIGINAL:0016144
ISSN: 1541-4094
CID: 5347362

Percentage of Heavy Drinking Days Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy vs Placebo in the Treatment of Adult Patients With Alcohol Use Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Bogenschutz, Michael P; Ross, Stephen; Bhatt, Snehal; Baron, Tara; Forcehimes, Alyssa A; Laska, Eugene; Mennenga, Sarah E; O'Donnell, Kelley; Owens, Lindsey T; Podrebarac, Samantha; Rotrosen, John; Tonigan, J Scott; Worth, Lindsay
Importance/UNASSIGNED:Although classic psychedelic medications have shown promise in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD), the efficacy of psilocybin remains unknown. Objective/UNASSIGNED:To evaluate whether 2 administrations of high-dose psilocybin improve the percentage of heavy drinking days in patients with AUD undergoing psychotherapy relative to outcomes observed with active placebo medication and psychotherapy. Design, Setting, and Participants/UNASSIGNED:In this double-blind randomized clinical trial, participants were offered 12 weeks of manualized psychotherapy and were randomly assigned to receive psilocybin vs diphenhydramine during 2 day-long medication sessions at weeks 4 and 8. Outcomes were assessed over the 32-week double-blind period following the first dose of study medication. The study was conducted at 2 academic centers in the US. Participants were recruited from the community between March 12, 2014, and March 19, 2020. Adults aged 25 to 65 years with a DSM-IV diagnosis of alcohol dependence and at least 4 heavy drinking days during the 30 days prior to screening were included. Exclusion criteria included major psychiatric and drug use disorders, hallucinogen use, medical conditions that contraindicated the study medications, use of exclusionary medications, and current treatment for AUD. Interventions/UNASSIGNED:Study medications were psilocybin, 25 mg/70 kg, vs diphenhydramine, 50 mg (first session), and psilocybin, 25-40 mg/70 kg, vs diphenhydramine, 50-100 mg (second session). Psychotherapy included motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Main Outcomes and Measures/UNASSIGNED:The primary outcome was percentage of heavy drinking days, assessed using a timeline followback interview, contrasted between groups over the 32-week period following the first administration of study medication using multivariate repeated-measures analysis of variance. Results/UNASSIGNED:A total of 95 participants (mean [SD] age, 46 [12] years; 42 [44.2%] female) were randomized (49 to psilocybin and 46 to diphenhydramine). One participant (1.1%) was American Indian/Alaska Native, 5 (5.3%) were Black, 16 (16.8%) were Hispanic, and 75 (78.9%) were non-Hispanic White. Of the 95 randomized participants, 93 received at least 1 dose of study medication and were included in the primary outcome analysis. Percentage of heavy drinking days during the 32-week double-blind period was 9.7% for the psilocybin group and 23.6% for the diphenhydramine group, a mean difference of 13.9%; (95% CI, 3.0-24.7; F1,86 = 6.43; P = .01). Mean daily alcohol consumption (number of standard drinks per day) was also lower in the psilocybin group. There were no serious adverse events among participants who received psilocybin. Conclusions and Relevance/UNASSIGNED:Psilocybin administered in combination with psychotherapy produced robust decreases in percentage of heavy drinking days over and above those produced by active placebo and psychotherapy. These results provide support for further study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for AUD. Trial Registration/UNASSIGNED:ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02061293.
PMID: 36001306
ISSN: 2168-6238
CID: 5331632

If the doors of perception were cleansed, would chronic pain be relieved? Evaluating the benefits and risks of psychedelics

Dworkin, Robert H; Anderson, Brian T; Andrews, Nick; Edwards, Robert R; Grob, Charles S; Ross, Stephen; Satterthwaite, Theodore D; Strain, Eric C
Psychedelic substances have played important roles in diverse cultures, and ingesting various plant preparations to evoke altered states of consciousness has been described throughout recorded history. Accounts of the subjective effects of psychedelics typically focus on spiritual and mystical-type experiences, including feelings of unity, sacredness, and transcendence. Over the past two decades, there has been increasing interest in psychedelics as treatments for various medical disorders, including chronic pain. Although concerns about adverse medical and psychological effects contributed to their controlled status, contemporary knowledge of psychedelics suggests that risks are relatively rare when patients are carefully screened, prepared, and supervised. Clinical trial results have provided support for the effectiveness of psychedelics in different psychiatric conditions. However, there are only a small number of generally uncontrolled studies of psychedelics in patients with chronic pain (e.g., cancer pain, phantom limb pain, migraine, and cluster headache). Challenges in evaluating psychedelics as treatments for chronic pain include identifying neurobiologic and psychosocial mechanisms of action and determining which pain conditions to investigate. Truly informative proof-of-concept and confirmatory randomized clinical trials will require careful selection of control groups, efforts to minimize bias from unblinding, and attention to the roles of patient mental set and treatment setting. Perspective: There is considerable promise for the use of psychedelic therapy for pain, but evidence-based recommendations for the design of future studies are needed to ensure that the results of this research are truly informative.
PMID: 35643270
ISSN: 1528-8447
CID: 5235982

A randomized clinical trial of the effects of brief versus extended opioid overdose education on naloxone utilization outcomes by individuals with opioid use disorder

Jones, Jermaine D; Campbell, Aimee N; Brandt, Laura; Metz, Verena E; Martinez, Suky; Wall, Melanie; Corbeil, Thomas; Andrews, Howard; Castillo, Felipe; Neale, Joanne; Strang, John; Ross, Stephen; Comer, Sandra D
BACKGROUND:Overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND) trains people who use opioids (PWUO) in how to intervene in cases of opioid overdose but best practices have not been assessed empirically. METHODS:PWUO along with a significant other (SO) were randomized to one of three training conditions. In the Treatment-as-Usual (TAU) condition, participants were randomized to receive minimal overdose-related education. In the extended training (ET) condition, PWUO received an extended training, while their SO received no overdose training. In the final condition, both the participant and SO received the extended overdose training (ETwSO). Outcome measures were naloxone use and overdose knowledge and competency assessed immediately before and after training, and at 1-, 3-, 6-, and 12-month timepoints following training. RESULTS:Three hundred and twenty-one PWUO (w/ a SO) were randomized. All intensities of OD training were associated with sustained increases in OD knowledge/ competency (versus pre-training baseline p's < 0.01). PWUO intervened in 166 ODs. The 12-month incidence of naloxone use did not significantly differ between groups. Extended training (ET + ETwSO) compared to TAU resulted in significantly greater naloxone utilization by: 30 days (10.1% vs 4.1%, p = 0.041), 60 days (16.4% vs 5.2%, p<0.001) and 90 days (17.9% vs 9.5%, p = 0.039). CONCLUSIONS:All intensities of OD training were associated with sustained increases in OD knowledge and competency, and equivalent rates of successful naloxone use. More extensive training increased naloxone utilization during the first 3 months. However, the benefits of more comprehensive training should be balanced against feasibility.
PMID: 35709575
ISSN: 1879-0046
CID: 5279582

Acute and Sustained Reductions in Loss of Meaning and Suicidal Ideation Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy for Psychiatric and Existential Distress in Life-Threatening Cancer

Ross, Stephen; Agin-Liebes, Gabrielle; Lo, Sharon; Zeifman, Richard J; Ghazal, Leila; Benville, Julia; Franco Corso, Silvia; Bjerre Real, Christian; Guss, Jeffrey; Bossis, Anthony; Mennenga, Sarah E
People with advanced cancer are at heightened risk of desire for hastened death (DHD), suicidal ideation (SI), and completed suicide. Loss of Meaning (LoM), a component of demoralization, can be elevated by a cancer diagnosis and predicts DHD and SI in this population. We completed a randomized controlled trial in which psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) produced rapid and sustained improvements in depression, demoralization, and hopelessness in people with cancer. Converging epidemiologic and clinical trial findings suggests a potential antisuicidal effect of this treatment. To probe our hypothesis that PAP relieves SI through its beneficial impacts on depression and demoralization (LoM in particular), we performed secondary analyses assessing within- and between-group differences with regard to LoM and an SI composite score. Among participants with elevated SI at baseline, PAP was associated with within-group reductions in SI that were apparent as early as 8 h and persisted for 6.5 months postdosing. PAP also produced large reductions in LoM from baseline that were apparent 2 weeks after treatment and remained significant and robust at the 6.5 month and 3.2 and 4.5 year follow-ups. Exploratory analyses support our hypothesis and suggest that PAP may be an effective antisuicidal intervention following a cancer diagnosis due to its positive impact on hopelessness and demoralization and its effects on meaning-making in particular. These preliminary results implicate psilocybin treatment as a potentially effective alternative to existing antidepressant medications in patients with cancer that are also suicidal, and warrant further investigation in participants with elevated levels of depression and suicidality.
PMCID:8033770
PMID: 33860185
ISSN: 2575-9108
CID: 4846332

Psilocybin

Chapter by: Ross, Stephen; Franco, Silvia; Reiff, Collin; Agin-Liebes, Gabrielle
in: Handbook of medical hallucinogens by Grob, Charles S; Grigsby, Jim (Eds)
New York, NY : The Guilford Press, [2021]
pp. 181-214
ISBN: 1462545440
CID: 5069562

Computational Markers of Risky Decision-making for Identification of Temporal Windows of Vulnerability to Opioid Use in a Real-world Clinical Setting

Konova, Anna B; Lopez-Guzman, Silvia; Urmanche, Adelya; Ross, Stephen; Louie, Kenway; Rotrosen, John; Glimcher, Paul W
Importance/UNASSIGNED:Opioid addiction is a major public health problem. Despite availability of evidence-based treatments, relapse and dropout are common outcomes. Efforts aimed at identifying reuse risk and gaining more precise understanding of the mechanisms conferring reuse vulnerability are needed. Objective/UNASSIGNED:To use tools from computational psychiatry and decision neuroscience to identify changes in decision-making processes preceding opioid reuse. Design, Setting, and Participants/UNASSIGNED:A cohort of individuals with opioid use disorder were studied longitudinally at a community-based treatment setting for up to 7 months (1-15 sessions per person). At each session, patients completed a risky decision-making task amenable to computational modeling and standard clinical assessments. Time-lagged mixed-effects logistic regression analyses were used to assess the likelihood of opioid use between sessions (t to t + 1; within the subsequent 1-4 weeks) from data acquired at the current session (t). A cohort of control participants completed similar procedures (1-5 sessions per person), serving both as a baseline comparison group and an independent sample in which to assess measurement test-retest reliability. Data were analyzed between January 1, 2018, and September 5, 2019. Main Outcomes and Measures/UNASSIGNED:Two individual model-based behavioral markers were derived from the task completed at each session, capturing a participant's current tolerance of known risks and ambiguity (partially unknown risks). Current anxiety, craving, withdrawal, and nonadherence were assessed via interview and clinic records. Opioid use was ascertained from random urine toxicology tests and self-reports. Results/UNASSIGNED:Seventy patients (mean [SE] age, 44.7 [1.3] years; 12 women and 58 men [82.9% male]) and 55 control participants (mean [SE] age, 42.4 [1.5] years; 13 women and 42 men [76.4% male]) were included. Of the 552 sessions completed with patients (mean [SE], 7.89 [0.59] sessions per person), 252 (45.7%) directly preceded opioid use events (mean [SE], 3.60 [0.44] sessions per person). From the task parameters, only ambiguity tolerance was significantly associated with increased odds of prospective opioid use (adjusted odds ratio, 1.37 [95% CI, 1.07-1.76]), indicating patients were more tolerant specifically of ambiguous risks prior to these use events. The association of ambiguity tolerance with prospective use was independent of established clinical factors (adjusted odds ratio, 1.29 [95% CI, 1.01-1.65]; P = .04), such that a model combining these factors explained more variance in reuse risk. No significant differences in ambiguity tolerance were observed between patients and control participants, who completed 197 sessions (mean [SE], 3.58 [0.21] sessions per person); however, patients were more tolerant of known risks (B = 0.56 [95% CI, 0.05-1.07]). Conclusions and Relevance/UNASSIGNED:Computational approaches can provide mechanistic insights about the cognitive factors underlying opioid reuse vulnerability and may hold promise for clinical use.
PMID: 31812982
ISSN: 2168-6238
CID: 4233972

Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer

Agin-Liebes, Gabrielle I; Malone, Tara; Yalch, Matthew M; Mennenga, Sarah E; Ponté, K Linnae; Guss, Jeffrey; Bossis, Anthony P; Grigsby, Jim; Fischer, Stacy; Ross, Stephen
BACKGROUND/UNASSIGNED:A recently published randomized controlled trial compared single-dose psilocybin with single-dose niacin in conjunction with psychotherapy in participants with cancer-related psychiatric distress. Results suggested that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy facilitated improvements in psychiatric and existential distress, quality of life, and spiritual well-being up to seven weeks prior to the crossover. At the 6.5-month follow-up, after the crossover, 60-80% of participants continued to meet criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses. METHODS/UNASSIGNED:The present study is a long-term within-subjects follow-up analysis of self-reported symptomatology involving a subset of participants that completed the parent trial. All 16 participants who were still alive were contacted, and 15 participants agreed to participate at an average of 3.2 and 4.5 years following psilocybin administration. RESULTS/UNASSIGNED:Reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety were sustained at the first and second follow-ups. Within-group effect sizes were large. At the second (4.5 year) follow-up approximately 60-80% of participants met criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses. Participants overwhelmingly (71-100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives. CONCLUSION/UNASSIGNED:These findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy holds promise in promoting long-term relief from cancer-related psychiatric distress. Limited conclusions, however, can be drawn regarding the efficacy of this therapy due to the crossover design of the parent study. Nonetheless, the present study adds to the emerging literature base suggesting that psilocybin-facilitated therapy may enhance the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer.
PMID: 31916890
ISSN: 1461-7285
CID: 4257552

Therapeutic use of classic psychedelics to treat cancer-related psychiatric distress

Ross, Stephen
Cancer is highly prevalent and one of the leading causes of global morbidity and mortality. Psychological and existential suffering is common in cancer patients, associated with poor psychiatric and medical outcomes. Promising early-phase clinical research (1960s to early 1970s) suggested a therapeutic signal for serotoninergic psychedelics (e.g. psilocybin, LSD) in treating cancer-related psychiatric distress. After several decades of quiescence, research on psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat psychiatric disorders in cancer patients has resumed within the last 2 decades in the US and Europe. This review article is based on a systematic search of clinical trials from 1960-2018 researching the therapeutic use of psychedelic treatment in patients with serious or terminal illnesses and related psychiatric illness. The search found 10 eligible clinical trials, with a total of 445 participants, with the vast majority of the patients having advanced or terminal cancer diagnoses. Six open label trials, published between 1964 and 1980 (n = 341), suggested that psychedelic therapy (mostly with LSD) may improve cancer-related depression, anxiety, and fear of death. Four RCTs trials were published between 2011 and 2016 (n = 104), mostly with psilocybin treatment (n = 92), and demonstrated that psychedelic-assisted treatment can produce rapid, robust, and sustained improvements in cancer-related psychological and existential distress.
PMID: 30102082
ISSN: 1369-1627
CID: 3241222