Is an immersive psychedelic experience itself is required for therapeutic benefits? Or do alternative approaches such as “tripless” psychedelics could offer greater healing potential?
Discovering Relief From Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are excruciating pain that feel like hot knives being thrust into your brain. Although only 1 out of every 1000 people experience these excruciating episodes, those living with cluster headaches find them an unbearable burden – yet what if there was an unexpected solution hidden within psychedelics to this agonizing discomfort?
Torsten Passie, a professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at Hannover Medical School in Germany, conducted a groundbreaking study. Together with his colleagues he explored whether LSD and psilocybin could offer relief from cluster headaches; to their utter surprise they discovered significant relief was provided by these substances.
Harvard Connection and New Approach
Conducting research on psychedelics proved no simple task at an esteemed institution like Harvard. Timothy Leary’s controversial experiments had seen him expelled from Harvard in the 1960s for their unorthodox practices, prompting Harvard administrators to be wary of any new group attempting psychedelic research on campus.
Torsten Passie proposed a novel approach to ease their concerns: using 2-Bromo-LSD, an inactive LSD placebo developed by Albert Hofmann during the 1950s as a hallucinogen-free solution that still showed promise in relieving cluster headaches despite not producing hallucinogen effects, even outperforming LSD itself and opening up more investigation.
Psychoplastogens: the Rise of Psychoplastic drugs
This breakthrough has led to a greater exploration of psychedelics without experiencing their full effect. Researchers are beginning to focus on compounds known as “psychoplastogens” — substances designed to create structural changes within the prefrontal cortex region, which plays an integral role in neuropsychiatric conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction.
David Olson, a chemist and director of the Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics at University of California Davis, has long been at the forefront of this research. He believes that developing nonhallucinogenic psychedelics is necessary to effectively address neuropsychiatric illnesses that impact millions worldwide; traditional psychedelic-assisted therapy with its complexity and expense cannot provide a suitable scalable solution.
Debate of “To Trip or Not to Trip”
Torsten Passie believes the experience itself must be integral for therapeutic effects to be realized; otherwise, tripless psychedelics would simply become hype.
David Olson and proponents of psychoplastogens see tripless psychedelics as having great potential to promote neural growth while eliminating the need for guided therapeutic trips, making these medicines more accessible to a broader population.
Understanding Learning and Context
Gul Dolen of Johns Hopkins University provides one reason against the tripless approach by emphasizing learning’s role in psychedelic therapy; according to her research, these drugs reopen key periods in the brain, helping individuals adapt and learn, thus creating long-lasting effects.
Gul’s work suggests that context and therapy play a pivotal role in producing transformational experiences from taking psychoplastogens; his perspective challenges the notion that psychoplasticogens alone can produce transformative experiences seen during clinical trials with traditional psychedelics.
The debate surrounding whether psychedelic trips are essential for healing or whether “tripless” approaches can also be successful is far from resolved. While in certain instances (for instance cluster headaches) psychedelics without trips may suffice; others (notably neuropsychiatric issues) may require both.
Researchers’ ongoing investigation of psychedelic science promises further insights and, hopefully, innovative treatments. As researchers work to untangle the intricate relationship between psychedelics and healing, we should expect further discoveries over time. In our final installment of this series we’ll take a look at some dream experiments being planned by psychedelic researchers for future pursuit. Stay tuned for more fascinating revelations from this field of psychedelic science!