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Overview of “Pilot” Psychedelic Studies: Issue #1

Overview of “Pilot” Psychedelic Studies: Issue № 1

Not all studies are created equally scientific. No, I’m not talking about errors or deliberate falsification. Before diving headfirst into work on large-scale experiments, scientists test their hypotheses “with little risk.” That means without strictly adhering to the principles of RCT (Randomized Controlled Trials), without a huge sample size, and often on laboratory mice rather than humans. The accuracy of such studies is lower, but it’s enough to convince grant providers to sponsor full-fledged research. By studying these “pilot” investigations, we can find out today what will become sensational tomorrow. And also ponder why some promising experiments never find financial support.

I have collected four such studies. Each of them reveals the potential of psychedelics from a side we are not yet familiar with.

Psilocybin, LSD, and Domestic Violence

This problem is more serious than it appears. For example, according to official data, husbands and cohabitants annually kill between 200 and 400 Russian women. Public organizations quote another figure—up to 14,000. Many of these crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Michelle Thiessen and Zach Walsh from the University of British Columbia, located in Vancouver, decided to check if psychedelics are a catalyst for domestic violence. After all, why else would they be legally equated to drugs in many countries?

The scientists surveyed 1,266 volunteers and found that men who had taken psilocybin mushrooms or LSD at least once in their lives reported half as often that they had ever raised their hand against their significant other. It turned out that they have much fewer difficulties in controlling negative emotions. Probably, this is the reason: psychedelics teach love and tranquility.

Psychedelics and a Difficult Childhood

According to UNICEF, every 5 minutes, 1 child in the world dies from family violence. WHO asserts that every tenth man and every fifth woman were raped by parents or guardians in childhood. Even in well-off families, children face physical and emotional violence, which does not always lead to post-traumatic stress disorder but leaves deep scars in the psyche. Karl Hillie, Kelly Lee, and Wendy Andrea from the New School in New York decided to check if psychedelics are effective in working through this problematic experience.

They surveyed 166 adults who had experienced cruel treatment in childhood. The scientists didn’t take the participants’ word for it and conducted psychological tests. It turned out that 93% scored high on at least one of the scales of cruel treatment (physical, emotional, or sexual violence, physical or emotional neglect). Meanwhile, 31% of participants had used DMT, mescaline, or psilocybin for therapeutic purposes at least once. Scientists discovered that such respondents cope better with childhood traumas. They have far fewer problems with self-esteem, socialization (including relationship building), and self-organization. The best results were shown by those who had taken psychedelics more than five times.

Psilocybin as a Migraine Remedy

Among fans of psychedelic enlightenment, there have been rumors for decades that very small doses of “magic mushrooms,” incapable of causing a psychedelic trip, help with migraines. In 2021, a group of scientists from the Yale School of Medicine, led by Emmanuelle Schindler, finally tested this. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, 7 women and 3 men suffering from frequent migraines participated. Each received both a “dummy” and a capsule with a small dose of psilocybin — a total of 2 doses with a 2-week pause. For an entire month, participants documented their feelings.

It turned out that the disease, which affects 20% of the world’s population, retreats under the influence of psilocybin. The study showed significant symptom relief compared to placebo. Moreover, a single capsule is sufficient for a long-term effect. About 6 years earlier, Schindler and her colleagues had already proven the effectiveness of psilocybin mushrooms in cluster headaches. In a large-scale study involving 496 volunteers, the scientists concluded that psychedelics deal with cluster pains better than traditional medicines, but the treatment protocols have not yet been updated.

New Hope for Color Blindness

I have always thought that the phrase “psychedelics help you see the world with different eyes” was just a beautiful metaphor. A group of scientists from Cambridge University, led by Jack Anthony, apparently took it literally and decided to check whether such substances alleviate the symptoms of color blindness. They surveyed 47 people with color blindness who had experience with psilocybin, DMT, or mescaline.

23 respondents claimed that color blindness did indeed retreat for a period ranging from 3 days to several years. The other 24, alas, felt no changes. The scientists are at a loss as to the mechanism by which psychedelics affect the ability to distinguish colors. The most plausible version is that the cause of color blindness may lie not only in the lack of light-sensitive receptors (called cones) in the retina of the eye but also in the absence of necessary neural connections in the brain. Psychedelics, however, increase neural plasticity and can create new connections between areas of the cerebral cortex.

In Conclusion

“We were born too late to explore the Earth, and too early to explore space,” said Carl Sagan. I’ll add: just in time to explore the vast potential of psychedelics. I have no doubt that most great discoveries in this field are still ahead. So that my readers can learn about them before anyone else, I will likely make a review of “pilot” studies a regular feature of this blog.