On Thursday, Aug. 27, Vail Symposium welcomed Kevin Matthews and Dr. Matthew Johnson to talk about psilocybin as therapy. Here are the key takeaways from Programs Manager, Claire Noble.
- Kevin Matthews, executive director of SPORE (Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education), began the program by discussing his personal struggle with depression that was alleviated through psilocybin use. He became involved with the effort to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver beginning in 2018. The measure narrowly passed in May 2019.
Professor Matthew Johnson of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine initially spoke generally about psilocybin–that it is found in more than 200 species of fungi, that “classic” psychedelics affect serotonin receptors in the brain and include psilocybin, LSD and Ayahuasca.
- The professor pointed out that psilocybin was intensively studies from the 1940s until about 1970. It was shown at that time to help those with alcohol addiction. However, by 1970 these drugs were classified as Schedule I and made illegal. This was due to their association with the counterculture and the particularly high dosages available on the street despite a high safety record in the lab.
- After a long period Professor Johnson called the “Dark Ages,” psychedelics are getting a second look and research has increased since 2000, but especially in the last 10 years.
- Professor Johnson addressed the potential downside or danger of administering psilocybin. It is not recommended for anyone with a history of psychotic disorders or those with elevated blood pressure. Negative side effects include headaches and persisting perceptual changes. Data suggests that psilocybin is not addictive and does not result in compulsive drug-seeking.
- Promising clinical studies include significant alleviation of distress from cancer diagnosis and depressive or anxiety disorder. Follow-up examinations showed study participants in the non-clinical symptom range.
- Professor Johnson also shared the tremendous success of the trial where psilocybin was used to treat nicotine addiction and after 12 months 80 percent of study participants remained nicotine-free. (This compares to a nicotine-free rate of 27 percent for those who were given the patch.)
- How does it work? Professor Johnson coined the phrase, “The Dope Slap Effect.” He speculates that psilocybin opens a window of mental flexibility in which people can let go of the mental models they use to organize reality.” For people who are stuck or perseverating, it can “unstick” them.
- Some positive effects noted are that psilocybin use can increase empathy, compassion and creativity.
- Dosages – 30 mg is a high dose, also called a “heroic” dose. This equates to about 5 dried grams of actual mushrooms.
- Research into psilocybin is widespread, but the institutions most active include Johns Hopkins, Imperial College London, and the University of Zurich.