In the last decade, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have launched new studies investigating whether psychedelic drugs, from shrooms to LSD to DMT, can treat mental disorders ranging from depression and PTSD to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Vox reporters German Lopez and Javier Zarracina surveyed the state of medical research on hallucinogens:
In a recent study, British researchers used brain imaging techniques to gauge how the brain looks on LSD versus a placebo. They found big differences between LSD and the placebo, with the images of the brain on LSD showing much more connectivity between different sections of the mind.
This can help explain visual hallucinations, because it means various parts of the brain — not just the visual cortex at the back of the mind — are communicating during an LSD trip.
This, researchers argued, may show not just why psychedelic drugs trigger hallucinogenic experiences but also why they may be able to help people. "In many psychiatric disorders, the brain may be viewed as having become entrenched in pathology, such that core behaviors become automated and rigid," the researchers wrote. "Consistent with their ‘entropic’ effect on cortical activity, psychedelics may work to break down such disorders by dismantling the patterns of activity on which they rest."
"The fascinating, strange medical potential of psychedelic drugs, explained in 50+ studies" (Vox)
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Sarah Kurchak, a personal trainer who has experienced clinical depression, offers the most humane advice for using exercise you're likely to find. Read the rest
Nature Magazine reports that researchers from Imperial College London gave psilocybin to 12 people with depression. All the patients showed "a marked improvement in their symptoms."
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Researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms. All had been clinically depressed for a significant amount of time — on average 17.8 years. None of the patients had responded to standard medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy.
One week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, all patients experienced a marked improvement in their symptoms. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission.
“That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and first author of the latest study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
The equivalent remission rate for SSRIs is around 20%.
In 2014, Allie Brosh's outstanding, hilarious, and gut-wrenching webcomic Hyperbole and a Half made the jump to print with an incredible book (review); now Simon and Schuster have announced a followup, Solutions and Other Problems, to be published next October -- I just pre-ordered my copy! (via Wil Wheaton) Read the rest
Bill Barnwell topped the scales at 334.7 pounds on January 1, 2105. This year, he's a little over 200. In this essay he writes about his depression, body image, compulsive eating, and what he did about it. Barnwell describes his compulsive eating as "the fear of missing out."
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My compulsive eating had little to do with hunger and was almost never enjoyable. Instead, it was like trying to chase a vague, indefinable comfort, some satisfaction that never arrived — or even could arrive. It was the fear of missing out, but for food and constantly. I would struggle to pick between two fast food places and just stop at each of their drive-thrus, hiding the soda cup and the wrappers from the first one so the second cashier wouldn’t see, because being caught in my embarrassing act was somehow more shamefug than the actual behavior I was committing. The idea of just waiting for another day just wasn’t realistic to me; I absolutely, compulsively had to get that sandwich from Wendy’s. The act of ordering the food, of making the conscious choice to indulge, was far more important than eating the stupid thing.
Researchers examining a possible link between antidepressants and autism found that women who took the psychiatric medications while pregnant were far more likely to have autistic kids.
Women in the study who took antidepressants during the last six months of pregnancy were 87% more likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism. Researchers say the link was most prevalent with women on the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are some of the more common SSRI drug brand names.
Does the new study prove antidepressants cause autism? No. Correlation is not causation, and science is complicated. But increasingly, autism research is focusing on factors that may contribute to the disorder before birth.
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No one's sure how the story of suicides increasing during holiday season got started (some researchers think it may have come from It's a Wonderful Life!), but it's not true. Read the rest
PUMP, or Problematic Use of Mobile Phone, happens when users turn to their phones instead of in-person contact to alleviate depression, according to a new study in Computers in Human Behavior. Read the rest
In a heartfelt and frank interview (conducted by our own Caroline Siede!), Wil Wheaton discusses the moment he realized he needed help with his clinical depression, and the moment he realized that the help was helping. Read the rest
Just because you're a Type A, "fully invested in the classic American self-image of independence and grit," don't think you couldn't use some help. Read the rest
Ketamine, a tranquilizer/anesthetic and recreational drug, can relieve symptoms of depression for up to a couple of weeks, writes psychiatrist Emily Deans.
In a recent paper, researchers described how they used a noncompetitive inhibitor of the NMDA receptor and partial dopamine receptor agonist, ketamine to rapidly reverse the symptoms of anhedonia in depressed patients. Ketamine has been featured on CBS news for its ability to quickly relieve depression unlike any other pharmacologic agent we have. It is typically used intravenously, and can cause hallucinations and dissociation (in fact it is also known as the club drug “Special K"). However, it seems to be able to reverse damage to the synapses caused by chronic stress, and relieve the symptoms of depression very quickly, within 30-40 minutes.
The down side to ketamine (besides lack of FDA approval for depression, the hallucinations, and lack of general availability) is that the effects don’t last. If you are lucky, you get a couple of weeks, then the depression comes back. Researchers and doctors, however, are hoping ketamine could be used as a bridging agent in seriously depressed, hospitalized patients, allowing them to feel better immediately while other, longer acting but much slower onset agents have a chance to get into the system and do their work. The immediate reversal of the key symptom of anhedonia [inability to experience pleasure] may be an even more important lesson we can learn from the use of ketamine.
The Ketamine Key: The horse tranquilizer helps depressed patients experience pleasure again Read the rest
"I'm sure most of you have heard the story of the man who, desperately ill, goes to an analyst and tells the doctor that he has lost his desire to live and that he is seriously considering suicide. Read the rest
The first of four studies on a poorly-understood link between sleep quality and depression indicates that when antidepressant medication and insomnia therapy are used together, recovery from depression is more thorough, and faster. (Thanks, Miles O'Brien) Read the rest
Some kinds of antidepressants might pose a risk to embryos and fetuses at certain stages in their development. But depression in the mother also puts fetuses at risk, so whether or not a pregnant woman should take antidepressants is still a really complicated question. The answer depends a lot of individual experience of depressive symptoms, which drugs are taken, and when. As with most things relating to pregnancy and health, there's not a solid one-size-fits-all answer and individuals still have to weigh risks and make hard choices alone. Read the rest
Miss Cakehead writes, "The Depressed Cake Shop will be like nothing ever seen before as it will sell ONLY grey coloured cakes. Raising money for mental health charities, it will also provide a platform for discussion of the illness. The pop up is based in the UK but with other events starting to be planned around the globe."
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The amazing and wonderful Hyperbole and a Half is back, with the long-overdue continuation of the 2011 post on depression. This isn't an entirely upbeat post (as you might expect), but it is every bit as indispensable and smart and great as the previous entries. And it's an ultimately hopeful one, too.
And that's the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn't always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn't even something — it's nothing. And you can't combat nothing. You can't fill it up. You can't cover it. It's just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.
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