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Journal: Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England)


Cannabis exposure, particularly heavy cannabis use, has been associated with neuroanatomical alterations in regions rich with cannabinoid receptors such as the hippocampus in some but not in other (mainly cross-sectional) studies. However, it remains unclear whether continued heavy cannabis use alters hippocampal volume, and whether an earlier age of onset and/or a higher dosage exacerbate these changes.

Concepts: Brain, Cross-sectional study, Sociology, Hippocampus, Cannabinoid receptor, Cannabis, Cannabidiol


There is much debate about the impact of adolescent cannabis use on intellectual and educational outcomes. We investigated associations between adolescent cannabis use and IQ and educational attainment in a sample of 2235 teenagers from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. By the age of 15, 24% reported having tried cannabis at least once. A series of nested linear regressions was employed, adjusted hierarchically by pre-exposure ability and potential confounds (e.g. cigarette and alcohol use, childhood mental-health symptoms and behavioural problems), to test the relationships between cumulative cannabis use and IQ at the age of 15 and educational performance at the age of 16. After full adjustment, those who had used cannabis ⩾50 times did not differ from never-users on either IQ or educational performance. Adjusting for group differences in cigarette smoking dramatically attenuated the associations between cannabis use and both outcomes, and further analyses demonstrated robust associations between cigarette use and educational outcomes, even with cannabis users excluded. These findings suggest that adolescent cannabis use is not associated with IQ or educational performance once adjustment is made for potential confounds, in particular adolescent cigarette use. Modest cannabis use in teenagers may have less cognitive impact than epidemiological surveys of older cohorts have previously suggested.

Concepts: Psychology, Cohort study, Longitudinal study, Epidemiology, Smoking, Tobacco smoking, Educational psychology, Adolescence


Clinically significant anxiety and depression are common in patients with cancer, and are associated with poor psychiatric and medical outcomes. Historical and recent research suggests a role for psilocybin to treat cancer-related anxiety and depression.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Disease, Randomized controlled trial, Symptoms, Illness, Doctor-patient relationship, Fatigue, Psychiatry


Cancer patients often develop chronic, clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Previous studies suggest that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients. The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial investigated the effects of a very low (placebo-like) dose (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) vs. a high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin administered in counterbalanced sequence with 5 weeks between sessions and a 6-month follow-up. Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviors throughout the study. High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety. Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with >80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction. Community observer ratings showed corresponding changes. Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes.

Concepts: Psychology, Symptoms, Illness, Meaning of life, Fatigue, Bipolar disorder


We report follow-up data evaluating the long-term outcomes for the first completed trial of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for chronic, treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Mithoefer et al., 2011). All of the 19 subjects who received MDMA-assisted treatment in the original trial participated in the long-term follow-up (LTFU), with 16 out of 19 completing all of the long-term outcome measures, which were administered from 17 to 74 months after the original study’s final MDMA session (mean = 45.4; SD = 17.3). Our primary outcome measure used was the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). Secondary outcome measures were the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R) and the Neuroticism Extroversion Oppenness Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R) Personality Inventory. We also collected a long-term follow-up questionnaire. Results for the 16 CAPS completers showed there were no statistical differences between mean CAPS score at LTFU (mean = 23.7; SD = 22.8) (t(matched) = 0.1; df = 15, p = 0.91) and the mean CAPS score previously obtained at Study Exit (mean = 24.6, SD = 18.6). On average, subjects maintained statistically and clinically-significant gains in symptom relief, although two of these subjects did relapse. It was promising that we found the majority of these subjects with previously severe PTSD who were unresponsive to existing treatments had symptomatic relief provided by MDMA-assisted psychotherapy that persisted over time, with no subjects reporting harm from participation in the study.

Concepts: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Posttraumatic stress disorder


Acute and enduring adverse effects of psilocybin have been reported anecdotally, but have not been well characterized. For this study, 1993 individuals (mean age 30 yrs; 78% male) completed an online survey about their single most psychologically difficult or challenging experience (worst “bad trip”) after consuming psilocybin mushrooms. Thirty-nine percent rated it among the top five most challenging experiences of his/her lifetime. Eleven percent put self or others at risk of physical harm; factors increasing the likelihood of risk included estimated dose, duration and difficulty of the experience, and absence of physical comfort and social support. Of the respondents, 2.6% behaved in a physically aggressive or violent manner and 2.7% received medical help. Of those whose experience occurred >1 year before, 7.6% sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms. Three cases appeared associated with onset of enduring psychotic symptoms and three cases with attempted suicide. Multiple regression analysis showed degree of difficulty was positively associated, and duration was negatively associated, with enduring increases in well-being. Difficulty of experience was positively associated with dose. Despite difficulties, 84% endorsed benefiting from the experience. The incidence of risky behavior or enduring psychological distress is extremely low when psilocybin is given in laboratory studies to screened, prepared, and supported participants.

Concepts: Psychology, Regression analysis, Statistics, Sociology, Philosophy of science, Psychosis, Psilocybin mushrooms, Psilocybin


Our group and others internationally have previously reported data on the use of low-dose flumazenil administered intravenously for the management of benzodiazepine withdrawal. This paper describes the first reported use of subcutaneous flumazenil infusion in the management of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and psychological state and anxiety sequelae were collected at baseline and then at intervals to 5 days following initiation of subcutaneous flumazenil infusion. Data indicate that patient subjective benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms were well managed, with significant reduction in psychological distress seen over the duration of treatment. Perceived difficulty in performing everyday functions was positively correlated with withdrawal severity and improved over treatment. Patients reported high treatment comfort, willingness to undertake a future subsequent treatment using this technique, and willingness to recommend this treatment to a friend. This small proof-of-concept study indicates that subcutaneous flumazenil infusion has excellent tolerability, efficacy and improvement on measures of psychological distress. Given this technique is less invasive and requires fewer staff resources compared with intravenous administration, it may prove a significant asset in the management of benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Concepts: Intravenous therapy, Psychosis, Physical dependence, Withdrawal, Benzodiazepine, Delirium tremens, Alcohol withdrawal syndrome, Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome


When abstinence is an appropriate goal, controlled studies and systematic reviews confirm that rapid, antagonist-precipitated opiate withdrawal procedures are the most effective and cost effective methods of initiating abstinence, and naltrexone (NTX) maintenance. While ‘rapid’ withdrawal, better conceptualised as Rapid Antagonist Induction (RAI), can often be humanely achieved with modest sedation levels, we present three case histories to support our argument that for some patients, general anaesthesia (GA), or techniques of intravenous sedation (IVS) that approach GA, are essential for safety and success. This includes patients with intercurrent disease (e.g. epilepsy or insulin-dependent diabetes) but also those with severe withdrawal phobia after previous distressing experiences. We discuss the history of the procedure. The dangers of RAI under GA or IVS in experienced hands have been exaggerated and the appropriate expertise should be more easily available. Patients and clinicians readily accept risks of major surgery for the excessive intake of food that causes most obesity. Similar risk-acceptance exists in cosmetic surgery and obstetrics. The increasing use and effectiveness of long-acting implants or depot-injections of NTX for relapse-prevention have largely solved compliance problems that undermined the potential of oral NTX. Their ability to prevent opiate overdose in abstinent, non-tolerant patients also strengthens arguments both for offering RAI as a therapeutic option and for reducing psychological, professional and practical barriers to using it.

Concepts: Diabetes mellitus, Hospital, Surgery, Anesthesia, Human sexuality, Logic, Sedation, Etomidate


Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5-Is) improve cognitive performance of rodents, but the few human studies investigating their effects did not systematically investigate cognitive effects and the results have been quite contradictory. Therefore, we examined whether the PDE5-I vardenafil improves memory and executive functioning and affect electroencephalography (EEG) in healthy young adults. Participants were selected out of a group of volunteers, based on their performance on a memory screening and they were orally treated with vardenafil (10-20 mg or placebo). Memory and executive functioning were tested while EEG activity was recorded. Additionally, a simple reaction time task and questionnaires addressing various complaints were presented. No prominent effects of vardenafil on cognition were found: participants only made more mistakes on a reaction time task after 20 mg vardenafil. During encoding of words, the P300 was generally smaller after vardenafil treatment. Furthermore, the N400 was larger after vardenafil 10 mg than placebo treatment in a spatial memory task at Fz. Finally, headache and feeling weak were reported more after vardenafil treatment. Vardenafil did not affect cognitive performance of healthy adults and showed only some incidental effects on ERPs. These findings in humans do not corroborate the cognition-enhancing effects of PDE5-Is in healthy animals.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognitive psychology, Neuroscience, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive science, Electroencephalography


The ability to match individual patients to tailored treatments has the potential to greatly improve outcomes for individuals suffering from major depression. In particular, while the vast majority of antidepressant treatments affect either serotonin or noradrenaline or a combination of these two neurotransmitters, it is not known whether there are particular patients or symptom profiles which respond preferentially to the potentiation of serotonin over noradrenaline or vice versa. Experimental medicine models suggest that the primary mode of action of these treatments may be to remediate negative biases in emotional processing. Such models may provide a useful framework for interrogating the specific actions of antidepressants. Here, we therefore review evidence from studies examining the effects of drugs which potentiate serotonin, noradrenaline or a combination of both neurotransmitters on emotional processing. These results suggest that antidepressants targeting serotonin and noradrenaline may have some specific actions on emotion and reward processing which could be used to improve tailoring of treatment or to understand the effects of dual-reuptake inhibition. Specifically, serotonin may be particularly important in alleviating distress symptoms, while noradrenaline may be especially relevant to anhedonia. The data reviewed here also suggest that noradrenergic-based treatments may have earlier effects on emotional memory that those which affect serotonin.

Concepts: Serotonin, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Emotion, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Sertraline, Tricyclic antidepressant