Psychological therapies | Montreal is advancing in narcotic drugs

Popular in the 1960s, the idea that psychedelic drugs could support psychological treatments has been enjoying a renaissance over the past decade. Two studies have been published in Montreal on this topic.

Posted on April 24

Mathieu Perrault

Mathieu Perrault

small doses

Small doses of LSD for seven days have an effect similar to some antidepressants. This is the result of a study conducted by McGill University Health Center, which is the first study to confirm the biological mechanism of the beneficial effect of LSD. “We have shown that neurons affected by LSD are indeed involved in the serotonin cycle, and that LSD promotes the formation of connections between neurons,” explains Gabriella Jobe, of the Research Institute at MUHC. I co-signed the study, which was published in mid-March in the journal Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience.

“I started getting interested in psychedelics about ten years ago, after a seminar on Neuroscience and Spirituality,” says the Montreal psychiatrist. Serotonin is a neuromodulator that enhances communication between nerve cells. It is targeted by many antidepressants.

Meanwhile, higher doses of LSD have an effect on the dopamine system, a study conducted by Dr.Dr Joby. Dopamine is another molecule involved in communication between nerve cells, this time targeted by antipsychotics. All of this work was done on a genetically modified mouse used in studies on stress and depression.


If psychedelic drugs are ever used to treat depression, they likely serve as an adjunct to increasing the effectiveness of psychological treatments, according to Dr.Dr Joby.

Photo by Robert Skinner, press archives

Gabriella Joby, MD, researcher in the Research Institute at MUHC, and professor and chair of the neurobiological psychiatry unit in the McGill University Department of Psychiatry.

The brain becomes more “spiritual,” more empathetic, and more “transcendent.” It facilitates treatments aimed at modifying the meaning a person gives to his pain, so that that pain does not drown him in depression, but in empathy.

Gabriella Joby, a researcher in the Research Institute at MUHC, and Professor and Head of the Neurobiological Psychiatry Unit in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University

“Last year, our other studies showed that small doses of LSD enhance social behavior, which also has an impact on psychotherapy,” the researcher continues. A few years ago, a study showed that LSD reduces anxiety in patients at the end of life. Anxiety is a significant obstacle in efforts to change our perspective on our lives with psychotherapy. »

Testimonials – Recommendations

Image from McGill University’s website

Danilo Pezdock, Research Fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Associate Professor at McGill University

Another McGill group that recently published on psychedelics used artificial intelligence to analyze written testimonies from people who had taken one of these drugs. “Drug studies often struggle to involve small groups of humans or are conducted on animals,” explains the lead author of the study, which was published in mid-March in the journal. science progressDanilo Pezdok of the Montreal Neurological Institute.

“By analyzing these 6,850 testimonials using artificial intelligence, we were able to identify words related to specific areas of the brain and learn how psychedelic agents affect the brain. Then, we can use this information to search for new drugs. Among the 27 agents studied. LSD and mescaline were compounds from hallucinogenic mushrooms.

human studies

The next step is a large-scale human clinical trial. Dr. says.Dr Joby. There are a lot of hurdles with LSD: Funding, Health Canada allows us to get the substance in the hospital to administer to humans. Until then, we continue with the animal, in particular comparing LSD and other cannabinoids, such as ketamine. »

Recreational Potions


LSD dryers

How do small doses compare to “recreational” ones? Dr. says.Dr Joby. There have been very few human studies on exact doses. A small clinical trial has just shown that there is no effect, but this is preliminary and contradicts other findings. The end-of-life anxiety study included full doses of LSD. The latest study on small doses, published in February in the journal The biology of addiction by psychiatrists at the University of Chicago, at doses ten times lower than recreational doses.


Photo archive journalism

Sigmund Freud

Could LSD make it possible to circumvent dichotomy, a psychological phenomenon in which a patient prevents himself from thinking about some painful question? Dr. said.Dr Joby. In the 1960s, psychoanalysts used psychedelic drugs to eliminate hindrances in psychotherapy. The idea is that the patient is able to see himself from the outside, in a state of detachment, and thus think about those painful questions that cannot be approached directly. The term “division” was used in particular by Sigmund Freud.

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  • 3.8%
    Percentage of the world’s population affected by depression

    Source: World Health Organization

    Percentage of the world’s adult population affected by depression

    Source: World Health Organization

  • 5.7%
    Percentage of the world’s population over the age of 60 with depression

    Source: World Health Organization

    Percentage of American adults (21-64) who have ever used a hallucinogen

    Source: F1000RESEARCH

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