The debate around the use of psychedelic substances is especially intense with a popular argument in favor of their use to alleviate depression and anxiety. However, the observations made by a new study may have opened up some new avenues to consider. The single-arm study found that the placebo effect in psychedelics, especially in the right settings, maybe stronger than previously reported.
Single-arm studies refer to any research which gives the same treatment to all participants. In this case, involved 33 participants were all observed for effects for placebo instead of psychedelic drugs. They were placed in a set-up resembling a psychedelic party, with elements such as research assistants in lab coats, psychiatrists, security guards, to fulfill the illusion. Observed for four hours in the room, the participants were expecting to be a part of a study which observed the effects of drugs on creativity.
While everyone was given a placebo, they were under the impression that they are consuming an active ingredient derived from psychedelic mushrooms. The crowd was also interspersed with actors who were supposed to act out the effects of such drugs. When asked about their experience with the ‘drug’, about 61% of the participants reported a range of effects, from mild to high.
“The study reinforces the power of context in psychedelic settings. With the recent re-emergence of psychedelic therapy for disorders such as depression and anxiety, clinicians may be able to leverage these contextual factors to obtain similar therapeutic experiences from lower doses, which would further improve the safety of the drugs,” said Jay Olson, a Ph.D. candidate in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry and the lead author on the research paper.
The study notes that knowing the context and expectations shape placebo psychedelic effects, researchers can isolate drug effects to help clinicians to maximize therapeutic potential. The results of this study have been published in the Psychopharmacology journal.