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Last Updated: 12.06.23

Dr. Robin Carhart-​​Harris: The Science of Psychedelics for Mental Health

Huberman engages in a conversation with Dr. Robin Carhart-​​Harris about the transformative potential of psychedelics in treating mental health disorders and their effects on brain plasticity. They discuss safe psychedelic journeys, therapist support, and the legal landscape surrounding psychedelic therapies. This episode offers valuable insights for those interested in neuroscience, psychology, and the evolving field of psychedelic medicine.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Haris

  • Leading researcher in the field of psychedelics and their effects on neural circuitry
  • Studies how psychedelics like psilocybin (magic mushrooms) change neural circuitry for learning and new ideas
  • Explores the use of psychedelics for mental health, creativity, intelligence, and more

Etymology: “Psyche” (Ancient Greek for human mind or soul) + “delic” (to make clear, visible, manifest, or reveal)

  • Psychedelics reveal aspects of the human mind/​​soul that are not ordinarily visible

Classic psychedelics work on the serotonin 2A receptor in the brain

  • Pharmacology is important, but subjective experience (phenomenology) cannot be neglected

Psychedelics can reveal something about the mind that can’t be revealed otherwise

  • Personal unconscious: repressed memories, traumatic experiences, difficult relationships
  • Collective unconscious: transpersonal aspects of the human mind

Classic psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin can bring up repressed material in psychotherapy

  • Emotional release and insights can catalyze the therapeutic process

Microdosing: taking a sub-​​perceptible dose of a psychedelic, typically LSD or psilocybin

  • May improve well-​​being and aspects of cognition, but evidence is still thin

Macrodosing: taking a perceptible dose of a psychedelic, inducing altered states of consciousness.

Clinical trials show promising results in treating depression with psilocybin

  • Two sessions with doses ranging from 10 to 25 milligrams
  • Data suggests that the magnitude of certain experiences predicts therapeutic outcomes

Psychedelic Therapy Sessions

  • Patients typically wear an eye mask, with eyes closed
  • Music is a staple component in all published studies 
    • Starts spacious, builds and becomes atmospheric, then coaxes emotion

Letting go is a key principle in psychedelic therapy

  • Encourages patients to trust, let go, and be open

Trust is essential for therapeutic rapport

  • Measured on the morning of dosing, predicts quality of experience and therapeutic outcomes

Early phase dominated by negative emotions and anxiety

  • Struggle against the general drug effects
  • Fear of losing one’s mind or dying

Latter phase often more positive

  • Possibly due to breakthroughs or calmer states

Increased global functional connectivity or communication in the brain on psychedelics

  • Communication transcends modules and becomes more intermodular
  • Effect correlates with the magnitude of the subjective effect
  • Activation of serotonin 2A receptor thought to be responsible for increased communication

Movement to develop drugs that alleviate symptoms of depression or trauma without hallucinations

  • Based on understanding of how psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA work
  • Controversial as it removes the subjective experience aspect of traditional psychedelics

Skepticism about microdosing due to lack of compelling logic and potential wishful thinking

  • No clear examples of drugs that selectively agonize serotonin 2A receptor without being psychedelic

Increased connectivity between brain areas observed during and after psychedelic experiences

  • Suggests a more flexible mode of brain functioning

Therapeutic value in being able to move along the continuum from linear to nonlinear thinking

  • Severe mental illness like depression may involve getting stuck at one location on this continuum

First-​​Time Psychedelic Use Trial on Well-Being

  • Completed, but not yet published or submitted
  • Aim: to understand the effects of first-​​time psychedelic use on well-​​being and other psychological variables.
  • Participants were healthy and received single dose of psilocybin and integration sessions

Results from study of First-​​Time Psychedelic Use Trial on Well-​​Being showed significant improvements in well-​​being, even in healthy individuals without depression or other mental health issues

  • Suggests that psychedelics may have potential benefits for a wider population, not just those with mental health disorders

Some people self-​​administer combination psilocybin and MDMA

  • Psilocybin can lead to deep introspection and darker thoughts
  • MDMA has a serotonergic and dopaminergic effect, providing balance
  • No current studies or trials on this combination, requires further research

Psilocybin can take patients to deep places, but can be aggressive

  • May not be suitable for PTSD patients who may resist the experience

MDMA offers a more positive and reliable experience

  • Can make it easier for patients to confront trauma without being overwhelmed
  • Limitation: may not take patients as deep as classic psychedelics

DMT: a classic psychedelic, direct agonist of the serotonin 2A receptor

  • Less potent than psilocybin, but can produce wild effects at standard doses
  • Often smoked or vaped, both recreationally and therapeutically

5‑MeO-​​DMT: similar to DMT in kinetics, but different pharmacologically and subjectively

  • More reliable ego dissolution experience, less visual
  • Also smoked or vaped

Ego dissolution: temporary elimination of the idea that things stop and start between us and everything else

  • Can lead to a sense of belonging, meaning, and understanding that we are not as important as we think

Serotonin 2A activation can cause ego dissolution

  • Boundaries between self and others blur, leading to a sense of connection and unity

Psychedelics can help people access empathy for themselves and others.

Ego dissolution effects don’t last; ego can come back with a vengeance

  • People may relapse if they haven’t done integration work

Recreational, open market, black market: caution for fentanyl-​​laced substances.

MDMA therapy for post-​​traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Phase 3 trials led by Maps
  • 67% remission rates, long-​​term effects
  • Possible rollout as early as next year
  • Maps may become the provider, possibly as a pharma company

Psilocybin therapy for treatment-​​resistant depression

  • Phase 3 trials led by Compass
  • Earliest estimate for approval around 2026


We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • Dr. Robin Carhart-​​Harris: The Science of Psychedelics for Mental Health 

    Huberman Lab

    Huberman interviews Dr. Robin Carhart-​​Harris on psychedelics for mental health, brain plasticity, and therapeutic potential.

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