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Dr. Zorba Paster: New study may offer hope for PTSD
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Dr. Zorba Paster: New study may offer hope for PTSD

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Dear Doc: I have a good friend with post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military. He’s gone to counseling and tried antidepressants. He’s worked hard to try to fix his problem but he still suffers. He’s heard that the hallucinogen psilocybin might be the answer. Is it? — P.G., from Buffalo

Dear P.G.: Important question and there are some interesting studies on the horizon.

First, the federal Food and Drug Administration should reclassify psilocybin — found in so-called “magic mushrooms” —to allow researchers to more easily study its potential. It shouldn’t be put in the same category as heroin.

Psilocybin should be moved down at least into Class II, which includes the opioid painkiller OxyContin. If we can test OxyContin — which kills tens of thousands of people — why can’t we let researchers test psilocybin for post-traumatic stress disorder or marijuana for PTSD too?

Right now researchers have to jump through too many hoops because of this inane categorization. Wake up guys and let science test these drugs.

So on to some new research. There is a part of the brain called the claustrum, taken from the Latin word for “hidden or shut away.” The claustrum is an extremely thin sheet of neurons deep within the cortex, yet it reaches out to every other region of the brain.

Its true purpose remains a mystery, but some great scientists like Francis Crick of DNA-discovery fame believed the claustrum is the seat of consciousness, responsible for awareness and sense of self. He might be right.

Johns Hopkins researchers publishing in the journal NeuroImage found that this section of the brain lit up on functional MRI scanners when people took psilocybin. It might be that this section of the brain is where PTSD problems lie because some preliminary research shows PTSD sufferers seem to improve after a few sessions of guided meditation under the influence of hallucinogenic psilocybin.

Now, the good news is the FDA has designated the Usona Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization based in Madison, to do studies. They hope to launch a Phase 2 clinical trial study of 80 participants at seven study sites this year using a short-acting derivative of psilocybin for the treatment of adults with major depressive disorder. Their initial research demonstrated substantial improvement over available therapy on a clinically significant end point for patients today with major issues.

My spin: See if your friend can participate in this study. You can also go to clinicaltrials.gov, where you might find another study site testing this drug. If I had PTSD, I would try to get into the magic mushroom trial.

Doc: How many steps should I walk? Now that it’s nice outside, I’d like to walk more, without a mask when I’m by myself, and distancing by 6 feet when I’m walking with a friend. Your thoughts. — J.B., from Madison

Dear J.B.: Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that the longer you walk, the longer you’ll live. Well, not exactly, but it does show that walking counts.

The data breakdown comes from the “More Steps Study” conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute, National Institute on Aging and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies in the past have looked at walking but focused on old folks or folks with chronic disease. This was a sample of nearly 5,000 adults age 40 and over who wore track devices for at least one week — folks who were regular walkers.

The initial data collection was started way back in 2003 to 2006, continuing into 2015. Statisticians then looked at the National Death Index to see who lived and who died, accounting for other factors such as smoking, where they lived, etc.

We know that walking less than 1,500 steps a day may make you feeble and that 4,000 steps a day is the low normal for adults. People who walked 8,000 steps per day had a 51% lower risk of dying from any cause, not just heart disease, than those who only walked 4,000 steps per day.

It seemed that taking 12,000 lowered mortality by 65%. Significantly more than the 4,000 daily minimum that we all should be taking. By the way, there was no connection found between step intensity and mortality risk. And the results held true for both men and women from all ethnic groups.

My spin: Walk, walk, walk — especially during this time of self-distancing and COVID-19. It’s good for the body and good for the soul. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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