Updated: Jul 24
Following on from my recent post on the emergence of the non-profit psychedelic prior art library Porta Sophia, and its Archival Researcher Network (ARN), this post features an interview with ARN-participant Philipp Rühr.
Philipp is an aspiring psychotherapist with a background in video art, filmmaking and translation. His videos and films have been shown internationally. Based in Berlin, he is currently completing his studies in Psychotherapy Sciences at the Sigmund Freud Universität where he is also working at the outpatient clinic. He has recently received Porta Sophia’s ARN-Research Grant for his research on psychedelic prior art. Philipp’s current focus are clinical trials with psychedelic compounds in children and adolescents, and he is dreaming of compiling and translating a compendium of historic German psychedelic study reports which haven’t previously been translated into English.
Through the interview here, it becomes clear how Rühr’s work with the ARN has dovetailed with his own research interests and career to ultimately support Porta Sophia’s goal to intervene in the psychedelic patent landscape and ensure psychedelic therapies can one day be available at scale to the people who need them. Rühr was one of the first recipients of a Porta Sophia research grant and, to date, he has submitted 30 pieces of prior art in response to the archival prior art targets.
Who are you, and how did you come to Porta Sophia’s Archival Researcher Network?
I’ve been working as a filmmaker and translator, usually in collaborative settings. Through this work and my interest in psychedelics since visiting the Horizons conference in NYC in 2014, I’ve slowly been shifting my focus to the field of mental health and decided to become a psychotherapist. This process takes around 10 years in Germany; for about two years I have been studying Psychotherapy Sciences and I have recently started working at the outpatient clinic of my university.
My interest in psychedelic patents was sparked when I first heard about esketamine. Esketamine is an enantiomer – a mirror image – of Ketamine. It has recently received a lot of attention because it was approved under the brand name Spravato, in the form of a nasal spray added to a conventional antidepressant, as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression. As of now, there are five patents protecting this drug. I was quite shocked to learn that you could so easily get a patent by slightly modifying a compound and administering it in a different way. Ketamine has been used in Germany as an off-label treatment for depression for decades, and it is very cheap, while Esketamine is comparatively expensive. This points to a structural issue, which is not limited to the psychedelic space, but a symptom of a weakened patent system. As Healy et al. have pointed out in reference to the antidepressant Escitalopram, “the patent system is supposed to ensure we get truly novel compounds, but it has become so weak that companies can now take out patents on isomers like escitalopram just before the patent on the parent citalopram has expired” (Noury et al., 2020). After researching this general topic for a while I stumbled upon a twitter announcement for the Porta Sophia ARN kickoff-event. Having learned some more about Porta Sophia’s work while participating in their workshops, I really wanted to contribute. A crowdsourcing approach to establish a psychedelic prior art library seems to me like a very appropriate way to react to the current flood of psychedelic patent claims.
Can you talk about the research grant that you were awarded through Porta Sophia? What sorts of things are you working on for that?
I have been trying to mostly focus on researching German language sources, and translating relevant passages before submitting them to the prior art library. I started by going through online trip reports from the early 2000’s, which is a lot of fun. I also reviewed digital material from the amazing Betsy Gordon Archive for Psychoactive Substances at Purdue University, which holds a number of sources in German and other languages. Unfortunately, I quickly came to realize that a comparable psychedelic archive does not exist in Germany.
So what I’ve done so far is following up on the myriad of cross references from the available academic publications as well as on some very extensive bibliographies on the subject, and visiting different local libraries. My hometown Berlin, for example, has a rich history of clinical research with mescaline that dates back to the 19th century. In the Staatsbibliothek I came across a report from 1930 documenting experiments with Mescaline as a treatment for phantom limbs (Zádor, 1930), which I then partially translated. Sometimes I would dig up a report that I felt certain no one had laid their eyes on for decades, only to later find out that it’s already been digitized in the Purdue library… The search for prior art can be a manic paperchase starting off at the local library, leading to a hint referenced in a publication stored in the Internet Archive, to an interlibrary loan, and finally to translating a digital copy of a Swiss document in German that’s archived at the Purdue library of all places, physically very close to Porta Sophia’s home base.
When examining historic prior art in the field of mental health, it immediately becomes clear that the terminology has evolved dramatically, which makes it quite difficult to submit historic prior art in response to a patent claim referencing a certain mental disorder. One famous example is the genesis of the contemporary post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has been famously called shell shock, but also war neurosis, operational fatigue, gross stress reaction, battle fatigue, irritable heart, or “vent du boulet” in centuries past. Most mental disorders have undergone such evolution in terminology.
What might you want to highlight about the process of finding prior art? What has surprised you or delighted you along the way?
I personally found it important to develop a playful approach. Looking through archival sources can be very exciting, but there are also phases where you won’t find anything interesting for quite some time. To maintain interest, I’ve been trying to follow the most promising leads in several directions simultaneously, But I also see the research as an opportunity to learn more about this complex field that I am entering as an aspiring psychotherapist. I think you could call my approach a sort of citizen science, as I am not really an expert on the history of psychedelic drugs. This allows me to work somewhat more creatively in comparison to strictly academic research.
I came across a set of studies with LSD in autistic children, conducted in the 1950s and 1960s (Mogar & Aldrich, 1969). Obviously, a fascinating read, these reports are quite disturbing, lacking almost any ethical standards or scientific methodology, and sometimes wreaking of racist stereotypes. For some time I was convinced that one of these studies must have been the inspiration for the laboratory scenes in the series Stranger Things. Anyways, these studies have been widely discussed and condemned (Sigafoos et al., 2007), but they are still relevant pieces of psychedelic prior art. I was surprised to find that clinical psychedelic research as well as applied psychedelic therapy with children and adolescents has been conducted extensively outside this small set of studies, which focus on a very limited range of psychedelic compounds and mental disorders. And this research was and is not only being done in North America, but also in South America, the Middle East and Europe, examining a multitude of psychedelic compounds and mental disorders in children and adolescents. I’ve been obsessively researching material on this topic and have been able to collect around 50 examples of studies, therapy programs or mentions thereof. In Germany this sort of research with youth has been shrouded in mystery. For example, the late German psychedelic psychiatrist and researcher Hanscarl Leuner mentioned in at least one interview that he used psycholytic therapy with children (Leuner, 1963), and from at least one study report it becomes evident that he has conducted psychedelic research with LSD and psilocybin in youth within a clinical setting (Leuner, 1961), but the circumstances are somewhat ominous. I have been in contact with the respective institutions, but the trial data seems to not be publicly archived. Internationally, researchers have been more explicit about their research in this field. The earliest example I found is a report from New Jersey that dates back to the late 1940s, but as of right now, children are being recruited for studies on Triheptanoin for the treatment of Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Ketamine for the treatment of Rett Syndrome. I am particularly interested in the evolution of the concept of informed consent in children and parents, which is still fiercely contested in current discourses. After all, should the children even be involved in the decision making process? Since it is standard procedure to test already approved compounds on children as well, and since a new wave of psychedelic studies with children is already underway, we should address this issue as quickly and as thoroughly as possible in order to prevent further potential harm to children.
LSD for Childhood Schizophrenia Session Records. From the Gary Fisher Papers, Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Collection, Purdue University.
Can you talk about some of the prior art you have surfaced for the ARN? Perhaps what you might consider to be the most interesting for historians of drugs?
One aspect that I have been really surprised by is the extensive research conducted with psychedelics in Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and 1970s. One famous example is of course Stanislaf Grof, who later continued his research in the United States. But during this time there has been an astoundingly large number of researchers conducting psychedelic research in Czechoslovakia, and one center seems to have been the Dept. of Pathological Psychology at the Medical Faculty of the Palacký University in Olomouc. Reports on some of these studies have been published in the scientific journal Activitas Nervosa Superior, sometimes in English or German, but mostly in Czech. I have submitted some of these studies to the Porta Sophia prior art library, translating them from Czech or German. For instance, a report from 1968, titled Influence of MAO inhibitors on psilocybin induced psychosis (Vojtĕchovský et al., 1968), and another one from 1966 titled Hydroxylation of indoleacetic acid and tryptamine “in vitro”; the action of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Rysanek et al., 1966). This is admittedly very nerdy content, but it shows that already in the 1960s people were interested in specific questions that have become relevant in light of current psychedelic patent claims around administering psilocybin derivatives in combination with monoamine oxidase inhibitors as duration-shortening agents. I think that it could be very interesting for historians of drugs to further investigate the psychedelic research conducted in Czechoslovakia during this time.
It probably makes sense to try to think outside the box when looking for prior art. There is, for example, a current patent claim for using psilocybin to treat PTSD which is caused by trauma associated with a pandemic due to an infectious disease (Compass Pathfinder’s Application #US20220088041A1, “Method for Treating Anxiety Disorders, Headache Disorders, and Eating Disorders with Psilocybin). This claim is remarkably broad and at the same time, super specific. How many infectious pandemics could possibly have been treated with psilocybin, right? Then I recalled a study titled Psilocybin-assisted Group Therapy for Demoralization in Long-term AIDS Survivors (Anderson et al., 2020), which actually does match the claim. My research had been initially guided by Porta Sophia’s archival prior art target list, which effectively meant looking for individual compounds and publication dates, but I’m now trying to move away from this approach a bit – following my own research interests and rooting up prior art while doing so.
In the course of my research, I found quite a few historical psychedelic studies that were never translated from German into English. Apart from the aforementioned study on mescaline and phantom limbs, there is, for example, the first study ever conducted with LSD (Stoll, 1947). I think it would be an asset to the scientific community to translate a small compendium of such relevant historic texts, and I am currently looking for funding and support for this project.
Anderson, B. T., Danforth, A., Daroff, P. R., Stauffer, C., Ekman, E., Agin-Liebes, G., Trope, A., Boden, M. T., Dilley, P. J., Mitchell, J., & Woolley, J. (2020). Psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralized older long-term AIDS survivor men: An open-label safety and feasibility pilot study. EClinicalMedicine, 27, 100538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100538
Leuner, H. (1961). Psychotherapy with hallucinogens. A clinical report with special reference to the revival of emotional phases of childhood. Proc. Quart. Meet. Royal Med.-Psychol. Assoc.
Mogar, R. E., & Aldrich, R. W. (1969). The use of psychedelic agents with autistic schizophrenic children. Behavioral Neuropsychiatry, 1(8), 44–50.
Noury, J. L., Healy, D., & Wood, J. (2020). Children of the Cure: Missing Data, Lost Lives and Antidepressants. Samizdat Health Writer’s Co-Operative Incorporated.
Rysanek, K., Vitek, V., & Svelah, C. (1966). Hydroxylation of indoleacetic acid and tryptamine “in vitro”; the action of monoamineoxidase inhibitors. Activitas Nervosa Superior, 8(4).
Sigafoos, J., Green, V. A., Edrisinha, C., & Lancioni, G. E. (2007). Flashback to the 1960s: LSD in the treatment of autism. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 10(1), 75–81. https://doi.org/10.1080/13638490601106277
Stoll, W. A. (1947). Lysergsäure-diathylamid, ein Phantastikum aus der Mutterkorngruppe. Schweizer Archiv Fur Neurologie Und Psychiatrie., 60. https://archives.lib.purdue.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/26027
Vojtĕchovský, M., Hort, V., & Safratová, V. (1968). [Influence of MAO inhibitors on psilocybine induced psychosis]. Activitas Nervosa Superior, 10(3), 278–279.
Zádor, J. (1930). Meskalinwirkung auf das Phantomglied. European Neurology, 77(1–2), 71–99. https://doi.org/10.1159/000164282