An LSD-like drug could treat depression in humans without sending patients on a Magical Mystery Tour, according to a new scientific study.
As the use of hallucinogenic drugs for recreational and therapeutic purposes rose to new heights in the US, scientists discovered new variants that appeared to relieve anxiety and depression in rodents without causing mind-altering side effects, according to a report in the scientific journal Nature.
Scientists had extracted the new drug from a library of 75 million molecules that share the unusual structures that affect the release of serotonin found in drugs such as psilocybin, the primary ingredient in magic mushrooms, and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
The researchers weren’t specifically looking for an antidepressant, but soon realized they were on their way to a breakthrough, according to NPR.
Study author Dr. Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, recalled a fellow scientist who asked, “‘What are we looking for here, anyway?’ And I said, “Well, if nothing else, we’ve got the world’s best psychedelic drugs,” he told the outlet.
As the research progressed, the team took the lead on other studies showing that psilocybin can rewire the human brain and prevent depression.
The team identified the two “best” and “most potent” properties from its library of molecules and gave them to mice, Brian Shoichet, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, told the outlet.
“We found that our compounds had essentially the same antidepressant activity as psychedelic drugs.” [but] they had no psychedelic drug-like actions at all,” Roth reportedly said.
Researchers gauged a mouse’s mental health by assessing how resilient it is to adversity. For example, a depressed mouse would tend to give up quickly when dangling by its tail, but would continue to struggle when under the influence of antidepressants such as ketamine or psilocybin, scientists reportedly said.
Preliminary observation of mice on LSD found that tripping mice twitch their noses. That symptom did not occur when the mice were given the new test drug.
Scientists hoped that human depressed patients would have the same experience, with some modifications to the molecules so they wouldn’t increase heart rate and blood pressure in the same way LSD does, the report said.
“Society would like to have a molecule that you can be prescribed and just take and that don’t require a tour before your trip,” Shoichet reportedly said, referring to the rise of psychedelic retreats that offer medical supervision.
Doctors say such progress would be a huge breakthrough, as the rewiring of psychedelics in the brain is almost instantaneous and can take a year or more, unlike slow-acting pharmaceutical antidepressants that have to be taken daily.
A previous breakthrough in this field led to the creation of a hallucination-free variant of ibogaine, a mind-altering drug extracted from the bark of a tree native to Africa.
“It’s very encouraging to see multiple groups approach this problem in different ways and come up with very similar solutions,” University of California chemical neuroscientist David Olson, who led the ibogaine project, told the outlet.
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