Mind Molding Psychedelic Drugs Could Treat Depression, And Other Mental Illnesses


Published:

It seems that psychedelics do more than simply alter perception. According to the latest research from my colleagues and me, they change the structures of neurons themselves.

My research group has been studying the effects of psychedelics on neuronal structure and function, and we found that these compounds cause neurons to grow. A lot. Many of these compounds are well-known and include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocin (from magic mushrooms), N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT, from ayahuasca) and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, aka ecstasy).

These are among the most powerful drugs known to affect brain function, and our research shows that they can alter the structure of the brain as well. Changes in neuronal structure are important because they can impact how the brain is wired, and consequently, how we feel, think and behave.

Prior to our study, there were relatively few compounds known to have such drastic and rapid effects on neuronal structure. One of those compounds was ketamine – a dissociative anesthetic and quite possibly the best fast-acting antidepressant that we have available to us at the moment.

 The rainbow-colored neuron was treated with LSD, while the purple neuron was the control. LSD altered the structure of the neuron, allowing it to grow more branches and develop a more complex structure. Calvin Ly and Joanne Ly, CC BY-ND If you think of a neuron like a tree, then its dendrites would be the large branches, and its dendritic spines – which receive signals from other neurons – would be the small branches. Some of these small branches might have leaves, or synapses in the case of a neuron. In fact, neuroscientists often use terms like “arbor” and “pruning” much like a horticulturist would. When we grew neurons in a dish – which is not unlike growing a plant in a pot – and fed them psychedelic compounds, the neurons sprouted more dendritic branches, grew more dendritic spines, and formed more connections with neighboring neurons.

Rethinking Depression

Thanks to studies on ketamine, slow-acting antidepressants and chronic stress models of depression, scientists now know that depression is not simply the result of a “chemical imbalance,” as pharmaceutical companies like to suggest. It is far more complicated and involves structural changes in key neural circuits that regulate emotion, anxiety, memory and reward.

One of the hallmarks of depression is the atrophy of neurons in the prefrontal cortex – a region of the brain that controls anxiety and regulates mood among other things. Basically, these branches and spines shrivel up, disconnecting from other neurons in the brain. One hypothesis for why ketamine is so effective is because it can rapidly regrow the arbors and spines of these critical neurons.

Like ketamine, psychedelics have shown promise in the clinic for treating neuropsychiatric diseases. The DMT-containing herbal tea known as ayahuasca produces fast-acting antidepressant effects within a day, psilocybin eases the anxiety of terminally ill cancer patients and MDMA can reduce fear in those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our recent papers suggest the intriguing possibility that psychedelic compounds and ketamine might share a common therapeutic mechanism.

Psychedelics vs. Psychoplastogens

Strictly speaking, a psychedelic is a “mind-manifesting” drug – a definition that’s open to interpretation. They tend to produce perceptual distortions or hallucinations by activating 5-HT2A receptors. Our research group has found that compounds typically regarded as psychedelics, like LSD and DMT, as well as those that are sometimes called psychedelics, like MDMA, and those that are not usually called psychedelics, like ketamine, are all capable of profoundly impacting neuronal structure.

Our group has coined the term “psychoplastogen” to refer to such compounds, and we believe that these molecules may hold the key to treating a wide variety of brain diseases.

Our studies on neurons grown in dishes, as well as experiments performed using fruit flies and rodents, have demonstrated that several psychoplastogens, including psychedelics and ketamine, encourage neurons to grow more branches and spines. It seems that all of these compounds work by activating mTOR – a key protein involved in cell growth.

The biochemical machinery that regulates mTOR activity is intricate. As we tease apart how psychedelics and other psychoplastogens turn on mTOR signaling, we might be able to engineer compounds that only produce the therapeutic effects on neuronal growth while bypassing pathways that lead to undesired hallucinations.

 This figure shows the effects of three psychedelics and one control (VEH) on cortical neurons. These neurons were treated for 24 hours before being visualized using super-resolution microscopy. The colors represent proteins found in specific locations of the neuron. Orange protrusions from the purple dendrite indicate dendritic spines. Ly et al., CC BY-ND

The field has known for some time now that psychedelics can produce lasting positive effects on brain function, and it’s possible that these long-lasting changes result from the psychoplastogenic effects of these drugs. If true, this would suggest that psychoplastogens might be used to repair circuits that are damaged in mood and anxiety disorders.

Panacea Or Poison?

Many diseases, such as depression and anxiety disorders, are characterized by atrophy of dendritic branches and spines. Therefore, compounds capable of rapidly promoting dendritic growth, like psychedelics, have broad therapeutic potential. The number of papers demonstrating that psychedelics can produce therapeutic effects continues to grow every year.

However, we should temper our enthusiasm because we do not yet know all of the risks associated with using these drugs. For example, it’s possible that promoting neuronal growth during development could have negative consequences by interfering with the normal processes by which neural circuits are refined. We just don’t know, yet.

Similarly, it is unclear what effects psychoplastogens will have on the aging brain. It’s important to keep in mind that excessive mTOR activation is also associated with a number of diseases including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Alzheimer’s disease.

To me, it’s obvious that we need to understand how these powerful compounds affect the brain, in both positive and negative ways, if we hope to fully comprehend the fundamental laws governing how the nervous system works and how to fix it when it doesn’t.

David E. Olson, studied chemistry and biology at Union College under the guidance of Joanne Kehlbeck, and received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University working in the lab of Justin Du Bois. After his graduate work, he completed postdoctoral training in neuroscience at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Olson joined the faculty at UC Davis in 2015, where he established a research program at the interface of chemistry and neuroscience.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

See also:
Psychedelic Medicine Is The Topic For Discussion
Magic Mushrooms Finally Being Accepted As Viable Treatment For Depression

The Conversation
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

March 19, 2019

This final day of the astrological year features no exact planetary aspects. The Sun is at the last degree of Pisces, the Sign of the Two Fishes. One looks to the past while the other contemplates the future. It’s a good time to pause and consider your…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

March 2019

Sunday afternoon: 3–4:30pm at Hillside Herbals Spring Tonics II: the spring tonic herbs—it's about circulation, assimilation and elimination—tincturing. Rachel has...

Cost: Drop in Fee $10 includes all materials and handouts.

Where:
Hillside Herbals
Jefferson, MA


Sponsor: Hillside Herbals
Telephone: 508-847-8615
Contact Name: Rachel Ross
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Show More...
Show Less...

March 20–23 9am-3pm each day Experience transformation guided by Mother Mary. Through Divine vibration, you will be aligned for quicker healing and evolving with mind body spirit and...

Cost: $500

Where:
, MA


Sponsor: The LoveLight Center
Telephone: (207) 216-9584
Contact Name: Cheryl Banfield

More information

The American Center for Bioregulatory Medicine and Dentistry (The BioMed Center) is the most comprehensive center in North America for bioregulatory medicine and dentistry. Come see what...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
111 Chestnut Street
Providence, RI
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover how you can release tight muscles and improve range of motion in locked joints in a weekly ESSENTRICS stretch classes led by Raindrop Fisher, certified Essentrics instructor. Raindrop is a...

Cost: $10 drop-in / $100 for 12 classes

Where:
Village at Waterman Lake
Function Room - Chalet Bldg
715 Putnam Pike
Greenville, RI  02828
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This 8 week series in Tai Chi will provide you with everything you need to get started in a personal Tai Chi practice. Just for Beginners—there is no expectation, and no pressure in...

Cost: $137 for 8 weeks

Where:
Spiral Path Connections
218 Boston Street
Unit 104
Topsfield, MA  01983
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiral Path
Telephone: 978-314-4264
Contact Name: Johanna Hattendorf
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“All we need is love” the Beatles claimed in 1960’s. In fact, we have been looking for love from the beginning of time. We are conditioned that it is love which brings us...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the...

Cost: $30 (some hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen Howell, M.Ed.LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Only $225 if you register for both days! Save $25! Please click here to register for both workshops. This is a 2 day course being held Saturday and Sunday, March 23...

Cost: $125

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Former Buddhist monk and world renowned healer, Seth Monk, will be giving a Siddha Healing to our community. Seth will be accompanied by Shannon Fitzgerald, an AromaReiki Master for a beautiful...

Cost: $35

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

In her art and spirit workshops, Melissa combines her gift as an intuitive with her extensive background in painting to help you to work through creative blocks and learn or refine technique. Come...

Cost: $150

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Journey back into the experience of peace, harmony and inner power through this unique meditation practice. Explore the power of your thoughts and how they can bring you inner harmony and help you...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachussetts Ave
Cambridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Psychics, mediums, angel readers, spirit art. Reiki, chair massage, IET, Gaiadon Heart, crystal healings, etc. Sign yourself up for a few appointments and bring your friends! Appointments...

Where:
Women Of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Telephone: (508) 230-3680
Website »

More information

6 Saturdays 10am–11:30am February 23–March 30, 2019 Taijiquan (Tai Chi ) is a healing martial art, using breath and movement together to strengthen the body and quiet...

Cost: $120

Where:
Metta Wellness
679 Pleasant Street
Paxton, MA  01612
View map »


Sponsor: Metta Wellness
Telephone: 774-245-5487
Contact Name: Rick Rocha
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags