OCT 11, 2017 6:30 PM PDT

Impact of Psychedelics Revealed by Human Minibrains

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

A new study has shown that psychedelics may have potential therapeutic value as antidepressants and anti-inflammatory agents. The data, published in Scientific Reports, indicated that a molecule from a class of dimethyltryptamine chemicals, 5-MeO-DMT, initiates changes in inflammation, neural plasticity, and neurodegeneration.

A preparation of ayahuasca, which contains DMT / Credit: Wikimedia Commons Author: Awkipuma

"For the first time we could describe psychedelic-related changes in the molecular functioning of human neural tissue,” explained the study leader, Stevens Rehen. He is a Professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Head of Research at D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR).

Other recent work has demonstrated that the psychedelic drugs lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and the DMT-containing ayahuasca brew are all potentially useful as treatments for depression and inflammation. However, many questions about how these drugs exert their positive effects remain, and there is a lack of good tools to examine the biological pathways these drugs target.

To address that issue, researcher Vanja Dakic of IDOR and Juliana Minardi Nascimento of IDOR and University of Campinas, used cerebral organoids to investigate the effects of 5-MeO-DMT. The organoids are simplified versions of a human brain that could be exposed to a dose of psychedelics.

After exposure, the researchers used mass-spectrometry proteomics to study how proteins had been impacted by 5-MeO-DMT. They found that the levels of almost a thousand proteins were changed. They next mapped the proteins, and their roles, in the human brain. The research showed that proteins that functioned in the formation and maintenance of synapses had been upregulated, including proteins that are important parts of memory and learning. 

These are DMT-responsive receptors. / Credit: D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR)

Interestingly, proteins that have roles in degeneration and inflammation were downregulated. That may indicate that these psychedelics may have a neuroprotective effect. "Results suggest that classic psychedelics are powerful inducers of neuroplasticity, a tool of psychobiological transformation that we know very little about,” noted study co-author Sidarta Ribeiro, Director of the Brain Institute of Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN).

The study suggests possible mechanisms by which these substances exert their antidepressant effects that we have been observing in our studies,” commented co-author Professor Draulio Araujo of UFRN.

"Our study reinforces the hidden clinical potential of substances that are under legal restrictions, but which deserve [the] attention of medical and scientific communities,” concluded Dr. Rehen.

Learn more about recent studies that have examined the potential therapeutic effect of ayahuasca from the video above. While it is likely that a cultural shift would have to occur for psychedelic drugs to become widely accepted as therapeutics, it is clear that more studies into their potential are worthwhile endeavors.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via IDOR, Scientific Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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