Every year, almost 70,000 people die from an overdose in the US. Now, a company called MindMed is testing a compound derived from ibogaine, a West African hallucinogen, to fight addiction.
Ibogaine first came to the attention of the West in the 1960’s, when heroin-addicted Howard Lotsof and six similarly-dependent friends tripped on the substance for two days. Afterwards, out of the seven, five of Lostof’s party were no longer addicted to heroin. Impressed by its properties, Lostof created a foundation and began reaching out to researchers and politicians to test out the substance.
These calls soon caught the attention of Stan Glick, a researcher at Albany Medical Center, who then conducted trials for ibogaine on morphine-addicted rats. While on the drug, he noted how the rats would convulse for hours, likely due to hallucinations. Just a day later however, when the hallucinations and convulsing had ceased, they found that the rats’ cravings for morphine had either significantly reduced, or subsided completely.
Although effective in relieving addiction, further studies revealed it had some unintended side effects such as vomiting and slowing the heart rate, to a lethal effect in some cases. With such consequences rendering the drug unfit for public use, Gluck then endeavoured to isolate its compounds to eliminate these negative effects.
Eventually stumbling across 18-MC, he created a company to properly explore its properties. From initial trials, Glick found that the substance is unique in its way of regulating addictive behavior. Unlike addictive drugs such as alcohol or cocaine that increase dopamine release, 18-MC modulates its release via a set of different neural pathways. Glick said, “That’s why I think it works on multiple drugs, because it’s not focused on a specific action in the dopamine pathway.”
Running out of funding, Glick’s company was eventually bought by MindMed in June 2019 to continue research into the substance. Known to exclude the hallucinogenic “trip”, some are skeptical on its healing abilities given that many report it is the “trip” that allows them to rid themselves of addiction cycles with other psychedelic medicines.
Seemingly effective nevertheless, the company plans to run safety trials on the compound during the second half of 2020, and then efficacy trials by the fourth quarter. As it is not a classified drug such as LSD and psilocybin, MindMed hopes that 18-MC may have an expedited route to becoming widely available as atreatment for addiction.