Researchers have synthesized a new psychedelic capable of treating depression — without the hallucinations typically associated with psychoactive drugs, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature.
Researchers synthesized new psychedelic to treat depression without hallucinations
Recent advances with psychedelics like ketamine have hinted at a powerful potential for treating mental health conditions like anxiety, addiction, and depression. But psychoactive drugs can — as the name implies — have substantial side effects.
Beyond the hallucinations — which are both loved and scorned, depending on the expert — there are other possibly harmful side effects, like cardiac toxicity.
"Psychedelics are some of the most powerful drugs we know of that affect the brain," said the University of California's David Olson, a chemist. "It's unbelievable how little we know about them."
New synthetic molecule called tabernanthalog
This is why the University of California's neuroscientist Lindsay Cameron, along with Olson and colleagues took a closer look at the question of psychedelics — to look into modifying compounds and remove the hallucinations and other risks without sacrificing the useful factors.
Once the psychedelic compound ibogaine was extracted from the African rainforest shrub Tabernanthe iboga, the researchers used a drug-designing technique known as a function-oriented synthesis to determine which parts of the ibogaine molecule induce structural alteration of the brain cells in laboratory cultures and living animals, Science Alert reports.
They called the new synthetic molecule tabernanthalog (TBG).
Heroin-addicted rats saw less drug-seeking habits
Cameron and the team then executed experimental treatment — for both alcohol-addicted mice and heroin-addicted rats — using TBG, and the results were astounding: not only did one dose enable mice to cease drinking — the compound showed a long-lasting chronic effect on rats trained to self-administer heroin doses.
Specifically, the heroin-addicted rats showed less of a tendency to seek the drug, and even presenting them with cues to serve as a behaviorist reminder of their sad addiction, the rats avoided relapsing, generally.
New psychedelic drug might promote neuronal growth
Zebrafish experiments also showed TBG has a lower level of toxicity than the natural ibogaine compound. Mice typically twitch their heads when they hallucinate, and this didn't happen with TBG. Additionally, the new compound seems to increase connectivity between nerve cells.
When the team handled the mice, and forced them to swim for six entire minutes — stress-inducing activities that don't place the mice in the way of serious harm — a dose of TBG helped to calm them once more, which suggests an antidepressant quality, not unlike ketamine.
"Not only does TBG potently promote neuronal growth, it also produces antidepressant-like behavioral responses and reduces alcohol — but not sucrose — consumption in mice," wrote the team in their paper.
COVID-19 coronavirus could present opportunity to revisit psychedelic options amid mental health crisis
Present-day antidepressants can be helpful, but finding one capable of working on the individual level forces depressed people to live out a real-life horror film of playing trial and error with their brain. This often becomes a sickening nightmare liable to push the depressed person into a worse existential place where they remain until the right drug or dose is found — which can take up to eight weeks.
In the time of the coronavirus crisis, wave after wave of lockdowns, quarantines, and canceled social lives as we knew them continue to take a toll on the minds of humans worldwide. While we can't say a turn to the potential benefits of psychedelics to treat symptoms of depression, addiction, and anxiety wouldn't have happened without the virus, the advances with ketamine, MDMA, and other drugs in helping people deal with mental illness is perhaps one way to help the world heal from traumatic experiences — new, old, or developing.