Psychedelic drugs appear to fundamentally reorganize the brain - and they're starting to turn into approved treatments
- There has been a recent resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs' potential to address conditions like anxiety and depression.
- That research seems to be leading to the development of new and novel prescription drugs.
- Illicit drugs like mushrooms, ecstasy, and ketamine are inspiring a range of potential treatments for diseases that currently lack good medications.
Like a May shower, the studies on psychedelic drugs' potential therapeutic benefits came - first as a sprinkle, then a steady downpour. Between 2012 and 2017, the papers abounded. One, published in 2016, suggested that magic mushrooms might alleviate anxiety in cancer patients; another in 2017 indicated that ecstasy could help veterans cope with PTSD symptoms; and one in 2012 hinted that ketamine might curb major depression.
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Ketamine is inspiring a handful of novel drugs for depression
As opposed to existing antidepressants, ketamine acts on a brain mechanism that scientists have only recently begun to explore. Homing in on this channel appears to provide relief from depression that is better, arrives faster, and works in far more people than current drugs.After a lack of new drugs for depression spurred scientists to go back to the drawing board, pharmaceutical companies like Allergan and Johnson & Johnson are now in hot pursuit of new blockbuster depression drugs that take after ketamine. While Johnson & Johnson has not yet presented its drug candidate to the US Food and Drug Administration, Allergan's drug is in the last phase of clinical trials and has received a key FDA designation designed to speed it through the approval process.
A compound in marijuana is showing promise in some forms of epilepsy
GW Pharmaceuticals is a British drugmaker that's working on a medicine derived from the marijuana compound CBD. That drug, called Epidiolex, is designed to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.
A type of ecstasy might accelerate PTSD therapyRick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies - a leading nonprofit behind psychedelic research - believes ecstasy is the "most likely" psychedelic to get adopted first by mental health professionals.
Ecstasy, otherwise known as MDMA, was created by pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912. As both a stimulant and a psychedelic, the now illegal drug has energy-raising and hallucinogenic properties. In the brain, MDMA amps up the activity of chemical messengers involved in mood regulation. It's also been known to be dangerous when used without medical supervision because it raises body temperature and blood pressure.
A compound in magic mushrooms is showing promise for anxiety
Last year, researchers studying psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, likened its quick effects on cancer patients with anxiety and depression to a "surgical intervention" for the mental illness.Brain scan studies suggest that depression ramps up the activity in brain circuits linked with negative emotions, and weakens the activity in circuits linked with positive ones. Psilocybin appears to restore balance to that system.
With that in mind, a company called Compass Pathways, which is backed by entrepreneur Peter Thiel, has plans to start its own clinical trials of magic mushrooms for depression later this year.Some researchers have high hopes that a psilocybin-inspired drug will get approved within a decade. David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, told Business Insider last year that he believed psilocybin would become an "accepted treatment" for depression before 2027.
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