Can Psychedelic Drugs Actually Treat Depression? New Study Says the Evidence Is Promising
For years, scientists and medical professionals have thought that clinical depression is usually the result of chemical balances in the brain (serotonin and norepinephrine are usually cited as the main culprits), but new research published in Cell Reports says that experiments with psychedelic drugs prove otherwise: according to the study, psychedelics may be able to treat depression by encouraging "neural plasticity" in the brain, not by adjusting the balance of chemicals.
Put simply, neuroplasticity is "the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life." In this case, the creation of neurodendrites, the little tentacle-like structures that connect neurons together and allow them to communicate, are the focus.
According to David E. Olson, a professor at UC Davis' Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine: "One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex—a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety-those neurites tend to shrivel up," says Olson.
It turns out that powerful hallucinogenics, like LSD, DMT, and DOT, can actually create new connections within the brain and mitigate the effects of these shriveled or retracted neurites.
Though the experiments didn't involve any humans, the drugs were tested on both vertebrates and invertebrates with strikingly similar results, suggesting that they might have similar effects across many different types of brains.
Even more promising, the study helped scientists understand the mechanism behind neurite growth, which may allow them to create new medicines that don't have hallucinogenic properties.
"If we fully understand the signaling pathways that lead to neural plasticity," says Olson, "we might be able to target critical nodes along those pathways with drugs that are safer than ketamine or psychedelics."
This isn't the first time an illegal drug has been revealed to have huge medical potential, either—a chemical in marijuana has recently been revealed as a potential tool to prevent relapses for addicts of all kinds.
Looks like author Michael Pollan, whose new book is about how psychedelics can save the world, may not be as crazy as we thought