Since the 1950s, researchers have been trying to prove the health benefits and medicinal value of various psychedelic drugs in different neuropsychiatric disorders. But, due to the association of psychedelic drugs to the anti-war movement as well as its misuse by the youth, Governments in various parts of the world have shut down the acceptance of psychedelics – even in the field of research.
In the 1990s, there was, again, a newfound interest in the usage of psychedelic agents to treat neuropsychiatric disorders. This interest led to researchers exploring the benefits of MDMA and ketamine to treat mood disorders as well as PTSD.
Additionally, a refreshing new study has also shown how psychedelics promote structural and functional neural plasticity.
Early research shows that patients who suffer from depression and PTSD tend to have impaired neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. This means that their brain cells grow slowly and are less adaptable.
This leads to structural changes that can cause atrophy of various regions of the brain, including the hippocampus (part of the brain involved in learning and memory) along with the prefrontal cortex (part of the brain that mediates personality and decision-making).
To treat these psychiatric disorders, the most novel and suitable way suggested is to counteract the damage by promoting structural and functional neural plasticity. However, there are very few compounds that promote neuroplasticity.
One of the exceptions is ketamine – a dissociative anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties that activates pathways involved with forming neuron connections. Therefore, it is very effective for therapeutic and treatment-resistant depression.
Furthermore, the new study elucidated the cellular mechanism by the therapeutic effects of psychedelics and investigates how they may affect neural growth and neuroplasticity.
This led to researchers finding that LSD, DMT, and DOI, all of which are serotonergic psychedelics, show significant increase in the growth and complexity of neurons.
Also, not only were these effects observed in cell cultures, but also by testing the compounds on the brains of fly larvae and zebrafish, showing that they also have a tangible effect on other living organisms.
The study also described a separate measure of neural plasticity in which psychedelics were found to significantly increase the number of dendritic spines on cortical neurons. LSD, especially, almost doubled their density.
These spines are a major site of molecular activity in the brain and form synapses with other neurons. Their function is to control higher cognition, and the loss of these structures leads to depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders.
Moreover, the study showcased that the positive effects of psychedelics were not only structural, but also functional. This could be observed due to the electrophysiological recordings that found that the frequency and strength of neural currents were heightened for quite a few hours after the psychedelic compounds had been removed.
These findings have laid out a concrete pathway with scientific evidence in favor of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic compounds. This makes psychedelics even more invaluable due to their ground-breaking potential in treating previously untreatable psychiatric disorders as well as their unique ability to promote neuroplasticity in a safe and healthy way.
It is of the best interest of the public that governments all over the world lift their restrictions limiting both research and clinical applications for psychedelics. This process can start with funding from public and private sources.