Posted on Aug 13, 2020, 4 p.m.
Psychedelics are of interest in the medical community due to their anti-inflammatory properties, but efforts to transform them into therapeutics are hampered by laws restricting their use, and the stigma that has been associated with them.
The company Eleusis was founded with the mission of turning psychedelics into anti-inflammatory therapeutics in 2014. Now the company suggests that data from a preclinical study published in the journal ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science will be used to help guide the development of their first drug candidates to treat inflammatory conditions.
21 psychedelics were screened that target the serotonin receptor 5-HT2A, activating this receptor is known to have anti-inflammatory effects on asthma. The structural characteristic of one class of psychedelics was discovered to allow the researchers to control inflammation without producing the behavioral effects of LSD and related drugs. All of the drugs tested were reported to have activated the 5-HT2A receptor but they differed in ability to prevent airway constriction which is the hallmark of allergic asthma.
“Serotonin actually activates inflammation, but we found that in contrary to that, these psychedelics are potent anti-inflammatories,” said Charles D. Nichols, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at Louisiana State University and chair of Eleusis’ scientific advisory board.
2C-H class psychedelics are related to mescaline and amphetamines that are nor known to have any behavioral effects, according to Nichols. “It’s really the core structure of these mescaline-type analog drugs that can produce a full anti-inflammatory response.”
This study was started by developing rat models of allergic asthma rather than mouse models because mice metabolize some of the psychedelic compounds too quickly and often do not provide an accurate prediction of how a psychedelic like drug might work on humans with inflammatory conditions, according to the researchers.
“One main takeaway was that the potency of a given psychedelic wasn’t predicted by its psychoactive properties,” Nichols said. “LSD, which is a super-potent psychedelic that produces behavioral effects at very low doses, is a relatively weak anti-inflammatory. So the cellular effects that mediate anti-inflammatory responses are very different from those that are underlying the behavioral effects.”
Psychedelics are being studied as treatments for a range of diseases at several academic groups such as Johns Hopkins using $17 million in funding to open the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to study the effect of these drugs on brain function, memory, learning, and mood. “In the absence of federal funding for such therapeutic research, the new center will rely on gifts from private donors,” the university said in a blog post.
“The center's establishment reflects a new era of research in therapeutics and the mind through studying this unique and remarkable class of pharmacological compounds," said Roland Griffiths, the center's director and professor of behavioral biology in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the department of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "In addition to studies on new therapeutics, we plan to investigate creativity and well-being in healthy volunteers that we hope will open up new ways to support human thriving."
Over 1,000 scientific publications describe how drugs such as LSD might be used alongside psychotherapy to make it more effective, according to Scientific American. Some progress was made in the 1960s, but research is at a standstill with the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 proclaiming that these drugs have “no currently accepted medical use” and classified them as Schedule one drugs.
Eleusis is also developing ocular drugs to target 5-HT2A as they suggest that delivering drugs directly to the eye minimizes the risk of mental side effects from psychedelic compounds even further. Looking to the future the company wants to expand their pipeline. “This study will inform us on how we can engineer new chemical entities with potent anti-inflammatory effects in other diseases, like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis,” said Nichols.
Nichols believes that drugs that manage inflammation which are based on psychedelic substances could potentially serve a broader population than mental health therapies using psychedelics. “There are so many things that at their root are inflammation, so the potential is huge,” Nichols says. “I can’t believe nobody else is interested in this. I think we’re the only ones taking it seriously.”
CBD also delivers some of the benefits of cannabis without the mind altering effects of THC. Eleusis is interested in managing the psychoactivity of psychedelics so that people will be able to take them daily to reduce inflammation, perhaps CBD will be another avenue they might be exploring in the future.
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