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One of the hottest tickets to this year’s Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego was the session on psychedelic drugs.
About 1,000 neuroscientists flocked to the San Diego Convention Center auditorium for the symposium. Psychedelics and neuroplasticity.
They show how drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA alter individual brain cells, helping the brain rewire and potentially offer new ways to treat disorders ranging from depression to chronic pain. I began to hear stories about
Alex Kwan, a biomedical engineer at Cornell University, who spoke at the session, said, “We were blown away by the turnout.
“Public excitement about psychedelics has increased over the last few years,” says Kwan. “Scientists understand that we don’t know much about what these compounds do.”
So during the session, Kwan and several other researchers shared what they learned about drugs.
rewiring the brain
Kwan described his own research into how psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, helps rewire the brain by generating new connections between neurons.
Studies in mice have found that psilocybin alters dendrites, branch-like structures that extend from nerve cells and receive input from other cells.
Dendrites form connections through tiny projections known as dendritic spines. Psilocybin-treated mice increased the size and number of these spines by about 10%, allowing the cells to form new junctions.
“If you give mice a single dose of psilocybin, you can see that these new bonds form within a day,” says Kwan. “And they can last him more than a month.” This is equivalent to several human months.
New connections are a key part of the rewiring process known as brain plasticity, allowing the brain to learn and adapt.
“Psychedelics seem to increase plasticity,” says Kwan.
Brain plasticity may explain why a single dose of psychedelics has long-lasting effects on disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
“It can take months or years,” says Gitte Knudsen, PhD, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who spoke at the psychedelics session. “It’s an amazing effect.”
These long-term effects have been shown with drugs such as psilocybin, LSD, and DMT (ayahuasca), Knudsen said. In contrast, most existing psychotropic medications must be taken daily.
However, psychedelics have some drawbacks. They can cause nausea and frightening or disturbing hallucinations.
“It can be a very overwhelming experience for people,” says Knudsen. I have.”
Knudsen says that even if a patient is ready for a session, they may have mixed feelings afterwards.
“When people have a psychedelic experience in my lab, they say, ‘Wow, this was amazing, this was an amazing experience,'” she says. “And you ask them, ‘Well, why don’t you come back for another session next week?’ They say, ‘Thank you, but thank you.’ “
The fact that psychedelics are featured at the world’s largest conference of brain scientists suggests that drugs are poised to enter the mainstream of science. That’s the latest development.
Psychedelic research was popular in the 1950s, but since the mid-1960s, the drug has been outlawed in the United States and Europe, and has largely come to an end.
In the 1990s, several researchers began to carefully study how drugs such as LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin could help with depression and psychiatric disorders such as PTSD.
And in 2016, two studies by prominent researchers “really piqued our interest,” says Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
Both studies found that a single treatment with psilocybin reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients.
It has led to some extensive research on psychedelics. New England Journal of Medicine In November, psilocybin was shown to help people with major depression who had failed other treatments.
Such studies suggest that hallucinogens are “beneficial and useful” in treating mental disorders, says Gordon.
But the effects found in large-scale studies of psychedelics are far less dramatic than some of the smaller, earlier studies, says Gordon. Departmental companies exaggerate the benefits, he says.
“There’s a lot of hype,” he says.