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Psychedelic drugs have potential as a treatment for depression

Maybe LSD in the water supply would be a good thing! New research published this week in the scientific journals Nature Reviews Neuroscience and Science suggest (once again) that psychedelic drugs have potential as a treatment for depression. Neuroscientists from the Yale University School of Medicine conducted a study where they gave rats small amounts of the powerful dissociative anesthetic ketamine (aka “Special K”). The drug apparently alleviated symptoms of depression in the animals and also regenerated damaged connections between brain cells. From a Yale press release:

“It’s like a magic drug—one dose can work rapidly and last for seven to 10 days,” said Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale and senior author of the study.

Ketamine traditionally has been used as a general anesthetic for children, but a decade ago researchers at the Connecticut Mental Health Center found that, in lower doses, the drug seemed to give patients relief from depression, Duman said. In these initial clinical studies, which have been replicated at the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 70 percent of patients who are resistant to treatment with all other forms of antidepressants were found to improve within hours after receiving ketamine. However, its clinical use has been limited because it has to be delivered intravenously under medical supervision and in some cases can cause short-term psychotic symptoms. It has also been used as a recreational drug, known as “Special K” or sometimes just “K.”

So Duman, colleague George Aghajanian and the Yale team set out to map the molecular action of the drug in the prefrontal cortex of rats that could lead to potential targets for a safer and more easily used drugs. “Yale Team Describes Secrets of ‘Magic’ Anti-Depressant

Meanwhile, in this week’s issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, University Hospital of Psychiatry in Zurich researchers survey how the study of psychedelics, including LSD, could lead to news kinds of psychiatric drugs. From the abstract in Nature Reviews Neuroscience:

After a pause of nearly 40 years in research into the effects of psychedelic drugs, recent advances in our understanding of the neurobiology of psychedelics, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin and ketamine have led to renewed interest in the clinical potential of psychedelics in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders. Recent behavioural and neuroimaging data show that psychedelics modulate neural circuits that have been implicated in mood and affective disorders, and can reduce the clinical symptoms of these disorders. These findings raise the possibility that research into psychedelics might identify novel therapeutic mechanisms and approaches that are based on glutamate-driven neuroplasticity.

The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: implications for the treatment of mood disorders

More on this in the Scientific American article “Psychedelic Drugs Show Promise as Anti-Depressants