Mind

Psychedelic Compound Yields Therapeutic Effects on Miniature Human Brains

The psychedelic compound 5-MeO-DMT decreased proteins associated with inflammation and degeneration in neural-cell cultures.

The proteins in our brain associated with learning and memory function can be increased, while the proteins associated with inflammation and brain lesion can be decreased, with use of the psychedelic compound 5-MeO-DMT.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from Brazil’s D’Or Institute exposed cerebral organoids, 3D cultures of neural cells that act like miniature human brains, to one dose of 5-MeO-DMT and observed the effects. 

“We showed that 5-Meo-DMT upregulated certain proteins while downregulated others within these brain organoids,” Stevens Rehen, lead author and head of research at D'Or Institute, told Seeker.

Upregulation occurs when cells increase in quantity in response to external stimuli, in this case, 5-MeO-DMT.

“Almost 1,000 proteins were identified [that] are involved in neuronal signaling pathways associated with inflammation, neural plasticity, and neurodegeneration,” he said. 

The proteins associated with inflammation and degeneration were downregulated, or decreased, meaning 5-MeO-DMT could provide a defense against deterioration in certain parts of the brain. 

Although other psychedelics such as ayahuasca, MDMA, and LSD have been shown in previous studies to offer therapeutic properties, it has been difficult to identify the specific pathways these drugs target in the brain. 

“This is the first time any psychedelic was tested in human brain organoids,” Rehen said.

“The use of techniques such as mass spectrometry were crucial to identify the proteins altered by 5-Meo-DMT in the neural cells,” he added. “We haven’t tested LSD and MDMA [but] that is the follow up of our studies.” 

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Their results suggest that psychedelics help to induce neuroplasticity, which is how the brain rebuilds itself after injury or disease by forming new neural connections. Rehen and his team believe this is one reason why further research is important, even though legally restricted.

In the 1960s and 70s, several drug control treaties were passed by members of the United Nations aimed at clamping down on the trade in psychedelics. But the treaties also led to restrictions on medical research on psychedelic compounds, which the scientific community has been pushing back against.

Rehen and his colleagues hope their research will highlight the importance of testing whether or not these compounds might provide potentially therapeutic treatment options.  

“Our study just reinforces the hidden clinical potential of substances that are under legal restrictions, but which deserve attention of medical and scientific communities,” he said.

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