Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD by accident, began experimenting with something even more potent: magic mushrooms, in the late 1950s.
Westerners had observed indigenous people in Mexico using mushrooms in religious rituals several years prior. Hofmann was the first western scientist to identify, isolate, and artificially synthesize the active ingredients, psilocybin and psilocin, from a sample sent by one of the intruders.
Recognizing the medicinal value of the mushrooms, Hofmann’s employer, the pharmaceutical behemoth Sandoz, quickly encapsulated them into a pill and began marketing Indocybin. Theorists and practitioners were ecstatic. Here was a safe pharmaceutical drug with enormous potential to treat a vast array of mental-health conditions, including depression and addiction!
Then the drug war occurred. In 1970, psilocybin was classified as a Schedule I substance. Both research and treatment ceased. Indocybin disappeared from the shelves of pharmacies and the arsenals of therapists. Novartis, the parent company of Sandoz, makes no mention of indocybin in its corporate history.
Since that time, understanding of psilocybin and its therapeutic potential has stagnated substantially. Now, the intense interest in psilocybin as a therapy tool and the popular pushes to legalize magic mushrooms are best understood as a rediscovery as well as a reminder of how much research and progress the drug war destroyed. In many ways, psilocybin knowledge is a time capsule from the 1960s.
If research into psychedelic treatments hadn’t been halted, what brain-rebooting drugs might Hofmann or one of his disciples have discovered? What would psilocybin-based drugs look like 50 years after their introduction? The answer is obvious to anyone currently treating PTSD or other ailments with psilocybin in human trials at Johns Hopkins University or on the black market.
Psilocybin and psilocin (the human body converts the former to the latter) function by activating specific neurotransmitters in the brain, including the 5-HT2A, 5-HT2B, and 5-HT2C neurotransmitters.
Since 5-HT2B can cause irregular heartbeat and may lead to complications for patients with heart-valve diseases, Alan Kozikowski is intrigued by how a drug derived from mushrooms could target the other two receptors without causing problems for patients with heart conditions.
During the five decades of the drug war, research into the effects of psilocybin-like substances was virtually nonexistent due to the stringent controls imposed on Schedule I drugs. Researchers were required to adhere to stringent security and documentation protocols. Some progress was made, but it didn’t amount to much. In addition, the knowledge could not be easily translated into a marketable, prescribed product like Sandoz’s Indocybin.
Recent statements by Kozikowski to Observer indicate that this has slowed progress, if not halted research into psilocybin as a treatment for depression. If not for that, perhaps we would already have a product on the market, he added. Perhaps we could treat depression considerably more effectively than we do now.
Bright Minds Biosciences and Kozikowski have picked up Hoffman’s discarded thread, reviving 50-year-old pharmacology cast aside by the drug war. Professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Kozikowski has patented several compounds that resemble psychedelic mushrooms but do not activate the 5-HT2B receptor, as does psilocybin derived from mushrooms.
Simply put, we are attempting to reinvent psilocybin, he explained.
But how and which other receptors to target, and in what quantity, is a subject of investigation. The research inquiry.
Some patients may desire empathy, euphoria, and introspection without the physical and mental effects of a trip. There are ways to increase the body’s metabolism to reduce travel time. However, if this activity is eliminated, the resulting drug may not be an effective treatment. Otherwise, no therapeutic effect would result.
The significance of 2A activity lies in its ability to reset the brain, according to Kozikowski. It’s a method for rewiring the brain. We require 2A activity.
In light of this, the majority, if not all, psilocybin-based treatments may necessitate the guided therapy observed in experimental mushroom treatments in Canada. Unless a therapy specifically targets the 5-HT2C receptor. He added that activity at this receptor can make you feel full and calm you down. It has numerous marvelous effects.
Kozikowski believes that a psilocybin-like drug that targets specific receptors in the optimal dose could be an effective treatment for opiate addiction, eating disorders, and treatment-resistant epilepsy.
In animal studies, the administration of 5-HT2C receptor-targeting drugs to rats and dogs altered their impulse control and nicotine uptake.
What we’re aiming for is something safe enough that you can take it at night, go to sleep, and wake up with a clearer mind, he explained. You have eliminated the pain and are no longer depressed.
Bright Minds is currently exposing zebrafish to psilocybin-based drugs of the next generation. By the end of 2021, Kozikowski hopes to begin large-scale clinical trials with a psilocybin-based drug on mice and dogs.
Whether Bright Minds pursues a drug targeting seizures, depression, or addiction will depend on the outcomes of these animal studies, and the amount of animal research may depend on the success of the company’s initial public offering. Eventually, research on humans will follow, and likely would have been completed years ago if not for the drug wars.
A psilocybin-like drug could be an effective treatment for opiate addiction as well as eating disorders and epilepsy.