With psilocybin showing promise for treating conditions such as depression and addiction, a team of scientists from the University of Southern Denmark has set out to understand how the compound works at the molecular level.
The researchers are aiming to understand what happens at the molecular level when psilocybin enters the body, is converted to psilocin and reaches the brain.
Himanshu Khandelia and Ali Asghar Hakami Zanjani from the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, along with co-authors co-authors are Teresa Quynh Tram Nguyen and Luise Jacobsen, are investigating the mechanism by which the binding of the compounds to the 5-HT2AR serotonin receptor triggers psycho-active responses.
Khandelia stated: ”My interest was piqued when I heard a podcast about treating smoking addiction with psilocybin. And since psilocybin mushrooms grow everywhere in Denmark – I picked some in Svanninge Bakker – it wasn’t difficult to start our research.”
“Previous research has shown that psilocin binds to serotonin receptors in the brain. We show that psilocin binds stronger than serotonin to a 5-HT2AR serotonin receptor. This knowledge can be used if you want to design a drug that acts like psilocybin,” added Asghar Hakami Zanjani.
The researchers highlight that now is a favorable time for research for those who want to explore psilocybin treatments for conditions such as depression, addiction, anorexia and PTSD, as countries such as the United States, England and Denmark are becoming active in the research field.
“I would be very happy if society can use our research. Maybe someone will take this further and create a molecule that can be used in medical treatment for conditions like depression,” says Himanshu Khandelia.
Asghar Hakami Zanjani concluded: “Research shows that you experience something different. It is a form of hallucination.
“The characteristic is that patients may get a whole new perspective on their situation: for example, a terminally ill cancer patient may lose their fear of dying soon and instead experience acceptance of their life situation.
“Such sessions should take place in safe and guiding settings led by trained therapists. Today, no one would recommend just eating some mushrooms at home in their own living room”.
Additional psychedelic research is taking place at the University of Southern Denmark. Assistant Professor Mikael Palner, from the Department of Clinical Research, also researches psychedelic substances.
He and his students focus on testing substances on rats. One line of this research involves studying the pharmacokinetics of different psychedelic substances, such as LSD, psilocybin and DMT in rats.
Another line aims to investigate whether psilocybin can treat rats with various mental disorders such as anxiety, compulsive behaviours or PTSD.
Canada recommends launch of Veterans psychedelic research programme
A new report has been released by Canada’s Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs – ‘The Time Is Now: Granting Equitable Access to Psychedelic Assisted Therapies’ – which recommends the launch of a large-scale research programme on psychedelics for Veterans’ mental health.
Emphasising that around 10 to 15% of Canadian veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the report explores the opportunity presented by psychedelic research as a treatment for alleviating symptoms of the condition.
The Subcommittee suggests the programme should be funded by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Department of National Defence (DND) in partnership with Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and other relevant partners.
The report states: “This approach would ensure, first of all, that those veterans most likely to benefit from it are given access to treatment with the best scientific support available, and second of all, that the initial findings on the effectiveness of this treatment for veterans are either proven or qualified.”
And goes on to say: “It is the Government of Canada’s duty to assure veterans that it is doing everything in its power, immediately, to respect its solemn commitment to support, at any cost, those who chose to defend us with honour.”
Psilocybin and MDMA have already been added to Canada’s Special Access Program (SAP) which enables authorised patients to access psilocybin and MDMA-assisted therapy for conditions such as PTSD and end-of-life anxiety.
However, the report notes that most clinical studies involve the general population and that Veterans often respond differently to treatments, highlighting the need for further research in the Veteran population.
The report and recommendation have been welcomed by the Psychedelic Association of Canada (PAC), which works with lawmakers, healthcare workers, educators and researchers, psychedelic practitioners, businesses and the public to gain access to psychedelic medicines for Canadians.
Jay Katz, Executive Director of the Psychedelic Association of Canada, stated: “The PAC is encouraged by the contents of the Senate Subcommittee’s report. Their acknowledgement of the potential inherent in reshaping our approach to treating mental illness is an auspicious first step. It paves the way for significantly improved outcomes.”
The organisation has highlighted that, in light of growing research, Canadian citizens have demonstrated strong support for increased access to psychedelic medicines.
To read the full report please visit: sencanada.ca/en/info-page/parl-44-1/veac-psychedelic-therapies/
PAREA’s psychedelic push: improving policy for mental health innovation in Europe
The Psychedelic Access and Research European Alliance (PAREA) has launched a policy paper in line with a recent meeting on medical psychedelics in the European Parliament.
In a significant step for Europe, the MEP Action Group for the Medical Use of Psychedelics meeting took place to dicuss medical psychedelics within the EU pharmaceutical legislation framework.
PAREA launched its policy paper “Unmet Medical Needs: Aligning Medical Innovation with Societal Health Needs” in line with the event, and as a follow up to the orgainsation’s recent position statement, “Leveraging the EU Pharmaceutical Package: A Life Cycle Approach to Address High Unmet Needs and Foster Mental Health Innovation by Incentivizing Psychedelic Novel Medicines”.
Challenging the current paradigm that narrowly defines unmet and high unmet medical needs, PAREA argues in the policy paper that “the existing focus on life-threatening or severely debilitating conditions fails to consider the broader health and societal context.”
The paper outlines the burden created by prevalent mental health conditions including on the individual as well as healthcare systems, society and the economy, arguing that “the current criteria for unmet medical needs do not adequately account for the potential to significantly improve quality of life, especially for chronic conditions.”
As this criteria dictates what receives funding, the paper argues, “a recalibration is essential for ensuring that medicine development aligns more closely with public health priorities and needs.”
The policy paper also calls for:
- The urgent expansion of criteria used to define high unmet medical needs to include the prevalence of conditions and their societal impact.
- The establishment of a European Hub for Mental Health Research and Development that would unite EU institutions, member states, healthcare funders, and philanthropic organizations.
- For mental health to be addressed as a central pillar of sustainable development.
On the European Parliament meeting, PAREA stated: “The event, which coincided with the ongoing discussions on the revision of the EU pharma package, focused on creating a supportive regulatory environment to foster innovation in novel mental health treatments, particularly psychedelic therapies.
“The gathering underscored the urgency of addressing unmet medical needs in the EU and the potential of psychedelic therapies to offer rapid, durable improvements for conditions such as depression and PTSD.”
The organisation continued: “As the EU revises its pharmaceutical legislation, PAREA’s policy paper serves as a critical voice, advocating for a recalibrated approach that aligns medicine development with public health priorities and societal needs. It is a call to action for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and stakeholders across Europe to recognise and address the unmet needs in mental health care.”
To read the full policy paper please click here.
Study to investigate psilocybin therapy for cancer-related depression
Psychedelic therapy company Sunstone Therapies has announced the start of its first study investigating multiple doses of psilocybin in the treatment of major depression disorder (MDD) in patients with cancer.
The Phase 2 two-part study, taking place at the Bill Richards Center for Healing at the Aquilino Cancer Center, will examine the safety and efficacy of up to two 25mg doses of psilocybin in 56 patients administered at an interval of 9 to 10 weeks.
The first part of the study will administer a first dose of psilocybin in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled portion, while the second part of the study will take the form of an open-label portion for patients who do not achieve MDD symptom remission after the first dose.
All study participants will be supported through the first dosing sessions by a study therapist in addition to a second therapist monitoring via video feed, and in the second session, all eligible participants will receive psilocybin 25 mg in an open-label fashion using a group session model.
Chief Medical Officer at Sunstone Therapies and Principal Investigator on the study, Paul Thambi MD, commented: “The emotional distress associated with cancer is often as significant as the physical effects, and yet oncologists have few effective treatments to tackle this important aspect of the patient experience.
“More recently, the use of psychedelic-assisted therapy has seen renewed interest and a number of studies show a positive impact on symptoms of depression in patients with cancer, including our own open label study published in JAMA Oncology.
“This new study includes a placebo control arm, the use of group administration, and – for the first time – multiple doses. We believe this adds significantly to the understanding of the role psilocybin-assisted therapy could play in improving patients’ lives and how it might best be delivered.”
Chief Executive Officer at Sunstone Therapies, and Clinical Investigator on the study, Manish Agrawal MD, added: “The Sunstone team has a longstanding commitment to advancing clinical research in psychedelic-assisted therapy in cancer patients, and unique depth of experience across psychedelic modalities and indications.
“This study builds on our pioneering approach to clinical trial design: there is limited data addressing the question of whether multiple administrations of treatment doses of psilocybin in patients with cancer lead to improved efficacy.
“We look forward to making a further contribution to the clinical development of this potentially vitally important treatment modality.”
The primary efficacy endpoint of the study is the change in the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) from baseline to week 8, and secondary endpoints – which include the onset and durability of response, response rate and remission, and the effect on pain – will be used to assess parameters in both the placebo-controlled and open label study conditions.
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