Modified psychedelic drug could offer mental health relief without the side effects

Research into the use of psychedelic drugs for long term anxiety, depression, and PTSD relief is one of the fastest-growing fields in mental health research. Now, researchers at the University of California, Davis, are seeing if they can narrow down these benefits into more widely available treatment options. 

The researchers have narrowed in on the psychedelic drug ibogaine and chemically altered it to still relieve depression and addiction but without the psychoactive side effects like hallucinations. They have effectively honed in on the aspect of psychedelic plants that makes them so medically beneficial. 

The chosen psychedelic drug, ibogaine, comes from the roots of a West African shrub and can dramatically reduce drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. After altering the drug’s composition to remove side effects, the researchers were left with what they call tabernanthalog, or TBG. When fed to mice in experiments, the drug reduced addictive tendencies. It also reduced behaviors associated with depression. Additionally, none of the mice exhibited signs of negative side effects like hallucinations or heart abnormalities. 

The elimination of dangerous side effects makes the drug potentially far more accessible as it would no longer need to be administered in physician-controlled settings. David Olson, the paper’s senior author said, “What we need is a medicine that is so safe that you can take it home and put it in your medicine cabinet just like you would aspirin.” If perfected and approved by clinical trials, TBG could be as widely prescribed as traditional antidepressants. 

A big question remains unanswered in the medical field: is the hallucinogenic experience of psychedelics necessary to promote the mental health benefits associated with these drug therapies? The researchers acknowledged that while their findings do not provide an answer to this question, it does demonstrate that there is potential for improvement without hallucinations. 

This new research is another stepping stone towards bringing these psychedelic therapies to a wider audience and offers the potential for treatment without powerful side effects. If effective, this new therapy could be a solution for mental health treatment for a much greater number of people. 

Image source: Newsweek

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