In recent years, scientists have increasingly been investigating psychedelic drugs for their medical benefits — such as treating depression — in controlled environments. While the results have been incredibly promising, there is a catch — these drugs can trigger hallucinations that can be distressing to the patient. That is why researchers have been trying to identify drugs that could offer the benefits of psychedelics in clinical settings, minus the hallucinations.
With that goal in mind, scientists at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) have discovered a psychedelic-like drug that can produce long-lasting antidepressant effects in mice without hallucinations.
As part of the study, published in the journal Cell, the researchers genetically encoded PsychLight, a green fluorescent sensor, into a specific type of serotonin receptor that’s known to cause hallucinations.
“This sensor allows us to image serotonin dynamics in real-time when animals learn or are stressed and visualize the interaction between the compound of interest and the receptor in real-time,” explained senior study author Lin Tian.
As reported by Interesting Engineering, when the research team applied this novel sensor to 34 compounds with similar structures and unknown hallucinogenic potentials, they discovered that one previously unstudied molecule, AAZ-A-154, demonstrated high selectivity for the receptor with little side effects.
The team then administered the compound to mice, discovering that it produced an antidepressant-like effect within 30 minutes, with no evidence of head twitching — which is an indication in mice that the compound would induce hallucination in humans. What’s more, at extremely high doses the results were consistent and the cognitive benefits continued for more than a week.
Psychedelic therapies typically require guidance and supervision from professionals due to the hallucinatory effects of the drugs. A non-hallucinogenic drug that can be taken at home could help overcome that challenge.
Source study: Cell – Psychedelic-inspired drug discovery using an engineered biosensor