DMT For Treatment-Resistant Depression

DMT For Treatment-Resistant Depression

Did you know that for many people who suffer from depression around the world, a substantial portion of them do not respond to any treatment? It’s an issue that has dogged mental health treatment for a long time without promising alternatives. This is a serious, and chronic, roadblock towards fixing the mental health crisis, which affects nearly 264 million people globally.

Enter DMT…

In an effort to address treatment-resistant depression, ATAI Life Sciences, a biotech company, has launched Viridia Life Sciences to develop new formulations of N,N-dimethyltriptymine (also known as the psychedelic compound DMT) as a potential treatment. 

Photo Courtesy: Little Atoms

Viridia now plans to study DMT’s potency with the help of digital therapeutics, which are programs or apps designed for specific conditions (e.g. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rather than lung disease; or depression, rather than mental health).

Treating Resistant Depression with DMT

Also known as the “spirit molecule”, DMT can be found in both plants and animals – including humans – and has been ingested for ritual purposes by indigenous people for thousands of years (and yes, DMT is the main active ingredient in ayahuasca.

Some of DMT’s mental effects include:

  • Depersonalization,
  • Extreme hallucinations,
  • Altered sense of time
  • A sense of “floating”
  • Euphoria.

Research has now shown that DMT may treat conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression – perhaps even offering a fast-acting solution for resistant depression. How is this possible?

Here’s How!

In vitro assays (which refer to studying cells or biological molecules “in glass”, outside of their normal hosts) for animal models have shown new brain cell growths with more connections (a.k.a. neuroplasticity) after taking DMT. These growths are often linked to improved symptoms of depression. DMT’s effects as seen on an Electroencephalogram (EEG) also showed the same changes on brain waves once theorized to be helpful for depression.

Your brain on DMT, as seen in an Electroencephalogram (EEG) model. Photo courtesy: BioRxiv.org

Not Just Intravenously: New Ways of Taking DMT

Although DMT is often administered intravenously, Viridia plans to create several DMT products based on other routes of administration. Glenn Short, PhD, CEO of Viridias, explained:

“DMT given by an intravenous drip (IV) is not always a short duration and is also very intense. What we aim to do is use the formulation chemistry to be able to slow the onset of the compound’s effects, as well as controlling the length and duration of the experience, so it is more gradual, and overall a more gentle and agreeable experience for the patient. We can really fine tune how a drug is released.”

This is good news for patients with a needle phobia, since they can choose a less invasive form of DMT administration. 

Pairing DMT with Psychotherapy for Maximum Effect

Viridian plans to make use of DMT’s short half-life in the clinic to induce a psychedelic experience, followed up with a psychotherapy session right away. 

This combination has proven itself to be most beneficial for subjects – as shown in a recent meta-analysis of 20 studies for anxiety and depression, by mixing a psychedelic drug with psychotherapy.

“DMT represents an opportunity to reach those who might be unable or unwilling to undergo a longer psychedelic experience.”

– Florian Brand, CEO of ATAI Life Sciences.

This time, however, Viridias will use digital therapeutics to follow the administration of DMT. Potential subjects can expect a host of specialized apps as a “direct line of communication” to their therapist.

“By pairing digital therapeutics with DMT therapy we can prepare the subject for the experience beforehand – but we can also monitor the patient after the therapy. The patient… may also be able to chat to other people who are undergoing the same types of treatments.”

– Glenn Short, PhD, CEO of Viridias.

Digital therapeutics allows therapists to have real-time patient monitoring. It also ensures continued support for the patient, beyond the clinic.

It’s interesting to note that not a single one of the studies in the meta-analysis found that the substance alone was enough. This is the key difference between taking psychedelics in a recreational setting, versus those taken in the clinic.  For now, the company will undergo a series of preclinical studies on pharmacology and toxicology before they can submit for regulation. Only then will Viridias be allowed to proceed with Phase 1 trials.

Implications for Mental Health in 2020

The present COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of folks into poverty and isolation, which the UN recently warned could worsen the mental health crisis.

However, it has been found that many prescribed treatments for depression such as SSRI’s can cause further mental health issues, such as “increased suicidal thoughts, hostility, and agitation” in children, teens and young adults.

For many patients struggling to find stability, the constant change in Big Pharma medications can deprive them of a sense of balance and normalcy — which then leads to periods of relapse. In this case, the patients are not the only ones affected; their family often has to suffer its effects as well. Thus, alternative treatments for depression such as psychedelics are truly necessary in these uncertain times. 

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