Study finds genetic link to effects of psychedelic drugs
According to a recently published study by researchers at the University of North Carolina, common genetic variations in a particular serotonin receptor may be responsible for the varying effects of psychedelic drugs on different individuals. The study, which comes at a time of reinvigorated research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs, could shed light on why the substances appear to have dramatically positive effects for some patients with serious mental health conditions while others find little therapeutic value in drugs. .
Bryan Roth, MD, PhD, led a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) to carry out the study. The goal of the research was to explore how variations in this serotonin receptor alter the activity of four psychedelic therapies. Laboratory cell research has shown that seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor response to four psychedelic drugs: psilocin, LSD, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT ) and mescaline. Researchers believe that in vitro research could be useful in determining appropriate mental health therapies for patients.
“Based on our study, we expect patients with different genetic variations to respond differently to psychedelic-assisted treatments,” said Roth, who directs the National Institutes of Health’s Psychotropic Drug Testing Program. “We believe physicians should consider a patient’s serotonin receptor genetics to identify which psychedelic compound is likely to be the most effective treatment in future clinical trials.”
Psychedelics and mental health
Research published in 2020 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment resulted in a substantial and long-lasting decrease in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. And last year, researchers determined that psychedelic users had less stress during lockdowns put in place to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previous research has also determined that psychedelic drugs stimulate serotonin receptors in the brain. The 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor, also known as 5-HT2A, is responsible for mediating a person’s reaction to psychedelic drugs. However, there are several naturally occurring random genetic variations that can affect the function and structure of the 5-HT2A receptor. Much of the research on the effect of psychedelics on mental health is inspired by the drugs’ effect on serotonin receptors, which bind the neurotransmitter serotonin and other similar molecules to help regulate mood. , emotions and appetite.
Although very promising, psychedelic drugs do not seem to be effective as a treatment for everyone. Dustin Hines, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the UNC study, said the research could shed light on why the Psychedelic therapies work well for some patients while others find little therapeutic benefit from medication.
“Genetic variation in this receptor has been shown to influence patient response to other medications,” Hines told Healthline. “While psychedelic therapies can provide rapid and long-lasting therapeutic benefits for multiple mental health conditions, there is a proportion of patients who are unresponsive.”
Hines also noted that differences in mental health conditions from person to person could also contribute to how patients respond to psychedelic and more traditional treatments.
“Some people with depression may have a genetic predisposition that increases their likelihood of experiencing depression in their lifetime,” Hines said. “Other people with depression may have more situational or environmental contributions.”
The UNC researchers noted that the study could help provide information for clinicians considering psychedelics as a treatment for their patients and called for further investigation.
“That’s another piece of the puzzle that we need to be aware of when deciding whether to prescribe a treatment with such a dramatic effect outside of the therapeutic effect,” Roth said. “Further research will help us continue to find the best ways to help individual patients.”
The results of the study were published last week in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.