LSD-like molecules counter depession without the trip
Scientists have designed compounds that hit the same key receptor that LSD activates without causing hallucinations. The compounds were designed to fit into the 5HT2a receptor, which is the main target of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. Recent studies have found that when given in combination with psychotherapy, one or two high doses of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA can have significant long-term effects on depression, anxiety and PTSD. It's not known if the trip is essential to the treatment, or if drugs could be developed that alleviate symptoms without it. Shoichet and others on the team did not set out to find molecules that could be used to make new drugs for depression. Another team member, Bryan Roth, MD, PhD, of UNC-Chapel Hill, thought the molecules might be an interesting way to test the function of the 5HT2b receptor, which he'd been studying along with 5HT2a since the 1980s. "There wasn't really any sense that drugs like psychedelics that activate this receptor would be therapeutic until psilocybin was tried in clinical trials for depression and shown to have this remarkable effect," he said. Wetsel's lab ran the mice through a battery of tests to see if the molecules could ameliorate symptoms analogous to human anxiety and depression.