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LSD and Other Psychedelic Drugs Could Be Used To Tackle Mental Health Problems

We have known about the potential of psychedelic drugs with mental health problems for some time now. Past research has shown that mentally ill patients who used LSD or other psychedelic drugs saw a reduction in suicidal thoughts and psychological distress. Another study published in 2013 concluded that psychedelics have “lasting” health benefits for mental health.

But in order for these potential therapies to move forward, we have to hurdle the stigma about the psychedelic culture and its association with hippies and rebelling. Currently, similar to marijuana research, studying any type of illegal psychedelic drug is often met with backlash, rejection, or tight regulations, making it difficult for scientists to move forward in an effective way.

But that might finally be changing, thanks to progressing opinions among psychiatrists, and new research out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The analysis, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), reviewed several small studies involving psychedelics and concluded that these drugs should be brought more into the spotlight in the field of psychotherapy.

“The re-emerging paradigm of psychedelic medicine may open clinical doors and therapeutic doors long closed,” Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine and Canada research chair at the University of British Columbia, said in the press release.

Anxiety mental health symbol isolated on white. Mental disorder icon design
Anxiety mental health symbol isolated on white. Mental disorder icon design

The analysis reviewed a small randomized controlled trial that had concluded that psychotherapy in collaboration with LSD could reduce anxiety caused by terminal illness. The researchers also reviewed a small study in which a specific active molecule in mushrooms, or “shrooms,” was used to treat alcohol addiction effectively. Finally, they analyzed a third small study that showed MDMA (ecstasy) lowered PTSD symptoms in people who had chronic PTSD.

“Continued medical research and scientific inquiry into psychedelic drugs may offer new ways to treat mental illness and addiction in patients who do not benefit from currently available treatments,” the authors wrote.

Even the American Psychological Association has noted “the benefits of these illegal drugs may outweigh the risks in certain scenarios,” and “the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well as help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Ultimately, the next steps are to remove the stigma and barriers to new research around illegal drugs. But the authors of the study believe there’s hope for that.

“Although methodological and political challenges remain to some degree, recent clinical studies have shown that studies on psychedelics as therapeutic agents can conform to the rigorous scientific, ethical, and safety standards expected of contemporary medical research,” they wrote.

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Shooting Electricity Into The Brain Could Cure Sea Sickness

Shooting a mild electrical current into the scalp towards the brain can supress the brain’s responses when processing motion signals, say Imperial College London researchers. Correctly channelled, these electrical signals would prevent motion sickness, such as sea sickness, their new research suggests.

“Almost everyone can be made motion sick, with approximately one-third experiencing significant symptoms on long bus trips, on ships, or in light aircraft,” wrote the authors. Hoping to complete their new treatment within 10 years, they believe at that time the misery of motion sickness would end forever.

In the meantime, scientists still do not have a full understanding on the cause of motion sickness but one popular theory suggests it arises from the confusing messages sent to the brain by our eyes and ears when we are moving. So how might science help us reduce the impact of this disturbing “mental noise,” which causes a terrible queasiness in those prone to motion sickness?

The Imperial College researchers proposed applying transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the left parietal cortex in order to supress the vestibular system. Responsible for our sense of balance, the vestibular system is crucial to our ability to navigate the world. The researchers say it is also the part of us where motion sickness begins and ends. And so the research team began their electrical stimulation experiment by recruiting 20 volunteers, an equal number of men and women. For about 10 minutes, these volunteers wore electrodes to electrically stimulate their scalp.

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“The currents involved are very small,” Dr. Qadeer Arshad, lead researcher and a professor in the department of medicine, explained in a press release, adding, “and there is no reason to expect any adverse effects from short term use.”

Next, these brave folks sat in a motorized, rotating and tilting chair simulating the motions that make people sick on boats. Lovely. At this point, the researchers recorded the time it took for each volunteer to report symptoms of seasickness, including what they referred to as “stomach awareness,” the onset of nausea, and finally self-recovery. Because past research has shown people are even more susceptible to motion sickness immediately after recovering from a first bout, the researchers then put the volunteers through a second round of electrode stimulation of the scalp followed again by the motorized chair.

What did the research team discover? Following treatment, study participants were less likely to feel nauseous and they recovered more quickly from any motion sickness. Since most of the currently marketed treatments are medicinal and include side effects (such as drowsiness), the researchers believe their potential new cure would be preferred by many people, certainly anyone who works on a ship, say, and cannot afford to be sleepy on the job.

With separate research indicating tDCS improves attention and concentration, the military has expressed an interest in this potential motion sickness treatment, said Arshad. His future motion sickness remedy, as he imagines it, would consist of a device with small electrodes that could be temporarily attached to your scalp before travelling. He also envisions the product being available at neighborhood pharmacies.

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Euphoria Induced By Exercise Blocks Pain And Replaces It With The Feeling Of Happiness

Your leg muscles and tendons tighten as the body pushes to go further. The brain releases a hormone in response to the pulsing pain, inducing a feeling of ecstasy known commonly as a “runner’s high.” Researchers from Montreal University Health Center took a closer look into why certain people experience this exercise-induced euphoria. Their findings published in the journal Cell Metabolism, delve into the inner workings of the brain and explain how the runner experiences a naturally induced drug-like high.

For their study, the research team used wheel-running mice that voluntarily engaged in the activity for about four miles a day. They observed an interplay between the hormone leptin, which regulates when the body is both full and hungry; a protein molecule called STAT3; and dopamine activity, which is responsible for motivation and reward. STAT3 relays leptin activity, affecting how much dopamine is released in the brain. To understand how leptin affects a runner’s high, they genetically altered some of the mice to remove the STAT3 molecule and found these mice could run almost twice as long as the other mice in the study.

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For these normal mice, a chain reaction occurred in which leptin was produced as a response to low energy levels. This activity was then relayed by STAT3, ultimately leading to the release of dopamine in the brain. In turn, dopamine signaled that energy reserves in the body were sufficient and that there was no need to become active and search for food. By contrast, in mice with a STAT3 deficiency, there were also lower levels of leptin. An effect of this, the researchers found, was that these mice ran 6.8 miles compared to the 3.7 miles the normal mice ran. Moreover, these mice also experienced “blunted” dopamine signaling, or, in other words, a desensitization to the neurotransmitter’s effects. This effect has been shown to increase reward-seeking behaviors, which could explain why these mice ran for longer, presumably in a prolonged attempt to find food — their “reward.”

A similar effect occurs in physically active humans, the researchers said. As their leptin levels fall during a run, their appetites increase, and the body releases dopamine to motivate the search for it. A side effect of this release of dopamine is the runner’s high, a jolt of happy feelings.

“Previous studies have clearly shown a correlation between leptin and marathon run times,” Fulton said in a press release. “The lower leptin levels are, the better the performance. Our study on mice suggests that this molecule is also involved in the rewarding effects experienced when we do physical exercise. We speculate that for humans, low leptin levels increase motivation to exercise and make it easier to get a runner’s high.”

Exercise has been known to have a dramatic anti-depressive effect because it blocks the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress, according to Harvard Medical School. Sustained physical and voluntary exercise, such as running increases the body’s pain threshold, reduces anxiety, and enables the brain to secrete enough dopamine to enter a deeply euphoric state similar to a drug high.