The psychedelic drug N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) has been found to stimulate the growth of rat neurons in a test tube. Though data from this groundbreaking experiment has yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers behind the project say it could lead to the development of new DMT-based treatments for stroke victims.
Famously found in the hallucinogenic Amazonian brew ayahuasca, DMT is a highly potent psychedelic molecule that produces an intense yet short-lived trip when smoked. Previous studies have indicated that other psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin may enhance neuronal growth and neuroplasticity, yet administering these mind-altering substances to stroke patients is not appropriate.
The aim of the experiment was therefore to determine if DMT is capable of producing this effect at dosages that are too small to generate any alterations of consciousness. To find out, the researchers treated rat cortical neurons with miniscule concentrations of the drug for a period of one hour, before measuring synaptic density three days later.
According to Algernon Pharmaceuticals, which is funding the research, just 30 nanomolar of DMT was sufficient to generate a 40 percent increase in the number of connecting arms between neurons. Crucially, this dosage is considered to be sub-psychedelic, meaning it is not sufficient to generate any hallucinatory effects in humans.
Speaking to IFLScience, Algernon scientific advisor Professor David Nutt explained that “[DMT increased] the sprouting of processes that could turn into synapses. We presume that’s what you want to do when you’re recovering from a stroke – you want to make new synapses so you can re-learn what the stroke has taken away.”
“The interesting thing is that this occurred at low doses, using the kind of concentrations which are likely to be sub-psychedelic.”
Furthermore, while previous studies have indicated that continual exposure to psychedelics over a period of three days appears to stimulate neuronal growth, these latest findings suggest that that the process may in fact materialize much faster than that. “The effect occurred very quickly, within an hour,” says Nutt. “This was the first experiment to show such a rapid effect, and that is encouraging.”
“We are very excited to have now independently confirmed with our own study that DMT is active in stimulating neuroplasticity,” said Algernon CEO Christopher J. Moreau in a statement. “It is also vital to have shown that this activity in the neurons can be achieved with a sub-hallucinogenic dose and with only 1 hour of exposure.”
As positive as these findings are, there is still a long way to go before DMT can be used medically. First, Algernon will have to confirm that the dosages used in this study are indeed sub-psychedelic when administered to humans, before evaluating whether the drug produces neuronal growth and clinical improvements in stroke victims.
“This is seriously challenging medicine,” insists Nutt. “It’s going to be difficult to do what we need to do, but at least we’re starting, and that in itself is pretty revolutionary because stroke has proved extremely difficult to treat.”