Researchers in the UK have just received the go-ahead to begin the first ever patient clinical trial using N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), widely regarded as one of the most potent psychedelic compounds on the planet. Often referred to as ‘the spirit molecule’, DMT is known to produce an intense visionary trip into the deepest reaches of human consciousness, and will now be studied as a potential treatment for major depression.
The use of psychedelics to alleviate depression and other mental health issues is something that has gained a great deal of support within the scientific community in recent years. Most notable, psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms – has been found to significantly ease depression in treatment-resistant subjects, and has now been approved for therapeutic use in the state of Oregon.
As a tryptamine, psilocybin belongs to the same broad molecular family as DMT, with both compounds acting on the brain’s serotonin receptors in order to trigger altered states of consciousness. While DMT occurs naturally in many plants and animals, it is most famously associated with the Amazonian drink ayahuasca, which has been used ceremonially for centuries as a treatment for physical, mental and spiritual ailments.
Previous studies have indicated that a single serving of ayahuasca generates lasting changes in brain function, causing rigid patterns of connectivity to become more malleable. Such changes were accompanied by an increase in cognitive flexibility, indicating that DMT may enable people suffering from depression to alter their thought patterns.
While the acute effects of ayahuasca can last from four to eight hours, smoked or intravenous DMT tends to produce a very short yet extremely powerful psychedelic trip, generally lasting around 15 to 30 minutes. A recent survey conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University indicated that 90 percent of people who have tried DMT report greater life satisfaction and wellbeing in the aftermath, while 80 percent said the experience fundamentally altered their perception of reality.
Plans for the upcoming clinical trial were announced by neuropharmaceutical company Small Pharma, which will be collaborating with researchers at Imperial College London in order to begin Phase I of the study in January 2021. This first stage of the trial will evaluate the effects of DMT in healthy volunteers and will be followed by a Phase IIa study, in which the compound will be administered to patients suffering from major depressive disorder.
According to Small Pharma CEO Peter Rands, “DMT delivers a psychedelic experience in 20 mins and has unique properties that lend itself to clinical use. By adopting responsible evidence-based research and development into psychedelic medicine, we hope to help rebrand these once stigmatised compounds as highly effective medical therapies, which can be integrated into current healthcare systems and made accessible to the millions of people suffering from depression.”