Regulators in the U.K. are set to begin the first-ever clinical trial of dimethyltriptamine (DMT) in hopes to gain a better understanding of how the psychedelic drug can be used to treat various mental health disorders, such as depression.
The drug was given the go-ahead by the Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) earlier this week, reports the Guardian.
In its initial stages, the drug will be administered to healthy individuals, but the second trial is likely to involve patients suffering depression, where DMT will be given along with psychotherapy.
Taking DMT prior to therapy is similar to shaking up a snow globe before letting the flakes settle, according to Carol Routledge, the chief medical and scientific officer at Small Pharma, which will run the trial alongside the Imperial College in London.
“The psychedelic drug breaks up all of the ruminative thought processes in your brain – it literally undoes what has been done by either the stress you’ve been through or the depressive thoughts you have – and hugely increases the making of new connections,” Routledge explained.
“Then the [psychotherapy] session afterwards is the letting-things-settle piece of things – it helps you to make sense of those thoughts and puts you back on the right track,” she continued. “We think this could be a treatment for a number of depressive disorders besides major depression, including PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and possibly some types of substance abuse.”
DMT – also known as the “spirit molecule” for its extremely potent hallucinogenic properties – is one of the major psychoactive compounds found in ayahuasca, a brew consumed in shamanistic rituals that has been used for centuries in South America before finding its way into North America and Europe as a recreational drug.
Experts and users of DMT have said that the drug has a similar impact to such other psychedelic drugs as LSD and psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms. However, the psychedelic experience or so-called “trip” from DMT is much shorter in duration than either of the other psychedelic drugs.
DMT – like psilocybin and acid – remain classified by British authorities as a Class A drug, alongside cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Possession of the substance carries a penalty of up to seven years in jail or life imprisonment for trafficking.
Researchers hope that the initial DMT trials could begin as soon as January. The trial will ascertain the lowest possible DMT dose necessary to spark a psychedelic experience and will involve 32 healthy volunteers who have never taken a psychedelic drug, including ecstasy or ketamine. The second trial will involve 36 patients who suffer from clinical depression.
The approval of clinical trials for DMT come as psilocybin mushrooms are gaining increased mainstream acceptance as a therapeutic treatment, with authorities in Canada and various cities and states in the U.S. allowing for the use of the substance in therapeutic settings. According to a December 2016 study from NYU, a single dose of psilocybin rapidly and drastically reduces depression and anxiety among cancer patients, with few side effects.
In the case of DMT, the psychedelic experience is far more intense and comes about much faster before quickly ending.
“Whereas a psilocybin session takes all day – and if you’re doing two or even more of those, that’s a large time commitment – a DMT session, all in, will probably take under two hours,” said Small Pharma CEO Peter Rands.
“We expect DMT to be rapid-acting, equivalent or perhaps even better than psilocybin, so within hours of a session you will get rapid relief [from your depression],” he added. “We also expect the effect to be sustained over a similar time period.”
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