Thursday, May 16, 2024

Web Extra: Compound Interest

For our January 2023 issue, we took a look at some trippy new alternatives to traditional medicine, focusing mainly on ketamine’s emergence as a treatment for mental illness. But ketamine is just the tip of the psychedelic iceberg, and in this exclusive Web Extra, we go down the rabbit hole and take a look at a few other historically notorious compounds that are now being examined for their potential mental health benefits.

LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesized in 1938 when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was researching the potential medical properties of ergot fungus derivatives. Five years after the chemical was synthesized, Hofmann discovered the compound’s psychedelic properties when he ingested the substance himself and rode his bicycle home. He describes the experience in his memoir, LSD: My Problem Child: “Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images burst in upon me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in coloured fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.” 

In the 1950s, LSD became part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project MK-ULTRA, wherein the government organization attempted to find the chemical that would unlock the secrets of mind control. Seriously. Following this failed(?) experiment, any fan of the Beatles can tell you the trajectory of LSD’s history in the 1960s, when it became part and parcel of the decade’s politically rebellious social movements. While LSD has had a relatively quiet history since the 1971 Controlled Substances Act, the compound is now being studied by researchers for its potential (at lower doses) to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug addiction, and as a palliative treatment for end-of-life care.

Psilocybin

Found in what are commonly referred to as “magic mushrooms,” psilocybin is a compound that bends the user’s perception of time and space and can instill audio and visual hallucinations. Drawings and sculptures from ancient civilizations reveal that magic mushrooms have played an instrumental role in religions from cultures dating back thousands of years. In 1960, psychonaut and Harvard researcher Timothy Leary (of “turn on, tune in, drop out” fame), along with Richard Alpert, developed the Harvard Psilocybin Project after Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms for himself. As part of this project, Leary and Alpert examined the effects of the compound on recidivism and found that, after six months of psilocybin treatments, the rate of subjects who landed back in jail was less than 40 percent.

Like LSD, psilocybin is being studied for its potential to aid those suffering from depression, PTSD and more. Micro-dosing (ingesting a very small amount) of psilocybin has been discovered as an effective method relieving stress with little to no side effects. At these low levels of consumption, users don’t experience any of the hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin, but are still able to reap mental and emotional benefits such as reduced anxiety and relief from symptoms of depression. 

MDMA

Methyl​ene-dioxy​methamphetamine, the long-winded chemical name for MDMA, is most commonly known in its pill form of ecstacy. The compound was first synthesized in 1912 by chemists trying to develop a new drug to treat abnormal bleeding. In the years that followed, the drug went through various studies seeking to examine its behavioral effects, until the 1970s when MDMA hit the streets as a popular rave drug. Producing stimulant-like effects, the drug is also an empathogen, meaning that it causes effects within the user that enhance their emotional connection with their surroundings.

Because of its empathic effects, it’s small wonder why MDMA is now being studied as a treatment for PTSD and depression. Current studies have revealed that small doses of MDMA boost serotonin (one of the neurochemicals associated with joy) levels in the brain, without the unwelcome side effects of typical selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the current most widely-used option for antidepressants. MDMA is currently being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for PTSD and depression.

This web extra is from the January 2023 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Tyler Childress
Tyler Childress
Tyler is the Web Editor and a contributing writer for Boca Raton magazine. He writes about food, entertainment and issues affecting South Florida. Send story tips to tyler@bocamag.com.

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