Researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that genetic variations in a serotonin receptor may be behind the varying effects of psychedelic drugs in different people
According to a recently published study by researchers at the University of North Carolina, common genetic variations in a particular serotonin receptor may be behind the varying effects of psychedelic drugs on different individuals. This study, which comes at a time when research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs is gaining momentum, may explain why these substances appear to have overwhelmingly positive effects on some patients with serious mental health issues, while many others find it of little therapeutic interest.
Bryan Roth, MD, PhD, led a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) to achieve this survey. The goal of the research was to explore how variations in this single serotonin receptor alter the activity of four psychedelic therapies. Laboratory cell research has shown that seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor's response to four psychedelic drugs: lapsilocin, LSD, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), and mescaline. . The researchers believe that this in vitro research could be useful in determining appropriate mental health therapies for patients.
"Based on our study, we expect patients with different genetic variations to respond differently to psychedelic-assisted treatments," said Roth, who directs the National Institutes of Health's Psychotropic Drug Screening Program. “We believe physicians should consider a patient's serotonin receptor genetics to identify which psychedelic compound is likely to be the most effective treatment in future clinical trials. »
Psychedelics and mental health
Research published in 2020 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. Another study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and long-lasting decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. And last year, researchers determined that psychedelic users were less stressed during lockdowns put in place to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previous research has also determined that psychedelic drugs stimulate serotonin receptors in the brain. The 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor, also known as 5-HT2A, is responsible for mediating a person's reaction to psychedelic drugs. However, there are several natural and random genetic variations that can affect the function and structure of the 5-HT2A receptor. Much of the research on the effects of psychedelics on mental health is inspired by the effect of drugs on serotonin receptors, which bind the neurotransmitter serotonin and other similar molecules to help regulate mood, emotions and appetite.
Although very promising, psychedelic drugs do not seem to be an effective treatment for everyone. Dustin Hines, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the UNC study, said the research may help understand why therapies psychedelics work well for some patients while others derive little therapeutic benefit.
“Genetic variation in this receptor has been shown to influence patient response to other drugs,” said declared Hines at Healthline. “While psychedelic therapies can provide rapid and long-lasting therapeutic benefits for multiple mental health conditions, there is a proportion of patients who are unresponsive. »
Hines also noted that differences in mental health conditions from person to person could also contribute to how patients respond to both psychedelic and more traditional treatments.
"Some individuals with depression may have a genetic predisposition that increases their likelihood of experiencing depression in their lifetime," Hines said. "Other individuals experiencing depression may have more situational or environmental contributions."
The UNC researchers noted that the study could help inform clinicians who are considering using psychedelics as a treatment for their patients and called for further research.
"This is another piece of the puzzle that we need to be aware of when deciding whether to prescribe any therapy that has such dramatic effect outside of therapeutic effect," Roth said. “Further research will help us continue to find the best ways to help individual patients.