April 24, 2023 01:00 pm ETEstimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
The body of scientific evidence supporting the use of psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD, addiction, major depressive disorder, and various other mental health disorders continues to grow. However, despite the mounting data supporting their efficacy, the precise mechanism of action for psychedelics remains a mystery.
Fortunately, new scientific research by UC Davis suggests much more is at play than a mere shift in perception. Psychedelics can actually cause physical changes within the brain cell, not just its surface receptors, which may unlock unheard-of levels of creativity and insight.
In this blog post, we will explore the evidence of how psychedelics are able to make such profound shifts in neurological functioning, opening up previously inaccessible brain areas. However, before we get started, let’s review some key brain anatomy terms that can clarify what we’re about to discover.
What Are Neurons?
Neurons, also known as nerve cells, are the fundamental building blocks of the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). They play a crucial role in transmitting information throughout the body, helping us to perceive, think, and interact with our environment. A neuron consists of a cell body containing the nucleus and several finger-like branching extensions called dendrites.
What Are Dendrites?
Dendrites are vital for receiving and processing signals from other neurons, acting as antennae that catch and relay messages through electrical and chemical means. The intricate network of connections formed by these dendrites contributes to the brain’s astonishing complexity and allows seamless communication required for essential cognitive functions and behaviors.
Exploring UC Davis’ Previous Studies on Psychedelics and Dendrite Growth
In 2018, another pivotal study led by David E. Olson’s lab at UC Davis was published in Cell Reports, shedding light on the impact of various psychedelics on dendrite growth—the process by which the tiny, tendril-like projections (dendrites) on neurons expand to catch signals from other brain cells. The study revealed that several well-known psychedelics—including LSD, DMT, and psilocybin—effectively promoted dendritic growth.
Numerous other labs have supported and expanded this groundbreaking research using a diverse array of models, from neurons in a dish to living organisms like fruit flies, mice, and pigs.
Unveiling the Findings of the Recent Research
The brain receptor 5-HT2A has long been at the center of scientific curiosity, playing a crucial role in the effects of psychedelics and other pharmaceutical drugs.
While it is well established that activation of this receptor is responsible for the hallucinogenic properties of substances like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT, a lingering question remains: why do only psychedelics, and not other drugs interacting with the same receptor, induce both hallucinations and neuronal growth?
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A closer look at this perplexing aspect of 5-HT2A receptor activation may shed light on the unique properties of psychedelics and help us better understand their potential therapeutic benefits for mental health disorders.
Science Shows Psychedelics Reach Parts of the Brain Cell That Other Substances Cannot
A significant finding has recently emerged in the world of psychedelic research, unveiling the presence of intracellular 5-HT2A receptors within brain neurons. This finding offers a fascinating new perspective on how psychedelics interact with brain cells.
Unlike serotonin, which cannot access these internal receptors, substances like psilocybin and DMT possess a unique “greasier” quality that allows them to cross cell membranes and activate 5-HT2A receptors within the cell. Researchers devised innovative methods to artificially facilitate serotonin’s entry into brain cells to test the intriguing theory that intracellular 5-HT2A receptor activation could be precisely what is responsible for psychedelics’ healing nature.
Applying techniques such as electrical jolts and transport proteins successfully introduced serotonin to the cell’s interior, activating internal 5-HT2A receptors. The results were striking, revealing antidepressant effects in addition to neuron growth in mice, much like what had been observed with psychedelic substances.
This remarkable ability could lead to a better understanding of the distinct effects of psychedelics and their potential therapeutic value, opening up a new frontier for further exploration and innovation.
What Does This Mean for Future Research?
As we continue to unravel the mysteries surrounding the benefits of psychedelics, this research’s implications and future directions become increasingly exciting.
The potential role of intracellular 5-HT2A activation in the healing properties of these substances offers valuable insights into how they may be harnessed for mental health treatment. By understanding the pharmacological mechanisms associated with psychedelics, researchers can pave the way for developing more targeted and effective therapies with fewer side effects.
This innovative approach could ultimately transform the landscape of mental health care, providing new hope and healing opportunities for countless individuals struggling with debilitating psychological conditions.
Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.
Lemetria Whitehurst is a cannabis nurse educator and writer specializing in cannabis science and culture. Her career in the medical industry spans more than two decades where she began her career as a pharmacy technician before becoming a registered nurse. As an avid reader
and researcher, she is passionate about educating others about cannabis’ medicinal properties.
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