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Study Finds Genetic Link to Effects of Psychedelic Drugs

According to researchers from the University of North Carolina, common genetic variations could explain the different effects that psychedelics have on individuals. This is according to a newly published study. Researchers are reviving research to discover the possible therapeutic benefits of psychoedelic drugs. This new study could provide insight into why certain patients suffering from serious mental disorders seem to benefit greatly while others have little or no therapeutic effect.

Bryan Roth, MD and PhD led the team of UNC researchers who completed the study. This research explored how variation in the one serotonin receptor affects the activities of four different psychedelic drugs. The laboratory research in cells showed that seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor’s response to four psychedelic drugs—psilocin, LSD, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and mescaline. Researchers believe the in vitro research can be used to determine appropriate treatments for mental disorders.

“Based on our study, we expect that patients with different genetic variations will react differently to psychedelic-assisted treatments,” said Roth, who leads the National Institutes of Health Psychotropic Drug Screening Program. “We think physicians should consider the genetics of a patient’s serotonin receptors to identify which psychedelic compound is likely to be the most effective treatment in future clinical trials.”

Psychedelics and Mental Well-being

The journal published 2020 research JAMA PsychiatryPsilocybin assisted psychotherapy proved to be a fast-acting, effective therapy for 24 patients with major depressive disorder. Another study, published in 2016, found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy produced significant and sustained reductions in depression in life-threatening patients. Researchers also found that psychoedelic drug users were less stressed during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Research has shown that serotonin receptors are stimulated in the brain by psychedelic substances. The 5-hydroxytryptamine (or 5-HT2A), is the receptor that controls how a person reacts when they take psychedelic medications. The 5-HT2A receptor’s function and structure can be affected by a variety of genetic variants, which are naturally occurring. Many of the studies on the impact of psychedelics upon mental health are inspired by serotonin receptors. They bind neurotransmitter Serotonin, and similar molecules, to regulate mood, emotions, and appetite.

They are not effective for every person, even though they seem promising. Dustin Hines (PhD), an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ department of psychology, stated that this research might shed light on how psychedelic drugs work for certain patients and not others.

“Genetic variation in this receptor has been shown to influence the response of patients to other drugs,” Hines told Healthline. “While psychedelic therapies can provide rapid and sustained therapeutic benefits for multiple mental health concerns, there are a proportion of patients who fail to respond.”

Hines pointed out that different mental conditions could influence how patients react to both traditional and psychedelic treatments.

“Some individuals with depression may have a genetic predisposition that increases the likelihood that they will experience depression in their lives,” Hines said. “Other individuals facing depression may have more situational or environmental contributions.”

UNC researchers noted that this study may provide insights for clinicians who are considering using psychedelics to treat their patients. They called for more research.

“This is another piece of the puzzle we must know when deciding to prescribe any therapeutic with such dramatic effect aside from the therapeutic effect,” Roth said. “Further research will help us continue to find the best ways to help individual patients.”

Last week, the results were published in the journal. ACS Chemical Neuroscience.