Drugs like magic mushrooms can be used to treat depression. Side-effects that limit their use are what they produce.
Scientists report in the journal Nature that they have created drugs based on LSD that seem to relieve anxiety and depression in mice.
The compounds in the study had the same effect on the brain as the drugs. He says that they had no drug like actions.
Drugs that work better, work faster, have less side effects, and last longer could be the result of the discovery.
There are tripless versions of drugs. A previous effort created a hallucination-free variant of ibogaine, which is made from the root bark of a shrubby tree.
"It's encouraging to see multiple groups approach this problem in different ways and come up with very similar solutions," says David E. Olson, a chemical neuroscientist at the University of California, Davis.
The scientists who came up with the new drug didn't start out looking for an anti-depressant.
They had been building a virtual library of 75 million molecules that included a number of drugs, including the hallucinogens and cancer drugs.
The team decided to focus on molecules that are involved in regulating a person's mood. They were still looking for a different type of drug.
Someone asked what they were looking for during a meeting. If nothing else, we'll have the world's greatest drug.
The team realized that other researchers had shown that the drug could be used to treat depression. The effects could last a year or more if the drug helped the brain rewire in a way that was less prone to depression.
Brian Shoichet is an author of the study and a professor in the pharmaceutical chemistry department at the University of California, San Francisco.
The team began searching for the same molecule in their library.
They made a decision and chose two.
Shoichet claims that they had the best properties. When they were given to a mouse, they got into the brain at the highest concentrations.
The two molecule were very effective in treating depression in mice.
When a depressed mouse is placed in an uncomfortable situation, like being dangled from its tail, it gives up quickly. The same mouse will continue to struggle if it is given an anti-depressant drug.
The mice struggled when they got the experimental molecule.
They didn't show any signs of a strange experience that can cause a mouse to twitch its nose. The people were surprised to see that.
The team needs to refine the new molecule before it can be used in people. One reason is that they look like they have the same abilities to increase heart rate and blood pressure.
If the approach works, it could make it easier for people to use drugs that are psuedo drugs.
A therapist is needed to help a patient through their hallucinatory experience with a drug.
Shoichet says that treating millions of people with depression is impractical.
He says that society would like a molecule that you can get prescribed and just take and that you don't need a guided tour for your trip.
The new approach has an advantage that the effects of the drug could last a year or more. Prozac and Zoloft take a long time to work and must be taken every day.
Drugs based on psychedelics are a step closer to a cure.