It’s a “sign of the times” some say when policies start matching up with cultural change. For the psychedelic revolution, a key sign lies within recent news from the U.S. government’s notoriously conservative health organization: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Within just a few months, the FDA has greenlit a nasal spray version of ketamine as a treatment for major depressive disorder and fast tracked two (yes, two) psilocybin-based treatments for depression as well. 

Breakthrough designations are assigned to compounds that have the potential to significantly improve symptoms or disease course over currently available treatments. This is a big deal. The FDA is basically saying that, yes, you guys are right: Psychedelics appear to be clinically effective.

While not everyone in the psychedelic community loves the introduction of pharmaceutical companies into the space, it’s a huge win for patients. As we are seeing in cannabis, with the approval of non-traditional medications, government policies have begun to slowly evolve, and that means better access to healing plants for all.

Greater openness toward psychedelics leads to more funding and research into the incredible things they can do, not based solely on anecdotal experience, but from controlled studies. Non-traditional medicines are often sorely lacking in basic foundational research of the compound’s essential pharmacology and physiological` mechanisms due to restrictions from prohibition. But, finally, we are catching up, which brings us to the latest on the very mystical and magical DMT.

While DMT was once only regarded as that substance found in the elixir served at ayahuasca ceremonies, it actually holds a lot of incredible benefits on its own. Results from a web-based survey showed that 362 people who used 5-MeO-DMT in a group setting reported improvements in anxiety and depression of up to 80 percent. 

The psychedelic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (or, 5-MeO-DMT), which is closely related to DMT, acts on serotonin receptors to increase their function. Serotonin is that feel-good chemical that is involved in appetite and mood. 5-MeO-DMT is also quite potent and fast acting, and it can be found in plants as well as (and this is true) in secretions from the Bufo alvarius toad (also called the Colorado River toad or Sonoran Desert toad). It’s so powerful that a single inhalation can take effect within 15 seconds

Researchers are therefore quite interested in studying this potent cousin of DMT, especially due to its short latency of effect. While there are many challenges associated with current antidepressant medications, one of the biggest problems is their very long window to improvement. It can take weeks for people to see a benefit in mood and, for those with severe depression, immediacy in effect is crucial.

A recent study sought to determine the short- and long-term effects of a single inhalation of 5-MeO-DMT on mental health. Forty-two participants from the Czech Republic, Spain and The Netherlands completed a baseline battery of questions from validated research questionnaires prior to inhaling 5-MeO-DMT from dried toad secretions. The treatment sessions were conducted in a naturalistic outdoor setting.

Twenty-four hours and four weeks following treatment, participants again completed questionnaires. Results at 24 hours indicated short-term improvement in depression, anxiety and stress, as well as life satisfaction. In fact, the effects on depression, anxiety and stress reached significance at four weeks with reductions of 68 percent, 56 percent and 48 percent, respectively, indicating a long-term response. While this was not a placebo-controlled trial, the results certainly indicate that just one session with 5-MeO-DMT may result in profound changes in mood over time.

While the effect of 5-MeO-DMT on serotonin could potentially explain these effects, it is likely that this compound is exerting its effects on additional targets, as current medications that affect serotonin take weeks to take effect. So what else might be going on?

Adult neurogenesis is the process by which new brain cells continue to be produced across the lifespan. While the jury is out on exactly why this happens, studies have linked disruptions in neurogenesis to several conditions, including depression. A pre-clinical study found that a single treatment of 5-MeO-DMT (yup, again, just one) increased the number of newborn cells in the hippocampus, a key area for learning and memory in the brain, which is also involved in mood regulation.

So, will we see toad secretions appear next in FDA news? Not likely. Further research is desperately needed. 

For those of you completely appalled by the idea of ingesting something from a toad, don’t worry because 5-MeO-DMT can be produced synthetically.

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