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Synthetic Psychedelic Reduces Stress in Mice, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 27, 2021   

Image credit: Chelsea Kintz

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A new psychedelic compound may be a potent treatment for stress, according to a new study.

Published in Molecular Psychiatry, the study found that, when injected with the psychedelic, mouse subjects showed lower levels of anxiety and cognitive inflexibility.

Crucially, the scientists say, the benefits of the drug came without the cost of hallucinations, a side effect which may aggravate stress.

A mouse in a haze

To reach their results, the University of California, Santa Cruz researchers first selected their drug, tabernanthalog (TBG), a synthetic, non-hallucinogenic form of 5-MeO-DMT – a psychedelic similar to DMT.

Previous research has found that TBG elicits anti-addictive and antidepressant properties, but its effects on stress were unexplored.

To address this knowledge gap, the researchers injected some of their mice with TBG before exposing the rodents to a number of stressors. These included a reduction in cage space, the mice having their cage tilted, being exposed to a new room, being deprived food, and being subjected to loud music.

The rodents’ brains were then scanned to determine how much the trials had stressed them.

“Amazingly, TBG reversed all of the effects of stress,” Yi Zuo, a professor of cell and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“It was very surprising that a single treatment with a low dose had such dramatic effects within a day,” she added. “I had a hard time believing it even when I saw the initial data.”

Of course, several human trials would be needed before any firm conclusions about TBG’s suitability as a medication could be made. But, according to Zuo, the study is promising enough to encourage such trials.

“This study provides significant insights into neural mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of psychedelic analogs on mental illnesses and paves the way for future investigations to understand their cellular and circuit mechanisms,” she said.

And Zuo’s team isn’t the only research group investigating the benefits of hallucination-free psychedelics.

Last month, a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis announced a new technology that could fast-track the development of compounds that could exploit psychedelics’ therapeutic action without hallucinogenic side effects. The tool, named psychLight, can be used to measure serotonin levels in mice after the administration of psychedelic compounds.

“This technology could open the door to discovering better drugs without side effects and studying neurochemical signaling in the brain,” Lin Tian, senior author of that study and an associate professor of biochemistry at UC Davis, said in a statement at the time.


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