OPEN Foundation

E. Sellers

Low Doses of Psilocybin and Ketamine Enhance Motivation and Attention in Poor Performing Rats: Evidence for an Antidepressant Property

Abstract

Long term benefits following short-term administration of high psychedelic doses of serotonergic and dissociative hallucinogens, typified by psilocybin and ketamine respectively, support their potential as treatments for psychiatric conditions such as major depressive disorder. The high psychedelic doses induce perceptual experiences which are associated with therapeutic benefit. There have also been anecdotal reports of these drugs being used at what are colloquially referred to as “micro” doses to improve mood and cognitive function, although currently there are recognized limitations to their clinical and preclinical investigation. In the present studies we have defined a low dose and plasma exposure range in rats for both ketamine (0.3-3 mg/kg [10-73 ng/ml]) and psilocybin/psilocin (0.05-0.1 mg/kg [7-12 ng/ml]), based on studies which identified these as sub-threshold for the induction of behavioral stereotypies. Tests of efficacy were focused on depression-related endophenotypes of anhedonia, amotivation and cognitive dysfunction using low performing male Long Evans rats trained in two food motivated tasks: a progressive ratio (PR) and serial 5-choice (5-CSRT) task. Both acute doses of ketamine (1-3 mg/kg IP) and psilocybin (0.05-0.1 mg/kg SC) pretreatment increased break point for food (PR task), and improved attentional accuracy and a measure of impulsive action (5-CSRT task). In each case, effect size was modest and largely restricted to test subjects characterized as “low performing”. Furthermore, both drugs showed a similar pattern of effect across both tests. The present studies provide a framework for the future study of ketamine and psilocybin at low doses and plasma exposures, and help to establish the use of these lower concentrations of serotonergic and dissociative hallucinogens both as a valid scientific construct, and as having a therapeutic utility.

Higgins, G. A., Carroll, N. K., Brown, M., MacMillan, C., Silenieks, L. B., Thevarkunnel, S., Izhakova, J., Magomedova, L., DeLannoy, I., & Sellers, E. M. (2021). Low Doses of Psilocybin and Ketamine Enhance Motivation and Attention in Poor Performing Rats: Evidence for an Antidepressant Property. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 640241. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.640241

Link to full text

Studies with psychedelic drugs in human volunteers

Abstract

Scientific curiosity and fascination have played a key role in human research with psychedelics along with the hope that perceptual alterations and heightened insight could benefit well-being and play a role in the treatment of various neuropsychiatric disorders. These motivations need to be tempered by a realistic assessment of the hurdles to be cleared for therapeutic use. Development of a psychedelic drug for treatment of a serious psychiatric disorder presents substantial although not insurmountable challenges. While the varied psychedelic agents described in this chapter share some properties, they have a range of pharmacologic effects that are reflected in the gradation in intensity of hallucinogenic effects from the classical agents to DMT, MDMA, ketamine, dextromethorphan and new drugs with activity in the serotonergic system. The common link seems to be serotonergic effects modulated by NMDA and other neurotransmitter effects. The range of hallucinogens suggest that they are distinct pharmacologic agents and will not be equally safe or effective in therapeutic targets. Newly synthesized specific and selective agents modeled on the legacy agents may be worth considering. Defining therapeutic targets that represent unmet medical need, addressing market and commercial issues, and finding treatment settings to safely test and use such drugs make the human testing of psychedelics not only interesting but also very challenging.
Sellers, E. M., Romach, M. K., & Leiderman, D. B. (2017). Studies with psychedelic drugs in human volunteers. Neuropharmacology. 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2017.11.029
Link to full text

Psychedelic Drugs as Therapeutics: No Illusions About the Challenges

Abstract

Interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic agents has recently increased. In addition to psilocybin, a wide variety of agents with psychedelic properties have been proposed and partially tested. However, the challenges of obtaining approval to market a restricted psychotomimetic agent are formidable.
Sellers, E. M., & Leiderman, D. B. (2017). Psychedelic Drugs as Therapeutics: No Illusions About the Challenges. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 10.1002/cpt.776
Link to full text

Psilocybin: Good Trip or Bad Trip

Abstract

Much of the history of pharmacology and therapeutics involves finding new uses for old drugs. The latest rediscovery is that of psychedelic drugs.[1] Since they can cause profound distortions of perception and were once used as part of religious ceremonies, such research may seem unusual at this time.
Sellers, E. M. (2017). Psilocybin: Good Trip or Bad Trip. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 10.1002/cpt.697
Link to full text