Can Psychedelics Combat Aging in Humans?

Early research indicates that psychedelics may play a key role in this arena.

In his book about longevity, Dr. Andrew Steele, a physics professor who worked as a biologist, reminds us that aging – not cancer or heart disease – is the world’s leading cause of death and suffering. He posits that humans could live to be 200 once we developed certain pharmacological solutions that eliminate the cells that degrade tissue function.

An international study demonstrated for the first time that degradation in the way DNA is organized and regulated – known as epigenetics – can drive aging in an organism, independent of changes to the genetic code itself, according to a report from researchers at Harvard Medical School.

The work shows that a breakdown in epigenetic information causes mice to age and that restoring the integrity of the epigenome reverses those signs of aging.

David Sinclair, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, said the discovery supports the hypothesis that mammalian cells maintain a kind of backup copy of epigenetic software that, when accessed, can allow an aged, epigenetically scrambled cell to reboot into a youthful, healthy state.

“Tens of billions of dollars will be invested in longevity research in a race to find molecules that reverse age,” Sinclair said, as reported in the Genetics Literacy Project.

Sinclair’s company, Life Biosciences, is developing therapeutics with the potential to prevent, treat, and/or reverse multiple aging-related diseases with the goal of extending human lifespan.

And now, psychedelics will be a part of that research.

During the Wonderland 2022 conference in November, the Longevity Science Foundation (LSF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research establishing a longer and healthier human lifespan, announced a new funding call for psychedelics research in a joint effort between the LSF and PsyMed Ventures, a psychedelics investment company.

Psychedelic applications for mental health treatments are rapidly accelerating, according to the LSF, with compounds like ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin showing promising results in treating PTSD, depression, and addiction. Researchers also have proven ketamine and psilocybin can help regrow neural connections, a potentially groundbreaking finding in developing future treatments for aging-related neurodegenerative diseases, according to the LSF.

LSF has committed $1 billion over the next 10 years to research, institutions, and projects advancing healthy human longevity.

It seeks to fund psychedelics companies that have any research that “concerns the use of existing or novel psychedelics to manage, delay, or reverse age-associated mental and brain diseases, strives to untangle the mechanisms behind the effects elicited by psychedelic compounds, or any other breakthrough research that can be deemed relevant to both the longevity and psychedelics fields.”

One of LSF’s partners, the Healthy Longevity Medicine Society (HLMS), is committed to centralizing, establishing, facilitating, and promoting a clinical research agenda that “encompasses all aspects of longevity medicine. Planned initiatives include diagnostics standardization and facilitation of a clinical trial network.”

Scientists have successfully identified drugs capable of extending lifespan in animals. One of these drugs, rapamycin, has shown aging-prevention characteristics in mice, decreasing cognitive decline and delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s, according to the LSF.

Researchers also found that a drug used to combat leukemia combined with a chemical compound found in plants shows promise in extending human life. Another drug, metformin, used to treat diabetes for years, is showing promise in this arena as well.

But psychedelics therapy is taking its seat at the table.

“Mental health is a vital yet often overlooked aspect of longevity—I believe a healthy mind is equally as important as a healthy body,” Garri Zmudze, executive coordinator of the LSF, said. “By funding research on psychedelics, the Longevity Science Foundation is contributing to a body of knowledge transforming brain health and longevity.”

Psychedelics researchers are working on the premise that the effect of psychedelics on neurons could be a key component of life extension. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change throughout life and consists of changes in cell structure, structural plasticity, and changes in the efficacy of synaptic transmission, also called functional plasticity.

Psychedelics help repair neurons that have atrophied, which happens in patients suffering from depression, leading to better synaptic connection, or the ability of one cell to communicate to another.

In placebo-controlled experimental studies, LSD, ayahuasca, and psilocybin improved depressive, anxiety, and addictive symptoms in patients after one to two doses, measurable 3 weeks to 6 months after administration.

“Given the persisting nature of the psychological effects beyond the presence of the substance in the blood, a biological adaptation is suggested,” researchers concluded.

Researchers have already hinted at a sort of anti-aging effect with psychedelics, at this point more to do with personality changes.

It’s all a profound experiment to chase one of the goals of science, as up to 20% of the global population of 9 billion will be over the age of 60 by 2050.

But the question remains: Will aging research lead to novel therapies toward prevention of disease or be targeted directly at extending lifespan?

Sinclair said that reversing aging in a human could happen as early by 2025.

Psychedelic companies are reportedly circling the issue, intrigued by the work that Sinclair is doing as he scores an eye-catching $158 million in funding for Life Biosciences.

The psychedelics industry has always sought out novel therapeutics for unmet medical needs. One company that is working on the effects of aging is Eleusis, who have found that LSD can offer treatment on the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.

They note from their research that aging is associated with decreases in neuroplasticity, and that age is a primary risk factor for dementia. “Age-related decline in neuroplasticity may significantly contribute to synaptic and neuronal loss in Alzheimer’s disease,” the company reports.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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